In which the Enterprise gives birth.
Data is doing The Tempest. I will leave it to the individual as to whether his performance has improved since the last time, but his performance is not sufficient to keep Picard awake. It was dark. That’s the problem. Picard offers his interpretation of Prospero, but they trail off as a train barges through his set. The Holodeck also isn’t responding to abort commands. Well, time for another reset and purge, right?
The holodeck does at least let them out, but Picard has gotten scratched up by their narrow escape from the Orient Express, which the holodeck somehow merged with their program. The way to solve this is, of course, to tell Barclay about it – he’ll stop at nothing to prevent his porn from seeping into everyone else’s programs. Or you could shut down the holodeck and hope it doesn’t spread to the rest of the computer. That’s sure to work out for you, no computer problem has ever cascaded out of control on your flying tin can.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is back on track after weathering a weird storm recently, and goes back to surveying new colony sites. Picard gets bored and talks about moving on, and the ship goes to cruising speed without anyone giving the order. The computer’s locked out, and the only recourse is an emergency shutdown which will leave the ship warp-less for a week. I have to wonder what the root cause of that delay is? Required safety maintenance? Do they have a particle accelerator somewhere they need to spin back up? But when Picard orders the shutdown, the ship drops out of warp 30 billion km away from their original position. Using that figure and the time taken in this scene, one could calculate the actual speed of War 7.3. So I will!
The scene takes approximately 53 seconds between the start of each warp sound effect. That gives us a speed of roughly 566,037,735 km/s. The speed of light is 299792 km/s, which makes Warp 7.3 1,888c, give or take. Maybe a bit more, based on where you start timing. So now you know. The interesting bit is, of course, that the timing of these chances in velocity were suspiciously fotunate, since the ship narrowly avoided a Theta Flux Distortion (bingo!) which would have destroyed the warp core and blown up the ship. So that’s a terrifying thing that they need to report to the next generation of shipwrights back at Utopia Planitia: build sensors that can register something like that and provide emergency countermeasures.
I feel like Data’s first hypothesis, “maybe it was random chance” should either disqualify him from science forever or put him under immediate suspicion for collusion with whatever is going on. Hey, it’s happened before. His second hypothesis is that my safety device I just mentioned already exists, and that they just found it. And it’s protected behind a force field.
The nodes are all over, linking sensors to defensive systems, warp engines, and so on, linking the ships systems directly and creating shipboard automation. They do intersect in a central location – Holodeck 3. Makes sense – piggybacking off of a giant dedicated graphics processor and replicator is probably the best place to start a takeover of the ship. Plus you can keep people out by running a holodeck program to create a maze. Currently, that maze is the orient Express, and it’s just full of metaphors. There are people assembling a jigsaw puzzle of a circuit node, a black hat sheriff, a knight cutting up books, and what looks like one of the workmen from Phantasms. The conductor that passes through ignores the crew when he passes through, until they start to interfere with the power. Only the train engineer stands up for them, and is promptly shot by somebody probably from Dixon Hill. Thanks, Picard.
As the engineer is shot, the console Geordi is working at blows up, but very nonlethally. The mobster steals the dead engineer’s brick, and with the safeties disengaged, Riker decides that it’s a little too dangerous to stay.
Data, possibly drawing on his recent experiences with his Dream program, picks up on the metaphor quickest. He also correlates the node creation with the strucure of a neural net, meaning that the Enterprise is bootstrapping itself to self-awareness. The nodes appear to have the rough structure of a neuron or whatever-the-term-for-a-neuron-in-Data’s-brain is. And despite being a constructed consciousness himself and living in a society where they know about sophisticated mind-machine interfaces, he still models the human brain as a black box which intakes sensory input and outputs consciousness. Therefore, instead of using hard sciences, it’s got to be time to save the day using psychology!
Plus, Picard, now that he understands the problem, makes sure to remind us that this counts as new life and new civilizations. I’m sure that will be of great comfort to the ship when the next episode has it dumbly taking orders again. I’m guessing. Hey speaking of which, how are those exocomps doing?
