In which Torres cleans up her own messes.
Ensign Wildman’s pregnancy is coming along niceley, and she’s considering namer her child Greskredregk, after her husband. It’s tradition among his species. But also he’ll probably never meet the kid so maybe something a little less… uh… ethnic. This brings us back to the Doctor not yet having a name, so he can shoot down all of her other ideas based on cross-cultural associations.
Voyager has come across the debris from a small ship, destroyed by repeated powerful weapons fire, so they beam some of it aboard for analysis. Torres doesn’t like what she sees – the weapons signature is Cardassian, and it’s Torres’ fault this thing is here, not Seska. The instrument responsible was an experimental Cardassian weapon that Chakotay and Torres commandeered when the Cardassians sent it to destroy a Maquis base.
Dreadnought, as it is named, is a self-guided smart-missile carrying a thousand kilograms (a megagram?) of matter and another of antimatter, alongside a learning AI and defensive platform, so that it has options when encountering resistance. It didn’t detonate when it was supposed to because the Cardassians cheaped out on the detonator, so Torres reprogrammed it to work for the Maquis. It was set to blow up a Cardassian fuel depot, but got lost in the badlands and presumably sucked into the Delta quadrant by the Caretaker.
Dreadnought has tracking countermeasures, but Torres knows enough about it to make the modifications to track it down. Paris will help, as soon as he gets dressed down for showing up late. Feels like there’s a story there which we may or may not get while they make the necessary modifications. We do hear that Torres redirected Dreadnought without approval from Chakotay. She programmed it to warn off Federation ships, and tried to anticipate unexpected contingenices, but apparently Chakotay was still disappointed. Paris is backing her up, though, and admits to a little envy at how well B’Elanna is fitting in amongst the crew. This leads to that discussion about Tom’s deteriorating behavior. Being a galaxy away from starfleet deteriorated his concern for proper grammer so much that he got into a fistfight over it.
Dreadnought‘s course is erratic, because B’Elanna taught it evasive maneuvers and sensor echo techniques. Tuvok is even impressed. But what they find is that the missile has locked onto a final target, ten light years and three weeks away, and heavily populated. Since Dreadnought has enough yield to destroy a small moon, the planet itself would probably survive but nobody who lives on it would.
Jonas immediately calls Seska, but is getting the runaround from his Kazon handler. They get interrupted when Janeway makes the call to warn the planet they’re heading towards, and once again their reputation precedes them, and their first minister remains cautious, suspicious, and borderline hostile.
Torres beams over to the Dreadnought, using her access codes. Dreadnought also DNA scans her, a precaution she probably put in place herself. She’s greeted cordially by the AI in her own voice and asked, basically, what she’s doing there and why she’s appeared on the mission. She suggests a self-diagnostic, and when that fails because the self-diagnostic is faulty, the missile also denies her access to the navigational array due to being in an approach stage.
Now she’s attempting to make some manual repairs and reason with the missile that it is, in fact, impossible for it to be approaching the correct target and gets it to stand down. Back aboard Voyager they discuss plans to salvage Dreadnought for spare parts. Although we know now that Cardassian technology is inferior to Federation technology in many ways, beggars can’t be choosers. Oh wait oopsie, Dreadnought is now at warp and has stepped up its speed. They now have 51 hours and leap to pursuit. Additionally, Dreadnought has now locked Torres out of the shields, so Janeway turns to tactical options.
Okay, so here’s the thing. Dreadnought is able to adjust shield frequencies to all known weapons. If that’s a thing you can do, why doesn’t literally every ship have that? Dreadnought is almost Borg-like in adaptability. Dreadnought hails Voyager, warns Janeway off, and explains that the Delta Quadrant readings are part of a vast conspiracy intended to throw it off-target. Because the probability of being in the Delta quadrant is so low, Dreadnought can think of no evidence that would convince it. Now the only option is provoking it into attacking them and exploiting a vulnerability in its weapons system. They bring down its shields, and it responds with a debilitating plasma surge back through the beam and forces Voyager to drop out of warp for repairs.
Janway calls up the first minister of the target planet. He’s scrambling defenses despite Janeway gently telling him it’s pointless because that’s useful advice somehow. Torres is agonizing about her missile outgrowing her as Harry beams her over once again. Dreadnought doesn’t attack her, but it’s not letting her access any programmer interfaces either, since she’s ‘part of the Delta Quadrant Deception.’ It does zap her when she tries to access the electronics directly, but she disables that countermeasure.
The planetary defense fleet are approaching, which is distracting Dreadnought and letting Torres make progress, at the risk of them actually winning and Torres dying. Unfortunately from the Rikosan fleet, Dreadnoughtis equipped with some sort of annihalation wave that just vanishes enemy ships. Voyager is expending precious torpedoes on this thing to no effect, while it just keeps hammering the Rikosan ships until the fleet retreats. Once Torres mentions that she’s not going to discuss her plans on an open channel, Dreadnought starts blocking the comms.
Torres’ next plan involves accessing the detonation circuit, possibly to set it off before time. As a smart bomb, Dreadnought recognizes the unlikelihood of Torres being willing to sacrifice herself if she’s under Cardassian coercion, and thinks twice. Maybe Torres can actually reason with it, so they start playing a hypothetical game based on the axiom that they are, in fact, in the Delta Quadrant. While chasing this rabbithole, Torres finds a hidden, redundant Cardassian backup file. They do like their contingencies, the Cardassians. Sadly, Dreadnought has now finished reassessing, and determined that Torres now believes in the Federation-Cardassian treaty, has switched loyalties, and her continued ability to breathe is no longer an entertaining courtesy. B’Elanna may be a brilliant engineer, but I guess never make her project lead on a standalone endeavor, or things will go south really fast.
Dreadnought is now in the final countdown stage and there’s only about forty minutes left to stop it. Janeway resolves to do whatever it takes to save the planet, even if it means destroying Voyager. When they eventually succeed they will at least have made a friend. Torres is now trying to restore the Cardassian file before Voyager has to resort to staging a warp core breach on top of the missile. Janeway orders evacuation. The good news is that if it does work, they’ll be welcome on the planet below.
Torres has the Cardassian program active, and Dreadnought starts fighting itself, and the Cardassian program recognizes that the target is not the one it was programmed with and starts fighting to disarm. Which if you think about it, really has to sting. The Cardassian version of Dreadnought was actually concerned enough about collateral damage to jettison its antimatter and completely scrub the mission rather than risk civilian casualties. Now granted, this might also be because the Cardassians, as a recognized interstellar state, have more to lose than the Maquis if things go wrong.
Either way, the two programs fighting each other gives Torres enough of an opening to access a critical hatch.
With the computers down, Voyager can communicate with Torres just as she’s burning through the containment to disarm the missile catastrophically. If you watch the phaser beam carefully you can see that either VFX was lazy or even the handheld models have some basic auto-aim. I know which one I’m betting on.
Janeway takes direct control and Tuvok stays with her in a last-minute display of loyalty. This may turn out to be necessary, since Dreadnaught is back to its Maquis programming. Torres only has to stay awake for three more minutes, after which it won’t matter. It looks like Torres’ plan may work, though. Dreadnaught is scared and resorting to delaying tactics.
The main problem with this episode is that this plot has been done a few times, and each time felt more like Star Trek than this. Kirk dealt with sentient computers all the time, and usually outsmarted them. There are some other sentient bombs in fiction, and the treatment is always more clever than this. Torres’ approach was ‘unscrew some things until I can point a phaser at it.’ Oh also, apparently Voyager doesn’t require as much redundant activation as the Enterprise D did.