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Silver City/Lordsburg - TV Outage

Star Trek, the monarch butterfly, and a real threat to our planet

Peter Goodman


The monarch butterfly joining the endangered species red list and our state’s oil and gas operations likely need to alter practices to help lesser prairie chickens recover remind me of a something that could be from a Star Trek episode.

The Enterprise, under Captain Picard’s command, is cruising the Milky Way seeking to do no harm. Deanna then Riker start having dreams and getting telepathic communications urging them to stop at a planet in the system they’re approaching.

Picard is reluctant, but, after several trusted crew-members recount moving dream-scenes and desperate pleas which seem to suggest the planet’s population may soon be destroyed, agrees to stop.

They find the planet populated primarily by Doms, reasonably intelligent beings with whom they can communicate. The Doms don’t object to their visit, but reassure Picard they are doing fine, and know of no imminent disaster.

A curious fact is that for each Dom there is a corresponding Glebe. The Glebes exist to protect and serve the Doms, and can shift shapes at will. If a Dom child is walking toward a cliff or other danger, the Glebe will get in the way, or grow hands and arms with which to grasp the child. If a Dom pauses somewhere, and wants to sit down, his or her Glebe immediately takes the form of a comfortable sort of seat, and retains that shape as long as necessary.

Initially, it’s not even clear whether Glebes are sentient beings or just tools the Doms have invented that obey wordless commands. Doms explain that the Glebes are living creatures who cannot speak, write, or reason. Glebes sense Doms’ needs and respond. Doms treat them in ways ranging from kind and grateful to careless and contemptuous. When a Dom is born,a Glebe appears. When a Dom dies, his Glebe disappears.

Eventually, the crew realize that it’s the Glebes who’ve been telepathically pleading with them. Smoke from a substance the Doms have started smoking will, in time, kill off the Glebes. When Picard tells Dom leaders of this danger, they shrug it off. Glebes are convenient nonentities whom some Doms even regard as an annoyance. However, it turns out that when a Glebe dies, its corresponding Dom dies. The Doms resolve to give up the substance they’ve enjoyed smoking.

This episode never aired. At the time, I was watching Star Trek because of a teenager who never missed it. I conceived the episode. I even sent for the “Bible” that contained the complete backstories of all the characters, but I was a busy lawyer. Then the series ended.

The monarchs remind me of that “almost” episode. We may not care much about the lesser prairie chicken; but we are rapidly losing bees and other pollinators, as well as birds and many species of trees.

The trees, without particularly intending to help us, supply us with oxygen and help cool the planet, a critical part of our water/rain cycle. Bees, birds, and insects are essential to much of what we consume.

Despite all our science, losing these species could endanger us. Even without that danger (and without our wonder at other creatures’ variety and beauty), what right do we have to destroy species wantonly?

But I’m an old man mumbling into his beard, recalling childhood’s plentiful lightning bugs. And protecting a butterfly or a bird seems almost quaint when we are willfully ignoring the stunted lives our descendants will suffer because of our careless selfishness.