My Simming Memoirs

Part 4: Reality

The clubs banner in 1998 (top image), and the menu we adopted for our website in late 1998 (bottom image). By Captain Sergei.

Chapter 21: Peace At Hand; Chapter 22: Republic; Chapter 23: The Simming League Reborn; Chapter 24: Constitution; Chapter 25: The Third Generation Recession; Chapter 26: Viper Flight; Chapter 27: The Orion

 

Chapter 21: Peace At Hand

"One year. Never would of though we would make it this far." - Chip Rollins, in an IM with me, September 27, 1997.

Building on the success of the short histories used against Ben, Uridien1, and LeaderFed, I wrote the first version of My Simming Memoirs during the summer of 1997. The primary purpose of the Memoirs was to celebrate the club's first anniversary, but they also provided a full rebuttal to the rumors Ben circulated about TOL. And they worked. Ben was embarrassed by the full retelling of his exploits and started to behave. Club members read the memoirs and felt a sense of pride - people became more involved in TOL and the sense of community and friendship among us grew tighter.

Writing the Memoirs allowed me to step back and see the big picture of how the club evolved, and to discover our strengths and weaknesses. From this I came to realize three important things that would drive me, and I suppose haunt me, for the rest of my days as President of Trek Online. First, Trek Online was a delicate compromise. Second, our judicial system was a failure. Third, the time had come for Scott's dream.

My 1997 Memoirs (edited and expanded over time) are retained in Parts 1 to 3. That's why Parts 2 and 3 are a blow by blow recount. Parts 4 to 7 were not written until 2003 and 2004, after my career had ended and TOL faded from the annals of history. As a result, you will notice that this and the subsequent parts of the Memoirs are more reflective in nature. This isn't to say that there weren't important things happening in the club on a daily basis from 1997 to 2002, but being so many years removed from the events, I feel there is more value in reflection than in a blow by blow narrative.

The summer of 1997 brought peace to Trek Online. While I realized the downfall of LeaderFed was a significant event, I didn't have a sense of its importance at the time. Chip and I commented that this peace seemed different, that it might last, but we were not sure, things were nebulous at best. No one knew what would happen with the FFSC, the raiders, Ben, and Uridien1. But I think that is how it is with history. There were very few moments when I knew for sure that things had changed forever.

Nevertheless, I ceased the moment.

Trek Online had undergone astounding changes during the summer. In February we had been a club of 25 members at each others throats. By August our unique simming style, focus on community, and aggressive recruiting contests caused TOL to take off and become a thriving club of nearly 100. To accommodate this growth, new sims were added.

In April the USS Avenger, under the command of I. Relayer, began. In June, Josh - the original captain of the Endeavor - returned from retirement and organized the USS Wrightstown as his gift to Trek Online. With my permission, Josh took it upon himself to recruit the crew, train the captain - Lt. Commander Oden from the Vindicator - and take care of all of the initial preparation that goes into a successful sim.

In July, TOL organized the USS Stonewall (named after the general and TOL battle) and I placed Lt. Clodo from Mike's sim in command. In August, Viper Flight - an independent sim ran by a TOL member named Alex Kracken - was brought into TOL. In September, as the club continued to grow, the IKS Dark Falcon - with Vorahk, a Lieutenant from the USS Generation in command - was established. Finally, the ISS Vorta with Robin, a Lieutenant from the USS Vindicator in command, was organized in December.

In addition there were weekly Star Trek Trivia and Chat sessions, a Trek Trivia E-mail string, and message board based activities. Plus, lets not forget about the Orion simming away on Prodigy and our other sims on AOL - the Generation, Vindicator, Endeavor, and Frontier Station (Mike had destroyed the Indelphi during one of his sims and replaced it with a space station). All of this would constitute TOL's core for the remainder of my presidency. The club would expand into E-mail and message board sims, and add a new chat sim here and there - but the core had been set by January 1998.

The growth, however, brought about its own challenges, and combined with the reflections generated by my Memoirs, made me realize that Trek Online was a delicate compromise.

By their very nature sim clubs are fragile. With only words on a screen generating your reality, there isn't anything real to back up your hard work. This realization on one level or another has driven all sorts of obsessive behavior in simming leaders - from dictatorships, to Admiral Rick trying to control everyone's characters, to my initial objection of outside the box sims.

I, at least, was able to move beyond my objection to outside of the box sims (other obsessions remained, however). Aside from the USS Stonewall, all of the new sims were non traditional (meaning not Federation starships from the TNG/DS9/Voyager era). The Dark Falcon was a Klingon sim, the Vorta was a Romulan sim, and the Wrightstown was a Classic Era sim. Nevertheless, they were firmly grounded in Trek and thus were easy for anyone to follow. The Avenger was set in the 25th century - in a universe where the Federation was dying. I made sure to remind IR time and time again that he should keep the sim as general as possible - and fight his tendencies to give the sim an epic movie plot. Viper Flight was a runabout squadron battling the Maquis, which again was pretty straight forward. As a result, all of the sims held to TOL's central belief that the best sims are ones everyone can take part in. Elaborate plots that could make a good movie do not make for good sims because they just become way too confusing. But on the flip side, having every sim be a boring traditional Federation ship is no fun - which is why Trek Online offered diversity. In other words, we always attempted to strike a compromise.

Compromises occurred on other levels as well. We maintained a rank system because, in order to motivate and reward people, they have to work towards something. But Trek Online was also a community where rank was de-emphasized. Everyone I put in command of the sims were junior officers, and I always tried to pick the best talent regardless of simulated rank.

The organization of the club was another grand and powerful compromise. Captains had creative control over their sims, but I was a strong President. Yet, I couldn't keep my eye on all of my captains. For whatever reason I found that it's very difficult to directly manage more than 5 or 6 sims. Why this is the case I'm not quite sure - perhaps it has something to do with the limitations of communication and management via a computer. But the 5 or 6 sim rule is plainly visible in the simming world. When clubs expand beyond this size they run into trouble and usually divide into fleets - where an admiral manages 5 or 6 captains and the president oversees the admirals. But the purpose of Trek Online was to be an open community free of artificial barriers and the accompany bureaucracy and military hierarchy that dominated earlier sim clubs.

I was able to get around this problem because I was blessed with wonderful captains. I only had to focus on a few captains at a time - and it was never anything bad, even the best have to be prodded or reminded of things they forgot to do. In addition, over the summer of 1997, I wrote a command bible. It basically was a guidebook for the captains that detailed club operations and management - all of the stuff that no one thinks about but is critical for a successful sim. The command bible was not in of itself authoritative. I allowed captains great leeway in how they managed their own sim, but the command bible did get all of the captains on the same page. It got them to think about items they wouldn't have necessarily thought of, provided them with a check list of things to do for their sim, and mandated paperwork and reports that insured behind the scenes uniformity in the club - all of which helped me immensely.

Parallel to the TOL Times, I published a monthly command newsletter just for the captains which provided important news and info for them. In each newsletter I also went through each sim saying what I liked and what I felt needed improvement. I made it a point to IM and talk to every captain at least once a week and there were plenty of E-mails to all of the captains during the course of the month about important topics of the day.

