Star Trek: Voyager’s fifth season opened with an episode entitled, “Night.” Put succinctly, the crew passes through a section of the Delta Quadrant with no stars or planetary objects, sinking them into perpetual night. The crew tries to entertain themselves as they survive this ordeal, and Janeway spends a lot of time staring out of the viewscreen into the endless night, muttering things like, “What I wouldn’t give for a few Borg cubes right about now.”
When I first saw that episode, I remember thinking that the entire crew was overreacting. What was a little bit of darkness when you’re always in space already?
Then, the pandemic hit. My husband and I got stuck in a country halfway across the world from home, where neither of us spoke the local language and suddenly found ourselves stuck together in an apartment far away from everything we knew and loved and understood. We were facing down a seemingly unending unknown, with no idea when – or even if - we would find our homes or our normal again.
In short: suddenly, Voyager and her crew were starting to feel more and more realistic every passing day. I understood what Janeway meant when she said she wanted a few Borg cubes – I would have given anything to go back home and deal with the stress of a job and my own home. And I understood why she spent so long staring out of her viewscreen. I did the same – staring out of the living room window, just wanting to go out and glimpse “normal” life again. Anything to escape the never-ending dread of not knowing.
Like Tom Paris in that same episode, I found myself also indulging in a lot of sci-fi escapism. Star Trek, of course, instead of Captain Proton, but still. I deep-dove into subreddits and devoured audiobooks from the expanded universe of Star Trek novels and binged whole seasons in a matter of days. I searched “Star Trek episodes to cheer you up” on so many occasions it’s now one of my top prompts any time I put my cursor into the Google search bar.
The “Night” episode of Voyager helped me to put a name on my feelings, and to accept them as normal. I wasn’t alone for feeling isolated and angry and frightened and occasionally despondent in my new situation – everyone on Voyager had been through it too. But more than that, Star Trek gave me a tool with which to begin to dig my way out of that feeling.
It’s cheesy, but it’s true.
Right around one of my lowest moments in the very beginning of lockdown, one of the forums I regularly visited posted a reminder about First Contact Day, and asked everyone how they would be celebrating. For those who don’t know, First Contact Day is celebrated to commemorate April 5, 2063, when (as depicted in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact) Zefram Cochrane launches the first warp-enabled rocket and catches the attention of the Vulcans, who become Earth’s first extraterrestrial contact. I, a baby Trekkie, had never heard of this “holiday” and immediately threw myself into preparing for it.
In the days leading up to April 5th, I did it all. Homemade cheese pierogi from scratch? I made them. Bottle of whiskey (Zefram’s favorite)? I bought a bottle. Cake to welcome our Vulcan friends despite the fact that they would dismiss a cake as having no nutritional value? I baked one while watching my favorite Trek episodes.
But then, when First Contact day arrived – this day I’d been preparing for and excited about for days – I hit a brick wall. A party with no guests? Sitting on the couch eating food and watching TV just like every other god-forsaken quarantine day?
Depressing. All of the sudden, I was Janeway again, staring out of the viewscreen, wishing for a Borg invasion.
The longer I sat there, though, staring out of the window, eating my pierogi as the sounds of 1996’s First Contact wound down in the background, I realized something. In the film, Picard assures Lily, “I envy you…taking these first steps into a new frontier…” Something about those words clicked inside of me. In a slightly Grinch Who Stole Christmas manner, I suddenly realized that First Contact day wasn’t about pierogi or movies or offering the Vulcan salute to my husband every time I entered or left a room.
It was about every Trekkie who offered me advice on making pierogi from scratch for the first time. It was about the hours I spent talking to strangers about this thing we loved so much. It was about the one thing we all shared – a dream of a better tomorrow.
First Contact Day is all about hope. And hope is exactly what it gave to me at a time when I needed it most. For that, I am eternally grateful, and I wish that you shall all live long and prosper.
Alys Murray is a romance novelist with a particularly geeky style. She can be found on twitter @writeralys. Tobey Maguire is her Spider-Man