In which Harry and Voyager get crabs.
A very, very long alien ship passes through the void, and as it does, Harry Kim is making out vigorously with probably one of the locals, who has glowy static under her skin that transfers to him. These are the Varo, and Voyager is helping to repair teir warp drive. However, these people are very insular, and refusing to let Janeway help without every repair being like tooth-pulling. Over 400 years, the Varo have built themselves into a generation ship, and Janeway uses this to do some friendly ‘we’re not so different’-ing and they get the Faro ship up and running, with a bit of luck.
Meanwhile, Harry has woken up with his lady, and really worried about whether or not Starfleet has a regulation about banging aliens. Hint: They definitely don’t. But Harry is jumpy, and puts the end to a perfectly good night. He and his new girlfriend show up in engineering in time to observe the transfer fail, due to nearly shaking the Varo ship apart. They have to abort for now.
And speaking of aborting things, Tom knows that Harry’s been having assignations because he’s the only one who came off the Varo ship clean. As if he had to shower. Tom points out that Harry always falls for the wrong girl, after which he runs back to his quarters, encrypts a comms channel, and declares to the woman, Tal, that he was phone-edging himself and that’s why the call is late.
It’s now that we find out that the grey staticky light thing was indicative of a fundamental biological difference between the two species that made the sex particularly interesting. However, Tuvok is on the ball, and catches the transmission in-progress, but Tom covers for his buddy once he realizes what it is.
Next day, Tom tells Harry that he was tracked while Chakotay is handing out assignments, then Harry and Seven have to go to work surveying the ship from Astrometrics. He asks Seven for advice on romantic love. I guess she’s… objective… about it? She also notes that Harry is starting to luminesce. Apparently that Varo sex-thing is an STD?
In Sick Bay, the Doctor tries to narrow down what the problem is, but doesn’t quite ask the right questions. Although he probably gets close asking if it’s something Harry ate. At least some of the regulations about interspecies sex are to screen against alien contagions, and which nullfy any doctor-patient confidentiality that might exist on a starship. Janeway is not happy to hear that her favorite virgin is no more. Since his condition isn’t life-threatening, she doesn’t need to quarantine him, but she does need to full-bioscan them both and then out Tal to her people because sex has to have social consequences, damn it.
Neelix is reporting an unauthorized use of the mess hall replicator to Tuvok, which includes a rerouting of environmental controls to a maintenance area, and which is heavily encoded. When the two of them investigate, they find a Varo scanning device and some provisions. They locate the stowaway.
Meanwhile, Harry has to go deliver the news that he’s been ordered to break up with Tal to her. Turns out the luminescing thing is a known effect of their species, but she didn’t expect it to happen to Harry, based on their differing biology. And it’s expected to Change him. It will go away if they stop seeing each other. Or, if they sneak around, it’ll get stronger and do whatever it is that it does.
The stowaway does not want to go back to the Varo ship. Looks like it’s a refugee situation – the Varo ship is divided, many of the crew want to leave and may be willing to get violent to overthrow the leadership. When the stowaway refuses to answer questions, Chakotay locks him up and tells that Varo authorities, because xenophobic regimes are usually so great to live under, and their repression has nothing to do with trying to retain population.
So, you know how DS9 has been exploring the way Starfleet idealism breaks down when it comes into contact with the rougher edges of civilization? Particularly with epsodes like In The Pale Moonlight and the Siege of AR-558? It really feels like Voyager has just realized that they’re doing a slow breakdown of Janeway from All-star Starfleet officer to cavalier I-Got-Mine-Jack survivalist. I mean, it’s not villainous or anything, but I feel like Picard would have at least cited the Prime Directive rather than the possibility of trade goods as to why they’re trying not to look into the obvious underbelly of this ship’s political structure. Such are the luxuries of being a well-stocked cruise ship within a few weeks of a Starbase at most.
The biochemical link for the Varo is usually permanent, and one way the Varo leader tries to make Janeway feel bad is that Tal could get sick once Harry leaves. However, before they can go into who deserves to be slut-shamed in this instance, Torres reports that Voyagerhas started developing microfractures in a docking clamp. Sounds like the STD metaphor in this episode isn’t Harry’s post-coital glow at all, but rather some parasite on the ships themselves. On deeper inspection, the parastes turn out to by synthetic, too. Sabotage from the inside.
Harry is sneaking a comm signal to Tal to prepare her for beamover to a shuttle. It’s also worth noting that she was studying a schematic of the parasites. Could be that she got them because she’s on the engineering team trying to deal with them, or it could be that she’s part of the resistance, which would tie into her non-xenophobic tendancies and willing to engage in… cultural congress. They decide to go take a trip to a nebula 300,000 km away. That is the distance from Earth to the moon. Nebulas are huge. They’re basically inside it already, at that distance. When they go to check it out, they get some more flirting in, and she tells him that if you feel something strongly enough, you have to break a few rules. She’s definitely going to turn out to be part of the separatist faction.
After they get caught by Tuvok, this gets confirmed, and debriefed in Voyager’s conference room. Turns out the parasites were placed not to destroy the Varo ship but to dismantle it, decouple all the segments to allow each one to become its own ship. Janeway does not enjoy having to be party to an ugly couples fight, and orchestrates a compromise where she’ll help stop the parasites from causing collateral damage. And when that’s sorted, Janeway orders Kim to Sick Bay so the Doctor can treat the obvious brain-malady he’s contracted that’s preventing him from obeying orders. She even threatens his rank over this. You know, his high rank of Ensign. What’s next, make him stay after class and clap the erasers?
Harry makes an impassioned speech and before Janeway can respond, the Varo ship starts violently and explosively disassembling, and Voyager is still stuck to it and can’t disengage. Once they get docking controls running, Harry and Tuvok offer opposing choices – extend Voyager’s structural integrity field around the Varo ship to shore it up for a bit to help them evacuate, or don’t, thereby not risking an explosion that destroys both ships. Janeway takes Harry’s path, and Tal definitely enjoys getting to use that as a dig against the xenophobe leader.
Of course, now that they’re clear, he wants to finish off the parasites, risking both ships with a polaron surge rather than letting them go. He’s able to control that impulse, though, fortunately, and the Varo ship becomes a Varo flotilla. Some of the Varo have split off, presumably after some cabin-swapping so that everyone who wants to leave can actually be on the same ship. Tal, as one of those dissidents, is on a ship traveling alongside Voyager, at least for a little bit. They have to suffer withdrawal for a while, but the Varo have medications.
Harry doesn’t want to take the medicines the Doctor offers, but at least Janeway comes by to apologize for her insane overreaction. It is, of course, because she doesn’t think of Harry as just a crewman but also as a fresh, green pet that she has to shelter. He’s still staying up sleepless nights, but he gets one last pick-me-up, this one from Seven, in her idiosyncratic way.