Star Trek: Voyager – 1×10 – “Prime Factors”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Prime Factors”
Originally Broadcast March 20th, 1995
Reviewed by Chakoteya

The Story

Stardate: 48642.5

Breakfast time in the Mess Hall, and B’Elanna Torres is eyeing Ensign Murphy as he collects his meal and goes to sit at a nearby table. Her best friend and fellow ex-Maquis Seska comments on her interest, and tells her that he is available now that Tom and Harry have made their moves on the Delaney sisters. Curious about this development in Harry’s private life, B’Elanna quizzes the young man at the next table with Tom Paris, and learn that he fell out of the gondola on a holodeck date with Jenny. The room erupts into laughter. A little way away, Captain Janeway and Tuvok are also breakfasting together. She notes with pleasure that the two crews are getting along with each other at last. Tuvok notes that it should improve performance and maximise efficiency, in his droll way. Chakotay calls from the bridge to report that they are recieving a distress call. The senior officers leave their meals and go to the bridge.

The distress call is coming from a small vessel that is altering course to meet them. The Captain hails them to discover that in fact these people think that it is Voyager that is in distress. The man in charge introduces himself as Gath Labin from Sikaris and offers Voyager the hospitality of his people, asking if he can come aboard with some gifts and a proposal.

Captain Janeway shows Gath to the Messhall, where Neelix and Kes are preparing to serve lunch in less than two hours. Once she tells them where Gath is from Neelix becomes very animated. The Sikarans are famed for their hospitality it seems although Neelix has never been there himself. Gath hands around some samples of food which Janeway tries and pronounces wonderful. He tells her that his people are well-travelled and have heard about the ship struggling to find their way home, so he has come to offer them a vacation on Sikaris. Kes thinks shore leave would be welcomed by the crew. Neelix’s eyes light up at the prospect of collecting seeds to create more variety in their food stocks, and Tuvok agrees with the Captain that this would improve performance and maximise efficiency. Gath is pleased with their response.

On Sikaris, Gath is showing Captain Janeway around a small plaza with some vendors. She sees a material which he tells her is made from the petals of a flower that blooms only in moonlight. It’s their latest import. He offers to have a entire wardrobe of garments made for her from it, but she only accepts the offer of a scarf. A little way away, Harry Kim is watching a woman as she waves a handheld instrument across some curved upright rods. Sounds come from it, slightly harp-like. He asks her if she is a musician, and she informs him that actually, it’s an atmospheric sensor. The notes tell of weather conditions, and she shows him how to operate it. Like Gath, she makes physical contact with Harry right from their first conversation. Kathryn Janeway finally makes a choice of material for her scarf, and Gath tells her that when he sees her wearing it, his pleasure will be greater than hers. Then he introduces Jaret Otel, the person who will make any necessary arrangements for plant and seed collection by the Voyager crew. Finally, after accepting an invitation for herself and the officers to come to a celebration that evening, Captain Janeway wriggles out of Gath’s hold and leaves.

‘Captain’s log, Stardate 48642.5. The crew is enjoying an evening on Sikaris. They are discovering, to their delight ,that reports of this species’ hospitality have not been exaggerated.’

Harry Kim is telling his new acquaintance, Eudana, the story of how Voyager got stranded in the Delta Quadrant originally. She is enthralled, and asks his permission to tell this noble story to others. In this culture, stories have a high status it seems. He gives her permission and tells her that he has other stories too. Delighted, she takes him to a platform, so that they can go somewhere private to share these stories. Standing close together, she says ‘Alastria’ and suddenly they are somewhere else. A wooded area with a warm breeze blowing. It is the dawn zephyr, she tells him, a euphoria-creating wind that comes just before dawn. They stand and enjoy the sensation, then Harry notices that this place has two suns, while Sikaris has only one. Eudana is eventually persuaded to tell him that Alastria is two and one half billion times the distance between Sikaris and it’s sun, which Harry calculates to be nearly forty thousand light years.

