Eleven Is Prime
Preface: This is partly in response to a thread I was in a few weeks ago with Temis, Greg Cox, and a few others. It is basically continuity porn. It is far, far, far too long, but, having gone to all the work of writing it, I might as well post it. I am sorry about the length, which far exceeds my own TLDR threshold -- I hope some of you enjoy it all the same.
Eleven is Prime: A Reconciliation
We all know that Star Trek 2009 took place in an alternate reality. BUT DID IT?!|
Yes. Yes, it did. There's enough bludgeoning canonical evidence behind that alternate reality to brain a Klingon. Take that as my disclaimer.
However -- I was surfing the comment threads at TrekMovie.com one day, and I ran into some poor benighted sap who insisted that "I don't care what you guys all think; this movie obviously took place in the 'Prime' reality. There is no alternate timeline!" I watched as other posters -- quite rightly -- corrected his foolishness. I even helped. The user's rant stuck in my head for a couple days, though, and got me wondering... is it at all possible, in any viewing of the new movie, that this poster could be right?
The more I thought about it, the more plausible it sounded, and -- more importantly -- the more fun I started having reconciling two such wildly divergent works into the same universe. Just for kicks and giggles, I decided to do a complete writeup of my alternative "interpretation" of the newest Star Trek movie. (This probably means I have too much time on my hands and definitely means I have a perverse sense of "fun.") Many of you probably won't see the entertainment value in this, and that's fine; hopefully some of you will.
Just to be crystal-clear: what I am attempting to do is write a single historical narrative that reconciles the "Neroverse" and the "Primeverse" as being part of the same universe, with no resort to an explanation involving alternate universes or rewritten timelines. I reference non-canon wherever I find it useful or fun, but, since it isn't canon, I don't treat any of it (including Countdown or TAS) as binding. (I accepted the Defiant computer logs from "In A Mirror Darkly," because they were, albeit unintentionally, shown on screen, but I ignore any frames that did not actually appear in the episode.) Where there are gaps in the official history, I fill them in with whatever I want. (Too often, people forget that you're supposed to do that with canon.)
As I said, this "interpretation" is just for fun, because the clear intention of the creators and the overwhelming weight of implication indicates that Star Trek 2009 spun off a new, alternate universe. However, certain hardcore canonistas may find this a useful, canon-consistent framework from within which they can finally enjoy a movie which they (currently) believe has "ravaged" the Trek canon.
I further hope that this little article serves as a final, clinching proof that denouncing any new Trek (be it AbramsTrek, Enterprise, Voyager, or Series VI) for perceived inconsistencies with previous canon is always stupid on its own terms, because virtually any new and apparently contradictory information (like, say, the sudden appearance of Klingon forehead ridges in TMP, or the destruction of Vulcan in ST09, or Khan' remembering Chekov's face in Star Trek II) can be reconciled with the known Trek universe using nothing more than careful canonical analysis, some patience, and a minimum of imagination. Nothing in canon can ever contradict in the mind of the impartial and slightly clever fan, so no new material can ever cause a canonical crisis. Therefore, canon arguments are irrational. QED.
Or, to steal a line from S. John Ross: "Canon is squishy."
But, still: mostly this is just for fun.
Here goes. Our story begins in March, 2233.
It has been seventy-eight years since the last time someone almost blew up the Golden Gate Bridge. |
On that occasion, forces from the Starship Enterprise, registry number NX-01, had narrowly prevented John Frederick Paxton from destroying Starfleet Headquarters with a verteron array. Most of that crew died during the next eight decades, but Admiral Archer -- still alive and active despite his very advanced age -- sought reinstatement in Starfleet sometime around 2225. Starfleet could hardly turn down the two-term Federation President and Hero of the Romulan War, so the captain of the first warp-five starship returned to very light duties at Starfleet Academy (duties which would only lighten as he approached his one hundred fiftieth birthday). Archer was joined by his pooch, Porthos, whom Archer claimed was now well over a hundred years old, but whom everyone else believed was actually a seventh-generation clone.
On March 22nd, 2233 (stardate 2233.04, Old System) the U.S.S. Kelvin (NCC-0514) was returning to Earth after a long mission when it detected a "lightning storm in space." Diverting to investigate, the Kelvin was caught off-guard when the Romulan mining vessel Narada exited a gravitational phenomenon that defied description. (Some 200 years later, it would come to be known as a "red matter singularity," a phenomenon similar to but distinct from a standard quantum singularity, with significantly more exotic properties. In the interim, many scientists, including Ensign Pavel Chekov, would interpret sensor readings from the phenomenon as describing a simple black hole.) The Narada, captained by one Nero, destroyed the Kelvin, killing Captain Robau, first officer George Kirk, and many others. Almost without realizing it, the Kelvin bridge crew had made history by making visual contact with Nero -- the first Romulan ever seen by human or ally (not counting Charles Tucker's experience behind Romulan lines during the Romulan War, which remained highly classified). However, Robau's murder, Kirk's sacrifice, combat casualties on the bridge, and a lucky shot from the Narada that vaporized the turbolift in which the surviving bridge crew was evacuating ensured that history never recorded the face-to-face nature of this human-Romulan encounter. Among the survivors were Winona Kirk and her newborn son, James Tiberius Kirk, born healthy but a few weeks before his due date after the stress of battle triggered Winona's early labor.
The Kelvin survivors returned to Earth, and, just days after the attack, the Kirk family returned to their home in Riverside, Iowa, where Jim Kirk would spend most of his early life (hence his comment to Dr. Gillian Taylor that he was "from Iowa," despite technically having been born in space). Winona's brother, Uncle Frank (who had always envied the Kirks' large farming property) agreed to move in and help raise the kids. When Winona wasn't around, however, Uncle Frank proved to be an intemperate, abusive, sorry excuse for a stepfather. When Frank attempted to sell George Kirk's antique Corvette Stingray convertible while Winona was off-planet on assignment, Jim stole the car and set out after his runaway brother, George Samuel. Unfortunately, Jim, not yet twelve, was not a very good driver, and he managed to wreck the car rather dramatically by driving it straight into the famous "Iowa Chasm." (The Chasm, incidentally, was carved in 2154 by the Xindi test cannon, which momentarily misfired into this sparsely populated area of rural Iowa before correcting its aim and killing millions of Floridians.) Though Kirk would remember the basics of "key in the ignition, use the starter, change gears," his fundamentally poor driving ability (combined with decades of non-practice and his unfamiliarity with pre-1960s automobile designs) would one day lead his first officer to reflect, "Captain, you are an excellent starship commander, but as a taxi driver you leave much to be desired."
After the crash, Winona Kirk realized that her sons needed more attention from their mother (and much less from their uncle). She took an extended leave of absence from Starfleet in 2244 and signed on with the Tarsus IV expedition, acting as the colony's chief of security. The Kirks were thus in the colony's inner circle, and, though George Samuel took no interest in colony politics, Jim Kirk was able to form a close relationship with the colony's most famous resident, Hoshi Sato, and he even met Minister Kodos on several occasions. Kirk also became acquainted with young Thomas Leighton, a bright student with an eye for research. In 2246, disaster struck Tarsus: an exotic fungus destroyed most of the colony's food supply. In order to save half the colony of 8,000, Minister Kodos seized control, declared himself Governor, and ordered the execution of 4,000 colonists, including Sato. Relief ships arrived sooner than expected, however, and, with Kodos presumed dead, most of the survivors opted to depart the colony. After the examples of his uncle and Gov. Kodos, Jim set his heart against authority figures and their injustices. The Kirks returned to Iowa, where an angry, delinquent, but honorable Jim Kirk got to work cultivating a reputation as the Robin Hood of the Midwestern Transit Sector, correcting anything he saw as an injustice via frequent, flagrant, and often unnecessary criminal activity. His reputation and talent grew. So did his rap sheet. Fifteen years after his father's death, James T. Kirk became the highest-IQ repeat offender in state history -- and he didn't stop there. (This made him very popular with the ladies. He didn't mind.)
Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a few light-days from the great Galactic Barrier, a red-orange planet with wide seas and wider deserts orbited an ancient sun, Vega. The planet, known to its people as Vulcan, had no moons, but shared a peculiar orbit with a much smaller twin planet, called T'Khut by Vulcans (hat tip: Spock's World & Star Trek Star Charts) . T'Khut and Vulcan orbited each other in such a way that T'Khut received almost no direct sunlight, rendering it a frozen wasteland while making Vulcan a sauna. Vulcan legend came laden with warnings against "fickle T'Khut," and, in deference to tradition, they had chosen not to settle there, leaving Vulcan's nearest stellar neighbor uninhabited despite their thriving space-fleet. Vulcan High Command did, however, allow the Federation to establish a small lithium cracking station on T'Khut, and, in Federation databanks, T'Khut became known as Delta Vega.
On Vulcan, Spock, son of Sarek, born a year before Kirk in 2232, was going through his own difficult childhood. Tortured by his schoolmates, emotionally isolated from his father, and annoyed by the subversive ideas of his elder half-brother, Sybok (because, unfortunately, Star Trek V is still canon) Spock's sole companion was his pet sehlat, I-Chaya. At the age of 7, Spock took "running away from home" to a new level when he went into the Forge to undertake his kahs-wan test. The ritual nearly went badly wrong when he was attacked by a lematya, but his distant cousin, Selek, helped him work through the disaster, bury I-Chaya, and choose the path of logic. (Selek, as TAS fans already know, was actually an older Spock from the future interfering in events in order to ensure that the timeline remained on the right path. He lied to young Spock about his identity in order to keep history on its course. Later in this history, we will see "Spock Prime" do the same thing to a young James Kirk.) Spock's newfound commitment to follow the Vulcan way did not solve everything, and he would continue to struggle with emotion even as an adult. Until his thirties, many of his emotions boiled visibly just beneath the surface, and, even after he achieved self-mastery, he found on the Enterprise that it was almost routine for some spore or illness to make him lose it. His great, lifelong struggle with emotion led Spock from a young age to consider undergoing kohlinar, an idea which would remain with him until the V'Ger incident.
Regardless, Spock survived childhood, became an adult, adhered ever-closer to Vulcan doctrines, and continued to grow in the arts of mind. With his father's encouragement and advocacy, Spock applied to the Vulcan Science Academy. Against his father's advice, he also applied to Starfleet. Admitted to the Science Academy, Spock turned down the opportunity after the board of admissions made a slight against Spock's human mother. He instead joined Starfleet in 2249. Sarek was outraged (insofar as Vulcans can be outraged). Spock's decision began an estrangement with his father that lasted, almost without interruption, for eighteen years. Nonetheless, Spock thrived at the academy. Most cadets spent all four years earning their commissions as ensigns. Top students (some 15%) could earn their ensign's stripes as early as their third year, and were able to graduate as lieutenants junior grade. Spock outdid them all. Spock was the first student in Academy history to graduate as a full lieutenant, doing so in 2253. Five years later, the Academy board of discipline convened to try James T. Kirk for cheating would call Spock "one of our most distinguished graduates," referring to this remarkable achievement. Given his choice of assignments, Spock went into service aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, then under the command of Captain Christopher Pike.
The Enterprise was a good ship, built mostly at the San Francisco Fleet Yards with final assembly in space, making the first of her "maiden voyages" in 2245 under Captain Robert April. (She would have further "maiden voyages" in 2258, 2264, and 2273. This occasionally caused serious confusion at Starfleet Command; in 2285, Admiral Morrow believed that the Enterprise was only "twenty years old," because he had confused her original launch date with that of her third launch under Jim Kirk.) Captain April, whose time aboard the Enterprise remains shrouded in fanon and mystery, served a handful of years before being promoted out of the big chair. He handed the keys to Captain Christopher Pike, whose landmark "five-year mission" to "explore strange new worlds" began in 2249. This very first of what became a series of five-year missions for the Enterprise was not an easy one, and by the time it was winding down in 2254, Captain Pike was exhausted and nearly ready to resign. It was here that he (and his still-new, still-sometimes-smiling science officer Spock) visited Talos IV -- a visit which would lead 2260s Starfleet to declare that subsequent visits would carry the only death penalty under Federation law. The endless debriefings following Talos IV and the close of the first five-year mission did nothing to make Pike more interested in staying with the fleet; it was only a transfer to the Academy, the promise of a promotion (with corresponding pay raise), and some gentle begging by his old friend, Adm. Nensi Chandra, that convinced Pike to hold off on resigning. Captain Pike took up his post as Academy instructor in the middle of the 2254-55 academic year -- too late to receive his promotion at the Academy's annual ceremonies.
