In which shuttles are useless, Picard has a past, and a couple of space pirates in an inflatable raft try to play poker with Riker.
As if something terrible and drastic hadn’t happened last week involving Q and the future of the Federation, the Enterprise is off to do an astronomical survey of a pulsar cluster. These people are pretty good at compartmentalizing, apparently. In the meantime, Wesley has some new tests to take for his Academy entrance. Everyone is telling him not to worry, because of all his field experience. meanwhile, Pulaski is ordering Picard to starbase to perform some sort of procedure which he emphatically does not want Pulaski to take part in. Since Wesley is also going to starbase to do Academy tests, Picard will join him. This has the makings of a fun B plot.
Point of order: per last episode, shuttlecraft don’t have warp capability, and the flight they’re going to go on will apparently take six hours. Why? Why would that ever happen? Let me do some more numbers. If we assume that a shuttlecraft can go at the speed of light (which it can’t, but that would be its upper bound) and the trip takes six hours, then at maximum warp the Enterprise could do that trip in just over eight seconds. Now, since the shuttle can’t possibly go at the speed of light, and various side sources I have read say that sublight drives top out at about .25c in order to reduce the effects of relativity, the Enterprise would not need to go at top speed to get to the starbase without noticeably altering timetable. Instead, they’re going to put the Captain and a promising young cadet in a tin can for several hours. To put this in perspective, it takes Picard and Wesley longer to have an awkward encounter in the hallway with Geordi and the loquatious young ensign Gomez than it would take the Enterprise to get to that starbase.
As Riker puzzles over why Picard would suddenly divert to starbase since he was looking forward to the mission, they receive a distress beacon from far enough away that Data points out that it will take them considerable distance from the captain. But in this era of Star Trek, Starfleet is, alien neck parasites excepted, a fleet of interstellar do-gooders, and there’s no such thing as a distress call you can ignore. It also seems to suggest that the anomalies they were going to be examining are not a considerable distance from Picard’s shuttle.
The ship they’re here to help is a sublight ship only, and her captain seems… very very dumb. One hopes it’s just an artifact of the Universal Translator being clumsy, but this boy is dumber than a sack of wet mice, with apologies to Foghorn Leghorn. They look for things. Things that make them go. Geordi offers to go over to the Pakled ship to help them out. Worf raises the very reasonable objection that they shouldn’t be sending over the chief engineer without knowing way more about them, but Riker insists it’s their duty to offer aid.
Checking in on Picard and Wesley, I can confirm that they are not travelling at warp, where even Picard feels that this is a waste of time. He’s going to starbase for a cardiac replacement, since he got his heart injured a while ago and the replacement is breaking down. He’s clearly pretty sensitive about it.
Okay, back to the Pakleds. Their entire vocabulary consists of the phrases: We look for things. Our ship is broken. We are far from home. Can you make our ship go? Their ship is tumbling in relation to the Enterprise and the general stellar background, and even Data is cracking smug remarks about how they managed to get into space, but Troi tells us that the aliens don’t feel helpless, and that Geordi is in danger. Of course, they don’t bother to call Geordi to warn him, or do anything but glare meaningfully at the screen.
Okay, fair enough. After a brief cutaway to Wes and Picard talking about the low mortality rate of heart transplant surgery, Riker tries to give Geordi a warning in code, but Geordi doesn’t seem worried, and Riker can’t really make an issue of it without seeming… rude? Geordi finishes the job, but as they’re preparing to beam him aboard, the Pakleds shoot him and raise a Romulan-type shield, kidnapping Geordi.
Back to the B ploy, Wesley asks invasive questions about Picard’s personal life, where Picard reminds us that being a Starfleet Captain pretty much destroys a work-life balance, and Picard tells the story of how he got his artificial heart. While still in the Academy (and before the Klingons “joined the Federation” according to Wesley, who is a brilliant engineer, and not a historian) Picard was on leave at “Far Space Starbase Earhart, and got into a fight with some Nausicans in a good old-fashioned barfight when one of them stabbed him through the heart.
Incidentally, Wesley seemed to be confused as to why Picard wouldn’t want Pulaski to do the procedure, saying that he was sure she would be discrete. However, once they actually get to starbase, it turns out Pulaski gave Wes specific instructions regarding Picard’s appointment. So once again, we see that HIPAA does not exist in the Federation. I suppose everyone can just be trusted?
Turns out the Pakleds carefully orchestrated all their malfunctions in order to hold Geordi hostage, in exchange for the entire computer database of the Enterprise. If they managed to pull this scheme in the past it explains why Federation records indicate the Pakleds are dumb as posts and yet they have advanced technology.
In the operation room, we get a neat little insight into the nature of Federation medicine. Sterilization is accomplished by means of an energy field that presumably breaks apart harmful pathogens within its area of effect, and calibrating that so it stopped at the human epidermis must have been a fun series of trials. Based on some of the stuff we’re doing with materials sciences now, I would assume that the scrubs and gloves already resist contamination, because when you have replicators why wouldn’t you have that feature? In fact, I imagine pretty much every surface in the 24th century has this feature. It would if I were programming it, anyway. Anesthesia is accomplished by a little neural… thingy… that they stick to your forehead. Of course, they still have to actually cut Picard open rather than, say, transporting the replacement right in.
Riker, in attempting to find a solution to the Pakled problem that doesn’t involve battering down their shields and hoping they don’t kill Geordi, decides to sucker them with some macguffin and then use that to cripple their ship at the right moment. This reduces the A plot to a problem of communicating the plan to Geordi, since they already gave him access to the guts of their ship once. So long as they’ll do it again everything will be peachy. Similarly, the B plot of ‘Picard gets a new heart’ is also going fairly swimmingly.
As a note, the Pakleds, though apparently being possessed of a certain base cunning doesn’t mean they’re actually capable of spotting a coded conversation between non-intelligence-operatives in which the key words are heavily stressed. One almost feels bad for them. Something about weapons systems analysis, hydrogen collectors, and the number 24. The more interesting question is what the hydrogen collectors are actually used for? Grabbing interstellar dust to react with the antimatter, I would imagine. The question is whether that’s sufficient. We know from “The Dauphin” and its terrible numbers that the ship can’t generate enough power to match a terawatt communications source, and from “Coming of Age” that the only matter/antimatter intermix ratio is 1:1, but I don’t know enough about the density of interstellar hydrogen or how efficient the conversion of explosions to usable power is in the Enterprise engines, and I already did speculative math for you people.
Back on starbase, Picard is dying on the table and only one person known is qualified to attempt to fix it, and since they’re calling the Enterprise we can presume that person is Kate Pulaski who is, lest we forget, no longer completely terrible. Riker now has to force the confrontation. The Enterprise prepares to fire on a completely unnecessary countdown in order to give Geordi time to pretend he wants to help the Pakleds. The Enterprise vents hydrogen, Geordi convinces the Pakleds that this visual effect, called the ‘crimson force field’ because the Pakleds are… well… yeah… disarmed them. With Geordi back on board, the Enterprise is able to get to the starbase in time to stop Picard from dying on the table, which proves the point I made before about travel times. Also, the procedure has a suggested post-surgical recovery time of four hours. Wes passes his tests and gets to keep his internship, and Picard gets to go on the science survey after all. One could hope that an entry is added to Starfleet’s database: ‘the Pakleds may be resorting to piracy, do not beam crew over there,’ but such administrative details are never shown on screen.