TNG: S2E21: “Peak Performance”

In which Riker gets a command, Wesley cheats, and Data plays Space-Chess with a living jowl.

Picard has agreed to take part in a war games exercise, despite apparent misgivings, and is taking on a civilian observer who is a master strategist. His name is Kolrami, and he is a Zakdorn. He’s a very earnest little fellow. Apparently, their entire species is supposed to be highly skilled strategists, and this has kept them out of armed conflicts for almost a millenium. Worf points out that this constitutes a reason one might doubt the continued veracity of the reputation, but of course he doesn’t use as many syllables.

"What, you don't like my jowls?"

“What, you don’t like my jowls?”

The war games will consist of Riker captaining an 80-year-old shjp, the Hathaway, captained by Riker. He will have 48 hours to prepare it before it comes under assault by Picard aboard the Enterprise. So far, I’m not sure what this exercise is intended to prove, and it’s not like the Enterprise is stuck on dull backwater duty and hasn’t seen any action lately. Perhaps this is why Picard was initially resistant to the whole idea.

Also, to make sure that nobody dies, they’ll be disconnecting the weapons and hooking ships systems up to basically laser tag vests. One might remember this concept from “A Taste of Armageddon,” although I think we can be fairly confident that nobody will be expected to report to the incinerator if their console shuts down.

Actually, it turns out that Picard was resistant because, in his words, Starfleet is not a military organization. We see this in the fact that the Enterprise, the flagship of the fleet, has families and children aboard and most of its loadout is science equipment. However, since the discovery of the Borg, it seems military readiness is important. However, both of them prefer ‘brains over brawn.’ However, Riker points out that his word is good and offers Picard the chance to surrender, both things we saw in “A Matter of Honor.”

"Test your mind. Test your mind. Test your mind.  ACADEMIC KOMBAT!!!"

“Test your mind.
Test your mind.
Test your mind.

Riker gets a compliment of 40 and can choose anyone except Data, who has been chosen as Picard’s second in command. Among the people we care about, Riker picks Geordi, who has been studying the old ‘Avidyne’ engines, and Worf, who doesn’t think there’s anything to gain from the exercise. They agree that since the ship is awful, the only thing they have is guile. Riker also chooses Wesley. Riker also challenges Kolrami to a game of Strategema, which is like space-Go combined with brickles. Riker knows he’s not going to even come close, but playing someone of Korami’s skills is a privelege in itself. This tells us a lot about Riker. Also, apparently, there are side bets going on as to how far Riker will make it. Again, money may not be a driving factor in day-to-day life in the Federation, and it may not ration anything important that’s scarce, but it seems there are always things to barter on the ship. Time, perhaps, or unpleasant duties. The general atmosphere of amiability aboard the ship would probably overlook such wagers as long as they don’t interfere with important scheduling.

Troi and Pulaski explain the point of challenges and competitions to Data, in terms of the utility of meeting a standard someone else sets. They suggest Data challenge him, which will be interesting, since Riker’s game doesn’t even last as long as it took to put the little finger cuffs on him.

"Wesley, I thought I told you to clean your room!"

“Wesley, I thought I told you to clean your room!”

The Hathaway appears to be a Constellation-class cruiser, like the Stargazer. It’s also in abysmal shape – Starfleet didn’t even bother to put it in working order. Riker puts Worf as first officer even though Geordi has seniority, because Geordi is needed in engineering and Worf is better suited to a purely battle simulation anyway. At 80 years old, the Hathaway was a brand new ship when Kirk was exiting command and entering admiralty for the first time. By that time, his Enerprise was at least 11 years old, and probably older, so the Hathaway is built on all the newest technologies of that day. That said, it also has no antimatter, no dilithium crystals save for a few shards, and is generally a dump. I wonder if their alternate power source was still working, or if they had to bring a portable fusion engine from the Enterprise or something. It’s clear Starfleet didn’t do much to make it operable.

Meanwhile, Pulaski has challenged Kolrami in Data’s name. Kolrami doesn’t feel particularly challenged by a machine. As a historical aside, humans had been playing computers at chess for a while now, and Harvard had even started an event where humans played computers, but this is before the famous victory of Deep Blue over Kasparov in the first match of their series. It was clear that computers were getting stronger and better, but not that they’d necessarily overtake humans one day in terms of strategic planning.

Meet ensign Never-Going-To-Be-Promoted. His parents were very progressive in their views on who takes whose name.

Meet ensign Never-Going-To-Be-Promoted. His parents were very progressive in their views on who takes whose name.

