In which Tom gets inside a new ship and she gets inside him right back.
Voyager continues on at sublight, and things are boring enough, or possibly spurred on by the Doctor’s daydreams, Paris is doing math to try and figure out how old Tuvok is by how many Ponn Farr’s he’s been through. Tuvok sees no reason to tell the answer. The alert of the day is a fleet of ships, in multiple configurations. They go to red alert before contact is initiated, and throw up on the screen what appears to be a space trailer park. Or a junkyard-cum-trading post.
The proprietor, Abbadon (which appears to be a hereditary title) is cheerful and outgoing, as one might tend to be when operating such a business. Right away he shows interest in gravity plating, which can apparently be relatively easily constructed from standard hull plating. Note the constraints on gravity plating – it has to keep working when every other system fails, in every possible emergency scenario.
One of the ships Abbadon has collected calls to Paris on the level of a classic corvette, and Paris asks – nay begs, to be allowed to buy it and fix it up. One of its systems includes neural interface, and the price is acceptable and Tom ‘offers’ to fix it up himself. All in all the exchange goes off without a hitch, and we cut right to the fix-up, and Paris having named the ship Alice after an old flame he carried that never caught. They’re able to get it up and running. The computer’s been mostly wiped, and the first thing Paris does is plug it into his brain. It’s enough to take him to full-mast for the few seconds before he blows out the relays, and they call it a night. Once he leaves, though, the ship looms in a slow camera pan and re-powers itself to analyze Tom to create a perfect sultry voiceprint to seduce him.
Alice, it seems, can maintain a mental connection over distance, and calls to him when he’s in his quarters – even project a female form for him to follow down to the shuttle bay. Dream projection or sensory override, this has Tom spending every spare minute fixing up the ship and even replicating the flight suit he caught a glimpse of “alice” wearing down the corridors. While doing work, even in engineering, he’s chatting with Alice, and is putting off his Captain Proton game with Harry to try to get propulsion up and running.
Seven’s annoyed because the star charts are inaccurate, but it’s not all one-sided – Neelix got a trinket worth a fleet of starships in a certain region of space. Paris is in the mess hall to replicate up some champagne, and he and Neelix get to chatting about their first ships. Paris has invited Torres in to see Alice all fixed up, mostly new parts but all original consoles and interface. Their champagne drink is interrupted by some ambient temperature malfunction that lets Alice show off her voice in front of B’Elanna. He’s pretty quickly right back to his project, and Alice zaps Torres on the way out.
The increasing cost of rennovating Alice is threatening to cut into the emergency supplies and power reserve, and Tom is getting very unreasonable about the urgency of the project. Paris goes back to tell Alice the bad news and yes, he is seeing the antropormorphic representation. And she wants him to keep wearing the flight suit. Alice is also emotionally manipulative and doing that crazy-eyes thing. She tells tom to get some sleep, in the pilot seat, in a modified flight suit with new nubbins, and activate the neural interface. Once the brain-link is activated, she’s easily able to convince him to steal parts from functional Voyager systems.
Tom’s first flight was when he was eight, and Papa Paris let him drive an old sublight shuttle. Alice promises him that feeling again, and his next meaningful interaction is with Seven in Astrometrics to plan his course. Seven notes the flight suit adaptations, and is not even a little understanding about his willingness to meld with an unknown computer system. She’d know the pitfalls, after all. But Tom’s completely under the thrall of Alice.
Seven and Torres should talk. Harry apparently knows more about Ferengi culture than he did when he left Deep Space Nine – the Ferengi have Five Stages of Acquisition, which doesn’t say great things about us as a species with Five Stages of a thing. However, Harry reassures her that Tom’s obsession means that his hobby cycle is almost over. Torres has noticed the power relay problem and knows exactly who’s to blame. She goes to find him, and fortunately Alice isn’t capable of just powering up the engines and incinerating Torres in the backwash. Instead, she traps Torres in the cabin and starts evacuating the air. Tom happens by at the right time, but tempers are high and rather than this being the tipping point for Tom, it’s the push Alice needs to get Tom to flee the ship. He tries to run, but she’s got that enhanced interface, and is capable of physiologically harming him.
Voyager can’t detect a launch before the shuttle is already out of the bay, which seems like poor design to me. Alice forces Tom to activate the enhanced connections in order to escape Voyager‘s tractor beam. We saw that Tom is not willingly going along, but there’s a question of whether the increased interface is winning, or whether he’s just going along with her until he figures out a way to plan an escape without… uh. thinking about the plan. And in the meantime, he’s attacked Voyager and gone to warp.
While Tom has been experiencing warp travel as a ship, Alice has been adding tubes to his gimpsuit. Don’t ask how she made them – maybe the ship has a replicator. And with the increased integration, Tom’s body has started to atrophy. With no leads, Voyager heads back to the junkyard to get information from Abbadon. He doesn’t like return customers, but Neelix does have that incredibly-expensive-trinket to reopen negotiations. The stories about the ship are that it’s haunted, and as Abbadon is explaining this, its neural clone in his head pops up to warn him about telling tales. By which I apparently mean ‘kill him for talking.’
The Doctor is able to stabilize him and detect the neural restructuring. Also, to reverse it. The ship needs a pilot to run as its processing, one with real skill, and is trying to go somewhere specific. Serendipitously, Seven has reconstructed Alice’s flight plan, which ends at a dangerous anomaly called a Particle Fountain that looks a lot like it might be a White Hole. The Federation has lost a dozen ships investigating one, and Alice calls it ‘home.’
Voyager has made it there before Tom managed to die in the Fountain. Tom is closely integrated with the ship, such that Voyager trying to disable the ship will harm him. Tuvok wants to transmit a shutdown code, which Janeway will transmit via comms, and distract them by jacking Torres into the link to confront the Other Woman on her own level. The distraction works and Voyager gets the shields down and rips Tom out of the neural link, leaving the shuttle to explode in the fountain. We’ll never know what was on the other side of the Particle Fountain. Torres is far more understanding than Tom expected – getting your brain rewired by alien tech is just another hazard of Federation life, but it points to serious growth for both of them.