Star Trek: The Original Series, & VR ~ A Taste of Armageddon
Heavy Cruiser Enterprise is en route to the Eminiar system, home of the most advanced civilisation in star cluster NGC 321. They are carrying Ambassador Robert Fox, on a mission to open up diplomatic talks with the people of Eminiar 7. These talks are vital, in order to establish a friendly spaceport in the cluster, and speed colonisation efforts. As such, they have been ordered that the talks must succeed at all costs.
A message is broadcast from Eminiar 7, after several attempts to hail them from the closing ship are ignored. The message, is a galactic standard code, used to cross all language and culture barriers. Code 710: stay away at all costs.
Kirk immediately orders the Enterprise to change course, but the Federation Ambassador overrules him. The powerful vessel settles into orbit, and transmits another overture. Reluctantly, the planet allows beam-down and transmits co-ordinates.
Kirk, Spock, a yeoman, and two security guards beam down to begin the process: The more valuable ambassador stays on the ship until the nature of the problem can be ascertained.
They are met by young Mea 3, one of the aides to the high council of the Eminian Union, high parliament of the planet. She takes them into the parliament building, which, named the Division of Control, is part military complex as well. There, they meet Anan 7, Prime Minister of the world, and are warmed that they are in grave danger, due to the war.
Anan reveals that Eminiar has been fighting a war with the third planet of the system, Vendikar, for almost 500 years. Whilst they chat, nearby computers and display screens flicker to life, with klaxons. A Vendikar attack is inbound: warheads are closing on the planet.
Kirk contacts the ship and orders red alert. Shields go up, the phaser and photon banks come online; the heavy cruiser makes it abundantly clear why it is named of that class. In seconds, a peace envoy orbiting the planet has shown itself as a heavily armed and armoured warship, sensors sweeping space, eager for a target.
Unfortunately, there is no target there. Space is empty, only a few atoms drifting between the planets. Anan cries out as the missiles close, and orders defence batteries to fire. Enterprise detects neither the incoming missiles, nor the defence battery fire.
Suddenly, the computer displays on the surface light up. A massive missile strike has struck the city. Whole sections wiped out. Kirk and crew hear no explosions, do not feel the ground move, despite one of the detonations only a block away. Enterprise likewise, detects no damage.
Spock clues in first. He watches the computer displays, and his tricorder's sensory data. He deduces that both planets are locked in a virtual war. A VR system is calculating the damage scenarios, estimating defence capability, and assigning casualties.
Anan agrees with this assessment,. But insists casualties are quite real: . Casualties are calculated, and the victims have twenty-four hours to report to a disintegration station so their deaths may be recorded. The situation is tidy, bureaucratic, and has enabled a 500 year war, with two advanced planets to continue.
Then Anan drops the bombshell: A tri-cobalt satellite has destroyed the Enterprise according to simulation, and he expects the crew to report promptly to be disintegrated. Telling the captain of a heavy cruiser, 200 miles above your head, and armed to the teeth, that you expect him and his people to die, is not the most intelligent statement.
Kirk, understandably, is less than co-operative. His communicator is removed before he can communicate with the ship further, and he and the landing party are taken prisoner.
Mea 3 is one of the other casualties, and she defends the simulations with vehemence to the captive landing party, saying that the war through virtual reality has kept civilisation intact for five hundred years. If they did not have it, they and Vendikar would be forced to build and use physical weapons, wiping out both civilisations as well as their people.
Meanwhile, the Eminian government attempts to trick the Enterprise crew. During his brief stay, the Captain's voice stress patterns were analysed, and a simulated model produced, using everything they had to work with as to Kirk's tonal range and stress patterns. Anan tries to use this virtual voice, to follow his will, and attempts to have Enterprise stand down, and start bringing down parties for shore leave.
Unfortunately, the Enterprise computers are more powerful, and know a great deal more about the Captain's voice patterns than Eminiar 7 does. Scotty has the message analysed, and finds artefacts - areas of obvious falsification, at least to a superior system. All the message does, is put Enterprise on red alert.
Back on the surface, Spock uses telepathy to hack into their jailor's mind. Overriding the jailer's eye sensory data, he projects the image of an empty cell. The guard rushes in, convinced his prisoners have escaped, and is quickly overpowered.
Moving stealthily about the Division of Control complex, the party soon make a valuable find: A disintegration station, where citizens step into tubes, are painlessly vaporised, and their deaths automatically recorded. A very sophisticated bulk-suicide operation. Unfortunately, the station does not handle weapons fire into its control circuitry very well, as the party find out, with much eager effort.
The destruction of the disintegration station - number 12, apparently - is instantly flagged on the central computer banks, and guessing the cause, Anan orders the planetary defence batteries - physical weaponry - to align on the heavy cruiser, then open fire.
This ploy might have worked, had Anan's attempt at trickery not put the warship on full battle alert. A series of blinding flashes ripple over the hull, as the concentrated disrupter blasts meet the deflector shields. The planetary weaponry loses this content of strength. Badly. The attack succeeds only in pissing Scotty off even further.
Sadly, Ambassador Fox intervenes before Scotty can return fire. He believes this is all some sort of misunderstanding, and contacts the planet, in a willing show of peace. He offers that the Enterprise will lower its shields, disengage its weapons, and he will personally beam down to make assurances on behalf of the Federation.
