In which I’d like to tell you to leave now and save yourself, but then I would have suffered for nothing. It’s the one with the lizards.
Tom is in a shuttle reporting back in, and that shuttle has some brand new engines in it. This is just another entrant in a long line of things to be known as transwarp drive, with the first known example being the Excelsior. We also call what the Borg use Transwarp, so as a name it really mostly just means ‘beyond current Federation Warp standards. And Voyager, an isolated ship of 150 non-specialists in the cutting edge of Warp Field research, have apparently made a breakthrough. Paris hits warp 9.7 before the structural failures start, then 9.95 before the shuttle explodes and the simulation ends.
Torres, Kim, and Paris are attempting to cross a Threhold of some sort, and are being stopped by subspace dynamic forces. It seems likely that one of Paris’ heroes might be Chuck Yeager. Neelix is offering to help out with the warp theory, which nobody thinks will be particularly helpful, but he’s insistent on becoming the Audience Insert Exposition character. Team Torres are attempting to break the maximum warp barrier, which is currently defined as Warp 10. This has not always been the case, but one of those was a possibly-fictitious alternate future. Warp 10 on the current scale is a theoretical impossibility and corresponds to infinite speed, occupying every point in the universe at once. There’s a pretty good book about that, actually. Like the speed of light in conventional relativity, this is kind of the ultimate speed limit, and you’d expect weird effects when you plug in numbers above that speed, like maybe time travel or… oh yeah. Hmm, nevermind.
The upshot is, of course, that if they manage it, they could be home as soon as the engines warm up. Of course, they’d also be inside a star, and also inside all the black holes, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how you slow down while selecting the desired destination. Then again, if you can hit Warp 10, you can also hit warp 9.999… and be home in two weeks and not risk breaking the entire universe by traveling to and interfering with the Big Bang or whatever. You will have also irrevocably altered the balance of power, but that’s okay, the Federation is the good guys and nobody ever steals tech or information from them.
This is all made possibly by a new form of dilithium Voyager found which remains stable for longer, but they’re running into turbulence. Neelix does have some anecdote about his past adventures which suggest a solution, and the simulation checks out. Paris volunteers for a ‘short’ test flight to gather readings before trying a ‘longer’ flight. Of course, one of the problems with actual infinite velocity is that all nonzero times spent at infinite velocity are within the same class of infinity, and thus equally distant. Also, there’s no point in ‘coming about’ when you’re done with the flight because if you’re going at infinite velocity and occupying all points in the universe simultaneously, than a) you’re probably completely lost and b) if you can choose your destination then it doesn’t matter which way the ship is pointing.
Janeway gives a little motivational pep talk, and then later comes by Tom’s quarters with some bad news. The Doctor has recommended that Kim make the test flight, rather than Paris, due to the 2% chance of a brain hemorrhage due to a small imbalance in his brain. Paris is, predictably, willing to take that chance, at least in part due to his daddy issues. It’s all resolved in the scene, though, and Paris is still making the flight, so it’s time to launch.
They’ve named the shuttlecraft Cochraine, and Voyager will be keeping up with it during the initial engine warm-up. While it makes perfect sense to stay in comms range during the ramp-up, I would like to once again mention the futility of literally every part of the plan after the shuttle achieves infinite velocity. On the other hand, if it fails at least they might be able to abort. The telemetry looks good, and Paris engages the transwarp engines and hits Warp 10. Once he does, the signal starts getting weird, possibly because Paris is now (and remember this is according to Harry Kim) located at every point in the universe and therefore you’d expect a weird echo. Voyager loses track of him soon afterwards.
Paris is now lost without a trace, but shows up a few minutes later, with Paris barely alive. His checkup shows that he’s fine and just sleeping – no brain hemhorrage in evidence. The Doctor wakes Paris up and he recounts his experience which sounds like really trippy stuff. In order to end up back at start, all Tom had to do was turn off the engines, which doesn’t bode all that well for using it as a method of getting home, but it’s early days yet. Torres shows up next, very relieved that Tom is okay and very excited about the success of the test.