Pike's trusted officers Number One and Spock, both promoted along with him, followed Pike to Earth and continued to serve under him. Spock became one of the Academy's most valued computer simulation programmers (carrying an A7 computer expert classification), a noted instructor of advanced phonology, and, perhaps most famously, the man who singlehandedly conceived and invented the Kobayashi Maru test (for obvious reasons, he never took the test -- not, that is, until the Genesis Incident of 2285, and then only metaphorically). In his spare time, Mr. Spock also became a 3-D chess grandmaster, and eventually began a romantic relationship with one Cadet Uhura. Although Mr. Spock never stopped forming close bonds with and granting special favors to exceptional students -- as Saavik and later Valeris could attest -- Uhura was the only case Spock in which allowed the student-teacher bond to become romantic (and, of course, he waited until she had passed his class fair and square before pursuing that option). Though their relationship would change over time, it never had a clear end, and, until her dying day, Nyota Uhura was the one person in the galaxy with whom Spock would always readily and willingly share his deep passion for music ("Charlie X," "The Conscience of the King," et al.).
Meanwhile, Number One became supervisor of the Enterprise’s first major refit, conducted at the Riverside Fleet Yards in Iowa, near George Kirk's hometown. The endeavor was notable for being the first project in Starfleet history to successfully lower a starship to a planet’s surface from its natural environment in space. It was a necessary feat: with the primitive tools of the 2250’s, the delicate work of the planned experimental refit could only be done by engineers working in a terrestrial environment with full mobility and gravity. The refit was dubbed the "Church-type" refit after its designer, Ryan Church, the engineer who had recently spearheaded the successful Ishimura mining project.
A word deserves to be said about this refit, both in-universe and out. First, I step out of historical voice. I seriously considered not referencing the major artistic differences between the NCC-1701 of TOS and the NCC-1701 of STXI. Visual design has always been one of the least continuous aspects of Star Trek, which has shown us everything from marvelous shifts in every aspect of design in the span of a few years (ST:TMP) to almost total stagnation, save a few added curves, over the course of centuries (the U.S.S. Relativity bridge). Trek has even shown us how design can start out pretty advanced (ENT), regress dramatically (TOS), and then slowly redevelop to the level at which it started out centuries earlier (the movies, TNG, VOY), so that a ship built in 2151 bears more resemblance to a 2375 Akira than anything built between 2200 and 2350! This is to say nothing of Trek’s incongruity of design with current real-world projections of future technology, and, very often, common sense (the LCARS interface is insane). So I thought for a while, "Well, who really needs an explanation for why the bridge changed from a hyper-colorful oval (in "The Cage") to the inside of an Apple store (in ST09) and back (in TOS) in the space of ten years?" After all, no one has ever adequately explained to me why the Enterprise-A bridge changed from a bright white Apple store in The Voyage Home to the soft-toned conference room we saw in Star Trek V, much less how the crew managed to effect the change in the in-universe timespan of about two weeks. So explaining the artistic changes seemed pointless, at first. But then I said to myself, "Self, we promised a full accounting of this new movie within canon, and canon includes bizarre art continuity. By gum, even if the rest of Trek history has never managed to be coherent in this department, we’re certainly going to try!"
The early years of the 2250s -- likely 2251 or 2252 -- saw a remarkable technological breakthrough, with wide-reaching implications that stood to revolutionize every computer system, every weapon bank, every power relay, every smallest PADD, on a starship. Perhaps this breakthrough was a means to build computing devices without transtators (eliminating all the limitations the transtator implied). Perhaps it was the invention of tritronics, the successor to duotronics developed by a schismatic group of scientists who had broken away from Dr. Daystrom's ongoing research into multitronics. It doesn't really matter what the specifics are; the point is, it was a single, breakthrough technology that changed everything. It made the "Church-type" school of starship architecture feasible for the first time in Starfleet history.
The technological breakthrough had immediate effects on how Starfleet looked. Along with a burst of fresh construction and the complete retrofitting of Starfleet's main galactic base at San Francisco during the next several years, it was decided to make an experimental Church-type refit of one in-service starship. The Enterprise, the fleet's most prestigious craft, now captainless, happened to be returning to Earth just then, having just completed a popular long-term mission and in need of a refit in any case. She was the natural candidate. At the completion of the refit, the Enterprise would be not only the most prestigious ship in Starfleet but also the most powerful. In recognition of this fact, the refit Enterprise was scheduled be rechristened as the Federation's ceremonial flagship, replacing the U.S.S. Constitution. (The Nero Incident interrupted.) Enterprise was brought down to Riverside Fleet Yards in 2254, encased in scaffolding, put in the loving hands of Number One, and sat there for four years as her entire hull was reshaped based on the new possibilities created by vastly improved structural integrity fields and deflector screens. Her length ultimately grew from 289 m to 366 m. (Fortunately for our case here, the 725.35 m length ILM reported for the "new" Enterprise is non-canon, and I shall disregard it in favor of Bernd Schneider's more plausible estimate, discussed here.)
Less than a year later, James T. Kirk became involved in an altercation with fresh Starfleet recruits at a bar in his hometown. The recruits -- both enlisted and Academy-bound -- were under the command of Captain Pike. After breaking up the fight, Pike successfully recruited Kirk to the Academy; the young criminal was on a shuttle the next day, where he met celebrated young Doctor Leonard McCoy. As a mere medical student, McCoy had developed a technique for neural tissue grafting, and made something of a name for himself in the medical community with the 2251 mass innoculation on Dramia II. Now a fully-licensed doctor whose ex-wife wanted him nowhere near their young daughter, Joanna, Leonard joined Starfleet. McCoy and Kirk immediately became friends. Their recruitment shuttle arrived in San Francisco just in time for the beginning of annual ceremonies, which preceded basic training. The ceremonies included all promotions earned, by cadet or faculty member, during the preceding academic year -- including Captain Pike's deferred promotion. Thirty-six hours after meeting Chris Pike in a bar, Jim Kirk was standing at attention in a uniform in formation on the Presidio, watching his father's old friend become a Fleet Captain. Thus, years later, Kirk would prove himself an old acquaintance of Captain Pike by mentioning that he had first met Pike "when he was promoted to Fleet Captain."
Kirk thrived as a cadet. Though he had some difficulty getting admitted, thanks to his lengthy criminal record, Captain Pike and Commander Mallory (another of George Kirk's old Kelvin comrades) vouched for him, and the Admissions Board approved his entrance application. Despite occasional disciplinary problems, Kirk excelled academically and romantically. Though bullied by Finnegan, he took classes with Dr. Korby and John Gill, and fell for (deep breath) a blonde lab-tech, Janice Lester, Ruth, Areel Shaw, Gaila, Janet Wallace, Carol Marcus (with whom he would begin a more serious relationship after graduation), and possibly many more. Somehow, Kirk still had time to become an expert in survival strategies and tactical analysis, and to become treasurer of the Academy Xenolinguistics Club. Already known as an exceptional cadet in his sophomore year, Kirk was asked to become an assistant instructor in advanced hand-to-hand combat. It is in this capacity that he met and taught Gary Mitchell, three years his junior. The two become fast friends early in Kirk's senior year.
In the meantime, like all cadets, Kirk spent a lot of his time outside the classroom and even off-planet, getting real experience serving on starships everywhere in the galaxy. While "Bones" opted to stay close to Earth for his space assignments (including one summer stint as a moon shuttle conductor), Kirk went as far from home as he could as early and as often as the Academy would let him. Immediately after his plebe year, Kirk (who, following the course Spock had blazed, was already an ensign) followed his favorite instructor, Lt. Ben Finney, into space, and spent three months aboard the Republic (where he logged an incident that ended his friendship with Finney). The next year, he oversaw a planetary survey mission on Neural. Also in 2256, Kirk served on the Axanar peace mission. His heroism there earned him the Palm Leaf of Axanar -- and a junior-year promotion to lieutenant junior grade, which no cadet since Spock had acheived. In 2257, Kirk took his first offered opportunity to strike out into deep space, signing on with the Farragut. It was a landmark in his Starfleet career: the assignment would take him away from the Academy for his entire junior year, and he would continue his academic studies through a combination of remote coursework and direct mentorship by a number of crewmembers. On that first deep-space mission, Kirk felt he had come home, and forever marked the day he stepped onto the Farragut as "the day I left the Academy" -- his senior-year studies (which were very abbreviated, as we shall see) being a mere afterthought after his wonderful year on the 'gut. Unfortunately, his time there ended with the attack of the Dikronium Cloud Creature, which killed Captain Garrovick and two hundred crew. The executive officer's log would remember Lt. Kirk as a "fine young officer who performed with uncommon bravery," and no official record imputed any responsibility to Kirk, but he blamed himself for the disaster nonetheless.
Kirk returned to Earth and tried to get past the deaths of so many friends, mentors, and shipmates. He largely succeeded, continuing his academic and personal successes during the 2258-2259 academic year and remaining on track to repeat Spock's remarkable achievement. Nonetheless, Kirk could not help thinking of his father, who had been in a similarly desparate situation and been able to win the day and save the ship -- if at the cost of his own life. He remembered Pike's words at his recruitment: "Your father was the captain of a starship for twelve minutes, and he saved eight hundred lives, including your mother's -- and yours. I dare you to do better." It wounded Kirk very deeply that he had not done better on the Farragut, that he had not been able to live up to his father's reputation. His feelings contributed to an obsession with the Cloud Creature that lasted a decade. It was also in the months after his defeat on the Farragut that Lt. Kirk decided, like his father, that he didn't believe in the no-win scenario. And so when he encountered Lt. Commander Spock's impossible Kobayashi Maru test in the simulator chamber, James Kirk decided to take his stand. He chea-- I mean, he changed the conditions of the test. That earned him a public hearing before the board of discipline, and it was there that he finally met the "distinguished" Mr. Spock.
It was during that meeting that Earth received a distress call from the nearest corner of the galactic rim -- its old friend Vulcan was suffering from gravely worrisome seismic disturbances. Knowing that a planetary evacuation could be necessary and unable to get more information as Vulcan suddenly went silent, Starfleet mobilized its senior-year cadet force to augment the active crews of the eight starships docked at Starbase 1 and raced into action. Even the Enterprise, still conducting shakedown cruises on its new refit, was brought into service. The Farragut, idling in dock waiting for new crew following the disaster of a few months previous, was hastily assigned a lean new crew and warped away with the flotilla. Farragut's captain was the most experienced non-command officer on Earth at the time: Number One, Captain Pike's former first officer. Spock took her place at Pike's side. The fleet "punched it" to maximum warp.
Some have argued that, in Star Trek XI, the Enterprise travelled from Earth to Vulcan in five minutes and twenty-five seconds (the on-screen time between the jump to warp and the deceleration into the debris field). It is crucial that, at this point, we put this peculiar idea to rest once and for all. There are several reasons why the Enterprise's journey to Vulcan must take considerably longer than that: first, it is of course absurd on canonical grounds to suppose that the Enterprise can jump sixteen light-years or more in less than ten minutes. Not even the NX-01 managed to go that fast when it (somehow) made it to Qo'noS and back in eight days. Second, and infinitely more importantly, it is clearly not what is happening on screen. Between Kirk's passing out (under a sedative that obviously means business) and Sulu's line, "Engines are at maximum warp, captain," McCoy undergoes a complete costume change. Then Kirk comes to less than a minute later. No sedative in the galaxy works for just sixty seconds. Some have argued that the voyage can't take more than a few minutes because "Chekov reports that the Enterprise is three minutes away from Vulcan right after Sulu reports that they've reached maximum warp." However, there's nothing in the script to suggest that Sulu's line means what these people seem to think it means. Sulu is simply giving a routine report along the lines of "still at maximum warp, sir, " as naval officers are wont to do at least hourly. He's not saying, "Here we are, finally reaching maximum warp for the first time since we left Earth." Thirdly, screenwriter Roberto Orci has specifically addressed (in Star Trek Magazine) the travel time between Earth and Vulcan and showed that it was a pacing decision. Abrupt cuts between scenes, Orci counsels, should be interpreted as loosely as necessary in order to make sense out of them, writing, "Who knows how long he [that is, Kirk] slept?" Bottom line: do not let the movie's breakneck pacing override your own common sense in deciding how much time passed between two clearly separated scenes. We do not know how long the Earth-Vulcan journey in Star Trek XI took, but we can deduce that it must have taken at least a few hours and may have taken as long as several days.
