Star Trek: Voyager
Originally Broadcast March 13th, 1995
Reviewed by Chakoteya
‘Captain’s Log, Stardate 48623.5. There are 246 elements known to Federation science. We believe we have just discovered the 247th inside the ring system of a class-D planet.’
Voyager sails into the ring system and the bridge crew take close sensor readings of the element. Ensign Kim reports that it seems to be a stable trans-uranic occuring in a natural environment, which makes it unique. Lt. Torres is already thinking up ways to use such an element for ultrathin reactor shielding, but Captain Janeway points out that they have to get it first. The asteroids mostly have breathable atmospheres so the Captain orders Chakotay to take an away team to investigate. He invites Harry to go along too.
In a cave the tricorders are getting strange readings. There are cobwebs of white residue all around them, but they cannot locate the main source of the element. Then Torres stumbles across a recognisably humanoid body covered in the residue. They look around the main area of the cavern and their torches reveal bodies all over the place. This asteroid is a graveyard.
Chakotay reports their findings to the ship. This cave contains eighteen bodies in various stages of decay, eleven males and seven females, some years old, one less than twelve hours, with no clue as to where they came from. The element they are looking for is coming from the bodies, as a result of their decay. Chakotay wants to leave them in peace, and Harry wants to learn everything they can. Janeway orders passive scans only for their examination, but even this is too much interference for the First Officer. He wants visual observations only, and the Captain accepts his recommendation.
Whilst they are looking around, Chakotay tells Kim why he wants them to be so careful with another race’s burial practices. On Ktaria 7 he had been on a tomb excavation and wanted a memento, so he took away a stone. Later he learnt that it represented a prayer for the deceased and felt guilt at having desecrated his tomb. Torres feels she knows all she can from just looking. This people like to bury their dead, naked and without inscriptions or artifacts, on asteroids. Chakotay points out that this could imply they don’t believe that objects can be taken into the afterlife. The way the bodies are wrapped and arranged suggests a ritual for the deceased, which usually suggests a belief in something after. While the discussion continues, a bright light appears and something begins to happen in the cave. Chakotay orders them to use the tricorders to find what it is – a subspace vacuole is forming and Voyager has trouble locking onto them for emergency beam-out. Seska is handling the transport, and recommends they all stand close so she can just centre on the comm-signal. After making adjustments and compensations, three appear in Transporter Room Three – Chakotay, Torres, and an alien body wrapped in polymer. No Harry.
Tuvok is scanning the entire asteroid field to no avail. Seska is trying emergency transport procedure twenty-one alpha to no avail, and the vacuole that started the whole thing has gone too. She guesses that Harry went to where ever it came from. Meanwhile, Torres has been examining their new companion, and discovered that it is a woman who died only minutes ago. Despite his reluctance to interfere with another culture’s beliefs, Chakotay accepts Torres’ argument that she might be able to help them find Harry, and orders them beamed to Sickbay for the EMH to try and revive her before all her brain activity ceases.
Somewhere else, a group of people are standing around a strange sarcophagus-like device, listening to one man give a final eulogy for a woman named Ptera, who has now gone to the next emanation. Suddenly there is a knocking and a voice cries out from inside the device. They switch it off and open it to discover – Harry Kim.
In a cubicle, a weeping woman hands a box to a man, says her goodbyes to him and gives him a message to his father, that the trees he planted are doing well. He is Hatil, her husband, and he is going to die as a gift for her and their children. Harry is taken into the next cubicle and Hatil is curious. This stranger might be from the next Emanation, but they shouldn’t talk about it until the thanatologist has come to see him. Doctor Neria arrives and introduces himself. Harry tells him who he is and that he comes from a planet called Earth. He explains about the asteroid and the bodies, and Hatil becomes agitated. Doctor Neria sends him back to his own cubicle and continues talking to Harry. This place is the homeworld of the Vhnori, and there are no rings around their planet. Doctor Neria is convinced that Harry has come from another dimension – their next Emanation or afterlife.
On Voyager, the EMH is explaining to Captain Janeway how he removed a cancerous tumour from the woman’s brainstem and then used used the standard Starfleet postmortem resuscitation technique for a class-5 life form. The bio-polymer was a byproduct of the decay of her own tissues. Chakotay listens in horror. They were walking through dead bodies. Once again, he has accidentally desecrated who knows how many graves. Ptera is awakened and she cannot accept what Janeway is telling her about being alive and cured. She should be in the afterlife, with her brother and other friends and relations, and becomes hysterical. The EMH has to sedate her.
Back on the Vhnori homeworld, Doctor Neria is telling Harry about Ptera and the cenotaph, as they call the device. It’s purpose is to kill it’s occupant just before the appearance of a spectral rupture so their body can be taken to the next Emanation. He shows one to Harry on a monitor and he recognises it as a subspace rupture. They built the complex here because they occur in this location every six hours. When Harry tells him about the bodies they found on the asteroid, he is very interested and wants to know if he has any medical data about them. Ensign Kim doesn’t want to say, after all, this is a first contact situation and there are rules about how much you disclose to people you have only just met. Doctor Neria is less restrained. Harry is the first person to come back from the afterlife and he intends to find out everything he can about him. He sends him off with Doctor Renora, the priest who was giving Ptera’s eulogy, for a complete bioanalysis.
