In which to love a complex molecule is to see the face of god.
Seven is done regenerating for the night and recording her personal log. She’s budgeted precisely 3:20 to maintain the sensors and seventeen minutes to fend off Harry’s awkward attempts at humor, flirtation, and competence as a human adult. The Doctor is also making her read A Christmas Carol. Harry is trying to match Tuvok at Kal-toh, a nice continuity nod to the time they both got catfished by a holodeck character. He’s been playing all night, and not doing all that well, and Seven finishes the game for him in the single move he couldn’t see.
While he complains about her vast knowledge and experience, she explains a little bit about how the Borg process – with the entire collective crunching every experience and retaining only useful information. The writers are prevented from having to make this into too obvious an autism allegory that they’d then have to keep true to by Voyager hitting a shock wave. Not only did the shockwave rock the ship, but it also knocked out all the sensors and the only thing the computer will display is a large blue Omega. On any panel. Chakotay has insufficient clearance to access the message, and Janeway charges onto the scene to clear it. She orders full-stop and orders all the data sent to her ready room for private review. This is need-to-know only.
In fact, it’s so secret that she actually has to seal her doors and unlock the data with a voiceprint. The sensors have detected something called The Omega Phenomenon, which automatically overrides all other missions, and still requires need-to-know access. It also requires Torres to install some sort of shielding around the warp core without even having time to test it. This implies that they got the shielding from the computer, because Janeway didn’t design it on the spot. Which means that there’s some form of shielding that Starfleet knows about but deems the risk of information leakage to be greater than the risk of whatever it shields against getting through to a matter/antimatter reaction chamber. Such calculations are seldom made idly.
Chakotay tells the tiger team not to even speculate, particularly after Seven finds the name of the phenomenon familiar, and it turns out Janeway thought this might be the case. They compare notes about the Omega Directive, and how the Borg assimilated Starfleet captains and therefore the knowledge. Captains are forbidden from even discussing it with the crew, but since Seven already knows about it, she either needs to help or be locked up. And Seven won’t help because she believes that something called the Omega Molecule should be harnessed instead of destroyed, which is what the Omega Directive states must be done. The Borg have attempted to stabilize the Omega Molecule, and have managed to do so for a trillionth of a nanosecond (1×10-21), which logorithmically is about halfway to the Planck time at 5.39121×10-44. This was their ‘great success’ with it, and Seven wants to try again. Synthesis is dependent on a fairly rare ore, and when the Borg failed their last experiment it cost them 29 ships and 600,000 drones. That’s significantly fewer drones per ship than I would have guessed.
Also, apparently the Omega molecule is the Borg idea of perfection, or perhaps as close as an asexual species can come to a fetish.
Janeway has demanded an injection of an innoculant so powerful and specific that it can’t even be used without a physician present… except in the case of the Omega Protocol. And Seven indicates that there might be hundreds of these molecules. This will require the whole crew and ship’s presence, and so instead of packing an explosive charge that could maybe blow up a small planet, Janeway orders harry and Tuvok to prepare a charge almost twice as large. During this, Harry can’t help himself from speculating about what the deal is, and Tuvok remains his usual stoic self.
There’s only a very little bit that Janeway can tell Chakotay, mainly that they’ll either return safely or there will be a massive explosion that he has ten seconds to flee from at high warp. Chakotay manages to convince her not to attempt it in a shuttlecraft, at least. Since they’re alone and there’s no backup, Janeway finally explains it to everyone.
The Omega molecule is an incredibly complex and powerful molecule, where a single molecule has the energy of an active warp core. When they were first synthesized, the scientist who did it blew up, along with the starbase he was working at, 126 highly-specialized scientists, and most of subspace in the sector, making warp travel impossible in the entire region. Omega chains, if widely synthesized, could make interstellar travel impossible by all current means, across a galactic scale.
Seven has a design for a resonance chamber which the Borg think will stabilize and safely dissolve Omega, somehow releasing all of that energy to somewhere over timescales quick enough to keep Omega from being a threat. The Borg managed to discover Omega 229 years ago by putting together legends from over 13 different speices, who, from the sound of it, must have seen demonstrations of it from someone else, because they didn’t have the scientific knowledge to keep it stable but also the Borg were evidently able to actually get to them to assimilate them. The Federation has its own myths – that Omega was actually the alpha substance that caused the big bang. [sarcastic wanking gesture.]