Things have changed in the holodeck, but not the overall paradigm. Also, Troi and Worf are absolutely terrible at jigsaw puzzles. The mobster is going to Keystone City, which is also where the conductor is kicking everyone else off. Don’t think too hard about the fact that a space with extremely nebulous geometry is being used as a control hub. I’m sure the visual output is more of an unavoidable visualization of what’s going on inside the walls. Like the readout of an electroencephalogram. Data attempts to shut down the net without destroying the nodes. I gotta say, given Picard’s directive not to destroy the consciousness, I don’t see a lot of difference between killing the patient by carefully severing every synapse with a future-scalpel and killing the patient by smashing the entire brain with a hammer.
Also, the holodeck attempts to defend itself via taxi, but fails to actually run over the important piece of equipment doing the actual work. Meanwhile,the mobster puts the last brick in the wall, which correlates with something nifty going on in Cargo Bay 5 that forced all the humans to evacuate it. In fact, what’s being created is one of those neural nodes, the same thing in the jigsaw puzzle, only this one is glowing from inside. To the viewer, at least, this seems pretty self-explanatory once you start thinking in Star Trek Logic. The Computer is now sentient, which they conflate with alive, which they conflate with having the same fundamental drives that humans have, which means reproduction. So the computer is building a self-sufficient node. Plus that means it will have accomplished a fundamental imperative and it won’t resist getting… quiesced… at the end of the episode.
However, before that can happen, Data continues with his directive and depolarizes the power grid, which provokes a reaction. Geordi gets him to cease and desist so they can compare notes and come to the obvious conclusion, but not before a new clue is revealed in the holodeck – a door reading 1136. Meanwhile, Troi figures out the common theme of the holodeck metaphor – the act of creation.
Once we find out that the creation of the node in the cargo bay is sucking noticable power from the ship, the next train sequence tells us that the train might not make it to ‘Vertiform City’ on schedule. My only guess is that normal replicator processes use common base elements which the ship has in stock, but this is being made of more exotic elements which require the replicators to kick into a higher matter-editation mode and either move protons, neutrons, and electrons around, or else condense matter out of the raw engine output. I have no other answer for how the ship can replicate a fifty-course meal but not a two-pound bundle of wires.
In The Metaphor, Worf is convinced to start shoveling coal into the boiler, which magically fixes the computer’s warp power. The Enterprise arrives at a white dwarf star and starts collecting Vertion particles. Coincidence? Wow, you have’t been paying attention at all. This gets the device kickstarted so that it starts up its own heartbeat, but sadly in only a few seconds the ship has sucked literally all the vertion particles out of the star. There are some inferences we can therefore make about either the rarity of those particles or the efficiency of the Enterprise tractor beam. The node is dying! Everything is ruined forever!
Or until the Enterprise finds a new source of Vertion particles – ‘New Vertiform City.’ Sadly, this is 12 hours away, and the ship can only go at absolute-maximum-turbo-nitro-speed for two hours before running out of power to divert to life support. Since white dwarf stars are the only natural sources of vertion particles, Geordi is just going to have to figure out how to make some based on closer stellar phenomena. And Picard, or possibly Troi, will have to convince the ship that they want to help.
This proves simpler than expected, and Data stops the ship within sensor range of the required nebula. Glossing over how they got control over the weapons, they fire the torpedo and create the reaction. With the flying wire node created, it phases through the hull and goes off on its merry way, and everyone cheers as the holodeck program fades out. Troi, Data, and Worf are left with their champaign, which means whatever bulls sophisticated algorithms that determine when an object should be simulated versus replicated are back in effect. The mayfly intelligence of the Enterprise has disappeared, and the parasite has departed, and Data takes a moment to discuss the rationale behind Picard’s decision to help the life-form create itself. Picards message of optimism is a good note to nearly-finish this show on: A lifeform created from the fantasies and intentions of the crew ought to be benign, or else what are we doing out here in the first place?