In which it’s Data’s turn.
Today, the Enterprise is going to find a ship that was charting something called a ‘black cluster’. It looks like this. Oh, what’s that, you want to know what a black cluster is? Too bad. It’s a thing that blows out starships, that’s what it is. An away team is prepared and the plan is to maintain a constant transporter lock. Again, they don’t have vacuum suits standing by in case you need to beam over to a place that could be exposed to vacuum. They don’t even just send Data over by himself, they take along two squidgy humans to do the computer core retrieval using a device the size of a small messenger bag. While that goes on, Data and Riker find a squidgy human child who’s still alive in the wreckage.
They’re going to try to beam him out directly past the shielding that their sensors couldn’t pass. That seems incredibly dangerous – first because if your ship can’t properly see him in the first place, how are you going to transmit eighty-derptillion bits of information perfectly, and second because what happens if the beams squish him in mid-transport? Evidently, the transporter also creates a force-field during transit. Unsurprisingly, the transport doesn’t work, so Data has to lift the beams by himself and grab the kid out in a hurry before the ship collapses around them.
Turns out the USS Vico was attacked by purple-helmet warriors, and I wish that wasn’t in the script. Troi comes in to start the process of treating the kid’s trauma, and the kid, Timothy, refuses to let Data leave. So, remember that time when Worf got some kid’s mom killed and adopted the kid? Or that time when Picard had to adopt the kid because he was the only one the boy would listen to? Or that time Troi immaculately conceived a child? Or that time when Picard got that other kid’s father killed, and then the kid’s mom became the chief medical officer and he adopted the youth? Well, now it’s Data’s turn.
Also, I can’t get over how derpy the Vico is. It’s got this great big engineering hull and the tiniest ickle saucer section. That saucer section is like the T-Rex-Arms of Starfleet, it’s just so woefully out of proportion.
Anyway, Timothy is apparently going to be something of a counseling challenge, since both of his parents are dead in a violent attack, and before that they made him wear nothing but ugly sweaters in 70’s era stale-mustard-orange. And Data is coming to realize that he’s going to be called upon to help out here. He does the Data thing of going around asking people for their experiences sot hat he can synthesize them into an approach, the way he does with musical styles. He starts by asking Geordi about childhood traumas. Turns out Geordi, as a very small child, was blind in a fire. It had some lasting effects.
So now Timothy is in school and the teacher doesn’t know how to deal with a traumatized child, which makes him singularly unqualified to handle a school aboard the most danger-prone ship in the fleet. Actually, I ought to take that back. The Enterprise is just the one that keeps surviving. I mean, the Vaco isn’t going to be seeing any more anomalies.
Turns out the forensic analysis of the wreck indicates that Timothy’s account of warriors with phaser rifles and purple helmets is likely not true. As such, they ask Data to work with the kid to help get a more accurate account of the attack. Data goes to find him, insults his artwork, teaches him basic Jenga, and plants the idea that life without happiness is fine so long as you can’t be sad.
Okay turns out we do get to find out what the Black Cluster is. It’s a collection of ancient proto-stars that create a massive and shifting gravitational landscape. This is a brief interlude before Troi goes to her appointment with Tomothy to find that he’s approximated a Starfleet shirt and is now pretending to be an android. On Troi’s advice, Picard orders Data to encourage this to help him through the grieving process. Of course, he’s actually still working through some stuff, so when Data is painting a technically perfect landscape, Timothy is painting an impressionist nightmare of an exploding starship.
The ship goes into the Black Cluster (which is totally the name of my metal band) and they keep detecting sensor traces of a ship bouncing around. These turn out to be bent light from the Enterprise coming from around some of the nearby gravity wells.
Back to Data. The time has come for him to explain the appeal that humanity has for him, and that he would gladly suffer the lows for a chance at the highs. Honestly, this is one of the great moments, along with his interaction with Q expressing mostly the same thing, and what makes the difference between him and Worf so perfect. They’re the two outsiders in vastly different ways with vastly different reactions to their situations.
Okay now back to space stuff. The Enterprise, plagued by sensor ghosts it can’t get rid of, fires phasers to see what will happen. They bounce off an incoming distortion, which is pretty cool. Also of note, since sensors and phasers both are ineffective in the cluster, the narrative of a cloaked ship appearing to fire on the Vaco is looking worse and worse. As such, Picard Troi, and Data are going to interrogate Timothy and make him confront the event. It seems he’s the one who killed the Vaco.
By which I mean he accidentally brushed a computer panel when trying to keep his balance and that blew up the ship. Nobody but Timothy is blaming Timothy, but remember, this is the kid who thinks that a rectangular object can be balanced when supported from only one side. He gets the story out just in time to confirm that everything the Enterprise is doing to save itself is what the Vico did right before it exploded. With that hint, the observant viewer will note that every time they try to strengthen the shields, the ship gets shaken again and the wavefront gets stronger. I’m going to guess that taking the ship to low-power mode is the answer here, and just kind of ride it out.
So it turns out that on the Vico, they went into the Black Cluster, saw the sensor ghosts, raised the shields, caused a wavefront, and then ripped their own ship apart trying to outrace the amplitude. Plus Timothy managed to save the ship after being told by everyone trustworthy that he didn’t destroy the other one. So that’s cool. I mean, he’s still a newly minted orphan with a lot of feels to work through, but such is life.