If it wasn’t the aliens in TNG “The Chase”, who was it?

I’ve made it very plain that I don’t think much of TNG “The Chase”, but if I’m so much cleverer than that, what do I think happened?

The First Point: Humans are from Earth

Mainstream scientific opinion has developed a plausible, self-contained theory about the way the Earth and the diversity of life on it developed. My timeline reflects this view, and a look at the various data points on it makes it quite clear that “Star Trek” also used this framework as the background to their stories. Ann Mulhall spells it out in TOS “Return to Tomorrow”: “Our beliefs and our studies indicate that life on our planet, Earth, evolved independently.”

OK, but how does that fit in with all the “humanoid” aliens scattered across the “Star Trek” version of our Galaxy? Some of these are obviously “lost” Earth colonies. TOS “The Paradise Syndrome” shows one such planet, settled by Humans taken from Earth by an otherwise unknown race called “The Preservers”. ENT “North Star” has some Humans abducted by wicked aliens and stranded on an alien world. But what about the Yangs and the Kohms in TOS “The Omega Glory”? They seem pretty obviously to be from our Earth, but their amazing longevity suggests that the “big war” on Omega IV happened long before there was a Communist China, or even a United States of America on Earth, let alone starships to take them to another world. What about “Romeworld” in TOS “Bread and Circuses”? “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development” is suggested as an explanation, but a process that’s that parallel? And then all of a sudden diverges at the time of the Roman Empire?

Other races are less obviously “Human.” There are green-blooded Vulcans, pink-blooded Klingons, “lizardy” Cardassians, along with a host of others, scattered right out into the furthest reaches of the explored Galaxy. All right, this might be where Hodgkin and his theory might make some sort of sense, except that all these aliens can reproduce, with Humans from Earth, and with each other. The astronomer Carl Sagan wrote: “Likewise, the category of contact story, now quite fashionable in some UFO enthusiast circles, of sexual contact between human and saucerian—most recently described in a weekly newspaper headline with the modest title “We Sexed a Blonde from a Flying Saucer!”—must be relegated to the realm of improbable fantasy. Such crossings are about as reasonable as the mating of a man and a petunia.” (The Cosmic Connection, first published in 1973. I’ve tracked down the exact quote, because it’s almost always paraphrased, as if Dr. Sagan was specifically criticizing “Star Trek” and Mister Spock, when he wasn’t.) Amazing achievements in genetics are now the stuff of everyday headlines, but the actual possibility of two creatures that have been developing separately for not millions, but billions of years, reproducing naturally without any obvious intervention in the process, seems spectacularly unlikely, “genetic pre-programming” or not. If you think I’m just being snarky about TNG “The Chase”, because I’ve got a bee in my bonnet, please consider the fact that Vulcans and Klingons obviously have very different blood chemistries compared to each other, and Humans. Vulcans have a different arrangement of internal organs to us, and although the details aren’t as specific, Klingons evidently do too. The idea that this can develop effectively semi-randomly, and yet still allow “natural” reproduction of viable, fertile, offspring (B’Elanna Torres is the example I’m thinking of, here) just completely defies belief. There must be something else going on here.

Looking at the Evidence

This is where I have to acknowledge a debt to “On the Origin of Humanoid Life in Our Galaxy” by Jean Lorrah and Willard F. Hunt, published in Spockanalia #2 in 1968. The suggestion that the Galaxy was extensively colonised in the past by a society that left little or no traces behind is from this article, although a lot more information has subsequently come to light about what happened in the long-ago past in “Star Trek”.

The most important starting point is: how long have there been Humans like ourselves? The current best guess is that modern Humans have been around for about 200,000 years. Obviously, that’s not terribly precise, and the amount of fossil evidence is quite small. Studies of genetic divergence also suggest that this is about the time recognisably modern Humans arrived on Earth, but again, we’re not talking about pinpoint accuracy, more a reasonable ballpark estimate. Still, let’s use this as the basis for developing some ideas.

