Geordi La Forge is on a holodeck date with Christy Henshaw, but things don't go quite as planned, as Data and Wesley Crusher note when he shows up in Ten Forward rather early—and alone.
About a thousand years ago, two ancient spacefaring races, the Promellians and the Menthars, wiped each other out in a galactic war. The Enterprise is investigating the asteroid field—the former planet Orelious IX—that was the site of the final battle that led to their extinction. A surviving Promellian battle cruiser is discovered in the field, a find that excites Captain Picard, who compares it to the ships in bottles he built when he was a child. Much to his disappointment, the analogy falls flat, as apparently Chief O'Brien is the only other member of the crew to have built ships in bottles. As Picard, Data, and Worf beam over to the cruiser, O'Brien notes a slight power drop that seems to correct itself.
While Geordi commiserates with Guinan about his bad luck with women, the away team finds the remains of the Promellian crew, still at their posts. Picard marvels at the resilient design of the ship, and Data finds the final recording from the ship's captain, taking full responsibility for the fate of his ship. They return to the ship, Picard quite pleased with the discovery, and they prepare to leave...
... only to find that their power is being drained. Even with the engines running at full warp, they're not moving. Geordi comments that everything appears to be operational, but as they're unable to move, he recommends slowing down to prevent burning out the engines. What's more, the Enterprise is suddenly bathed in high-energy radiation, which is stopped by the shields—but the power drain will knock the shields out in a few hours. The crew come to realize that they're caught in a Menthar booby trap, just like the Promellian ship was a thousand years earlier.
Needing to figure out a way to escape before their energy reserves run out, Geordi decides to go back to the beginning—to the logs of the designers of the Enterprise's engines. He has the computer play back the engineering logs of one of the designers, Dr. Leah Brahms, but Geordi soon finds out it's not enough, and needing a more interactive experience to work on the problem, he heads to the holodeck. There, he recreates the design room at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars, where final construction of the Enterprise was completed. He continues to work with the voice of Dr. Brahms guiding him, but when he asks the voice to show him something in particular, the computer creates a virtual Leah to point it out.
At first, the holographic Brahms merely continues to recite the relevant logs in a monotone manner. This leads Geordi to have the computer search for her personality profile from the available records to create a personality for the avatar, to make her easier to interact with. The two begin arguing over their approaches to the problem, but gradually work things out and start to make progress, as Geordi finds himself growing attracted to "Leah". Geordi reports to Picard that he's getting close to a solution.
Meanwhile, Data and Riker have salvaged the remaining data cylinders from the cruiser, and discover that the booby trap is a series of energy collectors embedded in many of the asteroids. Phaser energy would merely be absorbed, while the ship is too close to the collectors to safely use photon torpedoes, especially without full shields. Combined with an increase in ambient radiation in the field, the crew faces dying of exposure even before their air would run out. Nevertheless, Picard has Worf try the phasers. Unfortunately, this only accelerates the power drain and increase the radiation, forcing the ship to automatically shut down nonessential systems—including the holodeck, just as Geordi might be making a breakthrough.
Picard calls a briefing to consider their options, and Dr. Crusher states that they would have about 26 minutes once the shields failed before the crew would succumb to radiation poisoning. Geordi asks Picard to reinstate the holodeck, explaining that he's been using it to run simulations to try to find the solution. Picard gives him one hour to continue. At the end of the hour, Picard checks in, and is surprised to find Dr. Brahms. Geordi explains that by going back to the design phase, he can better understand the capabilities of the ship. Picard asks for a solution; Geordi suggests turning control over to the ship itself, as it can calculate course corrections at a rate superior to even Data.
Riker is understandably reluctant to give control to the computer, and his fears seem to be justified as Geordi's simulations keep ending with the ship being fatally irradiated before escaping. Despite Leah's insistence that the computer is the solution, Geordi realizes that instead of trying to overpower the collectors, a short burst of the impulse engines, followed by the minimal use of thrusters, would be enough to clear the field. Picard opts to take the conn for this operation, and with Data's help, he's able to use the gravity field of a large asteroid to slingshot the Enterprise clear of the field. Once clear, Picard orders the destruction of the Promellian derelict and the surrounding collectors, to prevent others from falling into the trap.
Geordi says his goodbyes to Leah, noting that as much as technology has improved their lives, there are times where it just needs to be turned off. Leah reminds him that she will be with him as long as he's on the ship. They kiss, and Geordi ends the program—which is sure not to come back to bite him in the ass later... right?
