In which Harry goes to prison.
We are in a dirty, dank facility, and an alarm is blaring. The inhabitants are very excited about new prisoners coming. An iris opens and Harry Kim comes tumbling down into the bids of some very rough-looking characters before he’s hauled away for ‘breaking in’ and to determine how many cigarettes he’s worth, before Tom Paris finally grabs him and punches him right in the liver.
Harry is being ‘claimed’ by the big man on campus, but Paris claims him on the basis of Harry ratted Tom out to the authorities after their bombing and pulls a knife to back it up. As it happens, they were both on shore leave and were split up by the Akiterians after a bombing. Since Harry wouldn’t confess, and Tom wouldn’t confess, they were thrown in prison. Just because. Unfortunately, there are no guards and wardens in this prison, it’s just a deep hole in the ground, and all the prisoners have an implant in their brains to monitor them, mess with their heads, and kill you if you try to remove it.
Food is delivered via the same alarm and chute, in the form of dry ration bricks. It doesn’t look like there’s enough to sustain the population for very long, the prisoners don’t have an organized rationing system, and they quite literally kill each other to get what’s thrown down. There’s also a force field that zaps anyone who tries to climb back up the titular chute. And yet nobody thinks to make jerky out of the dead prisoners. Come on, guys.
Up on Voyager, Janeway is pissed because the Akatarians won’t tell her if any of her crew died in the bombing and aren’t otherwise responding. Tuvok is running scans and can’t find human lifesigns or their commbadges. Finally, the planetary ambassador calls Voyager to deliver the news that her crew was convicted of the trilithium bomning, which doesn’t occur within the Akatarian system, and accuses Voyager of being in league with the ‘Open Sky’ terrorist group, and sends ships of war to impound Voyager. In service of the greater diplomatic mission, Janeway orders Voyager out of the area to regroup and think of a plan rather than destroy the patrol ships.
Back in the prison, Harry is starting to feel the effects of the Clamp, which may serve no other purpose than to get the prisoners to kill each other and keep the population down. There are around 50 inmates – no word about what happens to the corpses or humanoid effluvia so far. Tom has managed to find some machine scraps for Harry to rig into a way to short out the force field, and the work continues.
On Voyager Janeway runs a meeting starting from first principles – trying to disprove the conviction of Harry and Tom – there are other sources of name-a-prefix-lithium that can be converted to trilithium. Harry and Tom are testing his device, but the Clamp is making it difficult to concentrate, and the first attempt fails, loudly enough to start a knife fight which Tom… doesn’t win. But Harry does make a friend with some minimal medical training and an eye towards footwear futures.
Some nutters have taken Harry’s hideout, so he bargains with the ‘doctor’ guy, who’s been there for six years (and evidently learned to live with the Clamp) for escape, in exchange for what passes for medical supplies. Voyager is tracking down paralithium-powered ships, and since this lead is shown on-screen they’re going to turn out to be a hit, at last. Torres does detect trilithium aboard the Akaterian cargo freighter, so Janeway pirates it straight-up, kidnaps the two crew. They call Open Sky patriots working to restore the legitimate government. The little sister offers to give Janeway the location of the prison, but while Janeway is fine with making a deal with the current-but-possibly-illegitimate-government of a planetbecause that’s non-interference, shes not fine with just beaming her people out using the transporters and potentially a judicious use of phaser drilling. Mark another one for Janeway making things needlessly complicated to serve the plot. Oh, also, she tries to make ‘a bath and a hot meal’ sound threatening. Must be running low on coffee.
Tom insists on Harry not saving him, because of the whole ‘convict needing redemption’ angle. Harry gets some tips on controlling the impulses from the Clamp to his advantage from the six-year veteran. He believes the Clamp is a monitoring element in a House-of-Stairs experiment, and then he descends into full megalomania by assuming that he was ‘put there to figure it out’ and that he’s protected from the others because ‘he knows the Truth.’ The Truth is… yeah, that the Clamp makes people kill each other. Woo. That said, the rantings have distracted Harry enough to short out the force field, and he and (I cheated) Zio start climbing, only to find another hatch at the other end. A locked hatch, leading to space. The prison isn’t underground, it’s a space station. Which, hey, should make it a lot easier for Voyager to beam Harry and Tom out if Janeway were to get off her high horse for like five minutes and have a conversation.
Messed up by his injury, Tom is starting to succumb to the Clamp. It is very sad. The horns sing in a minor key, and we are all once again impressed that an alien justice system predicated on some form of mind–control works on a species they’ve never met and are completely unfamiliar with. Harry starts thinking out loud on how to to commandeer a cargo ship when they come to drop off food. Zio tries to help him by giving Harry his manifesto on how to control the Clamp, but Harry is too dumb to recognize a Tome of Willpower +1 when he sees it, and instead tries to organize the prisoners. Predictably, this ends with him getting stuff thrown at his head, and he comes back to the hovel to find Paris has destroyed the override pipe, and almost kills Paris for it.
Zio demands that Harry drop Paris like so much cold meat so they can disseminate his manifesto, but Harry won’t do it. I was pretty sure this was going to be a Test of Character, but no. Zio is not quite that much the Wise Old-Timer. And when Janeway offers the real bombers to the Akatarian ambassador, he calls ‘too late, no backsies’ on her and forces Janway to beg for the information they were offering beforehand. Well, to extort. The captain of the cargo ship demands his cohort be released as well, and Janeway doesn’t even let him think he’s got cards to play. In order to slip by the Akatarian defenses, Janeway decides to use Neelix’s ship.
Okay, so evidently people do make prisoner-jerky, because the head honcho in prison demands Tom’s corpse, as well as his shoes. Harry refuses, of course, and the fight is interrupted by the alarm blaring and Janeway somersaulting down the chute with a wide-beam stun. The Akaterians are on the way, and Neelix does everything he can to stall them while Janeway completes the extraction mission. He scoots away, and after some careful ministrations, Tom and Harry are somewhat lucid after some neural babble and Neelix won’t have to be tapped to fly the ship. But as we fade out of the scene, we see Harry dwelling on what he almost did. I wish it faded out right there, but they keep it going long enough for Tom to start making Harry feel better.