Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Trek: Incarnation

Counselor Troi and Captain Picard. Image source.
"The distress calls from the planet are almost continuous. It's time we did something," Deanna Troi said with concern in her voice.

"I understand, Counselor," Captain Jean-Luc Picard answered. "But this is not a simple problem. As you've said, we're receiving distress calls from all over the planet, for so many different reasons. Wars, famine, seismic activity- if we did interfere, the question is, where to even begin?"

"The problem is deeper than that, actually," added Data. "On this planet, every one of the cultures I have studied is characterized by inequality. For example, inhabitants of the planet generally regard women to be inferior to men. It will not be easy to overcome this belief."

"I know that it would be difficult, but we can't just sit here and do nothing!" Troi said. "They need--"

Picard interrupted, "But the Prime Directive--"

"Captain! Don't you care? Captain, I hear them constantly. I feel their pain. They know we're up here. They know we could help if we wanted. How can you just do nothing? How can you just leave them?" She was indignant.

Captain Picard sighed. He looked down at the table. "I do hear them. I wish there were an easy answer." He looked at Troi. "But there's no way for us to help them. It would require a society-wide transformation, and that's something we can't force. The people of this planet have the ability to better their society. They have the resources. In time, they will develop technologically and evolve past their prejudices."

"That's convenient for you to say," answered Troi. "We have a responsibility to them..."

"Counselor, don't say I don't care. I do care about them." He glared at her.

"But how, Captain? How can you really care? We've sent away teams, yes, but they've always known they'd be able to beam out at a moment's notice. There was never any danger for us. We're here, in the Enterprise, above it all, safe from all their problems and suffering. From this position, can we ever truly understand them? Can we ever truly care?"

The captain sighed, unsure about what to say. Data looked at both of them, then said, "If I may, Captain. I believe I understand Counselor Troi's concern. I myself have studied human emotions extensively, but they remain a mystery to me, because I am unable to experience them. Perhaps we are in the same situation with regards to this planet."

"That's exactly it," said Troi. "We can study the planet, we can learn about the people, we can hear the distress calls, but we can't truly understand their suffering. And when we sit in the comfort of our ship, orbiting above the planet, and say we care about them, our words ring hollow. How can we care, if we ourselves remain above all of it?"

"I understand," said Picard. "But the Prime Directive exists for a reason. As outsiders, any action we take would cause a major disruption in their society. They need to fix these problems themselves. I fear that our attempts to help them would introduce new problems."

"That is quite likely," answered Data. "If we provided them with the technology they needed, based on this history of this planet, it is probable that those with the technology would use it to gain more power for themselves and control others."

Troi gave them both a worried look. "So we should just do nothing? We should wait for them to solve this themselves?"

"If only we could teach them, in a way that would not be intimidating or forceful," said Picard. "But any action we took would be frightening to them."

"Teach them?" said Data. "Captain, I may have an idea. Perhaps if we built some kind of probe, which looked like them and could live among them. I could control the probe from here. Then I could understand their society and teach them to cooperate with each other."


Data, with a cable connected to his brain. Image source.
Data stood next to a mess of wires, holding a tricorder. A section of his hair has been opened, revealing the positronic components and blinking lights that made up his brain. "I will be able to interface with the probe directly," he explained. "After the probe is initialized, for all practical purposes I will no longer be aboard the Enterprise. I will only have access to the sensory information and cognitive abilities of the host body."

"Cognitive abilities?" said Troi. "Data, you'll be in an infant's body. You mean you won't even be able to reason beyond the abilities of an infant?"

"That is correct, Counselor," said Data. "It will take some time for the brain of the host to develop to a point where I can begin the mission."

"I must warn you, this is risky," said Picard, in a serious tone. "You'll be as vulnerable as they are. We won't be able to help you from here."

"And how will you communicate with us?" asked Troi.

"I will only be able to communicate as the inhabitants of the planet do," said Data. "They direct their thoughts up here to us, unsure if we are even listening."

"Commander, I can't order you to do this," said Picard. "It's too dangerous."

"With all due respect, Captain, this is what I have always wanted. Finally I will experience human emotions. I will be able to truly understand what it means to be happy, or sad, or angry, or worried," Data said as he sat down in a chair. He attached a cable to his brain and turned toward a panel of buttons. "Initializing ... now." The top button lit up as he pressed it. His eyes closed and his body fell lifeless in the chair. Small lights in his brain continued to blink.


Down on the surface of the planet, as night fell on a tiny settlement, Data opened human eyes for the first time. They wrapped him in clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Merry Christmas.

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