Star Trek: Voyager – 2×13 – “Prototype”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Prototype”
Originally Broadcast January 15th, 1996
Reviewed y Christina Luckings

The Story

Stardate: Unknown

Something is floating in space, when Voyager comes close. The world shimmers and it is in the transporter room, being peered at by Torres, Tuvok and Janeway. The security chief is wary of it, but the engineer is taken with the opportunity to examine a new technology. The Captain rules in favour of learning more. The object is moved to engineering, where Torres and Kim spend long hours trying to stop it’s power cell from draining completely. Despite the energy signatures being different, they give it a charge from the EPS conduit anyway and as they do so, it turns to watch them. In the reflection of a monitor screen the object is revealed to be a humanoid robot.

Torres carries on examining it. The programming centre seems to be in the head, it has arms and legs, they saw it move. Clearly it was designed to move just as a person does. The robot tries to speak, but it doesn’t make any sense and then it becomes inert again. Tired and getting frustrated at the lack of progress, Kim suggests calling it a night. Torres wants to stay longer, and orders Harry to bed, confident that she can stay awake and alert longer than he can.

“Chief Engineers log, supplemental. I’ve tried thirteen different methods of re-initialising the robot’s power source and I’m still having no luck, so I’ve decided to go to the mess hall to recharge my own declining energy reserves.”

It is an hour and a half before Neelix is due to start serving breakfast, and he refuses to let Torres have another pot of landras blend coffee. She is surprised, but agrees that maybe two is enough. It was beginning to taste palatable. She likens the steady unstoppable power drain of the robot to a bleeding artery for which she does not have a tourniquet, and Neelix tells her the story of how he perfected his recipe for jibalian seven spice omelette. At first he used six spices, constantly tweaking the proportions, until he fell asleep from exhaustion only to wake later realising that it was missing a seventh. Leola root? Suggests a tired Torres. No, sea salt actually, is the wry reply. The commonest spice in the galaxy, but he had been too tired to notice it at the time. B’Elanna takes the heavy hint and leaves the mess hall, but returns to engineering instead of going to bed. Inspiration does not come however, so she gives up and goes to her quarters.

No sooner does she start to get into bed than an idea hits her. She goes off to sickbay where a surprised EMH enquires if the dress code has been changed recently as she is not in uniform. When Torres tells him she wants his input on her engineering problem, not a medical one, he begins to point out that he is a doctor, and she finishes the sentence off for him. He has heard about the robot from Kes, so Torres does not have to explain much to him, except that her problem is that the robot’s plasma power source is contaminated and she cannot stop it decaying. How can she replace a polymer plasma composed of elements she didn’t even know existed a day ago? The EMH suggests using Voyager’s warp plasma, but that would be like giving Vulcan blood to a Bolian. The Bolian would die. He then mentions times when blood cells have been genetically altered to make them safe for transfusion when artificial blood has been unavailable. Torres is unsure. She cannot alter warp plasma electro-chemically, but, she could modify a series of anodyne relays to act as a regulator between the plasma and the robot’s energy matrix. With her problem solved she dashes out of sickbay to finally get some sleep then put it into practice.

Captain Janeway is present as Torres and Kim put the final relay in and then begin to feed plasma to the robot. As the power begins to circulate, the robot’s programming centre activates, and it introduces itself as Automated Unit 3947.

“Chief Engineer’s log, supplemental. the robot’s power module is continuing to function normally using the plasma from our warp engines. Repairing it’s systems has taught me more about robotics than I ever could have learnt at Starfleet Academy.”

Unit 3947 announces that it is functioning at 68 percent of peak operating capabilities and calls Torres an extremely proficient humanoid for being able to repair him. She asks it how it came to be floating in space and it tells her that had been operating an asteroid mining pod when it exploded. It does not remember why, but Torres hopes that the memory loss is only temporary. It is very interested in the fact that she has managed to repair it’s power unit, something only a Builder could do. It wants her to make a new power module, a prototype for the construction of new robots. Torres asks why the Builders cannot do that. 3947 tells her that the Builders no longer exist.

Torres explains the history of the Pralor Automated Personnel Units to Captain Janeway in her quarters. Their builders were wiped out in a war decades ago, and the robots have been maintaining themselves ever since. They can make repairs to themselves, but they cannot make new power modules. Torres is excited by the challenge of helping a robot species become able to procreate. Janeway is less enthused. These machines were not designed to reproduce themselves, and cannot be compared to a race that has become sterile over the years. This is not a flaw to be corrected, it is a design specification, and to meddle with it would be a breach of the Prime Directive. They know nothing about the race that built them, or the possible consequences of increasing their numbers. Perhaps they will learn to build new power modules themselves one day, or perhaps they will face the fate of so many lifeforms – extinction. Either way, it is not for a starship that is only passing through to interfere. The decision is made, and Torres reluctantly accepts it.

