Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ The Squire of Gothos
The heavy cruiser Enterprise is on a mission to resupply the colony on Beta 6. It will take them 8 days to get there, and the colony is short of critical supplies. In order to shorten the journey, Enterprise heads directly across a stellar desert - a void where no suns burn. Partway across the void, they encounter a rogue planet drifting through the darkness. The planet has no sun, but it is still illuminated: Great lighting storms criss-cross its surface, flashing out into space.
Lacking time to stop and investigate the strange rogue, Kirk orders its course to be plotted, and the planet flagged for future study. He then tells helms officer Lieutenant Sulu to resume original course.
Before Sulu can comply, both he and Kirk vanish from the bridge.
Suddenly, the storm-wracked planet, transmits a greeting to the Enterprise. Unusually, it takes the form of block letters on the main viewscreen. The first message "Greetings and Felicitations!". It clears a few seconds later, and is replaced by "Hip hip hoorah. Tallyho!"
Sensors report the planet's atmosphere is lethal to known forms of life. Bearing this in mind, Spock still orders a landing party comprised of Spock orders Dr. McCoy, along with Lt. DeSalle and geophysicist Karl Jaeger, to conduct a search.
The three officers in hazmat gear beam down to the planet, close to the co-ordinates the signal came from. They find that the planet is actually perfectly habitable with an Earth-like atmosphere and foliage. On a hill nearby is a small medieval castle, and this seems to be the source of the signal.
Entering the castle, the three find it is like a stately home, warm and filled with knickknacks, each apparently representing 19th century Earth. Amongst them, Kirk and Sulu, apparently immobile statues in a display.
Almost as soon as the missing officers are discovered, the door slams, and a harpsichord begins to play. Turning his high-backed chair to meet the landing party, what appears to be a human male in an ancient military dress uniform introduces himself. He is retired General Trelane, the Squire of Gothos. Standing up, Trelane wears a blue tailcoat over a white frilled shirt and green riding pants with black boots. He is the model 18th century gentleman - in appearance only.
McCoy scans the 'general' with his medical tricorder, and is informed there is nothing there. No body, no life, nothing. Trelane reanimates the captain and helm officer, then invites everyone to stay as his guests on his world Gothos. He desires to discuss the military history of the planet Earth. His mannerisms convey the slightest hint of a threat. "You will stay, won't you?"
When pushed, he made it abundantly clear that his are the rules to be followed, and that the landing party will stay until or unless he chose to let them leave.
Spock, aboard the heavy cruiser, has located a tiny zone of habitable area on the planet, just five miles wide. Directing the sensors to that location, he detects five lifeforms. He orders the transporter room to lock onto every lifesign it can find down there, and bring them up to the ship.
Inside the mansion, everyone except Trelane vanish in a swirl of transporter energy.
Kirk swiftly makes his way back to the bridge, issuing an order to make best possible speed away from Gothos even as he leaves the turbo lift. No change in course or speed is actually made. Trelane stands upon the bridge, and tells Kirk off for leaving so rudely. He admires Spock as the clever being who tried to spoil all his fun, and tells the crew he can't have that. With a wave of his hand, Trelane is back on the planet - and so are the original landing party, the entire bridge crew and a handful of random crewmembers.
Trelane 'invites' them to stay for lunch. The crew has no choice but to obey.
A couple of interesting things crop up during the meal. Karl Jaeger, the meteorologist from the original party notes that in the main fireplace, the fire burns brightly, yet produces no heat. McCoy comments upon how all the food has the same lack of flavour. Trelane meanwhile is still convinced that 18th century Earth is no different from Enterprise's Earth. He remarks on Uhura in particular.
Trelane says to Kirk, of Uhura: "Ah, a Nubian prize. Taken on one of your
raids of conquest, no doubt."
With a wave of his hand, he sends Uhura to the harpsichord, and has her play a song, utterly against her will.
