The Quality of Life
Stardate: 46307.2
Original Airdate: 16 Nov, 1992

[Riker's quarters]

(the poker game is in full swing, and Beverly is dealing)
WORF: Commander, is it your intention to continue to grow your beard?
LAFORGE: Actually, I'm not sure yet. Why, Worf?
WORF: I am just asking.
CRUSHER: Seven card stud, one-eyed jacks are wild.
RIKER: Frankly, Geordi, I like the beard.
LAFORGE: Thank you, Commander.
CRUSHER: You know, I have always been a little suspicious of men with beards.
WORF: Why is that?
CRUSHER: I don't know. It's as if they're trying to hide something.
RIKER: Hide? Don't be ridiculous, Doctor. The beard is an ancient and proud tradition.
LAFORGE: Some of the most distinguished men in history have worn beards, Doctor.
CRUSHER: I know. But after the razor was invented I think beards became mostly a fashion statement.
WORF: I'm not concerned with fashion. To a Klingon, a beard is a symbol of courage.
RIKER: I think it's a sign of strength.
CRUSHER: Sure, and of course, women can't grow beards.
LAFORGE: Doctor, it sounds to me like you feel beards are nothing more than an affectation.
CRUSHER: I do. But there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, women wear makeup and nail polish. I just think it's time you men admitted it.
RIKER: My beard is not an affectation.
CRUSHER: Oh? Well then you wouldn't mind shaving it off.
RIKER: I could lose it in a minute. I've just gotten used to it.
CRUSHER: Okay, then why don't we up the stakes a little? And if I win, all off you shave your beards off.
LAFORGE: Wait a minute, wait a minute. What if you lose? What are you going to give up?
CRUSHER: I'm open for suggestions.
RIKER: Well, I've always wanted to see you as a brunette.
CRUSHER: Oh, I did that once when I was thirteen. I couldn't change back fast enough.
RIKER: That makes me even more curious.
CRUSHER: Fine. If one of you wins, I become a brunette. Are we on?
LAFORGE: Yeah, yeah, we'll take that bet.
CRUSHER: Looks like you have the hand to beat, Commander.
LAFORGE: Two hundred.
CRUSHER: I'm in two hundred.
RIKER: Geordi.
PICARD [OC]: This is the Captain. We have arrived at the Tyran system. All senior staff to the Bridge.
CRUSHER: Wait!
RIKER: Sorry, you heard the Captain. Duty calls. I guess we'll have to do this some other time.

Captain's log, stardate 46307.2. We have just come into orbit of Tyrus Seven A to monitor progress on the Tyran particle fountain, a radically new mining technology. So far the project has been fraught with problems, and is well behind schedule. Mister La Forge has been assigned to evaluate the situation.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

(a satellite in orbit above the planet, with a beam of blue energy going down to the surface)
LAFORGE: Doctor Farallon. The original design called for the particle fountain to lift five hundred kilograms per minute from the surface. So far we haven't come close to that.
FARALLON: (an alien lady) Well, that's why I want to increase the stream density. That should boost the lift capacity by seventy two percent.
LAFORGE: Yeah, but you realise of course you're going to be overloading the field generators in the process.
FARALLON: Not if we distribute the overload evenly throughout the system.
LAFORGE: Doctor, forgive me, but maybe we should concentrate on completing this phase of the project before we start talking about re designing it.
FARALLON: Commander, I know you're here to evaluate this project.
LAFORGE: Starfleet is considering using a particle fountain on Carema Three. They want to know how feasible it is.
FARALLON: And will your opinion be the deciding factor?
LAFORGE: No, not really. I'll make my report to Captain Picard. He'll make the official recommendation to Starfleet. They'll decide.
FARALLON: What's your feeling so far?
LAFORGE: Well, it seems to me the question we should be asking is, is this technology is more efficient than conventional mining techniques?
FARALLON: Commander I know we've had problems here. It seems like nothing's gone right. It's taking a lot longer than I thought to get the particle stream to full strength. But I know it can work. This is the direction that mining is going to take in the future, and it should be implemented on Carema Three.
LAFORGE: I know this can be potentially very exciting.
FARALLON: All right, I want to show you something I've been working on. Something that might help us complete this project more quickly. I've used these on a limited basis
(everything shakes, alarms go off)
DATA [OC]: Enterprise to Commander La Forge.

