TNG: S7E03: “Interface”

In which Geordi plays RC cars, crashes a starship, and you can’t judge a tinkerbell by its cover.

Remember back in the '90s when VR was 'just around the corner'?

Remember back in the ’90s when VR was ‘just around the corner’?

Geordi is climbing up a ladder, and also he doesn’t have his VISOR on. He appears to be visually inspecting a damaged section of a ship, in the midst of various toxic chemicals, and moving closer to 2000-degree heat. Putting his hand through fire, even. This is because he’s operating something via remote control, using the humanoid-frame science lab we’ve previously seen in use for Lal and Hugh.Good to see this lab gets more use.

Interestingly, his brain made him cough when he went through the toxic gasses. Geordi is perfect for this technology, because his VISOR implants already provide a mind-machine interface that he’s already used to. Honestly, who I really feel bad for here is Data and Crusher – Riker is making them explain detailed technical processes to Upper Management. If you didn’t wince just then, you might be part of the problem.

The reason for all this is that the Enterprise is checking out the distress beacon of the Raman, which is trapped inside a gas giant. Even derelict and basically out of order, it’s got sufficient power to be maintaining either orbit inside the atmosphere or structural integrity so far down that it’s floating on things that ought to be gaseous. And yet the helm stations blow up if you shine a flashlight at the Enterprise.

The biosensors won’t work, so they don’t know whether or not there are any survivors of the seven crew, but the probe will be able to cut through the atmosphere and there are safeties in place to make sure LaForge doesn’t get his nervous system burned out by any feedback. It is good that they mention that. Picard gets briefed on all that, then goes into his ready room to find out that a Starfleet ship, the Hera, has gone missing. Geordi’s mom is… or possibly was… Captain of the Hera.

Geordi is now distracted just prior to running an operation that he’s best suited for. While anyone else could run the probe, it’s calibrated for Geordi. Riker offers to step in, but he could have expected that the man who managed to keep the job of Chief Engineer after beating out a rotating crew of incompetents would not allow for anything less than the best.

I am struck by an amazing thought. This might be an expansion of the technology used in Heart of Glory. Not the same VISOR-telemetry thing per se, but taking advantage of Geordi’s MMI is something that ought to be explored more often. They should use these probes all the time, really. Well, assuming nothing goes wrong…

All of a sudden Scotty's 'Miracle Worker' speech in Relics seems a lot less funny and a lot more like a Hellen Keller joke.

All of a sudden Scotty’s ‘Miracle Worker’ speech in Relics seems a lot less funny and a lot more like a Hellen Keller joke.

Data has to turn up the gain to upwards of 75% of total tolerances before Geordi can see a clear signal. The connection shuts down at 98% of tolerance. Shortly thereafter, Geordi finds a dead crewman, but goes up to 80%  to make sure. And doesn’t bother going back down. The probe has tractor beams and phasers, but the coolness factor is short-lived – Geordi finds all the crew dead and a fire which is so hot it burns him all the way back on the Enterprise. 

Everyone is talking about sensible safety precautions. I like that – even though Geordi’s hands are healed by 24-th century medical tech within an hour or two, there’s no reason that another feedback spike couldn’t kill him stone dead if they’re not careful, so they dial back the gain. While adjustments are made and Geordi’s hands heal, Geordi has to talk to his dad. His dad, incidentally, is in the Sciences divison and only a commander.

Geordi passes by Data’s quarters to talk. Data is studying poetry by gazing into the black mirror of a deactivated terminal, and makes a surprisingly good inference about Geordi wanting to talk. Of course, since Geordi denies it and Data lacks the confidence in his grasp of social conventions to push, that conversation ends abruptly, in favor of the two of them experiencing the emptiness. A few moments later, Geordi realizes that he just gave Data bad programmatic inputs, and as an engineer he can’t really leave that where it lies.

In the next session with the probe, Geordi demands more synchronization, like a junkie screaming for a needle. Then he sees his mother, on the Raman, demanding to bring the ship lower because “we’re dying.” When the probe touches Captain LaForge, or her transmission, it overloads the probe telemetry and activates the cutoff.

Troi having Resting Bitchface is something of a new development.

Troi having Resting Bitchface is something of a new development.

Crusher explains that the probe sensed something which might have been a subspace fluctuation, or quantum vibration or something, and Geordi just interpreted it as his mother. Given the danger, Crusher forbids him from using the interface again and Picard orders him to go talk to Troi. Troi suggests that he’s hallucinating her as a kind of wish fulfillment that will allow him to play out a longer scenario.

The next step to resolve the engineering problem at hand is using a tractor beam, focused through the shields of two shuttlecraft (and again, where does that ability show up ever again? Watch for it, because I haven’t a clue) to raise the Raman. Geordi is worried, though, that the Hera‘s new engineer and her weird warp engines support a hypothesis that the Hera accidentally derped it’s way into a transwarp conduit that deposited it at the bottom of the planet’s atmosphere. Nobody else backs him up on this, although Riker does give him… what’s the opposite of a pep talk?

Geordi is now sneaking into the interface lab. Data catches him and, because he can’t discipline Geordi before the fact, offers to run the interface and keep Geordi safe on the condition that Geordi keep an open mind to the possibility that he’s hallucinating.

When Geordi sees his mother again, she immediately confirms his suspicions of a Warp Funnel. As he gets excited and takes the Raman deeper, he starts to lose connection and asks Data to boost the gain to dangerous levels. At levels that high, he can’t even cut off immediately without risking neural shock. And because of that, Geordi can now leverage Data into turning off the safeties and increasing the gain beyond safe levels by simply continuing to take the Raman deeper and trusting Data not to let the connection break abruptly.

Just  in case we needed proof that this isn't Geordi's real mom.

Just in case we needed proof that this isn’t Geordi’s real mom.

I suppose it’s about time Geordi gets his official reprimand. Worf got his a long time ago, after all. Hopefully, he’ll be alive to enjoy being busted back down to holodeck janitor. He’s starting to get suspicious when he can’t find any evidence of the Hera, and Geordi’s mom tries to keep the charade going by using her energy beams on him.

The funny thing is, if the alien life-form had told the truth from the start, Picard probably would have been happy to spike the Raman back into a region of the planet’s atmosphere where they can survive, but as it stands, Geordi’s safety team is too busy trying to figure out how to reinvent the heist drama on LaForge’s nervous system to listen to the fact that he just discovered new life and new civilizations. Let that be a lesson to you, aliens – just tell the Federation the truth.

Another nifty little thing is that this particular species of tinkerbell is less malevolent than most of the others, but they manifest as a burst of hellfire, whereas the more creepy ones generally look a lot more benign. I’m not at all sure what that means, if anything at all.

Did we miss something awesome?