Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ The Return of the Archons
A hundred yeas ago, the early cruiser Archon crashed on the third planet in the Beta System. As it is nearby, and not actually assigned for anything at the moment, the Enterprise investigates what happened to it.
Lieutenants Sulu and O'Neil are dispatched to the surface, some time before the episode starts. They investigate surface culture as best they can, and try not to draw notice. Unfortunately, they fail. They are swiftly recognised as outsiders. The pair call for emergency beam-out as hooded figures draw all around them. O-Neil is engulfed by one of their weapons, and slumps to the ground. Sulu almost gets away, but he too is engulfed by a second blast moments before the transporter takes hold. Sulu rematerializes in the transporter room, but his mental state is very different.
Claiming to be part of the 'Body', Sulu is increasingly distressed as he sees the people of the Enterprise are 'not of the body', and he has to be restrained.
Kirk decides to get his people back, he must investigate in person. He beams down with Spock, Dr. McCoy, sociologist Lindstrom, and two guards.
. Immediately, Spock notices all the people they encounter are showing a sort of contented mindlessness. Then the Red hour strikes - the beginning of the Festival, a period of debauchery and lawlessness. Escaping the mayhem, the three get directions for an inn, and make for it. Inside, they meet three older men: Reger, Hacom, and Tamar. Reger is in charge, and Kirk has some questions, such as 'What is this red hour'? That immediately sets the three on guard, and the increasing number of questions terrifies Reger. In the end, the party are given rooms and retreat from the mayhem outside, trying their best to get a few hours' sleep.
Festival ends the next morning. Reger, learning the landing party did not attend Festival, concludes they are not of the Body. He directly asks a question that staggers them: 'Are you Archons?'. Before Kirk can answer, two lawgivers arrive. These are the same robed, hooded characters from earlier, carrying the long, hollow staves that are highly advanced weapons without appearing so, that they used on the previous party.
The lawgivers identify themselves as the servants of Landru, and command the landing party to accompany them, to be absorbed into the body. Kirk, acting on a hunch, defies them - and causes confusion. Obedience is the core principle of this society. Disobedience is unknown and so they do not know how to deal with it.
Reger steps in, in the confusion, and guides the landing party to a place he knows, where they will be safe. Sadly, on the way there, every member of the 'Body', every civilian and lawgiver, begins to converge on them. They stun many, but they keep coming. Lieutenant O'Neil is one of those stunned - he seems no different than any other member of the body. However, Kirk will not abandon a crewmember and he is carried along.
Spock detects an incredible powersource nearby, far out of tune with the simple environment.
Meanwhile, Reger explains to Kirk about the arrival of the first Archons. They behaved like no people the planet had seen before. Many of them were killed, many more absorbed into the Body. Finally, he drops the most important piece of information: Landru pulled the Archons from the sky.
Kirk immediately contacts Enterprise. Horrified, he learns that heat beams are focused on the ship. Her shields are able to deflect them, but nearly all ship's power is diverted to this purpose. Communications are poor, escape is impossible, and the orbit is decaying. To complicate matters, Landru's agents are able to use the communication to surround, and stun the landing party.
They awaken in a cave like cell, but McCoy, Galloway and O'Neil are missing. Then McCoy returns, an upstanding, near mindless member of the Body. Eventually, Lawgivers appear, demanding Kirk accompany them, and this time, disobedience results in an immediate death threat. The orderly society has corrected a flaw.
Kirk is taken to a high tech facility, utterly out of place with the rest of the planet, and ancient machinery, part of which is the absorption chamber. There, a priest named Marplon will oversee Kirk's forcible induction into the Body.
Back at the cell, Spock is collected in the same manner, and taken to the chamber. There, he meets a near-mindless Kirk, who smiles, and walks off slowly. Spock learns that Marplon is part of the same underground to which Reger belongs. Marplon intervened to prevent both Kirk and Spock from being absorbed, and returned their weapons. Spock, acting as instructed, makes his way back to the cell.
Kirk and Spock plan escape possibilities, with McCoy getting in the way. The society is clearly mechanical; a cold logic rules, and everyone's mind is connected to it somehow. This must be broken: A society with no spark, no flame, is a dead society.
When Reger and Marplon join them, Kirk demands more information: the location of Landru. Reger reveals that Beta III was in a war that almost eclipsed the planet. Landru, one of the leaders, took the people back to a simpler, happier time.
Marplon takes Kirk and Spock to a chamber, the Hall of Audiences, where a holographic Landru appears to his acolytes. There, Landru regretfully Kirk that Enterprise's interference is causing great harm, and that they, and all who knew of them, must be killed to cleanse the memory of the Body.
Kirk disagrees somewhat, and aims his phaser at the wall behind the projection. Spock does likewise, and together both beams rip the protective material to shreds. Behind that wall, the projection equipment, and an ancient planetary computer system reside.
This machine, Landru, was entrusted with the care of the Body - all sentient life on Beta 3. It found to do this, it was best to enslave their minds, and allow them to live out their days as thralls, pleasure centres constantly alight, intelligence stunted.
Kirk and Spock asking Landru difficult questions it has never had to answer, questions about whether its approach to creating the good is really creating evil. Ultimately, they convince it that it is the evil, and that it must destroy the evil. Landru agrees; their logic is undeniable. Landru explodes, violently.
Kirk leaves a team of specialists, including Lindstrom, to help restore the planet's culture "to a Human form".
Whilst it is not explicitly mentioned, it is clear from this episode that the inhabitants of Beta 3 are labouring under a common 'brain internet'. Their brains, or more accurately, devices put into their brains by the absorption chamber, are linked across a planet-wide network controlled by Landru. It's the only plausible scientific way to explain a computer-controlled telepathic network that lasted for countless lifetimes.
In essence, each individual would be given one, or more likely more neuroprosthetics, likely operating as a local network around the brain. One would definitely be stimulating the pleasure centre, another potentially 'dampening' signal strength across the surface of the brain, retarding higher functions.
The local nets all talk to one another via a wireless internet, and to the central computer system (Landru). Lawgivers and other sections being most likely on the equivalent of different subnet masks.
In Sulu's case, he is not yet part of the network, and has no prosthetics., Instead, he is essentially hypnotised, or drugged - a chemical compound did come out of those staves. This would likely be a temporary measure, intended to bring an individual back to the absorption chamber for implantation. As shown in the episode, Sulu's 'of the body' state, wore off on its own.
The scenario pictured here, is perhaps not the most likely, but perfectly plausible, and could happen.
With Beta 3, it was a world war scenario - constant warfare. It could happen more subtly in our world.
Over time, organic brains become increasingly linked to permanent prosthetic devices. Assuming the current technological issues are solved, and it becomes possible to use a permanent implanted brain prosthetic, we will likely see increasing use of increasingly sophisticated models.
The potential for problem occurs when those implants begin to link together between individuals. If a group join together under a common banner they could conceivably all link their minds to the same control software, and become in essence, sentient limbs of the machine.
That is very plausible, and will almost certainly occur in the long-term future. What would be very unlikely is the single species-wide mind. It would be more likely as multiple separate groups and singletons.
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.