Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ Operation -- Annihilate!
The episode opens with the Enterprise heading at full speed for Deneva colony. There is a plague in that part of the galaxy, and world after world has been driven insane. The sweep of infection places Deneva, a large colony, next. Kirk's brother Sam, lives on the planet, so he is very concerned. His feelings get worse when Uhura is unable to contact any transmitter on the planet.
Sulu picks up a small ship of unknown configuration on sensors. The ship is making a suicide run at the Denevan star, and does not appear to be out of control. Kirk orders an interception course, but the4 Enterprise is too far behind. The small craft plunges directly into the star, engines still on full burn. Seconds before the ship is completely consumed, a single message echoes across space.
"I did it! It's finally gone! I'm free!!".
Kirk now knows the madness is already at Deneva, and orders a landing party to suit up. He leads the party, with Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Yeoman Zahra. They materialise in the central plaza of the administrative capital: A city of 100,000. It is the middle of the day, yet not a soul is in sight, the buildings around dusty and unused.
A few minutes later, four men brandishing clubs run out from one of the derelict buildings, and charge the landing party. Their body language indicates menace, but yet they shout out a warning. "Get away! We don't want to hurt you!"
Kirk and Spock stun the men with their phasers. McCoy examines their prone forms and makes the shocked discovery that even unconscious, the four's nervous systems are racing violently, as if they are constantly under neural stimulation.
A scream draws them next to Kirk's brother's laboratory. Samuel Kirk lies dead on the floor. Aurelan Kirk, Sam's wife, is hysterical, and their child Peter is unconscious nearby. Evidence suggests something has been trying to force its way in, despite the fact that the sensors showed nothing on Deneva that didn't belong there.
Aurelan, in terrible pain, tells Kirk that "things" came, eight months ago, on a ship from Ingraham B. She struggles to tell him more, but each impulse to try makes her gasp out in pain, her body juddering as if under massed torture. McCoy gives her a sedative to make her sleep. This fails, but does calm her screaming nervous system somewhat, allowing her to gather her will. She explains that the creatures use the Denevans as their arms and legs, and are forcing them to build ships. They control their hosts with pain. As her brain again lights up with pain, Aurelan fights past it, and using the last of her reserves, begs Kirk to stop the creatures from invading any further; stop them from leaving Deneva at any cost. Finally, her pain centre overloads, and she dies, as her neurons rupture.
The landing party emergency teleport to sickbay, where McCoy surgically removes a thick filament of tissue that had begun to bind with Spock's brainstem. He reasons that the entities attack and control their prey through this filament. Left behind like a stinger, it burrows into the brainstem, and takes control of the host's body. Speech is not routed through the lower brainstem, explaining why the colonists were able to shout warnings.
Shortly afterwards, in sickbay, Spock recovers consciousness. He surges out of sickbay with unnatural speed, his nervous system on fire. Bursting into the bridge, he seizes the helm, aiming the ship into the atmosphere in an attempt to destroy it. Kirk and the bridge crew overpower him, eventually, and stable orbit is resumed. Spock, under heavy restraint in sickbay, is examined thoroughly by McCoy.
Spock's pain centre is lit up like a Christmas tree. He is writhing in agony, far beyond human tolerances. This is how the creatures take control. Filaments of the stinger have wrapped themselves completely around Spock's brainstem, taking control of all his bodily functions, subverting his muscles for their own use. They don't appear to have a use for speech or facial muscles, so those higher brainstem functions are unaffected. The reason for the madness is confirmed: victims are in such agony that their minds eventually break under the stress.
Spock recovers consciousness more slowly this time, gazing up at Kirk grimly. He apologises for his earlier actions and says he believes he has control now; he can withstand the pain for a while, and keep control of his body. Kirk is not convinced and orders him confined to sickbay.
Shortly afterwards, Spock forcibly departs sickbay. He heads to the transporter room and orders Montgomery Scott, on duty there, to transport him to the surface. Scott refuses, and calls security. Kirk and security arrive just as Spock is overpowering Scotty, and dissuade him.
