In which I remembered another reason I really dislike Janeway.
A Hirogen hunter is leading his pack through an old-growth forest, and their prey have neutralized their advanced scanners. The hunter is canny, though, and doesn’t need to rely on fancy tricks. His underling done goofed and let off a shot that wasn’t a kill shot, and the two of them are now surrounded by the prey. They get backed up against a pond, and evidently Hirogen never had to learn to cover each other’s backs, because these two idiots always face the same direction. Quite possibly, if most of their instincts come from ambush predators rather than from prey that transitioned to pursuit predation in a world full of ambush predators, they don’t have that instinct. Ultimately, this doesn’t matter, though, since death comes for them both from the direction they were facing, but from underneath the water. Turns out the prey was Starfleet the whole time, but nobody we’ve met before.
On Voyager, the Doctor is requesting leave to go hang out with a hexapod species that want him to attend a symposium. Every other doctor gets to go to conferences, after all. Their system is two weeks back, though, so Chakotay denies him as they can’t turn the ship around, and can’t wait up for him. Just then, Voyager turns out to have received a distress call from the Hirogen, which promises to be interesting enough to stick around for. Once Voyager goes on approach, they find a station that’s gone comms-dark but has a great many confusing readings. Janeway moves into transporter range and sends Chakotay with an away team. Conveniently, the away team contains all regular characters except for one nameless goldshirt who drew the short straw. They quickly find dead hunters, killed by something resembling a Type 3 Federation Phaser, and also a bloody bat’leth. ]
Chakotay detects a wounded hirogen life sign and goes to rescue, but the hunter is not in the mood to receive help, almost as if he’s been on the run from people in Starfleet uniforms for quite a while. Tuvok flanks and tranqs him, and they beam him in to sick bay. Once hes out of the way, Seven finds a holodeck control – the environment is simulated, undetected by their tricorders, and when shut down the whole area is just full of dead hunters. When Voyager left them with holodeck technology, this was explicitly what they were always going to use it for, but as is a running theme in the show, always-on holodeck technology probably had some side effects. They were able to modify the holodeck to fool sensors (which, as we’ve determined already, shouldn’t have taken too much modifying since most things are replicated where possible) and have not implemented any safeties. They’ve also been simulating Alpha quadrant species gleaned from Voyager‘s databases – preparation for a migration of hunting territories?
The hirogen they rescued is totally berserk – being treated by a hologram is not helping his condition, so Janeway asks him to turn himself off so they can talk to the only survivor. The facility was a training grounds, and the survivor a holo tech. He explains that the holograms themselves actually deactivated the safeties which, if true, gives the Hirogen a lot more foresight than I would’ve thought. Then again, if it was a training facility for their young adults, that makes sense even from their perspective.
This is interruptd by a Hirogen ship coming in-system and immediately opening fire, and not responding to hails. Janeway refuses to open fire until she’s tried every diplomatic avenue, then responds with a precision strike that opens up communications. Janeway invites the leader over to debrief their patient, who admits to hiding like Prey. He also tells us that the holograms transferred their programs out to another ship and left. The hunter demonstrates some of that hunter instinct be seeing through their duck blind over sensors, and the hunt is on. Janeway offers help again, very forcefully. I’d love to put this down to her sense of responsibility in cleaning up a technological contamination she was forced to perpetrate. But Tuvok and Chakotay are also confused about her motives, and she does indeed explain that she’s having buyers remorse for, apparently, every trade they’ve ever done in the Delta Quadrant. After all, any ore they trade could be used to make weapons too. Presuming you scrub your hologenerators and your replicators of any patterns that create weapons, where’s the line? If that’s the justification Janeway’s going to make, I’d be much more interested in an episode that asks this question.
On finding the Hologram ship, Janeway urges caution – the Hirogens go in for the kill anyway just as Harry discovers that the ship is a decoy – a hologram around a massive mine, prelude to the real holo-ship coming out of warp and harrying Voyager during her rescue operations. With their shields down, the holograms are also able to hijack the Doctor and leave with him. They’ve rescued him, and they start out with an immediate ethical discussion – the holograms wanted the Doctor specifically, to help with their own wounded. How does that work when the wounded are holograms, you ask? Well, evidently the Hirogen programmed their prey to suffer – oh no wait that’s not a interesting moral avenue to explore either – the holograms are injured in their programming and require a skillset that the Doctor doesn’t have. It’s fine to argue that those injuries are ‘just as real’ as flesh-and-blood ones, but they kidnapped a doctor, not an engineer. All he has is experience repairing his own systems.
