TNG: S4E03: “Brothers”

In which a countdown is started, Data should be in charge of Starfleet Security procedures forever, and I get confused about which science fiction universe I’m in.

There has been a medical emergency which has forced the Enterprise to cut shore leave short and go to a Starbase. Some kid accidentally almost killed someone and has to go to the principal’s office. The principal being Riker, because Picard doesn’t like dealing with children. He and his friend were playing laser tag and he fooled his little brother into thinking the laser pistols were lethal, the brother ran away, and while he was hiding he ate some fruits infested with infectious parasites.

So right away, if this is anyone’s fault, it’s the fault of the parents for going on sabbatical and leaving their nine and twelve year old boys on a ship which routinely patrols the Neutral Zone what were they thinking? I bet they were thinking “oh my god these kids are going to kill us we have to escape.”

"Did I leave the oven on?"

“Did I leave the oven on?”

While Data is escorting the kid to the quarantine chamber, he gives off a little chirp and does his best ‘confused bird’ impression and diverts to the bridge and sets a course change going up to warp 9, despite Geordi’s objections. Data then turns off the life support on the bridge. There’s a standard procedure, which is to transfer main controls to Engineering, but by now Data has locked it out and erected force fields at every bridge entry. Picard, at this point, is readying saucer separation, which will do a system reset on the engineering hull and hey wait a minute, why didn’t they divert to the battle bridge instead of engineering? I suppose, given how easily control was transferred, it doesn’t really matter and the advantage of being able to have your chief engineer in close proximity outweighs the convenience of having a chair.

Also, when the saurcer separates, it is expected to fall out of warp within two minutes. Presumably in such a way that it isn’t obliterated by shear forces (otherwise, Picard wouldn’t demand that they turn around to go look for it) so that tells us a lot about how warp drive doesn’t work. The warp fields seem designed to fade rather than disrupt violently somehow, which is nice. Safe fail is always a good goal to design for when you’re strapping a thousand people into a tin can full of antimatter.

Data imitates Picard’s voice and localizes command control to the bridge only, because for all the anti-intruder capabilities this episode is showing us, nobody in the future thinks two-factor authentication is worth it. They would have all known something was wrong a lot sooner if Data had to have Picard’s communicators or an RFID chip in his command pips or some smart key shoved in his underwear somewhere. O’Brien disables site-to-site transporters, but we still have the ticking clock of the infected kid.

Kid thinks he has the moral high ground just because he's stuck in a box.

Kid thinks he has the moral high ground just because he’s stuck in a box.

In kind of a classic “this is the future so everything we have is just better” way, the quarantine box is exactly what you’d see in a modern hospital except instead of gloves mounted in the arm holes, there are some kind of sterilizing force field that must either kill everything that’s not human tissue, or be deformable energy gloves. Either way is pretty baller.

Correct horse battery staple.

Correct horse battery staple.

Since O’Brien has disabled site-to-site transporter, Data instead sets up a series of force fields that will run a sequence between the bridge and transporter room 1. It is pretty plainly going to work, particularly since Data creates a 51-character password that Picard will have to crack without the help of the main computer.

So, given my frequent castigation of Starfleet security protocols, how would I deal with this threat? I’m not sure. It’s very hard to stop an attack of this kind while maintaining usability, and I don’t claim to be a security expert. It would have been nice if Data had needed authentication from something that only Picard wears in concert with Picard’s voiceprint and password, but Data is a trusted and highly decorated Starfleet officer. If the Silk Road trials teach us anything, it’s that it’s very hard to maintain usability if you have to defend against someone putting years or, in the case of this episode, decades to get in place. So in conclusion, multi-factor authentication would have been useful, but Data would also have found his way around that, and once he has control of the ship, I’m not sure how you get it back if he’s that many steps ahead. Mining the transporter room or otherwise ambushing his known destination physically might be the only option.

Whoever wrote this episode was good at the thing they decided to make the main plot device.

Whoever wrote this episode was good at the thing they decided to make the main plot device.

Now that he has physical access to the transporter controls, Data can reactivate site-to-site transport and beam down what I can describe either as a scene right out of a Myst game or what it would look like if Yoda was a cyberneticist instead of a wizard.

The wrinkled old guy disables Data’s communicator and reactivates his higher thought processes, at which point Data remembers that he is a Starfleet officer and becomes worried about the Enterprise, assuaging any worries we might have had that Data might be a traitor. And the old man turns out to be Noonien Soong, who somehow escaped the Crystaline Entity’s attack due to constant and habitual paranoia. There’s a story buried in there, I’m sure. Why, in a century of technological and philosophical enlightenment, would Soong feel it necessary to have an emergency exit? Movies with Doctor Frankenstein preparing for the reactions of frightened villagers with torches and pitchforks come to mind.

Worryingly, if Data doesn’t remember how he got there, he might not have access to the security code he set. As Soong sets Data a series of tests and putters about his workshop, another small craft is approaching and detected by the Enterprise. I wonder who that could possibly be. While Soong and Data discuss philosophy and the way humanity seems to cling to its past despite all the shiny newness, and how Soong created Data in order to achieve a sense of immortality. As he answers this question, in walks Lore, who we last saw beamed into space and abandoned.

Data tries to keep Soong from reactivating him, but Data fails and Lore wakes up just as resentful as ever. He had drifted for two years before being rescued by a Pakled ship. We can guess how that went down for the Pakleds. It turns out Soong is dying. Data is confused, and Lore is going through the five stages of grief. As this family drama goes on, the crew of the Enterprise starts networking some tricorders together into a Beowulf cluster to try to trick the transporter into letting them beam down a team.




It comes out that Lore either deliberately lied or fundamentally misled Data about their origins. Lore was unstable, but is hurt and angry that Soong didn’t fix him and just went on to build Data instead. Soong regrets not fixing Lore, but all he has is an emotion chip for Data. He believes he’s ironed out the problems that made Lore go guano crazy. Of course, without a conveneint android head around to actually test with, it’s hard to be sure. Those are my misgivings, by the way, not Soong’s. Soong is sure, we just happen to know he’s dead wrong.

"How could you not trust me, brother?"

“How could you not trust me, brother?”

Soong goes to get some rest before the installation, but it seems to be going well. Data wakes up with the emotion chip intact and starts singing and then turns out to be Lore. How you say? Womp womp. Soong claims that the chip will make Lore even more unstable, and is probably right, but Lore doesn’t particularly care. He throws Soong across the room and transports out.

Geordi, Riker, and Worf have managed to spoof the transporter into letting them beam down, and Geordi instantly recognizes Soong. They reactivate Data and Soong tells Data how to find the blocked memory. Data gets to say goodbye, and gets back to the ship in time to save the kid, and now he knows he has a sidequest which, if Picard indulges it, will make the assault on the Collector ship go much more smoothly.

2 thoughts on “TNG: S4E03: “Brothers”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S4E25: “In Theory”

  2. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | TNG: S4E08: “Future Imperfect”

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