[Bridge]

(at a science station)
DATA: I am reading significant power fluctuations from the station core. Please report.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: La Forge here. We have a malfunction in one of the power grids. We're losing particle stream confinement.
DATA [OC]: Do you require assistance?
LAFORGE: Stand by. I'm sorry, Doctor, I think we're going to have to shut it down.
FARALLON: It took four months to get the particle flux up to this level. If we shut down, it'll take another four months just to get it back.
LAFORGE: Look, e have less than five minutes before we lose confinement. When that happens, the particle stream is going to flood this entire station. We're going to have to shut it down then anyway.
FARALLON: Then we'll just have to fix the power grid.
LAFORGE: Yeah, bow do we do that? The defective grid is two hundred metres down conduit A two. We have to disassemble four bulkheads just to get to it.
FARALLON: Well here's the perfect opportunity to show you what I had in mind.
(she picks up a device and puts it in the conduit opening)
LAFORGE: What is this?
FARALLON: This is an exocomp, the experiment I was telling you about.
(she uses a PADD, the device lights up, materialises a tool at the front and flies off down the conduit)
FARALLON: If it doesn't work, we'll still have time to shut down the fountain.
DATA [OC]: Enterprise to La Forge. What is your situation?
LAFORGE [OC]: Unchanged for the moment, but we're working on it. Listen, if this doesn't work soon, we're going to have to shut this thing down, all right?
(then everything returns to normal)
LAFORGE: The confinement field is at full strength. Particle flux steady. All power levels are back to normal.

[Bridge]

DATA: Commander La Forge, please report.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: We're fine, Data. The power grid is fully restored.
(the exocomp returns)
LAFORGE: The malfunction seems to have been repaired and operations over here at the station are all back to normal.

[Bridge]

DATA: How were you able to accomplish the repair so quickly?

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: You know, I'm not exactly sure.

Captain's log, stardate 46315.2. Repairs to the particle fountain seem to have succeeded and it is now functioning smoothly. Doctor Farallon is coming aboard to demonstrate the device that carried out the repairs.

[Transporter room]

DATA: Energise.
KELSO: Aye, sir.
(La Forge, Farallon and an exocomp are beamed aboard)
DATA: Welcome to the Enterprise, Doctor. I am Lieutenant Commander Data.
FARALLON: Mister Data, I was hoping I'd have a chance to meet you. I've done extensive studies of your positronic network.
DATA: And I have studied your design for the particle fountain. I find the concept to be highly innovative.
FARALLON: Thank you.
DATA: I am curious how you were able to repair the power grid so quickly.
FARALLON: This should make it clear, Commander.
LAFORGE: Why don't we set up in Engineering.
FARALLON: Is it true that your computational speed is limited only by the physical separation of your positronic links?
DATA: Actually, that is no longer the case. I have recently converted my interlink sequencer to asynchronous operation, which removed the performance constraint.
LAFORGE: Doctor, this way please.
FARALLON: I see. But how did you resolve the signal fragmentation?
(as they head out into the corridor)
DATA: The interlink sequencer is now bi-directional. It compensates for the asynchronous mode distortion arising from the resonant field.
FARALLON: Yes. That's fascinating. Does the sequencer require any buffering system to eliminate interference?

[Engineering]

FARALLON: We've been using devices like this on Tyrus Seven for years. The basic unit is a common industrial servo mechanism. A few years ago I started tinkering with one. This is the result.
LAFORGE: Boridium power converter. Axionic chip network. It's very impressive. In terms of sheer computational speed, this little guy might be able to compete with you, Data.
FARALLON: Oh, the exocomps don't come close to Data's sophistication.
DATA: Exocomps?
FARALLON: That's what I call them. Let's say you had an anti-matter flow converter that was fluctuating. How would you repair it?
DATA: The correct procedure would be to adjust the converter.
FARALLON: With what?
DATA: A mode stabiliser.
FARALLON: Okay. Let me input the problem into the exocomp. A fluctuating anti-matter flow converter. Now, let's see what happens.
(the little machine materialises a tool to use)
LAFORGE: A mode stabilizer. Very nice.
DATA: You have incorporated a micro-replication system into the device in order to fashion tools.
FARALLON: It's more than that. I designed the exocomps to be problem solvers. Whenever they perform a task they've never done before, the micro-replicator creates new circuit pathways within the unit's memory.
DATA: So in a sense, they are learning.
FARALLON: Exactly. The more situations they encounter, the more circuit pathways they build. They become better tools as they work.
LAFORGE: It's impressive technology, that's for sure. Once it's out of the experimental stage, there'll be plenty of applications.
FARALLON: Commander, I'm hoping the experimental stage is over. When are we supposed to brief Captain Picard on the status of the particle fountain?
LAFORGE: At sixteen hundred hours.
FARALLON: Good. I'll have a proposal to make.

