Friday, 5 April 2013

What Did First Contact Do For Us (in the future)?

NB: Updated April 5th 2014 - originally written on the 50th (pre) anniversary of First Contact in 2013

Happy Anniversary of First Contact Day to you all!

Wow, is it only 50 years to go? What a thought. Can't wait; April 5th 2063 here we come!

But what's to celebrate in our Star Trek vision of the 23rd and 24th Centuries? As we drain our last glass of bubbly synthehol and attempt to remember the code to get us back into our quarters, let's have a think about just what we have raised a song to in the last few hours - was it all worth the pomp and ceremony? What exactly did we get from this monumental event and was it all good? As we know, according to Riker in Star Trek First Contact, it's the time everything changes and things get better - so let's put that to the test right now.

1. Warp speed

Bit of a given really. But then it's only Warp One so we're going nowhere (relatively) fast for a  hile. Luckily it does attract a passing ship and thus we encounter the Vulcans for the first time. This leads to a whole heap of other problems but the good thing is that at least we can get there a lot quicker thanks to Cochrane and the Phoenix

No longer is Earth alienated in some spiral of the Milky Way and so begins the road to the creation of the United Federation of Planets as well as numerous first contacts with new and exciting lifeforms. Now some of these are good and a few are going to be filled with obstacles, wars and death...but not that many...hopefully.'s also responsible for ripping the universe to bits which isn't such a good thing. Excellent suggestion to impose that warp five speed limit. That solves everything. What warp drove does lead to is the creation of Starfleet and therefore the Federation. Ironically in the real world it's the creation of Starfleet that eventually brings about the creation of first contact as an event in Star Trek....!

2. Zephram Cochrane

The man behind the engine. Legend, pioneer, alcoholic, from Alpha Centauri (according to The Original Series) and able to age in reverse. Nothing like the Enterprise crew expect him to be like, Cromwell's Cochrane is a reluctant, dishevelled hero that you just can't help but like. While we get to see him briefly in the Enterprise pilot Broken Bow, it's his subsequent chronological appearance that really bends time and space. In The Original Series, Zephram is significantly younger and even managed to brush up well for the visit from Kirk and company. Luckily he was rejuvenated by the Companion which resides with him on Gamma Canaris N and saved his life.

While his body is regenerated, it appears that the Companion has erased any references to his previous encounter with at least two ships called Enterprise. Now, here's a thought for you - is the name of the Federation warp five NX Class ship in itself a time loop - was it called that because of Cochrane's own previous encounter with the crew of that starship?! However, when we meet Zephram in Metamorphosis he seems to have developed Scotty (Relics) syndrome and forgotten all about a previous encounter with the Enterprise-E. Let us not forget the statues and schools that get named in his honour afterwards, although whether he wanted to be a statue is all historical conjecture....

3. The Borg

Thanks for this one, Jean-Luc. Due to your inability to make sure that all the Borg were eliminated before you warped out of orbit back to the 24th Century there were some survivors who managed to get frozen in the Arctic, get thawed, evade the NX-01 and Captain Archer and then send a signal to the Delta Quadrant. A signal which will be received sometime in the 24th Century...and one suspect that's what sparks some interest in Sector 001. The speed in which the cube arrives in The Best of Both Worlds suggests that this is not the same ship the Enterprise-D encountered in system J-25 even though the dimensions are precisely the same.

Enterprise's Regeneration implies that it's all a self-fulfilling prophecy and we were always doomed to meet the Borg whether or not Q chucked the Enterprise-D halfway across the galaxy. Could this have all been avoided? Probably not in the big time/space continuum mess.

