“I am arming us with knowledge.”
This week’s “previously on” we’re reminded of La’an (Christina Chong), shown in flashback, introducing herself to the Captain as merely “La’an Noonien” which is not how it happened. The show very much wants us to remember the special bond between La’an and Number One (Rebecca Romijn), as her log explains that the Enterprise has arrived Hetemit 9 and will be investigating an abandoned Illyrian colony. Not the Illyrians of the NX-01 era, per se, but the Illyrians from TOS beta-canon, and I’m already excited. They’re a species known for genetic modification to enhance their capabilities, but that has caused them to be outcasts from the Federation. Still, Starfleet wants to know what happened here. Unfortunately, this planet has frequent ion storms and one is approaching the landing party’s location.
Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and Una decide that it’s time to head back to the ship, but there’s so much interference that they can’t reach Spock. Una gathers up everyone else and heads to the rendezvous point while Pike goes to find his science officer. On his way, he runs into Ensign Lance (Daniel Gravelle), who has just opened a cabinet full of old science equipment, but didn’t notice that some alien sparkles landed on his jacket. Pike shoos him along and continues after Spock. (And I just want to add that the update to the blue field jacket, originally seen in “The Cage,” is incredible and I would like one, please.)
Una calls for beam-out with the rest of the team, but the interference from the ion storm is making things difficult for Kyle (André Dae Kim). He calls down to Hemmer (Bruce Horak) in Engineering who reroutes power from emergency systems backups. (For once, we actually see the lights flicker throughout the ship as a result – nice.) And the team materializes safely on the transporter pad.
On the surface, Spock (Ethan Peck) is in a records rooms, and believes he’s discovered new information relevant to their investigation. Pike is happy for him, but it’s time to get to out of there. Unfortunately, Hemmer’s tricks aren’t working this time, and Kyle is unable to get a transporter lock. Una suggests they find shelter and try to wait out the storm.
Una heads to the bridge where she updates the crew on the situation, and orders Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) to let her know as soon as communication can be reestablished.
Walking through the ship’s corridors, Ortegas (Melissa Navia) runs into Lance, who’s stripped down to his skivvies and getting as close as he can to a light source… to “feel the light on his skin.” He’s so desperate to get as close as possible that he puts his head through the glass! (Glass? On a starship? Whatever it is, it shatters.) Ortegas pulls him away and calls Security.
In her quarters, Una’s also being attracted to the light from her reading lamp, and then increases illumination in the room 25% before ripping open her uniform top to expose more of her skin to the light. But then, unlike Lance, Una’s skin starts to glow. The glow intensifies and covers her entire body before it disappears. Out of curiosity, she calls down to sickbay to inquire about the status of the landing party. Funnily enough, Dr. M’Benga was just about to call her and invites her to come by. She changes her tunic first.
In Sickbay, M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) reports that half of the returned landing part has burned or shocked themselves trying to reach light sources. He looks over Una, but she insists that she’s fine. As for whatever’s causing this strange behavior – the transporter’s bio filters didn’t find anything, and neither did M’Benga’s viral and bacterial scans, which he ran just as a precaution. The only commonality is a severe drop in Vitamin D. Una’s Vitamin D levels are normal, so whatever it is must have missed her. M’Benga wants to take a blood sample anyway, again, as a precaution – but he thinks the biofilters must have missed something.
In Engineering, Hemmer disagrees. If the biofilters don’t recognize something, they filter it out. Sure, the transport almost failed, but that doesn’t matter. And the ion storm shouldn’t have interfered. And their upgraded transporters have backups on backups, so it’s not likely to have been due to the power fluctuation either. Still, Hemmer agrees to run a Level 5 diagnostic on all transporter systems, even though it will take him all night.
Back on the bridge, Uhura’s been able to establish communication with Pike on the surface, and Una brings him up to speed on the situation onboard, but doesn’t get very far before the call drops.
Alone in the conference room, Una calls up all of the computer’s files on Illyrian genetic modification “specifically as it relates to disease control,” isolating any files pertaining to the “original Illyrian settlement on the Vaultera Nebula.” (I’m supposing this is different from the Volterra Nebula in TNG‘s “The Chase”? Hmm.)
But she’s interrupted by Noonien-Singh, who Una called in for an update. But La’an can’t help but comment on the research up on the display – in her opinion, the situation they’re in right now is exactly why the Federation is right to be wary of species that are open to genetic modification. Una’s just looking for answers, but admits that using any Illyrian tech to cure this ailment would also violate Federation law, put in place after the Eugenics Wars. As the two talk about her family history, La’an starts seeking out light, shoving her face into a 23rd Century Pixar lamp. Whatever this is, it’s spreading.
