“What If?” – The Golden Anniversary of First Contact
It is the evening of April 5th, 2113.
In his study, Zefram Cochrane is alone with his thoughts. The room is dark except for the fire burning in the fireplace. His study is filled with books on physics, rocketry, astronomy, and on the walls are hung awards of recognition of his accomplishments and education, plus photos of his earlier life and of his beloved Phoenix.
To Zefram’s right is a snifter of brandy from circa 2063, and he takes a slow sip from the glass, placing it on the small table next to him. To his left is an award he received earlier in the evening, at a reception commemorating what had happened fifty years ago. He looks at the award and says to himself in a whisper, “Damn, I can’t believe I did that…”
What you have just read is not canon. It is what I believe could have happened in the history of Star Trek – fan fiction, if you will.
It was the spring of 2019. Watching TV specials about the then-current fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo moon landing made me think about Cochrane. How would he be recognized fifty years after the flight of the Phoenix? And then it hit me; I had, in my closet, a model of the Phoenix that could be used as an award. And so, what follows is the adventure I went on to create an award that could have been presented to Zefram Cochrane on the fiftieth anniversary of his historic flight and the subsequent First Contact with Vulcans. The award would have been given to him fifty years after April 5th, 2061, a date that means much to Star Trek fans.
It was the spring of 2008. I was attending a model-making contest, and as I waited for the results of my category (I finished in third), I was looking at the various vendors selling model kits. And there it was, a resin model of the Phoenix, made by Fantastic Plastic.
I do not recall the cost, and at that time, it did not matter; it was the Phoenix. So, I purchased it, took it home and considered what to do next with the kit. I never felt I could do it justice. This was the creation of John Eaves. Could I make it look like the Phoenix of Star Trek: First Contact? Anxious about my true abilities as a model maker, I put the kit on the top shelf of a closet and there it sat for eleven years.
We arrive back at the spring of 2019. I thought about a new model project that I wanted to work on and now it would involve the lonely Phoenix model in the closet. I thought about Star Trek: First Contact, about the pivotal scene when Picard smashes the glass that contains the various models of golden spacecraft (Alfre Woodard’s line, “You broke your little ships,” changes the direction of the story) and I thought, Make it a golden model of the Phoenix. And with that, construction of the kit commenced.
The construction of the kit had various stages, from its thirteen individual pieces to full assembly. Next was to apply a gray primer coat, then a gloss black primer coat, and finally a few coats of gold metallic paint. A quick application of gold “rub ‘n’ buff” to brighten it up, and I was happy with the results of the kit.
But, what to do next? How to display this finished model?
Why not make it into a gift to Zefram Cochrane, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his faster-than-light mission and First Contact. I wanted to display it in a flying style. Simply mounting it on a rod, attached to a base, would work, but it would be so plain and would not convey it as a proper gift to this pioneer of space travel.
However, how fancy should it be? In the movie, Cochrane is not a larger-than-life person; he’s a drunk, who womanizes Troi and runs away when he realizes that he is revered in the future. So, the model had to be understated and simple.
I created the text that appears on the base to recognize the date of the flight, the date of First Contact, and the day it would have been presented to Dr. Cochrane. The Star Trek symbols on the base were copied from Mike and Denise Okuda’s wonderfully extensive Star Trek Encyclopedia, published in 2016 (a heavy two-volume addition – the perfect Christmas gift!). A little glue to affix the assembled plaque to the base and it was done.
Knowing I’d be attending a Star Trek convention in August 2019, I had one mission to fulfill: get Jonathan Frakes to sign the base.
There I stood, in line with so many fans of Jonathan, my $75 in hand (hey, it was Jonathan!), while I waited for my turn to meet him. Upon doing so, I thanked Jonathan for his outstanding work on the movie, he signed the base, and then we stood to be photographed together. A fist bump and off I went, satisfied he had seen my creation.
I had hoped to see Doug Drexler at the event, I wanted him to see it as well, and sign the base as he had worked on the Phoenix shooting model for the movie; sadly, he was a no show.
Later in the day – after a roundtable discussion with Mike and Denise Okuda and Douglas Trumbull – I managed to obtain their signatures as well. Mike and Denise have worked on so many series and movies that I wanted them to see my award. However, to have Douglas see it and sign it as well… that was special.
I am immensely proud of my creation. The finished model sits in my display cabinet and every so often I will pull it out, look it over and say what I think Dr. Cochrane might say himself; “Damn, I can’t believe I did that…”