Why am I harping on this? After all, Star Trek has never been consistent about how long point-to-point warp travel actually takes. Look at "Broken Bow," "Where No Man Has Gone Before," The Final Frontier, "Regeneration," "That Which Survives"... and so on. We've had non-canon "cochrane factors" and gas densities to account for the inconsistencies for decades now. So it doesn't really make all that much difference to this analysis whether the Enterprise makes it to Vulcan in ten minute or ten days. I harp, then, because I need to make this point clear: the lack of a clear temporal transition between two scenes does not mean that there was no time-jump between those scenes. We will come back to this later, and in a big way, when I propose a gap of several years where most viewers have assumed a gap of just a few hours.
The mission to Vulcan was an unprecedented catastrophe. Eight Federation starships were destroyed by Nero's Narada. Virtually the entire Academy senior class was wiped out. Spock's mother was apparently killed as he was left in command of the Enterprise. And Vulcan, with six billion inhabitants still on the planet, was destroyed by a red matter singularity. An estimated ten thousand survived (note: according to Roberto Orci, this figure does not necessarily include those who were off-world at the time, including an unknown number of Vulcan colonists, but I believe it probably does). Rather perturbed by the genocide, young Jim Kirk insisted on following Nero against Spock's orders. His insubordination eventually got him jettisoned from the Enterprise. The Enterprise then finally went to warp, but, with the extensive battle damage, was unable to exceed warp three (its official maximum cruising speed being warp factor eight). She limped after Nero while Kirk was left marooned on T'Khut, now a lonely world in a star system that had become a graveyard. The Vega system would become taboo in subsequent decades. Space lanes went out of their way to divert traffic far from the ruins of Vulcan. Starfleet, after studying the ruins and recovering what it could, left a small memorial beacon, for no memorial could be large enough to reflect the monumental loss the galaxy experienced that day. Soon enough the only ships that came within hailing distance of Delta Vega's poor subspace transmitter were the drone ships that dropped by every twenty years to pick up the output of Delta Vega's lithium cracking station.
Nonetheless, hours after the destruction of Vulcan, two men still roamed Delta Vega's icy wilderness: James Kirk and a mysterious interloper from the future -- one Spock (henceforth known as "Spock Prime" or "Spock2387"). Finding each other by sheerest luck (or, if Roberto Orci is to be believed, by fate), Spock2387 related a story to Lieutenant Kirk. With the exception of one sentence he uttered, Spock's story was true, but the elder Vulcan, master of the mind-meld, also intentionally left out some details. He tried to create a false impression in Kirk's mind, which would lead Kirk, young Spock, and Starfleet Command to all the wrong conclusions about the temporal implications of that terrible day. He succeeded. (More on this later.) Young Kirk and Spock Prime then went about trying to save the galaxy.
Working with Montgomery Scott (the man who had accidentally caused the apparent death of the final Porthos a few months earlier), Kirk was able to return to the Enterprise using a technique Spock2387 knew called "transwarp beaming." Only glancing at the equations for a few moments, Scotty wasn't later able to reproduce them, but the idea that "space was the thing that was moving" set the engineer on a path that culminated during his work with the Starfleet Corps of Engineers more than a century later, when he would re-invent transwarp beaming, thus allowing Spock Prime to learn them and start the cycle all over again. (Showing young Scotty the formula for "transwarp beaming" was also Spock Prime's quietly ironic way of paying Scotty back for the "transparent aluminum" chicanery he had pulled, in violation of Starfleet standing orders, during a mission to 1980s Earth.)
Back on the Enterprise, Spock and Sarek, mourning the apparent death of Amanda Grayson, called a truce in their years-long feud. The two said only a few words to one another during their time on the Enterprise, but the moments that passed between them, while changing nothing about their dispute, built a connection between them that had always been somehow lacking in their relationship, even in the days when they had been on speaking terms. This... something... opened the door for their eventual reconciliation in 2268. (It is telling that the first joke Sarek and Spock shared after their recovery following the Babel Conference Incident started with the question, "Why did you marry her?" They treated it as a teasing joke, as it mostly was, but, because of what they had shared in the transporter room in 2258, that question was laden with a deep subtext that both men understood.)
Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, and Uhura were eventually able to destroy the Narada. By an astonishing coincidence, the Narada's great drilling apparatus fell into San Francisco Bay at the precise coordinates where Terra Prime's verteron beam had struck in 2155. Nero died in a red matter singularity outside the Sol System, unrepentant. Though Acting Captain Kirk had made a valiant attempt at mitigating the potentially catastrophic political repercussions of the Nero Incident by offering to save Nero and his crew, the effort came to nothing, and Kirk was forced to destroy every trace of Nero and the Narada with torpedoes, lest Nero escape even further into the past. The Enterprise escaped from the gravity well and sailed home. (The time span between this scene from the new movie and the next scene, where Spock and Spock Prime meet on Earth, is not five hours as most fans seem to have assumed, but five years. We'll get back to it eventually.) The Enterprise now handed Starfleet Command a political dilemma of historic importance.
Vulcan was dead. The Vulcan race was in shambles. A Romulan vessel had commited the genocide. It was the first encounter with the Romulans since the destruction of the Kelvin, and that had been the first incident since the establishment of the Neutral Zone. Though the Romulan Empire of the 2250s had, in fact, nothing to do with the attack, war would be inevitable if news of Romulan involvement got out. Worse: thanks to the testimony of Kirk, Spock, Pike, and the Enterprise bridge crew, Starfleet learned that Romulans looked pretty much like Vulcans, except (apparently) with tattoos. The genetic link between Romulans and Vulcans had long been theorized, based on the similarities between their languages (in the movie, Spock even mentioned this shared ancestry theory, in the scene before the Enterprise warped into Saturn's rings). Now the theory was proved, and the implication -- that Vulcan had just been destroyed by its own cousin race -- was too explosive to be released. Indeed, it was so astonishing that some admirals, including Admiral T'Pol, refused to accept it, concocting a number of barely-plausible alternative theories about Romulan identity.
Swearing the bridge crew to secrecy about their face-to-face contact with the Romulans, Starfleet announced that Vulcan and Earth had been attacked by an invading battlestation from beyond the galaxy. Given the spate of planet-destroying extra-galactic invaders that the Federation had and would face in the mid-2200s -- including the Planet Killer, the Space Amoeba, the Neural Parasites, and others -- as well as the incredible firepower aboard the Narada (which everyone knew was decades beyond Romulan technology of the time), it was not an unbelievable story. While conspiracy theories abounded -- and a few even managed to collect a handful of accurate half-truths -- the loss of Vulcan went down in history as a senseless, stunning, devastating once-in-a-lifetime tragedy. The political fallout was contained.
Starfleet did inform the general public that time travel had been somehow involved in the affair (though they left specifics vague). This was an astonishing revelation for the general public, which had never learned of earlier Starfleet experiences with time travel (such as the Temporal Cold War) and, to this point, had largely agreed with the official conclusion of the (now-defunct) Vulcan Science Directorate that time travel was impossible. Starfleet's strategic decision to release this information played a considerable role in distracting conspiracy theorists from the less incredible but more politically explosive Romulan revelations. Starfleet also adopted and announced what came to be known as the Spock Hypothesis -- a theory proposed by young Spock that Nero's intervention in the past had created an alternate timeline, divergent from the original timeline of things that would have been. (SPOCK: "Nero's very presence has altered the flow of history, beginning with the attack on the USS Kelvin, culminating in the event of today, thereby creating an entire new chain of incidents that cannot be anticipated by either party." UHURA: "An alternate reality." SPOCK: "Precisely. Whatever our lives might have been, if the time continuum was disrupted, our destinies have changed.")
This was not of very much interest to anyone; since no one had actually lived the future that Nero's attack had just destroyed, the so-called "Prime Timeline" was, to the denizens of 2258, just another one of those timelines that are created and abandoned every day by basic quantum mechanics.
However, it is important to note that the Spock Hypothesis was absolutely wrong. Moreover, it was partly the result of deliberate misdirection by Spock Prime. More on this later.
Following the Nero Incident, Kirk never returned to the Academy for the remainder of his senior year. As a result of his heroism (and his already absurdly high academic standing) -- not to mention the devastation of Starfleet's ranks and the sudden deaths of so many other seniors -- he was awarded a commendation for original thinking for his Kobayashi Maru performance, promoted to full lieutenant, and graduated immediately, thereby fulfilling the vow he had made the day he signed up that he'd "do it in three" -- that is, become a commissioned officer with no ties to the Academy in three years. He had entered in 2255, graduated in '58, and had repeated Mr. Spock's remarkable achievement of lieutenant rank along the way.
Captain Pike's injuries at the hands of Nero's torture proved temporary, and he resumed his normal duties as captain of the Enterprise within a few weeks.
Sarek strongly encouraged his son to immediately resign from Starfleet to help Vulcan rebuild its shattered civilization. Spock could not resist Sarek's logic about the utility of such a move, but Spock still owed Starfleet five more years of service. Refusing to go back on his word to Starfleet, Spock returned to the Enterprise for a final tour-of-duty before his planned resignation, serving as Pike's first officer during the Fleet Captain's second five-year mission (2258 -- 2263) and bringing his total time served under Pike to exactly eleven years, four months, and five days ("The Menagerie, Part I"). Spock's decision to remain away from Vulcan during those five years ended the tenuous reconciliation that had begun between father and son.
However, Spock did have some good news in the aftermath of the catastrophe: his mother was alive. Certain things had nagged at the back of his mind since the evacuation of Vulcan, but he had not had time to consider them deeply until after the return to Earth. Namely, when Ensign Chekov lost the transporter lock on Amanda, she had just fallen into a deep crevasse, several hundreds of meters deep. Yet Ensign Chekov had lost her lifesigns less than three seconds after Amanda's fall -- not nearly enough time for her to fall to the bottom. Logically, Spock (and the audience) concluded, something had intervened.
Happily, the intervening something turned out to be the one good thing, rather than the hundreds of bad things, that it could have been. Two frigates of the Vulcan High Command, the Soval and the Maxwell Forrest, had been on the far side of Vulcan, in its sensor shadow, when the Narada attacked. Receiving reports of its devastating firepower, their Vulcan commanders did the logical thing and remained hidden in the sensor shadow until reinforcements could arrive. Because of the communications blackout caused by the Narada drilling beam, they were not aware of the arrival of the Federation fleet until it was too late for them to do anything to help. They remained hidden, and it was only when the red matter singularity began to tear apart their home planet that they finally took action and began rapidly evacuating the Vulcans trapped on the surface. They were thus responsible for rescuing the majority of the ten thousand Vulcans who surived the destruction of their planet.
Conditions on the Vulcan evacuation ships and the Enterprise could hardly have been more different. While the Enterprise crew was not entirely used to their newly-refit tranporter systems -- so much so that Ensign Chekov had to run down from the bridge to operate the complex new equipment -- the Vulcan crews were expert operators of their decade-old transporter pads. While the Enterprise transporter systems were still buggy from the refit, as often happened when a refit ship was rushed into service without a full shakedown cruise (Commander Sonak would experience this bugginess in particularly gruesome fashion after the Enterprise's later 2272 refit), the Vulcan transporters were reliable instruments finely honed by ten years of Vulcan diligence. While the Enterprise's human crew was on the verge of panic, the Vulcans were more capable of suppressing emotion. While the Earth Starfleet was at the time using speedy, flexible, but complicated new Erickson-VI transporters, the Vulcan Science Academy had opted for the tried-and-true "Cyrus Ramsey" model. Most critically: while the Enterprise sensors and other systems had been damaged and several members of the transporter crew killed by Nero's devastating attack on the ship, both Vulcan vessels were completely fresh.
Thus did a Vulcan transporter officer on the Soval notice a large group of lifesigns being beamed up from the disintegrating planet while another fell to what appeared to be certain death. Thus did this nameless officer do precisely what Ensign Chekov had done for Kirk and Sulu earlier that day -- he beamed up a moving target in free-fall in an area of intense gravitational flux. It was a miracle, to be sure, that he noticed Amanda's fall at the moment he did (just as Chekov lost his lock on her), but, once she had been noticed by a capable Vulcan transporter officer, Amanda's smooth rescue was assured. She materialzed on the Soval's transporter pad eight-and-a-half seconds after falling out of the Enterprise's annular confinement beam.
