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Enterprise: The Day a Vulcan Came to Pittsburgh

on Mon, 05/27/2013 - 00:00

In the Star Trek film First Contact, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew of Next Generation Starfleet officers pursue a Borg vessel backwards through time and to the year 2063. It was the Borg’s intentions to wipe out the human race by erasing two of the most significant events in mankind’s history—the initial warp drive flight of Zefram Cochrane and the subsequent “first contact” with an alien species. By the end of the movie, however, the men and women of the USS Enterprise of the Twenty Fourth Century are able to both defeat the Bork and ensure Cochrane’s historic achievement, which resulted in a Vulcan visit to Montana on April 5, 2063.

The second season episode “Carbon Creek” of the television series Star Trek: Enterprise, meanwhile, paints a different picture of the “first contact” between humans and Vulcans. Enterprise follows the exploits of Captain Jonathan Archer and mankind’s initial ventures into the “Final Frontier” a century after Cochrane but before the arrival of James T. Kirk. Like the original Star Trek of the 1960s, the Enterprise under the command of Archer has a Vulcan for a science officer, a female named T’Pol. In “Carbon Creek” she recites the story of how her great-grandmother crash-landed on Earth in the 1950s and lived for a short time in an old mining town in Western Pennsylvania—making a brief visit to Pittsburgh during her stay as well.

According to T’Pol, her ancestor T’Mir was part of a research team sent to Earth following the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet creation that was the first artificial satellite to circle the planet. During their investigation into the event, the Vulcan ship malfunctioned and crashed near the town of Carbon Creek. The captain of the vessel died on impact, resulting in T’Mir taking charge of the remaining crew—herself and two Vulcan males named Mestral and Stron. Not knowing if their distress call was received by any Vulcan ships and eventually reaching the point of starvation, T’Mir and Mestral have no choice but to venture into Carbon Creek, albeit disguised as humans.

Stron soon joins them, and the three are able to make a living as a cleaning woman, miner and plumber while still holding out hope that they will be rescued. Although T’Mir is concerned with the Vulcans “contaminating” the humans, it is the humans—especially Maggie, the owner of the Pine Tree Bar & Grill, and her teenage son Jack—who eventually contaminate the Vulcans. Mestral is the first to become emotionally involved and soon forms a different opinion of humans than his counterparts.

“If we remain here, we’ll die,” T’Mir tells the others. “This world is on the brink of self-annihilation. They revel in violence. They devote what little technology they have to devising ways to killing each other.”

“So did we, centuries ago,” Mestral counters. “They just haven’t realized their potential yet. They have great empathy. And compassion. Look at how we’ve been made to feel welcome.”

Despite a strict policy of non-intervention, Mestral is later compelled to assist in the rescue of twelve men trapped in a coal mine after a section of the shaft they were working in collapses. Although T’Mir is initially against using Vulcan technology to free the miners—who would no doubt die before their fellow humans could reach them—she does ultimately assist Mestral in saving their lives.

Eventually a Vulcan ship radios T’Mir and her crew, giving notice that they will arrive on Earth in three days to retrieve them and ensuring that there will be no further interference with the humans. Complications arise, however, when young Jack tells T’Mir that he will not be able to attend college. Jack is an intelligent teenager with a hunger for learning, traits that T’Mir finds admirable, but with a mother who owns a bar in a small coal town and a father who abandoned them years earlier, he is unable to raise the money needed to continue his education. T’Mir returns to her ship upon discovering this fact, rummages through the wreckage until she finds a small pouch, and then catches a train to Pittsburgh.

There she meets with the head of the Big Creek Manufacturing and Sales Company. “So you’re the lady with the invention that’s going to change the world,” he says to her. T’Mir does not respond but simply pulls the small pouch from her purse and shows him the Velcro that holds the fold-over lip closed. The businessman becomes fascinated with the Velcro, and pays T’Mir the necessary funds so that Jack can go to college in exchange for the item.

When the time finally arrives for T’Mir, Mestral and Stron to leave Earth, Mestral tells the others that he intends to stay behind. “They’re on the verge of countless social and technological advancements,” he explains. “I have the unique opportunity to study an emerging species.” Stron argues that it is against policy and urges T’Mir to order Mestral to return to Vulcan. Instead T’Mir consents to Mestral’s decision and tells the Vulcans sent to retrieve them that he died during their crash-landing in Western Pennsylvania.

Back on the Enterprise of the Twenty Second Century, Captain Jonathan Archer and Commander Trip Tucker find it difficult to believe that Vulcans landed on the planet over 100 years before history says they did, and that one of them remained on Earth to live the rest of his life undetected by humans. T’Pol remarks that she was just “telling a story,” easing their confusion, but when she later returns to her quarters, she pulls out the purse that had once belonged to her great-grandmother T’Mir.

The accuracy of her tale may never fully be revealed, but according to “Carbon Creek” and Enterprise, Pittsburgh was visited by a Vulcan long before the alien species met with Zefram Cochrane in Montana—and was the city that invented Velcro as well.

Anthony Letizia

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