From the sensor logs, they get a full readout on everything in the sector – five billion gigaquads of information. Of course, it also ought to have information on literally everything else, as well. Also, Tom probably passed into that region where mind controls matter, but possibly wasn’t there long enough for it to do much. Also note, there’s a pointed shot of one of the engineers, I’m pretty sure the guy who was colluding with Seska, listening in.
The first hints that something is wrong is that Paris hates Neelix’s new coffee, gets a stomach cramp, and then collapses with spiderveins all over his head and an unstable transporter signature. The Doctor is on-point with his bedside manner in this episode, but also quickly determines that Paris is now allergic to water as his biochemistry changes. His very lungs are transforming and he can no longer process oxygen, so they put him in a force-field terrarium which uses a chlorine-based gas instead of oxygen in its atmospheric mix. Tom Paris is dying.
At least he’s still mouthy, in that ‘laugh at the darkness’ kind of way. His systems keep shutting down, even with the new radiotherapy they’re putting him through. His last requests are a kiss from Kes and for them to call his father to let Admiral Paris know his son died while pushing back the boundaries of science. Tom’s dead now and we still have 20 minutes to go.
Late that night, before the autopsy in the morning, the Doctor senses something amiss. Paris is alive again, but all his hair is falling out. Seems like a decent trade. Also, he has two hearts in addition to his lungs being back to processing oxygen.
Traitorous Engineer Jonas is sending off information to the Kazon Redik about the Warp 10 shuttle flight, in an effort to ‘prove his worth.’ The opposite of the tactic Seska used, where she just kind of swept in and assumed she was in charge.
The mutation Paris is going through is stated to have nothing to do with the initial medical issue he had, so if that’s not used to fix him I really have no idea why it was brought up in the first place. No Stafleet record explains why he’s transforming, or what he’s transforming into. Janeway’s going to talk with him, but he’s becoming erratic and deranged and starting to look like a Vidiian. Also his head is breathing and he attacks Janeway before being brought up short by the force field. There’s also hints that he’s being rewritten to believe that humans are inferior to whatever he’s turning into, and then his tongue falls out. And then more hints of an expended perception that’s coming with his transformation.
The Doctor’s next plan is to destroy all the new DNA to ‘force his body to use his original DNA,’ which… if that’s not what the original radiation treatment was supposed to be doing than I don’t know what’s happening anymore. Either way, they’re going to strap him to a gurney and shove him into the warp core, basically. Tom’s looking more lizard-like by the moment, and he escapse from containment before they can fix him.
Next, he kidnaps Janeway and takes her back to the shuttlecraft Cochraine. They launch and follow, even though we know it’s futile.The shuttlecraft breaches Warp 10 again, and Voyager catches up with them three days later. During this time, the Doctor has had a chance to do more research and concluded that Paris’ metamorphosis is consistent with how the Human genotype will, or at least could evolve. Which somehow includes the sudden inability to breathe oxygen in favor of chlorine. Apparnetly traveling at infinite velocity fundamentally changed evolution into adaptation. That sound you heard was every biologist in existence sighing. Happily, the Doctor’s original treatment was possibly correct, except he didn’t do it hard enough. Which is good news, because Janeway has just had three tiems longer to live with these changes than Paris did, and they’ve both turned into lizards with mustaches. Small lizards with mustaches. I guess the whole increased-brain-capacity thing worked out. Oh, plus, they had lizard-babies, and all Chakotay and Tuvok can do is make sardonic comments about the mission logs.
Some unspecified time later, The Doctor has purged all the future-DNA from Janeway and Paris… somehow. They don’t have a whole lot of memory about the events, but at least the enlightened 24th-century human culture can cope with and move past the really kind of horrifying loss of personal autonomy and accountability. Tom’s getting a commendation. Hey, plus, check this out: If they have a cure, they really shouldn’t have any problems (beyond the engineering challenges) adapting the technology to Voyager itself and getting a head start on home.
Oh, also blah blah Tom Paris’ journey of self-discovery blah blah nobody cares. How much peyote do you think was involved in writing this episode?