Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The time-traveling crossover plok didn't quite demand

Okay. First plok suggested a Big Crossover meme, and I couldn't think of anything good for that. Now he's added a Time Travel meme. This is not exactly either one, but it has elements of both. It's probably also not very good.

... Yeah, like that's ever stopped me.

It’s a Star Trek idea which goes back almost twenty years, to the first few weeks of "The Next Generation" in 1987. Back then my biggest question about TNG was when its crew would meet the originals.

This idea didn’t quite do that ... or at least I don’t remember the crossover being the point. I do remember it was a decades-spanning story which started with Sulu’s promotion to Captain. It was therefore something like The Last Original Trek Story, told from the perspective of The Next Generation.

Since then, of course, most of the TOS-folk’s fates have been revealed. Kirk dies twice (only to be revived in the 24th Century in the “Shatnerverse” novels), Spock becomes an ambassador, Bones and Sulu stay with Starfleet well into their old age, and Scotty gets 70-odd years in the transporter. I like to think that Uhura and Chekov finally got their own ships, but probably not.

Anyway, we begin aboard Picard’s Enterprise, responding to an auto-distress signal. The SOS’s communication protocol is so old (how old is it?), it takes the ship’s computers a dramatically appropriate length of time to translate it. (The distress call transmits a coded signal instead of name and registry, to prevent enemy ships from pinpointing casualties. Enough technobabble.) The mystery ship is otherwise lifeless and drifting. However, as Data/Worf/whoever gulps, “It’s ... the Enterprise” -- oh, like you didn’t see it coming -- the Constitution-class ship’s lights blaze on, its warp core powers up, the whole deal.

Here’s the kicker: it is indeed the Constitution-class U.S.S. Enterprise, refit for the movie era, but as Picard et al. can plainly see from the lit-up saucer, it’s the oh-riginal NCC-1701. No bloody A, B, C, or D.

Doesn’t matter. Yellow alert! Whatever this is, the chances of it being the actual NCC-1701 are ... actually, Data offers a statistic, but that proves the point. Picard’s been burned by old starships before. Nevertheless, as Picard and Riker bark battle-stations-style orders, not five seconds pass before the mystery ship signals; and on the screen appear Captain Will Decker and Lieutenant Ilia, the ship’s only apparent crew. Dun dun dunnn!

Decker begins, “Sorry for the theatrics, Captain, but these aren’t the best of circumstances. There’s a war in Heaven, and we need your help.”

My thinking was that if Gene Roddenberry really wanted to replace the Omnipotent Alien Teachers of the Week (i.e., the Organians, the Melkot, Trelane’s parents, the Metrons, the Excalbians) with Q, then what did happen to all those OATOTWs? Specifically, why didn’t one of the OATOTWs come to the defense of the humans against the Q? And why weren’t the Organians more involved in the movies’ Klingon storylines?

So we jump back to 2293 and the then-new Enterprise-B, gearing up for a special diplomatic mission to Alderaa-- sorry; to Khitomer, along with Excelsior (so the Sulu-promotion scene is gone now, obviously), the new Constellation (prototype for Picard’s Stargazer) and at least one other Easter-egg ship. Kelsey Grammer's, maybe. They’re there solely for symbolic purposes. With the previous Enterprises’ (yes, even NX-01) histories with Federation-Klingon relations, it doesn’t matter whether Harriman drools on himself the whole way there and back. Besides, Sulu, Spock, Uhura, Bones, and Chekov are there too, again basically to be seen. Also Sarek, Curzon Dax, Tuvok, and even old T’Pol.

As the first day winds down, Spock’s in his room doing the meditation thing, when Ayelborne the Organian fades into view. Spock’s been expecting him. They’ve been talking secretly for a while (perhaps since before the events of Star Trek VI, but I don’t want to get too retcon-y) and Ayelborne’s come to offer clandestine congratulations. Except he pulls his non-corporeal mask off, and it’s not Ayelborne, it’s Trelane! Surprise! “I’ve seen what’s coming for you Federation types,” he says. “It’s not pretty at all. You’re going to need the Klingons’ help, and the Romulans’ too, before it’s all done. After the Organians disappeared, I knew I had to step in. You wouldn’t have listened to me, though, so I had to disguise myself.” He tells Spock this was his own little project -- he needed to prove to himself and to his parents that he’d grown up.

Spock’s still focused on the Organians: Trelane doesn’t know what happened? Nope, just that it happened about ten years before. The Organians were always pretty hands-off, and the Feds and Klingons never did anything too provocative, so neither side really noticed. Besides, how could a lasting peace be forged if it was forced on the two sides by omnipotent pan-dimensional beings? Trelane/Ayelborne was just a cheerleader, so therefore the mortals really did do all the hard work. “You should be proud,” Trelane says as he fades away.