Amanda Grayson remained aboard the Soval while the ragtag survivors of the Vulcan space-fleets formed into a flotilla. The fleet searched the area around the singularity's event horizon for any other survivors, and, finding only a handful, set out for Earth (insert your own Battlestar Galactica joke here) a day behind the Enterprise. Amanda would be reunited with her family less than two weeks after the destruction of Vulcan -- too late to stop the estrangement between Spock and Sarek from resuming, and, indeed, too late even to see it temporarily lift during the time they thought her dead. Neither Spock nor Sarek would ever speak to her of what they had shared aboard the Enterprise in the wake of her apparent death, and so she would tell Captain Kirk in all honesty in 2268 that the two men had not spoken for eighteen years.
The remnants of Vulcan civilization decided to make a new start. For five years, they combed the galaxy for a suitable world on which to settle, then pondered the candidates. Finally, they selected a world in star system 40 Eridani A, which had been suggested by Selek of Shi'kahr. They called their new world, simply, Vulcan (or New Vulcan to differentiate it from the lost world). It was a world similar to their original home in many ways -- it was hot, it was dry, it had a twin planet. It featured a deep, deadly canyon and a great mountain which could serve as the new centers of Vulcan spiritual life -- the new Forge and the new Seleya. The elders of Vulcan society, rescued by the Enterprise crew, had saved enough minds from the great subterranean Katric Ark on old Vulcan that the Hall of Ancient Thought could be rebuilt and restored. The katra of Surak lived on. Vulcan, the planet, was gone, but Vulcan, the civilization, would live. Most importantly, New Vulcan was much closer to the Federation Core than the old world had been; Vulcan's security was now inextricably bound up in the fate of the Federation and Starfleet, in a way that its fierce pride of old had always avoided. Thus did the final integration of the Vulcan High Command with Starfleet began soon after the new colonization. The integration effort culminated five years later with the launch of the U.S.S. Intrepid, the first Earth Starfleet vessel crewed entirely by Vulcans. This marked the end of the longstanding informal division between the armed forces of different Federation founding worlds, and "Earth Starfleet" finally started to become a true "Federation Starfleet" in the years and decades following.
Still, New Vulcan was far from perfect. During the first years in their new home, only rudimentary shadows of the old things could be restored -- the elaborate courtyards where marriage and kun-ut-kal-if-fee was carried out, for instance, were reconstructed, but reduced to stark, even cardboard, simplicity. Even thirty years later, in 2285, the glory and beauty of New Mt. Seleya, though considerable, was far less glorious than the enormous statues and intricate artwork that had graced the Old. Progress was certainly being made, as seen by the astonishing decoration at the home of the kohlinari during Spock's stay there in the early 2270s, but it would not be until the mid-24th century that New Vulcan would be truly restored to the former glory of the Old. There were climate problems, too: the new world was too hot, too dry; it had to be terraformed. It would take thirty years of terraforming for the slate-red sky of New Vulcan to burn into smeared, foggy orange, and nearly seventy more to reach the rich-toned red, orange, and sometimes blue skies of the Old World.
As an aside, the colonization of New Vulcan was a great success story for the Federation. It would be used as a model by (largely Vulcan) advisors to the Klingon Empire when it became necessary to do exactly the same thing on the Klingon Homeworld after Praxis exploded in 2293. The settlement of New Qo'noS went somewhat more smoothly than that of New Vulcan, simply because Old Qo'noS had not been completely destroyed but was merely running out of oxygen, and the relationship between the Empire and the Federation became so warm as a result of Starfleet's assistance in the Klingon's hour of need that, after the Klingon resettlement was finally completed in 2361 with the formal inauguration of New Qo'noS as the Eternal Capitol of the Klingon Empire, there was even talk of the Klingon Empire joining the Federation as a member. Klingon battlecruisers (like the one in "Heart of Glory") would fly the Klingon and Federation flags side-by-side on their bridges, and speak of themselves as not merely Federation allies, but as family members. By the mid-2360s, such talk had dissipated as the High Council reasserted itself, but the lasting peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire was largely thanks to Federation relief efforts modelled after its relief efforts in the aftermath of the Vulcan disaster.
But we digress. Back in the 23rd Century, our story continued.
Sometime around 2260, the Federation, as it sometimes does, decided to change the stardate system, switching from the primitive Gregorian-based one that had ruled since before the Kelvin Incident (which had evolved, in turn, out of the "Captain's Starlogs" of earliest Starfleet history) to a new and extremely complicated four-digit system, which would be used for the remainder of the century. (And which will never make one ounce of sense, even to fans who study these things. Fortunately, the somewhat rational five-digit system would arrive in 2324.)
The U.S.S. Hood, lost during the battle of Romulus, was found to be the only vessel from that battle that had been left largely intact, though without any survivors from among the crew. It was salvaged and rebuilt in time to meet another sad fate at the hands of the M5 computer in 2266.
Jim Kirk's career flourished much as his Academy career had. I leave the details vague, just as canon always has. He was promoted in record time to Lt. Commander, and then again to Commander. He stayed in touch with Spock. Since they rarely saw each other in person, they contented themselves with conversation. They also got into the habit of playing remote games of 3D chess. Spock won every game in those early days, but he saw something in Kirk's playing style that fascinated him, and so the games continued and Kirk improved. They spoke, sometimes, of what they had each experienced during the days of Nero's invasion, from Spock's brief captaincy to Kirk's exile on T'Khut. Gradually, often obliquely (out of lingering concern for the timeline), Kirk explained his meeting with Spock Prime. Some of what he said Young Spock had already surmised, but speculation on that supposedly-lost "Prime" timeline nonetheless formed the basis for many long, quiet, late-night conversations over secure channels. And so their tenuous respect for one another, born of the Nero conflict, cemented gradually into friendship.
Ensigns Sulu and Chekov, as their respective superiors recovered from lungworm, returned to their normal beta-shift responsibilities. Sulu, unable to get behind the helm of a starship often enough for his taste, pursued other interests and, while remaining an accredited and excellent helmsman, also got accredited as a Starfleet astroscientist. This looked great on his resume, and came in handy more than once during his career.
Mr. Chekov made the surprising discovery that, thanks to his having grown up on a low-warp space boomer cargo vessel (run, of course, by Russians) on the outskirts of space, under the new stardate system (which attempted to account for the relativistic effects of near-warp impulse travel), he was now listed in official records as being several years younger than his date of birth would suggest -- though actually born in 2241, he was officially twenty-two, not twenty-six, in 2267. ("Who Mourns For Adonais?" [TOS]) This was one of the many confusing and arcane calculations the overly complicated four-digit stardate system attempted to implement, and it proved far more trouble than it was worth, precisely because it caused many people to be officially younger or older than their chronological ages. It is astonishing that the so-called "New System" survived as long as it did, not being replaced by the simple, rational, modern five-digit stardate system until 2323 (Stardate 00000.1).
Montgomery Scott replaced deceased Enterprise chief engineer Olson at the start of Pike's second five-year mission. He promptly fell in love with her, ample nacelles and all. Lt. Moves-With-Burning-Grace, who had been Olson's assistant, transferred to spacedock duty, opening up a slot for Scotty's friend Keenser as well.
Spock2387, taking the name "Selek," became a prominent member of the New Vulcan society. His identity was never questioned because, with the destruction of the homeworld, it was neither possible nor worthwhile to check personal backgrounds or histories. He melted out of the historical record and, it is believed, he quietly kept his gentle hand on the rudder of history for the rest of his days.
He would emerge only one more time: at the end of Pike's second five-year mission.
The news came down in 2263 that James Kirk was to become the youngest captain in the history of Starfleet, and that he was to serve as Captain Pike's relief. The promotion ceremony was to take place at Starfleet Academy, in the same room where Spock and Kirk had first faced off over the Kobayashi Maru test five years earlier.
Spock was preparing to resign. He had already turned down an offer to serve as Kirk's first officer, and had resisted Kirk's insistent entreaties to reconsider. It was time, he believed, to return to Vulcan and serve his people. He could see no other logical course of action. Attending annual ceremonies one last time to see off Captain Pike and congratulate the new captain of the Enterprise, Spock saw an opportunity to finally repair the bridges he and his father had burned. Since they were both on Earth at the same time, Spock invited Sarek to attend the ceremony, and then accompany him back to New Vulcan for his long-deferred homecoming. Given the stiff-necked stubbornness of Sarek, Spock did not expect anything to come of the invitation. So it was with surprise and a hint of joy that he shouted, "Father!" when he caught a pair of familiar pointed ears in the Academy hangar.
But the figure turned and said, "I am not our father." It was, in fact, Spock Prime.
The elder Spock had come to see his younger self for their first and only meeting. With a few deftly chosen words, he encouraged young Spock to "do what feels right" and remain in Starfleet. Certain that he had convinced his younger self, Spock Prime resumed his false identity as Selek and vanished from Federation records.
Kirk's father, being dead, was nowhere in evidence, except perhaps in spirit and in memory. His brother Sam, however, was present and wished him well. Sarek did not attend. Spock Prime did.
Fleet Captain Pike was on hand, not just to see his own ship handed off to Starfleet's brightest young captain -- and his own protégé -- but to assume the rank of Admiral in recognition of his second successful five-year mission. (Though given the rank of Admiral, Pike continued to hold the position of Fleet Captain, its attendant responsibilities, and its title for the rest of his life.) Unfortunately, Pike had been seriously injured on his final mission, having been captured and tortured by the Kan'ess after his landing party was ambushed by the reptilian warriors. (And that, dear readers, is my mandatory hat tip to Burning Dreams. And, yes, that's a reading recommendation.) He would recover, but was still wheelchair-bound on the day of his relief as commanding officer of the Enterprise.
And so James T. Kirk became captain of the Enterprise. Most of the crew he wanted -- the good men and women who had served with him during the Nero crisis -- were already moving into place on his bridge, as Captain Pike's alpha-shift crew was largely moving on to new assignments or retirement. Though Kirk attempted to secure Gary Mitchell for the position of chief helmsman, Mitchell was on deep-space assignment aboard the Exeter, and so Mr. Sulu finally became the Enterprise's alpha-shift helmsmen. Spock's last-minute decision to join the crew as first officer (thanks to his conversation with Spock2387) delighted Captain Kirk; the assignment of Andorian Commander Thelin (whom Kirk had never met) was hastily canceled.
Kirk's Enterprise was not immediately assigned a five-year mission of exploration. This did not keep Kirk from distinguishing himself during the next twenty-four months as one of Starfleet's ablest commanders. In the tempests of those first months in the big chair, Kirk forged his command crew into a perfect organism, without doubt one of the finest crews in history, and won the personal loyalty of everyone who worked by his side. All the while, Kirk's youthful brashness was tempered by the growth of prudence, and he matured into the hero history remembers him as being. Other than that, I have nothing to say about this period, which consists roughly of June 2263 -- June 2265. This is because the next several Abrams-produced Star Trek movies are almost certainly going to take place in this two-year time period, and I don't want to pre-empt them. We skip ahead:
On May 19th, 2265, the Constitution-class U.S.S. Columbia NCC-1702 -- the Enterprise's sister ship, which had finished a similar Church-type refit in 2263 -- set out from Earth on a mission to unexplored space. It departed Spacedock, set a course, engaged at warp four -- and exploded. There were no survivors. It remains to this day the largest single accidental loss of life in Starfleet history. Worse -- no one had any idea what had caused it.
All Earth engineering crews were pulled from starship construction duty and assigned to pore over the massive amount of data from the explosion (which had, after all, taken place in full view of one of the most heavily-monitored star systems in the galaxy). The expansion of the fleet was temporarily put on hold, while a number of Church-refit vessels, including the Enterprise, were temporarily grounded. It took weeks, but eventually the cause of the accident was uncovered by none other than Montgomery Scott of the Enterprise.
When it had gone to warp, it appeared, the Columbia's matter-antimatter ratio had suddenly gone lopsided, creating a wormhole-like phenomenon that tore the ship apart almost instantaneously (like in TMP, only worse). The reason behind this was simple, but completely unlooked for by most Starfleet engineers. (Because, unlike Scotty, most engineers trusted new technologies.) Scotty proved that, far from being a once-in-a-lifetime fluke, there was a fundamental flaw in the nature of the technology running the ship. You'll remember, dear reader, the great scientific breakthrough I postulated, which changed so much Starfleet architecture between 2254 and 2264. Scotty discovered a problem with that entire new system. It was a subtle flaw, but a crucial one: because the improved computer systems in the new system relied on meta-quantum states -- rather than the complex binary ones provided by duotronic transtators -- they remained not quite completely predictable. The result was, in approximately one in every ten billion computer instructions, the main computer of an "upgraded" starship would improperly execute a particular line of code. Now, in the vast majority of cases, a single line of code corruption would have no consequences -- a saved game of 3D chess lost here, a minute change in course heading there -- but, rarely, in perhaps one in one hundred trillion cases, the skipped line of code would prove to be a very crucial one. In effect, one in every one thousand billion trillion computer instructions would cause the starship to explode. Every refit starship in the fleet was a flying time bomb. They might last seventy years... or, like the Columbia, they might explode the next time they tried to go to warp. Moreover, this was not a simple glitch -- this was a fundamental consquence of the whole new system of computing. As Scotty was fond of saying, "The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."
