This is difficult to talk about, but confession is good for the soul apparently, and I've kept this secret for twenty years. For all of that time I've been itching to tell what happened on that night back in 1996; but I'm been afraid that people would assume that I was insane; or worse, was joking.
After I graduated from high school in 1996, my dad got a job in Toronto. Since I hadn't gotten into a decent school, I was stuck in junior college exile for a year, and I moved with my parents.
One of the few American TV channels we got in Toronto was Fox-29, out of Buffalo. I was pretty fond of this channel because of the shows they would show really late at night. For instance, on Saturday morning at 3 A.M. they would show reruns of the underrated 90s version of The Untouchables with Tom Amandes and William Forsythe. They also ran reruns of the original Star Trek series at 4 A.M. on weekdays.
It had been a very long time since I'd seen an episode of the original Star Trek. I'd grown up in Madison, and Channel 3, the local CBS affiliate, used to run the reruns at midnight during the week. However around 1990 or so they replaced the old series reruns with reruns of The Next Generation. However by that time I'd seen pretty much every episode of the original series, though once in a while I'd come across an episode I missed. (For instance, I'd never seen Dagger of The Mind, so I was one of the few people not in the know when South Park did a parody of it a few years later.) So I was not surprised, but pleased when I realized that the episode I was watching that night in November, 1996 wasn't one I'd seen before.
It started out with the Captain's Log noting that the Enterprise was beginning a survey of space that had recently been ceded to the Federation by the Romulan Empire. There was an exposition-filled scene in the conference room where Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty discussed how a recent revision of the treaty between the Federation and Romulus had resulted in a previously human-controlled area of space being given back to the Federation. Spock discussed the planet they're headed towards, which had a human colony numbering 2 million before the area had been given to the Romulans in the original peace treaty. The "teaser" ends as Kirk says that they should be careful; all of the colonized planets in this area of space had been handed over with the human colonies intact. The slow ships they had back during the handover wouldn't allow them to evacuate the colonies before the treaty went into effect; so the Federation abandoned them. (I remember this vividly because I thought that this is where the TNG/DS9 writers got the idea for the Maquis.) Therefore it's quite possible that people in the colony might be hostile towards them.
It was at this point that I started to notice strange things. The opening credits didn't contain Kirk's "Space, the final frontier" narration. This wasn't all that unusual, since some of the very early episodes I'd seen on videotape had this version of the credits. But what did seem strange was I'd noticed that the uniforms and sets all looked like they did during the later episodes, and not the early episodes where they still had leftovers from original pilot (The Cage).
I was taking a leak during the first commercial break, and when I got back the first act had already started, so I missed the episode title. However, there was a "special appearance by" credit for an actress called Jane Winton.
Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and a redshirt beamed down outside of the location of the largest settlement on the planet. I noticed that the redshirt sort of looked like me, but he had a flat-top haircut, and was a great deal thinner.
Kirk and the rest walk into the settlement and find that it has been abandoned. They find several buildings which have been completely destroyed. Scotty takes a reading on one of the burned down buildings, and says that it looks like it was destroyed by a disruptor.
It was around this time that I started noticing another weird thing about the episode. The red-shirt didn't seem to have any connection to what was going on; I noticed in medium shots when he was out-of-focus he could be seen moving around in the background with some purpose, but in shots where we could clearly see his hands, he doesn't have his tricorder or phaser out. In another scene as Kirk and Scotty are talking, he looks directly at the camera for several seconds before walking off.
Even stranger, when they are captured by the natives (who are wearing reconstructions of Star Fleet uniforms made out of things like tiger skins with rank emblems carved out of bone), he doesn't fight back, and isn't killed before the commercial break! (as one would expect of a redshirt)
Kirk blasts two of the soldiers with his phaser, but suddenly the screen flashes blue and all of the away team falls to the team; we then see that the leader of the natives (who has a real gold Command emblem instead of the bone ones that the other wears) has one of the cylindrical phasers that we only saw in The Cage.
When we come back from the commercial, our heroes are locked up in prison. Kirk and McCoy are talking about what's going on; specifically that the thugs that captured them and beat them into submission were wearing mockeries of Star Fleet uniforms.
Again I noticed that something odd was going on with the redshirt. While the conversation between Kirk and McCoy is going on the foreground, the redshirt walks around the perimeter of the jail cell. He continues to do this every time he appears on camera. We only see his face once during this scene, and when we do there is this look of total and abject horror on his face. At this point I started to feel real nervous, and started to have feelings of dread.
The scene ends as some of the guard appear and take our heroes to meet their priestess. I assume this is the character played by Jane Winton, since I don't remember there being any other women in this episode.
She demands to know why Kirk and the rest are dressed like "off-sirs", when they are not part of The Order. Kirk tries to puzzle out what's going on; as he does the red-shirt starts to move around the room again. At this point it became so strange that I stopped paying attention to what Kirk and the priestess were saying and just paid attention to the red-shirt. The other crew members were being restrained by the guards, but the red-shirt was moving around the room freely. In one scene he is standing right behind the priestess as she's talking to Kirk.
