TNG: S5E09: “A Matter of Time”

In which an ecological catastrophe awaits, history is witnessed, and the boot is on the other foot now. 

We are on our way to go check out an asteroid impact on an inhabited world. The initial drop didn’t kill anyone, but there’s about to be an ice age. The Enterprise is on its way to help because this time the inhabitants have the good fortune not to be ‘protected’ by the Prime Directive. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it.

This shuttle is an exampel of post-post-modern-neo-post-brutalist design.

This shuttle is an exampel of post-post-modern-neo-post-brutalist design.

Also, on the Bridge, Worf detects a space-time anomaly. We’re not really sure how, but I suppose Starfleet has enough of Kirk’s sensor logs to be able to recognize at least one type. They go back to find what caused it and find a shuttle they can’t sensor at. The shuttle hails them and Professor Burlinghoff Rasmussen beams over and admires how big and quaint ‘ole 1701-D’ is. Everyone in the late 26th century knows all about it, and he’s here to document it, presumably (because time travel) sot hat everyone in the late 26th century will get to keep having known about it. He probably grew up reading textbooks he’s going to write on this very journey.

Picard keeps asking why it is he’s so all-fired important, but Rasmussen refuses to tell him. After all, knowledge of his future could interfere with Picard’s natural development. You know, Jean-Luc, that whole ‘prime directive’ thing you love.

However, it’s somewhat unreasonable that he’s measuring out the ready room in strides. Apparently there’s no surviving blueprint simulations surviving to the late 2500s. Rasmussen hands out questionnaires to everyone so he can get an inside look at the things that wouldn’t be recorded. Troi senses that he’s holding something back, and Riker jokes that he might be an impostor, but everything lines up so far – cool future shuttle, cool time-travel drive, et cetera.

Now, point. From everything said so far, a keen observer could actually begin putting together a map of the future. If specific records of the Enterprise layout don’t survive, we can reasonably assume some sort of catastrophe has wiped out the Federation, or at least Starfleet, as we know it. After all, what legitimate historian wouldn’t be able to get the floor plans for a 300-year-old ship? Sure, maybe the warp drive is still classified, but the size of Picard’s Ready Room? Maybe that’s why Riker suspects he’s an impostor. Maybe Rasmussen is just a joyrider, but you’d think if a joyrider has access to time travel tech there would be police along shortly.

Anyway, the Enterprise arrives at the planet, which is being snowed on heavily. Their plan is to drill out some CO2 pockets to create a greenhouse effect to hold in whatever heat remains. Everuything is dire, so what is the senior staff doing but having a drink in Ten-Foward. Worf is not particularly enthused about Rasmussen joining them, but Beverly lives to make him uncomfortable. He does have some interesting observations about the minutiae of people who are about go through some momentous events, and how different people think of the opportunities presented by time travel.

In the 26th century, they rediscovered the utility of pockets.

In the 26th century, they rediscovered the utility of pockets.

Also, he keeps pocketing stuff. We must wonder why. After all, there ought to be no functional difference between an item replicated in the 24th century and brought forward via time travel, and an object replicated int he 26th century. Really, just the Documents folder and some arbitrary concept of ‘authenticity.’ That PADD was ‘really there’ for whatever that’s worth. Unless future history includes the dissolution of the Federation and he’s trying to take scraps of tech with him to reverse-engineer the technology. It’s also possible that he’s not really from the 26th century, but hey. Time travel technology and hitherto-unknown metallurgy techniques.

The ship gets ready to bore out the CO2 pockets. Hey, remember when Kirk threatened to destroy all life on that planet that time? This is probably how. Not by painstakingly phasering everything on the surface. Probably just by melting some missile launchers so they planet couldn’t fight back, then melting all the ice caps and drowning everything. My question is: if they drill up too much CO2, what can they do to rein in the greenhouse effect? Use the tractor beams and phasers to carve an asteroid to just the right size to block more sunlight? Because seriously, the temperatures start going up within minutes. That’s probably a really bad sign.

"I know we're having a pleasant chat, but is it okay if I corner you and make you increasingly uncomfortable until you deck me?"

“I know we’re having a pleasant chat, but is it okay if I corner you and make you increasingly uncomfortable until you deck me?”

Troi is still suspicious when Professor Burlinghoff comes down to sick bay to ask Crusher about some of the tools of her trade. He and Troi have a heart-to-heart where she ices him out, so he continues hitting on Crusher instead. Also, unless he ‘s willing to take the chance of being his own grandfather, he should really learn to stop chatting up women in his own past, a fact which Crusher points out to him. He leaves with a grin and a piece of medical equipment.

Oh hey look at that. As it turns out, drilling 20 boreholes in a planet so as to effect immediate climate change can have negative consequences – earthquakes and volcanic dust are going to completely block out the sun. The problem is so complex, Data is only listening to four simultanious pieces of music instead of his maximum of 150.

The potential solution is to use the phasers to ionize all the dust in the atmosphere and use the shields to something something the something stream into space. Of course, the tolerances are extremely tight and doing it even slightly wrong will burn off the entire planet’s atmosphere. It’s a tough choice, and Picard calls for some advice from someone who knows how it all turned out. PRETTY ROUGH BEING ON THE RECEIVING END, ISN’T IT, PICARD?! The Temporal Prime Directive must prevent Rasmussen from helping anyone who hasn’t already discovered time travel. On the other hand, Picard has also disregarded the prime directive when he felt it was right to do so. On the gripping hand, breaking the Prime Directive has never forced Picard to risk his timeline’s dissolution.

"I hate time travel."

“I hate time travel.”

Well, if Rasmussen refuses to help Picard make the choice, than all Picard can do is make the choice he thinks is best and hope, deep in the back of his mind, that it wipes Rasmussen out of the timeline. Of course, if it does and he never shows up to goad Picard into making the wrong choice, then he’ll make the right one. There’s only one stable timeline. Isn’t time travel fun?

Better keep this mission classified. You just know the Klingons and the Romulans would try to figure a way to weaponize this planetary death laser.

Better keep this mission classified. You just know the Klingons and the Romulans would try to figure a way to weaponize this planetary death laser.

Oh, also, the colonists are willing to take the chance, which kind of renders all the moralizing moot. They’re the ones at risk. Geordi even asks to remain on the surface to maximize the chance of success, and Rasmussen comments on everytyhing after it happens because he’s a tool. Nobody likes ‘ole Berlie. They do the thing and it looks really bad for a moment until it starts looking really cool. I’m not entirely sure how this whole setup is supposed to actually work, but it looks baller, and the planet still has atmosphere when they’re done.

As Burlinghoff prepares to leave, the crew confronts him about a whole bunch of missing items. Apparently, they do track that sort of thing. Rasmussen accepts a compromise – he’ll allow Data to search his shuttle because Data can be trusted not to reveal any sensitive future information. The two of them go in, and there are all the missing items. In fact, Rasmussen also plans on kidnapping Data. Rasmussen comes from the 22nd century and stole the shuttle from a real future historian. His plan was to ‘invent’ all the stuff he stole from the Enterprise and presumably move out of New Jersey. They hold on to him as his time travel pod leaves on its auto-timer, because he was an idiot and set an auto-timer on his escape route, and is sentenced to life being bothered by historians.

Did we miss something awesome?