The solution, once accepted by the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, was regrettable but both obvious and necessary: the fleet would have to be "defit" -- every trace of the 2258 refit pried off and thrown in storage until some bright engineer could figure out how to get past its unpredictable nature (which came to be known as "Scott's Hurdle" in engineering textbooks). Since every ship not "defit" would have to remain grounded, for safety's sake, until Starfleet Engineering could get on board and carry out the defit, Starfleet prioritzed: the Enterprise, as flagship, was given priority defit status, with Earth work crews receiving a mandate to return the flagship to her pre-2258 state and get her back in the field (where she was needed) before the end of the year.
It was a hasty job, which took the concerted efforts of every dockworker and Enterprise crewmember working double shifts for nearly six months, but they managed it: the 2258 length was reduced back to its original size of 289m due to the lower-powered structural integrity fields; the "neck" shifted back into its original place as the "cigar" stardrive was chopped short at strategic points; the bridge returned to a small, circular, almost cramped space (and repainted in the bright, ultrasaturated colors that typified mid-2260s architecture), and the whole ship generally seemed to get thrown ten years back in time practically overnight. The videoscreens that had graced the bridge in 2254 were left out, partly because there was no time to install them, but mostly because they were really annoying.
Although the great technical experiment of the Church-type refit had ultimately failed, not all was in vain: the basic theory that had allowed the 2258 refit would be pored over by every engineer in the quadrant for years afterward. Scott's Hurdle would be solved. The result, in the early 2270s, would be a new class of Constitution-refits and Starbase architecture that far surprassed anything that had come before. (This would be known as the "Enterprise-type" or "Probert-type" refit. Again, TMP.) Church-based technology would even serve as the springboard for "the Great Experiment" in transwarp drive. In the meantime, however, Starfleet's best starships would have to function less like flying weapons platforms and more like traditional naval craft.
With the completion of the "defit" in late 2265, Starfleet relaunched the Enterprise, this time with a specific mission that was fated to go down in history: resume Admiral Pike's mantle. Commence a five-year mission of exploration, starting at the galactic barrier and spiraling in toward the center of the Federation from the outer edge of the galaxy. Boldly go where no man has gone before.
Dr. McCoy was still on leave, dealing with "personal issues" (perhaps relating to his daughter, Joanna), and Kirk was able to convince old spacer Mark Piper to fill in for a few weeks.
Gary Mitchell had finally become available, and Kirk happily moved him onto the bridge crew, looking forward to bringing his old friend into the Enterprise family. Meanwhile, Chekov, cross-training in science division so he could serve as Mr. Spock's relief, had gone back to Earth during the defit to study at the Academy. He would rejoin the ship only a few weeks after its "maiden voyage" to the edge of the galaxy (returning after "Mudd's Women" but before "Space Seed," as canon suggests), but would remain on the junior science officers' rotation (and therefore out of sight) for the rest of the year. Captain Kirk struggled to find a replacement for the fine young navigator, but couldn't find one who'd stick. Lee Kelso, one of Captain Pike's former officers, was very promising, but he died on that first mission, leaving Kirk to rotate through such officers as Stiles, Hadley, and Latimer until Chekov completed his science training and returned to his bridge-officer position in 2267.
Nor did Lt. Mitchell survive his first mission with the Enterprise, being turned into a god-like creature, then marooned and ultimately killed by Captain Kirk on Delta Vega, whose climate had begun to undergo serious, though not overly radical, changes since Kirk's last visit there in 2258. Sulu's reassignment as ship's chief of astrosciences thus turned out to be more temporary than anyone had imagined, and he was back flying the ship in short order.
From there, the five-year mission proceeded exactly as you all remember. "A Private Little War," "The Conscience of the King," "Amok Time," "Journey to Babel," "Space Seed," "Operation: Annihilate!," "The Menagerie," "Court Martial," "Obsession," "This Side of Paradise"... all proceed exactly as they always have, just like they do on your DVD's. There is no longer any apparent conflict between the new movie and the original series. A special word need be said only about "Balance of Terror" -- and then only briefly.
In 2266, a Romulan bird-of-prey (a then-unknown design) violated the Neutral Zone, marking the first incursion by the Romulan Star Empire into Federation space since the Earth-Romulan War (not counting Nero, who had truthfully claimed to "stand apart" from the Empire). Spock, in his shipwide mission briefing, gave the crew the official backstory, including the official line that, "No human, Romulan, or ally has ever seen the other." This was not a lie, because it remained unconfirmed, even at the highest levels of Starfleet Command, that Narada had been in fact crewed by Romulans. It was, however, not entirely straightforward, because Starfleet strongly suspected that Nero was a Romulan. Spock -- like Kirk and several of the bridge crew -- therefore knew what to expect: a "warlike, cruel, treacherous" people who bore an awful resemblance to Vulcans.
Several other officers who were not present at the Nero Incident were also aware of the rumors and conspiracy theories describing Romulan involvement at the destruction of Vulcan. Most considered these theories crackpot, but one particular Lt. Stiles, who had reasons of his own for becoming obsessed with Romulan conspiracy theories, bought into the idea that the destruction of Vulcan was just a cover story for some far more sinister Vulcan/Romulan plot. Unfortunately, the Enterprise, like all Starfleet vessels, had standing orders to confirm the morphology of the Romulans if possible. Spock was able to do just that: he tied into the Romulan intruders' main viewscreen, and thus confirmed for all the galaxy that, yes, Vulcans and Romulans do look alike. (And, surprisingly, these Romulans didn't even wear Nero-style tattoos.)
Kirk and most of the bridge crew, already prepared for the Romulans' shocking appearance, were unsurprised and remarkably neutral about what would otherwise have been a world-shattering revelation. Spock was ready in minutes with the "shared genetic ancestry" theory, because he had already believed it for years, since even before the Nero encounter. Kirk, aware that not everyone on the bridge would now share his ready trust of Spock, became immediately defensive of his friend. And Lt. Stiles, who had all of his worst conspiracy theories seemingly confirmed in a single instant, reacted with prejudice, bigotry, and reckless endangerment that was otherwise uncharacteristic of a Starfleet officer. Forty years after its first airing, some parts of "Balance of Terror" make a little bit more sense when viewed in light of Star Trek XI.
Life went on. All the while, it is worth emphasizing, the Enterprise crew (and everyone else in the Federation) believed that they were living out an alternate timeline, not the original "prime" one, in accordance with the Spock Hypothesis. This continued to not be true, but it continued to be impossible for anyone to know this.
The five-year mission ended in 2270. Kirk saw promotion to Rear Admiral and the position of Chief of Starfleet Operations. He returned to the captain's chair during the V'Ger Incident, and subsequently carried out a second five-year mission. He retired around 2278, moving to a mountain retreat with Antonia (as seen in Star Trek: Generations). Restless, he returned to Starfleet in 2284, but felt "old." The Khan Incident put life back in him. Spock, an Academy instructor now holding the rank of Captain himself, died. Then his friends brought him back to life. The Enterprise crew stopped Genesis, saved the Earth from whalesong, and fought the battle for peace at Khitomer.
Then, in 2293, just a few months after Khitomer, James T. Kirk died.
No one saw it coming. Certainly, the fact that James Kirk was going aboard a starship named Enterprise on her first voyage out of spacedock was a bad omen -- everyone who knew Jim Kirk expected something to go wrong, for a new V'Ger or Khan or Nero to appear. But they expected, too, that it would end like all the other stories had: Kirk would take command, (re)discover how much he loved the big chair on the Enterprise, and promptly set off on a new five-year mission with his old crew, leaving the fresh-faced young would-be captain behind.
Instead, the story ended abruptly: Harriman lived. Kirk died. The shock, throughout the fleet but especially to his former command crew, cannot be overstated. Above all, the death of Kirk deeply affected the newly-minted Ambassador Spock.
"Affected" is the right word here, because Spock was, strangely enough, not terribly distraught. This surprised nobody except Dr. McCoy, who knew Spock too well to accept that he didn't have feelings about the death of his best friend. But Spock would admit nothing to the good doctor. He did not have the words.
Spock and Kirk had been bound together in a special way for a very long time. In 2272, Kirk's cry of mental anguish had summoned Spock from dozens of light-years away, creating an emotional response inside a Vulcan who was on the threshold of mastering the kohlinar. Edith Keeler recognized it immediately as both friendship and something deeper than friendship: "You? At his side. As if you've always been there and always will." And -- I suspect -- it was the bond between Kirk and Spock, not "fate," not "luck," that brought them together on Delta Vega in 2258. Young Kirk did not have the capacity yet to recognize the call of Spock Prime for what it was, but (and this is pure speculation, a complete sidebar in this analysis) I suspect that, when Vulcan died, Spock Prime's mind cried out with the same anguish as Kirk's had during the V'Ger incident. I suspect that Young Kirk heard the call, realized on some unconscious level that he needed to get to a specific ice cave on Delta Vega, then did everything in his power to get himself there without letting the conscious brain understand what was happening. Thus, Kirk's stupid hissy-fit on the bridge that got him thrown off the ship; thus his attempt to fight two armed security officers; thus the direction in which he chose to walk once stranded; thus the fact that he ran into the one cave on Delta Vega where he had a chance of not being eaten by a Hengrauggi.
In any case, whether you accept my particular theory about the Delta Vega meeting or not, it is clear from elsewhere in canon that Kirk and Spock have a bond that transcends the bounds of space and time. When Kirk disappeared into the Nexus, Spock knew instantly. But "disappeared" was all. Just as surely as Spock had known when four hundred Vulcans on the Intrepid had been killed by the Space Ameoba, just as surely did Spock know that James T. Kirk had not been killed by the Nexus. He could not understand this knowledge. He could not explain it in light of all the evidence that Kirk had died. He could not justify its violation of every rule of logic, and he could not share it with anybody. He just knew, on some deep level, that James T. Kirk was alive, and that, if he watched and waited patiently, the day would come when Spock would be able to bring back Kirk. "The search for Kirk" was on.
But it was a quiet search. Uncertain where to begin, Spock could only wait for opportunity to reveal itself to him. In the meantime, he continued his work. And he did have an awful lot of that these days. To see why, let's rewind to Khitomer, which had proved to be a major turning point in Spock's life.
As one of a handful of Vulcans to know the true identity of the Narada as a Romulan ship -- and the only Vulcan to have interacted with Nero face-to-face -- Spock understood better than anybody else the importance of waging peace with the Romulans. Certainly, the immediate cause of Vulcan's destruction had been Nero's unhinged, violent rage over the destruction of Romulus. And, of course, Spock believed that, in this timeline, it was vital that Starfleet act early to warn the Romulans of the 2387 supernova, to prevent that very destruction.
But Spock saw a second cause beneath the first: a Romulan could only destroy Vulcan, he believed, in a universe where Romulans continued to be born into a culture that divorced passion from logic. Likewise, the mass murder of Vulcans was only conceivable in a universe where Vulcan and Romulus remained Sundered and suspicious of one another. Spock dreamed of ending the Sundering, of reunifying Vulcans and Romulans as one people, because only then would Vulcan be truly safe.
As peace with the Klingon Empire, unthinkable just twelve months before, came to fruition on Khitomer, Spock's dreams were infused with a delicious new optimism that drove him suddenly to action. Once, long ago, James Kirk had inspired Spock's mirror universe counterpart to reform by teaching that Mirror Spock that, "In every revolution, there's one man with a vision." Now, our universe's Spock chose to become that man. Spock would unite Vulcan and Romulan; he would synthesize Romulan passion and Vulcan logic into one healthy whole, just as Jim Kirk had synthesized Spock's human and Vulcan halves. Both sides would become the stronger for it. Spock would become, in short, the new Surak.