3947 does not see the logic behind the Captain’s decision, as the Pralor units were built, and are not natural creations. Torres admits that she would like to try and build a unit, but she cannot. However, they have located 3947’s ship and will be in hailing range in an hour.

Captain Janeway orders yellow alert as they approach the robot ship, but allows it to scan Voyager before unit 6263 asks their intentions. She tells it they would like to return 3947 and it politely thanks her before ending contact. In the transporter room, Torres hands over some spare warp plasma, just in case, and repeats instructions that she gave 3947 earlier in Engineering. As she holds out her hand to say goodbye, the robot grabs it and gives her a shock to knock her out, then stuns the transporter operator with a chromo-dynamic energy discharge. This is detected on the bridge, but they cannot stop the transport as the patterns are already in the buffers. Once the pair arrive on the Pralor ship, a sub-space defence field goes up and they cannot get her back. Undeterred, Captain Janeway issues an ultimatum to the robots which they do not bother to answer.

B’Elanna regains consciousness in a workshop, where 3947 explains that her communicator does not work, and that she will build them a prototype power module. Meanwhile, Tuvok and Chakotay cannot get through the defence field, or even determine what the robot’s weapons capabilities are. Janeway decides to use the phasers to try and make a hole in the shields so they can beam B’Elanna back out, and at first it looks like it is working. Then the robots fire back with a quantum resonance charge which blasts Voyager’s shields to pieces. Defenceless, the Captain orders a strategic withdrawal, but Paris has to tell her that they have no propulsion either. With hull breaches, critical oxygen levels and casualties on all decks, they are prepared for the final blow when suddenly the robots power down their weapons and hail Voyager. B’Elanna appears on the viewscreen to tell her Captain that she has agreed to build the prototype in order to save the rest of the crew. Despite Janeway’s orders, she has no choice.

3947 shows her around the workshop, and explains that although they can duplicate every other part of an automated unit, the power module is their sticking point. Every time they make an exact replica of a module from a terminated unit, it does not power a new robot. 6362 comes to find out how they are getting on, and informs B’Elanna that she must have the prototype finished before Voyager is repaired, which in their estimate is less than 140 hours. Although Voyager is no match for their weapons, the engines are more powerful and there is a 79 percent probability that a rescue will be attempted. 3947 points out that humanoids do not always think logically, while 6263 considers that B’Elanna might try to waste time hoping for rescue. Torres is annoyed. She gave her word that she would try her best to make them a prototype, and that is precisely what she will do. But there are no guarantees, she warns them. If she fails, her people will die, 6263 tells them before leaving. He is only following his programming, 3947 tells B’Elanna, 6263 does not know her.

It is a downcast senior staff meeting, cataloguing Voyager’s problems. No power on five decks, no shields, and a destabilised dilithium matrix. Total repairs will take six days, and the dilithium matrix will take 72 hours. Twenty four hours too long, says Janeway. Warp drive must be the priority so they can get B’Elanna as soon as possible and get away again. The meeting breaks up.

Torres has discovered the secret of the non-interchangeable power modules. Apparently the Builders designed them with unique energy signatures so that they could not be moved between robots. She cannot reprogram the energy codes but she might now be able to design a standard module with a uniform energy code that can power any robot.

Tuvok, Chakotay and Kim have come up with a plan to rescue Torres. They cannot modify the transporters to get through the Pralor defence shield to beam her out, but if they could get inside the shield it would not be a problem. Paris thinks a shuttlecraft could do it. Tuvok suggests a diversion to take the robots attention away, but that would mean attacking again and Captain Janeway does not want to risk that. Tom is determined. He will get B’Elanna out of there with or without a diversion, if he is just given the chance to try. Chakotay suggests that Tom let them help. He really doesn’t want to lose another shuttle. Warp engines will be back on line in twelve hours. The Captain wants them to come up with a diversion by then.

There is a brand new power module lying on the construction bench, and Torres is checking that it is powering the motor circuits in a robot hand correctly. 3947 is observing her closely. Although he is programmed to be a maintenance unit, B’Elanna thinks he has just volunteered to be in charge of assembling the new robots. As they talk, it tells her that it has been in service 1,314,807 hours and 33 minutes. It is interested in whether there are robots like him in her culture, and she tells him that there is only one sentient artificial life form. His name is Data and he is treated just like a human. 3947 muses that he would like to meet him.