Chapel (Jess Bush) has been contact tracing, and found that La’an shared a turbolift with Lance (also calling her “Lt. Noonien”), but M’Benga insists that this isn’t being spread by viral or bacteriological means. They need to Stop the Spread and M’Benga calls for a full lockdown, with non-essential personnel confined to their quarters. Wow, that sounds familiar.
Pike and Spock have taken shelter back in the records room. As Spock pours over the journals, Pike is pacing, worried about his ship and the worsening storm outside. But Spock’s found something quite interesting – the Illyrians in this colony wanted to join the Federation, and were attempting to reverse their genetic modifications in order to do so. Just then, out the window, they see glowing figures moving through the storm.
Cadet Uhura wakes from a nap to find her roommates standing around a simulation of a star, basking in the light. But she’s completely fine. Sickbay is overflowing and their contact tracing doesn’t make any sense. In all this chaos, Hemmer arrives to check the “systems integration and excess power usage” the medical transporter, but M’Benga doesn’t have time for this. Hemmer opens the controls and the lights go out in sickbay. After another outburst from the good doctor, Hemmer leaves… and M’Benga secretly flips the light/power switch back on.
On the planet, the light creatures are no longer outside the records building, but they are trying to get in the door. Why wouldn’t these two have closed the door before? Spock is struck, but Pike manages to get the door shut.
Una goes with Uhura to her cabin, to see if they can figure out why she hasn’t been infected. She was exposed to the same conditions, except that she had closed the door to her bunk and was sleeping in the dark. This revelation prompts Una to run a electromagnetic scan of the entire ship, and she finds that light waves carry additional energy around infected individuals. This virus (yes, they’re calling it a virus now) travels on light, and triggers the pleasure center when an infected person is near light to help it spread. So the plan is to turn off the lights – after sedating all of the patients in sickbay, of course.
With lights out all over the ship, Una is back researching Illyrian genetic modifications for disease control, quickly overriding the alerts on every classified file she comes across. She’s interrupted again when the computer notifies her that someone has overridden the blackout protocols in the transporter room. Whoever’s there is answering her calls, so she’s got to go deal with this herself.
It’s Hemmer. He’s transporting a chunk of the planet’s molten core – well, mantle. The transporter controls are tricky, but he’s got it stabilized and walks towards it as the containment beam starts to dissipate, ready to vaporize himself. Una grabs a phaser – lucky that was there – and incapacitates him and cancels the transport before more damage can be done. With practically no effort, she then hoists the Aenar over her shoulder and heads to sickbay with a look of determination on her face.
As the light creatures continue to pound on the door to the records room, Pike draws his phaser and Spock… keeps reading. According to these journals, the creatures began to appear as the Illyrians started dying from a mysterious disease, but they never caused any harm. The storm outside now reached lethal levels of ionizing particles, and the creatures have broken through the door. As the windows break, Pike and Spock his the floor, and the light creatures cover them, protecting them from the elements. After that, the storm passes remarkably quickly and the creatures disappear again.
Una arrives in Sickbay with the unconscious Hemmer, shocking Chapel, and orders him to be sedated. Unfortunately, M’Benga’s Vitamin D levels are dropping, and he’ll need to be sedated soon, too. But what about the blood he took from her earlier? M’Benga tries to brush her off, but Una’s decided to drop the bomb: She’s immune. Yes, she’s sure. Because she’s already been infected, and her bio-engineered immune system took care of it. She’s Illyrian. AND I PUNCHED THE AIR.
Sue excitedly gushes about beta-canon: In the novel Vulcan’s Glory by D.C. Fontana (1989), it’s established that Number One was born on Illyria, and raised with her brothers Hudek and Leighton (a tribute to Majel Barrett, who was credited in the “The Cage” as M. Leigh Hudec), and she was called “Number One” because she was first in her class academically, athletically, etc. But this background didn’t stick – multiple names and origins have been assigned to Number One throughout the years of beta-canon. More recent entries into the lit-verse gave her the name Una, or “one” – adopted because her birth name is too difficult for non-Illyrians to pronounce (The Children of Kings by Dave Stern  and Captain to Captain: Legacies Book 1 by Greg Cox ) – which was canonized on screen in Discovery s2. And in the DSC tie-in novel The Enterprise War by John Jackson Miller (2019), it’s stated pretty directly that Una is a human who was raised in an Illyrian colony, but was shaped by Illyrian disciple and academic rigor. And now here we are in 2022, bringing it full circle back to D.C. Fontana: Una Chin-Riley is an Illyrian and I am so happy. There are a lot more beta-canon adventures with Number One that aren’t mentioned here, though, and if you want to know more, check out her Memory Beta and/or Fanlore entries. Back to the episode…
There’s a directive against mixing Human and Illyrian blood, but no one’s really worried about that right now. The issue is that Una’s Illyrian immune system doesn’t create antibodies, it just “burns out” new infections – which means there’s no way to create a treatment. Una insists that there has to be another way – Starfleet doctors don’t give up. M’Benga, even as he’s about to be sedated, is impressed with her faith in an organization that wouldn’t want her if they knew the truth. Suddenly, an alarm starts blaring – a warp core breach is imminent. Una leaves M’Benga’s office to find La’an missing and Chapel unconscious on the floor.
