VOY: S1E04: “Phage”

In which Neelix spruces up Janeway’s dining room and also sick bay. 

Voyager is on its way to a rogue planetoid which is supposed to have a lot of raw dilithium. This is necessary because the ship is experiencing something of a power shortage. What strikes me as a little off is that antimatter is what’s used to generate power, the dilithium crystals are used to regulate it and a Galaxy-class ship is capable of regenerating the crystals. I can only surmise that regenerating the crystals uses more energy and dilithium is easier to resupply on than antimatter. Either way, Voyager now has to convert a room into a dilithium-processing facility, and Torres has selected what is apparently the most obnoxious possible way to do so. Apparently there’s a specific Starfleet regulation against processing dilithium near the impulse engines.

"I'll give up eggs benedict, but come between me and my coffee and I'll have you spaced."

“I’ll give up eggs benedict, but come between me and my coffee and I’ll have you spaced.”

Speaking of power-saving measures, today for breakfast, Janeway will be eating Ration Pack #5, because the wall-mounted atomic editation devices also use up a lot of energy. I assume that the crew will be replicating non-perishable MREs when they have access to sufficient power and storing them in a cargo bay to carry them through lean times, because I doubt they left DS9 with 70 years worth of ration packs ‘just in case.’

Sadly, Neelix has already been to her private dining room and converted it into a galley so he can cook stuff from hydroponics. This is a very good idea, and it would have been an even better idea if he’d asked anyone. He didn’t even run it by one of the Maquis so they could screw with her. Also, he appears to have successfully turned off the fire suppressors again.

"Avada Kedavera!"

“Avada Kedavera!”

Voyager has found the plentoid to be vaguely habitable, with a surprisingly Class-M specification for a planet without a local star. It has a pretty decent haul, and Neelix really wants go do. I think Janeway is only letting him go so that a) he leaves her ship and b) he might get killed without it being her fault. Whatever the reason, Neelix gets to go rock hunting, and then something super weird happens to the scenery. Looks like a holographic duck blind going down, maybe. And I’m fine with Neelix not noticing it because he just learned to operate a tricorder, but nobody else sensed the power output either. What the rest of the away team is detecting is that despite dilithium readings, the local geology doesn’t support dilithium deposits at all. It’s definitely a trap, and Neelix finally picks up on strange trace readings just in time to ignore Chakotay’s orders and get tazed to death.

They beak Neelix directly to sick bay, where once again someone has left the Doctor on. The Doctor makes Chakotay get a blood-gas infuser to keep him stable for an hour. Someone transported his lungs out of his body, you see. Janeway is really terrible at delivering the news to Kes. The Doctor could put his lungs back in, but they can’t replicate any because they’re too complex.

Apparently Tuvok knows of no geological phenomenon that make some rocks warmer than other rocks, so once again it’s a damn good thing he’s Chief of Security rather than Science Officer. He was apparently a pretty great undercover operative, but he’s absolutely pants at knowing magma exists. However, once they find the hidden wall, they’re able to blast through it with relative ease. Meanwhile, on the ship, Paris noticed something useful but then utterly fails at replicating a medical tool. But this gives the Doctor an idea – using the transporter trace to create design specs for hologrpahic lungs. Since sick bay is equipped with holographic emitters, it should work. Paris rightly points out that holograms as created by Voyager are just lightwaves interfering with each other inside a magnetic containment field, and there’s no possible way that this could create a viable medium for blood-gas exchange. In response, the Doctor slaps him. There are drawbacks to the holo-lung approach – not being able to move, being stuck in Sick bay forever, but they are outweighed by the benefits of staying alive and potentially waking up so he can make his own medical decisions.

Tuvok, Kim, and Janway have located a creepy laboratory full of disembodied organs and a torture chair, and can we just discuss how badly Janway needs a Riker? Not necessarily Will Riker, but someone who will stop her when she wants to go personally chasing after someone who steals organs via transporter beam. Chakotay evidently does not enjoy this prevelege. Either way, the aliens escape and Voyager goes into pursuit as soon as the away team is aboard.