The Federation Council decided that they would not notify Romulus of the supernova threat until 2385 -- two years before the supernova event. This would give the Romulans enough advance notice for them to take all necessary precautions to avoid loss of life, but not so much advance notice that the Romulans began to ask uncomfortable questions about where the Federation had obtained the information. Thus, Spock believed, the Romulus of this timeline would be warned and would be either preserved or evacuated. Billions of Romulans would live, and no third timeline (recall that Spock still believes he is living in a divergent "alternate timeline") would have to suffer the destruction of Vulcan at the hands of a deranged Romulan survivor. This pleased Spock. But Spock's goal was more ambitious: thanks to unification, thanks to the union of reason and passion -- in short, thanks to Spock -- Spock hoped to make the very idea of a Romulan slaughtering the Vulcans inconceivable.
Spock began work on his unification project immediately, reaching out to Senator Pardek at the Khitomer Conference before the ink on the Khitomer Accords was dry. As the Enterprise's final mission came to a close and the crew went its separate ways, Spock sought -- and gained -- admission to the Diplomatic Corps, with recommendations from Admiral Bill Toddman (commander-in-chief) and Ambassador Sarek. Around mid-summer's eve, 2293, Spock set out on his first mission as part of the diplomatic mission on Romulus, as Federation representative at the Seventh Algeron Conference. This quadrennial trade meeting was traditionally a bitter, sharply polarized, months-long trade dispute between various members of the Federation and Romulan spheres of influence. Spock, however, arrived to "wage peace," and was remarkably successful, single-handedly transforming the difficult conference into an honest and productive dialogue between the Great Powers and their proxies.
Then, on the final day of the conference, as Spock's first triumph since departing the Enterprise was achieved, he was pierced by a sudden sorrow that would not fade away. A few hours later, the news officially arrived: James T. Kirk was missing, presumed dead, after action aboard the Enterprise-B. Spock already knew.
As he raced home to attend the memorial services, Spock realized that, in his heart of hearts, he knew that Kirk was not dead. But this made no difference; he missed his friend terribly. A few days into the voyage home, Spock's subspace mail, delayed several days by conference security measures, caught up with him. There was a single item: a holographic message from Captain Kirk congratulating Spock on his appointment to the Diplomatic Corps. Kirk also wished Spock, of all things, a happy birthday. "Surely..." thought Spock, as the message ended, "Surely, the best of times."
Seventy-eight years passed. Spock continued to watch and wait for his chance to save Captain Kirk. In the meantime, he continued his unification project, eventually becoming Starfleet's chief of mission on Romulus. His most notable accomplishment was negotiating the Treaty of Algeron after the Tomed Incident (apparently) claimed thousands of lives in 2311. He retired sometime in the 2350s to work full-time on his (secret) unification project. Finally, around 2368, Spock disappeared completely into the Romulan underground to lead his reform movement personally. There he met many fine Romulans who hoped and worked for change: D'Tan, whose parents had taught him the Vulcan language and enjoyed Vulcan toys. Dutiful N'Vek, who would eventually give up his life to save Deanna Troi. Stefan DeSeve, the human defector turned Romulan traitor. And one middle-aged Romulan miner named... Nero.
Of course, Spock recognized Nero instantly. How could he not? This was a forty-three-years-younger version of the man who had destroyed his homeworld and murdered his race. But this man knew nothing of that genocide. This man, it seemed, was not the man Spock had met in the debris field over Vulcan. This Nero was an idealist, open to the ideas of Surak, and willing to risk himself and his modest mining operation in the service of a future peace. Spock saw this, and did not treat Nero as the future xenocide of Vulcan. Indeed, Spock took Nero's membership in the unification movement as a sign that unification was working; that Romulans and Vulcans were growing together; that the man who was in one timeline the greatest murderer of Vulcans since the Awakening could become an agent for peace between their peoples in another. (Spock, remember, still believes that he is living in an alternate timeline.) Nero eventually became Spock's most trusted and beloved disciple, and Spock was Nero's role model. It was Spock who introduced Nero to Mandana, the woman whom Nero would eventually marry. Together, Spock, Nero, and the dissidents did many heroic things on Romulus, paving the way for what they hoped would be an eventual peace. (Side note: you can debate this, of course, but I think Nero is this one. Of course, this was back when Nero, like every chic Romulan, had hair, before Shinzon made baldness, scary capes, and vengeful insanity fashionable in the Empire.)
In 2368, during Captain Picard's visit to the unification underground, Senator Pardek betrayed the movement to the Romulan government. Thanks to an assist from Picard, Data, and the Enterprise-D, the underground survived, but Spock realized that he had become too important, and that the underground was too centralized. If his capture could paralyze the movement, then the movement needed to change. He reorganized the underground from a political movement to something more along the lines of an Academy: Romulans came to Spock for a time and learned and practiced and mastered the Vulcan way, and then would return to their normal lives where -- it was hoped -- they would teach others. In this way, the Empire would be converted, not by political victory (though that would come in time), but by the power of an idea. Spock's teaching was assisted for a time by his disciples, but, gradually, Spock sent each of them back to their past lives to spread the gospels of Surak and Spock to all the worlds of the Empire. Nero was an especially effective teacher, and gathered a crew of loyal dissidents, spreading Spock's ideas far and wide on their broad-ranging mining expeditions aboard the Narada.
In 2371, Spock was grateful for this decentralized model, because he suddenly knew that he had to leave Romulus. He did not explain why, but the network of dissidents required no explanation, having faith in their leader and knowing that, thanks to Spock's efforts, they could finally run the movement without Spock's constant presence. Spock travelled straight to Earth, where the crew of the Enterprise-D was staying following the wreck of their starship on Veridian III a few weeks before. There he found Captain Jean-Luc Picard and revealed his purpose in leaving Romulus: he needed to know everything about the death of James T. Kirk.
Picard was surprised that Spock knew about Kirk's involvement in the mission to stop Tolian Soran; the information was not yet public. Spock evaded the question, because he could not explain how he knew that Kirk had died at Captain Picard's side -- and yet, he knew. Just as he had known seventy-eight years before that Kirk was not really dead, just as he had waited all these years for the opportunity to save Kirk, so did he now know that Kirk was dead, really and finally -- and, worse, that (to borrow Guinan's phrase) "it was an empty death. A death without purpose."
And yet, even as Spock's grief over Kirk's newest, truest death threatened to overwhelm him, he had the feeling that, somehow, his opportunity had arrived at last.
Spock interrogated Captain Picard. Picard, who still shared a bond with Spock thanks to his mindmeld with Sarek several years before, was more than willing to answer every question Spock put to him. Spock learned everything Picard knew about Soran, Veridian III, and the Nexus -- which, since Picard was one of the mere handful of people who had been to the Nexus and escaped, was quite a lot.
Finally, Spock left Picard and travelled across Earth to Georgia, to the home of Admiral Leonard H. McCoy (Ret.). There, he met with Dr. McCoy as well as Captain Montgomery Scott of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, Admiral Nyota Uhura, head of Intelligence, former Federation President Hikaru Sulu, and Fleet Admiral Pavel Chekov. It is not known what transpired during that conversation, which lasted a day and a night, but it can be assumed that the former Enterprise command crew discussed their long-lost captain, and it is possible that Spock even outlined in broad terms the very earliest version of his plan to rescue James T. Kirk from final death. The details are lost to history.
What is known is that, from that day forward, Spock commanded a cabal of powerful conspirators placed at the highest levels of Starfleet and (in Sulu's case) the Federation government itself. They were universally trusted, loved, well-known heroes. They were also willing to throw out every directive in the Federation rulebook -- to lie, cheat, beg, borrow, and steal -- if it meant saving their leader, mentor, hero, and dear friend. After all, this wasn't the first time the Enterprise command crew had ignored an oath in order to bring a friend back from the dead. And now, finally, after seventy-eight years, they had finally found a way to bring back another one.
For Spock, after listening to Picard's account of the events on Veridian III, had made the crucial realization: Kirk was truly dead and buried. But Kirk was also still alive. He was in the Nexus. Time had no meaning in the Nexus. Once James Kirk entered the Nexus, it became possible to find Jim Kirk in the Nexus -- no matter when the searcher entered. If Picard could find Kirk chopping wood in the mountains of Idaho, then Spock could do the same. And whatever he found there of his old friend -- whether Captain Kirk, body and soul, preserved timelessly in the place where time had no meaning, or merely the echo, the spirit, the katra Kirk had left behind upon leaving -- Spock could bring it back, dig up Kirk's grave and do the fal-tor-pan if he had to, and restore James T. Kirk.
All he had to do was get there.
It is time to confront the most puzzling question presented by Star Trek 2009: how was Romulus destroyed? We have only a few lines of dialogue describing the event, and, as countless fans, reviewers, and scientists have commented, the story Spock Prime told Young Kirk in their mindmeld was total nonsense.
"One hundred twenty-nine years from now [in 2387]," Spock Prime said, "a star... went supernova... and threaten[ed] to destroy the galaxy." Supernovae don't threaten galaxies. We all know that. Even if a supernova's destructive shockwave traveled at light speed (reality: not even close) and had a galactic-sized range of 100,000 light-years before dissipating (reality: not even one one-ten-thousandth of that), it would take hundreds of years for Earth to be threatened, thousands for the Federation to be destroyed, and a hundred thousand to "destroy the galaxy." Spock knows this, too. He's the best science officer in the Federation and has been for a hundred and thirty years. The only person in the room who doesn't know this is Young James Kirk, who was apparently too busy studying xenolinguistics at the Academy to pay attention in Astroscience 101. Spock went on: "Using red matter, I would create a black hole, which would absorb the exploding star." I'll spare everyone the lecture on why that sentence is six ways from crazy and just take it as read that this is probably the most insane piece of faux-science Star Trek has ever tried to foist on us. It's right up there with "genetic memory" and "transwarp-induced evolution" in terms of sheer ludicrousness, and, indeed, surpasses them both. There are many reasonable explanations for this out-of-universe, with some fans calling it a creative decision to avoid technobabble and others calling it creative laziness. That debate has raged for six months and nothing I say is going to end it (though I favor the anti-technobabble theory). In-universe, however, there are only two possible explanations for Spock's hideous mangling of science: (a) Spock got hit on the head while falling through the black hole and forgot a hundred fifty years of science training, or (b) Spock, accidentally or deliberately, for reasons innocent or not-so-innocent, is leaving something out.
There's really only one correct answer there.
So, what is Spock leaving out of his mindmeld with Young Kirk? How does the explosion of a single star threaten the entire galaxy? How can the creation of a black hole end the threat? What could cause a star to explode without warning? And, a related question: why is Nero so driven to avenge himself on Spock, personally, rather than acting pre-emptively to save his own doomed world?
We return to our narrative.
It took sixteen years for Spock's rescue plan to come to fruition. All the conspirators continued their normal lives. Spock even returned to Romulan space, more or less full-time, to continue preaching and teaching unification. But every once in a long while, Spock would appear on somebody's doorstep -- be it Scotty's or Chekov's or even McCoy's -- saying just a few words, and within a few days apparently unrelated gears in the Starfleet bureaucracy would suddenly change direction. Spock himself used his own considerable influence at the Vulcan Science Academy to bring about the development of so-called "red matter," actually a composite of trilithium and tetryons, stabilized by protomatter. Its official purpose was "high-level subspace physics experiments," but Spock had something special in mind for it. Scotty played the next most important part: within a few months of the big meeting at Dr. McCoy's place, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers began designing an advanced, exceptionally speedy spacecraft built for muscular scientific work in extreme environments. By the time it was finished, it seemed like Scotty had called in every big name in Starfleet engineering to advise or work on the Jellyfish project, and that Geordi La Forge in particular deserved as much credit for the final design as Scotty did. Sulu, meanwhile, put his astroscience skills to good use. He spent several years plotting the Nexus's course the next time it would come through the Milky Way galaxy, expected in 2410. He then spent several more years figuring out how to change the Nexus's course without hurting anybody.
Because that, of course, was what Spock was up to. Tolian Soran was certainly not a nice man, but he was brilliant. About the only force in the universe that could touch the Nexus was gravity, and blowing up stars was a great way to manipulate gravity.
And suddenly everything clicks together. Of course, the destruction of Romulus's star was not a natural event; of course any unexpected supernova of a main-sequence star that somehow "threatened the galaxy" would have to have an artificial cause. Of course it was Spock who did it, because of course he is one of the few people in the galaxy with the skill to blow up stars and the only one with the motive. And of course Spock had no choice but to do it, regardless of the risks, because of course Spock is ruled by the very first words he ever heard in his (current) life -- a conversation between his father and none other than James Kirk himself:
"Kirk, I thank you. What you have done is..."