Working with the captains I established a promotion point system for TOL. During the summer of 1997 promotions and ranks were starting to become a point of contention, threatening the rank compromise. On some sims the captain was very strict with promotions, but on others the captain would give out promotions every few weeks. To clear up this problem the uniform point system was established.

The point system was pretty straight forward. A person would receive so many points for attending a sim, so many more based on their participation in the sim, and additional points for club service and recruiting. After accumulating enough points, a person would be promoted. The system helped to take the mystery out of ranks and return them to their de-emphasized, reward for service role they were meant to be.

But perhaps most important to our success in late 1997, I figured out how to be a good leader. I discovered my limits, who I could trust, how to spot talent, how to handle problems before they grew out of control, and what work is necessary to run a club. Plus, I had gained everyone's respect. Every new leader is probed and challenged to see how he or she will react. I had been tested, and I proved my metal. The club was now willing to follow me, and those who thought about causing problems feared me and decided it was in their best interests to behave.

Yet, I, and the other captains at the time realized that our new set up would not support an ever larger club. We realized that Trek Online had come full circle. Our founding dreams had survived and were now becoming a reality - but our very success was threatening to overwhelm our dreams. So we reached another compromise - growth of the club was capped. This ensured that Trek Online remained small enough to retain a sense of community, but large enough to offer a diverse collection of sims and activities to all members. We, in other words, decided to focus on quality, not quantity.

 

Chapter 22: Republic

 "I have noticed something about all the Admirals, they always write long letters and they always have them well written and with good gramer, so I have been wondering why do admirals do that?"

"I really don't know... I guess some admiral way back when decided that is how admirals should be and than another admiral copied him, than another, and another, and it just spread on till all admirals did it."

- Midshipman Jacen Solo and Admiral Chas Hammer, in an E-mail exchange, November 14, 1997. A good metaphor. Why do all Admirals set up military dictatorships? Because everyone else has always done so...

The largest flaw I noticed when writing my Memoirs in 1997 was the spectacular failure of our court system. Failed trials had allowed Ben and Uridien1 to escape justice for months and had contributed to the civil war. I felt that the problem was that the court system was not defined on paper. Everyone had a different sense of how the discipline system worked in TOL. As I saw it, trials are only used when things get very out of hand, and during such times everyone should have the same understanding about how to resolve the matter - the issues in the trial may be contentious, but the process of having a trial shouldn't be. But because the trial system was not defined, the club had suffered tremendously.

So, in September of 1997, I began to talk to the captains and first officers to discover their views of the clubs legal system. From there, I worked with them to draft a Members Rights Document that put into writing a basic judicial framework and set of laws for the club. The Document enshrined the precedents and unwritten rules that had accumulated in TOL, and established a court system where a trial could be conducted by the president and 2 captains serving as judicial magistrates, or by the president serving as the judge and 9 club members as jurors. The defendant would choose which method he or she wanted. However, both methods were allowed by the Document as a compromise because opinion was split in the club as to which one was the better system.

The process that created the Document was just as important as its content. The Document was drafted by the captains and first officers of TOL, and was approved by a vote of the same people. This was a stunning development in the simming world. Normally admirals - in their first and second generation mold as military leader - would simply hand down trial rules and new laws. But here I was actively working with my captains and first officers because I realized that if the club ever ended up in another contentious situation like the civil war, I would have to be able to say, "Look, you voted for this, so stop complaining and follow these rules that will allow us to work through this problem and solve it."

The Members Rights Document was ratified by the captains and first officers on October 7, 1997. A week later, Bo Duke, a club member who had a lot of talent, but also had problems controlling himself, acted up at a USS Stonewall sim. Following the rules in the Members Rights Document, a trial was held without incident, Bo Duke was demoted, and that was that. Because we had written procedures in place everyone acted very professionally, and Bo Duke felt like he had been treated fairly (which he was), so he followed his punishment without complaining. Furthermore, through the trial process, he felt the weight of the community upon him, so he reformed himself and served the club with distinction from that day forward.

In November there was a second trial. Mike, the CO of the USS Indelphi, felt that two people at his sim were acting up, so he issued demotions. The crew felt the punishment was unfair and appealed. A trial was held and the demotions were overruled. In a situation like this things could have become nasty - captain vs crew is never a good state for a sim. Mike threatened to resign, but when I reminded him that he had voted for the Members Rights Document and the very trial system that had overruled his decision to discipline members of his crew, he backed down, and the club benefited from his continued presence for years to come.

In other words, the Members Rights Document quickly proved to be a great success, so it was only logical for me to build upon it. By writing my first memoirs, I had rediscovered Scott's arguments for a republic. At the time, in January and February, I had dismissed his ideas because they would not have worked. The club was too fragile and would have died had they been introduced, and I still feel that way to this day. After all, colonists did not show up in Virginia in 1610 and establish a republic. It took almost two centuries before the United States was created. The same is true in simming, but on much smaller time scales. You just do not start up a sim club and make it a republic. But now, in the fall of 1997, even though Scott had retired from the club and was no longer around advocating for a republic, and even though no one in the club was calling for a republic, I was beginning to think that the time had arrived for a republic in TOL. The positive experience I had with the Members Rights Document, the fact the club was now strong, and my earlier promise that I would establish a republic when the club was strong, made me decide it was time to build upon the Members Rights Document and turn TOL into a republic.

So, on November 21, 1997, I E-mailed all of the captains. I told them that I was thinking about holding presidential elections, expanding the Members Rights Document by writing a constitution, and turning the club into a republic. To me, it made sense to hold elections before work on a republic began, because it would hypocritical and dangerous for me to turn TOL into a republic without ever having been voted into the presidency.

The reaction from the captains was positive. No one was against the idea and everyone could see the benefits - from encouraging more member involvement, to promoting new ideas in the club, to providing a forum that would air tensions - but the overall level of enthusiasm was mixed. Some captains worried it would result in more work, and Robin especially became caught up in the methaporical qualities of the words republic and constitution. She wondered if the terms and concepts were too over the top (but for me the terms were important - club members wouldn't want to get involved with a leadership council or care about the by-laws).

It was Chip, however, who was the most influential in shaping my and the captains views of the republic. Chip was one of the few people who I allowed to hold a veto power over me. I highly valued his advise because he had been the President, and if he was dead set against something I would not proceed. When it came to the idea of the republic, he was naturally hesitant. I was starting to sound like Scott, and he jokingly reminded me that was not a good thing.

Chip didn't view a republic as a practical way to run the day to day government of the club. But he did see value in having captains and members have a say in the fate of their club. He also knew that as the club matured over the years we would need a new system, and he was open to the idea that it be a republic. But the main question in Chip's mind was how to deal with my retirement. I wasn't planning to retire anytime soon, but he was embarassed by the way the club had handeled his retirement, and he didn't want to see that repeated.

Over the course of several chats we discussed how I would retire. We considered everything from my disbanding the club upon my retirement, to picking a successor, to holding an election at the time of my retirement, to just letting the club once again fight it out. But in the end we kept on coming back to the realization that the only way we could insure a successful transfer of power was through a republic or some kind of democratic means.

