Plot Holes, Luck, and a Warp Velocities Preview

"The Enemy"[TNG3]

Picard needed the Enterprise to remain at Galorndon Core in order to rescue Geordi, whenever one of the brief atmospheric windows of the planet allowed. He also needed to deliver an injured Romulan to Tomalak's warbird in the nearby Neutral Zone. Picard chose to take a hardline approach, remaining at Galorndon Core even knowing that Crusher could not treat the Romulan as well as Romulan doctors. (And, of course, he refused to order Worf to donate whatever blood product it was the Romulan needed to live (though the Romulan soon refused any treatment using Worf's blood, rendering the point moot).) Picard also threatened Tomalak with severe penalties if he crossed into Federation space to retrieve the officer himself. Tomalak soon crosses over anyway, but the Romulan dies while he is en route.

Upon Tomalak's arrival at Galorndon Core, Picard narrowly averts a battle . . . one which he seems to want to avoid. It was sheer dumb luck that Picard was able to do so . . . the window to Geordi opened up and there just so happened to be a second Romulan survivor with him.

My point here is not to question Picard's hardline approach to the Romulans, or his willingness to let the Romulan die instead of leaving Geordi behind on a world that would slowly kill him. The latter was just fine though the combo wasn't quite in character, but whatever. However, the simple fact is that Picard forgot something.

The Enterprise-D had separation capability. This means the saucer section could have remained behind at Galorndon Core, while the stardrive section and the dying Romulan could have travelled to the Neutral Zone to challenge Tomalak.

I don't see any way to avoid the conclusion that this was a big ole plot hole. In-universe, of course, this would've simply been a questionable choice on Picard's part . . . one which almost resulted in a shooting war with the Romulan Empire.

In short, Picard lucked out.


(It's also worth noting that "The Enemy" contains some info useful in the forthcoming Warp Drive Sucks page, in which I detail as many instances of warp velocities as I can find. The entry for "The Enemy" currently reads:

"The Enemy"[TNG3] . . . Tomalak tried to hail the crashed scoutship to let them know that their distress signal had been received. He was entering the Neutral Zone and would be at their location in six hours. When he talked to Picard moments later, Picard revealed that he had intercepted the transmission, and identified Galorndon Core as being half a light-year inside Federation space. Moments later, Tomalak stated that he would be at the Federation border of the Neutral Zone in five hours. That suggests that his ship would have taken an hour to go the extra half light-year to Galorndon Core. (Possibly Tomalak intended to make the trip at the best cloaked speed that would allow him to avoid detection . . . as of 2371 ("The Die is Cast"[DSN3]), the best such speed was warp six.) In any case, the clear velocity in the incident is .5ly/hr, or 4380c.

The above would also suggest that the Neutral Zone was 2.5ly wide near Galorndon Core.

Regarding the plot hole above, it's also worth noting that Picard had shuttles to work with. At least in Voyager, shuttles were pretty consistent in being able to travel above 500c.

"Macrocosm"[VOY3] . . . Janeway and Neelix arrive via shuttle to rendezvous with Voyager, but it isn't there. Janeway uses the shuttle's sensors and detects it adrift over a light-year away. After boarding the ship, they find an abandoned meal that Janeway determines was replicated eleven hours ago, along with Neelix's morning show still playing after having been activated at about the same time. Assuming people weren't happily watching Neelix's morning show and replicating meals while the ship was adrift, then the shuttle must have travelled over a light-year in less than eleven hours. Assuming one light-year and ten hours as the travel time, then the shuttle's velocity must have been .1 ly/hr. That's 2.4 ly/day, or 876c.

"Tsunkatse"[VOY6] . . . Seven and Tuvok intend to take a shuttle to study a "micronebula approximately one point six light years from here on the verge of collapse". Seven notes in the next scene that they anticipate being gone for approximately 48 hours. That requires the shuttle to be capable of travelling no less than 1.6 light-years per day. That's 0.0667ly/hr, or 584c.

It makes sense to presume that Janeway had the pedal closer to the floor in "Macrocosm" than it would've been in "Tsunkatse". At such a speed, Picard could've had the Romulan on a shuttle and at the Federation border of the Neutral Zone in time to meet the warbird upon its arrival, five hours after the first conversation with Tomalak.

Of course, it's possible that the Romulan could've needed medical tools not available on a shuttle at some point during the trip . . . I sure as hell wouldn't want to be piloting the shuttle if the Romulan died en route.

(Hell, I wouldn't want to pilot a shuttle going to meet a warbird even if things were peachy!)


  1. Using the half light-year per hour for the Warbird, we find that it needs 140.000 hours to cross 70.000 light years or just under 16 years to come all the way from the Delta Quadrant to Earth :)

  2. Actually, until Season 4 of Voyager, we had no good excuse for why it was taking such an unusually long time for the ship to get back to the Alpha quadrent, except to say that the ship had suffered a great deal of damage when transported by the Caretaker.

    Eventually in "The Year of Hell Part I", we learn that the ship can shave a fairly impressive 5 years off of it's journey with simple navigational improvements. We learn again in "Hope and Fear" [VOY4], well after TYoH, that Starfleet (which would have been informed of the navigation improvement the year before), offers every bit of data on the Delta quadrent they have to help shave "a few years" more off the travel time. Finally, several years later in "Q2" [VOY7], Q gives Janeway a datapad with information that will again let her shave "a few years" off the trip.

