In which Torres presses the flesh, the Doctor gets inside Seven, and Janeway decides to kill everyone.
Torres is wandering around through the Jeffries tubes doing maintenance, but finds Seven reconfiguring some power couplings to draw power for the astrometrics lab, without consulting the chief engineer, causing hours of lost work. However, midway into her diatribe, she remembers being in a similar position as Seven, and is unexpectedly blindsided by empathy. Paris is also adjusting to his new job as head nurse, by running away form his duty shift to surprise Torres with some flowers via site-to-site transport. Meanwhile, just off to the side and unbeknownst, someone is watching them using some sort of personal cloaking technology.Torres had the feeling they were being watched, but they shrug it off.
Life goes on. The Doctor has a masseuse program and Janeway is in constant need of it. She’s also been having constant headaches. Her massage is interrupted by the ship approaching a binary pulsar system. Ship’s business continues, with Torres and Tom ‘ensuring that helm control is compatible with engineering output’ in her secluded, upper workstation. I really hope those consoles can recognize the difference between purposeful input and butt-dialing. They’re interrupted by Tuvok, and Tom runs after him to do some hasty explaining. They’ve become a little preoccupied with keeping up appearances. At least until they stop dancing around each other.
The distracting external phenomenon of the week are these pulsars, which they have to be careful not to be swatted by. Janeway, after the planning meeting, calls Paris and Torres to stay behind after to lecture them about standards and appearances. And she’s clearly grumpier than she might otherwise be, due to the chronic headaches. Hours later, Chakotay is doing some late work, orders some coffee, and whoever is doing this secret spying zaps him a couple of times with an unknown thing and starts messing with his body.
In Sick Bay, it seems that Chakotay’s been the victim of some excessive rapid-onset aging, as his metabolism has been somehow kicked into overdrive. He’s relieved of duty while they hunt down the problem. And while Harry and Tom discuss his relationship in the mess hall, Neelix gets a sudden attack of way-more-spots disease. His DNA has also been stimulated the same way Chakotay’s has, and some recessive alien DNA from his grandfather has been activated. He and Chakotay start getting competitive about their ailments as more and more cases start manifesting all over the ship. In studying samples, the Doctor finds a contaminant on some of the DNA – a barcode. Whoever’s doing this, either the Doctor was absurdly lucky in getting the one sample they signed, or whatever method they use is self-marking for future research purposes.
The Doctor checks other samples, and finds the markings to be a common element across all samples, and Torres does some analysis to determine that the tags are out of phase, and transmitting a signal to the scientists behind their phased duck-blind. In an effort to hide themselves, the hidden antagonists start deleting the Doctor and Science Torres unconscious by stopping her lungs from processing oxygen. The Doctor is now missing, but managed to save himself in such a way as to only be audible via Seven’s auditory implants and is keeping himself secret, probably to avoid deletion.
He’s hiding in Janeway’s da Vinci program, and briefs Seven on the situation while showing just how little ‘artistic skill’ was deemed to matter to his program. In the holodeck, he modifies Seven’s optical implants to view the same phase variants that Torres was trying to occupy. Now she just has to scan all 257 rooms of Voyager, one by one, communicating over a secure channel if need be.
As she walks down the corridors, she immediately sees one science officer blisfully unaware of a massive headgear feeding drugs into his neck, and follows a scientist while trying not to make it obvious she knows it’s there. This means she has to hold still while being injected with something. When she gets to the mess hall, most of the crew are wearing these horrifying headgear and studying the crew in various ways. Somehow, the phased matter is intangible, and nobody notices the screws bolted to their skulls, but without falling off the bodies they’re attached to. It’s a much more refined interaction than the ones that kept Ro and LaForge from just falling through the floor.
Tuvok reports no progress to Captain Crankypants, who’s going to start cracking down on lax crew protocols. Tuvok talks her down before Seven gets there to find a bunch of needles stuck through Janeway’s skull. Seven can’t tell her because there’s a pair of aliens tweaking on her brain.
Seven reports back to the Doctor that there are more than fifty aliens, and may have a way to make them all visible. The Doctor has a counter – shocking everyone strongly enough to disable the genetic tags, which will involve messing with the power relays again, in violation of Torres’ earlier orders. Tuvok catches the safety overrides on his monitor and goes to stop her. She can’t quite explain, until one of the cloaked aliens forces her hand and she has to reveal it with a modulated phaser burst. With the evidence provided, Seven gets permission to proceed, and Grumpy Janeway gets to interrogate the alien.
The aliens are studying Voyager‘s crew and doing medical research. She refuses to answer questions, because it would put the integrity of the study at risk. They moralize at each other from opposite sides of the lab coat, and the alien scientist does some very dumb negotiations. Roughly summarized, she explains how they’ve been doping Janeway with agressive impulses, mentions the betting pool on when she’ll snap, and then when Janeway snaps she acts disappointed. Well, maybe she lost fifty quatloos. Then she finishes off with a ‘don’t resist and we’ll only kill a few of you.’
Seven has been unable to disable all the tags, and moments later the first fatalities set in as the aliens blow up a crewman’s entire circulatory system. Janeway’s had enough, and flies Voyager directly towards the pulsar system. It’s quite a Kirkian strategy. Janeway hopped up on four days of insomnia takes all the poor decision-making she’s done over the last year and turns it up to 11, and the aliens blink. Unfortunately, she can’t break free of the pulsars, so they gun the engines and hope that the ship can survive the gravitational shear and make it through the other side. It can, severely damaged, and after a few days of rest and no interference, things manage to settle down.
Paris ends the day having a nice dinner with Torres, some wine, a salad, and a nice grown-up date and discussion about their relationship. He offers her an out for their relationship, but happily neither of them take it.