Holding an election where everyone in the club voted for one of the commanding officers to be the President was seen by Chip and myself as the best way to determine succession. Such a system would prevent jealousy among the other captains that could have occurred if I picked a successor. Such a system would put the decision into the hands of the club, and who they picked would have the backing of the club and thus would be in a far stronger position to lead and manage the captains. The president's power would be based on making the people happy, not on winning the support of the captains.

But holding an election a few years down the road when I retired could have opened the club up to all kinds of problems and questioning of the vote. There would have to be a series of regular elections before I retired so that precedents and traditions could build up.

We could have chosen to elect a dictator on a regular basis, but such a system wouldn't have guaranteed regular elections. The president could simply decide to do away with them. So, the elections needed to be part of a larger system that gave the members a voice in the club - a republic. In addition, there would be no recourse against the elected dictator (aside from voting him out of office, but we all know incumbents hardly ever get voted out of office.) There had to be checks and balances built into the system to give the captains and club members a voice and ability to influence the president. And, beyond that, a republic gave the club a number of other benefits. First and foremost, Trek Online was about being a community, and a republic allowed everyone to shape their community and to have a club that reflected their collective desires. A republic generated interest and involvement in the club, and it insured a fresh influx of new ideas and new blood into the highest ranks of TOL.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized that debate was not a bad thing. Leaders in the simming world are naturally fearful of debate because whenever a debate occurs in a club it quickly becomes discord and sometimes destroys clubs. However this happens because there are no channels for debate in a club, so things just boil under the surface until they explode.

But in a republic, with elections, a constitution, and a legislative body, debate was encouraged and given a controlled channel that prevented it from becoming discord. The republic allowed problems to be aired before they built up and become un-resolvable. It allowed many people to think about problems, and many heads are better then one. Plus, we got the added bonus of creating a system where people were free to think and make decisions, so they actually did. The republic empowered my captains and made it so they didn't have to come to me for every decision.

So, with both Chip and myself in agreement that a republic was the best way to go, the captains decided to turn TOL into a republic. But the question was, how would we make it and what shape would it take? We would hold an election to find out.

 

Chapter 23: The Simming League Reborn

 "I can't debate on the folders Chas." - Senator Bromb, from MFS, debating against my proposal to have message board meetings in the League, May 1, 1998.

There were three candidates for TOLs first Presidential election. Myself (naturally), Mike and Bo Duke. I find it interesting that the two people who decided to run against me were the two who had just appeared before the court. Unknown to me, they could have been simmering under the surface - and who knows what they may have done in the future - but the election gave them a constructive way to make their voices heard.

The election wasn't just about picking a leader. It also was to pick an idea about the future of the club. The idea I advocated was to turn TOL into a constitutional republic. Mike's idea was to establish a triumvirate system - something similar to what we had tried in the USG - where there would be three leaders elected by the club members. One of the leaders would be designated as the top leader, but any 2 of the 3 could veto an action. Bo Duke - who had redeemed himself by working hard and was re-promoted to Commander and became a First Officer, making him eligible to run in the election - proposed a few small items that he felt would improve the club, but his overall plan was to keep things as they were.

After a series of very civil chat and message board debates, the club went to the polls and overwhelmingly reelected me as the President and backed my plan for the club. I received 81% of the vote, Mike 13%, Bo Duke 6%.

The election results were announced on January 19, 1998, in the private chat room Stonewall. The symbolism wasn't lost on anyone. One year after the civil war, TOL re-gathered in the same room, this time to witness the peaceful selection of the club's leader.

A number of dignitaries from other clubs, including Jeff Hafley, president of the United Simulations Organization (USO), attended the election celebrations. Jeff IMed me and told me about an emerging threat in the simming world - a person named Griffin and his club, the Federation of Alien Species (FAS). Griffin was one of those people who took everything way too seriously and who allowed simming to fill his ego. He had been a captain in a sim club called Federation Online Simulations (FOS), but had a falling out with the leaders in early January 1998 and left the club, causing a split in the ranks of the FOS. While many people stayed loyal to the FOS, a few followed Griffin, and he started up his own club, the FAS. Words were continuously exchanged between members of the FAS and FOS, and the situation was rapidly deteriorating towards war. The FOS was a friendly and peaceful club, and had signed a series of alliances with other clubs, including the USO. Had war broke out, Jeff feared that many clubs, including the USO, would be dragged into the fighting.

Jeff had heard of the Simming League and asked if there was anything they could do to help. I, sadly, had to inform Jeff that the League disbanded over the summer. However, I quickly saw this as a perfect opportunity to reestablish the League. After all, I found the idea of the League to be a wonderful thing and I didn't want to see it disappear forever. So, I contacted the FOS and their allies and told them that I was willing to offer my services as a negotiator, and I told them about the Simming League. I explained that I had been the last President of the Sim Senate, and thus, technically, I still had the authority of the League behind me. I stated that after the negotiations were concluded I would like to have their support in rebuilding the League. They agreed. (I think it was a nice piece of manouvering on my part.)

All of this did two things for me. First, when I contacted Griffin, it gave me real power because I had all of the allied clubs behind me and we were speaking as one voice. It also - by acting in the name of the League - gave me symbolic power, causing Griffin to think I had major authority. So, when I contacted Griffin a few days later, I was able to convince him to enter into negotiations.

The negotiations were an episode almost as bizarre as what I experienced with LeaderFed in May of 1997. Griffin constantly made bombastic statements and veered off into historic hyperbole. However, I engaged in his debates in order to calm him down and see if I could win a few points by out debating him. I did my best to convince him about the stupidity of engaging in a simulated war, and I somehow managed to keep the allies from becoming fed up and walking away. After a week of tense negotiations and my daily back and forth meetings with the FAS, FOS, and allied clubs, Griffin agreed not to attack, and a treaty was worked out.

The treaty was straight forward - the FOS would recognize that that Griffin had left the club and would not harass the members who had left for the FAS or try to get them to return. Griffin would not attack the FOS, would leave the club alone, and would not try to convince more people to leave the FOS. The Simming League would monitor to make sure the treaty was followed. It was a huge diplomatic victory and propelled myself and TOL forward as a leader of the simming community on AOL.

During February momentum for the Simming League gathered. I contacted clubs that I knew, Jeff and the allies contacted clubs they knew, and soon, over a dozen clubs were assembled and working together to reestablish the League.

Discussions about the League went smoothly. Everyone agreed to the ideas of the First League - to have an organization that would bring clubs together, foster the exchange of ideas, and provide a political outlet to let clubs resolve problems facing the entire simming world. Everyone also agreed to establish a judicial system that would resolve conflicts and disputes between clubs.

Quickly Jeff, myself, and Bromb - who was representing Members Focused Simulations (MFS) - became the principle people who drafted the League's constitution. Jeff and myself worked to rewrite the first constitution - to basically updating it, give it more details, and removing the few compromises (such as the defense pact) that LeaderFed had demanded. Jeff also created an expanded Trustee Council - a body that was designed to help new clubs get onto their feet. However, Bromb wanted the League to be more than a forum, political and judicial body. He wanted the League to work to advance the simming world. To this end, he came up with the idea that the League should be able to establish bureaus to run activities and organize efforts. Everyone liked the idea and it was added to the constitution.

By the end of February a draft was produced and sent to all interested clubs. 11 clubs decided to ratify it and join the League, including TOL, FAS, FOS, and MFS.

