- You may be looking for the species known as the Hunters.
Voyager receives a message from Starfleet containing letters from the crew's friends and family.
The USS Voyager receives a garbled transmission from Starfleet Command via the Hirogen communications network previously used to send The Doctor to the Alpha Quadrant, but after just a few words, the transmission stops. Harry Kim clears the interference, but the bulk of the message is lodged in one of the relay stations, 3.8 light years away. Captain Kathryn Janeway sets a course, determined to find out what the rest of that message says.
Meanwhile, the Hirogen controlling the network, who have already discouraged Voyager's use of it, intercept the message. As Alpha Hirogen Idrin instructs his Beta to locate the ship receiving it, he adorns his helmet with markings of paint.
Voyager's bridge crew speculates on the contents of the transmission. Chakotay mentions the stable wormhole discovered in the Gamma Quadrant and wonders if Starfleet has found a similar phenomenon that could help Voyager shorten its journey home. The crew discusses their new-found optimism, and the possibility that many of their friends and family might have given up on them, mourned, proceeded with their lives and found some kind of resolution. Now they will have received word that the crew is alive but so far away that they might as well be dead. Janeway expresses her hope that they might be able to stay in constant contact with home.
When Seven of Nine fails to report to sickbay for her weekly checkup, The Doctor visits her in astrometrics, where she is trying to retrieve more of the Starfleet message. He discovers that she hasn't regenerated in 58 hours, despite his instructions for her to do so at least three hours each day. She insists she could go as long as 200 hours without regenerating. The Doctor reminds her that was true when she was Borg, but she is more Human now.
The ship is shaken by gravimetric forces coming from the relay station, still two light years away. As Kim compensates for the disturbance, Tuvok detects a ship, adrift with no propulsion systems, weapons or life support. One dead humanoid is aboard. Janeway has the body beamed to sickbay, wanting to know how he died.
The Doctor examines the corpse, which has been gutted sometime between a week and a month prior. Seven recalls when the Borg encountered a small ship of Species 5174, which had been similarly destroyed. She doesn't know who did it, or why, as the Borg considered that information irrelevant.
Two days later, Voyager has gotten close enough to the relay station to see it on long-range visual sensors. The crew determines its at least 100,000 years old and uninhabited. It's also using a small quantum singularity, or black hole, only about a centimeter in diameter, as its power source. Unable to take the ship any closer due to the gravimetric eddies, Chakotay orders Paris to hold position and then contacts Janeway in astrometrics to tell her they're as close as they can get.
Seven and Janeway begin downloading the message, but the data stream has degraded. Some parts are dislocated, others rearranged. Janeway tells Seven to get it out in bits and pieces and they'll worry about reconstructing it later. As Janeway reads snippets of the transmission, she realizes it contains letters – from home.
Neelix is entrusted with delivery of the first batch of letters retrieved. As he leaves to make his rounds, Seven discovers a latent, heavily encrypted data stream, containing a large block of text and possibly maps, buried under the message, but she can't retrieve it until more of the letters have been cleared out. Janeway expresses cautious optimism that it might contain a plan for bringing Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant, and asks Seven what she thinks of recent events. Seven says it lacks any emotional resonance for her, since she's never even been to Earth, but Janeway points out it's possible she has family there. Seven is taken aback, admitting that hadn't occurred to her.
Neelix goes to the bridge, where he delivers a letter to Chakotay from Sveta, the woman who recruited the first officer into the Maquis. Chakotay leaves to read the letter in private. An anxious Kim asks Neelix if there are more letters, but Neelix has no more, yet, for the bridge crew. He leaves to deliver a letter to Tuvok from his wife, T'Pel, and is appalled when Tuvok doesn't immediately drop what he's doing to read it. Accidentally revealing that he's seen the contents of the first few lines, Neelix offers to read it to him, saying it contains important news. Tuvok and T'Pel's son, Sek, has been through the pon farr and he and his mate now have a daughter, T'Meni, who was named after Tuvok's mother. Neelix leaves Tuvok alone to read the rest. At first, Tuvok puts it down and returns to his weekly tactical review, but then reconsiders and begins reading.
