In which we meet an old friend who explains the miracles, then works new miracles.
I have an overwhelming urge to reread Ringworld. Data has identified the distress beacon of the Jenolan, missing for 75 years. When the ship comes out of orbit, they’re immediately rocked by a massive gravity field from an uncharted stellar object, kind of. It’s an object whose radius is two-thirds of an AU. This object is a Dyson Sphere, a stellar shell that both harnesses all energy from a star and creating nearly inexhaustible living space.
The Jenolan has crashed into it, and life support and some power functions are still going even after 75 years. One of those systems is the transporter, which has been rigged up to pass a pattern through it continuously. There’s been less than 0.0003% signal degradation, which puts the lie to Barclay’s assertion just two episodes that transport is so fragile that even an atom out of place will poof a human into nothingness. The only thing to do now is beam them back in and hope that having been conscious in the matter stream for 75 years hasn’t made them insane.
There was supposed to be someone else in there, but Matt Frankling is no more. But our mysterious visitor hears RIker introduce himself as crew of the Enterprise and assumes Kirk was involved. It’s Montgommery Scott, and he’s very surprised to see a Klingon in a Starfleet uniform. In a really nice, or possibly very mean touch, they waited to throw the “Relics” titlecard up until Riker suggests that possibly Mr. Scott needs to get caught up on a few things.
Scotty and Geordi talk shop for a while, briefly about the transporters, then about the Sphere, and all about the advances that have been made. Apparently, something about the way the transporters were connected up created a regenerative power supply, which Starfleet should really look into. Unless they’ve already cracked the secret of perpetual energy elsewhere.
The first hint of the sadness happens when Geordi needs to get to Engineering and reminds Scotty that the doctor ordered rest first. The nail of antiquity has been placed and we’re going to spend the next 26 minutes or so hammering it home until the turn. Like how the guest quarters aboard the Enterprise D are more luxurious than any room on an old Constitution-class, and the ensign assigned to show him the quarters doesn’t have time for his stories and leaves him alone in his overstuffed isolation. Someone ought to introduce him to Guinan.
Scotty, quickly bored, goes down to Engineering. While it’s possible that he doesn’t know how to use the in-flight entertainment, it’s much more apparent that after 52 years being a Starfleet engineer, working in Engineering is his only home. It’s kind of surprising he was on his way to retirement, it seems like that would have lasted all of about half an hour. Geordi’s going to try to find something useful for him to do. While demonstrating his obsolecense, he reminisces about old times, starting with the cold engine start about Psi 2000. Geordi’s going to cut him off, to his detriment, because if he’d listened he would have unlocked the secret of time travel.
One of the delightful exchanges of this episode happens where Geordi, exasperated, mentions that he said he’d have the survey of the Sphere done in an hour, and Scotty asks how long it would really take. Scotty comes from a time when you had to manage the captain like a child because that captain was Kirk. Geordi comes from a time when the Academy does intensive cross-training and there’s a higher degree of what might be termed ‘workplace professionalism.’ Sadly, these two styles don’t mix, and Scotty winds up leaving in a deserved huff.
He goes to Ten-Forward and orders a scotch, but what he gets is an abomination made with synthehol, which simulates the taste of alcohol (clearly not well) and whose intoxicating effects can be dismissed by an effort of will. A far cry from the kind of cultural touchstone that would convert a Kelvin. In a delightful homage, Data pulls out some of the real stuff from behind the bar and pronounces it ‘green.’
Scotty takes the bottle and tottles slowly down the corridors to the holodeck, where Scotty’s attempts to attain specificity with the ship’s computer while drunk are approximately equivalent to my attempts to get Siri to do anything resembling useful. I swear more because I’m not on network television, though. Also, there have been five Enterprises in the Federation. Fact. I’m looking at you, Bakula.
Scotty drinking alone on the bridge of Kirk’s Enterprise is such a poignant moment, and it’s capped by Picard coming in to have a drink with him and discuss old loves – Scotty’s Enterprise and Picard’s Stargazer, for all their faults. To Scotty, the Enterprise D is just so far beyond that he can’t start again. That Aldebaran whisky hits hard, apparently.
Picard suggests that Scotty might more successfully pull the data from the Jenolan with Geordi’s help and get the old bucket in shape. They go beam down, while Data finds a subspace antenna and they get in position. The antenna is next to a hatch, and when they open a channel, they’re caught in a tractor beam and sucked into the sphere.
So, the Enterprise D is 642.5 meters long, which means that the sphere is probably more than a kilometer thick. Also, the ‘airlock’ function of the hatch doesn’t seem to actually exist – it just opens directly into the interior. Presumably it extends past the atmosphere on the interior. Or there are force fields, maybe.
The force fields disrupted the engines, and the Enterprise is now falling into the star, while Geordi and Scotty are blissfully unaware and working on Scotty’s old junker and throwing metaphors around at each other as a pep talk. Only after needing a specialized piece of equipment from the Enterprise do they realize the ship is out of range.
Data’s analysis indicates that the sphere is abandoned due to the instability of the star. Said instability is throwing off flares that will destroy the ship in three hours or so. Geordi and Scotty work on the Jenolan, and Scotty explains some of the art of underestimating on paper what a part is capable of in real life. This is True. If you write down as ‘minimum requirements’ the actual minimum requirements of a system, it will never work in the field.
Scotty and Geordi get the ship running and track the Enterprise figuring out that she didn’t enter the sphere willingly, and that since both ships would have hailed the Sphere, the Jenolan just before her crash, that the Sphere must do what it does, in fact, do. They’re going to trigger the hatch while out of range, then jam the Jenolan into the doors and use the shields to keep them open. Once they get in the door, they hail the Enterprise and it’s down to the wire.
Fortunately, the Jenolan is long enough that the Enterprise will be able to squeeze though the door after destroying the smaller ship far earlier than they should have. The Enterprise D is about 140 meters top to bottom, which one could use to calculate how fast the doors close and thus how long the Jenolan is, if one cared. The Enterprise dispatches some science vessels to study the Sphere, which is more follow-up than has ever happened on Star Trek before, and with their newfound buddy-comedy friendship, Geordi tells Scotty the one about the space baby.
The crew of the Enterprise D gives Scotty a shuttle, which will get him to the colony before he dies of old age and must therefore have warp drive, in contrast to earlier seasons. Also where does the warp core even fit? So many questions!