As Voyager moves beyond territory Neelix is familiar with, their Delta Quadrant guide worries about his future on the ship. Falling in with an old friend from his shadier past, he goes to reckless lengths in the attempt to obtain them a map.


Fair Trade

Plot Synopsis

Tuvok is doing his security rounds when he is accosted by a Neelix whose desire to be useful seems to have a rather more urgent edge to it than usual. He wants to be a security officer, and is upset that Tuvok started his rounds without him. Tuvok, who considers that no firm arrangement had been made, is his calm and unperturbable self. He doesn't even inject his words or looks with that disapproving edge that he reserves especially for Neelix, but Neelix is still unaccountably upset. Anxious, even. Shortly afterwards he makes a similar pitch to Torres, only to find that she's far too preoccupied with solving the problem with the plasma flow regulation to want to swap technobabble theories with Neelix about its possible cause. Engineering are only relieved of their visitor when Janeway summons Neelix to the bridge. Voyager is approaching an area of interstellar dust clouds and she wants the benefit of his local knowledge, since they look rather ominous to her. But possibly not as ominous as they look to Neelix.

The area is called the Necrid Expanse. It is a vast territory, thousands of light years wide, so going around it does not seem to be an option although Neelix warns them that nobody knows much about it. Janeway makes a comment on how reliant they are on his Delta Quadrant expertise, and Neelix practically squirms. When prompted for likely supply planets, he does however manage to stop looking glum for long enough to point them in the direction of a space station and trading outpost near the border.

The station is managed by Bahrat. Or perhaps monitored would be a better word, since he seems to devote his every waking minute to watching what its inhabitants do. He gives Voyager permission to trade there, provided they pay his 20% commission, but warns that he may monitor their movements and communications. He almost forgets his meeting with Janeway through being too preoccupied with watching potential troublemakers on the station. There's some justification to his paranoia however, as Chakotay and Tom Paris find when they are approached by a "trader" who is much more interested in trying to sell them drugs than in the magnetic spindle bearings they actually need.

Meanwhile Neelix is out on a fruitless attempt to purchase a map of the Necrid Expanse when he meets up with an old associate, Wix Aban, who is amazed to see a fellow Talaxian so far from home. They repair to a nearby tavern and swap stories. Neelix boasts of his fine fortune and position on Voyager but the boasts sound a little hollow. Wix Aban frankly admits that he's not been doing so well since getting into trouble with the Hubians, although he boasts of a deal in progress which will restore all his fortunes. And Neelix, who it appears was also implicated in the Hubian affair and feels that he owes Wix a favour, guiltily confesses his innermost fears to him: he knows nothing of the space beyond this point, and he is afraid that once that becomes public knowledge his days on Voyager may be numbered. Hence his quest for the map.

Back on board Voyager, Neelix's jitters continue. He drops things in his galley, and snaps at Ensign Vorik when he comes to fix the food replicators. When Chakotay innocently brings Wix aboard for a visit, he can hardly contain his apprehension. He pleads with his fellow Talaxian to reassure him that the magnetic spindle bearings he has found for Chakotay were not stolen property. Wix says that they are not, but it is obvious that both of them have a closer relationship with shady dealings than Neelix would like anyone aboard Voyager to find out. With his ship impounded, and no money to pay off Bahrat for its return, Wix has been stranded on the space station for three years, but he now has a plan, and it involves Neelix. Using the promise of one of the items on Janeway's shopping list and the map Neelix desires so badly, he talks his old friend into going along with him to sell medical supplies to an outpost... and borrowing one of Voyager's shuttlecraft to do it.

They use the shuttlecraft to meet the freighter which has Wix's medical supplies, then return to the vicinity of the space station, where Wix instructs Neelix to set the transporter co-ordinates to a corridor near the outer docking ports which is hardly ever used. They meet Wix's contact, Sutok, who turns out to be the drug dealer Chakotay and Paris met earlier. While Neelix is awakening to the exact nature of the "medical supplies", Sutok tries to kill them rather than pay Wix. Returning fire with a phaser borrowed from the shuttlecraft, Wix kills him, then urges Neelix to beam them out before they are discovered.