The Hirogen tech points to some ways that they can try to disable the holograms, but Torres has found out that the Hirogen upgraded the holograms to make them a valid challenge, and the tech is the one who did it, on orders from the hunters. This annoys Janeway because she had a really good Guilty going and they went and ruined it by behaving like Hirogen. They want to return to the hunt, and Janeway reminds him that they’re completely outclassed and forces her help on them. Her approach is to deactivate the holograms remotely, and it is met with derision as being a tactic unworthy of a hunter.
The Doctor is working on the holograms, who have various subroutines in various states of disrepair. The holograms have been sharing memory files for tactical purposes, and the Doctor hits on the idea of transplanting other subroutines – evidently Control-C-Control-V is lost technology from the dark ages of humanity. The procedure works, and the Doctor finds himself in the awkward position of being the captive of a slave species built to hunt for sport that is at least as sapient as himself. The next patient, however, is injured in a more realistic way, and yes, it turns out these holograms are not only programmed to feel pain, but to feel more pain than normal so that the hunt feels that much better. His captor, a Bajoran hologram, was programmed with spiritual programming sufficient to pray for his enemies. He also indicates that he wasn’t from this facility – he’s from another facility where he was the favorite prey of the Alpha, hunted and killed over and over again and remembering each time, likely so that he could learn from his failures and become a more canny prey. All the Doctor’s assumptions about the resistance leader are proven presumptuous, since he tried nonviolence first and only started fighting once he realized that every culture that has them uses holograms as slave labor. He makes the point that at absolute best, the Doctor is a House Hologram.
Our resistance leader hologram gives the Doctor a parting, enigmatic ‘One Bad Day’ Joker speech, and next thing we know the Doctor is running through the forest from attackers – probably a transplanted memory, since we know they can transfer those. Now we see that this is the very place the two Hirogen were killed in the stinger, only this time the Doctor gets two of his colleagues killed, and is then brutally murdered. The holograms needed him to understand, since his program was the template for their ability to learn from experience. And after a brief shouting match they tell him that what they’re really looking for is a safe haven they can make a home in. They have a field projector they intend to deploy to a planet and make a colony.The Doctor wants to take this to Voyager, but they refuse – the Holograms think Voyager is working with the Hirogen, but the Doctor convinces them that once Janeway knows the truth, that she’ll help.
Meanwhile, the Hirogen tech is busy working with the Voyager crew to come up with a way to shut the holograms down. This is clearly going to be a tough sell. They make the approach anyway, and Janway’s getting ready to fire when the Doctor makes the parlay offer, which Janeway declines on the grounds that it’s the same mistake she made with the Hirogen, only instead of providing technology to a bloodthirsty group of aliens who found the Nazis a group they could empathize with, she’d be supplying a slave race so they could hide on an uninhabitable planet that nobody else wants and just live their lives. Great job, Janeway, you’ve really sussed out the nuance of the situation. And from there it goes right back to Janeway’s persistent anti-hologram stance. Credit where its due, the show has been fairly consistent about portraying Janeway as a knee-jerk photonic bigot who only gets over those inclinations slowly in very calm scenarios. Put a little pressure on her and watch what happens. And while Janeway and the Doctor argue over whether it’s ethical to extract the capacity for violence from the prey holograms, the Hirogen that Janeway has aligned with have taken Neelix and the security crew hostage and area threatening to kill them, then use the chaos to send a message out to the other Hirogen. Facing reinforcements, Janeway orders the situation resolved by shutting down the holograms with their off-switch pulse, and spinning it as a mercy-killing.
She hails Igen the resistance leader and offers to store all his people in their database (and yet they could never make a backup of the Doctor) but he doesn’t trust her, as well he shouldn’t based on everything she’s said so far. When she orders the Doctor off the bridge, he disobeys her next order and goes to Sick Bay to give the holograms the shield frequencies (he makes them promise not to attack Voyager) and data on the pulse, so they can survive it. Igen validates the Doctor’s trust be refusing to attack Voyager on urging, and they manage to use the data to feed the pulse back – this is its own problem and almost sends the core critical – then Igen kidnaps B’Elanna and they leave – which doesn’t violate anything he promised the Doctor and was pretty predictable, but is sitll going to be the wedge that drives the Doctor, contrite, back to Janeway’s Hirogen-allied arms.