Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wide Beam Phasers Revisited

In the earlier post “Nothing New Under the Sun . . .” I wrote about the progressive revelation I had regarding how far back the use of the wide angle phaser setting goes. Recently I came across some additional information on a Star Trek forum. [Unfortunately the thread, and evidently the entire forum, are no longer there anymore.]

To summarize the discussion: There are at least two other places the wide beam phaser setting was mentioned or used that I had overlooked. One was in the Next Generation episode “Power Play.” Troi, Data, and O’Brien were “possessed” by alien life forms and had taken hostages in 10-Forward. One rescue option that was discussed was to storm 10-Forward with wide beam phaser fire—stun everybody, sort it out later. Secondly, on Deep Space Nine wide beam phasers were used to sweep rooms for hidden changelings. (There is a third reference on this forum to another use or mention of it in an episode of TOS, however in the post there was some uncertainty as to which episode this was in and, unlike the other two examples, I have no recollection of the situation described.)

Interestingly the topic was raised with the specific issue I had also wondered about: Why wasn't the wide angle setting used against the Borg? A variety of theories are offered that revolve around the basic ideas that wide beam phasers beams get weaker as they spread out and therefore may not be powerful enough against the Borg and/or the wide angle setting drains the power cells too quickly to be useful in a combat situation.

These theories are reasonable enough, although, as some of the other posts indicate, not necessarily unassailable. Physically speaking it makes sense that the power of a wide angle beam would diminish significantly over a given distance, but Tuvok did threaten to use wide beam dispersal that was set to kill.

The counter-argument offered is that by the time the beam spreads out perhaps it’s not strong enough of a kill setting to use on a Borg (whose body armor may withstand lower kill settings). Well, maybe that’s so. As far as the power consumption theory goes, the counter-argument is you don’t get very many shots against the Borg anyways so, why not drain a couple of phasers if it disables more drones?

Reading the discussion got me thinking about the issue some more myself. A combination of the issues mention might make the setting unusable—the power setting needed to have any impact on a group of drones may overload the phaser or be greater than its total output capacity.

Or let’s assume that Tuvok’s threat implies phasers are fully capable of firing at wide beam dispersal, even at the highest settings. What if the wide beam setting only works for a certain frequency or a small range of frequencies, perhaps the standard phaser frequencies that the Borg long ago adapted to?

The problem with all of these "what if's" is you can "what if" right back at them. Couldn’t someone design a wide angle that overcame these limitations—increased power and therefore increased range, larger power cells, variable frequencies?

Enterprise adds another layer of confusion to the issue with the introduction of the stun grenade to Trek lore. Given two centuries to perfect it, couldn’t such a device be created with a kill setting, perhaps even one powerful enough to use against the Borg?

In the end dramatic considerations must win out for the writers and suspension of disbelief should kick in for us as the audience. The very fact that this technology is mentioned so infrequently during the hundreds of hours of episodes and movies shows that this is simply not a common way the phasers are used. We can assume that a battle with the Borg is just one of many scenarios where it just doesn’t work that way.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

“The Same Thing We Do Every Night, Nog . . . Try to Take Over the World.”

The Deep Space Nine episode “Little Green Men” presents the comical notion that Quark, Nog, Rom, and Odo were actually responsible for the infamous Roswell incident. As it turns out, it wasn’t a weather balloon at all. It was three big-lobed Ferengi and a stowaway changeling.

When Quark realizes he has traveled back in time and is dealing with primitive hu-monshu-mons he can relate too on one level, but disdains on another—he rattles off his plan to take over the galaxy. Sell his ship’s technology to the highest bidder, make contact with Ferenginar, and give the Ferengi a decisive advantage in the history of the Alpha Quadrant. He muses that the Ferengi will have warp drive ‘even before the Vulcans.’ As you would expect, his grandiose plans come to nothing, but the truth is, they may never had a chance, at least not in the way he envisioned them. Even assuming Rom could use his engineering expertise to manufacture twenty-fourth century gadgets with twentieth century technology, the chronology is off as well.

The Roswell incident occurred in 1947. According to the Enterprise episode “Carbon Creek” Vulcans were covertly observing earth in 1957 when Sputnick was launched. It’s difficult to believe that the Vulcans didn’t have warp drive at all in 1947 and, not only developed it, but were also out observing other civilizations in as little as decade.

Quark’s comments indicate that the Vulcans are recognized as among the first, if not the very first of this “generation” of Alpha Quadrant races to achieve warp drive. (I use the term “generation” to distinguish the warp-faring races of the Federation’s general time frame from the earlier, ancient races that had the technology and died out and/or moved on.) If he knew that even in approximate terms—for example the century in which they invented warp drive—wouldn’t he have realized that hu-mons of the nuclear age lived in more or less the same time period?

Well, perhaps not. He may not have had a clear idea of exactly where he was in Earth history, his grasp of Vulcan history may not be the strongest for that matter, not to mention that his thinking was probably clouded by his own avarice. In other words this is a soft inconsistency at best, easily explained as a misconception on Quark’s part. There is no reason to believe he could have beat the Vulcans to the creation of warp drive.

(Of course, other than the Vulcans, there must have been other warp-faring races around as well—although not necessarily Alpha Quadrant natives. Consider the aliens that kidnapped Amelia Earhart as described in the Voyager episode “The 37s”. Which brings up another curiosity: there were extraterrestrial encounters on earth at ten year intervals – the abductions in 1937, the Ferengi in Roswell in 1947, and Vulcans in Carbon Creek in 1957. That must be significant . . .)

It is amusing that Nog expresses concern that Quark is going to alter the timeline. In fact, their presence did not alter the timeline at all. This event was “supposed” to happen, at least in the timeline we live in. It wouldn’t be surprising if somewhere in Nog’s guide to Earth there was a reference to the Roswell incident even before they traveled into the past. (It’s probably cross-referenced with the entry regarding Gabriel Bell/Sisko.)

The end of the episode reminds me of Pinky and the Brain. Quark has Brain’s determination to take over the world, although in some ways Rom is actually the genius who has the technical expertise to pull it all off (in an idiot Pinky sort of way). But just like an episode of Pinky and the Brain, at the end of the day, Quark’s vision of taking over the world is unrealized (he has even lost his new ship), and he’s back in his cage, back in the bar again.

And Nog asks, “So Quark what are we going to do tonight?”