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In Star Trek: Insurrection, there's an encounter between the USS Enterprise E (under Riker's command) and two Son'a ships.The dialogue goes like this:

OPS OFFICER: Commander, I'm showing two Son'a ships on an intercept course.

RIKER: How long till they reach us?

OPS OFFICER: Eighteen minutes.

GEORDI: We won't be able to get a transmission out of here for at least another hour.

LT. DANIELS: They're hailing us. [Daniels is the tactical officer]

RIKER: Tell them our transceiver assembly is down, we can send messages but not receive them.

LT. DANIELS: I don't think they believe us.

RIKER: Why not?

[AN EXPLOSION ROCKS THE SHIP]

RIKER: Photon torpedo. Isn't that the universal greeting when communications are down?

GEORDI: I think it's the universal greeting when you don't like someone.


How can the Son'a hit the Enterprise with a torpedo from 18 minutes away?

Sub-questions:

  • Are torpedos really that much faster than ships?

  • Was the Son'a torpedo launced much earlier and just not detected in time?

  • Is this somehow related to the environment inside the "briar patch"?

  • They were travelling at plot speed. It may be greater than warp speed. – Edmund Dantes Apr 4 '18 at 20:14
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Photon torpedoes are warp-capable munitions, so while at sublight speeds the Son'a ships might be 18 minutes away from interception (whatever that means in 3D space), this is not a restriction for photon torpedoes. @Valorum rightly points out that photon torpedoes not fired at warp will not cross the warp threshold, but instead travel at high-sublight speeds. How high probably varies by writer, but it might not be impossible for one to travel "18 minutes" (in ship speed) in a fraction of that. Also, it is possible (though probably unlikely) that the Son'a had self-warp-capable photon torpedoes.

Why don't the Son'a ships warp in (or just go faster) to get to the Enterprise faster?

This is due to the technobabble in the Briar Patch preventing them to do so. A photon torpedo, being tiny and not filled with people, is an expendable way to attack a ship quickly in the badlands, as if the torpedo goes off course or is destroyed by a gravitational eddy, there is no real loss.

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    You might want to mention that photons are typically only warp-capable if fired from a source that's already moving at warp – Valorum Feb 10 '18 at 16:49

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