Anan agrees, leaving the batteries trained on the ship and powered up, ready to fire. Destroy the ship, and all his problems go away. Fox beams down to the planet with his aide. The moment transport is complete, Scotty manually raises the shields again, then commands red alert, charging the weapons. He's not even finished saying this, when the disrupter fire opens up. The planet had waited for confirmation of beam-down, to indicate the defences were down, then opened fire. Fortunately, Scotty's belligerent certainty they would attack, saves the ship, and the weapons fire bounces harmlessly off in a massive pyrotechnic display.
Fox and his escort are met with full courtesy, and regally escorted to the diplomatic chambers - which are apparently in the centre of disintegration station 11. Fox's aide is disintegrated, and Fox realises the predicament. He is pushed into an empty chamber, and then the station disintegrates. Spock had retrieved his phaser from government officials. Apparently the station's control systems handle phaser fire at their guts, even less well than native weapons fire. There's not a lot left.
Meanwhile, Kirk had gone to confront Anan, but been overpowered by silently summoned guards. He is learning all kinds of valuable intel from an increasingly desperate Anan who is trying to make Kirk understand the situation he finds himself in.
The simulation computers on both planets are linked. The disintegrator stations link into the simulation computers. Vendikar is very, very aware Eminiar is behind on casualty collection, and is starting to make noises about switching to real weapons. Kirk really could not care less, by this point.
Anan opens a communications channel to Enterprise in a final gambit to get the ship's crew down to the surface. Kirk seizes the moment. He calls into the communicator with a code phrase, and orders the ship to implement general order 24 in two hours. Not understanding what Kirk has just done, Anan threatens to kill Kirk, if the crew does not comply with his demands to beam down. Kirk casually quips that the threat is academic, since in two hours, Enterprise will end the war permanently.
General order 24, is an order to destroy all life, all civilisation on a planet, Kirk explains. In two hours, the warship's phaser banks will sweep the surface, photon torpedoes impacting every major city. The planetary crust will crack under the bombardment, and Eminiar will be destroyed. Vendikar will win by default - none of their enemies will be left alive.
Anan loses colour somewhat at this point, and in a cracking voice, orders all defensive batteries to fire a full power continuous barrage at the orbiting starship. A military officer responds that he is sorry, but that is just not possible. It seems the Enterprise has left orbit, and is sitting out in space, outside the gravity well, aligning its business end with the planet. It is readying to fire, and there is nothing they can do.
Its at this point that Anan starts a quite good impression of a complete nervous breakdown. The guards don't seem to be doing too well either.
Kirk seizes the moment, and explains a way out of this: End the war.
If Anan doesn't, he'll lose the war when Enterprise destroys the planet. So, Anan agrees, reluctantly, but does not know how. The captain asks for his phaser back, which he is given. He promptly sets it to full power and a beam of glittering phasing energy cleaves through the central computer system, which reacts about as well as the disintegration stations.
Secondary explosions ripple through the centre, as the link with Vendikar is severed. On Vendikar, Kirk theorises aloud, it must be bedlam. They issued a threat to carry out the war casualty executions, or they would make real war, and you responded by shutting down the simulation link. Right now, they are undoubtedly building bombs.
Those of Vendikar will assume Eminiar has broken the treaty, and will plan for real war. The next attacks, by both sides, will be very real. Or, they could change five hundred years of theoretical fighting, and make peace.
Kirk tells Anan that if they contact Vendikar, they will quickly realize that the Vendikarian authorities are just as horrified at the prospect of real war. Anan remembers that the oral communication link with Vendikar is still in existence, unused for centuries. There might be a chance to save both planets if they utilise it. Fox offers to serve as a mediator between Eminiar and Vendikar, and Kirk leaves him behind to negotiate the peace.
There are several different topics looked at in this complex episode. The primary one, being the use of augmented reality.
The war is not actually virtual. It is both virtual and physical, making it into an augmented war. Yes, the battles are fought entirely in simulation - two networked supercomputers, one on either side, waging battle against one another, factoring in time to produce munitions, damage to the other sides' munitions factories, calculating deployment of proportional strikes, never escalating the conflict. The opposing side in times of a strike, deploys defences, and calculates damages.
Its evidenced through the episode that both sides' computer systems continuously exchange data, ensuring both sides tally up. This was probably done so as neither side could accuse the other of cheating. That comprises the virtual war.
The augmented aspect comes when the VR directly changes the physical lives around it. People who never immersed in the VR, are executed due to occurrences within it. Lives are changed, destroyed or snuffed out, to coincide with tallies in a virtual conflict.
Another aspect, is the use of virtual voices. Taking a quote from above:
During his brief stay, the Captain's voice stress patterns were analysed, and a simulated model produced, using everything they had to work with as to Kirk's tonal range and stress patterns. Anan tries to use this virtual voice, to follow his will, and attempts to have Enterprise stand down, and start bringing down parties for shore leave.
This is an example of the dark side of virtual voices. Perfecting virtual replication of a human voice so well that it can serve as a replacement for a damaged physical original, or make a role-playing adventure sound right, is the positive side of the coin. The negative, and perhaps the thought in the back of people's minds, which has slowed down research and funding for such voices, is that they could be used to recreate with close precision, the voice of a distinct individual, and spread misinformation through that means.
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.