Myriad Universes: The Deceivers Part 1: A Matter of Conscience...

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The Enterprise is on routine patrol of the Romulan Neutral Zone. Perhaps that should be left to speak for itself.

Ironically enough, while making small talk with Commander Riker, Captain Picard says that the Romulans have been “rather well-behaved lately”. Just then, Geordi calls up with a request: Since it's expected this patrol mission will be rather uneventful, he'd like to take a small science team to investigate Beta Argotha One, which the Enterprise's route will take it in very close proximity to. Beta Argotha One is known as “Darwin's World”, because the species on that world evolve at an incredibly accelerated rate such that every time it's researched, it's effectively a whole new planet. Since it hasn't been surveyed in the past year, it is thus likely unrecognisable from the last time Starfleet checked it out. Captain Picard grants his request, and has Geordi prepare the Runabout USS Yutcan for launch.

As Geordi gets his ship ready, he's paid a visti by Deanna Troi. Her father participated in the very first survey of Beta Argotha One, and she was fascinated by the stories he would tell her about it as a little girl. If it's not too much trouble, Deanna would like to accompany Geordi as a member of his team, but she doesn't even have to ask: Geordi tells her she's more than welcome, and signs her up then and there. And with that, they're off: Aside from Deanna, Geordi is joined by a rookie Benzite science officer named Haspan, and two grizzled old command officers and best friends named Smithers and Gilette. As the two old timers rib each other to the young Benzite's utter confusion, the Yutcan blasts off.

Back on the Enterprise, Worf reports that he's detected another ship on their side of the Neutral Zone and, funnily enough, it appears to be Cardassian! The bridge crew conclude it's a transport of some kind, and that it's been through a rough time. There's only one survivor, so Captain Picard has the transporter chief lock on and has Doctor Crusher meet them on the pad. Though it's a bit tricky, the chief gets the survivor aboard and, to everyone's astonishment, he turns out to be a Romulan. Doctor Crusher looks the man over in sickbay and reports his condition to Captain Picard: He's doing rather well, given the condition he was found in. Though Bev wants to look over him a bit longer, the Romulan insists to speak to Captain Picard as soon as possible.

The Romulan tells Captain Picard his name is Tavorok, and, until recently he had been one of the Romulan Star Empire's top research scientists. He had been working on a top secret project that, had it been completed, would have toppled the balance of power in the galaxy permanently: A project to develop an artificial virus of sorts that would eat away at dilithium crystals. The idea would be that the virus, which could be effective in very small quantities and was completely undetectable by Starfleet bio-filters, would be discreetly smuggled aboard Federation starships, thus fairly instantaneously blasting them 400 years back into the pre-warp stone age. And naturally, since Romulans use an artificial singularity to power warp engines (as Deanna told us in “Timescape”), there would be no threat to their own ships. Tavorok, however, claims to have found the whole idea of the superweapon abhorrent, and had made plans to defect to the Federation.

Tavorok used his wealth and influence to bribe confidants to take him to the border, where he met a Cardassian transport ship that he'd made arrangements with to smuggle him across to Federation territory: The very same ship the Enterprise found adrift in space. Unfortunately for him, the Cardassian Central Command had gotten word of who Tavorok was and what he was doing, and they decided they wanted to develop the virus themselves. Had the ship not suffered an accident that rendered it inoperable, Tavorok fears he wouldn't have been able to escape the Cardassians either. At this point, however, Commander Riker contacts the Captain, informing him that a Cardassian Galor Warship has now entered the Neutral Zone.

The Cardassians hail the Enterprise. Naturally, they're looking for their missing transport. Captain Picard tells the Warship's commander, Gul Erak, that they'd picked up the vessel, but had only managed to save one survivor. Erak then specifically asks Captain Picard if the survivor was a Romulan named Tavorok. Erak claims that he's more interested in Tavorok than the crew of his transport, because he is a criminal wanted for attempting to commit “the most heinous crime of all against the Cardassian people”, whatever that means. Erak politely demands Tavorok be extradited to Cardassian, but Captain Picard reminds him under Federation law that both Tavorok's and the Empire's rights are conditional, and he will need more information before he can make the call one way or the other. Erak does not accept this, however, demanding Tavorok be handed over unconditionally, claiming that he and anyone who aids and abets them is an enemy of the Cardassian people.

Back on the Yutcan, Geordi and Deanna are making conversation about Beta Argotha's nature as a binary star system. Smithers and Gillette mention the rate of plasma exchange between the two stars has increased since the last time the system was mapped, though likely not enough to pose a threat to the Runabout. Haspan confides in Deanna that he is nervous, because this is his first mission while the rest of the crew are such seasoned veterans. As she begins to offer him advice, the ship hits a “magnetic distortion field” that knocks out the Runabout's impulse engines and generally fucks all of the shit up. So naturally, they all crash land in a jungle somewhere. Geordi and Deanna banter as they and the rest of the crew go out to investigate the damage, but then Haspan notices something odd: It's another Runabout, nose planted firmly in the ground and minus its warp nacelles. Furthermore, Deanna makes another odd discovery: The other crashed Runabout is also called Yutcan.

