In which Tuvok and Neelix are not quite as cute a couple as Odo and Quark, but it’s honestly close.
Open on Voyager watching an asteroid slowly tumble towards a planet, with several foreign dignitaries observing. Janeway orders them to fire, and they waste some of their limited supply of torpedoes on blowing it up. Well, trying to. It’s fragmented, not vaporized, and two fragments hit the surface of the planet, with explosions of green fire and stakes that haven’t been adequately set yet.
Ah, there we go. They impacted this populated planet, and fortunately in a place that wasn’t heavily populated. There’s more asteroids headed for the planet, and the next one is due in six hours, this time aimed at a large (5,000-citizen) colony. The ambassadors are going to consider evacuation, but just then they get a call from one of the surface scientists. The asteroids, including the 12 more headed for the planet, are constructed objects. As they should have suspected once upwards of 12 space objects wound up on a direct course to their planet within hours of each other. Since they don’t have time to evacuate the colony, Janeway orders a rescue team to go find the local astrophysicist, led by Tuvok, while Torres will begin analyzing the debris from the asteroid.
Janeway has let Neelix join the rescue team, and assigned him to Tuvok’s team. I’ve decided that for all his bumbling, I’ll give Neelix a shot and feel bad for him retroactively if he doesn’t somehow bork up the mission. On the way down, Tuvok and Neelix’s shuttle runs into a whole lot of turbulence, loses power, and has to make an emergency unscheduled landing, while Chakotay leaves the bridge to go look at fun rocks.
Neelix, Tuvok, and the local geologist have survived their crash, and found the scientist they’re here to rescue. He refuses to divulge the information to anyone but the ambassador, as it’s classified, and it’s going to take hours to get the shuttlecraft repaired enough enough to send a message. Neelix goes out to nail down the damage report, and sees some sort of spire ascending to the sky. It’s a space elevator/cargo lifter, and Neelix suggests they use it to get the shuttle out using his expertise as a tether maintenance tech. Tuvok disagrees with the plan, but he is outvoted.
Once they reach the tether, Neelix is captured by a refugee using the tether control room as shelter. During negotiations we find out that the maglev carriage’s oxygen converters are also damaged, but they may be able to repair those as well.
Analysis of the meteorite reveals that i’s composed of an alloy, and when they break it apart they find it contains technology – a guidance system. The easy answer would be that this is an attack of some kind – I’m holding out for a more interesting answer, like a failed terraforming experiment. Meanwhile, repairs on the ground are proceeding, and neelix is making himself very handy indeed, until he insists on naming the maglev carriage for good luck. He names it Alixia, after his favorite sister. His late sister. While Neelix works on bonding with the repair crew, Tuvok simmers in impotent fury and chews him out for not repairing things fast enough. After repairs have proceeded some more, the doctor tries to leave without them, and destabilizes the whole tether. They just barely manage to launch all together.
On the way up, the compartment starts to shake itself off the tether, but some quick work evens it out and they’re able to continue their ascent. They still need to fix the oxygen converters and all the other problems caused by their premature ascent, and it turns out that all of Neelix’s experience is on 1/10th scale prototypes. In tensions running so high, the woman tries to throw the lead scientist out the door, and Tuvok successfully staves off a mutiny before returning to Neelix to gloat about, apparently, how badly they need someone to handle the morale that Tuvok just told him not to worry about. Chalk up more points in the ‘Tuvok is bad at his job’ column.
Paris’ team is doing just fine, but the next incoming asteroid is two hours out and half a kilometer wide. The maglev carriage is now high enough that breathing is becoming difficult, and Tuvok has to go around injecting people with trioxygen to keep everyone alive. Right as Neelix starts to teach Tuvok how to run the ascent thrusters, the doctor tries to leave, goes into shock, says something about ‘the roof,’ and dies. Tuvok believes he was murdered, so now we have a little mystery.
To recap, on this ascender we have Neelix and Tuvok, neither of whom did it if only because Neelix didn’t have a chance to cook anything. We have Lillias, the woman who was hiding out in the ascender base. We have Hanjuan, the buff guy who was with Doctor Vatm when they found the shuttle. And there’s Sklar the geologist who was on Voyager. Tuvok finds that Doc Vatm was poisoned with ascender coolant. Neelix latches on to what Vatm said about the roof, and calls Tuvok out on being such a jerk and pretending that he’s not holding a grudge.
Honestly, this setup is much better than the original version of the dichotomy when it was done in TOS. Here, there’s some semblance of an excuse for Neelix to be insisting on listening to his gut – is is in general better, interpersonally, than Tuvok, and he’s focused on an aspect of the situation where intuitive empathy is arguably more likely to arrive at a valid answer than emotionless logic. But he’s also claiming he’s the only one who can pilot the craft that he just stopped by moving a lever. On a track.
In the end, Tuvok accedes to Neelix’s demands and goes out on the roof, since he’s the only one who can survive the thin atmosphere. He locates a panel with a datapad on it, which is when Sklar the Geologist winds up having to reveal himself as the traitor. He Kicks Neelix down the stairs and throws Tuvok over the edge of the ascender, to barely catch a spar on his way down. With Neelix heavily concussed, Sklar orders the other two to get the carriage moving.
As it turns out, the next ‘asteroid’ in the sequence is a ship with a crew compliment of 2000. The Itanian order is claiming the planet, apparently, from the local Nizu.
While the folks on the ascender try to figure out how to start it up without breaking it, Neelix sees Tuvok hanging onto the edge and opens the door to let him in. The pad goes flying, but eventually Tuvok wins the fight and kicks Sklar out to save everyone and eat some crow for Neelix. Apparently, Sklar had a datapad with a whole lot of tactical data about the alien ship for some reason. Neelix is on the verge of a concussion, and Tuvok gives him a passable attempt at a pep talk.
Up in space, Voyager‘s phasers are not breaking through the Itanian shields just as the ascender punches through the ionosphere. Now that the transporter works, Voyager rescues the crew, and the datapad lets them bypass the Itanian shields.
In case you were wondering why Sklar had a datapad with all of that data on it, it was collected by Doctor Vatm and hidden there. He would only talk to the ambassador because of the whole ‘knowing about a traitor’ thing. And in case you were wondering how that contained the shield modulation information for a specific ship, too bad. All you get is Tuvok and Neelix getting in some really quite good after-action banter.