Previously on Short Treks: Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck) got stuck in the Turbolift. Once tired of Spock’s fame of Twenty (Thousand) Questions, Lt. Cmdr. Una treated us to some guilty pleasure Gilbert & Sullivan. Then pretended it never happened.
The short begins on the Enterprise, as Captain Pike (Anson Mount) bids farewell to his recently-promoted Science Officer Lynne Lucero (Rosa Salazar), who will be taking command of the research vessel Cabot. And her first mission is a doozy: There’s a “civilization on the brink of starvation on the edge of Klingon space, and Starfleet wants [her] to intervene on their behalf without the Klingons ever knowing.” Pike wishes her luck, and jokingly warns her not to show any weakness, “or they’ll eat you alive.”
At her first staff meeting, Lucero is impressed with her crew (one of whom is a Trill, btw) – working together, sharing resources, solving problems. And then there’s Edward Larkin (H. Jon Benjamin). Edward is a protein specialist, and has been working with a species from Iota Geminorm IV, the Triblusus Ventricosus, or “Tribbles.” Under all that fur, they’re essentially big red scallops, “all meat.” So maybe they could be introduced as a food source. Trouble is, the reproduce very slowly. But Edward thinks he can alter their DNA to take care of that little problem…
Lucero is concerned that the Tribbles might be intelligent, but Larkin doesn’t see that as an issue: “They’re very slow moving, so they would be easy to hunt. Actually, one fell off my desk the other day and it just died instantly, so there’s that. So even if they were intelligent, I feel like they would be very easy to capture, and then eat.” Lucero, of course, was more concerned about the ethical implications. To which Edward replies that he could manipulate the Tribble DNA so they’re all “brain damaged.” Edward’s crewmates react just as anyone should to that suggestion, and Lucero ends the conversation, deciding that the team will focus on primary food sources, and reassigns Edward to Climatology.
Edward is, of course, displeased, and seems to be telling anyone who will listen. And, while bored at his station, decides to proceed with his genetic manipulation of the Tribbles. But before he can observe any results, Lucero calls him into her office.
Turns out, Edward sent an anonymous complaint to Lucero’s superior, making outlandish claims about her job performance. And it seems this behavior is not completely unexpected from Edward, when he doesn’t get his way. She’s going to transfer him, which he doesn’t take well.
Cut to the Tribble, back at Edward’s lab station, which starts to literally pop out baby Tribbles.
An alarm goes off as the lab is breached. Edward comes into the hallway, donning the same Starfleet issue sleep shirt that we were introduced to by Stamets and Culber. But a long shot of the crew, running to contain the breach, reveals that Edward is not wearing the matching pajama pants.
With the Tribbles quickly reproducing in the lab, Lucero reprimands Edward for disobeying a direct order, but he’s just thrilled that his experiment worked. Some very TOS-y music leads us into a montage of Tribbles getting in the way of things, the crew gathering them up, Edward sniffing some and adding them to a stock pot, and of course, Lucero sits on one.
Soon things go from amusing to dangerous – the Tribbles have gotten into the circuitry, and soon the ship won’t be able to produce enough oxygen to sustain them. The Tribbles are “born pregnant,” somehow a result of Edward having mixed his own DNA with Tribble DNA, and their population is growing exponentially. As a crewman walks by with a legit Tribble vacuum, Lucero decides that they need to focus on containment, and literally brings out the big guns – phasers.
But their efforts are too little, too late. The Tribbles are reproducing too quickly, overloading the ship’s systems. The crew has to evacuate. Edward is too wrapped up in proving he was right that, while Lucero is trying to get him to leave, he is literally overcome by a wave of Tribbles. Lucero makes it to a shuttle, and launches, leaving Edward behind.
Later, Lucero is facing the Starfleet brass, who are asking for an explanation of this disaster. She was in command for only 2 weeks. An experiment got out of control. A crewmember died. The ship suffered a complete structural failure. And now a genetically-modified, invasive species first reached the surface of the planet the Cabot was there to help (causing an evacuation), and then made its way into Klingon space. How could one crewman cause all this? “He was an idiot.”
And don’t forget to stay tuned after the credits for the galaxy’s creepiest breakfast cereal commercial… especially since I can’t stop thinking of Tribbles as furry, red scallops. ::shudder::