In which partnerships are examined.
Paris is playing around with the new Delta Flyer’s test flight, since evidently it needs a new test flight after being taken out to salvage borg components. While skimming through asteroids, they’re pulled up on by another hot-rodding small-craft, and its pilot challenges Tom to a race. How better to put the Flyer through its paces? Her ship is more maneuverable, but the Flyer has new pop-out impulse thrusters that make it faster in a flat-out. Their rival starts venting in one of its nacelles, so they rescue the pilot and by the fact that Harry’s eager to help we can tell that something is going to make her completely unavailable. She’s probably married, or the fleshy child-stage of an energy being, or something.
Torres is trying to borrow the Doctor’s holodeck hours, because he wants to go golfing during the only time when Torres can kanoodle with Tom. Surely this won’t conflict with the race and repair that Tom is now surely wrapped up in, because B’Elanna’s definitely had enough of being the other woman to a shuttlecraft. Hopefully, Harry will take this one up instead. The pilot does have a ‘copilot’ so that’s a point for Harry, but Tom’s on board too, when she lets it drop about there being a race course.
The Antarean Trans-stellar rally is two billion kilometers long, which puts it a little over the radius of the outer Solar planets, so in a binary system it might not be a wholly inaccurate name. Although it also encompasses ‘dwarf star clusters’ which seems awfully cramped, plus K-class anomalies. Tom and Harry are fully… uh… engaged, in getting the Delta Flyer equipped for the race, which is this region’s Olympics – in that it is a multinational sporting event intended to take the place of war. Tom has his arguments all lined up when Janeway takes the wind out of his sails by agreeing that it’s a good opportunity for shore leave.
Tom teases the Doctor about the right places to play golf, and the Doctor retaliates by spoiling Torres’ surprise. Or, in fact, Tom forgot after all, and now has to go tell Torres about the project. He tells her and volunteers to back off, while explaining how excited he is. In return Torres knows that he’d be grumpy if he missed it and refrains from killing him. The retires to the mess hall to sulk and give everyone their holodeck time back, and to contemplate whether the two of them are actually a good couple. Neelix urges openness.
Voyager has had their entry into the race approved – the race coordinator seems straightforward. He gets a call from one of his staff, because one of the constituents is planning to withdraw unless they can host. It’s a fragile peace and everyone involved sees any concession to another side as bad precedent. How lucky that a nice, neutral ship with a sleek function space has shown up to host.
At the gathering, Tom gets a little lowdown on some of the other competetors, one a former fighter ace and all-around swell guy. He is standoffish and confrontational at the same time, and makes a reference to the upcoming race being a combat. One is clearly meant to suspect that, due to high tensions, old enmities, and the kind of race course where accidents happen, that some shuttles will be attacking others and that Fighter Pilot Guy will be one of the attackers. I choose to hope for the twist where he’s just a jerk, but not actually evil.
Seven is plotting a course for the race (which doesn’t have a set course, I guess, just some markers or gates?) and Torres drops by to ask her to run some diagnostics and try not to complain about her relationship. Seven accidentally drops some good relationship advice, and next thing you know Torres is embracing Tom’s interest in the race by being his flight engineer.
As the racers move into position, the ambassador gives a speech and all dozen-or-so of the racers move into position. Voyager must have found some way of manufacturing more photon torpedoes by this point, if they’re wasiting one as a starting gun, and the race is away. During the course, it seems like shield-to-shield contact can knock out the Flyer’s thrusters. This is called ‘scraping’ and is a trick used in the Academy flight training. Evidently it’s fairly universal, if alien pilots are using it on rivals and expecting it to work. Why would it work? Well, the shields use power, and ultimately on a small craft all the power comes from the same place and needs to do as much conduit re-use as possible. Creating a sudden burden on the shields (like another full vessel mashing into it for as prolonged a ‘scrape’ as possible) could be relied on to trip breakers or safety limiters and disrupt something. To a small craft, shields are about as essential to defense as engines, although I’m not sure whether different doctrines would have that combining their systems or separating them, in the absence of other considerations.
Seven is infrequently announcing the progress, but Neelix insists that a little more flare is called for and takes the place of the announcer. The Flyer is coming up on the last third of the course, which is a spatial anomaly called The Mobius Inversion – it’s a wormhole and I’ll be really disappointed if they don’t emerge from it a mirror image of how they went in. You’d think one of these anomalies at some point would flip people in a fourth dimension. The anomaly aslo blocks Voyager‘s sensors from tracking their progress.
Within the anomaly, Torres is aligning the shields to repel their competetors, something that Tom encourages her not to do, and moments later the race is paused due to an accident – Irena’s co-pilot’s console exploded, due to the fighter pilot-guy’s constant scraping. Torres takes some of the blame too, but Tuvok saves the day by uncovering some sabotage, to disrupt the peace. At this point, the Ambassador reveals that the race has been threatened by various extremist groups. He wants to stop the race, but all the racers refuse to let the terrorists win.
Irena still needs a co-pilot, and Harry’s there. For diplomacy, of course. While they do maintenance, Tom makes sure that Torres knows her place as the co-pilot, while Harry drops in to gush about how effortlessly he and Irena get along. And soon they return to their places in the race and continue. And with Harry’s new relationship to think about, and plenty of time between gates, they move to relationships. Irena’s ship is having more problems, but when Harry goes to make repairs, Irena stops him. Since we haven’t met any of the other competetors, and fighter-pilot-guy would be too obvious a bad guy, and Harry’s got a crush, it’s now obvious that Irena’s an extremist trying to end the peace by sabotaging her own ship. But maybe it’s just a fun parallel to show how hard it is for pilot and co-pilot to get along… no, it’s Harry’s console exploding just as Irena leaves the cockpit. To go get a gun in case he doesn’t get zapped.
Harry manages to jink the ship long enough to get the gun and try calling for backup – she disabled the comms, so all he has to do is sit there. Tom and B’Elanna keep fighting, while Irena asks to check who’s winning. It’s the Flyer, but once Tom and Torres really get into it, they stop a million kilometers from the finish line. Fighter-guy takes the lead, and Irena can’t resist explaining her plan – since the comms are down and Harry can’t warn anyone. She’s taking out the peace because she’s a vicious xenophobe who preferred things during the war, and gave the Flyer a sabotaged fuel converter that will explode once they cross the finish line and make it into the crowd of ships.
Paris and Torres don’t initially get Harry’s secret signal because they’re in the ‘let’s be open about our feelings and get squishy on each other’ phase of a fight-cycle. He’s even contemplating a proposal, when Harry’s scan comes through – scanning them with a morse code modulation to warn them about the converter. They can’t eject it without ejecting the core, and that explosion would kill everyone at the finish line, so Paris makes a run for a nebula that can contain the explosion, and tells Torres he was serious about that proposal.
The race completes successfully, just before the shockwave hits Voyager. The Flyer is wrecked again, and Tom triples down, and to celebrate they christen its upholstry and argue about who should take whose name.