In which away team protocol is still weird, O’Brien is a walking stereotype, and some aliens get really bored.
The Enterprise is moving through an uncharted binary system on the trail of a missing science vessil, the Brittain. What do you suppose the reaction is when the announcement filters down from command through the duty shifts and into the sectional scrum teams that you think you’re nearing an area where a starship just vanished? That can’t be comforting, right? Even less so if you find the ship and it’s completely intact but with no power. At least if there were battle damage you could do battle preparedness drills, but if there’s nothing wrong with the ship, it could be happening right now and you’d never know it.
Troi sense life on board, but is not able to be specific without joining the away team. This, given standard Away Team protocol plus Crusher in case it’s a medical situation, leaves Picard as the only officer on the bridge and one of only two officers certified to command the ship. Geordi is, of course, the other one.
So the entire senior staff basically beams over to contract the airborne Paxian Murder Flu and find the entire crew dead of violent means, except for one Betazoid hiding in a cupboard with the exact look of shock you might expect from someone in that situation.
The collection of all the dead crew (~30) on a Miranda-class isn’t going to take that long, but is complicated by the fact that several of the corpses were barricaded into their rooms amidst weapons stockpiles. Paxian Murder Flu is looking more and more likely, right? The Betazoid, meanwhile, is identified as a science advisor and is just conscious enough to be projecting a profound state of abject terror at her and gibbering telepathically.
Oh good, now they’ve sent Geordi over to catch the ‘flu too. The good news is that the ship is in perfect condition, so whatever catastrophe occurred only affected the crew. The ship is fine and they can spin it up and dedicate a prize crew to bring it back home, where I’m sure nobody will express the least bit of concern over being given command of the psycho-murder-suicide-pact ship. The captain’s log shows a steady mental decline, and Crusher can’t find any outside agent to cause it. So the Murder Flu is clearly also invisible to sensors.
Also, keen observers will note that the ship’s name is spelled wrong either on every software display inside the ship, or else by whoever painted the name on the hull. I wonder if any of the Utopia Planetia staff got a stern talking-to over that.
So since Troi is the only one who’s been able to get anything out of the sole survivor, who also just happens to be Betazoid, it stands to reason that she will have mysterious and almost nightmarishly abstract dreams about walking on a solid surface through a green mist toward two lights while a creepy voice reverb-whispers “eyes in the dark. One moon circles” at her.
Sadly I know the answer to this one, so instead of watching me flail around trying to guess it you will instead have to watch me awkwardly try to avoid giving the answer until the appropriate time, in the vain and egotistical hope that someone who is watching this episode for the first time because of this blog will, as of this run-on sentence, recognize that there is a puzzle to be solved and then have fun solving it. Reader, if you exist, let me know.
Four days later, they have yet to figure out what the problem is, and Geordi still can’t actually get the engines up. But there is also a jug-eared ensign who hears something and thinks there’s still someone on the ship. He’s going crazy. Also, O’Brien is being an enormous jerk to Keiko and accusing her of cheating on him, and then goes to spread his irritability around the ship. Even Picard hears his door chime going off continuously, with nobody entering, until finally someone even knocks. Shockingly, Deanna and Beverly think that whatever happened on the Brattain is happening now. Not only that, but now the Enterprise can’t move either.
Data’s studies conclude that they are trapped in a Tyken’s Rift, which is a rupture in space-time that absorbs energy. It’s absorbing energy as soon as it’s produced by the ship. The only think known to get rid of that rift is a huge explosion, beyond even what the photon torpedoes are capable of delivering. Also, Tyken’s rifts are not known to cause hallucinations or nightmares. It’s gotten to the point where Picard has to order Riker to take a nap; everyone is just that on-edge. Of course, that leaves nobody to save him when the turbolift starts crushing him.
Since Data appears to be the only one unaffected, the prudent thing to do would be to hand off command to him, and Picard basically does so in all but name. After all, Data isn’t hallucinating snakes in his bed, or animate corpses in the cargo bay they’ve set up as a morgue.
Crusher, after her own encounter with hallucinations, and some brain scans on the corpses, twigs to the fact that nobody but Troi has actually had any dreams since encountering the Brattain, and Troi has only been having nightmares. Since REM sleep is kind of important for humanoids, they are deteriorating rapidly since they’re basically not reaping any of the benefits of sleep. None of the medical sleep aids are even working.
They try to use the deflector dish to overinflate the rift, but it just fizzles out uselessly. Worf reaches his breaking point first, although not that far ahead of some of the ops personnel. Troi catches him just barely before he commits ritual suicide. Hours later, Data is acting captain, and the Betazoid from the Brattain is finally able to repeat Deanna’s dream back to her, indicating that he’s stuck in the same dream she is, which means it’s coming from some actual source. A message. The hypothesis is that some other species is using the brain frequencies of human REM sleep to try to communicate. Sadly, that doesn’t help. There is no technology to block telepathic transmissions.
Troi has the idea to use lucid dreaming to coordinate with the aliens in order to produce an explosion to disrupt the rift. Data and Troi begin to work through a list of the chemicals they have on-board that they can tell the aliens to use. Of course, all these complex chemicals will be really hard to describe in a short message deliverable via lucid dream. It has to be short and catchy, like “eyes in the dark, one moon circles.” I wonder if there’s a substance that can be described so simply?
Like hydrogen, for example. The aliens either have hydrogen and suggest an explosive, or they have the explosive and are asking for hydrogen. Since the aliens have been broadcasting this for at least a month, they’re ready and waiting to go, so all Troi has to send is “now.”
Just in time, too. The downward spiral to violent psychosis is basically complete and there’s a small mutiny in Ten-Forward that Guinan stops with the Bartender’s best friend – some sort of alien pulse rifle that Picard lets her keep. Also, we haven’t seen much of her, but she seems unaffected by the madness as well. Given her possible ability to ward off Q, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.
Of note: the Enterprise is apparently able to stream hydrogen backwards out of its Bussard collectors. As a brief aside, Bussard collectors would be a part of a spaceborne ramjet, which collects a combustible medium at speed and use a comparatively smaller amount of fuel to turn that medium into propulsion using pressure. So presumably a) the Enterprise uses hydrogen for something regularly enough for collectors to be built into the warp nacelles, and b) that something is some form of propulsion. Also c) the navigational deflectors only divert objects from the hull, and not the kilometers-wide magnetic fields that come part and parcel with the Bussard name.
Anyway, Troi barely manages it in time, but she does deliver the message, the ships escape, and Data, in his final duty as Acting Captain, orders everyone to get some sleep, and stands watch alone. If Data wasn’t around, presumably Troi would be tasked with that. I suppose if it weren’t for Troi they’d all be dead anyway, but I do wonder how they would have doled out you-don’t-get-to-sleep-quite-yet duty.