The source of Omega is from the outskirts of a pre-(and likely never-)warp system. There’s been a massive explosion, parts of the outpost are still standing, and there are a few survivors. They assemble a rescue mission. The scientists are scattered around the compound like empty beer cans, but still alive enough to talk about it. They confirm that some Omega is still there, and Janeway orders them rescued. Remember how the Omega Directive overrode all other directives? That apparently includes the Prime one.
Seven reassigns crewmembers on the resonance chamber and gives them Borg designations, and apparently nobody’s trying to argue anymore, except Harry. Therefore, Seven demotes him to chamber-scrubbing, and Chakotay backs her up because she’s the expert. Seven demands the opportunity to interrogate the lead scientist, and the Doctor wants to resist, but settles for making her keep it brief.
The scientists managed to synthesize about two hundred million molecules. The scientist’s life’s work has been to synthesize these, and now Seven is in the position of being forced to destroy something that the local expert wants saved. It’s all very tragic. Also, rescue ships are apparently on the way.
Inside the containment chamber are enough Omega molecules to kill warp travel across half the quadrant, and too many for them to blow up. They’ll need Seven’s chamber, and quickly. It’s then that she utters the line that pretty much encapsulates everything I hate about this show.
The final frontier has some boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, and we’re looking at one.
Like Sacred Ground, the entire premise of the episode is to glorify a mystery and draw a line in the sand against the reach of human knowledge. Not to urge caution, but to flat-out deny that we should be allowed to Know a Thing. Gene was around when nukes were a thing, Braga, and the whole point of like half the episodes of TOS was that there’s no such thing as a sacred mystery.
So, when Seven explains that they could stabilize Omega using the approach of the locals, she reminds us of something – the Borg don’t Science. They assimilate other people’s science, which has me wondering just a bit about how they thought to actually investigate and piece together all the myths and legends about ‘the blood of the gods that burns the sky’ that they got from pre-literate species. Anyway, there’s still this clash about whether to destroy or preserve the molecules, and this is very important to Seven. Borg drones had the directive to assimilate it at any cost. Omega is considered by the Borg to be perfection, a physical embodiment of the ideal of infinite parts coming together to form a cohesive whole. And the fact that in practice it always explodes and kills everyone doesn’t diminish their fervor – when has a pesky thing like mass destruction ever hindered a religious movement?
Chakotay’s going to try to go to bat for her, as much as is possible, but it’s still ultimately the Captain’s decision. However, more imminent is the approach of the two ships the scientist mentioned, making everything a lot more rushed and dangerous. The rescue beamaway works fine, but Voyager is now under hot pursuit and in an area that will minimize damage to the surrounding civilizations.
Janeway takes the time to discuss Seven’s plan for stabilization directly with Seven, who is a hair’s breadth away from controlling the Omega molecule, but Janeway insists the risk is too high. If there’s a moment of character growth here, it’s that Seven has voluntarily immersed herself in a command structure even when it was detrimental to her goals, as her captain is telling her to destroy the overriding driving force of most of her sapient existence. Since they’re in a rush, Janeway orders Seven to overload the deutralization chamber, which will neutralize enough of the molecules to blow up the rest of them. Just in time, as the aliens start firing on them.
Apparently, 72% is close enough to the target 50% they needed in order to blow them all up. Just before they jettison it, the Omega starts to self-stabilize for no adequately-understood reason. For one brief moment, Seven gets to observe Omega falling into a stable state, and then the cargo bay decompresses and Voyager escapes, blowing up subspace behind themselves. Janeway continues, or perhaps begins, the long and storied tradition of only using the words ‘mission accomplished’ in highly ironic ways.
In the aftermath, Janeway sends the scientists home, destroys all the data concerning Omega, and Seven goes to Janeway’s da Vinci simulation to study all the religious iconography, for comparison. They almost bring the episode back from how much I hated it, but then they had to give Janeway one final line just to make sure everyone watching at home got it because the Borg staring at a cricifix wasn’t unsubtle enough.