Janeway enters the bridge with her own letter that has just been retrieved. She goes to her ready room to read it. As she does, she first smiles, but then her expression slowly changes to one of sorrow.
Chakotay shares the disturbing contents of his letter with B'Elanna Torres. The Maquis are gone, wiped out by the Cardassians and an ally from the Gamma Quadrant. Sveta and a few others are in prison, but the rest, including their friends Atara and Roberto, are all dead. Incensed, Torres vows to make someone pay if they ever get back home.
In the mess hall, Kim tells Paris that he's heard at least thirty more letters have been downloaded and Neelix is on his way there to deliver them. Paris is more interested in his meal, a "mystery dish" that tastes vaguely like chicken but has the consistency of corn husks. Kim is stunned by Paris' disinterest. Neelix arrives, with letters for Nicoletti, Fitzpatrick, Kyoto, Golwat, Ashmore, Dorado and Parsons. Upset, Kim asks where the remainder of the thirty letters are, but Neelix tells him that what he heard was just a rumor.
In her ready room, Janeway stares blankly. Seven enters and tells the captain the message is becoming harder to retrieve as it continues to degrade while it remains lodged in the relay station. She requests permission to take a shuttle, which can withstand the gravimetric eddies more easily than Voyager, to the station to stabilize the containment field. Janeway tells her to go and take Tuvok with her. Seven questions her reason for assigning Tuvok to the mission as well, and Janeway says it's not her custom to send an away team of one.
Kim finds Torres in astrometrics, where she has taken over for Seven to retrieve the messages. Torres teases him about his attraction to Seven, but Kim is just there to find out if he's received a letter yet. Torres tells him no, but encourages him to have patience.
In the shuttle, Seven asks Tuvok if Janeway was being truthful when she said she always sent at least two people on away teams, or was it a ruse because the captain still doesn't trust Seven and believes she requires supervision. Tuvok assures her it is not only custom, but recommended Starfleet protocol. He tells her the captain's decision to have him accompany her shouldn't be taken as evidence of a particular attitude. As they work to stabilize the station's containment field, Tuvok asks Seven if the captain's opinion is important to her. Seven evades a direct answer, and the conversation is cut short by an attack from an approaching ship that knocks out the shuttle's navigation, communications, warp engines and weapons.
Tuvok and Seven try to lure their attacker closer to the station, believing the larger ship will be far more vulnerable to the gravimetric eddies than they are, but are unsuccessful. Tuvok launches a distress beacon just before the two of them are rendered unconscious.
Torres calls Paris down to astrometrics, having received a letter for him. Paris isn't the least bit interested and says he's going back to the bridge. Torres is perplexed by his behavior. The letter turns out to be from Admiral Owen Paris, Paris' father. Even less enthused, Paris tells Torres that the more everybody gets excited about the letters from home, the more he wants no part of it. He says what he has on Voyager is better than anything he ever had back home. Torres urges him to reconsider: He's not the same person he was four years ago; what makes him think his father is? She asks him to give his father a chance, but Paris is reticent, which causes Torres to break down. She tells him of Sveta's letter and how she's gone from blinding anger to crying for an hour to trying to accept it and move on. Paris comforts her, apologizing for going on about his problems with his father that don't even matter. Torres tells him he obviously still cares what his father thinks of him and he reluctantly admits that maybe he does. She promises to let him know when she gets the whole letter.
Chakotay reports to Janeway that Tuvok and Seven must have been successful, as Torres is downloading the letters a lot more easily now. The shuttle hasn't appeared on sensors yet, but is expected back soon. Janeway has been analyzing the station and wants to stay for a while, calling it the kind of archaeological puzzle that's always fascinated her. Chakotay asks about her letter, and she reveals it came from her former fiance, Mark. He told her about Mollie, Janeway's Irish Setter, giving birth to a litter of puppies, about how devastated he was when Voyager was lost and how he held out hopes they were alive longer than most people did. Eventually, though, he let go and began living his life again. Four months earlier he married a woman who worked with him. Chakotay asks Janeway if she's all right and she says she knew he'd eventually move on with his life, but she sensed such a finality to that letter.