Unlike in the earlier scenes he looks more puzzled than scared. Near the end of the scene he actually waves his hand in front of Kirk's face, but neither he nor the priestess respond.
Suddenly the music swelled and the priestess was angry. I take from the scene that Kirk said something about being from the federation and Star Fleet. The Priestess says that the Federation is the heavenly realm where the Star Fleet gods dwell, and to claim to be from there, and to be a member of Star Fleet is the worst blasphemy.
Kirk tries to backpedal, saying he meant no offense, but the priestess says that someone must die for their blasphemy.
As the commercials played, I felt terrified. I wondered if I was dreaming, but everything was just too real for that to be true. I learned years later that you can't read while you're dreaming, since the part of your brain that deciphers symbols is always inactive during sleep. I remember reading a couple of pages of The Bathroom Reader during the first set of commercials, so that definitely means that I was awake.
In any case, I sat there on my bed, watching each second of the commercial feeling uncanny terror. I've always believed myself to have a morbid sense of curiosity, but I've also always been a coward at heart. I turned off the TV and went to bed.
I dozed lightly and had many confusing dreams, when the sun finally rose a couple hours later I made no attempt to go back to sleep and spent the rest of that day on the verge of falling asleep at any moment.
I began to think that what I had experienced was a dream; it was simply too strange to have been real. I went to several Star Trek fan pages and found lists of all the episodes, there was one I found which had a small summary of each episode. I read through the entire list and found that no episode matched what I saw.
I went to the Star Trek IRC chatroom on and nonchalantly asked if anyone remembered seeing this episode. Some of the room's occupants thought I was making it up, and called me a troll. One know-it-all completely ignored my contention that I had seen an episode from the original series, and said that I was getting a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine mixed up (the original Maquis episode and the one with the madwoman who started an Amish-like cult among the survivors of a shipwreck).
So I accepted that it was a dream; so I needed to decide what the dream actually meant. I remembered the name of the guest actress- Jane Winton—so I went onto imdb (which was much more primitive in that day. This was back when a movie's page was a mess of image-links to the various subsections.) and looked her up. There was only one actress with that name, a silent-film star who had died about a decade before the episode was made. There wasn't any picture, which was par for the course with IMDB back in those days. I suspected I had heard the name somewhere and it just stuck in my brain; this wasn't impossible, since the first college course I took was a film course at Madison Area Technical College the summer after I graduated. We spent about half the semester watching silent films and discussing the directors and actors from that era. So it wasn't impossible that I had heard of Jane Winton, even if I hadn't seen any of her movies.
Amazing as it may sound, I eventually got over this strange experience. By the end of the next week I was busy studying for finals, and by the time I moved back to Wisconsin to go to a Real College I had pretty much forgotten about it. However something happened a couple of years later that changed my mind about that.
Back in those days the biggest resource for a SF or anime fan was the ftp site. I remember one of the greatest things about finally getting an ISP with FTP access was that I would be able to access the Venice site at tcp, which contained a treasure trove of data on anime and manga.
Venice had a companion site hosted at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which archived all of the fanfiction which was posted on the anime fanfiction newgroup. By that point in time it had been moved to another site since Zoner, the archivist, had graduated. However I still liked to poke around on the wpi ftp site, since the school was overrun by geeks there was all kinds of interesting fannish stuff to be found. This was the place where I found the original three drafts of Star Wars, including the one which Dark Horse just made into a comic book.
Among these was a particular subdirectory which contained about ten Star Trek fanfics. They're all ones I've sure you've seen, if you have any interest in that sort of thing. The (Intentionally?) Lost Episode, that other one which introduced the concept of Mary Sues. I downloaded them over the course of several months, one at a time, and read them. I eventually got to the one called Graven Image, and actually gasped as I was reading it.
When I say I had "pretty much forgotten about" that night, I mean that I didn't often think about it. But I have an exceptionally good memory, especially for details; so I was only a couple of sentences in before I realized that the fanfic I was reading was actually based on the episode I had seen.
The Fic was written by a guy by the name of Odell Richter, whose e-mail address indicated that he went to the University of Toronto. The modified date on the file was from June 1997, which was about eight months after I had seen that episode.
The fic contained everything I have just described; however there is one notable difference, the redshirt is given a name (Lieutenant Dell) and is black. Also none of his strange behaviors are mentioned in the fic.
Because of this fic, I know how the story ended. When last we saw our heroes they were being lead off by the priestess (who the fic indicates is called Orvil) to the Sacred Area. This Sacred Area ends up being a place where a Romulan warbird has crashed; in the shadow of the wreck she has her guards hold Dell down while she slits his throat. She offers this up as a sacrifice to their gods of Star Fleet.
When they're back in their cell Kirk starts to convince the leader of the colonists (the guy who had the gold Starfleet emblem, who the fic calls Reinhardt) that the religion they're following is based on a misunderstanding of history.