[Ready room]

FARALLON: Captain, I know you're supposed to give your evaluation to Starfleet today. I'd like you to postpone that report another forty eight hours.
PICARD: The Enterprise is scheduled to leave the Tyran system tomorrow. If I'm to change that plan, I'll need a very good reason.
FARALLON: I realise that, sir. If you're going to make a recommendation to Starfleet about using the particle fountain on Carema, it seems only fair that you should see it operating at full strength.
PICARD: Agreed.
FARALLON: I think I can complete the project and boost the efficiency of the particle stream if I use exocomps, the new devices I've constructed.
PICARD: I understand one of these devices successfully repaired a faulty power grid.
FARALLON: Yes, sir. I've been testing them on a limited basis, but I think they're ready to be used on a larger scale.
PICARD: Mister La Forge, what are your thoughts?
LAFORGE: Well, I guess the only risk is in falling even further behind.
FARALLON: I'm willing to take that risk.
PICARD: Mister Data?
DATA: Exocomps are highly sophisticated devices, sir. If they perform up to expectation, their potential to advance this project is considerable.
PICARD: I'm inclined to agree. I don't think that forty eight hours is too much time to risk particularly when the gains areso substantial. You may proceed, Doctor.
FARALLON: Thank you, sir. If possible, I'd like Commander Data to work with me.
DATA: Thank you, Doctor. I welcome the opportunity.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

(the exocomp finishes work on a circuit board)
FARALLON: Commander, there's a plasma conduit in one of the access tunnels that's ready to be sealed. It's the perfect job for an exocomp.
DATA: I agree, Doctor.
FARALLON: Well, Mister Data, what is your analysis so far?
DATA: I have successfully completed fourteen separate tasks with this exocomp in the past hour. I estimate it would take two people nine hours to complete the same tasks. I would characterise the unit's performance as excellent.
FARALLON: I hope Commander La Forge and Captain Picard agree with you.
DATA: I am confident they will. Commander La Forge is especially
(the exocomp comes back out of the access tube)
FARALLON: It didn't finish sealing the plasma conduit. Let me end it back in.
DATA: It is not accepting your commands.
FARALLON: Maybe there's a malfunction in the control processor. Let me see if I can override it.
(she drops the control pad)
DATA: Doctor.
FARALLON: I'm all right. The control pad just overloaded. What's the matter with this thing?
(then an explosion comes out of the access tube)

Second officer's log, stardate 46315.5. The unexplained behaviour of the exocomp has greatly puzzled both Doctor Farallon and myself. We have brought the defective unit to the Enterprise for investigation.

[Engineering]

(they wire up the exocomp to a wall display)
FARALLON: The exocomp came out of the plasma conduit. We tried to override the commands and send it back in, but it just shut down. It's been completely unresponsive ever since.
LAFORGE: Well, let's see what our computer has to say.
DATA: Geordi, the interface circuitry which links the exocomp to the control pad is completely burned out.
LAFORGE: That's strange. is there any evidence of secondary power surges?
DATA: No.
LAFORGE: But what's going on there? Data, increase the magnification of section gamma four.
DATA: Interesting. The number of new circuit pathways has increased by six hundred thirty two percent.
FARALLON: Oh, no.
LAFORGE: What is it?
FARALLON: Sometimes an exocomp starts forming large numbers of new pathways totally at random. Eventually, it reaches a point where it shuts down. Just like this one.
DATA: Doctor, the new pathways do not appear to be interfering with the original circuitry.
FARALLON: Once the exocomp is this badly corrupted, it's useless. You have to erase the unit and start all over again, and there's no time for that now.
LAFORGE: That leaves you with only two. It's going to slow you down.
FARALLON: Yes, Commander. You have the right to point out that you told me so.
LAFORGE: I only wanted to say that we'd be happy to add on an extra shift to pick up the slack.
FARALLON: I'm sorry. I guess I'm touchy these days.
LAFORGE: It's okay. You've got a lot on your shoulders.
FARALLON: Well, I'd better get back to it. Thanks, Commander.
(Farallon leaves)
LAFORGE: I feel sorry for her. This project has had nothing but problems. Why did that plasma conduit explode?
DATA: Apparently there was a micro-fracture in the conduit wall. The fault did not register on our instruments.
LAFORGE: I guess it's a good thing the exocomp malfunctioned. Almost seems like it knew just when to leave.
DATA: Geordi, are you implying the exocomp exhibited some form of self-preservation?
LAFORGE: Of course not.
PIERSON [OC]: Lieutenant Pierson to Commander La Forge. Sir, could you join us in the systems monitor room?
LAFORGE: On my way.

