In which Janeway goes in for some special training of three useless crew.
In Janeway’s ready room, as party of a long zoom, Chakotay delivers her Seven’s Shipwide Efficiency Report and they discuss the local space they’re passing through as not worth diverting to, but neat enough to send the Flyer. Everything appears to be just the model of relaxed bustle, following several crew members hand-delivering specifications, which seems like an inefficiency in itself. This ends with a big reverse-pan out the only window in Voyager‘s belly, which seems oddly placed and is not there in the credit sequence.
The scan has returned some nifty things to investigate, but more importantly, some crewmen are staying up late having a walkie-talkie all-nighter over the sensor analysis. Billy Telfer puts off his as-yet-unnamed caller. In the staff meeting the next day, Seven declares that Ops Night Shift is inefficient due to too much time on their hands. Note that Harry, while still an ensign, is in fact in charge of the night shift team – further reinforcing the officer/enlisted divide. Torres is being written up for not utilizing Crewman Mortimer Harren and his five advanced degrees, who she doesn’t use because he does his own side projects. Tuvok needs to rearrange the phasers, but is otherwise just fine. Billy Telfer gets written up as a hypochondriac and fears doctors. Seven herself has the burden of Tal Celes, the nighttime caller, who’s bad at her job. It’s a lot for Janeway to think about – none of the three have ever been on an away mission, in six years. All three are what Chakotay lumps in as the chaff that wouldn’t make it past their first year before being offloaded, but that’s never been an option on Voyager. Janeway decides to send them on the mission – with supervision, I hope.
Janeway walks in on Billy tutoring Celes and breaks in wth a nifty mnemonic and their duty assignment – an away mission with the Captain herself. Next stop is the cramped and industrial-looking hallways of Deck 15, which is evidently a place she basically never goes, judging by the reactions. In fiction we always get depictions of a captain who knows every hallway and hum of their ship – Picard made a point of it. Janeway evidently does not, although she does know every crewmember by face with perhaps only the slightest hesitation. Harren doesn’t want to go because he’s on the verge of his big proof, but lest you forget, Janeway was a science officer first.
The pre-flight briefing is characteristically revealing of all of them, and couldn’t come at a better time – a boring stellar nursery that Voyager was never going to divert for – only interesting if something goes wrong that the chaff can barely handle. Seven has doubts, but Janeway spins the parable of a shepherd who put themselves in danger to rescue every individual at the risk of the whole herd.
Tom and Torres are needling each other over Harren’s loner behavior, and Harren needles Tom right back, who deftly passes it on to Torres. Telfer’s ‘coming down with something’ again and bothering Celes when she should be sleeping. He has swiped a medical tricorder, you see, and is trying to use it to get a sick note. Evidently, none of them miss takeoff, and they make it to the nursery with just a bit of turbulence and just in time for lunch. Celes is despondent because she’s noticed Janeway checking everything. With her and Telfer in the back, Janeway accidentally engages Harren in a nature-vs-nurture debate and when he declares childhood-oriented smalltalk is irrelevant she asks if he might be autistic. I mean, I’m sure Voyager got the science wrong, but from context… He only joined Voyager to get the year of hands-on work experience needed for the Orion Institute of Cosmology. Womp Womp. Because of that, he’s decided to antagonize the boss.
As soon as he leaves, alerts start sounding as a spatial fluctuation rips a piece off the aft section and kills their engines by leaking out most of their antimatter. They get 1/8th impulse and comms at best. Harren’s analysis shows the impact was a dark-matter protocomet, on which he once wrote a paper that Janeway read. The entirely theoretical (until now) construct would be a product of star formation and would behave like homing torpedo towards any nearby antimatter, neutralizing (but apparently not anihallating) it. As such, Harren suggests ejecting the rest of the antimatter, and that there would be proof of his hypothesis if Celes was better at her job. She’s spuured to find the evidence by this.
With only 10% of their their antimatter, they’re still able to muster the power for transporters to bring back the hull piece, and not have it be such a huge expenditure that they need to make a big deal about it. It’s a bit daunting how cheap the transporters really seem to be, and this is a good reminder. Celes apologizes to Janeway for missing the fluctuation and goes deep into her deep inferiority complex. She blames even passing on sympathy and affirmitive action due tot he Bajor conflict, whereas Janeway points to solid decision-making and creativity. Celes ‘knows’ she doesn’t belong. And Telfer almost gets Herrin killed because he’s busy scanning his head. After some harsh words are exchanged, Harren’s ardent refusal to test any theory, including ‘come have a drink it might be fun’ points to some deep personality problems that have been left to fester for six years.
The Flyer will limp to a nearby gas giant to get enough radioactive particles to relight the engines and try to get to Voyager at warp 2. There’s not enough evidence of a dark matter antimatter-seeking-cometorpedo to stop them, since Harren won’t put in any of the work to validate his hypothesis. Celes finds more spatial fluctuations, and isn’t making the same mistake again. Janeway refuses to eject yet, tries hailing, and then tries firing a torpedo to use its antimatter as a flare. The disruptions still go for the shuttle, and Telfer gets dissolved in a waver of gold light.
He’s returned immediately and passes out, and something gross and creepy has entered his neck and is crawling around under his skin. With every difficulty they’ve encountered being so perfectly tailored to target their weaknesses and turn them into obstacles to overcome, I would kind of love it if this turned out to be a painstakingly-detailed holo-training simulation that they got tricked into entering. Telfer’s body seems to have been invaded by a dark-matter life-form that Harren won’t believe in and Celes can’t lock on to. And Harren can’t stay in the room with his suffering crewmember because he doesn’t have any of the interpersonal skills required, or feel much kinship with them.
They receive a signal with Starfleet coding, but it’s Janway’s own, garbled and scrambled and echoing back. Janeway thinks they’re trying to communicate, and the thing in Telfer is now piloting him. Janeway has to shoot it, which makes it jump out of Billy and onto a console. Harren panics and kills it, when there was enough ambiguity for Janeway to cling to the belief that it was just trying to get home. More hull gets ripped off so they run to the gas giant to try and restart the engines. Janeway naviages them into the rings and leaves the helm, which means either the autopilot is good enough to avoid any rocks and debris or else the Flyer’s deflector is strong enough to bounce away objects as big as itself.
After his close encounter with the Thing, Telfer is no longer a hypochondriac. Exposure therapy, I suppose. The spacial anomalies are chasing the flyer, so she orders her crew to escape pods, and they mutiny to support her. Celes leads them in this, and Harren leaves. They launch him, which is an odd design choice that he couldn’t launch himself. You’d kind of want that in an escape pod. However, Harren has instead chosen to engage the dark-matter tentacles in his pod. It goes out of range of the transporters pretty fast cosidering nobody is at warp, so they have to go back and rescue him, detonate the rings, and everyone wakes up in Sick Bay, having been successfully rescued. And hey, maybe they all grew a little, or something.