With the Constitution set, League Presidential elections were called for. The two candidates were, quite naturally, myself - with Jeff as my running mate - and Bromb. What emerged during the election - and would grow over the next few months - was a fundamental difference between Bromb and myself over the nature of the League.

Bromb, having seen the success of the FAS/FOS negotiations and the constitution drafting process, wanted to use the power and resources possessed by the assembled clubs to actively engage the simming world - to resolving disputes, to exchanging ideas, to set standards for the simming world, and to provide activities and services for simmers and clubs.

I, on the other hand, have never looked at the League and said, "Wow, look at all of these clubs, imagine what we could do if we got everyone working together." Clubs are in the League for select reasons, and I've always felt that if the League were to force clubs in some direction it would break the League apart. The reason the League was able to attract a large number of clubs was because clubs felt un-threatened by it. They knew the League would not do anything drastic.

I won the election, receiving all but 2 votes. I, naturally, felt vindicated and felt that Bromb's position had been defeated. I pressed ahead and began to build up the League along my lines - nominating court justices, proposing laws, holding meetings, and working to settle disputes that came before the League - nothing drastic. I felt secure in my position because there was a great fear among the member clubs that the League would become a super government, so if anything I would have been stopped if I tried to do anything more and flex any mussels the League may have possessed.

However, this fear had worked its way in the constitution. The bureaus had so many checks and balances that they were completely ineffective. So much power was given to the Senate as a body - and so many rules of procedure were put into place to ensure no club gained power over others - that every little decision had to be debated for hours on end.

On paper, when I drafted the constitution, the system looked to be very well balanced. But we all soon found that the many checks and procedures created a highly political atmosphere that made the League very slow and ineffective.

To make matters worse, all Senate meetings were held in chat rooms. It proved difficult to find a common time when all Senators could attend, and the chat meetings would often grind on for hours, and sometimes descend into mud slinging contests that involved Griffin assailing the FOS, or Bromb venting his frustrations that I was not doing much of anything with the League. I asked Bromb to put forward ideas and people to run bureaus and activities, but he never did. My focus was on organizing and building up the League's main areas of justice, policy, and law. I relied on him to build up his pet project - the bureaus - but he didn't.

However, the real problem wasn't mud slinging, it was that meetings were boring and futile. By June, it was becoming difficult to round up enough Senators to meet the minimum attendance requirements necessary to hold a meeting, and it was becoming clear that the League needed to be retooled. A series of amendments were proposed during July by both myself and Bromb - some were passed, and some didn't get very far. But by that point in time it was too late. Bronb didn't have much trust in me, and, in frustration he quit the League in August of 1998 and convinced MFS to withdraw from the Leaguue. The League didn't split apart as I feared, but Bromb's leaving was a major psychological blow, and it caused everyone to conclude that the constitution needed to be scrapped and completely rewritten.

I had made a series of mistakes with the Second League. I'd written into the constitution too many procedural items - such as specific details about how to run Senate meetings. A law would have been a better place to address those items, for as we found what worked and what didn't, the law could have been more easily changed. I didn't start working with Bromb until it was too late. At first I simply viewed him as a defeated candidate and that I had overwhelming support to carry on as I saw fit. Feeling isolated, Bromb lashed out in several meetings and constantly tried to organize shifting coalitions that only caused unnecessary bickering within the League. I should have worked with him and showed him more respect.

However, it was a learning process. No one knew how to organize or run a League, and at least we were slowly getting better at it. By the end of the summer of 1998, the League was still in existence and was working on major reforms. In contrast, the First League, by the end of the summer of 1997, was already dead. Persistence has always been my friend. I've have made many mistakes during my journey in the simming world - but I just keep at it, learn from them, worked hard, and somehow, it always worked out in the end.

 

Chapter 24: Constitution

 "It reads, 'I still have supreme power to do what I want'" - I Relayer, in an IM with me on March 20, 1998, critizing my early plans for the Assembly.

To draft a constitution for Trek Online, I set out after my election to establish an Assembly comprised of every captain in the club along with one qualified crew member from every sim in the club. Luckily, my efforts to find crew members from every ship who understood government caused a delay in seating the Assembly, and it wasn't until March when the Assembly was in place. This gave me all of February to focus my efforts on drafting the League Constitution, and to learn from the League.

I first wanted the Assembly to discuss and agree on broad governing principles for TOL before drafting specific text. Thus, during March, April, and May, the Assembly met via E-mail, message boards, and occasionally in chat rooms, to set out a framework for the future of Trek Online. The fact we had as much time as needed reduced all kind of pressures and resulted in a low key, multi month discussion in the club about the nature of sim government, republics, and TOL.

Because the constitution we drafted in 1998 was eventually replaced by new constitutions in 2000 and 2003, so I won't focus on the specific details of the 1998 constitution. Rather, I will speak in broad terms about the debates we had, and how we reached the conclusions about the kind of government we wanted in TOL - conclusions that survived in different constitutions over many years.

The first question was what powers should the republic have? There was a general feeling in the club that things were running pretty smoothly, and we didn't want to fix what wasn't broke. In other words, as Chip was fond of saying, "You don't have to hold a vote in order to sim." Thus, TOLs republic was not going to be completely revolutionary, and that accounts for a great deal of its success. All of the underlying structure that had been established over the previous year would remain in place. What the republic would do, in essence, was take some powers away from the President, and make the unofficial powers that the captains and club had accumulated - such as voting rights and the Members Rights Document - formal. It would basically give the community a way to make its own decisions, but it wouldn't radically rearrange the entire community.

Everyone pretty much agreed that the best place to put voting power and removed Presidential powers was into an Assembly and not into a bureaucracy or Co-Presidents. TOL needed one leader to answer questions, deal with pressing problems, and set a direction for the club, and aside from Mike, no one really wanted to go back to the Co-President system the USG unofficially employed.

TOL wasn't the first club to establish a republic. There were a few others before us, such as Members Focused Simulations (MFS), and of course, the FFSC. We studied the FFSC closely as an example of a republic gone very wrong. Basically, we determined that they didn't have things very well defined on paper, and that they were a prime example of what happens when you try to introduce democracy to a young club. We decided that our constitution needed to be specific (which also made it somewhat long.)

The MFS had a very strong council, but after studying it, and watching what happened in the Simming League, we saw that having a council that was too strong and had too many broad powers would stagnate the club. In MFS, it was common for the council to have to debate and vote on trivial matters - such as the promotions of junior officers - and would as a body answer questions that in TOL and other clubs was common for the President to answer. As a result of these problems, the early versions that I outlined for the Assembly was for it to be a weak body that pretty much only had the power to veto the President.

But clearly, the Assembly had to have real power, a real role, and the ability to be an independent forum that promoted debate and discussion in the club. There was no sense in having one if it didn't have any power. It also could have been dangerous. If you say the club was a republic, but it was only a sham, someone would have revolted and demanded more power for the members. And, just about everyone (aside from Robin) wanted a republic and an Assembly that had power. (As discussed in Chapter 22, Robin didn't want a republic, and found the idea of a republic in a sim club to be silly. But she didn't understand the value in having people get involved in the club and calling it a republic. No one would get involved or care if we were writing the by-laws that would require people to show up to a board meeting every month.)