Kim calls Janeway to the bridge. Sensors have picked up an automated distress signal from Tuvok's shuttle and no one is on board.
Tuvok and Seven wake to find themselves bound in the trophy room of the Hirogen ship. As they consider using one of the bladed weapons hanging on the wall to free themselves, Idrin appears, telling them they were "pathetic prey." Unsatisfied by the hunt, Idrin demands information on why they were using the communications network. Tuvok explains they were trying to retrieve important messages from their home and tells Idrin if he returns them to their ship, they'll leave without trespassing again. Idrin, however, claims they are relics of the hunt, and marks each of them with colored paint. Seven tells Idrin their captain is a formidable opponent and their ship heavily armed, which pleases Idrin, who believes stronger prey will make for a better hunt. The Beta Hirogen locates Voyager an hour away, but when Idrin tells him to go to stalking mode, the Beta hesitates, preferring to wait for other Hirogen ships en route. Idrin insists on claiming the prey for himself, but the Beta fears they may not be able to take Voyager alone.
Kim locates the Hirogen ship with Tuvok and Seven on it. Janeway attempts to negotiate their release, but Idrin refuses. Three more Hirogen ships bear down on Voyager.
Idrin prepares to make the first kill – Tuvok – using a blade from the wall display.
On Voyager, Torres reports that she still needs another half hour to finish retrieving the Starfleet messages. Kim is unable to get a transporter lock on Seven and Tuvok due to the Hirogen ship's monotanium armor plating, and the three other ships, each with massive weapons, are closing fast.
Janeway reasons that if Voyager can increase the gravitational pull of the quantum singularity powering the station, and weaken the station's containment field, it might help in the battle. Kim is instructed to create a low level warp field around Voyager to protect it from the gravitational pull, but not so strong as to prevent them from beaming Tuvok and Seven aboard. Firing an antithoron burst at the station, Voyager collapses the station's containment field enough to start pulling the Hirogen ships toward it. Tuvok seizes the opportunity to grab the blade and kill one Hirogen, but another hurls him against a bulkhead.
Torres hails the bridge. The antithoron burst has collapsed the signal, and she's gotten as much of the message as she's going to get.
The Hirogen ships continue their attack, further destabilizing the containment field, despite Janeway's warnings. As the singularity is exposed, Voyager puts a tractor beam on the ship Tuvok and Seven are on. Kim targets the two of them, but any attempt to transport them could result in the gravity well scattering their patterns. As the tractor beam weakens, Janeway decides they must risk it. Seven and Tuvok are beamed to Voyager as the Hirogen ship disappears into the black hole. Despite distorting patterns, Kim manages to safely rematerialize Tuvok and Seven, and Voyager succeeds in breaking free of the singularity by shutting down various systems and overexerting the antimatter injectors.
In astrometrics, Torres tells Janeway she has discovered that the energy released from the singularity created a massive discharge along the relay network. It has disabled every one of the stations. She was able to retrieve most of the encrypted Starfleet text and a few more personal letters, but it will take time to decode the encrypted part. Torres excuses herself to deliver the personal letters. Janeway tells her Neelix can do that, but Torres says there's one she wants to do personally.
On the bridge, Torres gives Kim the last letter she was able to retrieve, from his parents. She tells Paris that the letter from his father was lost before she could get it. She tells him "You could assume that he said he loves you, and that he's proud of you" and Paris responds that he will.
