In which it’s mail call, Harry gets depressed, and Janeway’s all alone again.
Signals are propagating through the colorful vastness of space, as Janeway listens over and over trying to pick out human voices. The signals are coming over the Hirogen communications network. Once cleaned up, we reiterate that Starfleet is looking to help Voyager out, but the rest of the message is stuck in a relay station, so they go charging off to it to get the rest of the message. The Hirogen, whose network it is and whose captain has a lot of skulls on his wall, go charging after as well. Their consoles are a really interesting lever-pull system, and the captain has vats of war-paint at the constant ready at all times. It says a lot about them, given that he doesn’t even have to break through a dried skin of paint on the top.
Harry is optimistic about the chances that Starfleet may have already made some kind of technological advance that could get them home faster, which says a lot about the pace of development in the Federation, even when calibrated for Harry’s child-like exuberance. Even Tuvok wants to believe. The other good news is that as long as Voyager stays in range of the relay stations, they’ll be able to keep in touch with home. Meanwhile, Seven has been staying up late trying to decode a message for the Captain, which she sees as important beyond properly calibrating for her own physical health. During this discussion, the ship runs into turbulence from the relay’s power source, and also a drifting ship with a dead crew.
The dead crew was divested of all his bones, ligaments, and organs. In fact, all that’s left is the skin, which makes it really impressive that Harry managed to distinguish it from random detritus on the unfamiliar ship. Seven is familiar with this procedure from her time with the Borg, but not which species caused it. Once they get to the relay, they find it to be at least 100 millennia old and using a quantum singularity for a power source. Because of this, and apparently because ancient Hirogen didn’t build as well as modern Romulans, or the stations have significantly decayed. But that’s less important, apparently, than that Starfleet has started forwarding letters from the families of the crew. Bam, right in the feels. Neelix’s newest duty is mail carrier.
Seven has also located an encrypted datastream hidden under the letters, containing maps and technical data. Seven doesn’t care much about getting to Earth, but has to consider it anew once Janeway points out she might have extended family. Chakotay’s got a message from his Maquis recruiter, probably about how the Dominion squished them all. Tuvok has a message that he’s not going to read immediately, to Neelix’s chagrin. Neelix offers to read it to Tuvok. It’s from his wife, bearing the news that he’s now a grandfather. Once Neelix leaves, Tuvok is no longer concerned with saving face, and settles in to read. Janeway’s letter is from Mark, and is not the very happiest of news. Torres wasn’t expecting any letters, but Chakotay goes to share his. It is, indeed, about the end of the Maquis. Oh, and Tom is the least excited about any potential letters home, because all he’s got is his jerk of a father. But Harry hasn’t gotten his either, and is slowly losing faith.
Their access to the relay is too poor to allow them to keep accessing the data for much longer, so Janeway approves Seven and Tuvok taking a shuttle. Harry drops into Astrometrics to get teasted about his puppy crush on Seven, and to check on his letters. He’s not in the mood for taunting. On the shuttle over, Seven checks with Tuvok to make sure that Janeway gave her a chaperon out of legitimate policy rather than personal distrust. Seven and Tuvok are on the right wavelength to have this discussion. Tuvok also asks whether Janeway’s opinion is that important to her, but they get hit by a Hirogen scan and taken out of commission before the question can be fully answered. They try to take it close to the station so it will be ripped apart, but no such luck. All they manage to do is get a distress beacon off before being taken offline. And speaking of uncomfortable shots across the bow, Tom has gotten a letter from his dad after all, and triggered by B’Elanna’s collapse, he realizes that he actually does care about it.
Chakotay believes that Tuvok and Seven have successfully repaired the containment, which means that the Hirogen have successfully repaired the containment, which means that Janeway is not going to be allowed to stick around. Also, Mark gave up on her and got married four months ago, which means that if Janeway had just banged Q then she would be facing an entirely different relationship problem right now. Instead, they’re still in the Delta quadrant, and they’ve gotten the empty shuttle back.
Seven and Tuvok are evidently in a trophy room, festooned with bones in netting, and are a bit tied up at the moment, with what looks like Cardo Straps by Hot Topic. Shortly after they wake up, they are derided for being terrible prey and interrogated. As prey in a ‘fair hunt’ they are claimed, and all their threats only make the Hirogen more excited to enter the hunt. There’s also something of a rival pack dynamic – the captain’s Second wants the strength of other members of the Hirogen fleet, but the captain wants all the glory of taking out Voyager for himself. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Seven and Tuvok, as ‘relics’ of the hunt. The Hirogen captain gives Janeway a chance to run, but as she won’t leave without her crew it’s going to come down to a fight.
The Hirogen captain is really pleased to be able to disembowel Seven and Tuvok and take their intestines as trophies, to the exclusion of joining in the hut for Voyager. Getting the first kill on an alien species is worth it, it seems. And as the pack’s ships outgun Voyager Janeway plans to trigger the QS again to mess with them, while defending Voyager in a way nobody bothered to mention before, via a low-level warp field. The plan works, knocks the Hirogen off-balance long enough for Tuvok to almost slice someone’s throat out. The plan also screwed up the message, all the letters, and the underlying data, just before destroying the station and sucking everyone into a black hole. This nearly scatters the patterns of Seven and Tuvok, but of course they are rescued.
Tragically, the burst of energy destabilized the entire network of relays, but they pulled some last few messages off the system before the network went down, including Harry’s letter. Tom’s letter wasn’t saved in time though, but that just means that he can make up a more supportive father. That said, now that Voyager has utterly FUBAR’d the Hirogen comms network, anyone who got the news about Voyager messing with the relays will have an eye out for them. Oh, plus, now that Janeway isn’t waiting for Mark, she and Chakotay can go back to that planet with the handmade hot tub.