In which Neelix loads up an episode of Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
As Voyager continues to cruise on at impulse, Neelix is feeling creepy and alone in the mess hall. The ship is going to be cycling down for something that’s happened before, something that the kids will need to be awake and ‘handled’ for, which is of course Neelix’s job. Something that Seven doesn’t even think they should be told the truth about, thanks to their ‘overactive imaginations’. They’re cruising through a nebula on momentum-only, and Paris and Harry banter about the shape of the coulds while Tuvok makes fun of them. Apparently Vulcans do not experience pareidolia as strongly as humans – or at least they don’t admit it. One could make the argument that on a desert world there’s a lot less evolutionary incentive to flag everything vaguely face-shaped as a face, as there’s a whole lot less concealment for predators on the ground.
When the shutdown goes into effect, any crew who didn’t have flashlights or battery-powered lanterns on them would be screwed. The Doctor turns himself off, and the kids wake up from regeneration to see an underlit neelix. The warp core shutdown takes some coordination, and thus it is that Voyager enters a nebula on silent running, prepared for whatever the next step is. Whatever it is involves Seven, and I can think of at least one possibility.
During the passage through a J-class nebula, the ship is shut down for reasons that Neelix has seen fit to lie about. Because Seven didn’t give Neelix any guidance on a lie the kids would believe, he quickly finds himself out of his element. The kids have indicated that they believe whatever Voyager is powered down for, it’s something to do with Deck 12 Section 42, which is off-limits to everyone but senior officers. This is because “it’s haunted’ according to Naomi. Neelix can’t deny it without spilling the secret. But he must, so he begins a tale.
It begins with Voyager exploring a nebula like this one, gathering deuterium. Despite his stated desire not to worry the kids, he seems determind to make his narration as spooky as possible. Indeed, his first time though, Neelix was super nervous about the J-class nebula, despite it being trivial for Voyager to deal with. This is due to childhood trauma and a plasma storm that blotted out everything but the sun. Earth doesn’t get weather like The Glow Cloud. When Icheb calls Neelix on a technical inconsistency, Neelix admits to being an unreliable narrator, vastly limiting my ability to nitpick on this episode or draw meaningful conclusions. So I guess enjoy your ghost story.
With Voyager under heavy turbulence, they agree to leave, but are zapped and infected with a stowaway. The Borg children have no understanding of the flow of a ghost story, but eventually accept their rebuke and settle down to listen to how the intruder started causing repairs, including making the replicators a little too literal – it replicates the coffee before the mug, on Janeway’s command. Also, don’t ask why Neelix knows anything about the banter between Janeway and Chakotay. This chance conversation lets Janeway visually mark a meteor cluste that Voyager had already passed – the ship is being turned around, and then jumps to warp on its own recognizance, and then starts displaying an almost malicious level of malfunction.
Torres traces the problem to ‘burned-out’ bio-neural gel packs, which I will take as a shorthand or Neelix’ misunderstanding for some more complex malfunction in the wetware. Indeed, they appear just fine when Torres gets there, and the malfunction has moved to Cargo Bay 2, to manifest near Seven, and start letting the nebula into the cargo bay, trapping her inside and taking posession of her implants.
Okay, so 24th century emergency lamps are the worst. Neelix has gotten, what, a few hours out of that power cell, tops? I can only hope Neelix staged the battery going out for some nefarious reason like stringing the kids along with a story that has a perfectly rational ending in order to keep them fixated on a terror he can control and banish rather than having them hare off on crazed tangents he can’t predict and lie about effectively.
With Seven trapped behind a force field and potentially asphyxiating on nebula gasses, Chakotay phasers a console. Phasering the console, it turns out, fails force fields down. I will accept this because a) he might have hit the power relay that actually runs the force field and b) you might want it to fail down anyway, if their primary purpose is atmospheric rather than security. When power starts failing in the mess hally, Harry the bridge officer takes charge of the situation and makes everyone leave Neelix alone.
Assuming Neelix’s narration can be trusted, Vulcans don’t sweat until the outside temperature hits 170F, which is well above the temperature that humans can survive at long-term even with access to water. Janeway is to the point of bargaining with Voyager for control, and it seems to be working. This may in fact have been a trap to get someone to man the conn so that the entity could burn Tom’s face off. Once this goes on for a while, they start to realise that there’s an entity converting the ship to a more hospitable environment for itself, and trying to kill anyone who stands in its way. As this goes on, the ship descends to a horror movie, including darkened abandoned corridors and creepy unexplained noises and doors moving on their own.
Neelix takes a digression with the kids to discuss why humanoids have a fear response, although he doesn’t have an explanation for why he’s compelled to be chatty at Tuvok, and the digression sort of defeats the purpose with the kids. Eventually, the life-form attempts to make contact with Janeway using the main computer. With Janeway’s help, it’s able to issue some communications and tell Janeway to go to astrometrics.
Within the fashback, Neelix has another flashback, because he’s just that indulgent, but ‘meanwhile’ Janeway establishes a rapport with the entity, which got caught by the bussard collectors and now wants to get home. They head back to the nebula, but unfortunately the nebula is gone, thanks to Voyager‘s bussard collectors. It was going to destroy the ship. However since it didn’t, we can guess what happened next, thanks to media res – Janeway and Seven found another nebula, converted Deck 12 Section 42 into a nebula to keep the creature comfortable, and set a course to the one they’re drifting into (so as not to destroy this nebula too) to let the creature off.
All that’s left is human drama – Neelix facing his fears of the nebula by defying the themes of Talaxian ghost-ship stories. Everyone launched escape pods. Janeway called the creature’s bluff. And just as the story ends, the ship shakes and power is restored. And in the end, he even ”admits’ to making the whole story up, as they suspected from his seeded technical inaccuracies.