4. Music and Alcohol

Luckily First Contact Day reassured us that popular music won't kick the bucket until at least April 6th 2063. As we learn, Cochrane has a particular fondness of Steppenwolf and their Magic Carpet Ride (good choice). Roy Orbison will be available on jukeboxes around the same time although it's Oobey Doobey and not Pretty Woman. Tequila will be available for a few years more however its morning after effects appear to be significantly lessened - ask Troi for further details. Whether the beverage is still around in the 24th Century is debatable since the counselor is apparently unaware of its existence. It has been suggested that rock and roll may survive into the 24th Century (see 6) however the longevity of musical artists such as The Beastie Boys is still open for debate - especially in alternative universes.

5. The Vulcans

...and so years of suspicion, logic and a serious lack of humour begin. Now the intrigue here is what could have happened if first contact had been with another race? Humanity's suspicion of the Vulcans is all based on the conjecture that they have held back our development at least until the 2160's and possibly longer. Would we have become a conquered people if the Andorian or the Klingons had got to us first? How would Starfleet and the Federation evolved if Earth's first meeting with people from another world had been the Tellarites?!

It is well documented within Star Trek: Enterprise that the Vulcans assisted in pulling Earth from the shambles it was but what more could it have been as there's always that hint that First Contact was both a good and bad thing - did the Vulcans really hinder our progression to the stars? Were they in turn being influenced without realising it by the Romulans?! What we find out later is that the Vulcans inadvertently caused first contact back in the 1950's in Carbon Creek but we didn't know about it (of course).

From the perspective of our familiar crews though, the Vulcans have given us a great deal - Archer gained a first officer and Dr McCoy was provided with more than one opportunity to win an argument. While Enterprise sowed the seeds of discontent with the pointed - eared ones it would be wise to remember that meeting with them would bring about advances in conditions and technology that humanity would otherwise have been unable to achieve.

6. First Contact Day 

The occasion to remember the day everything changed. A time for rejoicing and revelry and if you're on the USS Voyager then beware because it's like to have been organised by Neelix and Naomi Wildman. From what we can children get a day off school and it's a prime opportunity for Tom Paris to get his 20th Century jukebox out (no sign of Steppenwolf to really authenticate the occasion though). Interestingly the notion that this is celebrated right in the closing closing episodes of Voyager screws the calendar around in line with stardates as First Contact occurred in April. Therefore we can surmise that we're not working on the Julian Calendar but something much more universal.

7. The Bozeman

Bit of a curve ball here, but without the landing site for the Vulcans the Enterprise-D might have avoided spending a few weeks trapped in the temporal causality loop. I'm not sure that first contact in Scunthorpe would have had quite the same dramatic effect.

We could probably go on for quite a while about how, what and why was affected in the long run by April 5th 2063 but I think these above are probably the main culprits. While Star Wars fans have another month to wait for their special day (May 4th), with Star Trek we can at least say that the day has some significance within all varieties of the franchise and it's something with a bit of substance not just a "comedy" date. In the fictional world everything that we know of the UFP, Starfleet, Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway etc stems from this one event and we can assuredly say that it is truly the franchise's Genesis moment (all puns intended). First Contact is the point at which the future starts to become the universe begins is journey towards the vision of Gene Roddenberry. While not everything about the original day was a resounding success as we've seen here, there's a lot to be impressed with - and it gave us Star Trek First Contact which isn't a bad thing now, is it?!

In the real world the question for us all is when will this happen and who will it be with? If we're honest with ourselves we know it won't be with Vulcans and I very much doubt it'll be at a missile silo in Montana (which actually does exist) or that it'll even be linked to the first warp flight but that's missing the point of this occasion. One of the rare chances to have a bit of Star Trek indulgence with some purpose and show your Starfleet pride especially with just a half-century to go!

After all this though, I would ask this - what does First Contact Day actually mean to you today? Is it a chance to celebrate Star Trek or space exploration or even sci-fi as a whole? Is there anything else from that fictional event that we should also recognise it for? Is there anything else that we got from first contact within the fictional universe or in the real production world of Star Trek?

Anyway - let's request just one more glass from the replicator before bed or maybe join Captain Picard for a slice of cake (cellular peptide we suspect) - Happy First Contact Day to one and all!

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