Voyager is only six hours away from warp power when Chakotay tells Janeway about a diversion Torres came up with when they were in the Maquis. She linked a holo-emitter to a deflector array and projected an image of another ship into space. Kim is already working in the holodeck he tells her, as Tuvok interrupts over the comm. to inform them that an unidentified ship is approaching.

Torres has the new power module in a complete robot, and with a small adjustment to the flux capacitor, prototype unit 0001 announces that it is ready to accept programming. B’Elanna shakes 3947’s hand vigorously and congratulates it on becoming a father.

There are no organic life forms on the new ship either, Kim announces, as they watch a gold version of the Pralor ship open fire on it’s silver-coloured counterpart. As Paris backs Voyager away from the fight, they are hailed. Cravic automated commander 122 tells them to withdraw. Janeway explains that they cannot leave without a crewmember who is being held hostage on the Pralor ship. The Cravic unit warns them not to interfere or they will be fired on. The diversion they were wanting has arrived, and although warp drive is still an hour away, they may not need it. Paris is ordered to the shuttle bay while Chakotay takes his place at the helm.

As the Pralor vessel shakes to the impact of the Cravic weapons fire, 3947 explains to B’Elanna that the two races were enemies. She suggests that Captain Janeway might be able to arrange a cease-fire, but 3947 tells her that like the Pralor, the Cravic are now extinct.

Tom Paris is on his rescue mission, but he cannot get his shields to match the Pralor ones and he bounces off. Tuvok directs him to a point where the Cravic weapons fire is opening a rift. All he has to do is not get hit himself. Inside the ship, 3947 is calmly explaining that the Pralor and the Cravic did call a truce once, and tried to stop the robots from fighting. The robots realised that without the war, there would be no need for them, so to ensure their survival, they killed their Builders. Now that B’Elanna has created a prototype, the Pralor will eventually outnumber the Cravic and achieve their programmed victory. Now B’Elanna realises why the power modules were given unique signatures, and the magnitude of her actions in changing the balance of power. As the Prototype turns to her asking for programming, she picks up a sharp instrument and plunges it into its power module. In a blaze of electricity, 0001 ceases to function. 3947 knocks B’Elanna down with an energy discharge, then tells her she will build another, but she refuses. At that moment, Paris slips underneath the Pralor shields and beams her out safely. Once he is clear of the defence field again, she is transferred to sickbay. Voyager leaves as soon as the shuttle is docked, leaving the two robot ships locked in their pointless battle for supremacy.

Fully healed and having written her report, Torres is in the mess hall with Captain Janeway, sharing a pot of landras blend coffee. It has never tasted so good to her. Kes promises to relay that message to Neelix. Janeway is being sympathetic to her chief engineer, saying how difficult it must have been to destroy what she had created. B’Elanna recalls the moment 0001 looked up at her and asked her for programming, then sadly says that she did what was necessary.

Review

This is an aspect of the Prime Directive that we really haven’t dealt with before on Voyager. We’ve had the reasons why the Kazon must not get their hands on Federation technology, but this is the first time we’ve had to deal with the consequences of helping another ‘species’ rectify a ‘flaw’ in their design. Making them robots makes it easier to justify not doing it, but if they had been organic, genetically created to be sterile fighters, the whole issue might have been a lot more murky. (I’m thinking Jem’Hadar from DS9 now).

It makes for a good Torres story. The headstrong half-Klingon is learning how to take unpalatable orders and try to stick to them. She’s come a long way from the rebellious Maquis who broke Lt. Carey’s nose. No one else really has anything to do, and poor Kes only manages two lines as mess hall waitress in this one. Neelix’s omelette story seems fairly pointless too.

On the visual side, the opening sequence seen from 3947’s point of view in black and white is very good. But a blank robot face makes for dull viewing during dialogue, and I feel so sorry for the poor actors trapped inside them, unable to express themselves with little more than a gesture. It must have made the director’s task harder too, having to set up the scenes with constant camera motion so that the audience did not get bored with a static talking head and turn off. However, Jonathan Frakes managed it, and kept the story tripping along nicely.

For the relationshippers – well! isn’t Tom just so keen to go after B’Elanna, risk life and limb to get her back. There is definitely something brewing here, on his side at least. I await developments.

In summary, an interesting story concept with lots of potential discussion buried in there. A fine example of Trek.

Grade: 8/10

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