His eyes forcibly opened to the fact that Wix is smuggling drugs, Neelix's initial intention is to tell Janeway everything as soon as he returns. But Wix ruthlessly exploits the other's insecurities, reminding him of his past sins, his present predicament, and his self-admitted precarious position onboard Voyager. And he plays on Neelix's feelings of guilt about his Hubian prison spell until Neelix gives in and promises to say nothing. He declares however that he wants nothing further to do with Wix.

Shortly afterwards, a boot-faced Captain Janeway calls a meeting of the senior staff. Bahrat has informed her that there has been a murder aboard the station, and that energy readings translating to a Federation phaser signature were found at the scene of the crime. Tuvok is assigned to assist Bahrat in the murder investigation. Janeway is furious at the thought of a Voyager involvement in such a crime and Neelix, uneasily listening, is not encouraged to confess all by her attitude. He gains some small relief from the news that the security scanners at the murder site had been disabled, but that turns back to alarm again when he is summoned to Tuvok's office. But Tuvok has no suspicions of him; his theory is that one of the traders who came aboard Voyager must have stolen a phaser, and he wants only a character reference for Wix, and Neelix's assistance in interviewing him.

When questioned, Wix's responses are smooth, polished, seemingly sincere, and betray no sign of the jitters that beset Neelix. But after Tuvok has departed, Neelix learns to his horror that there is more bad news. The Kolati traders who put up the money for Wix's smuggling are unhappy at not getting paid. Wix says that the Kolati will kill them both, unless they can give them something else they want. This turns out to be a sample of Voyager's warp plasma. Neelix protests. Wheeling and dealing is one thing; stealing from Voyager quite another. Besides, he's been with Voyager long enough now to know how Janeway would react if he gave away Federation technology.

Troubled, he goes in search of Tom Paris. Not for advice, exactly, because he can't tell him what the problem is. But he asks, a little clumsily, about Tom's time in prison and how he got into trouble in the first place. Paris, looking like he would prefer not to discuss the subject, gamely analyses his past misdeeds for a friend: essentially, he didn't tell the truth. He made a mistake, but those happen and are forgivable. It was lying about the mistake that caused his troubles to escalate. The answer is relevant to Neelix's dilemma; probably more so than he'd expected. He departs, leaving behind a puzzled Paris.

Neelix puts his earlier stated interest in learning the Engineering ropes to good use by way of an alibi to admit him to the Jefferies tubes. He gets to the right place to collect his warp plasma then freezes, considering. The next day he goes to meet Wix at the appointed time and tells him that he couldn't bring himself to get the warp plasma. Instead, he renews his insistence that they must tell the truth and make things right.

This becomes ever more imperative, as Chakotay and Paris are arrested for the murder. Bahrat's security scanners recorded their brief encounter with the drug dealer, and for Bahrat, who is desperate to find someone to convict and sentence as a deterrent to others, this proven contact is evidence enough of their guilt. He cares nothing for justice, provided that his station does not descend into anarchy.

Meanwhile, Neelix insists to Wix that they go to Bahrat and tell him the truth. Wix expects nothing to come of it other than several decades in Bahrat's cryostatic prison, but Neelix considers that that would be better than living a lie. Besides, he has a plan. To his credit, once Wix realises that Neelix's resolve is firm, he throws in his lot with him, unwilling to let his friend face the consequences alone. They go to Bahrat, tell him the truth about the death, and point out that Wix fired in self-defence. He threatens them with cryostatic imprisonment, and Neelix suggests politely that perhaps it isn't a very effective deterrent, since it doesn't stop drug trafficking from going on all the time under his nose. Ironically, for someone who devotes his entire life to watching what others are up to, Bahrat knows remarkably little about the crimes going on aboard his station. Wix points out that surveillance systems are routinely disabled, sensors are masked, false visual signals are projected, and it happens almost every night. Neelix strikes a bargain with Bahrat: since he can't put a stop to it, they will set up a meeting with the Kolati ringleaders using Voyager's warp plasma as bait, and will arrest them in return for not being charged with their own crimes.

