TNG: S2E07: “Unnatural Selection”

In which Picard dislikes Pulaski almost as much as I do, that station is probably illegal, and this is the last disease scare the Enterprise should ever have.

The Enterprise is en route to meet up with a medical courier, and apparently Picard is looking forward to using the time to evaluate Pulaski more fully. He’s even pulling Troi in to get her opinion. We can only hope that someone finally complained about her blatant racism towards Data. Well, someone aside form me, anyway. Troi says she’s a dedicated medical professional, and Picard senses some reservations in her carefully chosen words, but apparently Troi does not actually have any concerns about Pulaski organizing a lynch mob. This nterview is interrupted by a distress call from the Lantree which gets off a faint signal before fading out. There’s the word ‘dying’ and it sounds like the person speaking is very, very old, or at least very wizened. Curiosity piqued, Picard orders an adjustment to the course.

For some reason, Geordi walks onto the bridge and orders transfer of engineering controls to one of the back science stations. I would imagine it’s because Picard wanted his chief engineer present when decisions were being made. I mention this solely to remind you all of what TOS networking was like – there wasn’t any. At all. There was an intercom. Now Geordi can transfer enough of the core functionality of his job to another station and not lose enough effectiveness to make up for the gains of being on the bridge in crisis mode. Also, Picard is using command codes to take remote control of at least some of the operations of the Lantree. Looks like he had to make the request either from his chain of command or at least from a central database (which is much more secure than every ship having a copy of them) so score one for operational efficiency. I’m almost not sure what to do with an episode where the technology is done well.

Grandpa's sleeping.

Grandpa’s sleeping.

They shut down the Lantree‘s engines and take control of the internal cameras, and it looks like everyone aboard has died of old age. Which is pretty horrifying. Federation medicine has gotten rid of a lot of things, including headaches (if you’ll recall Beverly’s horrified reaction in “The Battle”) and Leonard McCoy was around 80 years after his service on Kirk’s Enterprise, and was still considered healthy enough to go on tours. We know that death hasn’t been abolished because nobody is shocked beyond belief at, for example, the passing of Ira Graves, or even the senseless deaths of the helmsman in “Where Silence Has Lease” or Yar in “Skin of Evil,” the fact of several dozen people being stricken by Time like this is pretty terrible.

They download the log entries and it turns out the crew got to watch themselves grow old and die without being able to successfully analyze the problem. We might get to see one of the differences, aside from armament, between a Galaxy-class starship and a Miranda-class supply vessel. You might recall, or you might not, that the Mirandas were in service in Kirk’s time and were science vessels. Apparently, either the ship or her crew were not up to the challenge this time. Perhaps the relentless progression of science are why the Mirandas were demoted to supply ships?

The only medical anomaly from the Lantree logs were a minor notation of Theluzian Flu, just after a stop-off at Darwin Station, a genetic research station. Since it’s clear that there’s a terrifying disease, the Enterprise is able to activate quarantine warnings and a homing beacon so they can find it again, and then proceed with dread towards what any genre-savvy viewer will immediately recognize as the opening plot to an apocalyptic disease movie. Even Picard expresses, and I quote, “profound apprehension” in his log entries. They arrive at Darwin Station just as the station has declared a medical emergency, and during talks it turns out that Pulaski wrote “Linear Models of Viral Propagation” which is still the standard paper on the topic.

Darwin Station is experimenting in human genetics, which is very interesting to note. Particularly, the head researcher entreats the Enterprise to protect the children they’ve been… experimenting on? That, perhaps, are their experiments? This is interesting in the context of the Eugenics Wars, since we can recall from Khan’s appearances that the Federation is a bit leery of genetic tinkering. I will do my best to link back to this in certain arcs of the Deep Space Nine and Enterprise series. Also, we might wonder about the number of hoops Darwin Station had to jump through to get their research on genetic tinkering with children approved by an Ethics board. Presumably it did get approved, since they’re not trying to hid the fact that their research is children from the Enterprise. Still, Troi thinks they’re hiding something. 

Because it's just not a quarantine field if you can see through it easily.

Because it’s just not a quarantine field if you can see through it easily.

Pulaski’s plan is to bring up a child, in suspended animation, encased in something called ‘styrolite’ and do a battery of scans. Geordi rigs up a quarantine field. Please note how serious this field is – we have seen force fields that are perfectly transparent to visible light – even defensive screens are transparent to visible light, when a laser of high enough intensity could easily melt hull. We do know that lasers are knocked aside by navigational deflectors somehow, but even in the brig, we saw transparent force fields when a laser-based hand weapon could burn a hole though someone (or apparently vapiroze their skin and bones, as in “Loud as a Whisper”. Yet this field distorts light and has a color. Serious business indeed. And although nobody has mentioned it on-screen yet, we can at least hope that sufficient thought has been given as to how they’re going to recycle the air in there and clean it before recirculating it to the rest of the ship, in case this thing is airborne. O’Brian is having to calibrate the transporters to make sure the styrolite materializes ahead of the child. And apparently the force field is only there for transport in case something goes wrong – they drop it immediately.