Here, I Relayer, the captain of the USS Avenger, was instrumental. I called IR the philosopher of TOL. Generally IR stayed out of the political fray and I turned to Chip for day to day decisions and advise, but whenever I had a deeper organizational or moral question, I would always consult IR. His solution to the Assembly question was elegant and at the same time simple. Let the popular will of the club - as expressed in the Assembly - set the overall, long term course of the club, and have the President be the day to day manager of the club.

When combined with my desire for the Assembly to be a place that fostered debate about important issues in the club, but channeled it in a constructive way as to prevent it from becoming discord, the Assembly had a powerful role - but one that was limited so that the day to day operations of the club would remain efficient and unpolitical. Thus, it was decided that the Assembly would set the long term course of the club, and would debate and discuss matters important to the club.

But what exactly did that mean? Well, basically, the Assembly would vote to establish new sims, cancel existing sims, promote people to the rank of captain and admiral, approve presidential appointments, define organizational framework, and set rules for the club. All of these decisions by the Assembly would help to shape the long term path of the club, and these weren't minor matters either. Debates and decisions about key policy, such as promotion point systems and new sim types, reflected what type of club people wanted.

The Assembly also had power to pass any laws it felt necessary. This was a very powerful catch all in the event there was a major problem and no clear way to solve it. The Assembly would meet and vote on a solution. Many times in club history the Assembly would debate a pressing matter and pass a bill that decided the matter.

There was then the question of who would become an Assembly member. Here we had sources from club history to draw upon, such as TOL CompuServe and the February Constitution. CompuServe - like the FFSC - had given captains and heads of bureaucratic administrations seats on their council. This we rejected because we didn't want the bureaucracy to become a voting force. We wanted the club to reflect its simmers, not a removed class of Admirals.

The February Constitution basically stated that whoever showed up to a meeting would vote, but in a club that now had 100 members, this would have created logistical nightmares and could have caused debates to spin out of control into discord. However, we liked the basic idea behind the February Constitution of allowing regular club members to have a vote. Thus, it was decided that every captain, along with one simmer from every ship who was elected by their crew mates, would be an Assembly Representative. Plus, I didn't want the Assembly to just be captains. I sensed that overtime such a body would turn into a class of nobles who would enjoy ganging up on me. The experience of other clubs who established a limited republic by creating a body of just captains has since proven this. Plus, having a President who was dependent on the captains alone would have underminded the entire TOL system and lead to a decentralized club.

With time, the requirement of one elected representative from each ship was removed because it proved difficult to administer the elections. Also, considering how TOL was an open club and people simmed on several ships, it was a meaningless distinction about what ship one represented. So, it was eventually replaced in 2000 by a system that allowed any qualified simmer who wanted to be a representative to become one if there was an open seat. In the short run this worked fine, but in the long run it proved impossible to get rid of any dead wood, and in 2002 and 2003, turned out to be a disaster for TOL. People who had stopped actively simming in the club years prior still were Assembly members - leading to a stagnate voting block of the old captains and admirals, the very scenario I tried so desperately to avoid during my entire career. Things would have been better had we maintained Assembly elections.

At any rate, with the Assembly decided, the debate turned its attention to the Court.

Here the judgment of history is that I got it right with the Members Rights Document and I should have left well enough alone. Under the Members Rights Document, if there was a troublemaker the person would first be punished by a captain in accordance with the rules, and a trial would be held to deal with the matter if necessary. As far as disputes and constitutional questions in the new republic, they could have been settled by the Assembly or a special tribunal set up for the purpose. However, I got a little carried away with my own government experiment and wanted there to be a strong, independent judiciary.

The problem with the Court system I proposed was - as Robin argued at the time - that the Court didn't do much of anything most of the time, and when it was needed, instead of helping, it would simply become a pressure cooker and magnify the problem, causing even more headaches. In both TOL and the League, Court cases caused major headaches, severely wounding both organizations. But at the time I figured if we were going to have a republic, it made sense to have an independent judiciary like there is in the United States. I envisioned the Court to not only be a body that dealt with troublemakers, but also to be the body of last resort. If law and order broke down in the club, if the republic got very out of whack as it had done in FFSC, the Court, with its independent and highly respected Justices, would be there to whack things back into shape and restore calm and order.

But, as it turned out, people are quite capable of looking at a crime and determining if a person is guilty or innocent. The problem, however, was that it's impossible to have a Court manned by people with no legal background and expect them to do everything demanded of them by the constitution.

Of course, no one listened to Robin at the time (mostly because she didn't know how to pick her battles and opposed everything, so people tuned her out after a while), and my Court plans were chosen.

And this, quite nicely, brings us to the President and the Captains. Here, everything stayed the same. There was no desire to change the relationship between the captains and the president, and no desire to change the underlying system in TOL that was working so well. As a result, the constitution enshrined all of the founding principles of TOL - that the captains would be responsible for their sims and their creative content, that the president would manage them and keep them on the same page, and would oversee the entire club and make the day to day decisions. But the constitution did establish the requirement that the President must be a commanding officer. I didn't want some admiral who was out of touch with the club to be the President. I wanted someone who was in command of a sim, who was there simming each week in the club he or she ran.

The constitution also provided ways for the President and Assembly to set up some of that evil bureaucracy to help manage the affairs of the club, and during my Presidency I did organize various bureaus to help run the club - such as the Sim Support Bureau, the Academy, the Activities Bureau, and the Internet Bureau. It was a necessary evil. I simply reached the point where I couldn't run everything my self. However, not liking buraucracy, I made sure they were all staffed by simmers and ran by one of my captains, and I tried to keep them as small and out of the way as possible. They simply helped me to carry out my job and provided necessary support functions for the club. They never got in the way of the day to day simming or made decisions that impacted the sims - in large part because those powers were given to the Assembly, President, and Captain. In clubs without a constituiton or Assembly, the buraucracy picks up a lot of those powers by default.

The last consideration was the term of office. At first, it was decided that the Presidential term to be 1 year. The reason for this was that it had been one year between the battle of Stonewall and the first election, so we just continued that tradition. However, in 2000, we decided to change the term of office to 6 months. The reason for this change was two fold. First, it was felt one year was too long of a time to ask a person to dedicate to running the club. Secondly, most people did not stay in the club for a year, so having the election every 6 months would better reflect the will of the club and give each generation of club members a chance to vote.

The one major problem with the Presidency, however, was that being the President involved a lot of work, and if the President slacked, the club suffered. No club has ever found an adequate way to solve this problem. Not more or less bureaucracy, not more or less power to the captains has resolve it. Every club has to find their own way and just hope that the President is honest, hard working, capable, and intelligent.

Now, don't get me wrong. I point out these various problems to help you learn from TOLs experience and understand the mistakes we made so you can try to avoid them. I surly do not want to make it seem that I somehow feel the constitution and republic was a failure. It was not. Trek Online, given our open community and strong captains, was always on the verge of flying apart. The republic served TOL for many years, allowed us to overcome numerous obstacles, and proved to be a source of great strength. On several occasions, the republic saved TOL and kept small problems from growing out of hand. The main reason TOL died was because it abandoned its republic in 2003. However, Trek Online's republic was an experiment, and it is necessary to be honest and evaluate our strenghts and weaknesses if the experiment is to have any value.

