In which we meet some pirates, solve a mystery, and Riker takes up the mantle of Kirk.
It’s very… green, when Riker, Worf, Data, and Crusher beam down to a wrecked facility. There’s a missing reactor, too, but there are life signs. Crusher finds some traces of nonhuman blood, which she sounds surprised enough about that this seems to have been a humans-only facility. I mean, probably not by law or anything, but that humans happened to be the only ones here. Probably. Hopefully, anyway. Also, we get another reminder that Data is much, much stronger than Worf when he easily opens some doors. You have to kind of feel bad for Worf. His job on the show, literarily speaking, is to look like a badass and then get shown up. Behind door number one are a couple of passed-out scientists with multiple phaser stun wounds.
The blood is an iron-copper composite which narrows down the donor species to Akamarians, which are sometimes self-styled ‘Gatherers.’ Because ‘pirates’ lacks cachet when you have starships, I guess, although I rather like the idea of a bunch of guys in stripey environment suits firing harpoons at enemy ships, and then looking confused when they bounce off the shields. The sovereign of the Akamarians appears to maintain a veneer of respectability, though. I guess the legitimate government is at odds with the nomadic Gatherer population and have been so for a hundred years. Reminds me of when I used to play Tropico and kept the dissent down by deporting unhappy people. Either way, Picard would rather reunite the nomads with their home planet than hunt them down. Sounds like a good attitude but it’s also potentially meddling in internal matters. It might be that they’re members of the Federation and he has that level of influence, but that’s worrying, too. Diplomatic as he is, Starfleet is still at least partially military, and it would be somewhat concerning if he’s allowed to dictate policy to civilian leaders of member states. Maybe he only asked nicely.
These Akamarians also don’t seem like Federation material, though. The premier Marouk has servants, including a chef who’s unfamilair with replicators. And who’s also the food taster. And Riker’s latest crush. Countdown to diplomatic incident in 10…
In an effort to hunt down the Gatherers, they find a Class-M planet in the middle of a nearby sector with crude scaffolding and campfires – correction – hobo-trashcan-fires. And a whole bunch of salvage. And an ambush.
Something about the operation of a phaser has always bothered me. You can use it in sustained bursts to heat up rocks in survival situation, but nobody ever sets them to low-power or stun and sweeps the weapon from side to side as suppressing fire. You could set it to ‘surface burns’ or ‘just scare them a bit’ and keep a group of enemies pinned down long enough to flank, because overheating doesn’t seem to be a problem. I digress, back to the firefight were everyone is missing. Rather than risk a prolonged firefight and a stray shot, Riker decides to just use their fantastic directed-energy multitools to vaporize some metal and create cover. The metal vaporizes at 2,314 degrees, which is below a handheld phaser’s setting 7.
With the fight over, the pirates and the sovereign sit down and sort of start a peace process. There’s clearly a lot of bitterness that everyone is taking personally, followed by a creepy moment where the cook follows one of the old pirates. He recognizes her, they exchange clan names, then she touches him and he dies. Those Clan Wars must’ve been rough if they got far enough to turn people into bio-weapons. The Theme of the Day is clearly petty and pointless cycles of revenge. There’s about to be a next step in the peace process when they find the body. Riker reflexively calls in crusher, which is going to prove to be unforntunate. The leader of the pirates was going to dismiss it as just an old man’s timely end, but she’s pretty clearly going to find evidence of an engineered pathogen or something, and disrupt the whole peace process. Well, maybe just clues that they’ll follow, so that everything can explode at a more inconvenient time.
We get a brief history of the Clan Wars, which are exactly as terrible and pointless as you might expect from human history, and Yuta the cook makes Riker some almost-real food while he’s chatting with Troi. Troi, recognizing that Riker wants to get laid, gracefully excuses herself. It’s not even remotely awkward at all, and I don’t know why you’d think it would be.
Over spiced root vegetable, Riker and Yuta discuss class politics, and Riker tries to infect her with Federation values, and she gets extremely cryptic about the fact that, presumably, she’s specifically engineered to kill every member of the clan that once called her great-great-grandfather ‘kind of a jerk.’ In fact, Crusher calls Riker down to sick bay to discuss just that. There’s a virus that blocks autonomic nervous functions that will only infect one in a million Akamarians, so Riker gets access to the homeworld medical database. And then Yuta comes to his quarter to… ahem… serve dessert, and it turns out that she can’t actually feel pleasure or passion.
They rendezvous with the Gatherer leader, who does not seem disposed to talk, but is also literally no threat to the Enterprise. The only marginally difficult part is calibrating the ship’s phasers not to destroy their ship. This is what is colloquially known as ‘opening a dialogue.’
Picard beams over with the sovereign, the pirate field commander, and Yuta the bioweapon and they begin another round of talks with another recalcitrant nomad. Sovereign Marouk is offering land and amnesty, which seems like a pretty good deal. Good enough to get the leader to sit down, at least. Back on the ship, Crusher finds another virus death 53 years ago, and they figure out the clan connection. The leader of the Gatherers, Chorgan, is also a member of this clan, figure out which clan hates them, and find a picture of Yuta using CSI magic. It fits slightly better here because, after all, they’ve had 300 years to make software work like that.
I get the feeling we’re mostly going to gloss over the fact that the Akamarians seem to have invented an immortality virus. I mean, sure it’s apparently grafted onto RNA strands that deaden the nerves and alter brain chemestry and commit ethnocide, but it kind of seems like at least a little R&D might be in order, right? We keep getting these amazing advances in medical technology that seem to be just dropped because of side effects or improper use, in an era where you’d expect the science is up to the task of making it safe.
Picard is doing a good job as mediator and Yuta is about to serve Chorgan some brandy… garnished with death… when Riker beams over and saves the day by letting the truth out. He tries to talk her down, but ultimately has to vaporize her while Picard just watches in shock. We can only be thankful that when Riker is brooding later in Ten-Forward, it’s Picard who shows up to offer him some time off, rather than Troi making things even more awkward.