"What I've done, I had to do."
"But at what cost? Your ship, your son."
"If I hadn't tried, the cost would have been my soul."
The same was true of Spock -- to not try would cost him his soul. He was haunted, always haunted, ever since that first day he had learned of Kirk's apparent death nearly a century ago, haunted by the most absolutely true words Jim Kirk ever spoke:
"He would've found a way, if there was that much at stake - Spock would have found a way!"
Spock was not about to make Jim Kirk a liar.
But Spock had no intention of exposing anyone to unnecessary risks. (He certainly had no premonition of the destruction of Romulus.) The rescue of Kirk had a forty-year execution window (2371 -- 2410), and Spock would commit to no course of action that he believed placed any risk whatsoever on anyone other than himself.
Spock's plan was to duplicate Soran's work, but with some modifications. Firstly, Spock had to make sure that nobody died. Given the number of systems in the galaxy that are either inhabited or contain traces of pre-organic matter that could potentially become inhabited, finding "safe" stars to detonate was tricky, and, according to Sulu's calculations, accomplishing the desired course change would require the destruction of nearly half a dozen star instead of Soran's two. Secondly, the unlawful destruction of an (uninhabited) star system was a Federation crime that carried a prison sentence of twenty years. (Destruction of an inhabited system was, of course, a life sentence.) Spock planned to take full responsibility for his actions after the fact by turning himself in to Federation authorities and requesting the maximum twenty-year prison sentence. This meant that, to make a 2410 rendezvous with the Nexus, his plan had to be carried out by 2390 at the latest, or Spock would still be in prison and unable to rescue Captain Kirk. Thirdly, realizing that it would be impossible for any one man to destroy six stars one-by-one without being captured by Starfleet, even if that man were equipped with the speedy Jellyfish, Spock decided that he would have to destroy all six stars almost simultaneously, from one location. This was the most difficult part of the plan, and was the reason that he could not use simple trilithium explosives as Soran had done, but was forced to develop the wholly new "red matter" compound.
Red matter was the key to the whole thing. It was not originally a "black hole bomb," as we saw in the movie. Red matter, injected into the center of a star using the Jellyfish's advanced atmospheric shielding and scientific equipment, would ignite, causing a supernova like any trilithium bomb. But red matter would not just destroy one star; it would create a small subspace fissure linking the cores of all six target stars together, causing them to all go supernova at the same time. I'll leave the technobabble details as an exercise to the reader, though True Nerds can likely work out red matter's basic operations just based on the fact that that it's composed of trilithium and tetryons stabilized by protomatter.
After sixteen years of work, in 2387, Spock and his co-conspirators were ready. Admiral Chekov saw to it that the Vulcan Science Academy's stockpile of experimental red matter was placed aboard the Jellyfish prototype. Montgomery Scott made sure that the Jellyfish was emptied of crew for a few hours during a planetside launch celebration and had it left behind in a disused spacedock in Vulcan's shadow, so Spock could easily steal it. Admiral Uhura pulled her intelligence strings to slow Starfleet's response once Command realized the Jellyfish had been stolen. Before anyone on Vulcan could do anything about it, Spock was in deep space, hurtling away at extreme warp speeds. The Enterprise command crew had acted in such a way that every one of them had plausible deniability of willful wrongdoing; the worst that could happen to them, thanks to Spock's insistence on shouldering all the personal risk himself, was a charge of negligence -- a risk they were all eager to take if it would help Captain Kirk. The Starfleet post-mortem was only ever able to uncover one shred of concrete evidence suggesting a premediated conspiracy: digging through the comm logs, they discovered Spock's last message to Vulcan before he jumped away at high warp:
"Unit two, this is unit one. Kobayashi Maru has set sail for the promised land."
Spock tore across space to reach his target star before Starfleet could intercept him. The stars to be detonated were Galorndon, Devron, Nequencia Alpha, the Kazis primary, Alpha Onias, and Hobus, with the chain reaction starting at Hobus (an especially large star, ideal for the job) and emanating outward from there. Destroying these six stars would cause the Nexus, on its next pass through the galaxy, to be safely diverted into the abandoned space around the Vega system and directly intersect Delta Vega on September 8, 2410.
It worked. Spock arrived at Hobus eight hours before the closest Starfleet vessel could intercept him. This gave him more than enough time to take the Jellyfish all the way into the Hobus corona (thanks, metaphasic shielding!), use its advanced equipment to tunnel a microscopic magnetically-constrained corridor into the core of the star, and fire three molecules of red matter (roughly 1x10-15 grams -- this stuff was not supposed to be used in large quantities) through the tunnel, igniting the red matter, creating the subspace link between the six stars, causing Hobus to go supernova and the five others to simultaneously explode. The Jellyfish was probably the only ship in the galaxy that could run fast enough to get out of the corona and out of the system before being destroyed.
As the six stars blinked out of existence, taking a number of barren planets with them, Spock checked the gravitational readings from a safe distance. Indeed, it had worked. The Nexus would intersect Delta Vega in 2410. Spock prepared to signal his surrender to the U.S.S. Challenger --
And that was when Nelvana went supernova.
That was not in the plan. As Spock scrambled to understand what had just happened, Bassen Sigma exploded, too.
A subspace scan confirmed Spock's worst fears: instead of collapsing in on themselves after the destruction of the six stars, as they had been supposed to, the tiny fissures he had opened in subspace were spreading out, like cracks through a pane of glass. The protomatter was feeding their growth, and, every time the subspace tunnels struck the center of a star -- boom! -- trilithium-induced stellar collapse and anything from level-12 shockwave to a full-on supernova. (Never stabilize an energy matrix using protomatter!)
Spock projected the course the stellar chain reaction would take over the next twelve hours. His interest was in saving the small colony worlds near the Neutral Zone -- Angel One, Algeron, Chaltok IV, the Unroth Sodality -- but when the analysis came back it hit Spock with all the force of a Klingon pain stick.
In no more than ten hours, the chain reaction would destroy Romulus.
This was a disaster in itself, the risk to so many innocent Romulan lives sickening. But it was at this moment that Spock finally had a premonition of what was to come. It was at this moment that it finally occurred to him that history was, literally, repeating itself -- and that he could just be the cause.
Still believing that he was living in an alternate timeline, however, Spock refused to accept that defeat could be inevitable. He kicked the warp engines way past the red line and called Romulus. Despite the crisis (or perhaps because of it), he got through to the Senate.
The Federation had, exactly as planned, informed the Romulan government in 2385 that there was a possibility of the Romulan primary exploding in 2387. Thanks to the flowering peace between the Federation and Romulus, which had started in 2379 after Picard and Donatra's alliance during the Battle of the Bassen Rift, the Romulans took Earth's warning quite seriously. Their best scientists examined the Romulan star, and, when they found nothing suggesting a possible supernova event, they set up an extensive and vigilantly-guarded monitoring network, keeping constant tabs on the status and health of their homestar. Just to be on the safe side, they did the same with every other star within ten light-years of Romulus, thereby ruling out every potential freak natural accident. When everything appeared to be in perfect working order, Romulus and the Federation alike had decided to take no preemptive action (such as evacuation) until there was some sign of an actual threat. Spock, whose underground movement was gaining some real momentum in legitimate Romulan politics in the post-Shinzon era, had agreed, and had himself joined in the monitoring effort to ensure that no freak natural event caught them by surprise.
Nobody, least of all Spock, had expected the destruction of Romulus to come from an artificial, accidental source.
Now, Spock promised to save their world. En route, he devised a plan. Infusing his supply of red matter with a small amount of decalithium (hat tip: Countdown), he developed an effective way to both save Romulus and collapse the entire subspace fissure network in the process: he would use a massive amount of his modified red matter (more than 10 grams, an unthinkable amount) to create a subspace singularity (effectively, a black hole), whose effects would force the network to implode on itself within a few hours. This would not be soon enough to save Romulus, however, which meant that the only way to save Romulus from the explosion of its sun was to harmlessly implode the Romulan sun before it could explode. Collapsing the Romulan sun would, of course, render Romulus uninhabitable within a few months, but that would give the Romulan government enough time to evacuate both Romulus and Remus.
Bottom line: to save the galaxy, Spock needed to blow up a huge amount of modified red matter to create a singularity. To save Romulus, Spock needed to blow it up inside the Romulan sun, eliminating the threat to Romulus by eliminating their homestar.
It was actually a pretty good plan. No crazier, at least, than some of the ideas he had had during the five-year missions on the Enterprise. Unfortunately, he was too late. The subspace fissures reached the Romulan system almost twenty minutes ahead of schedule; Romulus was destroyed before Spock's very eyes.
Logically, he still needed to act to save the galaxy. It no longer mattered particularly where he fired his red matter "bomb," but it was important that he do it quickly. He prepared to fire, aiming generally at the edge of the shockwave that had just taken so many innocent Romulan lives. He worked twice as fast when he realized what would undoubtedly happen next:
Nero, Last of the Romulan Empire, appeared. Nero had raced to Romulus to try to rescue his pregnant wife, his crew's families, and anyone else they could fit on the Narada. Like Spock, Nero had been only a few minutes late. So it was that Nero came face-to-face with the man who had been his role model, the man who had taught him the union of logic and passion -- now become the man who had committed genocide (however accidental!) against all Romulus. Spock tried to explain himself. He told the story of Captain Kirk's death, of his attempt to save him who had saved Spock once before, how this disaster had come completely unforeseen. Since Nero was Spock's closest, most trusted friend outside the Enterprise command crew, Spock left nothing out of his explanation, hoping by his honesty to remind Nero that further violence could accomplish no positive end. Knowing that what he had done could never be forgiven, he asked to be at least allowed to help Romulans recover from the catastrophe.
At that moment, Nero rejected everything Spock had taught him and instead embraced, whole-heartedly, the original Romulan Way -- the way of passion, and passion alone. Nero, Spock's perfect synthetic Vulcan, chose to embody, instead, the highest traditional ideals of his lost homeworld. Nero decided, reasonably enough, that the first passion he would relearn would be revenge. He attacked Spock. In Spock's attempt to escape, they were both pulled into the red matter singularity.
Nero emerged in 2233. The first thing he saw was the U.S.S. Kelvin. Having just heard Spock's story of a grand Federation conspiracy behind the construction and deployment of the Jellyfish, a disoriented Nero opened fire. This exchange ended with Nero spending twenty-five years in a Klingon prison. It gradually dawned on him that he was now stranded one hundred and fifty-four years in the past, and that he had been given a golden opportunity to save Romulus. With a ship whose incredibly basic weapons and mining equipment outclassed even contemporary military craft the same way an outdated F/A-18 Hornet outclasses a top-of-the-line World War I Fokker fighter plane (or the way a Starfleet runabout could outclass a top-of-the-line, laser-reliant Altec warship), Nero could do virtually anything he wanted to do -- assuming he could get out of prison. He could save Romulus.
(Note: Some people choose to believe that the Narada was modified with Borg technology after the destruction of Romulus, and that's why it's so darned powerful in the 23rd Century. This is based on the Countdown prequel comic. Personally, I think this idea is both unnecessary and a little silly, so I've left it out, but those who do believe it can easily interpret it into this interpretation by adding a little more time between the destruction of Romulus and Nero's interception of Spock.)
Nero could save Romulus, but he didn't think it would serve any purpose to warn them. Even if the Senate decided to believe him, they had believed the Federation's warning, too, and that hadn't saved them. Because this wasn't a natural event. Nero responded not out of the blind, raving vengeance most viewers have ascribed to him, but out of a completely rational decision: if he destroyed Vulcan, killed young Spock, destroyed the Enterprise, and eliminated the Federation (starting especially with Earth), Nero would prevent the development of red matter, the invention of the Jellyfish, and the entire chain of events that had led to Spock accidentally destroying Romulus. Not only did he not need to warn Romulus, he did not want to get the Romulus of this era involved, as that could only get unnecessary blood on their honorable hands. Worse, if the Romulan military tried to take control of the operation, it could even jeopardize Nero's plan.
Problem was, if Nero wanted to go around destroying planets, he needed to first capture the Jellyfish and its store of red matter. So he waited. Then, when he calculated it was time for Spock to arrive in 2258, Nero broke out of prison and put his plan in motion.