Kirk convinces him by quoting the opening of their sacred scriptures; which only their leader and the priestess should know. He says that he is, in fact, quoting from the preamble of the Federation constitution. (I remember thinking at the time how antiquated this was, since it used "man" to mean all of humanity, and mentioned the "brotherhood of all intelligent species"; it also made claims to there being such a thing as universal morality, which all intelligent species would grow to recognize as a fundamental truth of existence.)
Reinhardt gets upset and leaves; he goes to a storeroom where the away team's stuff is being kept. He picks up the communicator and switches it on; he says "oh speaking stone, grant me wisdom and let me know what is right."
Later Reinhardt springs our heroes and is about to give the their equipment back, but one of his subordinates has betrayed them and brought the priestess there. She takes all of them back to the Romulan wreck and ties them to stakes while her followers surround them with kindling.
Suddenly Spock materializes in their midst, wearing a facsimile of a Romulan uniform. All of the colonists, including the priestess are terrified. The priestess calls him "The Devil With Pointed Ears".
Spock says that all profaners and traitors are his to punish, the priestess reluctantly agrees with this. After her followers put the fire out, she and her followers head back to the village, and leave Spock with the landing party and Reinhardt.
Spock asks Kirk if he's all right, and he admits that he's a little hot under the collar, but should be fine.
We then get the usual captain's log with the Captain saying that they're heading for Starbase 13, where Reinhardt will train with a diplomatic team that is being sent back to the planet to rehabilitate them into Federation citizens.
On the bridge Kirk and McCoy are talking to Spock about his gambit to save them. Spock explains that Reinhardt had explained the entire situation to him through the communicator, and he had decided to go down to the surface if he didn't hear from Kirk within an hour.
Kirk said it was rather risky, and it seemed rather illogical to take such a risk. How was he sure they would obey them, since Spock was impersonating their greatest foe?
Spock replies "I simply commanded, and they chose to obey. That is a common trait in homo sapiens, to follow the will of those who seem to be knowledgeable or strong; no matter how much the truth is to the contrary."
"I hope that isn't a reflection on me, Mr. Spock," Kirk said with a wry smile.
"Of course not, Captain," Spock said, and then went back to his station.
Kirk looks at McCoy. "Vulcans cannot lie, they say."
"Of course, that's the sort of thing a liar would say," McCoy responds.
I wasn't able to sleep that night, or three nights thereafter. I finally went to see my doctor and he prescribed some tranquilizers. Insomnia was preferable to the nightmares that followed.
Eventually I began to make excuses, and built a workaround in reality to let me cope. It was all just an amazing coincidence. Maybe the know-it-all on the IRC channel was correct, and I had just interpolated two episodes of a completely different show; probably in a dream…
It really isn't that far-fetched for someone who had seen those episodes to come up with a similar plot and write a fanfic out of it, right?
Below the surface, though, I still knew that something strange and uncanny had happened to me. The file had apparently come from a listserv, since Odell Richter's sig file appeared at the end of the story. This contained both his e-mail address and his phone number. (Yes, back in those days it was commonplace to have your phone number in both your .sig file and .plan file, since who knew when you'd check your e-mail next?)
I tried to write him an e-mail, but couldn't figure out a way to stop myself from seeming insane. I was also worried about him just ignoring the e-mail. So after a few days, I worked up enough courage to call the number. It was a year-and-a-half since the story had been archived, but there was a possibility he still might be at the same number.
The phone was answered by a rather helpful lad who was either drunk or stoned. He informed me that he had just moved into the dorm room that semester, and the phone numbers were attached to the dorm rooms. Since he was being pretty friendly, I asked if he had a student directory or something he could look Odell Richter up in. Luckily he still had his orientation packet which contained just such a directory.
"Sorry dude, he isn't in here," he said.
He offered to ask around and see if he could find a forwarding number. Not expecting much, I left my number with him and hung up.
This was in October, on the very last day of the semester, before winter break, I got a followup call. The occupant of Odell's old room, who I've started to think of as The Dude, told me how he'd asked around, but it hadn't occurred to him until their dorm's Christmas party to ask the Resident Assistants if they knew anything. (Yeah, I don't know how this guy got into college. Forget it Jake, it's Canada.)
I remember actually making The Dude wait as I found a pad and pencil, which I ended up not needing. Odell Richter had been dead for over a year. I managed to get the exact date years later by doing a google search, it was a week after his story had been posted to the listserv.
He'd thrown himself off the roof of one of the University's tallest building early one November morning.
I checked my journal and, sure enough, he committed suicide the same day I saw the episode. The paper didn't have an exact time, but I suspect he died before or during the time I was watching the episode, less than 20 miles away.
I can't claim to understand what happened, but it does make a strange sort of sense to me. However there is one part that doesn't fit, it involves Jane Winton, the actress who played the priestess.
Many years later on a night when I couldn't sleep, I started re-reading my account of this story in my journal, and did a google search for Jane Wintour. The first result was her IMDB page, which now had a picture. There can be absolutely no doubt, the woman who portrayed the priestess was Jane Wintour, appearing in an episode that would have been made ten years after her death.