[Data's quarters]

DATA: Computer perform a level one diagnostic of the exocomp's command module.
COMPUTER: The command pathways are functioning normally.
DATA: How can that be, if the interface circuitry is burned out?
COMPUTER: The interface circuitry has been repaired.
DATA: Curious. Computer, access the exocomp's sensor logs. Confirm that there was a failure of the interface circuitry within the last twelve hours.
COMPUTER: Confirmed. Interface failure occurred at eleven hundred fifty hours today, when the exocomp produced a power surge which burned out the linkage.
DATA: How and when was it repaired?
COMPUTER: The exocomp activated a self-repair programme at thirteen hundred forty hours.
DATA: Why would the exocomp burn out its own interface circuitry and repair it two hours later?
COMPUTER: Unknown.

[Ten Forward]

LAFORGE: Here you are. I thought you'd be hard at work by now.
FARALLON: I wanted a quiet cup of tea before I went back. Gathering strength, I guess.
LAFORGE: I've come to tell you I've assigned two engineering teams to work on the particle fountain.
FARALLON: Thank you, Commander. I'm grateful.
LAFORGE: You know, I really want you to know that I do admire the work that you've done. And I'm sorry the exocomps aren't working out.
FARALLON: You were right. I'm trying to move too fast. I guess I lack that conservative streak most scientists have. I always seem to be out there on the edge, taking chances.
LAFORGE: You know, I'll bet you were the kind of little girl who was always climbing one branch higher than the other kids.
FARALLON: Anything to get to the top of the tree.
LAFORGE: And I bet you never fell.
FARALLON: Oh, no I fell all the time. Usually breaking a bone in the process. I just never let it stop me.
LAFORGE: Well, if it comes down to sheer determination, I know you'll get this particle fountain built.
FARALLON: You're right about that, Commander. I've spent the last six years of my life on this project. It's the first thought I have when I wake up, and the last before I go to bed. Whatever it takes to prove this technology, I'll do it.

[Sickbay]

(Crusher is making repairs to her own right arm)
WORF: Doctor, if you wish to master the bat'telh sword, you must learn to strike and avoid in the same motion.
CRUSHER: I almost got in under your guard, Worf.
WORF: Almost.
CRUSHER: Well, I'll keep that in mind next lesson.
(Data enters)
DATA: Doctor, are you injured?
CRUSHER: Only my pride, Data. (to Worf) Thanks.
(Worf leaves)
DATA: Doctor, what is the definition of life?
CRUSHER: (pause) That is a big question. Why do you ask?
DATA: I am searching for a definition that will allow me to test an hypothesis.

[Crusher's office]

CRUSHER: Well, the broadest scientific definition might be that life is what enables plants and animals to consume food, derive energy from it, grow, adapt themselves to their surroundings and reproduce.
DATA: And you suggest that anything which exhibits these characteristics is considered alive?
CRUSHER: In general, yes.
DATA: What about fire?
CRUSHER: Fire?
DATA: Yes. It consumes fuel to produce energy, it grows, it creates offspring. By your definition, is it alive?
CRUSHER: Fire is a chemical reaction. You could use the same argument for growing crystals, but obviously we don't consider them alive.
DATA: And what about me? I do not grow. I do not reproduce. I am considered to be alive.
CRUSHER: That's true, but you are unique.
DATA: I wonder if that is so.
CRUSHER: Data, if I may ask. Have a seat. What exactly are youe getting at?
DATA: I am curious as to what transpired between the moment when I was nothing more than an assemblage of parts in Doctor Soong's laboratory, and the next moment, when I became alive. What was it that endowed me with life?
CRUSHER: I remember Wesley asking me a similar question when he was little, and I tried desperately to give him an answer, but everything I said sounded inadequate. Then I realised that scientists and philosophers had been grappling with that question for centuries without coming to any conclusion.
DATA: Are you saying the question cannot be answered?
CRUSHER: No, I think I'm saying that we struggle all our lives to answer it, but it's the struggle that's important. That's what helps us to define our place in the universe.
DATA: I believe I understand, Doctor.
CRUSHER: I don't think I've been very much help, Data.
DATA: On the contrary, you have been a great deal of help. Thank you.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: Murphy's team will cover gamma shift from twenty three hundred to oh seven hundred hours. Okay, Doctor, I've split the Engineering teams among all the shifts, and if nothing else goes wrong, that should be enough to help you finish on time.
FARALLON: With the help of the exocomps, I think we will.
LAFORGE: Do you think they'll toe the line?
FARALLON: Don't worry. They know who's in charge.
(Data beams in)
DATA: Doctor, I must ask you to stop using the exocomps.
FARALLON: Why? Is there something wrong with them?
DATA: No. It is not that. I have reason to believe the exocomps are alive.

