In which Harry takes command, Seven takes a facefull of zap, and the Doctor takes a leave of absence.
Paris is begging Neelix for mercy, since he’s low on replicator credits and needs to come up with something to commemorate his anniversary with B’Elanna at the last minute. Hence, the life-or-death nature of the issue. Fun fact, you can send food to other replicators, although I’m going to assume that it won’t actually materialize without someone present to approve. Imagine beaming three pounds of raw shrimp into someone’s quarters while they’re on an Away mission. Harry’s got bridge duty, watching the bridge for an 8-hour shift. He’s still ensign, but he gets to sit in the big chair because he’s willing to take the night shift.
On his shift, Harry’s spending a lot of time micromanaging the helm to throw around his ability to demand status reports. They detect a planet off the course issuing an automated distress call, and since Harry is in actual command, he has the authority and the responsibility to answer it. However, there’s no response. When it comes to ordering an investigation, though, it’s Chakotay’s call, but Harry gets to lead the away mission.
The doctor is a little surprised that Harry will be leading the mission, since it’s a new planet with unknown hazards. Unlike… uh… which planet Voyager has ever run into, exactly? The Doc could be right – Harry does the thing where you beam in and then pick up equipment, rather than just having it ready to go. We’ve talked about this, Starfleet. The coordinates of the distress call are empty, and Harry calls for the team to split up. The Doctor finds the source – a bioneural machine that the Doctor can interpret, and which wants to know why it can’t see or feel its limbs. It doesn’t have memory, either.
This is an AI that doesn’t seem to realize its nature, and the Doctor wants to avoid psychological trauma by confronting it suddenly with its nature. Question, though – if it thinks it has arms and legs, but it can’t see, then it must remember having been socialized at some point. Harry dismisses even the idea that it could have a psychology, and argues with the Doctor over it. Janeway, newly arrived to the bridge for the Day Shift, defers the decision on how to help to Harry, who suggests high-level containment as a precaution. As they prepare the chasis for transport, it asks what the Doctor is and comments that a hologram doesn’t sounds like a ‘real person.’ What a dink.
Torres has been analyzing the chasis, which was traveling with a companion. Janeway goes to Astrometrics to try to find it, and the Doctor decides that this is the time to break the news to the machine. He does so delicately. Janeway and Seven have detected no technological devices, but Seven does find traces of its metal scattered across a 200-km impact crater. Also, radioactvity and signs of an explosion. The machine is a WMD.
The Doctor still wants to help out the warhead, and suggests disarming it. Of course, that might be its goal and it might resist, violently. Seven goes hard to the optimal solutions for Voyager, suggesting destruction or isolation. The Doctor wants to instead try declawing it. Janeway lets the Doctor try, but sets a precaution to beam it into space if anything goes wrong. The operation itself will take place in Sick Bay. It also demands a step-by-step of the operation, and since the first step is turning it off, it refuses to allow that and arms itself. In so doing, it shakes off the transporter lock. Torres has to turn it off with the defibrillator, but at the last moment it manages to hijack the Doctor, and it’s pissed. It has also figured out that it’s a weapon, and remembered what it’s mission is, and demands Voyager take it there so it can finish the job.
The warhead has plotted a course to his target through a minefield, and makes the argument that disarming it would be the same as killing, and that any impedence into its mission means emnity. Thus, Janeway decides to go along until they can figure out how to trick it. They can’t beam it away far enough to be safe, but the good news is that a part that Neelix traded for recently is from the same tech-base. They reach out to the merchant he got it from.
Harry’s wallowing in self-pity over his command decision. Torres’ pep talk is that everyone makes terribe decisions, but you have to take responsibility and dig yourself out. Harry takes this to heart, by telling the bomb it can excel beyond its programming. However, it’s counterpoint is that the Doctor, which Harry is using as a role model, is still a Doctor. The bomb is still a bomb. Harry’s next tack is to discuss the nature of the target with the bomb. After all, if you’re a smart bomb, you should also be an informed bomb. It does seem to get agitated when Harry tries to get it to empathize with its target. That’s probably some limited form of success.