With the basic framework agreed to, the drafting of the specific language went very smoothly during the end of June and into July. For the constitution to go into effect, all of the captains had to vote yes to it, and that was done on July 21, 1998. TOL had become a constitutional republic.

 

Chapter 25: The Third Generation Recession

 "The entire simming world is in danger. We are not threatened by some common enemy who is working to destroy us, we are not threatened by AOL as some people contend. We are threatened by each other and simple mathematical facts." - From "All of Simming is in Danger"a resolution pased by the Simming League Senate and circulated widly on AOL - October, 1998.

If you recall, after huge growth during the summer and fall of 1997, TOL decided to cap its size at about a hundred members in order to insure a focus on quality and not quantity. We felt that a hundred members was large enough to allow the club to offer a diverse range of sims and activities, but small enough to maintain our close nit community. We never turned away recruits, and we did not stop growth outright, but at the same time - during an age when clubs were actively recruiting, adding new sims, merging with other clubs to become ever larger - TOL did none of that. We simply maintained a recruiting level that keep our sims full. In fact, it would have been dangerous to expand the club while we were establishing a republic. We needed a stable population during 1998. Adding new people to the mix would have made it impossible to reach a concensus on the constitution. When you have a constitutional convention, you have a set number of people - you don't invite new people halfway through.

In addition, we were very lucky that the overall forces of simming were very beneficial to TOL. The third generation of simming exploded onto the scene in 1997 with the arrival of unlimited billing. That year was filled with mass chaos as the simming world realigned itself to the new underlying realities. By the start of 1998, the chaos was finally beginning to end, but unlimited had generated a secondary effect. With unlimited, a ton of people decided to try to run their own sim and club.

How many people actually attempted to run their own club in 1998 is unknown, but the effects were quite visible and wide known. To run a sim, you need 1 captain and about 10 crew members. If even 1 of those crew members decides to venture out on their own, you now have 2 captains and 5 crew members on both sims. Tthis math is an oversimplification, of course, but it helps to illustrate the basic point. During 1998 there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Simming descended into a recession.

The term recession naturally has a lot of negativity to it, and one probably pictures a simming world with depressed sims and failing clubs. And while many upstart clubs failed, the recession really wasn't much of a problem for TOL. However, the rrecession come at a perfect time for us. It reduced the massive influx of simmers just at the time when the club needed to settle down and focus on internal matters of building up the club and republic. Had the recession not occured, people probably would have continued to flood into TOL. Even if we had attempted to cap membership at 100, the club probably would have grown to 200 members, and that would have caused TOL to become a very different community and establish a very different kind of government. Or, if we had really worked to cap membership at 100, we would have had to turn away members. TOL would have to give up its uniqueness as a club open to all, and we would have become a very elite place.

Yet, just as importantly, the war with the FFSC ended when it did. This allowed TOL to take advantage of the boom and large amount of simmers milling around in the summer and fall of 1997. Had the war lasted for a little longer, or had we not gotten our act together when we did, TOL would have missed out on the opportunity to replenish our population and expand. STS, for example, finally started to get its act together in 1998. The leadership gave up their idea of rule by Starfleet military decreed. They picked capable junior simmers - people like Moses - and gave them command ahead of more senior officers (they also offered me a command in STS, but I turned it down because I was busy enough in TOL). STS allowed creative sims that did not conform to the strict first generation desire to accurately recreate Star Trek. They also experimented with government and held several Assembly like meetings.

However, sadly, it came too late for STS. The recession was already beginning to settle, and as a result, STS was unable to recruit many new members, and the club began its march to extinction. By 1999, when the recession in simming ended, STS was a broken and demoralized place, unable to recover.

But why was it so easy for TOL to recruit during the end of 1997, and for that matter to recruit in 1999 when the recession ended? And what made it possible for all of those upstart clubs to advertise and gather enough simmers to have a real effect? Well, all during the third generation, the simming infrastructure of the second generation remained intact.

The Non Affiliated Gaming Forum on AOL, along with the Star Trek forum and numerous popular Star Trek chat and simming rooms on AOL were very active during those years. Almost every simmer visited those places. To recruit, all one had to do was post messages at the NAGF, or go into one of the chat rooms and ask if anyone wanted to join a sim.

These efforts were aided by Admiral Andy B. Clements, leader of the United Space Federation (USF) - the defining club of the second generation. To his infinite credit (for which someone should build a statue in his honor), Andy joined the staff of the NAGF, and worked his way up the ranks to run the forum. Quite naturally, he used the forum to promote his club, but he also did much to strengthen the NAGF, to defend the interests of the forum and private sim clubs against SFOL, and to, amazingly enough, get resources from AOL to give the largest and most respected clubs of the day - TOL included - our own forum.

That's right, in the end, Ben's dream became a reality - the club got its own forum, accessible through the NAGF. At it we posted our schedule, application, and info about TOL. We had several message boards and linked our website. How Andy was able to convince AOL to give resources like this to private clubs is beyond me. But it was his work at the NAGF that greatly strengthened simming on AOL during the third generation.

However, as the recession of 1998 lingered, it did begin to cause some problems for TOL. At times, I worried that our membership and attendance was falling, and as a result, I launched recruiting drives and gave out special awards and promotions for recruiting. The club, because people had a vested interest in the community, responded and recruited.

And, the recession helped the Simming League in a strange way. During the fall of 1998, at the time when the Second League had fallen apart and we were in the process of reworking the League - and things were still very much up in the air - the Senate passed a resolution adressing the recession. Entitled "All of Simming is in Danger," it was posted at the NAGF and became a widely circulated essay about how there were too many clubs, and how clubs needed to band together in the League to work to solve common problems.

It lead to a meeting on November 21, 1998, attended by a number of the major clubs on AOL, in the chat room "The Seven Realms." I remember the admirals at STS talking about the essay and thinking about going to the meeting, but in the end they decided against attending, as did the USF. However, the other major clubs of the day were in attendence. At first the meeting was just a general discussion, but when things started to drift out of hand, I launched into a discussion about the post, and about the benefits of the League.

As a result of the meeting, a number of new clubs - including the FSF, OSA, ISO, and ASG - were attracted to the League. These clubs gave the League new blood, infused it with new ideas, and become the foundation of the League in 1999.

Now, while the post clearly helped the League, I don't know if it made a difference in terms of the recession. It surly generated a lot of discussion - and it's possible that it caused some people to rethink what they were doing, for soon after the post the recession began to end. Butit's far more likely that competition had done its job by weeding out the clubs and captains that wern't very good. This, combined with school restarting in the fall (causing many captains and admirals to no longer have time to sim), probably caused the recession to end.

And with the recession ended, with all of the infrastructure of the second generation in place, with simmers still milling about the forums on AOL, with AOL at the height of its popularity, with simming having adjusted itself to the new realities unleashed by unlimited usage, with the dot com bubble in full swing, and, following TOLs lead, with simming now focused on experimentation and creativity, simming was about to enter a golden year. But before we get to that, there are still some events in 1998 to discuss.