A look at the timeline shows that the Iconians were the major power in the Galaxy at that time. Perhaps purposely, it emerges that they didn’t use starships, but relied on a system of “gateways” to travel instantaneously from one planet to another. Their homeworld (and possibly many other of their main worlds?) was destroyed by orbital bombardment, and their empire collapsed, very suddenly. It’s possible that the original Iconians were completely non-human, but that early Humans from Earth became part of their empire, and eventually became the main group of the population, but that has problems, too. Why Humans? Surely there might be some other suitable races out there to be enslaved, rather than a very sparse population of extremely primitive beings? What about the Talosians, or the T’Kon, and maybe also the Arretians? All of them seem to be “humanoid” too, and they were obviously around long before 200,000 years ago. In fact, any attempt to fill the Galaxy with aliens that can interbreed with Humans would need to have been at least half a million years ago, both to allow for the ancient humanoid civilisations we know about, and to provide time for some populations to diverge significantly (becoming the “forehead aliens” of various types) without realising that the planets they lived on weren’t their original homes.

So something seems to be going on with time, as well as space. How do the Yangs and the Kohms end up on Omega IV centuries too early? Was it just a random, freak accident (not that rare, if people like the Capellans, for example, are also the descendants of “time-slipped” colonists), or was it something else again? Although time travel is possible in the “Star Trek” universe, it’s not that easy. Travelling back requires very specific circumstances. Did all these ships happen to hit “black stars” or slingshot around more conventional stars in exactly the right way to not only arrive in the past, but be able to establish viable colonies, albeit ones that slid back into barbarism?

There are some obvious culprits, here. The “wormhole aliens” in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” don’t experience time in the same way we do at all. For them, the concept of time travel must be as confusing as “past” and “future.” Benjamin Sisko is living proof that events on Earth can be manipulated by the Prophets, but why would they spread Humans across the Galaxy? The best answer I can come up with is that I don’t think they see the whole of time. What if the immense “now” they experience is simply the period of time the Bajoran wormhole remains stable? Taking a further guess, what if they have a purpose, beyond testing the Bajorans’ faith in them? If they see a “slice” of time, from somewhere apparently more than 30,000 years in the past, to some point in the future, what does it “look” like? If you imagine time to have some sort of “pattern,” then it could be that some patterns are “better” than others. By “nudging” events, the pattern changes. What the Prophets ultimately want to see is anyone’s guess, but it does raise an interesting possibility. Did the Bajoran Prophets set the ball rolling with humanoid life? Was it their intervention that “seeded” the Galaxy with people almost exactly like us? Half a million years is a very long time. It’s around 100 times longer ago than since the Egyptians started building stone pyramids, and it’s more than twice as long before the time the first modern Humans even walked the Earth. An awful lot can happen over thousands of years, and “Star Trek” has established that a number of huge and mighty humanoid empires have risen and fallen in that time, presumably scattering settlers all over the Galaxy, then leaving them to fend for themselves after their societies collapse.

Another possibility develops from TOS “The City on the Edge of Forever”. The Guardian could be a gateway to even more of time than the Wormhole Aliens, and if it is to be believed (and there’s no reason not to) it has existed for well over four billion years. The Guardian is quite clear: “I am my own beginning, my own ending.” What does that mean? Could it be that the creators of the Guardian only exist because the Guardian does? In effect, what if Humans from the far future built the Guardian specifically so that they could escape into the past? The big problem with this is that the Guardian claims not to have been asked a question for at least four billion years, and that’s a long time before the period I’m interested in. It’s a possibility, but not my favourite.