Nero did make one concession to the part of his crew that wanted to warn Romulus: he sent a short message to a young Senator Pardek, which, concisely, established Nero's credentials as an refugee from the future, then advised Pardek to join Spock's unification movement at the earliest opportunity, to become Spock's most trusted contact in the Romulan government, and then to destroy him utterly. Pardek received and accepted the advice, though he never learned the exact source. This is why such an ambitious and treacherous Romulan as Pardek spent such a long time (nearly eight decades!) in the unification movement before betraying it. Unfortunately, rather than destroying Spock utterly, which would have been easy, Pardek's ambitions got the better of him, and, after spending more than seventy years gaining Spock's trust, he decided to parlay his ultimate betrayal into something bigger -- namely, the Romulan military takeover of Vulcan. This proved rather more complicated than simply stabbing Spock with an Honor Blade, and the plan ultimately failed thanks to the intervention of Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D.
Spock, who, as soon as he passed through the singularity, became known as Spock Prime, knew as soon as it happened that he had been wrong all these years. The Spock Hypothesis was false; he had never been part of a divergent timeline. There was no "Prime Timeline" out there somewhere, which may or may not have ceased to exist as soon as Nero came through into the past. The "Prime Timeline" was his timeline. This whole thing was, in fact, nothing more than an unimaginably large predestination paradox -- something beyond the worst nightmares of Temporal Investigations, far beyond anything that could ever be repaired. This was how it had always been. And he, Spock, the young man who had seen his planet die in 2258, was "Spock Prime"! Always had been; always would be.
The Jellyfish reappeared near Vulcan in 2258, and the encounter proceeded as we have all seen before: Nero captured Spock. "He held [Spock] responsible for the loss of his world," and quite rightly, too. Nero stranded Spock "Prime" on Delta Vega and blew up Vulcan. "As he was helpless to save his planet, I would be helpless to save mine. Billions of lives lost -- because of me, Jim. Because... I failed." Spock's guilt is real. He was not just a hopeful savior of Romulus who had done his best against overwhelming odds and failed to save the day, as some have suggested. That would make Nero into an insanely evil, absurdly deranged character. Nero very clearly calls the destruction of Romulus "a genocide," which he plans to prevent. Failing to save a planet destroyed by a natural disaster is tragic, even enraging... but it is not genocide. Failing to save a planet destroyed by the unintended consequences of your own illegal experiments, however... that might just count as genocide.
Yes, Spock truly was the man responsible for killing tens of billions of people as a direct result of his own actions -- his own hubris, in believing that he could save Captain Kirk. And now the Romulan he had so arrogantly thought to remake in his own image, a symbol of the salvation Spock had planned to bring to Romulus as a result of reunification, had fallen ruinously into vengeance.
All because of Spock. "Because... I failed."
Now, for the first time, Nero's actions in Star Trek actually make some kind of sense. Of course, he was well aware that Vulcan had historically been destroyed in 2258 -- everyone was -- but he, like everyone else in the Empire, completely believed the Starfleet narrative that said the deed had been done by some extragalactic alien battlestation. Nero's only interest was in beating that battlestation to the punch. It never occurred to him that his little mining ship might be that battlestation. In fact, he hoped to do a better job, with fewer survivors, before going on to destroying Earth and polishing off the Enterprise, killing Young Spock and causing Spock Prime (hopefully) to wink out of existence, Marty McFly-style. Because Nero believed that the past, in this instance, was still mutable.
It was not. Fate, or luck, or Spock Prime's cry of pain somehow drew Jim Kirk to their crucial meeting in the wastes of Delta Vega. Spock asked a few questions to confirm his suspicions that this was, indeed, the year 2258 as he remembered it. He received exactly the answers he was looking for. (KIRK: "You marooned me here for mutiny." SPOCK: "Mutiny?... You are not the captain?" KIRK: "No, no. You're the captain. Pike was taken hostage." SPOCK: "By Nero.")
Knowing now, in broad strokes, what needed to be done to stop Nero, Spock mind-melded with Kirk and related the relevant parts of the story. He carefully left out any hint of his own responsibility for the loss of Romulus -- not out of shame, for Spock wanted nothing more than to confess his sin and do penance -- but because a young James Kirk could not be allowed to find out that the deaths of billions upon billions of people were caused by a few of his friends trying to save him from his own future death. The implications of Young Kirk gaining that knowledge a hundred years early would have been beyond prediction, and quite likely catastrophic.
Spock resolved to avoid the question of changes to the timeline if at all possible, because there was no way to explain it honestly without causing a radical change in Kirk's history, Spock's history, and, ultimately, the whole history of the galaxy from 2258 through 2387. History recorded that Kirk had accepted the Spock Hypothesis, that the Nero Incident had created a divergent alternate timeline. This belief had shaped his life, and the lives of everyone around him. Even though Spock now knew the truth, he could not cause Kirk to question that belief now or he might change everything. Granted, there was a chance that "changing everything" could lead to the restoration of Vulcan and even Romulus. There was a much larger chance, however, that "changing everything" would allow Nero to be successful, leading to the destruction of Earth and the Federation. Spock had already played God once that day, and he'd killed billions of people. He wasn't going to do it again.
Furthermore, Spock, as many fans have pointed out, has always had a certain amount of loyalty to the "correct" timeline, no matter how painful that timeline might be. We saw this clearly as early as "The City on the Edge of Forever," and it continued right up through The Voyage Home. Many fans, indeed, have complained that Spock Prime in the movie should have tried to restore his own original timeline and bring back Vulcan, because Spock does not tolerate alternate timelines if he can prevent them. I agree with these fans. Accepting Mr. Orci's explanation of time travel in this movie makes a lot of sense in a lot of places, but Spock's failure to attempt to change the alternate timeline or at least return to his home timeline is a characterization problem created by the Many Worlds Interpretation. In the "eleven is prime" interpretation, however, Spock Prime's inaction makes perfect sense, because this is the timeline that has always been and always must be. Trying to save Vulcan would change the timeline, and this is something Spock is strongly reluctant to do even in the best circumstances.
But Kirk brought up the timeline question anyway, in his own, Kirkishly personal way. "Going back in time, you changed all our lives," he said. Spock tried to hastily change the subject: "Jim, we must go. There is a Starfleet outpost not far from here." But Kirk was tenacious. "Wait. Where you came from, did I know my father?"
And so there was no escaping it. Spock told Kirk as much of the truth as possible -- "You often spoke of him as being your inspiration for joining Starfleet." -- but it wasn't enough. Spock realized that he could not merely allow the Spock Hypothesis to emerge on its own; Spock would have to help create his own flawed hypothesis. Faced with the choice between, on the one hand, letting this painful day in history stand so that it could create the future Spock knew, or, on the other, being honest, and thereby changing everyone and everything for better or for worse, Spock did something he did very rarely: he lied. "He proudly lived to see you become Captain of the Enterprise," he said, then quickly changed the subject again: "...a ship we must return you to as soon as possible." This was not easy for Spock; Spock had only deliberately deceived Jim Kirk once before, when he had kidnapped Fleet Captain Pike in the mid-2260s and delivered him to Talos. Then, as now, Spock had lied only when forced to by a higher duty than his duty to the truth. Then, his higher duty had been to Captain Pike. Now, it was to the whole of history.
And so it was done. Time resumed its course, unharmed. Kirk escaped Delta Vega in time to stop Nero. For his part, Nero only realized much too late that he was actually repeating, not pre-empting, historical events. For him, everything clicked together at the moment when the Narada's drill fell into San Francisco Bay. He suddenly realized that the Narada was the "alien battleship" that history recorded, and that his mission to destroy Earth was doomed, by historical inevitability, to fail. At this point, desperate to save his homeworld, he stopped messing around with the side targets and zeroed in all his energy on killing the man who had killed Romulus: Mr. Spock, acting first officer of the Enterprise. "I want Spock dead, now!" he shouted, despite the fact that killing Spock and igniting the red matter at such close distance would no doubt destroy the Narada as well. It didn't matter: if Nero could kill Spock, Romulus might well be saved. He -- and his crew -- were aware of the choice, and willing to make that sacrifice. (Which, of course, is the reason they didn't all mutiny when Nero started giving suicidal orders, which they likely would have done otherwise.)
Didn't matter. Young Kirk, Young Spock, and the U.S.S. Enterprise, sporting its shiny new 2258 refit (or is it shiny old? Time travel confuses me), saved the day.
Spock2387 was able to get off Delta Vega, along with Keenser, by hailing the Galactica-style convoy of Vulcan refugees, who came by and picked him up. He introduced himself as Selek, a hermit, born of Shi'Kahr but living on Delta Vega for the past fifty years. No one questioned him. With all their records wiped out, nobody could. Spock/Selek melted into Vulcan society, and, when the time came, he quietly suggested 40 Eridani A as the site for New Vulcan. He emerged once more, as described above, to encourage his younger self to remain in Starfleet. The conversation proceeded in exactly the manner Spock Prime remembered it proceeding when he had been his younger self on the other end of the conversation. This was disorienting (much like that sentence), but somehow reassuring.
Then Spock Prime aka Selek faded away again, and our narrative draws to a close. His last known location was at the promotion ceremony for Captain Kirk in 2263, standing high above the crowd. Spock Prime was wondering about the Nexus. Presumably, despite the Romulan disaster, his mission had still succeeded, and the Nexus was still on course to intersect Delta Vega in 2410. He wondered whether he might somehow be there to meet it.
Then came Kirk's promotion. Spock Prime watched intently, then began reciting to himself the very words that would be spoken aboard the Enterprise as she began her new mission a few hours later. "Thrusters on full. Engineering thrusters and impulse engines at your command, sir..." His words matched exactly what would be said aboard the Enterprise.
Because, once upon a time, Spock had lived those words. That was the day he had become Kirk's first officer, and they had begun a voyage together that would change the galaxy a hundred times over -- a voyage that would bind them together through fair and foul, space and time, through death itself. He knew those words because one day the Spock on that bridge would find himself here, standing in this same spot, a hundred and thirty years older, living the same time period over again.
He knew those words because there is only one timeline.
He knew those words because Eleven Is Prime.
...And that's the end. It's quite a bit longer than I expected. I've been thinking these thoughts on and off for a few months now, but when I started this little "tidying up" of my thoughts I didn't think it'd take more than two or three pages to explain in meticulous detail how the new movie fit into the Prime Timeline. Wow. I guess that was dead wrong. I feel like a huge nerd now, but, hey, I really did have a lot of fun writing this, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as well.|
I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated six things: (1) that it is a legitimate canonical interpretation, if a minority opinion, to believe that the events of the new movie are completely consistent with the original timeline, with no alternate timeline diverging at any point; (2) that this interpretation actually helps make sense of a lot of ambiguities in the traditional Trek timeline, from Vulcan's curious makeovers over the years to Spock's unique fervor for reunification with Romulus; (3) that this interpretation also makes some sense out of the few weaknesses of the new movie -- namely, the plot, science, and Nero's motivations; (4) that the "eleven is prime" interpetation does its work without resorting to a theory of time travel that contradicts either major theory of time travel: the Many Worlds Interpretation, which Bob Orci correctly calls the "latest, greatest... scientific theory on the books" (and which many previous Star Trek temporal excursions have ignored), or the highly dodgy, butterfly-effect time travel shown by previous canon (which a full-throated endorsement of MWI-based time travel seems to do). By contrast, the "predestination paradox" used here is well-established in Trek and other science-fiction (including, notably, one of Orci's other shows, Lost), and holds up to modern scientific scrutiny at least as well as MWI. (5) Therefore, all the canonistas who continue to hate this movie on the grounds that it bypasses the old chronology now have an excuse to love this movie using this interpretation, which holds it to be a crucial part of the old chronology -- or they can show their true colors and admit they just hate the new movie because they don't like new things. And, (6) I think I've fairly completely proven that canon debates are almost always stupid, because canon, as shown here at extraordinary length, is almost infinitely malleable. I even managed to work a Bring Back Kirk scheme into it. (Nice.)
Oh, and (7): I am apparently a windbag.
Now, I would love to discuss this with anyone who managed to get through all of it, but, honestly, looking now at the sheer length of what I have written, I doubt anyone actually did. So, if you made it through, comment away! I'll be watching. And, to The Optimist, the poster at TrekMovie.com who started this whole thought process rolling: I officially apologize. Good call, man.
Otherwise, I guess I'll be back for Star Trek XII. Lookin' forward to it!
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DISCLAIMER: This story used to violate copyrights, but in the new timeline we're -- uh-oh.
All material © 2014, Wowbagger.