Data discovers robots that he believes qualify as lifeforms.


The USS Enterprise-D arrives at Tyrus VIIa to evaluate a Particle Fountain Project for possible use on Carema III. While Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge is talking with the project lead, Doctor Farallon, a malfunction occurs in one of the station's power grids. Dr. Farallon uses this opportunity to show Commander La Forge another project she has been working on, an exocomp: adaptive tools used for maintenance purposes. The exocomp is sent into an access tunnel, and repairs the malfunction very quickly, preventing a shutdown of the station's core which would have taken four months to return to its power level again.

Lieutenant Commander Data tests an exocomp on the station and successfully completes fourteen separate tests in less than an hour. Data estimates that the same tasks would have taken two engineers over nine hours. The exocomp is then sent into an access tunnel to seal a plasma conduit. However, the exocomp returns without finishing its task, and when Dr. Farallon tries to send it back into the access tunnel, it blocks her commands and overloads her control pad. A few seconds later the plasma conduit explodes. If the exocomp had gone back into the access tunnel, it would have been destroyed.

After bringing the exocomp back to the Enterprise for analysis, Data and La Forge discover that the exocomp had shut down and that the interface circuitry which connected the exocomp to the control pad was completely burned out. Further investigation reveals that the number of new circuit pathways has increased by 632 percent. Dr. Farallon explains that sometimes an exocomp randomly generates large numbers of new pathways, which ultimately leads to a total shutdown. When this happens the exocomp becomes totally useless and has to be erased and reprogrammed all over again. Data mentions that the new pathways do not appear to interfere with the original circuitry. This leads La Forge to comment that somehow the exocomp seemed to know that the conduit would explode and therefore it had to leave the access tunnel. Because this remark implies some form of self-preservation motive, Data takes it upon himself to perform a level one diagnostic on the exocomp.

The diagnostic reveals that the command module was working normally. When checking the exocomp's sensor logs it turns out that the exocomp itself had burned out its own command interface circuitry and then repaired it two hours later. This discovery prompts Data to discuss the definition of life with Doctor Crusher, who herself is unable to give him a definite, conclusive response, stating that scientists and philosophers have been struggling to answer this question for centuries.

Data asks Dr. Farallon to stop using the exocomps for he has reason to believe they are alive. He calls for a meeting of the senior staff in order to discuss his theory that the exocomps are a lifeform. Dr. Farallon attends only reluctantly. Data supports his theory by stating that the exocomp they sent in the tunnel earlier responded by deliberately burning out its control interface. However, only two hours later when it was on board the ‘’Enterprise’’ and no longer in danger, it repaired itself. This demonstrated awareness of environment.

Picard argues that if the possibility exists that these exocomps are a lifeform, then that possibility must be examined. Thus, in order to test Data's theory, a simulation is created in which an exocomp has to repair a small conduit breach in a Jefferies tube in which a plasma cascade failure is simulated by means of a transient overload signal. The exocomp performs the repair and returns after the plasma overload simulation would have destroyed it. Data performs thirty-four additional tests and all tests have the same outcome: every single time the exocomp completes the repairs, and returns to Data when commanded by him. However, on the final test, Doctor Crusher is talking to Data so he neglects to recall the machine. Even so, the exocomp returns automatically and Data notices it has created a different tool than when it entered the tube. In the previous tests, the exocomp was recalled when the simulated plasma overload occurred. When Data checked the sensor logs he discovers that the exocomp has deactivated the overload signal. It turns out that it in fact does not fail the test but saw right through it.

Work is resumed on the station but while the Captain is examining to project the particle stream begins to experience fluctuations and radiation slowly leaks into the station. Dr. Farallon and her staff are beamed to the Enterprise, but La Forge and Picard remain on the station trying to save a member of the doctors staff, who is killed in an explosion despite their efforts to save him. By the time the pair tries to beam back to theEnterprise the radiation levels on the station are to high for the ship's transporter to get a particle lock on La Forge and Picard. La Forge erects a temporary force field to hold the radiation at bay, but he knows that it is a temporary solution at best. Back aboard the Enterprise Data projects that radiation levels in the station will be fatal within twenty two minutes even with the force field in place.

When the particle fountain reaches a critical stage, it is decided to reconfigure the exocomps so their power cells explode when beamed into the particle matter stream. However, due to their survival instincts, the command pathways would have to be disconnected. Data, who strongly opposes sending these lifeforms into their death, locks out transporter controls, preventing the exocomps from being transported. Sacrificing one lifeform for another is not justified according to Data. Commander Riker proposes to ask the exocomps if they are willing to perform this mission; and when their command pathways are reconnected, the exocomps reprogram the commands Data had entered and alter the transporter coordinates to inside the station core instead of in space near the matter stream. They solve the problem by distorting the particle stream frequency by finding its resonance frequency, allowing Kelso to beam La Forge and Picard back to the ship. Unfortunately, one of the exocomps does not survive; it had to stay behind to disrupt the particle stream so the other two could safely be beamed back to the Enterprise.

When the Enterprise departs, Dr. Farallon decides to study the exocomps as intelligent beings rather than as tools to be exploited, and the Captain agrees to reexamine the project in a few years and make a new recommendation to Starfleet.

Memorable Quotes

"Doctor, if you wish to master the bat'leth sword you must learn to strike and avoid in the same motion."
"I almost got in under your guard, Worf."

- Worf and Dr. Crusher

"Doctor... are you injured?"
"Only my pride, Data..."

- Data and Dr. Crusher

"There is a big difference between Data and a tool."
"Doctor, there is a big difference between you and a virus, but both are alive."

- Dr. Farallon and Data

"It was the most human decision you've ever made."

- Picard, on Data's decision not to allow the exocomps to be sacrificed for Picard and Geordi

Background Information

  • Levar Burton was allowed to regrow his beard for this episode since he needed it for his wedding. However, this time it would not just appear and then disappear again (as it did in "The Outcast"), but it was included into the episode and mentioned on screen.
  • The exocomp prop was modified for re-use in Star Trek: Enterprise's "Dead Stop" ten years later.
  • This is one of the few episodes where the vertical blinds in Doctor Crusher's office in sickbay are opened and a corridor can be seen behind the window.
  • When Data explains to Captain Picard his decision on defending the life of the exocomps, he mentions that when his own life was on trial, Picard defended him. This is a reference to the 2nd season episode "The Measure Of A Man".

Video and DVD releases

Links and references


Also starring

Guest stars

Uncredited co-stars


boridium; Carema III; exocomp; microreplication system; Particle Fountain Project; Tyran; Tyrus VIIa

Previous episode:
"A Fistful of Datas"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 6
Next episode:
"Chain of Command, Part I"
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