In which Janeway expects all her ancestors to be special.
Life goes on aboard Voyager, with Neelix asking – no, showing off- his knowledge of Earth trivia. Incorrect Earth trivia, in fact. Now that Neelix is interested, Janeway quizzes him on the Millennium Gate, an object constructed in the 21st century which could be seen from space. Note that the 21st century is inevitably used as the era in which everything interesting or impressive was built, because anything after the 2160s was either global war or built with the help of the Vulcans. Thus, the early 21st century is the height of human exceptionalism. The Gate was a 3.2 km-wide arcology that one of Janeway’s ancestors, Shannon O’Donnel, designed in the spare time she had in addition to being an astronaut. Janeway’s story is a frame story for an extended familial flashback.
Shannon O’Donnel’s story starts in December of the distant year 2000. Driving through Indiana, her car starts to break down near the future site of the Millennium Gate. The town here apparently has no gas or food, but at least the guy whose car she bumped is more disappointed than angry. It’s not a good post-christmas for Shannon, but she makes it to a friendly book shop where she can wait for a tow truck. The town is basically closed, and the boostore is leading an effort to save it against the redevelopment of the Millennium Gate. If you’ve watched literally any Miyazaki movie ever it’s pretty clear the central conflict of this story will be the tension between preserving the past and creating wonderous future things that make humanity better. Oh, also, the bookstore owner is Henry Janeway, and he’s the last holdout preventing the Gate, which he sees as a glorified shopping mall, from getting the land together.
A couple of objections spring to mind. One is Eminent Domain, but I can’t remember just how much that was abused by developers in 2000. The other is that all the neighbors already sold everything and it’s not like people are going to be flocking to Exit Nine off the Indiana Turnpike. Even if they kill the project, the town’s still dead. However, those objections die in the face of O’Donnell’s… egregious… statements about the utility of email.
Henry Janeway is a clear historical romanticist, but O’Donnell manages not to antagonize him by taking her banter to a too-real level. After all, he was nice enough to hire her in a dying town. To clarify, the money isn’t rolling in yet – the developers are offering great prices but only once everyone agrees. Henry’s holding down a bookstore that’s been in the family for generations. The two could not be more different, and even if it weren’t obvious from the names they’ll end up together, the whole thing has that quintissentially-90’s-rom-com feel to it.
In fact, Janeway has almost won – the developers are pretty close to choosing an alternate site. With Janeway making an appearance on the news and the town staring daggers at him, they hole up in the bookshop where he makes dinner and talks about how the only thing he knows about the world outside Indiana is from books. And while her car is all fixed up, she’s been invited to stick around.
Back in the future, Katheryn Janeway is looking at a model and trying to do some data forensics to repair the data. This is mostly as a lead-in so Janeway can explain the concept of ancestral role models to Seven. One of Seven’s was a prizefighter, but she finds it unlikely she’ll continue the family line. Neelix helps her in the research for Shannon, with a simple command expanding the search from Federation databases to all personal and non-federation databases as well. All of which Voyager is carrying in on-board storage, remember. We have remarked on it before, but the data storage capacity of a starship seems to be effectively infinite, if you extrapolate the esoteric nature of the information they’re looking for and realize that Voyager must necessarily contain all information at least that obscure. O’Donnell was a major figure in the construction of a major landmark, so it’s not infeasible, but that’s still a lot of data. And what they found was a family photo in a Ferengi database.
Fun fact – Janeway is looking at a picture in a database on her terminal, and asks Neelix to ‘download it’ so she can frame it. I’m choosing to believe that slang has changed such that moving a piece of data from any abstract medium to a more concrete one is considered ‘downloading.’ From distributed storage to local, but also from local storage on a general-purpose terminal onto a digital display or even to a replicator. The alternative is that Katheryn Janeway still has an AOL account and is afraid to use cloud storage in case it rains.
Shannon gets a meeting with the Millennium Gate representative, who’s done some digging into her past and found that O’Donnell got a rough break when her aerospace job ended, while all her classmates have gotten things like a scheduled turn on the space station. And he’s making an offer. She helps him turn Janeway, and she gets a consultancy gig in the engineering wing of the Gate. They don’t want to move the site to Ohio, it seems.
Shannon O’Donnell dreams of Armstrong, and wakes up to find Henry Janeway gone to Bloomington, leaving his son Jason in charge, so he can go get supplies from a town that isn’t boycotting him. Also, he’s not a fan of millennials. It’s 12 hours to midnight when Henry gets back with papers, but now that she’s gotten the push, O’Donnell is ready to stand up against the characterization of the worlds’ first functioning arcology and prototype for a Mars colony as a ‘shopping mall.’ When they fight at Shannon moves on, Jason also leaves to get to his Aunt.
Back in the future, Harry tells Janeway, Seven, Neelix, and Tom the stories of his own ancestors and their experiences with early space travel. Harry’s Uncle Jack, back in 2210 before there were subspace transmitters, had to put his crew in stasis on a journey to Beta Capricus I’m assuming he means Beta Capricorni. That’s about 340 LY from Earth, so while they journey at early warp certainly could have taken weeks, the messages back would probably still be on their way. Also when he got there it turned out that the star was an illusion, a mirage of a distant galaxy. He kept his crew in stasis the whole time, spent a year going there and back, and in all that time didn’t decided to trick his crew into a Journey to the Far Side of the Sun / Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Evolution situation. Disappointing. A wet blanket just like his nephew.
The Doctor shows up to include his related AI branches as his ancestry, and you can see a brief shiver of discomfort from Seven as everyone casually laughs at Tom’s witty insult. Tom’s own family were colonists and farmers, except for his dad the Admiral. But one of his ancestors did piloting on Mars, and Paris’ love of trivia is suddenly at odds with Janeway’s family legend. His knowledge of 20th-century trivia is so accepted that Janeway stays up all night trying to reconcile the legend, and by the morning has jokingly decided that she’s fallen into a parallel universe. In the end, she’s put together most of the story we’ve seen – a NASA dropout who lost an engineering job, got hired as a consultant on the Gate project which was largely welcomed with open arms. She did find the news article of Henry Janeway yelling at the corporate hype man, though.
In a feel-good moment, even though Henry is still resisting the project three hours away from midnight, the corporate guy is still offering Shannon the job. She wasn’t just there to Trojan-horse him, and she refuses the call of Jason to come winkle him out of his shop. Instead, she hits the snowy road, still undecided as to whether she’ll continue on to Florida or take the job in Ohio, while talking to herself as if dictating a Captain’s Log. In fact, she is. It decides her to turn back.
She has her final confrontation with Henry where she talks about how Henry is still being an idiot, and how the cookies taste like ashes when she can’t share them with Henry. When she finds out he’s allergic, she taunts him, then offers to stay if he wants. Since it’s love, he’s willing to reopen the bookstore in the Millennium Gate, and sneaks in just under the deadline.
Back in the future, as Janeway is depressed that her ancestor’s legacy is not the earth-bestriding colossus she thought it was, Neelix calls her down to the mess hall to help celebrate a holiday they just invented to honor all their heritages.