In which a cool and interesting conundrum is just completely squandered.
As if the universe has heard my anguished question regarding gestation periods, this episode opens with Samantha Wildman. I really hope that coffee is decaf as Neelix hits her with a refill and asks her to check out his stove and his replicator. Neelix has been replicating vegetables because the yields from traditional farming have been a little low. Question, though. If replicating costs energy that the ship can’t really afford to replace, how much is really saved by cooking replicated foods in bulk? However, all this manual labor winds up inducing the real thing. Normally I’d berate Neelix, but remember she’s been pregnant for, like seventeen months now. He’s a hero, really.
While Samantha is gritting through labor, the entire rest of the ship is on hold. So far, it’s been 7 hours. Tuvok’s third child took 96 hours, and Janeway is musing on the challenges facing a newborn of Voyager when they detect a Vidiian fleet, and star system, on long-range sensors. They change course to avoid a fight. Down in sick bay, Samantha’s baby has cranial ridges because that’s how hybridization works in the Star Trek universe, and they’re getting caught. Which sounds awful. They also can’t reposition the baby because it could damange the spine, so they’re going to beam it out. Normally, transporter beams seem to extend, by default, to whatever is touching the target, so that they don’t wind up severing things. In this case, one can presume a much more delicate and manual control of the field. Also, when they reintigrate the kid, the transporter has mostly cleaned Samantha’s new daughter up.
Coming out of hiding from circumnavigating the Vidiians, Voyager has hit a problem, and something is shutting down the warp core by draining away antimatter. If it’s not being drained into some special containment, it ought to be causing a massive explosion, so let’s assume this is some kind of attack. In addition, a couple of conduits explode and most of engineering is now out of commission, so that’s good news.
All of this damage and massive casualties is not making the immediate post-natal care any easier, and in addition they’re now getting bombarded with proton bursts, which should be good except a) they were going to start doing that but hadn’t yet, and b) they’re hammering the hull pretty hard. Now there’s a hole in the ship and the force fields aren’t working. Apparently things have calmed down enough for the Doctor to treat a small cut near Neelix’s eye but not enough for him to stop the new baby from dissolving into undifferentiated cellular goo. Harry’s got a portable force field generator that’s going to go towards cealing the hole in the ship, but isn’t taking, oh, an environment suit, or an oxygen mask, or anything.
The baby is now dead, pretty much everyone is injured, the ship is falling apart, and Harry gets sucked out into space. And as Kes is rushing to aid Hogan, she hits an invisible wall and vanishes into an invisible spatial rift that leads into another Oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. Eventually, they implement a last-ditch effort to magnetize the hull which seems to stabilize the ship, but the warp nacelles are broken, the engines are draining, the hole is now open on three decks, the ship is falling apart, and someone just headbutted Janeway. As the bridge starts to burn, she can see a phantom crew wandering around in the flames like nothing’s wrong. A-ha!
On Voyager-B, where nothing is wrong, Janeway has Harry-B scan the bridge to try and figure out what the heck is going on. Voyager-B,s proton burst procedure to try and fix the stalled warp engines is about half-finished. Oh, and Samantha WIldman-B’s baby is doing just fine. Kes-A is unconsious in Sick Bay-B, and they’re almost identical but for some small but probably-significant phase shift in her DNA. Don’t think too hard about that, it’s probably not the point.
Kes-A wakes up to explain her story, and there’s also a piece of conduit that they somehow manage to trace to precisely which bulkhead it’s supposed to live behind. Is every half-foot or so of conduit marked? In either case, they figure out that there’s two Voyagers, one of which is falling apart. Voyager-B started the proton bursts first, and the other one started falling apart. Quantum analysis post-facto shows that in the middle of the cloud, Voyager passed through a ‘divergence field’ which was apparently first shown to be a thing in a Kent State experiment that was able to duplicate matter, but not antimatter. Thus, both Voyagers are now sharing the same quantity of antimatter.
So hey, also, now you have access to an infinite duplication machine. All you have to do is come up with a way to bring stuff from one… uh… phase I guess, to the other. Make some spare parts while you know where this thing is. Such a thing would start with a Phase Discriminator, which Harry can build. Kes-A is having some flashbacks to her terrible universe while listening to the happy baby care.
Torres has been trying to establish communications with Voyager-A, with minimal success because of the phase shift. They’ll need to establish comms from both sides, so in order to start they do a wide broadcast, just to whistle at them. On Voyager-A, they hear the signal and lock on to comms, which is enough for a quick message, which is enough to tell them how to lock on to a better signal.
The heavily-damanged Voyager has enough specific information to believe that the duplication was real, but the plan they’re working on to re-integrate the two ships – to steer back into the rift and do something complicated with the deflector dish, will be difficult given how utterly broken one of the ships is. Also, just a thought – if they do merge, do the two ships become an average of the two states? What happens to the people who’ve died on one side? For that matter, what happens to the people who are alive on both sides?
Damaged Voyager takes the lead in the operation, since they’re the ones with slimmer tolerances, and they get to work. The integration starts to go well, but they pass right through cohesion without merging. I’m pretty sure there’s a Rick and Morty episode about this, but now things are even worse, comms are down, and the antimatter is leaking even faster now. Thus, Janeway and Kes are going to have to go through the rift personally.
It’s pretty dire on Voyager-A, and both Janeways are staring down the barrel of trying to use the proton bursts. In the original experiment, the duplicated atoms couldn’t occupy the same space long before they self-annihalated, and separated the Voyagers and splitting the antimatter isn’t much of an option either, because everything will blow. They can’t evacuate the crew from one ship to the other, because the atomic balance will tip or whatever.
So now comes the question – how much does Janeway trust herself. Because in lifeboat ethics, there’s an obvious right answer here – transfer all the supplies they can over from A to B, then B finishes the proton bursts. In fact, Janeway-A tries to make it just a little cleaner by self-destructing. Janeway(s) knows what’s up. B asks for just fifteen minutes to try to save everyone, but what do we think the chances are that she won’t cheat herself?
Oh hey, we forgot about the Vidiians, and one of their ships is on the way. The two Voyagers are in no shape to fight, but it’s Voyager-B that’s taking the brunt of the attack and getting its crew harvested. Tuvok and Paris are the first to fall, but soon the whole crew is more or less hollow. Voyager-A is fine. Well, as fine as it was before. Thus the equilibrium has shifted, but this time, Harry and Ensign Wildman’s baby will go through the rift to fill out the other crew, so that Voyager-A can limp back home with some hastily-patched holes, some dead warp engines in the middle of Vidiian space, and a hull covered in microfractures.
Which is a shame because if they’d stretched out the middle of the show a little, we could have ended with Janeway making the obvious decision while having to deal with the guilt we all know she’d feel of (accidentally) being responsible for killing an entire crew, by starting the proton bursts. And we, as the viewer, would have the fun experience of ending the episode with a different crew than the one we started with. Instead, both Janeways get to feel assuaged by offering to sacrifice themselves and there’s no amusing existential crisis for the viewer. When compared with some of the complexities we’ve been getting in Deep Space Nine, it feels really, really unsatisfying.
Anyway, Harry makes it to Sick Bay while the Vidiians are doing mop-up and arrives just in time to get a little action sequence and save the baby. But hey, at least Janeway gets her Kirk moment. And then it gets just completely ruined by the attempt to recreate the Kirk-Spock-McCoy banter at the end, and then they have to just completely neuter any heroicism that Harry Kim might have had by giving him more dumb lines.