Worf’s plan is to use tactical overrides to trick the Enterprise sensors into reporting false enemy traces and project an enemy ship on the viewscreen. Once again, the Enterprise displays a critical failure in the realm of electronic warfare. Additionally, Wes and Geordi have got something planned with the leftover crystal fragments, although they need antimatter. Wes goes back to the ship. He uses the excuse of needing to monitor an experiment he left running on the Enterprise. Kolrami allows it, on the condition that Wes is excorted and doesn’t sabotage the Enterprise. He claims to the bored ensign that the experiment is ruined and volatile, but at least we get a canon reason for why the transporter has a ‘do not reassemble’ setting. You might remember my rant about that from “Lonely Among Us.” That ensign needs to be shot, or at least tickled until he promises not to be derilict in his duty again.

Data faces down on Kolrami, and this game seems to be going well until Kolrami shuts him down hard and he removes himself from bridge duty to run a series of self-diagnostics. He has determined that he made no mistakes, but still performed badly against Kolrami, and does not want to endanger, even in pretend, the ships performance.

Wesley’s experiment, it turns out, is a high-energy plasma reactor that uses antimatter, which is enough to power the ship for a surprise burst. In another surprise burst, Pulaski comes to Data to give him a pep talk and apologize to him. Geordi tells Riker that they’ll have Warp 1 for just under 2 seconds. Since the Enterprise won’t be expecting the Hathaway to have any, that will give them some useful confusion. Note that this shouldn’t be enough to quite pull of the Picard maneuver, since the ship will be keeping up with, not outpacing, its own light signature. It should never appear to be in two places at once, but if it moves away at warp 1, it could appear to be gone for about two seconds. Incidentally, I’ve been listening to the series The Lost Fleet and there’s quite a pleasant amount of accounting for light speed delays in information gathering. This is something Star Trek often fails to shows us.

Picard gives Data a pep talk, and then spends the next hour until the war games begin analyzing Riker’s record. Riker does not rely on traditional tactics. In the past he’s used sensor blind spots and powering down to hang over a planet’s magnetic pole to win his engagements. Of course, since Riker knows that he will make this analysis and change his tactics, unless he knows that Data would figure that out and… Damn, now I have to watch the Princess Bride again.

The war games begin with Picard using a standard named maneuver in order to draw out Riker. He deliberately takes the bait while the Enterprise presents her slimmest profile and opens fire. At that time, Riker triggers the sensor ghosts and the Hathaway gets several hits and shuts down a couple of systems. They cycle the codes, but then a Ferengi ship shows up. They still assume it’s a ghost, which is unfortunate.

This is the story of the boy who cried Ferengi...

This is the story of the boy who cried Ferengi…

One has to wonder why the Federation hasn’t dealt with the Ferengi on a more permanent basis yet. We’ve seen quite a lot of them showing up to wage war against the Federation, including one trojan horse attack on Picard using a highly illegal mind-control device. And now they show up out of the blue attacking the Federation flagship. What excuse for this could there be? Seems like an act of war to me. They can’t even engage weapons, since the first Ferengi attack fuses the connections.

The Ferengi seem to believe that the Hathaway is valuable, because the Enterprise was attacking it and is now defending it rather than fleeing. In the delay, the Enterprise repairs some photon torpedoes, and Riker calls in to tell Picard to leave while he uses the warp to try to get away. At 1C, for 2 seconds.

New wallpaper.

New wallpaper.

Instead, the plan is for the Enterprise to fire at the Hathaway, which will use the explosions as cover, removing it as a prize and confounding the Ferengi. At that point, Worf will prepare another surprise. I’m confused about what it could be, since Worf doesn’t have the command codes for the Ferengi ship and they haven’t prepared anything else.

When the Ferengi go in for the kill, the Hathaway uses another sensor ghost. I have no explanation for this, other than the possibility that the Ferengi have even worse cryptographic security than the Federation does.

In the end, Data nd Kolrami have advanced from three 2×2 grids to what looks like 10×10 grids. Data looks calm, of course, while Kolrami looks super pissed, and eventually ragequits. Data altered his play style to pass up winning avenues to play towards a stalemate. There are a lot of reasons why this should work: Kolrami likely hasn’t practiced against that strategy, and in a fast-paced game might not be able to spend the brain cycles necessary to plot an effective defense. Everyone cheers because nobody likes an arrogant jerk who spent the last two and a half days talking about how terrible Riker is.

2 thoughts on “TNG: S2E21: “Peak Performance”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S7E24: “Preemptive Strike”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S7E05: “Gambit: Part 2”

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