The merchant friend of Neelix shows up, meaning they’ve been poking along or he has very fast engines. Maybe the bomb was taking Voyager backwards, but this kind of thing seems to happen all the time. The merchant has a whole bunch of specs on this weapon, and a transporter system that can handle the bomb. All he wants is the bomb itself. Janeway is willing to deal, for everything except the explosive component – the component that could apparently power several starships in such a tiny package. With that, there’s no deal, and the merchant beams back home and opens fire.
See, Janeway doesn’t want to give the bomb to anyone who would use it, but she’s totally fine with handing out the intelligence core. When the attack starts, she also refuses to just let the shields drop so that the bomb can be stolen. Would’ve been really easy to let those force fields drop and jet away. Although apparently the weapon can send an antimatter surge through the transporter and blow up the merchant. It doesn’t even give her credit for defending it, though, Lame. Seven’s plan is to inject the bomb full of nanoprobes. Janeway’s backup is to play with the minefield.
Time for trouble to escalate – a whole fleet of smart warheads have detected Voyager, and appear to be heading toward it. Oblivious, the Voyager crew discusses simulating a mine hit, which will get Seven into sick bay for a medical emergency. The whole plan will require some specific timing. In Sick Bay, the bomb orders Harry and Torres to help it fix the malfunction that crashed it. Harry’s happy to help, as a vehicle to engaging with it and reasoning. They find a gap in its memory, which when studied reveals a command to divert from target and crash. The bomb reasons that this was a hack, and refuses to believe that it was called off of the war. Since all signs are pointing towards ‘the war is over,’ Harry and Torres are eager to continue the recovery. Indeed, they’re able to confirm that not only is the war over, it never actually happened. The launch was a mistake. This is why you always want to have people in the loop. Rest in peace, Stanislav Petrov.
34 weapons were fired by mistake, but since there’s no confirmation code and the bomb refuses to go looking for one, he also refuses to stand down. Onto this instability, Janeway’s now adding the false mine readings. To keep them on-time, the bomb gives them a shield enhancement. Wonder what other software-based upgrades they could squeeze out of it. With a third mine hit, they send in Seven, destabilize the doctor, but the weapon sends a feedback surge when she probes the bomb, and the bomb issues an ultimatum – leve the ship or it will detonate. Into this mix, all the other warheads arrive and pull up in escort position.
The other warheads want to carry the Doctor-Bomb to its target. Janeway’s just about to let them go when Harry issues the bad news – that there’s no war. It’s worth noting at this point that if Voyager had never rescued this bomb, they would certainly have gone on to destroy the planet and that therefore if noninterference is really something Janeway’s concerned about, she should let them go and take the bomb with them. It’d be okay if she was running on humanitarian concerns, I just wish the writing didn’t have her hiding behind the Prime Directive instead of just letting her have a conscience.
In fact, now she’s got a bargaining chip – the proximate destruction of all the other bombs, and she can force the warhead to check for the confirmation code. Once faced with that, it has an existential crisis. Eventually, Harry breaks through. There’s a wrinkle, though. The other bombs received the orders, but had already crossed a threshold beyond which they can’t be cancelled. Seems highly (in)convenient, but I suppose it’s a failsafe against malicious hacking by their victims. Of course, that means these bombs came back for their fallen comerade. Meaning they diverted themselves after the no-diversion threshold. I hate these writers so much.
The obvious solution is obvious – since the bomb has now been convinced that it was cancelled, it will have to kill all the other warheads. Plus, it still gets to blow itself up. I wish they’d gotten John Cleese for this, but ultimately they successfully prevent mass-destruction. Seven’s in rough shape but will recover in a week. Harry’s going back to the bridge for the night shift, but stops by sick bay to do some reconciliation for his earlier derogatory comments about AIs. Also, if Harry went for it he could probably go out with the helm officer.