Deanna and Geordi exposit about how Runabouts aren't supposed to have duplicate registries, which is frankly altogether too much Occam's Razor rationalizing for the sorts of thing this crew has run into over the past 7 or 8 years. Smithers and Gillette try to decipher the ship's log, but it's been completely wiped. Haspan sounds an alert, seeing movement off in the distance, of the upright-walking bipedal kind. Deanna confirms this, saying she senses “hostility” and “fear”. Suddenly, the team gets held at gunpoint by what soon becomes apparent is the other Yutcan's surviving crew. Geordi tries to diffuse the situation by saying that they're all Starfleet, thus they should all be friends, before quickly realising he's talking to...Another Geordi. Notably, a bearded Geordi who is apparently in the command division.

Romulans and Cardassians again! This is only part of the reason I wanted to cover this story arc, but it is certainly interesting when taken in the context of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Hearts and Minds, which it ran parallel with. It's fun to think about how maybe this is what the Enterprise was off dealing with while Commader Sisko was trying to keep the galaxy from collapsing into open warfare (and don't tell me the stardates don't line up: I don't care if they do or not), and it adds another layer to Tavorok and Gul Erak's respective claims. Superficial similarities can perhaps also be drawn with Season 3's “The Defector”, though this is a way, way better story. And on top of that, the Runabout (and, fittingly, the common area first seen in “Timescape”) makes its return to Star Trek: The Next Generation as well.

Which is the first thing I wanted to talk about. Tavorok and the politics surrounding him become a predominant part of the unfolding narrative as the arc continues so there's more to discuss in regards to that later, so for now I wanted to focus on the Geordi and Deanna story. “The Deceivers” is an excellent example of a solid, traditional Star Trek: The Next Generation A-plot/B-plot structure because there's thematic coherence and continuity between both sides of the story, although that shouldn't necessarily be evident here in part 1: While Captain Picard and the remaining bridge crew are faced from the outset with trying to decide who is telling the truth and who is “deceiving” (and this will only snowball as the arc goes on), Geordi and Deanna are basically just being set up to be where they need to interact with their manifestation of the theme du jour. However, Michael Jan Friedman gives us a clue to this early on by pegging Deanna Troi, an empath who can sense emotions and thus tell when someone is lying, as a major player.

But while a lot of this side of “A Matter of Conscience...” (and by the way, this is something like the fourth Star Trek: The Next Generation story featuring a title beginning with “A Matter of...”, so I think by now we have exhausted ever conceivable permutation of that particular phrase and therefore never need to see it ever again because it's confusing enough to keep track of as is) is setup, there's really a lot to like about the motifs Friedman chooses to play with here. First of all, I love how Geordi and Deanna's plot involves a naturalist expedition: So rarely do we ever see that on Star Trek, and it's really meaningful to me on the occasions we do get to see it. It's like I've always said: Isn't this what you would expect a team of scientists on an exploration vehicle to be doing *all the time*? The fact that the Enterprise itself, supposedly the flagship of the Federation (who, as Dax and Bashir constantly pointed out in Hearts and Minds, is theoretically supposed to be driven by a desire for “peaceful coexistence” and “the pursuit of knowledge and science”) is on routine patrol duty just draws the contrast into focus all the clearer. As Captain Picard says, the Enterprise really doesn't need as many people to run it as are aboard, and if some of her crew are preoccupied with other business while it has to snoop on the Romulans, “so much the better for it”.

What's also great about this setup is the particular characters Friedman chooses: Geordi and Deanna (along with three of his signature one-off supporting guest players, who we should expect will play perfectly serviceable and functional roles in the rest of the story). Apart from her empathic abilities being a necessary bit of added symbolism, Deanna's presence here continues her laudable development over the tail end of the TV series (and Friedman's earlier Star Trek: The Next Generation comic work) into a respectable science officer with a lot of unique talents to contribute to the team. But while Deanna here follows on from her portrayal in episodes like “Timescape”, this is really the first time we've seen Geordi in this sort of capacity, and I really like getting the chance to see him in a role other than that of tech nerd/exposition dispenser. They're both quite evidently capable leaders too, working effortlessly with Smithers and Gilette, and serving as kind and helpful mentors to the young Haspan.

Furthermore, as the two most empathetic characters in this cast, Geordi and Deanna are well-suited to exploring this arc's key themes. Because there's no-one you should be able to know better than yourself.

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