On Sikaris, Kathryn Janeway, off duty and dressed casually, is in the close company of Gath when she suddenly realises all the other officers have gone. Suddenly Harry Kim interrupts a potentially romantic moment with information about the platform he and Eudana have just used. Apparently it works by folding space, which means the size of the object being transported is irrelevant. Janeway is interested, as space folding is just a theory in the Federation. Gath casually mentions that they call it a spatial trajector and that Alastria is at the edge of it’s range. The Sikarans use it to travel to all the planets in this quadrant. Captain Janeway asks Gath if it could be modified so that Voyager could use. Gath is apologetic but firm. Sharing their technology is against everything they hold dear. They cannot allow anyone else to have it in case it might fall into the hands of someone who might misuse it. No exceptions.

In Voyager’s briefing room, the senior officers are discussing Gath’s refusal. It is the first time they have been on the other side of the Prime Directive, and they don’t like it. Chakotay states that he knows of many times when Starfleet personnel have decided on strong ethical grounds to ignore it, but Kim defends it on the grounds that it does more good than harm. Captain Janeway gazes out of the window as the discussion continues behind her. Tuvok suggests that no might merely be a prelude to discussion and compromise. Torres agrees and Chakotay wonders if they might be bargained with, if they have something the Sikarans might want. Kim comes up with the suggestion of offering the Ship’s Library – literature from dozens of Federation cultures. The Captain thinks this might be a good idea, and proposes that she meets with Gath to make the offer. In the meantime, Torres volunteers to examine the trajector platform, to see if she can work out how it functions but Janeway orders her to do no such thing. They will not break the Sikaran’s laws.

Kathryn Janeway and Gath are eating a meal in her quarters. He is relishing every mouthful of pecan pie while she makes the offer of the Library for the trajector. He shows interest in the idea, but says that he will have to discuss it with the other Magistrates, and resumes his enjoyment of the food.

Down in engineering, Seska is not paying attention to what B’Elanna is saying. She is thinking of her brother, and his up-coming birthday instead. B’Elanna has been thinking about the folding of space, however, and taking sensor readings of the planet. There are neutrino dispersion patterns around the planet, and they start theorising about neutrino bubbles when Lieutenant Carey joins in. He assures them that he is with them on this project and they start working together to figure out how the trajector might work.

Harry Kim has been invited back to Sikaris by Eudana, where he meets Jarat, who tells him that he is willing to let Voyager have the trajector matrix in return for the Library. This would be somewhat unofficial, but as Gath has no intention of letting them leave it is their only way of getting halfway home, while Jaret would gain prestige for supplying the Sikarans with new stories.

Back on Voyager, Harry has an appointment to tell Captain Janeway about the development but in the meantime he discusses it with his friends Torres, Paris and Seska in the messhall. After Harry and Tom leave, Harry to see the Captain, Tom to go to bed, Seska tells B’Elanna that she has no problem deciding what to do. She is not willing to let someone else decide whether or not they should take Jeret’s offer. Besides, Seska says, Janeway is infatuated with Gath and cannot be trusted to make the best decision for the crew. Torres is not so sure. Her responsibility as a senior officer means she cannot play the Maquis way anymore. Seska fires her final shot. The main responsibilty of every one on Voyager is to try and find a way home. Captain Janeway said so.

In the Captain’s Ready Room, Kim is telling Janeway and Tuvok of this latest twist to the trajector situation. She believes him when he says that Gath does not intend to help them. After Harry has left, Janeway asks Tuvok for advice. The two options are not nice. Either deal with a man with a hidden agenda, or deal with someone who is willing to defy his own laws. At least Jaret is doing the law-breaking, not them. Janeway is torn between getting the crew closer to home or upholding her Starfleet principles. First she must find out whether Gath really is willing to help them or not.

But when Janeway tries to get the answer from Gath on the planet next day, he is evasive. Some of the Magistrates are travelling, he hasn’t spoken to them about it and really he would like the Voyager crew to settle on Sikaris and make a new home there, passing their time extracting pleasure from every moment. ‘I promise you, you and I have many such moments to explore,’ he tells Kathryn, kissing her hand. And how long would the novelty of their company last? she challenges him. She’s seen how quickly he tires of things, always seeking the novel, the new. He becomes upset. Her attitude is not pleasurable to him, and he insists that she takes her crew and leaves before they infect the population with their hostility.

Angry and upset, Captain Janeway cancels shore leave and orders the away teams back on board. Chakotay tells her it will take several hours to gather everyone from both hemispheres and she tells him to get on with it, then retreats into her ready room.