 

Chapter 26: Viper Flight

 "Ugh, do I always have to watch you? I give you the benefit of the doubt for once and I end up with captains leaving the sim left and right." - Myself to Ben in an IM, October 4, 1998.

Ben was suspended from TOL for one year in February of 1997. After an uncooperative spring, Ben began to behave himself during the fall of 1997, and he became eager to prove his worth and rejoin TOL. So eager, in fact, that he snuck into TOL in January of 1998 under an assumed name. I quickly found him, kicked him out, and extended his suspension. But by the spring of 1998, there had been no new problems with Ben, and I figured I had to let him into the club sooner or later. He had been behaving himself because I held out the promise that he could one day return, and I feared that if I changed my mind and kept him banned from TOL, he would begin to act up. He had lived up to his end of the bargain by behaving, so now I had to live up to my half of the deal. As a result, Ben was allowed to rejoin TOL.

At first Ben drifted. He didn't join any crew. He just showed up and simmed when he felt like it - with no problems or incidents. However, in June he came across Viper Flight and obviously liked the sim because he joined the crew. I think Ben enjoyed the sim because he, like everyone else in the sim, was able to command their own runabout and battle the Maquis.

The captain of Viper Flight at the time was Tracy (Alex, the original captain had already retired by the time Ben joined). However, she - for reasons that she never conveyed to me - resigned her command in late July. Of course, this did not raise much suspicion on my part for captains always retire sooner or later. I figured she was too busy in real life or didn't like simming anymore or whatever.

I promoted the highest ranking officer, Jonathan Edwards, to command. However, Ed wasn't all that cut out for command and gave it up after a month. Thus, in late August, I made a crew member named Birkoff the captain. Birkoff had tremendous potential as a captain, and it was unfortunate that at this point in time Ben began to revert to his old self.

Noticing a pattern on Viper Flight of captains leaving and the next most senior officer being promoted to command, and suddenly realizing that after Birkoff, he was the next most senior officer on Viper Flight, Ben did everything he could to make command a lousy thing for Birkoff. It was by no means as direct and deliberate as had occurred on the Vindicator, but still, it was Ben being Ben - complaining, refusing to sim, causing major headaches, and just being a pain.

Unfortunately, Birkoff never told me what was going on, and I don't know why he didn't come to me. Perhaps he somehow felt that Ben was protected because he had acted up in the past and still was let back into TOL.

I did hear reports from crew members on Viper Flight that Ben, and another crew member named Mart, were having a clash of personalities that was causing difficulties in the sim, but nothing beyond that. Only in early October when Birkoff suddenly resigned and vented to me everything that Ben had been doing did I learn what was going on.

It was a wake up call to me. I was starting to drift and lose focus. Of course, perhaps I'm being harsh on myself. Someone like me, who was busy running the League, TOL, the division on Prodigy, my own ships, etc, in a club as large as TOL had no way of knowing everything that was going on. But still, I was the leader and I should have been aware that Ben was bugging a captain out of command.

I had worked hard during 1997 and the first half of 1998 to save and build up the club. But with the constitution on the books and things going well, I did start to become a little lax during the summer and fall of 1998. However, this incident made me realize that I couldn't just set things up and then sit back and let the club run itself as I had envisioned all the way back in 96. I had to stay on top of things or else something, somewhere, would start to fly out of whack and lead to serious problems down the road. So, I redoubled my efforts and worked hard during 1999, to the great benefit of TOL.

As far as the Viper Flight situation went, Ben was found guilty of disrupting the sim and was barred from ever commanding a sim in TOL. It would have been nice had the Court just kicked him out of the club, but oh well. I brought Matt, the former captain of the Endeavor and future TOL President, in to command Viper Flight, but at this point in time, Matt had just returned from the Army and was burnt out. His mind wasn't into simming, so Viper Flight faltered, and Matt tried to placate Ben by making him the XO. It didn't work. Ben, sensing weakness on Matt's part, tried to get the sim to leave TOL so that he and Tracy could take command of it. Why Tracy decided to work with Ben, I have no idea. But one day Tracy E-mailed me and said that as a former captain, Viper Flight was hers, not the clubs. (I also have no idea why they though this line of logic would work.) With this turn of events, I finally had enough.

First, I asked the Court to rule on the constitutional question of if captains own sims. The Court determined that captains and former captains don't own sims, that they belong to the club, and as a result Tracy wasn't entitled to Viper Flight. I than brought Ben up on charges of mutiny, but he left the club before the trial could begin. If I was ever going to punish and stop Ben, I would have to do it at a level beyond TOL...

 

Chapter 27: The Orion

Lady Lilyan: I can't figure out for the life of me....what happened

AdmMarsTOL: No beacons, no ships, no bases

Lady Lilyan: no nothing....just...space

jedifire: ::launches 12 special probes, made to detect messed up temporal time space type stuff::

jedifire: Scanning for subspace and Whoa... sir...Were in another dimension........Chronometric readings confirm..this ISN'T our subspace domain...

-From the USS Orion sim, July 15, 1997, note Jedifire's fine use of technobabble and silliness.

In 1998, TOL had become an open, fun, but professional community with about a dozen sims and a hundred members. We had transformed the club into a republic, and we even had our own forum. All of the dreams for the club had become a reality. But that is only for the club on AOL. What about Prodigy, where TOL began?

During 1998, as had been the case in 1997, Prodigy consisted of the USS Orion and the Orion simmed away quite happily. It was my quiet country refuge from the chaos and demands of the club on AOL. I am convinced that if I did not have Prodigy as an escape in 1997 - as a place to just sim and see how it should have been on AOL - I probably would have quit. But by having Prodigy, by knowing that without the attacks and pressures, I could run a nice little sim and I could enjoy simming, I knew that one day I would be able to do the same on AOL. And, when that day on AOL finally became a reality, Prodigy gradually faded away.

Technically, TOL on Prodigy and AOL were one joint club. Several members of the Orion crew had AOL and they joined the club on AOL - Bo Duke was one of them. On rare occasions, people from AOL signed up for Prodigy just to take part in the Orion sim. In February of 1997, Scott subscribed to Prodigy. I think his joining Prodigy had a major influence on his decision to cut me some slack. It helped him to see that simming on Prodigy was not vastly different from AOL, and it helped to prevent any new flare up of resistance to my imposing Prodigy systems on the club on AOL.

Members on Prodigy and AOL, (and CompuServe when that division existed for the short time in 1997), received the same guidebook, newsletter, and took part in the same club wide E-mail Trek trivia string. However, politically, Prodigy was never integrated into the republic. The republic was just for AOL, and Prodigy was a division off on its own. Of course, there really was no practical point to include Prodigy in the republic... it was just the Orion and it was on a separate online service. Plus, by the time the Constitution was being worked on, it was clear that Prodigy's days were numbered and soon the club would just consist of AOL. Prodigy was an old, slow, text based service with blocky graphics. It could not compete with AOL.

After the flurry of simming activity on Prodigy during the early part of 1996, most simming died down as people returned to school in the fall of 1996, and as many more left for AOL. By 1997, Prodigy was a dying online service. Indeed, during most of 1997, the Orion was the only organized Trek chat sim on all of Prodigy - which is staggering when you think about it. There were plenty of BB sims - since message boards were what most of Prodigy consisted of - but chat never caught on. On occasion, people would organize their own chat sims, and for a few months a small Classic Trek chat sim club was organized on Prodigy, but it did not last. This left the Orion simming away by itself.