Spock explains that his plan is to retrieve a creature for study. He believes that since his nervous system is already infiltrated, there is little more the creatures can do to him. Kirk is convinced, and over McCoy's objections, Spock beams down to collect a creature for study.
Shortly, Spock returns with a creature and begins to study it. He partially dissects it and finds it is essentially one single, enormous brain cell. Kirk catches on to what Spock is saying: These creatures are all one creature, cells of a distributed brain communicating through a means not understood. That's why the phaser did not affect it: it sent the phaser energy to other cells across the network.
McCoy's efforts to find some method to kill the creatures fail. No virus, no bacterium, heat, intense cold, bombardment with radiation, and a huge variety of different atmospheres: Nothing affects it. Nothing even phases it. Even complete vacuum does not bother it. He gives his findings to Kirk, who looks at them dejectedly, knowing if there is no way to kill the creatures, their human puppets must be killed instead. One million civilians, and he will have to order their deaths.
He thinks back to that ship they first encountered, the one whose pilot exclaimed how he was free, just before dive-bombing into the sun. If heat has no effect, what about light? He asks a sceptical Dr McCoy to try it.
McCoy creates a test chamber, placing Spock's creature inside it, and bombards it with every wavelength of light, as powerful in intensity as a sun.
It works, the creature dissolves under the bombardment.
He tells Spock and the Captain the news. It will kill the creature, but the intensity of light will almost certainly blind Spock. Spock agrees to take the risk, and enters the chamber. McCoy activates it and the blinding light engulfs Spock. When it dissipates, Spock is indeed blind. However, all traces of the creature are gone. Spock says the trade off was equitable, revealing just how much agony he was really in.
Several hours later, McCoy makes an appalling discovery. The lab results are in; high intensity ultra violet light kills the creatures. The rest was completely wasted, so Spock need not have been blinded at all. Crippled by guilt, McCoy delivers his report. Kirk takes the report and orders over 200 ultra violet blasting satellites to be constructed, and deployed in geostationary and polar orbits over the planet, continually blasting the entire surface with intense ultraviolet light.
The satellites are put in place, and the network switched on. A few tense minutes go by, and then the first radio call comes up from the surface, followed by another and another: The creatures are gone! All over the planet, enslaved humans are regaining control of their own bodies, construction of the ship fleet has ceased, and the creatures are dying everywhere.
During the celebration, Spock returns to the bridge - able to see. A hereditary inner eyelid closed, protecting his eyes. Spock was unsure it would work, as he is only half Vulcan. However, it did, and it saved his sight.
The plot itself is of no real relevance to VR, but the technical aspects of the creatures are.
Organic Brain-Machine Interfaces. It does seem a wonderful dream, one which is a pipedream for the moment, but which would be desirable on so many ways. Organic tissue able to fool the immune system, react dynamically, and grow and intertwine with existing neurons, augmenting the current nervous system.
Everything that current BMI transistors do, but utilising the same transmission medium as the original neurons, able to bond one for one.
The giant brain expressed here, could be a neural network internet, lining wirelessly every human together in a collective network. Research into this, to allow techno-telepathy is already being done at serious institutions.
The way the creature attaches to the brain also precisely mirrors current understanding. Attaching a device to the lower brainstem and integrating right the way in, whilst beyond our current technologies, would enable interface with the entire lower body, from the neck on down. Able to intercept or overwrite any sensory data received, able to enhance, or remove pain entirely. However, the muscles for the face, and part of the voice would not be affected as they leave the brainstem higher up, as facial nerves. The larynx would be affected, and voice changed or removed, so that part of the episode is incorrect, but primitive sounds formed through breathing and mouth, tongue and teeth movements, would still be possible. The eyes and ears do not use the brainstem, so either they are controlled separately, or they are not controlled at all.
A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS, built up one by one in chronological order, regardless of the strength of their connection to VR & AR. Set included for the sake of completeness.
A complete listing of Star Trek: TOS which reference virtual reality, alternate lives, AI, or augmented reality. They are built up one by one in chronological order.