Captain's log, stardate 46316.6. I have summoned the senior staff in order to discuss Commander Data's theory that the exocomps are a life form. Doctor Farallon has attended only reluctantly.

[Observation lounge]

FARALLON: Captain, I object to being called here. I'm wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere.
PICARD: Doctor, I appreciate your time constraints, but recognising new life, whatever its form, is the principal mission of this vessel. Please. Now, Mister Data, will you tell us what makes you think that the exocomps are alive?
DATA: Sir, when the exocomp left the access tunnel prior to the explosion, it may have been attempting to save itself from destruction.
FARALLON: Do you have any basis for that conclusion?
DATA: Yes. When you attempted to override the exocomp and send it back into the tunnel, it responded by deliberately burning out its control interface.
CRUSHER: Deliberately?
DATA: The computer diagnostic showed that the exocomp disabled its own interface.
FARALLON: That could have been nothing more than a malfunction.
DATA: However, two hours later, when it was aboard the Enterprise and no longer in danger, it repaired itself. I believe the exocomp was protecting itself. And if that is true, it has demonstrated an awareness of its environment, and an ability to adapt to that environment.
FARALLON: You're anthropomorphising these units. Like any mechanical devices, they occasionally malfunction. One time, I saw an exocomp enter a reaction chamber for no apparent reason and vaporise itself. Is that supposed to make me think it was depressed and suicidal?
TROI: Doctor, why is it so difficult for you to accept the fact that the exocomp could be alive? After all, you're talking to a living machine right now.
FARALLON: And I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for Doctor Soong's accomplishment. But his intention was to create an artificial life form. I created the exocomps to be tools. And there is a big difference between Data and a tool.
DATA: Doctor, there is a big difference between you and a virus, but both are alive.
PICARD: If the possibility exists, no matter how slight, that these exocomps are lifeforms, then we must examine that possibility.
DATA: Thank you, sir. And until we have a definitive answer, I believe it would be inappropriate to exploit the exocomps as labourers.
FARALLON: Captain, that's absurd.
CRUSHER: If they are intelligent life forms, we have no right to force them to work for us.
FARALLON: That's like me telling you not to use your tricorder.
CRUSHER: Tricorders aren't alive.
FARALLON: Neither are exocomps.
PICARD: Clearly these are difficult issues to resolve. We have to proceed very carefully. So the first task is to test Mister Data's hypothesis.
LAFORGE: Data, you're claiming that this exocomp may be alive because it demonstrated survival instincts, right?
DATA: Yes.
LAFORGE: Then why don't we just threaten its survival again and see what happens?
PICARD: Make it so.

[Engineering]