Troi senses telepathic abilities from the child, even in Stasis, and Pulaski says some words that the Federation has learned from history to fear. “We could be looking at the future of humanity.” She wants to release the child from stasis and styrolite, because apparently medical precautions are binary in the future. Picard only agrees to let this happen if it can be proven that the risk to the ship is not present. Later, Pulaski enlists Troi’s help in releasing a deadly geriatric virus onto the ship. Oops, I meant to say ‘enlist Troi’s help in relating to the captain better.’ The keys are, like, right next to each other. Pulaski\ thinks that Picard can’t see the human side of the equation because of his dedication to the ship. Pulaski can’t see that she’s risking 1014 lives.

Pulaski goes to Geordi to get help in setting up a truly isolated environment, and apparently even the isolation lab in Sick Bay isn’t capable of that. So all that benefit of the doubt I gave to the air recycling question up there? Yeah, forget I said that. The only truly isolated and fail-safe environment is a shuttlecraft. We’ll just have to hope that if everything goes pear-shaped and wrinkly and the disease can’t be cured, then none of it will sink into the upholstery. Armed with this methodoly, she goes into Picard’s ready-room loaded for bear and thengets all the wind let out of her sails when he approves her request without an argument. She takes Data with her as a pilot, because, with the exception of “The Naked Now,”  he can’t be affected by the same diseases as humans.

Max Headroom: Slightly less than the height of a shuttlecraft.

Max Headroom: Slightly less than the height of a shuttlecraft.

Brief aside – with tractor beams and remote piloting, it’s entirely plausible that there could be as little clearance as their seems to be in the shuttlebay. But it also seems a needless risk to the ability to come in for a dark landing. Also please note the visually transparent yet apparently air-retentive force field. Thge inside of the shuttlecraft, at least, seems much better designed than the original series as depicted in “The Galileo Seven,” with half the controls behind the pilot.

Pulaski takes another opportunity to get a shot in at Data’s vital status, but at least seems appropriately chastened when he expresses his concern for her own health. She is at least right that medical research is an inherently risky business – although a lot of the riskiest escapades that you’ll read about don’t seem to have been strictly necessary. Like that guy who drank a vial of bacteria to prove it gives you ulcers. Or that guy who catheterized his own heart. Or that guy who infected himself with cholera to prove that cholera is bad for you. That may not have been the point of that last one, but no matter. Once aboard the shuttlecraft, Pulaski dissolves the styrolite and the child immediately wakes up and starts telepathing at her. That’s cool, I guess.

Eighteen minutes into examination and trials, Pulaski develops a shooting pain in her arm, and since the first symptoms of the disease were arthritis, it appears that it’s a damn good thing Picard didn’t let them thaw the kid. Pulaski now has a fatal disease because the children are, in fact, carriers. Troi shows an amazing lack of understanding in the belief that the transporter’s bio-filters will screen out the disease, since the boy went through them twice and Pulaski still got infected, beaming them directly back will obviously not work. Another question is how they’re going to get Data decontaminated and the shuttlecraft usable again. In the case of the shuttle, I’d suggest blowing it up, since it’s not sentient.

O’Brian suggests getting Pulaski back by using her stored pattern (which is stored for ‘security purposes’) to rebuild her as she was at the time of last transport. Of course, the problem is that Pulaski is a luddite and has never consented to use Enterprise transporters before. Probably because it kills you. They’re going to check with her previous ship to see if the Repulse has any transporter traces.

Meanwhile, Pulaski and Data go down to Darwin station since they no longer have anything to lose. The children have an ‘aggressive immune system’ which would, on contact with the Thelusian Flu, release an ‘active antibody’ which would seek out an airborne virus and destroy it. Yes, despite that being not how white blood cells work at all apparently Darwin Station gave these children airborne immune systems. This entry is apprently pretty heavy with links, and I apologize for that, but they are necessary.

So yeah. Apparently, the antibody is designed to alter the genetic code of a virus before it even reaches the host. Data takes ten minutes with a computer, and determines that the antibody combined with the retroviral properties of the immune system combined to cause the geriatric plague. And since the Repulse no longer has Pulaski’s transporter trace records, looks like Pulaski and the crew of Darwin station will be dead, and the children will be trapped on Darwin Station forever. As her final words, she does at least manage to give Data some praise. Shame it took her death to do it.

Now that they know the problem, they’re able to transporter bio-filter Data to get him back aboard. Picard comes up with the idea of using a genetic sample from before Pulaski was infected. There is then, perhaps, the first real example of rapid-fire Treknobabble, but in essence they’re going to put a gene sequencer into the transporter and instead of transporting her up by directly copying bits of information from her Darwin-Station-Body to her Enterprise-Body, they’re going to use that gene sequencer to overwrite the damaged DNA, presumably while keeping all the macroscopic information (skeleton position, skin outside of body, et cetera) intact, and presumably also without altering her electrochemical brain state. It’s a good thing they’ve gone through numerous trials of thisand have ample time to test it before… ahhh, hell with it. Riker and Data find her hairbrush in her underwear drawer and they get ready to make the modification. If it doesn’t work, they won’t be able to beam her back down. Presumably, since everyone permits Picard to stay in the same room, he will at least be able to dematerialize her rather than infect the ship.

Of course it works, and they are able to cure those aboard Darwin Station as well. The Enterprise, goes back to the Lantree and decommissions her with honor, dignity, and the judicious use of a photon torpedo. No mentions of formal indictments are discussed for the members of Darwin Station, nor is the ability to de-age someone based on their transporter trace or healthy DNA ever spoken of again.

 

Times the Transporter Fixes Everything And Is Not Universally Recognized As A Panacea Thenceforth: 3

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