My “Star Trek” Prehistory

Some unspecified time between a million and 600,000 years ago, a wormhole forms in the Bajoran solar system. There are intelligences inside it, who stabilise it for an extended period of time, giving them a “window” on at least this part of the Galaxy. For some reason, they decide that letting Humans settle this corner of the Universe in their own time isn’t ideal, and decide to give the process not just one nudge, but many. For a start, they decide to create a humanoid settlement on the planet Bajor. Whether they “timeslipped” some modern humans, or just shipped in some earlier humans from contemporary Earth doesn’t really matter. At some unimaginable period in the past, the very first Bajoran civilisation emerged. Guided by the Prophets, this first humanoid race spread out, settling on many worlds. Presumably, the more advanced the Bajorans got, the more they understood about the wormhole, and perhaps the less they liked what the Prophets were doing. Unfortunately for them, the Prophets know everything, at least in this part of space and time. Bajor was reverted to a simpler, more faith-based society, held in an artificial stasis for not just thousands, but hundreds of thousands of years. I’d guess that Bajoran archaeologists find that the deeper they dig, the more relics of past civilisations they find, all of them at about the same level of development; although how much of even a very advanced technology would survive for hundreds of centuries is a debatable point, since we have no practical experience to draw on.

Meanwhile, the descendants of Bajoran colonists struggle back up to civilisation on many worlds. New interstellar empires are created. On some worlds, the process of random mutation creates new forms of humanoids. Some of the “successor” societies we know about, like the T’kon, but the sheer length of time we’re considering means that for every ancient society mentioned in “Star Trek” there could be half a dozen more that have never been hinted at. Some of these societies deliberately engineer populations that can survive on worlds that would otherwise be at the borderline of being uninhabitable for humans. The Vulcans would seem to be representative of this. Some modifications seem to be for aesthetic reasons, or something I can’t guess at. The Klingons and Cardassians are very different from Earth Humans, but they can still reproduce with them, and (presumably) each other. It’s not totally impossible that these variations could arise without ruling out successful interbreeding, but it is very unlikely that the process wasn’t deliberately guided in some way.

Since we have millennia to play with, our humanoid settlers can spread across the whole of this galaxy, and possibly some of the outlying star clusters, too. By the time we get to the “present,” space is filled with societies of people that, to varying degrees, look like us. Gizmos like the universal translator work, because there are close similarities in the way not just languages, but the brains of the people talking, work. Diseases can spread from one planet to another, because of the fundamental biological similarity of all intelligent life. Most importantly, because all the evolutionary divergences have happened in the last few hundred thousand years, nearly all humanoid species can still interbreed. My guess is that many of the “forehead aliens” differ from humans only in the appearance affected by soft tissue and cartilege. Once you strip away the bulgy foreheads and odd noses, the skull underneath is pretty much indistinguishable from an Earth Human’s, and the internal anatomy is equally similar, allowing easy interbreeding. In that respect, evolution actually works in “Star Trek” the way it’s supposed to, with isolated populations developing different characteristics.

What Does that Mean in Practice?

There are a few obvious conclusions that you can reach about aliens in “Star Trek” that anyone creating a race (or adding detail to an existing one) might consider:
1. Even if the aliens really believe they originated on their world, they probably arrived on it sometime in the last half-million years.
2. Differences from Earth-Humans are likely to be superficial. Skin pigmentation, body hair, cartilage and soft tissue might all be quite different, but underneath, they’re likely to be pretty much the same as us. This is clearly the case when most aliens have red blood, react predictably to most drugs and can be operated on by any suitably-qualified surgeon. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but I would suggest they’re more the result of deliberate intervention than natural evolution.

A Last Thought

It seems remarkably unlikely that the scientists of the Federation (and the other political bodies of the Galaxy too, for that matter) could look at the pattern of life they encounter, and not begin to even suspect what’s going on. There are a number of references in “Star Trek” to patterns of settlement across planets, and linguistic affinities between the languages of different planets. It may be that many scientists not from Earth think Ann Mulhall’s statement quoted above is hogwash. All the other humanoid societies they know of seem to have been “planted,” so Humans must have been, too. Maybe they do suspect that everyone in the Galaxy is ultimately descended from Bajorans, but I’d guess that it makes even less difference to them than the knowledge that all Humans are ultimately descended from Africans does to us. Except for a few specialists, it’s all a very long time ago, and people have more important things to do.

by StrauchiusStrauchius on 15 Aug 2015 16:30, last updated on 09 Mar 2017 09:09