Conscious of Trelane's great power, but mindful of the mistakes noticed from the dinner, Kirk and Spock conspire. Trelane must have an energy source for his powers, they reason. Both have noticed that he never strays far from a large wall mirror, and Kirk has a plan.
Kirk insults Trelane loudly, and belittles his honour for what he has done to Uhura. Trelane turns angrily upon Kirk, threatening to destroy him, when Kirk challenges a duel. Suddenly enraptured, Trelane accepts, and creates a pair of duelling pistols for the occasion.
Standing back to back, Trelane counts down towards 10, moving further away from Kirk, towards his mirror, his back to the captain. Kirk just points his pistol at Trelane's mirror and fires.
The mirror explodes in a shower of glass and electronics. Behind the pane, electronics continue to explode. A large part of the castle interior vanishes as Trelane's power source is destroyed.
Deprived of his machinery, the general can only stand and watch as Kirk and crew dematerialise in front of him. The Enterprise breaks orbit, heading for Beta 6 at high warp.
Unfortunately Trelane still has some power. He uses that to pick his planet up and hurtle it across space, into the heavy cruiser's path. Again and again Enterprise evades, and again and again Gothos fills the viewscreen. Eventually Kirk acknowledges they cannot run, and settles into standard orbit.
Kirk vanishes from the ship as they settle into orbit, and appears on Gothos, in the dock of a courtroom. Wearing a judge's wig, Trelane passes judgement over Kirk and crew. He plans to murder Kirk for the crime of opposing him. But it is all too easy for the near-omnipotent being, and Kirk, seeing Trelane's frustration, suggests that instead, he should hunt for Kirk, track him down for the sport. The creature readily agrees, and Kirk is transported to just outside Trelane's castle, unarmed.
A disembodied voice tells him he only has a couple of minute's head start, and then, the hunt is on. Kirk runs, but Trelane's disembodied voice follows him; Trelane's physical manifestation, wielding a sword, coming along behind. Eventually, Trelane catches sight of Kirk, and waves his hand, trapping the captain in a cage. Reaching in to stab Kirk with the sword, Trelane is astounded when the captain takes the sword and breaks the blade across his knee.
The near-omnipotent being is enraged, and behaves like a spoiled brat having a temper tantrum for not getting his way. He prepares to eviscerate Kirk with power alone when suddenly his power is stripped, and two ghostly forms materialise in the air; Trelane's parents.
Trelane is essentially a naughty child who has overstepped his bounds. His parents order Trelane to put his toys down and come in now. Kirk is transported back to his ship, and a petulant Trelane vanishes, followed swiftly by Gothos itself.
Gothos and Trelane are set in space, as travellers the Enterprise encounter.
However, they are also the perfect example of what it means to have and run your own VR system. Trelane has complete control over the planet's surface, over nearby space, and anyone who enters follows his rules, his way. The world is sculpted as his mind desires, to anything he can conceive of. Trelane is a young boy, so his mind does not conceive very far. The principle is still unchanged, and with direct brain interfacing between user and computer, even simple hand movements can create and destroy - the intent is all in the thought patterns.
A coin has two sides, and they are also the perfect example of what it could be like in a descendent of Andromeda or another planet-based VR system when we do achieve full sensory immersion. Picture if you will, a group of travellers crossing from one simulated solar system to the next, and encountering one like this, run by a petulant child with near godly powers on and in the space immediately around their planet.
Able to connect to the computer system controlling things in the most direct manner, and recognised as having additional rights as the owner, the trials and tribulations Trelane puts the Enterprise crew through, locking them in and preventing the ability to leave without his say so, or take significant, potentially lethal damage, all this is believable. If you have the ability to create sensory stimulation, you certainly have the ability to give the impression of damage - a massive jolt to the pain receptors for example.
This story is one that bears remembrance as we continue to add more and more sensory depth and realism to virtual environments, and give the owners more and more power over their space. Not an issue yet, with time it will become one, unless we remember the lesson from this script: Never remove all escape options other than confrontation from visitors to your realm.
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.