In which Chakotay messes up bigtime but at least Seven learned something I guess.
In what seems to be another departure, we are taken to October 19, 2032, Mars. The Ares 4 orbiter communicates with a Martian landing mission. As they talk sports, the orbiter hits turbulence, and is being approached by a kilometer-plus object. Whatever it is, it’s bright, orange, and looks a little like an explosion from the front.
Much later, much much later, Chakotay is reading and drinking a hot beverage of choice when his doorbell starts malfunctioning. As are all the ship’s communication devices. All the comms signals are being patched together with each other, and the doors start just getting malicious. Engineering seems pretty calm, although the error turns out to be Seven ‘tweaking’ the ship’s systems with borg software patches. And since it never rains but it pours, the ship experiences an unrelated power drain and Harry, Captain of the Night Shift, calls everyone to the bridge at 2AM. Hey, at least Seven tried her patches during a maintenance window.
The ship has encountered gravity spikes, and the same orange lozenge-shaped object that the Ares 4 mission saw emerges from subspace, crackling lightning along its edges. Seven seems to recognize it, and it’s following the ship. The phenomenon is one that the Borg know of, and it’s attracted to EM-emitting objects. Janeway orders silent running on Seven’s suggestion and it barely misses them. Earth calls it a Graviton Elipse, with only a few instances known, and Chakotay recognizes t in historical context. Evidently, after the Ares 4 capsule was lost, the two surface astronauts managed to Mark Whatney themselves for a few weeks and get rescued. I’d love to know the details of that, because it either suggests that multiple agencies were sending Mars manned missions or that someone on earth had a truly ungodly amount of Delta-V to throw around on that rescue mission. I won’t blame you if you turn this episode off and go watch The Martian again instead.
Now that they know how not to get eaten, Chakotay and Janeway decide to follow it on minimal-emissions mode to study it. They’ve got a probe inside it, in a region of the anomaly that’s not ripping it apart. The Borg fear this anomaly enough to have researched destroying it from the inside with shield modulations, since the risks outweigh the potential gain. How this squares with their dogma of pursuing the Omega particle. Inside the anomaly are compounds that trace back to Earth’s space program – this is evidently the exact anomaly that ate the Ares 4.
In studying up, Torres tells us that the Ares 4 was equipped with an ion drive, which suggests that generation of tech didn’t have impulse but had cracked high thrust-to-fuel-mass ratios to some extent. And since they have the chance to find this piece of history, the plan is to outfit the Delta Flyer with the borg-tech shield enhancements so they can grab souvenirs before the anomaly disappears in 16 hours. Seven cautions against this, but she’s not giving any specific reasons to override Janeway’s curiosity and sentimentality, in, again, a stark reversal of the Omega directive. Janeway suggests this as an opportunity for Seven to explore humanity’s history.
The mission commander was on-duty until the transmission cut out, making him a childhood hero to both Paris and Chakotay, as stainless-steel pioneers. Once again, I’m struck by how much Star Trek seems to live in the past – I want to see what their science fiction looks like way more than simply that they think of the early space missions as their own Wild West.
The Doctor has inoculations for radiation and give Seven his holocamera to take some pictures. This is very much a character piece – the Doctor teaching Seven how to appreciate what it means to be human. And so the Delta Flyer launches, and nothing but a comm signal can make it through the event barrier. Inside the core is, indeed, an area of calm just littered with debris.
The comm channel doesn’t have the bandwidth for video, sadly. Seven’s analysis indicates that some of the debris doesn’t even come from the local universe, or set of dimensions, or whatever. Fluidic space or something even more esoteric, perhaps, although evidently something familiar enough to register on sensors as something other than a question-mark. That said, unexpected turbulence will tend to make people focus on the task at hand. They find fossilized metalloid-based life-forms, which are evidently different enough from the Horta to be a xenopaleontological breakthrough, which is apparently Chakotay’s whole jam. He coaxes out Seven’s young childhood ambitions – little Annika wanted to be a ballerina.
Paris has found the module, and it’s mostly structurally intact, despite being holed and corroded. They’ll have to tow it back. From the outside, the anomaly shifts course again in response to some EM source that, despite tracking an anomaly that follows EM pulses, Voyager wasn’t scanning for. They do so now and find an incoming dark-matter asteroid they’re about to hit. Given the new time limit, Chakotay orders them to risk their lives and ship to rescue that capsule, and it’s going to be down to a matter of seconds. They don’t make it, and the Flyer is knocked offline and Chakotay gets console-shocked for his hubris, and in a coma. With the shuttle out of commission, they have two hours to fix it before the anomaly goes back into subspace.
When he wakes up, Chakotay’s first concern is for the command module. The intact module that had a third-generation ion drive. Eventually they’ll check into that possibility, once Chakotay admits his stupidity so as not to earn any more of Seven’s ire. It’ll also help that Voyager has managed to bounce a transmission through and reach the shuttle. And in that Apollo 13 moment, Torres realizes that the command module has at least some parts that the Flyer can use to start repairs, although not the ion drive itself. Seven gets to be the one to go, because Chakotay is plasma-burned half to death. He asks her to bring back some data as a souvenir.
The command module has no art-grav, so she needs to use the magnetic soles to stand up. The cockpit is intact and complete with the pilot’s corpse. There’s some logs that he recorded once the command module hit the calm within the anomaly, all of which is a testament to the human spirit and none of which matters apart from that, unless he makes some readings with his primitive sensors that help the Flyer get out. He tells us more things we’ve already gotten – that there are elements inside the anomaly that don’t come from the known laws of chemistry. If he’d made it back with any of this information, he would have brought back irrefutable proof of alien space travel. All of this is playing for Seven’s benefit as she does the salvage work, forcing her to immerse herself in history, per Chakotay and Janeway’s requests.
Well, we do have a definitive statement that the ion drive relies on stored fuel – our pilot John Kelly expended it all in a burn trying to escape the anomaly. Speculation as to what would have happened if he had succeeded, and been dumped out naked into subspace, is a neat exercise. It begs the question of what would happen if the Delta Flyer misses its window and the anomaly reenters subspace – with the more sophisticated shields, would they survive reentry? If so, would they just dump out into normal space some distance away, or would they be trapped in subspace? In the end, he turned off life support to keep the sensors running as long as possible, trying to get as much data home as possible.
Seven finishes the salvage, grabs the data, and takes Kelly’s corpse back for a decent burial. Once again, they have four minutes to get out, but since they now have a tangible relic they don’t have to drag a spacecraft that masses more than the shuttle, and Voyager is able to pluck them out of the anomaly like Indiana Jones’ hat from a giant stone door. Seven has learned to appreciate history, too.