by Dan Carlson
Everyone has a passion in their life: something they love to learn everything about, something that makes them fanatical. Most fans only ever watch their favorite television shows, or sports teams, or other activity.
Some seek out like-minded fans who share their passions at conventions and other social gatherings. Meeting an actor or writer who helped create the stories you love can be a highlight of your year. But a few—a lucky few—get to create part of that story.
I helped start the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki in 2003, along with co-founder Harry Doddema. At the time, it was a simple experiment, to see if the concept of a wiki could be used to make a Star Trek database. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the project took off at warp speed, and thanks to the efforts of many dedicated contributors, it quickly became the most comprehensive and authoritative Star Trek reference website.
I’m proud to have helped create this resource and community that is maintained by fans from around the world – but I never thought that I would actually get to create a small part of the canon Star Trek universe, too.
Incoming Transmission from Mr. Scott
Stardate: April 2015. It started as just an ordinary, lazy day off for me. I was sitting at my desk around lunchtime, catching up on some news on my iMac. I spotted the red notification badge that an email had arrived; I switched over to the mail app and read the subject line: From Simon Pegg.
“No way!”, I thought. I opened the message in growing disbelief and geeky exhilaration. It truly was from Simon Pegg, with a personalized photo attachment and everything! I already knew that he’d been co-writing the next Trek movie, and the email – addressed to me and Harry – thanked us for starting Memory Alpha and described how he’d been using the site as a resource for writing the new movie. But more than that, he was looking for a little help with with creating an element in the story!
What he was looking for – and if you’ve seen STAR TREK BEYOND, you’ll know exactly where this is heading – was a Vulcan mineral with some unique properties: a stone or gem used in jewelry, which transmits a harmless energy field that could be detected by a scan, and was uniquely identifiable to Vulcan.
Naturally, Harry and I exploded with excitement and jumped at the chance to contribute to our favorite show! For the next few hours we furiously emailed back and forth, pitching ideas. Harry thought of trininite, a real-world radioactive mineral created during the Trinity atomic bomb test that was briefly used in jewelry (before the consequences of radioactivity were fully understood).
Vulcans were known to have detonated atomic weapons during the Time of Awakening, so a similar mineral could easily have been created from the desert sands of their planet. It would be very slightly radioactive (and have become less so over the centuries), giving off an energy signature that could be detected by a scanner. And as a physical relic of Vulcan’s illogical wars, it would hold deep meaning for them, justifying its use as a memento in jewelry and similar artifacts.
So, what to call it? We dove in to a bunch of references, starting with Memory Alpha of course! I found a few promising words from the Vulcan language: vokau (“remember” from “The Forge”) and heya (“mountain,” from the novel Spock’s World). This felt like a perfect starting point for a name, since this stone would be a physical reminder of the memory of Vulcan’s past.
We tried a few different variations, but the translation was always meant to roughly be “remembrance stone” or “memory stone.” I suggested vokau-heya as a tip of the hat to other hyphenated Vulcan words (like koon-ut-kal-if-fee), and we eventually shortened it to vokaya.
I was lucky it was my day off, because I was so excited I dropped everything to work on this – and I’m pretty sure Harry did too. We did all our research, brainstorming, and discussion in about five hours, and then sent off a reply to Mr. Pegg with our ideas. We heard back the very next day, and if we were excited before, we were thrilled when Mr. Pegg loved our idea! We had a nice little email chat, sharing some feelings about the reboot series in general.
It was refreshing to hear from someone so closely involved in making Star Trek, and to hear that even a fan who helped make the films might not have liked every single plot and detail (the Enterprise hiding under the ocean was mentioned), yet still was proud and excited about the movies. I’d been a little bummed about the future prospects of Star Trek after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, but this brief conversation reassured me that my favorite fictional universe was in excellent hands.
I saw a few interviews about the writing and production. It was exciting to read about our contributions to the movie, even if we weren’t mentioned by name. Mr. Pegg described how he’d used Memory Alpha, and gotten help from “the Memory Alpha guys”. I think it was reassuring to other fans who saw these interviews, as Harry and I had been reassured in conversation, that the writers, actors, and director were invested in making a Star Trek movie, not just an action-heavy sci-fi film with the words “Star Trek” slapped on it.
One to Beam Down… to San Diego
Stardate: July 2016. The release date of STAR TREK BEYOND was getting close. It started as another ordinary work day for me. At lunch, I checked my email on my phone, and saw a message waiting. Folks from Paramount and Wikia – the host of Memory Alpha – had heard about Harry and my contributions to the movie thanks to Mr. Pegg’s interviews, and were inviting us to attend the world premiere at Comic-Con in San Diego!
Harry, sadly, couldn’t make it. He lives in the Netherlands, but I promised to video chat with him if anything interesting happened. I really didn’t know what to expect at the premiere. I’d been in contact with Wikia, and Mr. Pegg’s assistant Claire, but due to the busy nature of the event, a lot of the planning was last minute. I scouted out the park the morning of the premiere when I picked up tickets for me and my friend Becca, who joined me in San Diego.
We threaded our way through the crowds lined up waiting get in to the BEYOND premiere, and they gave me a press pass so everyone knew I was supposed to be taken to the red carpet.
The red carpet. Was this actually happening? Sure, my place was the very last spot at the end of the line, but I didn’t care. It was the freakin’ red carpet!
We heard cheering as the first stars finally arrived at about 7:00 PM. I saw plenty of familiar faces as they filed past. I didn’t get a chance to actually talk to any of them — but it was amazing to actually see Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoë Saldana, and all the others walk past!
I called Harry on my phone, and got a video chat started. I’d already been in touch with him by email, and we both agreed that this definitely qualified as “something interesting!”
Then, it was suddenly happening. I was talking to Simon Pegg, so glad to meet him in person after chatting over email. It was a short, but friendly and sincere conversation. He really is as cool as he appears in the interviews – and Harry got to join in too, by video call.
Here’s a great video that the Wikia team filmed of our chat with Simon on the red carpet:
Despite having spoken with Mr. Pegg, I didn’t really know how our idea was going to be used in the film. Harry and I had seen a promo clip that we strongly suspected featured vokaya, but we didn’t know for certain. And so, when Spock started talking about modifying the Franklin’s scanners, my ears perked up.
This was it… and then I heard it said aloud, “vokaya!” The scene itself was funny, as Bones and Spock discussed the utility of the mineral. I laughed at Bones’ quip — “So… you gave your girlfriend a tracking device?” — followed by Spock’s hilariously subtle look of shock as he realized the implications.
After a night of excitement, it was time for one more surreal moment. Mr. Pegg had suggested that it was coming, but I’d never heard anything official, so I’d never quite believed it was going to happen. But Becca and I were watching for it, and then, there it was:
There was my name, and Harry’s name, in giant letters on a giant screen, thanked by the producers in a major movie. A Star Trek movie. Becca cheered and I clapped, grinning from ear to ear.
Harry and I were always aware of the potential in the Memory Alpha project, but I never really thought that it would become the single most authoritative Star Trek reference in the world. It wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without so many diverse contributions.
The two of us may have set up the site, but we only wrote a tiny fraction of the articles that can be found there – Memory Alpha is a true group effort, and I’m grateful for everyone that has contributed to it over the years.