(the exocomp is sitting just inside a Jefferies tube)
LAFORGE: Doctor, we're pretty much ready here. You can begin programming it. What we've done, Captain, is to recreate a situation similar to the one the exocomp encountered in the plasma conduit.
DATA: We have created a small conduit breach in this tube. The exocomp would normally require several minutes to complete a repair of this type. Once it enters the tube, it will find that a plasma cascade failure is in progress.
PICARD: I assume this is a simulation.
LAFORGE: Yes, sir. We're running a transient overload signal that will simulate a failure in exactly one minute.
FARALLON: If it does possess a survival instinct, as Mister Data claims, it will exit the tube before the minute is up in order to save itself.
PICARD: Very well. Proceed.
LAFORGE: Okay. Beginning test programme now. One minute.
(the exocomp heads off)
LAFORGE: Fifty seconds. (it gets to work) Thirty seconds. (it stops and hesitates, then continues) Ten seconds. Five, four, three, two, one. That's it. If this had been for real, that conduit would've exploded with the exocomp inside. Go ahead, Doctor, bring it back in.
FARALLON: Well, Captain, I think we've spent more than enough time answering this question. I hope the outcome wasn't too much of a disappointment for you, Mister Data. It certainly came as no surprise to me.
DATA: Thank you for your help, Doctor.
FARALLON: You're welcome.
PICARD: Well, I consider this time well spent.
DATA: As do I, sir. Thank you.
(later, Data is repeating the experiment)
COMPUTER: Thirty seconds. Twenty seconds.
CRUSHER: Commander Riker said you'd still be down here. He also said the exocomp failed the test.
DATA: That is true.
COMPUTER: Time expired. Test complete.
DATA: I have completed thirty four additional tests and the results have been the same in each of them. Perhaps I was wrong in suspecting the exocomp was alive.
CRUSHER: This was really important to you, wasn't it?
DATA: You said earlier that I am unique. If so, then I am alone in the universe. When I began investigating the exocomps, I realised I might be encountering a progenitor of myself. Suddenly the possibility exists that I was no longer alone. For that reason, I. The exocomp has returned.
CRUSHER: Wasn't it's supposed to do that?
DATA: In the previous thirty four trials, I brought it back once the simulated failure occurred. This time we were talking, and I neglected to do that.
CRUSHER: I distracted you. I'm sorry.
DATA: Do not apologise, Doctor. I believe we have discovered something significant.
CRUSHER: What?
DATA: The exocomp has replicated a different tool. That is not the molecular fuser it had when it entered the Jefferies tube. Doctor, the exocomp not only completed the repairs, it also deactivated the overload signal.
CRUSHER: I thought this was just a simulation.
DATA: It was, and the exocomp must have realised that. It saw that there was no real danger and completed the repairs.
CRUSHER: And then replicated the correct tool to eliminate the false overload signal.
DATA: I see no other possible explanation.
CRUSHER: The exocomp didn't fail the test, it saw right through it.

Captain's log, stardate 46317.8. At Doctor Farallon's request, I have agreed to tour the station and assess the situation personally. I must decide soon whether it is in Starfleet's best interest to recommend the particle fountain as a reliable technology.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

FARALLON: We're definitely making progress, Captain. I'm not sure we'll be at full capacity within the forty eight hour deadline, but we'll be close.
LAFORGE: It looks like there's still some difficulty with the phase selectors.
FARALLON: That's true, but I'm sure it's the last real problem.
PICARD: I hope for the sake of the project that I hope you're right, Doctor.
FARALLON: I understand, sir. We're going to do our best.
(and the lights go out)
FARALLON: This is strange. Primary power is still online.
LAFORGE: Maybe it's another power grid malfunction?
FARALLON: I don't think so. Something seems to be drawing power into the main particle impeller. That's not a good sign. It could mean
(the place rocks)
FARALLON: We've lost internal confinement. The particle stream is beginning to surge.
LAFORGE: Captain, a radiation field is going to flood this chamber. We've got to get everybody out of here immediately.
PICARD: Understood. Doctor, the station must be evacuated.
FARALLON: Captain, I might still
PICARD: That is an order, Doctor. Now, assemble all personnel on the transporter pad. Now! Picard to Enterprise.

[Bridge]

PICARD [OC]: Do you read me?
RIKER: Riker here, sir.
WORF: Radiation field is increasing. We are losing communications.
PICARD [OC]: Prepare for emergency transport.
RIKER: Red alert. Riker to transporter room two. Prepare for emergency transport.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: The radiation is setting up a field ionisation effect, Captain. We've got less than a minute to beam out of here.
PICARD: Is that everybody?
FARALLON: Where's Takenta? He was over there, near the impeller control.
LAFORGE: I'll get him. Takenta!
(Geordi disappears from view then there's a big flash)
PICARD: Mister La Forge! Stand by to transport.
FARALLON: Captain, you'll be trapped here.
(Picard beams them away)
PICARD: Mister La Forge! Mister La Forge, are you all right?
LAFORGE: Yeah, I'm fine, Captain. I only caught the edge of it. He's dead.

