In which Janeway is the stable one, but only by contrast.
A ship that is not Voyager is under heavy attack, shields sparkling. Her captain orders the shields down and… whatever is attacking them… allowed into the ship so they can recharge the shields. The crew takes up arms. As soon as the shields go down, the ship is filled with an unearthly hum, and rifts in spacetime open up and let little flying monsters through that kill people by making them old.
Voyager has picked up this signal, grainy though it may be, and is going to charge to the rescue of the Federation Starship Equinox, under command of Captain Ransom, also stuck in the delta quadrant. It’s way out of its depth and wouldn’t be out here looking for Voyager, as it’s a Nova-class optimized for planetary survey. Captain Ransom was an exobiologist promoted to captain for making successfu first contact. Seven is looking forward to meeting new people.
The ship is still being disrupted by mysterious energy surges, and Ransom begs them to extend their shields. Voyager starts to hear the hum, and get the fissures, but soon the shields hold and Janeway scrambles rescue teams. The Equinox is trashed, but the away team discovers that the case of death for all the crew is extreme dessication, and that the Equinox has had her core rejiggered. They eventually find survivors, who were unaware of Voyager‘s plight. They’ve been in the Delta quadrant since at least before Voyager found the Hirogen array. Ransom’s alive, and has no idea of what’s attacking them, other than that it’s been ongoing for weeks.
Ransom was also pulled here by the Caretaker, and has evidently been here longer than Voyager itself. There are a mere handful of survivors of the Equinox, and Janeway assigns them out to work crews. Max Burke will be working with Tuvok and Seven, but wants to say hello to B’Elanna first. They were friends in the Academy. Sweater-loaning friends. He was a bit of a troubled child in the Academy too, but Torres beat him to it, and Tom is doing a poor job of hiding his entirely understandable feelings.
Lt Gilmore has been assigned to repair the Equinox but doesn’t want to go back. Like, ever, even once they’ve got it repaired. She’s kind of a wreck – terrified to stay in turbolifts in case the aliens incurse. The aliens are continually attacking Voyager‘s shields, giving the ship about two days of shields. Since the aliens can only survive for a few seconds in this reality, Janeway wants to trap some here as a warning. Burke explains they’ve already devised one, but that it’s in their research station and flooded with radiation. Instead of examining the existing one, they’ll just grab the specs.
The Equinox has broken down on rank and protocol, where Janway has upheld it for five years. They compare notes about hazards – the Equinox hasn’t met the borg, but they ran into a territorial empire that took out half the crew. At that point he started to make the choice between principles and survival. Janeway assures him that she’s impressed by their pluck. They also discuss at what point it’s acceptable to break the prime directive, although if he’s only walked the line once or twice, it seems an interesting thing to bring up.
Ransom goes to find Burke, and tell him that the Voyager crew will ‘never understand’ and to keep them away from the research lab and the warp core. sinister and ominous.
Crewman Lessing goes to help Seven sort through their biodata. They are interrupted by the hum of pixie-fissures, focused on a single shield vector and breaking right through. Voyager has sufficient emergency backups to compensate, but it’s a faster countdown. To deal with that, progress on the pixie-resistant force fields commence. In any other circumstance, Janeway would agree to keep both ships, but with one crippled it’s a drain on resources. Ransom doesn’t know (or doesn’t want to admit) the standard tactical doctrine for two ships in the field without a clear chain of command. Starfleet does have regulations for this – tactical superiority. Janeway is in command, for as long as Rudy Ransom and his crew of roughs consent.
Max Burke appears to be sneaking around Engineering, and distracting Torres with talk of their past and hopeless flirting. Meanwhile, Harry and Chakotay discuss salvage with Gilmore. The Equinox has almost no dilithium left, and certainly not enough to power a ship. So where’s the power coming from? Put a pin in that. She seems helpful but is falling in line with Ransom’s directive to keep people away from the engines. Ransom calls her back to the Equinox, which she’s no longer deathly afraid of, and they all discuss heisting Voyager‘s field generator to stay safe. Voyager, with her full crew compliment and weapons, will be ‘fine.’ Ransom won’t brook any talk of signing on with Voyager, not when they’re ‘almost home.’ Those warp modifications must be something indeed.
Seven has located an anomaly – the Equinox lab was intentionally irradiated to keep the Voyager crew away from it. Thus, Janeway sends the Doctor on a covert mission to find out what’s up, and finds alien corpses in a chamber that appears to convert the aliens to crystal. They then extract protiens from the crystal – the Doctor’s assessment is that the Equinox has been converting aliens into fuel. Thus, Janeway orders Ransom and Burke apprehended.
The interview indicates that Ransom will need to kill 63 more aliens. They started doing this when they were out of dilithium and sixteen days into starvation, They limped to a planet where an alien species showed them this summoning ritual for spirits of good fortune, which were these aliens. Pixies, which Burke immediately realized was full of energy. The first death was accidental, and they used its body. With Ransom arrested and the whole crew under arrest, Janeway turns her attention to trying to remedy the situation.
Chakotay tells Gilmore to help dismantle the modifications. Her hesitance is elucidating for Seven. The Doctor, meanwhile, can’t get the data he needs due to the interference of the Equinox EMH. The Doctor shows off his mobile emitter, an the counterpart casually mensions in turn that he designed the conversion process, thanks to the deletion of his ethical subroutines. Then he takes the emitter. I’m pretty sure it was established previously that if the Doctor’s emitter was damaged while he was away, his program would be irreperably lost. I guess they discovered backups, or else the Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor.
Voyager is under attack from the pixies, and the Equinox EMH uses his cover to go break Ransom out. Voyager‘s security net fails to go up, and Ransom and Company escape. There’s a lot of back-and-forth but ultimately the Equinox makes off with the field generator on purpose and Seven by accident. Voyager is left to fend off the incursion with hand phasers, and the last we see of them is Janeway getting killed.