VOY: S2E13: “Prototype”

In which the writers don’t commit and Torres kills a baby. 

When she smiles like "shove it up your Vulcan excretion holes, the Captain backed me."

When she smiles like “shove it up your Vulcan excretion holes, the Captain backed me.”

Voyager is once again traveling at sublight, but this time it’s to beam aboard the camera filming the episode. Torres, Tuvok, and Janeway discuss whether to allow the viewpoint’s power to drain, but decide to juice it back up before it drains completely in case the whole thing dies when the power goes out. They plug it into the ship’s EPS conduits, and the view clears just long enough for us to see it look at itself in a monitor. It’s a robot!

We can hope that this is going to be an episode told entirely as point-of-view. That could be difficult, given all the things that the writers would have to trust their audience to pick up on, but if the writing team has the chops and doesn’t underestimate the intelligence of the viewer, it could be amazing.

Hahahaha nope. Back to classic camera immediately after the teaser. Torres is examining the energy module, which isn’t compatible with Voyager‘s systems. I mean, it’s slightly compatible. Enough for it to start talking. Over the inert corpse of the robot, Harry tells B’Elanna to get some rest and she tells him to stuff it up his jumper. Instead, she drinks so much coffee she runs out of the pot and works through the night and up to breakfast. Neelix risks his very life by cutting her off.

Next up, Neelix tells a story about how once upon a time he was too tired trying to perfect an omelette, forgot that salt existed, and then it came to him in a dream. He tells B’Elanna to go to sleep, but she stops by Engineering to confirm with the robot first. Then she has the expected Eureka moment, for which she goes to the Doctor for his expertise. See, the power source is a ‘chromodynamic’ energy source, which has ‘tainted energy’ using elements that Voyager didn’t’ know existed. She settles on rigging up a series of relays to slowly alter the characteristics of warp plasma until they’ll mesh with the system, like Insert Appropriate Simplistic Inapplicable Metaphor Here.

"Throw the third switch!" "Not... the THIRD switch?!"

“Throw the third switch!”
“Not… the THIRD switch?!”

The moment of truth arrives, and Torres feeds power into her adopted creation until it powers up and asks her name. Automated Unit 3947 is very polite about being reactivated. 3947 has a big old dent in his skull, but still manages to flirt with Torres. 3947 was operating an Asteroid Miner that blew up, but originally he’s from a Pralor vessel. As the new kids on the block, Voyager and her crew has no idea who the Pralor are, but 3947 seems to believe that because B’Elanna repaired its power module, she might be a Builder. She doesn’t quite grok the semi-religious overtones at first, but 3947 asks Torres if she can make a new power module (apparently the only thing 3947’s people can’t make, because building a battery is somehow harder than building a responsive AI). Also, all the Builders have been killed off in a war decades ago.

Janeway calls Prime Directive, which Picard has thrown out the window once or twice when the basic survival of the species in question has been threatened. Or when his crew have been threatened. And I’ll grant that in the former cases he tried to do things on the Down Low, but the Pralor Automated Units operate space ships. It’s not as if they stand a chance of being isolated from other cultures anyway. Janeway may be considering the entire Gamma Quadrant as ‘isolated’ from the Federation the way a pre-warp planet within Federation borders might be, but it hasn’t stopped her before. Janeway’s argument is that since the Automated Units never had the ability to reproduce, giving them their own power modules is a violation, and that it could disrupt the local ‘ecosystem.’

3947 is as unhappy about this news as an Automated Unit can possibly express itself to be, as Torres delivers the bad news. Voyager has found the nearby Pralor ship, and they make arrangements to deliver 3947. Torres gives him a nice thermos full of new warp plasma in case he needs it, but he uses the parting handshake to taser Torres and kidnap her. It is apparently impossible to perform an emergency abort or reroute of a transport initiated by the ship itself. That seems like poor planning.