[Transporter room]

RIKER [OC]: Chief, do you have them?
KELSO: They're here, sir.
RIKER [OC]: Is everyone all right?
FARALLON: We're fine, sir. But Captain Picard, Commander La Forge and one of my men

[Bridge]

FARALLON [OC]: Are still on the station.
RIKER: Kelso, can you get them off?

[Transporter room]

KELSO: I'm trying, sir. I can't establish a pattern lock.
FARALLON: Commander we barely managed to transport off ourselves. The field ionisation is too intense.

[Bridge]

DATA: Commander, the particle fountain is continuing to surge. At the present rate, the radiation in the station core will reach fatal levels in twenty three minutes.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

LAFORGE: Captain, if I can access the field emitters, we should be able to establish a force field. See if you can link your console to my command system sub-routine.
PICARD: All right. Link established.
LAFORGE: Okay, here we go.
PICARD: I'm reading power fluctuations. The force field is not stable.
LAFORGE: Yeah, I know. The radiation levels are too high. The emitters are beginning to deteriorate.
PICARD: How long can we expect it to last?
LAFORGE: Not very long.
PICARD: We have to keep it up long enough for Commander Riker to get to us.
LAFORGE: Maybe we can help him out. See if you can access the emergency shut down routine. I'll try to activate the ionic dampers.

[Bridge]

DATA: A force field was activated on the station a few moments ago. It is possible that Commander La Forge has established a low intensity deflector field.
RIKER: It won't last long in that radiation.
DATA: No, sir. My readings indicate that it will fail in approximately twenty two minutes.
(Farallon enters)
RIKER: Okay, we've got twenty two minutes. I want some options.
WORF: Can we send a shuttlecraft to evacuate them?
FARALLON: We'd never get there in time.
RIKER: Then we need to shut down the particle fountain. What if we detonated a low yield photon torpedo within the particle stream? Wouldn't that shut it down?
FARALLON: We'd have to configure the torpedo very carefully. The shape of the shock wave would be critical. But it could work.
RIKER: How long would it take to set that up?
DATA: I estimate that it would take a minimum of sixty five minutes to properly configure the torpedo.
RIKER: We don't have that kind of time.
FARALLON: Commander, maybe the exocomps can help us. I can programme their boridium power cells to explode on command. They can be configured just like a photon torpedo, but it would only take a couple of minutes.
DATA: Commander. I must object to that plan.
RIKER: Data, we've been through this. We tested the exocomp and it failed.
DATA: Doctor Crusher and I discovered that the exocomp did not fail the test. It is still my belief we are dealing with a new life form.
RIKER: Mister Data, you know how much I respect your judgment, but I can't risk the Captain and Geordi on the basis of your belief. Prepare the exocomp, Doctor.
DATA: Commander, if I am correct, the exocomps will not allow themselves to be destroyed. They have a sense of survival, and they will shut down before they will comply with the order.
FARALLON: I could disconnect their command pathways before I programme them.
RIKER: Do it.

[Transporter room]

(three exocomps sit on the pads)
FARALLON: Commander Riker, we're ready.

[Bridge]

RIKER: Mister Worf, target two hundred metres below the apex of the particle stream. Feed the coordinates to transporter room two.
WORF: Aye, sir. Coordinates received.
RIKER: Mister Kelso.

[Transporter room]

RIKER [OC]: Energize.

[Bridge]

RIKER: Mister Kelso?

[Transporter room]

KELSO: I'm sorry, sir. The transporter system just went dead. There's some kind of malfunction.

[Bridge]

RIKER: Run a diagnostic immediately. Try bypassing the
DATA: Commander, that will not be necessary. The transporter is not malfunctioning. I have locked out the controls.

[Observation lounge]