Spock is flummoxed, which of course is saying something. He wakes up Bones, who naturally wants to investigate. "Won't we be missed?" Bones wonders, but as soon as he says it the two exchange a knowing look. "Aw, hell," Bones mutters, with a familiar smirk, "I should be used to jail by now."

That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in terms of details. Basically, I'm thinking that the conspiracy revealed in Star Trek VI succeeded in destroying/neutralizing the Organians through the use of an Ultimate Weapon. Specifically, the conspirators took just about every powerful alien race encountered in the Original Series and gave their super-soldier all of those powers. Thus, s/he's got Gary Mitchell's mental powers, Lord Garth's shape-shifting, maybe even Charlie Evans' Thasian-taught powers, etc. Yes, it's basically Sylar in the 23rd Century, but the Organians would detect any technology sent to destroy them. Thus, "Sylar" was able to sneak up on them.

After taking out the Organians, Sylar was caged before he could cut too big a swath through established continuity. A Q stopped Sylar, but in a moment of mischief, left a loophole -- a get-out-of-jail-free card that could be triggered by just the right circumstances. (Kind of a Black Adam/"Kltpzyxm" solution.) Everything lined up perfectly in Picard's time, freeing Sylar to wreak havoc in the higher dimensions again. One of the Omnipotent Aliens he attacked was V'Ger. The attack weakened V'Ger so much that it couldn't maintain its pan-dimensional status and had to "downshift" back into our universe, in the much smaller and more manageable forms of Decker, Ilia, and NCC-1701.

"So what's the problem?" asks one of the more pragmatic Enterprise officers (I'm thinking Beverly) after everyone's been introduced and set up in the conference room. "Won't the Q just stop Sylar again?"

"No, and that's the problem," Decker explains. "The Continuum is split over whether to stop Sylar. One faction thinks this is the mortals' punishment for creating him in the first place, so they're just as happy to let him do what he will. I'm sure you've noticed that irony is very big with the Q."

The story would then go off on a few tracks: a technobabblicious subplot where Data and Geordi try to come up with god-killing science; an attempt to communicate with the familiar John de Lancie Q; and an investigation into what exactly Sylar did to the Organians, including whether it could be reversed.

As cheesy as it sounds, I think it does invoke some classic Star Trek themes. The relationships between "higher" and "lower" beings in this case would force Picard et al. to put themselves in the position of the "primitive culture" -- if the situation were reversed, would the Prime Directive permit them to intervene? There's also the classic Kirk-esque struggle to shake off the influence of those higher powers.

Thinking about the bones of this story, much of which I've put together over the past week or so, naturally reminds me of the Could/Would/Does axes and how they relate to fan fiction. I can't just blatantly make the Q Continuum the bad guy in all of this, because Trek didn't make the Q evil. "Voyager" also did some weird things with the Q, so that's why this is set more in the TNG-series time period. (Maybe it would work better on the Enterprise-E, after the Q Civil War, but I haven't done enough research.)

Obviously this story extrapolates heavily from the setups of both the Original Series and TNG, and tries to find common ground between them. Its main indulgences are its image of Decker/V'Ger/Ilia divided again into separate beings, and the plot gymnastics required for that to "work." I'm also fascinated by the "Lost Era" between NCC-1701-B's first flight and the beginning of TNG, so that's another indulgence.

Really, that's what it's about, right? A fanfic writer knows what should happen and what s/he'd like to happen and connects the dots. The trick is to make the connection plausible in terms of the existing work.

Anyway, there it is. I'm sure if I ever did get around to writing something up -- maybe in comic-script format; you never know -- it'd either be massive and self-indulgent, or a poorly-fleshed-out short story. Either way, it's been bouncing around my head for too frickin' long, and I'm just glad it's out now.


plok said...

Wow, Tom, you've flipped!

Okay, who had June 19th in the pool...

Hm, this interests me strangely, and I actually think I would consider it as a contender for my time-travel meme, if only because though it uses the Star Trek characters, it charts different territory from what mainline Star Trek could (I think) afford to get itself involved with. Which is something of the point of fan-fic, after all! Not that I really think it's "good" fan-fic either (and don't take that the wrong way), because it's transgressive of the Star Trek Universe-isms that fan-fic's more minor transgressions (of character; of ownership) are based on. Trek-based time-travel fan-fic always has to fit in...but this fits out, if you see what I mean, even daring to root itself in the Great Unmentionable of Trek continuity, ST: TMP.