A meeting is set up, using plasma provided by Bahrat rather than that of Voyager. The Kolati duly arrive, and Neelix hands over the plasma. The Kolati leader, Tosin, examines it and realises that it is contaminated, and not what was asked for. Neelix announces that they are all under arrest, and when the Kolati pulls a gun advises him not to use it. He has disengaged the safety nodes on the container holding the warp plasma and it is now leaking into this section of the station. Firing the weapon would set off an explosion, as would the use of their transporter system. The Kolati threatens to take Neelix with him, but Neelix has reached a desperate calm which makes him equal to this threat. He states that he has nothing left to live for or to lose, and the Kolati is convinced that his reckless sincerity is no bluff. He points his gun away and asks Neelix to reengage the safety nodes. Unfortunately, Bahrat and his goons choose this moment to show up and try to take over the arrest, and one of the Kolati's sidekicks is foolish enough to get trigger happy. He is swallowed by a plasma explosion, while everybody else hastily ducks.

Neelix awakens in sick bay with a big headache, having been treated for third degree plasma burns and concussion. He learns that Chakotay and Paris have been released, and that Wix sends his regards, having made a hasty departure after getting his ship back. Then Janeway chases everybody out so that she can talk to Neelix alone, and the look on her face is such that even the Doctor doesn't argue. She reads Neelix a lecture, and shows that she knows her man by laying a guilt trip on him quite as skilfully as Wix Aban did earlier: in an echo of her conversation with Tuvok at the conclusion of Prime Factors, she asks how she can ever trust him again without wondering if he's telling the truth or not. A contrite Neelix apologises and throws himself on her mercy, describing the slippery slope to wrongdoing, and confesses his reason - that he needed a map because he didn't know the space ahead - only to find that Janeway considers it no kind of reason at all. She threatens him with consequences, and he states with all the pride he can muster that he is prepared to leave the ship. But Janeway won't let him, telling him that running away from obligations is too easy. His skills as a guide may no longer be of use, but he is part of Voyager's extended family now. It's something which comes as a pleasant thought to Neelix, and he looks like he is about to burst with joy as she details his punishment. He is to spend two weeks in deuterium maintenance, scrubbing the exhaust manifolds, to give him time for reflection. Ironically, this episode has brought him full circle, since with this duty he has been assigned to one of the indisputably Starfleet tasks that he was so desperate to win at the start. And, from the wry smile on Janeway's face, you suspect she knows it too.


Random Reflections

It's worth noting that both Paris and Neelix lied for much the same reason: because they were unable at the time to admit to less than perfection in their most prized area of professional competence - Paris's piloting skills, and Neelix's abilities as a guide.

I can't help feeling that this episode does not reflect well on Tuvok's abilities as a security officer. The evidence really should have led him to Neelix and Wix long before Neelix got round to confessing. Tuvok's theory was that the phaser used to kill the drug dealer had been stolen by one of the traders from the station. Shouldn't he therefore have been moving heaven and earth to find that missing phaser? Or, failing that, trying to discover where it went missing from? Consider that Voyager only has a crew of approximately 140, and is severely limited in its available resources. You would think that Tuvok, as Chief of Security, would hold the information to be able to account for the location of every phaser on the ship. He should have been checking the issued phasers of the entire crew, as well as any in storage, or weapons lockers on shuttlecraft. In the unlikely event of somebody having used their replicator rations to create a new one, a check of the replicator logs should have highlighted it. So, he ought to have been able to learn that no phaser was missing, and to have revised his theory accordingly. And, assuming that Tuvok checked the phasers, were there no indications that one had been recently fired? At the very least you'd expect it to show signs of recharging, and it's quite likely that if the energy readings can show a Federation signature, a detailed analysis would be able to identify the idiosyncrasies of an individual weapon. After all, Federation technology is sophisticated enough that the Doctor can rewrite crewmembers' entire DNA, so you'd think that a little forensic evidence on a murder weapon wouldn't be beyond them!

Obviously for the purposes of the plot Neelix had to be left free to make his own decision to embrace the truth, without interference from outside forces. But even if he had not finished the investigation, Tuvok should have been seen to be showing a little more interest in phasers in general than he actually did. A request to Neelix to present his phaser for inspection, in the middle of the meeting he requested to gather information on Wix, would have been sufficient.

Neelix made a lot of bad calls this episode, but I think he was right on the money when it came to the (non) effectiveness of Bahrat's cryostatic suspension punishment. The shady individuals hanging around on that space station didn't look the type to have too many friends or family to miss them while they had a fifty year sleep. Wake them up at the end of it, and they could probably pick up their lives again without them being significantly different. Stick them in prison for fifty years though, and they'd come out old, which to my mind would be a much more efficient deterrent.