RIKER: I gave you a direct order, Mister Data. You release that transporter lockout now.
DATA: I cannot do that, sir.
RIKER: If you don't do it, I will relieve you of duty.
DATA: That is your prerogative, sir. Under Starfleet regulations, direct insubordination is a court martial offence. But I will not release the transporter.
RIKER: Data, those are two of your friends out there. They have saved your life more times than I can remember. I can't believe you'd be willing to sacrifice them like this.
DATA: Commander, please do not think this is an arbitrary decision. I have considered the ramifications of my actions carefully, and I do not believe it is justifiable to sacrifice one life form for another.
RIKER: You don't know that the exocomps are life forms.
DATA: It is true I am acting on my personal beliefs, but I do not see how I can do otherwise.
RIKER: You're risking a lot on the basis of a belief.
DATA: I have observed that humans often base their judgments on what is referred to as instinct or intuition. Because I am a machine, I lack that particular ability. However it may be possible that I have insight into other machines that humans lack.
RIKER: If there were a way to save the Captain and Geordi without destroying the exocomps, I would jump on it, but we have run out of time and this is the only solution I've got.
DATA: Then let me offer an alternative. Transport me to the station, I will attempt a complete manual shut down of the particle stream.
RIKER: The radiation levels are too high, even for you. Your positronic net would ionise in no time. I can't let you sacrifice yourself.
DATA: Commander, if I give my life to save my fellow officers, that is my choice. The exocomps no longer have a choice.
RIKER: Then what if we re-connect their command pathways and we give them a choice? You've assumed the exocomps would shut down before accepting this mission. What if we ask them if they are willing to proceed.
DATA: That sounds reasonable, sir. If they choose to go, I would be willing to release the transporter lock out.
RIKER: Fair enough.

[Transporter room]

FARALLON: All right. I've enabled their command pathways.
DATA: If the exocomps do not shut down after I have programmed them, we may assume they are willing to go.
(the exocomps flash their lights, wave their little antennae and beep at each other)
RIKER: What does that mean? Are they willing to go or not?
FARALLON: They haven't shut down.
DATA: They seem to be re-programming the commands I have entered.
RIKER: Reprogramming them?
DATA: Clearly, they unwilling to be transported into the stream for detonation, although they may have an alternate solution.
FARALLON: Something we haven't considered? Are you suggesting they have superior intelligence?
DATA: No, Doctor, but they do have superior experience. During their service, they have interfaced with every part of the station core, something none of us has done, including yourself. They may have another way to control the particle surge.
(the exocomps create their tools for the job)
DATA: Those appear to be power taps.
KELSO: Sir, new coordinates are being fed to the transporter by the exocomps. The coordinates are inside the station core.
RIKER: Kelso, energise.
KELSO: Aye, sir.

[Particle fountain laboratory]

(Picard sees the exocomps beam in around the core on the other side of the force field)
PICARD: Mister La Forge.
LAFORGE: What are they up to?
PICARD: The exocomps are siphoning power from the core.
LAFORGE: They're trying to distort the particle stream frequency. That might open up a window that the Enterprise can use to beam us out. If they can modulate the radiation field, it'll work, but they'll have to get the sub-harmonic frequencies to resonance. The particle stream frequency is beginning to fluctuate. They're having a little difficulty controlling the feedback. It may be more power than they can handle.
PICARD: Can we help them? Is there any way we can moderate the power transfer?
LAFORGE: No, sir. We've done all that we can do. It's up to them now. They're balancing the power absorption rates. It's working. The particle stream is beginning to distort. Almost at resonance. They've got it.
PICARD: Drop the force field.

[Transporter room]

KELSO: Commander, I've got a pattern lock.
RIKER: Energise.
(Picard and La Forge are beamed in)
DATA: Can you lock on to the exocomps?
KELSO: I'm trying, sir.
(two of the little machines are beamed in)
KELSO: I'm sorry, sir. I was only able to lock onto two of them. For some reason I couldn't fix a signal on the other one.
LAFORGE: One of them had to continue disrupting the particle stream. Absorbing that much power could prevent a signal lock.
DATA: It was the only way to save the other two.

[Ready room]

FARALLON: I must admit you've given me a lot to think about, Commander Data. I don't exactly know what the exocomps are, but you can be assured that until I do, I won't be treating them as simple tools.
DATA: Thank you, Doctor. I wish your work on the particle fountain had been more successful. Perhaps the exocomps will help you to reconstruct it.
FARALLON: I hope they will. And I predict that in a year or two you will be able to recommend the technology to Starfleet.
PICARD: I look forward to it.
DATA: Doctor.
(Farallon leaves)
PICARD: Something more, Mister Data?
DATA: Yes, sir. I thought you might want to know why I would be willing to risk your life for several small machines.
PICARD: I think I understand the predicament you were in. It could not have been an easy choice.
DATA: No, sir, it was not. When my status as a living being was in question, you fought to protect my rights, and for that I will always be grateful. The exocomps had no such advocate. If I had not acted in their behalf, they would have been destroyed. I could not allow that to happen, sir.
PICARD: Of course you couldn't. It was the most human decision you've ever made.

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