Una enters Engineering to find La’an attempting to lower the containment field around the warp core. Una pulls her away from the panel and tries to stabilize the field, but is distracted when she has to keep fighting off La’an. Una tries to talk her down, reminding her of their bond, until La’an retorts, “You lied to me every day!” La’an calls her an abomination, and augment, and a monster – that’s what the other kids in school called her when they heard her name. Una hits her across the face, knocking her unconscious, just as the radiation levels in Engineering reach lethal levels. Once again, Una’s skin begins to glow – and so does La’an’s.
On the surface, with the storm moving away, Pike determines that it’s safe to head outside to the rendezvous point, but he’s wondering why the light creatures wouldn’t have protected the colonists from the storms as well. Spock sees two possibilities – the light creatures had a beef with the colonists, or maybe they are the colonists. The mysterious disease that plagued the Illyrians gave them an attraction to light, and many ran into the storms, chasing after the lightning. And it’s possible that the charged ions of the storm interacted with the electromagnetic presence in just the right way to create these beings. And with that, one more journal is automatically released from the wall of records – and it’s a thorough account of this colony’s attempt to undo their genetic engineering to join the Federation. Ironically, several were engineered to resist disease, and had they not undone that work, they may not have all died.
In sickbay, Una gives M’Benga a hypospray, which jolts him awake. It’s an antidote. How? Una’s immune system cured them both of this infection. And since La’an is not Illyrian, this created chimeric antibodies, from which Chapel was able to synthesize a cure. But Una is still unsettled.
Una goes to see La’an, who is eating strawberries along in the mess. They need to talk it out. La’an is having a hard time reconciling this new information about one of her closest friends. She’s spent her entire life hating augments, and what was assumed about her because of her name. Una concedes that’s true of the augments, but not of the Illyrians. Illyrians “seek collaboration with nature,” altering themselves to better adapt to natural habitats as an alternative to terraforming. So why hide it? Well, all Una ever wanted was to be in Starfleet, and she wouldn’t have been able to do that had she been truthful.
In the ready room, Una discloses her true nature to Pike. She knows she’s committed a Federation offense and is prepared to resign and surrender herself. Pike rejects this. She’s the best First Officer in the fleet. But Una knows what she’s done, all the regulations she’s broken, and she doesn’t want to put him at risk for sheltering her. He says they can bring it on. His experience on Hetemit 9 has taught him that Illyrians are severely misunderstood by the Federation, and he commends Una for her actions on the Enterprise during this crisis. And she needn’t worry about Starfleet; He’ll take care of it. But… he does want her to take care of the glitch in the transporter’s biofilter that allowed this virus aboard.
So it’s back to sickbay for Una. The medical transporter inhibited the biofilters – M’Benga hadn’t allowed it to be upgraded when Enterprise was in spacedock. Hemmer’s diagnostic also shows that M’Benga’s keeping something in the transporter buffer. Time for another confession: It’s M’Benga’s daughter, Rukiya. She was diagnosed with an incurable disease and a 12-week prognosis, and there was nothing he could do. But, as long as you materialize them regularly, there’s no limit to how long you can store someone’s pattern in the buffer. There, her disease does not progress. M’Benga was holding out hope that one of these strange new worlds would have what he needs to help her. He had no way of knowing that storing her pattern could endanger the crew, and knows it cannot happen again. He just asks Una to allow him to spend some more time with his Rukiya before turning him in. She declines. Instead, she’ll provide a dedicated power source, right from the warp core, to his daughter and the crew safe. Una leaves, and M’Benga enters an exam room, activates the privacy glass, and rematerializes his daughter, Rukiya (Sage Arrindell), for story time.
Una returns to her quarters and records a personal log, musing on how we all hide from one another. Both she and Dr. M’Benga stopped hiding today – at least a little. But she’s still worried that Pike only defended and praised her because she saved lives, because she’s a hero, because she’s “one of the good ones.” She’s doubtful that her people will ever truly be accepted and embraced by the Federation, just as they are. Then she deletes the log entry.