In which Riker sees the road not taken and wants to punch it in its unshaven face.
We are orbiting Navala IV, which has some important research data that was left there by a team eight years ago. Apparently it’s been irretrievable until now. As befits the unhurried nature of the mission, Riker is playing some jazz in Ten-Forward. It’s a fairly classic band, too. Brass, keyboard, drums, and an electric cello. And Troi is screwing with Riker by demanding he play a song he clearly doesn’t want to play, and has never successfully played in ten years. Saved by the comm, however, as Data calls him to the bridge.
The planet is home to some energy fields that inhibit transport, and presumably someone finally internalized the lesson that sending a shuttle when the transporters won’t work is just begging for trouble. The last ship to go through, the Potemkin, had Riker aboard and he barely made it out, but with those logs and better transporters, the window is a bit bigger this time.
Incidentally, the Potemkin is another starship with a storied name. Kirk’s Enterprise destroyed one during some ill-fated war games, but we don’t refer to Riker’s old haunts as the Potemkin-A. That might be it’s official registry number, though.
I digress. There’s a transport window coming up, then two more over the next few days, then nothing for eight years. The data is apparently important enough to send Worf, Data, and Riker and leaving Picard with virtually no command-rated officers if something goes wrong. I understand projecting optimisim, but one must occasionally ask. Or all the time ask. Right away there’s a problem, though. The place was a mess when Riker left, and has now been cleaned up. And someone is approaching. That someone being Riker in an ops-yellow cutoff vest that looks like it came from the set of The Tribe.
Lt. Will Riker has been on the station for eight years when he beamed down from the Potemkin. As the last one out, he caught the edge of the window and got cut off. He’s sure Starfleet will record him as being lost in action. Commander William Riker, on the other hand, bade it out with some difficulty and went on to get some promotions. The two of them are remarkably civil, and Lt. Will agrees to beam back to the Enterprise to be examined, and also probably to have his first shower in the better part of a decade. \
By every measure Beverly has, Will Riker is the same person as William Riker. Same DNA, same fingerprints, same brainwaves. Will Riker is also pretty excited aout the replicatos, since apparently the ones on the station haven’t worked for a while and what did he heat, then? Did he hunt for food? Did he grow food on a planet that’s shielded from transporters? Like seriously.
Going over the logs, Geordi has figured out that, eight years ago, there was a power surge during transport, and the transporter operator at the time trie to run a secondary beam, but the second beam bounced off the inside of the energy field and rematerialized on the planet. Now, apparently conditions were just right, but there’s no explanation even attempted as to where all that mass came from. Which is worrying, because it implies that either 80 kilograms of organic compounds were repurposed into flesh by the transporter beam autonomously, or that the energy drain on the Potemkin sufficient to condense an extra body out of raw energy was expected when running the second containment beam. The latter is even more troubling because it would confirm that every time you transport, you die and something with your memories walks off the pad at the other end. The problem with Riker is that two of him walked away, not just the one.Incidentally, Starfleet could probably now duplicate anyone they want by beaming them twice simultaneously.
Troi does not look as excited about this happenstance as she would be in the porn parody of the episode. Nor does commander Riker, but that’s because Commander Riker might be aware that Lt. Will might still be in love with Deanna, which he is. In fact, this very mission was a crucial point in the Riker personal timeline – William got a commendation for the mission and made his career a priority over his relationship with Deanna. Will hung on, alone, for eight years, by believing that someday he’d be back with Deanna. Now he gets to know that if he’d made it back, it would have been him that dumped her, rather than that douchey other guy. Any bets on whether he’s willing to accept that truth?
Commander Riker and Worf are major jerks to Will, and suuuuper hostile to him. To be fair, Will Riker doesn’t measure up to the standards set by the Enterprise, but the Commander should be aware of why.
The repairs aren’t going well, so Will offers to stay and repair the station, since he knows his way around. William won’t have it, and the two of them are pretty clearly about to come to blows. Therefore, we must switch to Deanna finding a note in her fruit bowl, which leads to a doggerel-powered scavenger hunt. We are also meant to believe that Geordi would just allow someone to hang a note on his engines without removing it. Scotty would never have allowed such nonsense.
We get a strong scene between Will and Deanna which jokes and sumamries can’t really do justice to, but it reminds us that Deanna and Riker were once able to speak telepathically to each other. I wonder if they still could. After all, the person that Troi was bonded to was before the differentiation.
This also makes me wonder what random everyday people on the Enterprise think of all this. Do they get briefed, or do crewmen just run into Will randomly in the hallway and do a double-take at the yellow uniform and Lieutenant pips and assume that Riker… I don’t know, ate Picard’s fish or shat in his replicator or something.
After Commander Riker chews out Lieutenant Riker for going over his head, one of the Rikers, the Lieutenat, judging by the facial hair, shows up while Troi and Beverly are practicing Klingon Tai Chi. In fact, Will mistakes it for actual Tai Chi, which makes one think that with the humanoid frame, one might expect a convergence of forms in martial arts even across species. Then we remember that where human Tai Chi can use a one-handed straight blade, Klingon Tai Chi uses a two-handed curved sword with pickaxe points. A for effort, C- for execution. Oh, and then they snog. Deanna’s nice enough to consult with William over the whole thing, but he disguises his weirded-out well.
We also get a shot of Will and William sitting across from each other playing poker. And sniping at each other. And oh god, Riker’s serial string raises and the incessant metaphors for life. And Will managed to get a posting elsewhere, and Deanna has to deal with him choosing his career over her again.
As a point of note, they should probably implant some kind of identifier in both Rikers so that they can be told apart. And it should be bother Rikers, to be fair and also in case either one of them tries to impersonate the other.
Data gets a chance to observe a rare phenomenon in humans – the ability for overt self-loathing. Riker is generally fairly genial, but they two of them don’t get along. I imagine it’s a lot like reading the diary you wrote when you were twelve, except that diary also wants to jump back into bed with that ex you’re still kind of in love with. He gets to observe this because the Rikers are off to extract a tough-to-access computer core that some dippy base-building engineer built across a catwalk to nowhere. The gantry breaks and William saves Will’s life, allowing the two to bond over a newfound respect – Commander Riker respecting Lieutenant Riker for being willing to sacrifice himself for the mission, and Lieutenant Riker respecting Commander Riker for saving his life.
Before Lt. William ships off to his new posting, he decides to go by his middle name, Thomas, are receives Will’s trombone as a going-away present and peace offering. And in the end, Will gets to console Troi about Thomas’ departure.