The first thing you notice about Neelix is his dress sense (or lack thereof). The second thing is generally this overwhelming desire he has to please everybody all of the time. He doesn't care what he has to do in order to earn approval - he's quite as willing to scrub the exhaust manifolds as he is to play ambassador and native guide - but he does have a quite desperate need to be liked, loved, needed, respected and generally included. He's been making a career out of inventing odd jobs aboard Voyager and volunteering himself to do them. It's debatable whether the ship really needs a morale officer, a holodeck programmer, a television breakfast show host, or an investigative reporter. And while the need to conserve replicator rations is a genuine one, it's pretty certain that they could also find themselves a cook among the crew whose culinary aspirations were more to the taste of their Alpha Quadrant palates. That they don't do it is testament to the respect and affection in which Neelix is held. There's an amused and tolerantly indulgent edge to their treatment of him, true, but by and large Neelix's boundless enthusiasm, good heartedness and loyalty have earned him friends. And just about the only person who can't see this is Neelix himself. Which isn't terribly surprising, since he wouldn't be trying so hard if he didn't feel insecure to start with.

The underlying insecurities have to have been fuelled by recent events such as his break-up with Kes. While Neelix and Kes were together he always had someone to remind him that he was the centre of her universe, and to dismiss his fears. But without the calming and clearheaded influence of Kes there is nobody to give him the sense of perspective he so urgently needs, and you can't help but suspect that he's wondering whether some of the jealousy he had about Kes's friendships with other men was well founded after all. Also, the two of them came on board as a package deal; perhaps he thinks that without his link to Kes to justify his existence Janeway might be tempted to just keep Kes for her useful medical and hydroponic skills and ditch the dead weight? He wrote a new holodeck program for the general use of the crew... and Harry Kim and Tom Paris promptly changed half of it. He's only too aware of the crew's comments on his cooking. And he knows that most of his other little jobs don't really amount to much. The one thing he's always held onto as making him unique amongst Voyager's crew is his knowledge of the geography, politics, cultures and resources of the Delta Quadrant - something that even Kes, who grew up in an underground civilisation which didn't mix or travel, cannot equal. Since he can't see that it isn't necessary for him to be indispensable, facing the knowledge that his days as native guide are numbered must have been very hard for him. Small wonder that he first made a desperate bid to expand his little jobs to embrace the more official and ship crucial functions - Security Officer, Engineer - and could then be seduced into blindly walking into wrongdoing, all in the interests of regaining and retaining his usefulness to Voyager. Wix is full of smooth-talking and plausible explanations, but Neelix isn't convinced by any of them. He knows that underneath the straightforward explanation there is trouble and questionable dealings, but it isn't in his interests to see them and so he tries desperately hard not to.

Ensign Vorik makes his first appearance in Engineering as one of B'Elanna's faithful lackeys. And then he pops up in the Mess Hall to mend the food replicators. Since it's not exactly a meaningful role in the context of the episode, most minds undoubtedly skipped ahead and made the following calculation: New Vulcan crewmember + Pon Farr episode due = 3 weeks to Blood Fever. Even without the benefit of hindsight :-)



There's some great acting here from Ethan Phillips who, even through the mask and the makeup, manages to convey a look of paralysed dread and quivering horror as Neelix takes step after step down the slippery slope. It's noticeable that, once he hits rock bottom and decides that he can't let his friends take the fall for him, even if it means his own life, he regains some of the confidence (if not the ebullience) that is more typically Neelix. Having made up his mind to do the right thing, he becomes equal to anything that may be required of him. Once he stops vacillating Neelix regains both his courage and his guile, giving him the ability to haggle with Bahrat and come out ahead. If he'd only trusted to his ability to do the same with Janeway, he wouldn't have got into the mess in the first place.

It's a little too pat that Neelix gets exactly the right advice from Tom Paris. Perhaps it's an allowable coincidence though, since if Paris has done any thinking at all about his past misfortunes the conclusion that it was the lie that was the root cause of his trouble, rather than the accident that preceded it, is inescapable. And Paris often seems to be the person that others gravitate towards for advice, although it's more often on women than morals, and normally he gets to hear the question as well as answer it.

Perhaps the moral of this story - tell the truth and trust your friends - is drawn a little heavy-handedly, but otherwise it's a good character-building episode for Neelix, and actually allows the character to develop and grow a little. Serious rather than fun, but well worth a second viewing.