In which we’re down one capital ship, the Sidhe were real, and at least one of the writers worked on a helpdesk.
The Enterprise is in the Neutral Zone to rescue Picard’s old friend and current captain of the USS Yamato. Not certain, but it sounds from context like this might be without Starfleet orders – a potential act of war. The Yamato is another Galaxy-class that has been having systems problems, and the Enterprise is also experiencing minor ‘hiccups’. They get in range of the Yamato, whose glitches have included a forcefield in the shuttle bay sending a dozen people on an engineering team into space. But apparently it would be premature to evacuate nonessential crew to the Enterprise. Idiots.
The Yamato is in the Neutral Zone in order to look into rumors of the Iconians, which are apparently a highly advanced ancient species, thought to be mythological, whose technology would spell disaster for the Federation if it fell into Romulan hands. There’s a lot of precedent for this in Star Trek – the Tkon Empire from “The Last Outpost,” as well as the Preservers from “The Paradise Syndrome” and a few other TOS species were similarly powerful. This news just before a system problem drops the magnetic containment system of the Yamato‘s antimatter storage. So now the Yamato doesn’t exist anymore and I won’t have to italicize nearly as much. On the downside (other than the thousand casualties including civilian ones) a Romulan ship shows up.
It’s worth noting at this point that it is illegal for either ship to be in the Neutral Zone. Hence the name, I guess, but it makes the Romulan commander a little more sympathetic when she responds to Picard’s demand for the reason for their presence with a very calm return of the same question. Neither of them should be there, but yelling is very not-Picard. Then again, he did just have his friend and a thousand or so other people blow up and chunks of a starship bounce off his shields, so he’s clearly not having a good day. There’s also the fact that they seem to suspect the Romulans may have blown up the Yamato. So they’re just going to stick around until they unravel the truth.
The next scene details some of the safety methods and protocols used in dealing with antimatter aboard a starship. It is full of jargon, but essentially the Yamato safety systems started, then failed, leading to everyone coming to the slow realization that they’re living on a giant bomb. but one can’t live in fear all the time. Instead, Picard combs through the logs for references to Iconia and Romulans, painting a picture of a caveman trying to keep an atomic bomb away from another caveman. We don’t know precisely what the tech does yet, but apparently it would be enough to force the Federation to surrender to the Romulans. Spooky. And as Picard goes back to the bridge, the doors fail to open in time. After taking on the Yamato‘s mission, Picard apparently has enough time to explain to Wesley the details of Iconian history. Among the historical record are legends of ‘demons of air and darkness’ that appeared out of thin air. The allusion to Queen Mab and the Unseelie sidhe is particularly illuminating to consider, although if the Iconians had been to Earth they probably would have conquered it. For another story about supersicence aliens messing with the wrong pre-technological life-forms, see Stargate. Again.
Also, the ship is continuing to decay. Picard’s Earl Grey Tea winds up being a plant, but at least LaForge can eliminate design problems as the cause of the demise of the Yamato. Of course, that pretty much leaves ‘computer virus’ which is apparently rare enough in the 24th century to not be the first thing everyone thinks of. I’m just saying, if I were an ancient species hated and feared by those other spacefaring species out there, and didn’t need starships to conquer worlds, I would have a defense system that involved breaking all the power systems on any spaceship that came by without the right IFF sequence. Since I wouldn’t have to engage anyone on their playing field, why bother building decisive battle weapons when infiltration will do just as well? I would also probably set them to explode horrifically if anyone scanned them or they deviated from their flight path in any way. And apparently I’m right, because Geordi goes into a panic when Picard says he’s going to transport the probe over.
Watch this episode – seeing LeVar Burton going apeshit as the turbolift throws him around is kind of excellent. Geordi then explains – the Iconian program is apparently rewriting the Enterprise systems, which were infected by the Yamato logs. Hence the title. Sick bay is far enough down that Pulaski’s ludditism is actually helpful – she has to explain how to make a splint to one of her nurses. One point in the ‘Pulaski is good enough to be on the ship’ column, I suppose.
Picard, Data, and Worf beam down to the site the probe was launched from to see if they can reverse the code problems, and moments later a Romulan ship shows up and is about to destroy the Enterprise before their own systems malfunctions stop the Romulans from firing. The shared plight is enough for Riker to warn the Romulan commander to blow up the next probe to be launched.
This is where Picard’s archaeological obsessions become useful, although they are still outstripped by Data’s perfect recall of everything ever. The current hypothesis is that the Iconian language is the root of several galactic languages known to the Federation. The planet was bombed to rubble 200,000 years ago, which provides a certain sense of the timescale involved. Of course, this begs the question – if the Iconians seeded their language out to the galaxy, what about their genes? Data manages to start to put together an understanding of the Iconian language, although he does accidentally activate a doorway in the air. It would appear that this is how the Iconians traveled, leaving the possibility that the Iconians weren’t all killed in the bombardment.
The doorway is set to automatically rotate through various scenes, and one of the early ones in the rotation – after a beach scene, a neo-classical Greek-style ruin, and a snow-capped mountain, is the Enterprise. One is left to wonder how the gateway is selecting its destinations, and why the Romulan ship doesn’t show up. Randomness would not appear to be sufficient. of course, it couldn’t possibly be that easy, so when Data starts to figure out the console he gets zapped by the gateway device, and starts to get his software overwritten. Womp womp. Still, the gateway locations appear to be on a cycle, although as it turns out one of the gateways is the Romulan ship. I suppose it must just be taking the nearest habitable targets.
The plan on how to blow up the Iconian installation is to fire all the probes without opening the launch bay doors. There appears to be an implicit assumption that the probes fire via rocket, and I can see at least two plausible reasons for that. 1: all Federation tech requires rockets to escape gravity wells, due to complications with engaging a warp field near a planet, power requirements for antigravity on that scale, et cetera. Or 2: the explosion when they blew up the other probe was consistent with chemical propulsion, rather than a more sophisticated means. The latter makes far more sense, since once the Iconians developed Gateway technology they would have no further need of all that pesky mucking around with gravity wells.
In engineering, Data flatlines as the Iconian program completely overwrites him. Good thing they keep backups, right? You always back up your critical Data. Although it turns out Data has a self-correcting mechanism in his positronic brain. The solution appears to be a total systems shutdown and restore from the OS disk in read-only memory. basically, everone on the ship just lost their Documents folder, and Picard timed the launch wrong and has to evacuate to the Romulan ship instead. Picard is taken into custody on the Romulan ship, as it is unable to deactivate the self-destruct. Riker has Geordi tell them about hard reboot in the name of galactic peace before the Enterprise runs away, presumably to get dressed down for almost starting a war and then commended for stopping the Romulans from getting portal technology. Just another day in the life of a ship named Enterprise.