In which I’m really starting to hate episodes from twenty years ago that are still depressingly relevant.
Spot, or possibly Geordi, has knocked over one of Data’s plants. Data has also achieved an important milestone, in that when Geordi says he’s going to murder Data’s cat, Data understands without having to clarify that this is probably metaphorical. Also, it was Geordi’s stuff apparently. Geordi borrowed the cat to see if he wanted to get a cat of his own. The answer seems to be “no” and also that people in the future are not typically aware of how cats work. I would expect the surprise at Spot the Cat not being trained to come on command from Data or Worf, but from Geordi it’s just kind of sad. Place your bets as to how this little scene ties in with the rest of the episode, I for one am stumped.
A medical transport has disappeared somewhere in the Hekaras Corridor, a region of irreversible space in an otherwise hazardous and un-navigable region of space. Warp ships can’t go through it except via the 12LY corridor. The lone inhabited planet in the region has only seen a Ferengi ship recently, so piracy is a strong concern.
Geordi is messing with the engines because one of his old classmates boosted their engines and Geordi likes to make sure the Enterprise is always the best in the fleet. Sadly, duty must come before professional rivalry, so Geordi and Data are off to adjust the sensors and continue their discussion of training the already-adult cat. Speaking of impossible tasks. They finish their maintenance tasks and talking about Geordi’s sister with a bra full of fish when the Enterprise encounters the Ferengi ship dead in space. All hands alive, but all major systems down. Geordi basically has to jerry-rig an analog signal carried across ‘delta’ waves. I have to assume he’s talking about something that is neither humanoid sleep brain activity. Maybe it’s this, but I have no idea. Probably not.
The good news is, if the Ferengi did hijack the medical transport Fleming (nice) it didn’t get very far. The bad news is, if this isn’t an ambush then there’s something that’s capable of burning out all the power coils on fully armed battlecruisers. Fortunately, it does appear to be an abush, and Riker orders shields. Question: If Riker didn’t order shields, would Worf not have put the shields up?
Picard orders their weapon systems shot out and Geordi gets the AM/FM modulation up, and the Ferengi DaiMon accuses the Enterprise of being the one to disable them. I guess there is something taking out battlecruisers in the area. He also threatens Picard with war, and you can almost taste how scared Picard isn’t.
The Ferengi ship, it turns out, was disabled by a signal bouey that shot them with a ‘vertiron’ pulse. The DaiMon does mentin having seen the Fleming, and in a stunning display of subtlety only holds out until Picard offers to assist in their repairs.
Data’s efforts to train his cat continue in amusing failure. Spot’s efforts to train Data, however, have been entirely successful. Geordi’s pet project proceeds apace, and Geordi has successfully bested his rival. Then mood whiplash strikes as the Enterprise finds a debris field the approximate mass of the missing Fleming. Data has also found a small metallic object like a signal bouey, and which as soon as they detect it knocks out their engines and any system linked to subspace. And, in fact, the overhead lights, which are conveniently on the same circuit so that we can get a visceral feeling of the ship’s disability.
No, of course all the consoles still work. What are you, new?
Moments later, a ship beams some people into main engineering who tell us that they’re being slowly killed by warp fields. Something about their use seems, it is claimed, to be causing tectonic shifts on their planet. This is a theory that Geordi has heard before, and the Federation science division has declared it insufficient, in possibly the least Federation-like move imaginable.
The lady with the extra mouth on her forehead strongly believes that warp travel is going to destroy her planet and everyone living there. The Federation was all like ‘meh, there’s no way to know, really’ and ignored them. Rather than dedicating a team of warp-field specialists, geologists, space-ologists, and subspace-ologists to help figure out what’s going on, they just kept dumping methal isocyanate into the rivers warp fields into the, uh, space.
They therefore mined the corridor with vertiron probes to disable ships so they could talk. By TNG standards this is enough to make Riker put on his angry face, but I’m pretty sure if Kira were on that planet she’d already have a collection of scalps, so kindly close your beard-gap, Number One. Picard’s not much better. He’s making a point of how magnanimous he’s being by reviewing the research in exchange for them helping to fix the engines.
Now, I could keep complaining about how much this clashes with Federation philosophy up until now. If the planet in question is covered by the Prime Directive, it is Picard’s moral and legal responsibility to ensure they have minimal impact on the natural
development of that planet. If you’re not willing to try to save a planet going extinct of natural causes, you should be beholded to the flip side of that coin and not risk causing damage through active processes. Likewise, if the planet is not covered by the Prime Directive, then they are a part of your interstellar society and your responsibility is to engage them as equals.
But warp drive is how people get around at all. Even with Data grasping the theory, he decrees it can’t be proven – in order to ‘prove’ that repeated warp travel could ‘wear out’ space like a patch of old carpet, they’d have to subject it to spacetime manipulations a million times more powerful than the Enterprise field output. The theory suggests that the wearing away is cumulative, and the Federation response is… to send a research team – an insufficient response.
Note that normally this wouldn’t be an issue, as space is really big and even along major trade routes, the steady motion of stars and planets would spread out the effects of Warp travel over time. Subspace seems to be more or less like the æther concept, which could also, as it happens, explain how the original Enterprise made it to the edge of the galaxy and then to the core in less than 70 years – they found some sort of subspace ætheric current. Shh. Let me have this.
Anyway, the female scientist doesn’t accept this answer, and takes her ship out to prove the theory by blowing herself and her ship up – causing a warp core breach in an already-weak portion of space and thereby proving the theory.
Which is of course what happens. There is now a gaping sucking hole in space-time, evidently leaking enough energetic particles to plasmize interstellar gasses to a really beautiful shade of violet.
The implications of this theory turning out to be true are put aside for the moment while the Enterprise tries to figure out how to save the Fleming from inside the rift. Data’s idea is to go to warp briefly and then coast on the power, which makes perfect sense as long as the Enterprise preserves inertia between its warp bubble and normal C-space. For this to be true, however, the ship would need to create a warp bubble facing in the opposite direction in order to slow down ever, or else the preserved momentum would slam it into any planet they try to arrive at. In turn, this means the Enterprise must be able to fly in reverse. Granted, the deflector dish only faces forward, so it shouldn’t fly in reverse. But it can, by necessity.
Geordi is full of guilt that he didn’t listen before Sarova had to kill herself to prove the point, and is also trying to come to terms with not being able to drive his H3 starship with reckless abandon anymore.
The ship is coasting through the rift, and as they do so, the Fleming is powering up her warp engines. The Enterprise was planning on beaming everyone aboard during their fly-by, but now that the rift has expanded the rift is too big for them to coast out of. Good job. Too bad you don’t have maneuvering thrusters or a cargo bay full of so much air that it can move the ship around in order to keep the ship’s momentum up. Nah, instead, Geordi will rig the Enterprise for surfing along distortion waves. Ugh, look, if you have impulse power you’re not trapped in the rift. A much lesser ship had 12 hours of shields in the heart of the rift, but the Enterprise is going to break apart after three minutes?
For now, the all the Federation science council has on the matter is ‘try not to drive here, and if you do, only go warp five unless you really really want to go faster,’ which restrictions won’t even apply to powers not allied with the Federation. The effects of the rift on the nearby planet’s climate are already dangerous. Everything is terrible, but if we all band together we can solve global climate change galactic subspace erosion, at least until a group within the Federation decides it can seize power by appealing to the shortest-sighted common denominator. Sorry, too real?