In which Seven meets a self-described Nice Guy.
A blue guy announces his presence in what appears to be an abandoned aquarium. Not abandoned, as it turns out. He asks the majordomo and the robot where to find Mr. Kuros. This whole thing seems to be an undersea research lab that’s just saved his planet. This vessel is apparently an itinerant consultancy firm, but the planet’s payment for its salvation has been complicated by quakes closing the mines. Or rather, the planet is trying to go back on the deal, and told in no uncertain terms that their planet can be un-saved very easily if they don’t pay up with the only resource that would allow them to rebuild their replicator networks. What’s the fair market price for saving a planet, and how many people starving to death for that price before Janeway will feel justified in interfering?
We’re gonna find out. Seven is trying to report something to Janeway but she’s busy playing Rubix Dodecahedron. I imagine someone bringing urgent news would ‘just know’ to interrupt her interruption if it was time-critical. Anyway, the report is of a planet with dlithium crystals, and also Harry is allowed to play this puzzle on the bridge. Once they get to the planet, the dilithium deposits are deeper than expected, and the planet responds to their scans by exploding. Seven recognizes the species, Hizari, a violent and technological species occasionally used as bounty hunters. Janeway pulls a very Kirk-like maneuver – igniting the planetary gas cloud, route all power to shields, and hit warp as soon as the cloud ‘clears’ (read, explodes) enough for them to leave. This does leave the question of who hired the Hizari.
We’ll find out – the Hizari have two dozen ships total and a code of never abandoning a job. Janeway is contemplating options in the mess hall over coffee, and using Neelix as a sounding board, but only for about to seconds. Once he leaves, one of the guys from the eponymous Think Tank shows up in her chair to talk about how fun puzzles are. I feel like ‘creepy rapist’ isn’t the way you want to open your sales pitch, but I guess they’ve got experience doing this. He’s only present by hologram, or ‘isomorphic projection’ but he can disable her comms and also taste coffee through it. I’m also, judging by what happened to that planet, going to guess that the Think Tank are the ones who hired the mercenaries to entrap Voyager as a play to get their hands on a) rare Federation tech or b) rare Tame Borg tech.
The negotiations are that kind of whispered weird intensity. He gives Janeway some preliminary info on the Hizari and she agrees to hear what the price tag is and go to meet on his terms. Their think tank pops out of subspace, and has a neutronium hull, which the Borg have never quite managed. Janeway takes Seven on board. Janeway immediately shows off her humanoid biases by asserting to nobody in particular that the jellyfish in the tank with no obvious space for a brain isn’t a member of the Think Tank, while the humanoid shouting gibberish at them has language ‘too complex’ to process.
The Think Tank immediately recognizes Seven’s Borg implants. He also shows off the centerpiece of their ship, a translator, and their Much Bigger Tank Full Of Space Whale, the founder of their group. He offhand claims to have cured the Vidiian Phage. And the prices of past clients that he’s willing to talk about are things like maps and recipes. Janeway, looking for a reason to distrust, wants to know where their moral line is, and it’s at completing genocide. They will help win wars, but not wipe out populations. The initial meeting has gone well enough that Janeway is willing to talk price tag.
The price tag includes the QS drive, one of Neelix’s recipes, one of Chakotay’s statues, and something that merits a violin sting. The next item is, of course, Seven. Kuros wants to offer her a place on the Think Tank, and Janeway doesn’t even ask Seven before refusing. She does afterwards, once she’s been reminded. Seven, who has already shown herself to be willing to sacrifice for the crew, is of course willing to go along. Janeway resets to a baseline – she says Seven is enough of an individual to make the decision, but that she’s not allowed to feel compelled to do so for Voyager‘s sake.
Thus begins the second round of job interviews – the telepathic conversation with the robot was round 1. This is the Corporate Culture stage. Kuros was also sold to the Think Tank as payment for a Solution. And their goal, like that of the Borg, is internal perfection at the cost of pursuing goals that are not the Flying Scout Altruisms of the Federation. When Seven declines, two Hizari ships close in for the hunt. Kuros offers Janeway a nugget of wisdom about Hizari tactics which come straight out of Team Fortress, and he offers the taste for free, to keep Voyager alive long enough to pay full price.
Kuros, having been refused even after his big speech about what a Nice Guy(tm) he is and how they’d treat Seven so much better, does the predictable thing and gets real mean, real fast, so Janeway adjusts the shields to hang up on him. Back on his own ship, the Conference of Minds adopts a wait-and-see approach.
Voyager is laying traps. Mines in a debris field full of human remains, and they manage to successfully abduct a pair of Hizari for interrogation. And their ship for reverse-engineering. During this, Chakotay finds some messages discussing Voyagerand her defenses. The Doctor manages to backtrack this into a forensic reconstruction of the guys who hired the Hizari, and it’s those radiation-dumping jerkwads, the Malon. Janeway doesn’t believe it – the Malon are too mercenary to go after Voyager. The hiring agent was an ‘isomorphic projection’ and was in fact Kuros. With this information, the Hizari are willing to cooperate. The Think Tank hasn’t made many friends in this sector.
After a brainstorming montage, Janeway decides that going up against the Think Tank’s strengths is a dumb idea when she can’t even solve a space-rubix-cube. In frustration she has Seven solve it, triggering an epiphany about cheating the game. Janeway will use Seven as a trojan horse to disrupt the Think Tank’s comms, and to set that up, the Hizari will start hunting Voyager again to prompt a desperation change-of-heart. It is couched in a a gambit that you could almost think was the Hizari re-betraying Voyager, up through a firefght, and culminating with Seven ‘escaping’ Voyager to join the Tank.
And to their credit, none of this is really played for suspense. Instead, what’s played for suspense is whether Kuros will piece together that the ruse is in fact a ruse. But great news – their solution to figuring this out is to interface with Seven’s mind, leaving their translator wide open for a zero-day exploit. Kuros swears enmity as the Hizari pound it to oblivion and Voyager runs off.