Chakotay is at a science station giving his findings of their analysis of the ring system to Captain Janeway. Over two hundred thousand bodies, with a subspace vacuole appearing and depositing a new one every two hours. The EMH calls from sickbay to say Ptera is awake again and a little calmer than last time. Janeway goes to talk to her but doesn’t learn much. Ptera believed that when they die they evolve into a higher level of consciousness where all their questions will be answered. Waking up on Voyager has thrown that into doubt. She wonders what she will do with the rest of her life on this starship. The Captain promises to keep her informed with what they find out, and Kes offers to take Ptera out of sickbay for a while to get something to eat. Suddenly the ship jolts. Tom Paris reports a distortion in Main Engineering. Torres pinpoints it and opens a door to see – a white covered body lying on the floor.
Hatil and his wife Loria are talking. After meeting Harry, he is having doubts about what he has always believed about the next Emanation. Loria is not pleased. She expects him to go through with the transference ritual and no argument. Then she tells Harry to keep away from Hatil and leaves. Harry is apologetic, and tries to express himself in a way that doesn’t deny their beliefs, but the doubts are growing for Hatil. Harry is adamant that he does not know what happens after death, and Hatil tells him that the Vhnori are sure that what happens is that they move onto another plane of existance. He is there to die because, since his accident, he has been a burden on his family. This is really all their idea, and the belief in the afterlife makes it easy to accept. Some are even eager to die and move on, but not him. The little voice of doubt was always there, but now he has met Harry, it has got a lot louder.
Voyager is having regular visits from the vacuoles, and remodulating the shied harmonics is not stopping them. Three bodies have arrived on board so far, all close to the warp core, released neural energy which is identical to the ambient radiation in the asteroid field. Maybe that is attracting them, so Janeway orders Tom Paris to take them at least half a light year away at warp seven. Safely out of range, Torres begins to work on a way to protect the warp core.
In the mess hall, Kes is sitting, eating and talking with Ptera, gazing out of the window and sharing her beliefs in the afterlife. The Ocampa bury their dead so their soul or comra is released. The Vhnori do not believe in souls. They believe in bodily resurrection into an existance with their families in the next Emanation. Without her loved ones, Ptera is unhappy, and wants to go home.
Janeway, Torres and Chakotay meet with Kes and Ptera in the briefing room to discuss the situation. Torres believes that instead of trying to find Harry first and then sent Ptera back by using any information they get from him, they could do it the other way around. They might be able to recreate the accident, send Ptera through the vacuole with a subspace transponder and then use that signal to beam Harry home. There are no guarantees, but as Ptera points out, she’s already been dead once and she’s willing to die again in order to try and get home.
‘Captain’s Log, supplemental. We’ve returned to the ring system, and we’re preparing to send Ptera back to her dimension. Lieutenant Torres has found a way to temporarily protect the warp core against the vacuoles, but she is uncertain how long her measures will be effective.’
A vacuole begins to form on deck thirteen, and Chakotay orders Seska to begin sending Ptera through it. But she cannot get the woman through in time, and she has to abort. When Ptera rematerialises, she is covered in bio-polymer and Kes pronounces her dead. Janeway orders Seska to beam her to one of the asteroids. After all, that’s where she was meant to be.
On the Vhnori homeworld, word has spread about Harry. Doctor Neria wants to move him to a better facility at Paffran, where they can perform more detailed examinations and which is also more secure. There are people who view Kim as a threat to their beliefs. The move will be for his own protection. Harry asks to be allowed to look at one of the cenotaphs again. Maybe he can work out a way to go back himself. The Doctor refuses to allow it and leaves. Kim goes into Hatil’s cubicle. He is wrapping himself with special bandages in preparation for the transference ritual. Although he has friends he could stay with in the Cararian Mountains, his family would worry about him and he couldn’t bear that. Harry has an idea. If he took Hatil’s place, the cenotaph will send him back where he wants to go and Hatil could go to the mountains where he wants to be. Being killed doesn’t worry Kim, he has heard of cases where people have been dead for hours and still been brought back to life. The transference is scheduled for less than an hour. Hatil helps him to wrap the shroud properly.
Loria is holding the hand of a wrapped figure and saying goodbye before he lies down in the cenotaph as the priest gives the eulogy for Hatil Garan. Harry pulls the bandages off his face and Loria presses the button. Two rods press against Harry’s neck and he jolts.
Voyager’s protection against the vacuoles is gradually weakening. A woman appears on deck fifteen and Janeway is just giving the order to leave the system when there is a second jolt and Chakotay reports a dead human on on deck twelve. Janeway orders Seska to beam it directly to Sickbay and Tom pilots them out of the system. The EMH orders two cc’s of cordrazine, and Harry Kim wakes up from the dead.
Captain Janeway talks to Harry Kim while he is having a meal in the messhall. He’s already back in uniform and feels ready for duty but she tells him that he is off duty for two days. She wants him to take the time to reflect on his experience, write, paint, express what he has just lived through. As the years pass, its too easy to become jaded about the extraordinary. He should live with this for a while. She also tells him that the neural energy released by the Vhnori bodies becomes a part of the ambient electromagnetic field around the planet. It’s a very dynamic and complex energy and leaves open the idea of their consciousness existing at a higher level. Maybe. As Captain Janeway tells him, ‘I’m not certain, but I am certain about this. What we don’t know about death… is far, far greater than what we do know.’
This episode covers a great deal of philosophical ground, from the definition of death in the twenty-fourth century, through voluntary euthanasia to the concept of an afterlife. Naturally, such contentious issues are left fairly open, for the viewer to make up their own minds.
We learn about Chakotay’s interest in archeology, and his deep respect for other cultures, especially in their spiritual beliefs. This is a big contrast to the attitude of our own times and the recent past, when gravegoods would be destined for museums and collections as soon as they were uncovered.
Janeway’s instruction to Kim to take time to consider recent events is a wise one, rarely if ever seen before on Trek.
Not everyone will like this story, but I do.