    Assuming "a few years" each time means at least 2-3 years, then Voyager was able to knock off 4-6 more years from their trip in addition to the 5 shaved off in TYoH. So 9-11 years total just from doing that alone. If "a few years" really means 5-6 years, then 15-17 years total were shaved off. Again, that's really impressive without any special warp drive improvements, transwarp, wormholes, or other propulsion "cheats".

    So the best idea is that in well-charted space, warp drive works really well since you generally know what lies ahead of you, and you can take shortcuts as need be, thereby having the effect of speeding you up since you have less area now to travel over, can avoid spatial annomalies not conducive to warp drive, ect. This navigational data issue also shows why the Vulcan star charts were so important to the NX-01 crew in "Broken Bow" as it allowed them to make the journey to Qo'nos much more quickly and safely than if they'd done it completely on their own.

  3. Anon:

    You're quite right that the velocity indicated seems high given the 1000ly/year figure given for Voyager. However, many direct velocities are out of whack with that value. For instance, the 21,400c figure Paris gives for warp 9.9 in "The 37s"[VOY2] would have them home in four years, plus a couple of stops to pee. Data's calculation for the E-D's voyage home in "Where No One Has Gone Before"[TNG1] was 9000c, which would've resulted in a Voyager return trip of 8 years or so. There's also at least one example from DS9 of a runabout doing about 5ly/hr, which would make a trip to the remains of the Caretaker's Array from the Federation take about 19 months, give or take. (Of course if you were in a runabout for 19 months I'm sure you'd be crawling the frickin' walls, but that's neither here nor there.)

    This sort of thing is precisely why the forthcoming page is entitled "Warp Drive Sucks".

    On the face of it, such variability seems to support the "warp highways" idea, which "Force of Nature"[TNG5] seems to support and which Mike's comments suggest as well. Personally, I hate the "warp highways" idea with the burning intensity of a million suns. (Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little, but still.)

    To me, "warp highways" makes the use of warp factors silly. It would be like using your RPM gauge to report your speed. (Or, to future-proof my analogy, it would be like reporting your speed based on the position of the bands on your continuously-variable transmission).

    After all, when in "Time Squared"[TNG] Geordi reported that he'd put warp seven power to the engines, why did he not simply say that they were travelling at warp seven? I mean, sure, they were at a dead stop because the whatchamacallit was holding them no matter how much power they put to the engines, but if the warp factor is not tied to speed then what was the difference?

    In any case, given the variability of observed FTL velocities, I don't really see a way to get completely away from "warp highways", but only as a worst-case gotta-use-'em emergency backup. Maybe they're related to proximity to star systems, or the density of the interstellar medium . . . whatever.

    What I'm hoping to do is to nail down some ballpark estimates for "best-fit" values for warp speeds. In other words, "most of the time, warp factor X is *this* fast".

    As far as I know, this is the only full-scale project of this type. A lot of people have grabbed a few speed examples (Michael January's pages have some, and Joshua Bell's Warp FAQ has several. However, in neither case do we have a complete catalog of the canon . . . oftentimes, folks just point to the TNG Tech Manual.

    The thing is, the TNG:TM speeds are way too slow, and we've all known that for a long time. My "Overview" page has said so since 2002, and even the SD.Net crowd picked up on it in 2003 (http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=13699). One guy even made a rough 12-point "best fit" curve, a prescient maneuver given my goal of an all-points best-fit curve.

    Where some value is far outside the curve, then I might make use of the "warp highways" idea, the "character stupidity" idea, and other claims that seem silly but are useful as the last resort.

  4. Interesting, I was looking at January's page, and all he gave were the lowest possible numbers he could find (many off of Wong's website, no less). Who's side is this guy on anyway? ;-)

  5. Mike,

    He's not the only Anonymous that occasionally goes around here. There're probably more than two or three that had posted here before. By the way, has there been a substitute for the STrek-v-SWars.com forum that had been put up recently? Just curious.

    Another Anonymous

  6. Michael January in case you are unaware is a warsie who DarkStar thought to be less bad than the others.

    His web site disappeared but DarkStar seems to have a copy which he has put up.

  7. I have lists on the FTL pages of my site of everything I've tracked down or made computations or references for, but it's not very well tabulated at this point.

  8. ... nor had I been considering making a best-fit curve. I look forward to seeing it.

  9. Oooooooh, great list! I'll probably be grabbing a few examples from it (with acknowledgement, of course).

    I'm hesitant to use examples relying on stardates given the iffyness of them, but I might do so in the future.

  10. Actually, while it's not quite a substitute for the much missed Strek-v-Swars site forum, there is a site here:


    Which acts as a forum for RSA's site now. Been up since the middle of March now.

  11. I don't like the highway idea either. There's nothing to suggest warp ships are designed to go only through certain areas of space, like a compact is not designed to go moving through dense woods.

    Interstellar medium design is a better view. The density and characteristics of both natural and artificial energy sources through an area of space are gonna have some effect on a warp field, whether warp is electrogravitically based or not. The most basic effects radiation pressure, like in solar sails, light absorbtion and seeing via visible light. The warp fields have to contend with them and the less they know about an area, the less they can compensate for it and the slower they go.