Tuvok reports to Janeway on what little he was able to learn regarding the Hirogen. He calls them extremely dangerous, lacking any moral center. He surmises they probably used the relay network for communications and won't be pleased about its destruction. As Tuvok leaves, Chakotay joins the captain for coffee. Janeway frets over the crew, certain they were hoping mail call would become a regular part of their day. Chakotay tells her Neelix is planning an impromptu and immediate party to cheer people up. The captain and first officer discuss recent events, including her "Dear John" letter. Janeway tells Chakotay she didn't really expect Mark to wait for her and she's realized she was using him as a safety net to avoid becoming involved with someone else. She adds that with her eventful life in the Delta Quadrant, she wouldn't have had the chance to pursue a relationship even if she had realized she was alone. Chakotay assures her she's hardly alone, and the two of them head for Neelix's party.
- "Captain's log, stardate 51501.4. After two days at high warp, we're close enough to the relay station to see it on long-range visual sensors."
- "Captain's log, supplemental. Seven of Nine and Commander Tuvok suffered no serious physical damage after their encounter on the alien ship. I've been eager to hear Tuvok's impressions of the species who took them hostage."
"I'm finishing my weekly tactical review. When it's completed I'll read the message."
"You're going to wait until you finish the tactical review?"
"Do you have any reason to believe the content of the message will change during that time?"
- - Tuvok and Neelix, when Neelix delivers a letter from home for Tuvok
"Coffee - the finest organic suspension ever devised."
- - Janeway to Chakotay, explaining why she is having a fourth cup of morning coffee
"There. I have another one."
"Another word. That makes six."
"Six words in fifty-eight hours?'"
- - The Doctor, questioning Sevens efficiency
- Tiny Ron is best known for his role as Maihar'du on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
- Chakotay references the Bajoran wormhole established in Deep Space Nine when speculating that a similar stable wormhole to the Delta Quadrant might have been found.
- The destruction of the Maquis was previously revealed in the Deep Space Nine episode "Blaze of Glory".
- B'Elanna Torres' reaction to her Maquis comrades' deaths is explored further in the fifth season episode "Extreme Risk".
- The very first opening scene of Voyager passing through a nebula uses the exact same CGI background used in the opening moments of the Season 2 episode "Deadlock" when Voyager was evading the Vidiians within a nebula (the scene angle is the same, but the path/angle of Voyager is slightly different).
- The paint containers used by the Hirogen were, in reality, developed by Starline Corporation.
- Oddly, although Janeway claims that she is "not accustomed to sending an away team of one" to Seven, there are several instances when single-person away team missions have occurred.
- The rate at which Voyager receives letters from the array is equivalent to that of about a 300 baud modem.
- Although this is the first time Voyager encounters Hirogen ships, Harry Kim reads the sensor readings as Hirogen ships. However, this could be due to the fact that the energy signatures of the ships are similar to the energy signature of the Hirogen's transmission from "Message in a Bottle".
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 4.8, catalog number VHR 4629, 10 August 1998
- As part of the VOY Season 4 DVD collection
Links and references
- David Anderson as Ashmore
- Christine Delgado as Susan Nicoletti
- Tarik Ergin as Ayala
- Kerry Hoyt as Fitzpatrick
- Unknown actresses as:
Alpha Quadrant; annular confinement beam; antimatter injector; antithoron; antithoron system; artificial quantum singularity; Atara; away team; Bajoran wormhole; black hole; blood; Borg; Borg alcove; Cardassian; chicken; Cochrane; coffee; corn husk; directional beacon; distress beacon; Dominion; erythrocyte; Gamma Quadrant; gemstone; gravimetric eddy; gravimetric field; gravity well; Hirogen; Hirogen communications network; Hirogen warship; intestine; Johnson, Mark; ketric; Kim, John; Kim, Mary; Kyoto; mail call; mail carrier; Maquis; Mollie; monotanium; osteotomy; Paris, Owen; Parsons; polaron; pon farr; priest; quantum singularity; radiometric decay ratio; rehab colony; relay station; relic; Roberto; Sek; Species 5174; stalking mode; Starfleet Command; subnucleonic beam; Sveta; T'Meni, daughter of Sek; T'Meni; T'Pel; tactical review; targeting beam; Temple of Amonak; terawatt; tractor beam; Trayken beast; warp coil; warp field
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