So… holo-lungs. Apparently the field is sufficiently Maxwellian to only allow oxygen to pass in one direction and waste gasses in the other. That’s… really impressive and likely consumes quite a bit of power. Neelix is awake now, and maintaining a chipper attitude about the whole thing, at least until Tom Paris dares speak to Kes, at which point he spirals into a depression.

The weapon they stole from the alien is a complex and technologically advanced body scanner as well as a stunner, specifically designed to tell the user what organs would be the best for stealing. Meanwhile, they’ve traced the aliens to an asteroid they can’t scan, so they’re going to follow it into a very narrow cavern. Barely wider than Voyager, in fact, although wider than the last needle-eye they threaded.

The Doctor has been reduced to scratching Neelix’s face and trying to get some work done. He was never designed for long-term use, so I doubt the capability for him to get the paperwork done from inside the computer has been built in yet, but they should really look into that. I bet those holo-emitters use up a lot of power. Neelix starts to panic and demand to be released, and the Doctor has to sedate him. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, you see his programming start to grow as it’s forced to deal with the ethical conflict of a patient who insists on getting himself killed.

I'm not sure what direction the VFX department got for this episode but it wasn't great.

I’m not sure what direction the VFX department got for this episode but it wasn’t great.

In the cavern in the asteroid, Voyager has stumbled onto a hall of mirrors, which are also screwing with the sensors. They have difficulty finding the original ship, and nobody thinks to use, say, low-power phaser blasts to mark the mirrors. Or vent some gass and see where it goes, or use anything physical, really.

It looks like Kes is going to wind up being the Doctor’s new nurse, but this brief victory over the forces of personnel entropy is quickly overshadowed when the warp engines start shutting down. Something in the asteroid chamber is stealing energy from the ship. They can’t fire phasers, I suppose, because the shot would ricochet off the mirrored walls (although again, Tuvok seems to lack a basic understanding of optics because it should be trivial for any dom-jot player to predict the ricochet with a sufficiently powerful computer) but why not torpedoes? Chakotay, at least, twigs to the reduced-power idea, and they go for it.

Note one of the tiny Voyager reflections mid-frame is not actually firing.

Note one of the tiny Voyager reflections mid-frame is not actually firing.

So apparently a side-effect of the power-dampening field in the asteroid is a local reduction in the speed of light, because most of the reflections of Voyager aren’t firing. The phaser beams also seem to be slowing down through more reflections. Eventually, the beam strikes the enemy ship and not their own, and Janeway beams the two occupants aboard.

The aliens are super skeevey, and call themselves Vidiians, and are out in space to harvest organs to fight back against space-leprosy. It’s been ravaging them for two thousand years, and seems a whole lot like an engineered bioweapon if it’s managed to stay ahead of the entire research focus of a whole species since the reign of Attila the Hun. Neelix’s lungs are already in use, so now Janeway gets to angrily moralize about being so cool she’s not going to murder anyone to take them back. They also get the chance to plead the case of their civilization.

Now, what I actually really like here is that the Vidiians depict a worst-case scenario for Voyager’s mission home. Not directly, to be sure, but they were a culture with high-minded ideals and great moral wealth, brought low by desperation over time. Whether she realizes it or not, Janeway is looking at what may well be the end of her journey. It’s a tad ham-handed, but it works. Instead, she just goes nutbar and yells at them a lot and lets them go with the warning that from her on in they’ll shoot to kill.

This show of mercy incites one of the Vidiians to offer to help using their superior medical technology. The Vidiians have the technology to transplant anyone else’s lung into him using techniques unknown to Voyager. Kes offers, like she did earlier in the episode. Another thing I like in retrospect is that the Vidiians have the technology to transplant alien organs with relative ease, but never bothered trying to develop stem-cell technology because their Phage would make such organs short-lived anyway. It definitely has nothing to do with stem-cell technology being way to science-fictiony and unbelievable for something written in the mid-90s.

 

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