Tropes in this episode include:
- Always with You: The holographic Leah tells Geordi at the end "I'm with you every day, Geordi. Every time you look at this engine, you're looking at me. Every time you touch it, it's me."
- Artistic License Physics: The "slingshot maneuver" as depicted is hooey. In Real Life it requires a craft to enter the gravity well of a much larger object such as a planet at very high speed. The Enterprise gliding up to the asteroid and slowly rotating around it is completely divorced from real-world physics.
- Asteroid Thicket: The site of the battle between the Promellians and the Menthars, in which both races annihilated one another. Taken Up to Eleven by the fact that said battle occurred more than one thousand years ago.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Invoked by Geordi. The original hologram of Dr. Leah Brahms is extremely cold and impersonal, so Geordi has the computer reprogram Leah's personality based upon her archived personality profiles, and "Leah" becomes much more friendly and personable.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Geordi spends quite some time at the ship's bar after being friend-zoned by Christy.
- Exact Time to Failure: As usual when it comes to radiation, the computer tells everyone how long it will be until exposure becomes lethal — because of course radiation affects everyone the same way and you'll be just fine if you shut it down Just in Time. Riker just has the countdown outright disabled as they're flying out of the asteroid field, as it's just become a nuisance by then.
- A Father to His Men: The Promellian captain comes across as this in his Video Will, praising his crew while taking responsibility for their deaths."I am Galek Sar, Captain of the Promellian cruiser Cleponji. I wish anyone who finds this record to know my crew has behaved courageously. I want it recorded for all time that I, alone, am responsible for the fate that befell us. I have failed as a captain, and as the man responsible for all the souls aboard my ship."
- The holographic violinist in Geordi's holoprogram plays Johannes Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5"—as in, hinting at the fact that Geordi's second Love Interest of the episode would share the same last name.note
- Although no connection is ever made in dialogue, the Apocalyptic Log of the Promellian captain taking responsibility for his crew's fate could foreshadow Picard's taking the helm from Wesley in order to fly the ship clear himself — so that, if anything should go wrong, it would be on the Captain rather than the teenager.
- Incredibly Lame Fun: Picard is rather dismayed to find no one else shares his enthusiasm for ships in bottles.
- The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Worf is awestruck at the sight of a Promellian battlecruiser. He also admires its crew for dying at their posts.
- The Main Characters Do Everything:
- Variant, in that it's the main character and a single guest character - Strictly speaking, why is it that Geordi can ONLY consult with the holographic recreation of Leah Brahms? Doesn't he have the whole engineering staff to depend on, none of whom are ever seen interacting on this problem? We even see later in the season Geordi brainstorming with other engineering crew.
- Also, at the climax, Picard relieves Wesley in order to personally fly the ship out of the asteroid field, though that may be so Wesley isn't burdened with dooming the crew if he fails. Picard was also a legendary helmsman before he gained his first command, so he truly was the best person on that bridge to fly them to safety (as his slingshot maneuver showed).
- Morton's Fork: Riker sums up their predicament.Riker: If we resist, we die. If we don't resist, we die.
- Precursors: The Promellians and Menthar.
- Prim and Proper Bun: The holographic Leah wears one.
- Series Continuity Error: Although Worf claims he never "played with toys" when Picard asks if anyone has ever made model ships in bottles, we did in fact see Worf trying to put together a model ship back in season two's "Peak Performance." To be fair, on that occasion it was not specifically a ship in a bottle, but it seems strange that he wouldn't make the connection. Then again, it's doubtful Worf would acknowledge said models as being toys even if it had occurred to him.
- Socially Awkward Hero: Geordi, as lampshaded by the man himself.Geordi: Guinan, I just don't get it. I can field strip a fusion reactor. I can realign a power transfer tunnel. Why can't I make anything work with a woman like Christy? I don't know what to do, what to say...
- Space Friction: Both averted, in that Geordi's solution involves exploiting letting the ship coast without power, and played straight, in that this is treated as an amazing insight rather than something that happens all the time.
- Take a Third Option: The Enterprise's options seemed to be do nothing and perish or do so much and perish anyway until Geordi finds another solution. In this case, it's actually taking a fourth option: the third option, the one presented by the computer, seemed too risky, along with lacking the "human element."
- Title Drop: Courtesy of Picard, realizing that the Enterprise is caught in "a thousand-year-old booby trap."
- You Were Trying Too Hard: Geordi realizes this by talking to Guinan about why his date with Christy didn't work out, and by himself as to how the Enterprise can escape.