Torres is given a lab and told that there’s no help coming. Janeway doesn’t know that it would be ‘inadvisable’ for Voyager to provoke the Pralors, and starts trying to open up a hole in the shields, which does indeed provoke a response. Taking a pounding, Voyager can’t even retreat, but the pralor stop when Torres agrees to build more power units. She gets her lab, materials, and no access to any resources or the ship.

To start, she works off the point of failure for previous AU attempts. They’ve duplicated other power units exactly, and still failed. One of the other Automated Units provides us a 140-hour countdown, and also a strong incentive to get things done. Torres has figured out the problem, but not how that will lead to a solution.

The Automated Units have modular body parts, but not modular power cells. Each one has an energy signature that somehow functions as an MD5 encryption hash, or a fingerprint. Torres’ plan is to create a power cell that functions as a master key. I am, however, still confused as to why they haven’t had any luck. After all, if you duplicate a power cell and the robot it comes in exactly, it’s not like the universe itself is checking to make sure this energy cell isn’t operating on a slightly different frequency than any of the others. For any given shape of key, if you also duplicate it’s lock then you can open it, kind of thing.

Voyager‘s best plan so far is to navigate a shuttle inside the Pralor shields so they can beam Torres out, but they’ll need a diversion so that Voyager doesn’t lose another shuttlecraft.

Torres is now 25% of the way into bending the armature into the universal hand-sign for "I will not assemble this robot."

Torres is now 25% of the way into bending the armature into the universal hand-sign for “I will not assemble this robot.”

Torres’ brilliance in engineering has her almost done, and is teaching 3947 to assemble robots, and makes some small talk. 3947 has been active for 1.3 million hours which, assuming a direct Pralor-to-Earth-hour exchange rate, is just over 150 years. 3947 also asks what the role of artifical life-forms in B’Elanna’s culture is, and if they are servants. She responds that most automated intelligence in the Federation isn’t sentient, with one or two or three notable exceptions. Oh, she only thinks of Data, not any of the other examples, or the Doctor. But hey, regardless of the directives being broken, there’s still some pride in fixing a challenging technical problem. While Voyager has just detected another ship approaching, Torres adjusts the flux capacitor for the new automated unit and gets Prototype 0001 up and running. Man, what’s gonna happen when they exceed 10,000 Automated Units and start having to deal with character overflow. Maybe they’ll start using hex?

The new ship is of the same design as the Pralor ship, also manned robotted by Automated Units, and immediately starts exchanging fire with the Pralor. These robots are bronze, and are apparently the Cravic Automated Units of the exact same design, just with a different paint job. The Cravic are also very polite to neutral parties in the little war. Time for Paris to make his run.

"I can't believe I'm even thinking this but Janeway was right."

“I can’t believe I’m even thinking this but Janeway was right.”

3947 tells Torres that the Cravic and the Pralor are from entirely different worlds, and yet everything about their design is the same. Did both sides purchase the same tech from an arms dealer? Otherwise, one side would have had to reverse-engineer the ‘fingerprinting’ problem and maintain the design, while also maintaining the Automated Unit’s inability to figure out in decades what Torres got in, like, two days.

Torres has now just gotten the shape of the problem. The Cravic and the Pralor built the Automated Units to fight their war, and both species are now extinct, leaving their weapons to continue the war forever. Paris is going to have to sneak the shuttle in where the ships are firing at each other, but 3947’s history lesson is just getting worse and worse. See, when you build robots and program them to achieve victory by destroying the enemy, and then you declare a truce, you run the risk of your robots exterminating you so that they can continue to achieve their utility function. Now that Torres has removed the restriction on making new units, the Pralor robots will be able to procreate and win, and potentially go forward to declare new species as The Enemy. This is going to be a lot less of a problem if their numbers finish their journey down to single digits by attrition. Of course, it does mean the extinction of two species, so there’s that.

We’re all very happy that Torres has been rescued and now understands the necessity for the Prime Directive. Janeway isn’t even disappointed, which is nice of her. We’re still focused on how killing her robot baby made Torres feel rather than any contemplation of fun new ethical grounds.

Did we miss something awesome?