It's a very curious idea. ST's own "The Great Disaster", in the making? That's an idea that's been toyed with in post-Classic Trek stories sometimes, usually artlessly (c.f. Enterprise, and to a lesser degree Voyager, with the one useful exploration of this being Bashir's struggle with the Federation Secret Police in DS9), because to put the usual heroes of Star Trek at the centre of decentred events usually tends to make a person yawn: this isn't where those characters are supposed to be operating, so why should we care what they do there?

Using the "castoffs" of ST makes this more interesting as a concept, though, as does using the regular ST characters for lesser purposes than usual, as was done in Assignment: Earth...anyway that's what I'm getting from your description above. Trelayne, post end-of-TNG Picard crew, Decker and Ilia (great! reminds me of Jim Starlin Dr. Strange!), Lost Era Spock and McCoy without their binding agent of Kirk in the middle, "ascended" castoff-characters coming back from the great beyond, attempts to phone up to the usual big omnipotent players that (I sense you saying) don't quite work or are somewhat difficult to pull off. A Star Trek that isn't "Star-Trekky", characters that have to do things which aren't natural to them (Picard and Riker meeting Decker and Ilia? That's crazy...but I like it!), and coming late to the action, only half filled-in about what's going on. Presumably that's what Spock and McCoy are for, to act as scouts and find out the hidden history of it all, while Geordie and Data beaver away on Treknobabbly stuff.

Basically, I think what you have here is Dan Simmons' Troy, only with Starfleet.


It could actually be a show, if it weren't for the fact that a) no, no, no, they'd never allow it...and b) the parts of it they would allow are the parts that Enterprise already covered, with the help of a couple dozen episodes-worth of manure.

Nice audacious fannish thoughts here, Tom! I dare you to flesh them out.

Tom Bondurant said...

Hmmm ... I'm not familiar with Dan Simmons' Troy, but in light of your comments it might be worthwhile to cast this in more of a Planetary light. It would be another part of Trek's "secret history," with Spock and Bones as Elijah Snow and ... oh, can't remember Snow's first partner's name....

I don't read a lot of the Trek novels, but I did read the first two Greg Cox books on Khan, which basically argued that the Eugenics Wars happened just like "Space Seed" said, except that no one noticed. There was a lot of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln in those books too. So it's not as much of a departure to me as it might seem.

Also, if I did expand on this, it would include at least one barren, ruined planetscape which constituted the remains of a lost civilization. The Modern Trek shows didn't do nearly enough of those.

Tom Bondurant said...

It would have to involve Section 31 as well, wouldn't it? Probably warrants at least a Bashir cameo.

plok said...

Oh, definitely. Also, I'm dying to see a slimy Sec. 31 character lry to stare down key members of the original Enterprise crew. McCoy: "Uh...you know that we're actually the secret protectors of the Federation, don't you son?" Post-DS9 Bashir, maybe with a beard: "I'm afraid he's right, Commander. You'd better just let us operate." Something like that.

I think Dan Simmons does some things extremely well, and other things not so well, but I'd definitely recommend "Troy"...I think it's his best book.

I'm actually finding this idea more and more pleasant to think about, Tom!

plok said...

...Even to the point where I have an extremely geeky suggestion to make for it. You know how people loved the idea that Trelayne was an immature Q, possibly even John DeLancie? Well, ST continuity disproves that theory now, so here's another one. Trelayne does indeed come from a race of omnipotent immortals, but it isn't the one we think. It isn't the Q.

It's the Not-Q.

Amusing, no? And among the Not-Q's distinguishing characteristics: they're not as powerful as the Q (though they're considerably more powerful than we've seen), they are madly fixated on the order of names and distinctions as the Q are not, and due to them being just about the only entities in the universe that are invisible to the Q's senses, their existence is purely theoretical to the Q. But, the Q can also see that, whatever these strange un-parse-able entities are, that are apparently out there somewhere, they cannot be a threat. That much, their universal senses can reveal to them.

The Not-Q are also fascinated by the Q, to the point where individual Q are like matinee idols to them, and especially to their children (unlike the Q, the Not-Q reproduce all the time). Trelayne himself, as an immature Not-Q, was fixated on the John DeLancie Q, and sought to emulate him and his capricious behaviour. Of course a Not-Q must eventually put these childish infatuations with non-selfhood away...

You like?

Tom Bondurant said...

I do -- but you don't want to use the obvious "Anti-Q" moniker? I can't decide if that's too Kirby or too Wolfman....

Reminds me of the John Cleese quote about his Bond character originally being named "R": "I wanted to be 'P,' but they wouldn't let me."

plok said...

To me, "Not-Q" recalls the propositional calculus more strongly...

plok said...

Time to vote, if you so desire, Tom!