One deck below, in the messhall, Seska is still working on B’Elanna’s doubts. She has the Library downloaded onto chips already and is ready to hand it over. The Bajoran ex-Maquis reminds the half-Klingon that their friends are still fighting the Cardassians who are attacking settlers in the demilitarised zone. They made a promise to stick together and she intends to keep it. Carey joins in. He has a wife and two sons whom he doesn’t want to grow up without a father and if his theory about the trajector is right, they can use it as many times as they need to to get all the way home. Torres is persuaded.

In the transporter room, Seska shows more knowledge of getting around security lock-outs than Torres does, but Carey announces that the sub-routines have been altered and he can’t get round them. Then Tuvok walks in on them. He noticed that someone else had already downloaded the Library when he went to do it. He takes the case off Seska and unlocks the transporter for Carey to beam him down to Sikaris whilst they get the ship ready to use the matrix.

Captain Janeway gives the order to leave orbit as soon as the last of the crew gets back in a few minutes time. Seska is agitated and impatient when Tuvok walks into engineering and hands a two pronged device to Torres with strict instructions not to activate it until he has spoken to the Captain. As he leaves, Seska takes it from B’Elanna and places it into two slots in an engineering panel by the warp core, assuring her that she is only going to run a simulation of the interface. On one of the wall screens, Torres, Carey and Seska watch the simulation results and wonder at the huge size of the field needed to move Voyager. How could they possibly amplify it that much? Torres has the answer – Sikaris itself is the amplifier, with its crystalline quartz mantle twenty kilometres deep. The trio realise that they can only use the trajector whilst they are in orbit of the planet, so when the Captain orders thrusters to be made ready to leave orbit, they need to think up a delaying tactic to give them the time to get the matrix activated. Torres tells Janeway that a phase variance has appeared in a plasma conduit. They get the matrix working, but the plasma manifold becomes unstable. It is being bombarded by unforeseen anti-neutrinos and they are quickly heading for a warp core breach unless they can shut the matrix down. But the device refuses to come out of its housing or switch off, and Carey herds the rest of the engineering crew to safety while Torres and Seska try everything they know. Finally, Torres takes radical steps, and phasers the matrix into oblivion, cutting off the anti-neutrinos and saving the ship. Then Seska proposes damage limitation – erasing the sensor logs so they don’t have to take the blame for it – but Torres stops her. Seska doesn’t understand why she is willing to face the consequences of disobeying orders, and tells B’Elanna that she has changed. B’Elanna takes that as a compliment.

In the Captain’s Ready Room, Torres is claiming responsibility for the trajector debacle as senior officer involved, when Tuvok contradicts her, taking that title for himself. Janeway is stunned and chooses her words very delibarately and carefully. She does not have the option of throwing Torres in the brig as every member of the crew is needed to run the ship, but she warns her Chief Engineer that just more one minor transgression will see her stripped of rank. Torres is dismissed and the Captain turns to her bigger problem, Tuvok. He justifies his actions by saying that he was the logical choice to spare her the ethical dilemma of whether to violate Sikaran law or not, and accepts that he will loose his commission in consequence and face a future court martial. Just as she didn’t punish Torres, but let her off with a warning, she does the same for him. Janeway reminds Tuvok that she depends on his counsel, that they have a relationship that has been built over the years and orders him to always bring his logic to her in future. He gives her his word.

Analysis

Once again, an opportunity to get home, or at least shorten the journey, is offered as an episode. The twist in this one is not just technical however, but also moral. Can the Federation ship and especially its Captain defy the equivalent of the Prime Directive of another culture for their own ends? In the end, the technology incompatability gives the answer, no, but the journey there is quite thought provoking. The briefing room scene when the camera stays on Janeway while the senior officers talk, almost as if they are speaking her thoughts, arguing the pros and cons of the situation, is very effective.

This is a very important episode for the character of the Captain, and her agony of choice between upholding her principles and getting her crew back to the Alpha Quadrant by whatever means might present itself is very well done. The difference of attitudes between the Maquis and the Federation as personified by Seska and Janeway, with Torres still trapped between the two worlds but about to make her choice is clearly delineated. There is no middle ground here, and clashes will result.

It is a splendid piece of work.

Grade: 9/10

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