During 1997 and 1998, the small dedicated crew of the Orion, aided by people who wondered into the sim room for the night, or who joined the crew for a few weeks, had a great time. I loved that ship, it produced the best sims I have ever taken part in.

Over the summer of 1997 (because it was summer) there was a slight pick up in the number of people available to sim. As a result, I was able to organize a second sim, the USS Nebulon. However, the Nebulon only simmed for a short while and most of its crew left when school restarted in the fall of 1997.

By 1998, Prodigy was back to just the Orion and it was clear that Prodigy as an online service was finished. The Orion continued to sim during the spring and summer, but by fall another round of people returning to school, combined with the fact that Prodigy and the Orion had lost so many people to AOL, finished us off. There simply were not enough chatters left on Prodigy to sim. In fact, Prodigy had hundreds of chat rooms, but by 1998, most of them were completely empty.

I loved Prodigy. It was a great little service, and my crew was wonderful, but I had no choice. It was futile to continue, so I decided to disband the Orion and TOL Prodigy in October of 1998. A year later, Classic Prodigy as an online service was shut down.

There really is not much to say about Prodigy in the way of history. We had no major problems or fights. We just simmed, and so, let me talk of simming and my wonderful crew.

A man named Michaels was my first XO. During the touch and go days in 1996 when it was unclear if the Orion would get off the ground he was always there at the sims. He worked to get people into the chat room and recruited the early crew that made the Orion possible. He, unfortunately, was unable to stay on with the sim for very long, but he made the Orion possible, and for that, he was the first recipient of the TOL Cross.

Selsor, or Sels, became the next First Officer. He too was a great simmer and great help to the Orion, but like Michaels, he left Prodigy after a few months. So in June of 1997 I made Morgan aka Lady Lilyan - one of the most devoted science and medical officers I have ever encountered - the First Officer. She stayed as the Orion's XO till the very end of TOL Prodigy. But what is even more amazing is that she lived only about a mile away from me. It was only after we had simmed together for almost 6 months and I had made her my XO that we discovered how close we lived. What a small world indeed!

And then there was Jedifire. He was a fine simmer. Always full of ideas, he gave so much the Orion. He commanded the USS Monitor, an escort class starship like the USS Defiant on DS9. The Orion was a specially modified Galaxy class ship that had a docking ring on the bottom to carry the Monitor. With the Monitor, the Orion was able to take part in unique fleet action sims where the Monitor performed scouting missions, gave us additional firepower, or just come to our rescue.

There was also Bo Duke, Sean Tripoli, Alec Daeleon, and later Cosari Shane. All of them were very good simmers and helped form the core of the Orion. They could be counted on to be there each week.

Because our sim took place in public chat rooms, they were supplemented by people who wondered in and simmed for the night, or who wondered in and joined the crew for a little while. This never cause us any problems because everyone on Prodigy was very nice to each other, and because everyone seemed to have role playing experience outside of simming people were able to easily get into the flow of things.

Now, here are some sim logs to give everyone a flavor of the Orion:

Admirals Log

Stardate 19701.21

We received a distress call from the USS Hawking, a scientific research ship doing some studies in a nebula and asteroid belt near Maquis space. Since the asteroid field was too dense for the Orion to safely navigate, and because there could have been booby traps in the asteroid, a shuttle craft was sent in to find the Hawking. The ship was eventually located in the nebula, and the shuttle successfully docked. The 3 crew members on the shuttle, LtCmdr Sels, CmdrAbe, and VtrCharile, boarded the Hawking. Meanwhile, back on the Orion, several Maquis ships approached the area, but quickly fled for Maquis space when they saw the Orion. The 3 crew members on the Hawking came under phaser fire, and after a quick exchange, it was determined that it was Star Fleet officers from the Hawking crew firing on the boarding team. The Hawking was attacked and boarded by the Maquis, and after a fierce hand to hand battle on the ship, the Hawking was raided of all medical and most engineering supplies. The crew set up skirmishing lines to attack anyone who boarded the ship, since they figured the Maquis would return. Fortunately when these skirmishers opened fire on the 3 Orion crew members, no one was seriously hurt. The surviving crew of the Hawking was rescued and the Orion has continued its patrol along the Maquis border.

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19704.22

The Orion crew is currently trapped on this Alien ship, which we now believe to be some massive holodeck. Whenever we think of something, it takes place. For example a giant Ice cream cone appeared on the bridge, and the crew ended up in the middle of a Medieval competition and than a Civil War battle.

Lt Lilyan, who is a Vulcan, is working to use her powers to mind meld with us to give stability to our minds, which are quickly succumbing to this holodecks power.

 

These next series of logs cover a massive story arc that the Orion engaged in during the summer of 1997.

Orion Log #26

Stardate 19707.15

Adm Mars Recording

While heading to Star Base 117 for repairs and refit, the ships engines and systems mysteriously went offline. At the same time, a bright light was seen across the ship, sensors spiked off the scale and than were shorted out.

After making repairs, we were able to get several systems back online, including engines and weapons. We juryrigged the system, and used the sensors on the Monitor to see what was around us. There was nothing - no ships, Federation beacons, etc. Nothing. We headed to where the starbase was located, however it was not there. All we found were some remains of a station, which appeared to have been blown up about 5 years earlier. Several Romulan ships decloked, and we fought our way out of the area. We figured somehow we had ended up in a parallel universe where the Federation was taken over by the Romulans, and communications picked up several strange back ground messages, which were being carried along the Romulan frequencies. We believe them to be from what ever resistance forces may be out there, so I ordered my First Officer, Lady Lilyan, to try to decipher them and find out where they were coming from.

Meanwhile I set course for where I figured the resistance may be hiding - a near by nebula. Lily determined that most of messages were just standard traffic and issuing of orders, but they were coming from Earth - Oxford, England to be exact. The Orion entered the nebula...and there before us were hundreds of Federation runabouts, shuttles and other various starships. We sent out a signal, and Captain Riker of the Enterprise D responded. Riker explained to us that after Wolf 359, the Romulans used the Federation's weakness to their advantage and became more hostile. When Captain Picard and Data went to Romulus to track down Spock (TNG episode Unification Pt 1 and 2), they were all captured and executed for spying.

Romulan forces attacked and conquered Vulcan, than several days later, without warning, launched a massive, all out attack on the Federation. Earth was captured about a year later, and last month, the final Federation territory, Bajor, was lost after the USS Orion native to this parallel universe was destroyed.

On a side note, everyone should know that in this universe, the wormhole was never found, and therefore, until DS9 was destroyed in the battle last month, it was in orbit of Bajor the entire time. Since there was no dispute over Federation/Cardassian border due to the wormhole, the Maquis were never formed. And since there was never any Maquis, Star Fleet never built any ships to fight the Maquis, therefore no Voyager. However, the Defiant, with Dax, OBrian, Kira and Bashir did escape from DS9, but Sisko and the others were killed. Also since it is a different history, Star Trek Generations never took place, therefore the Enterprise D was never destroyed, nor did Worf ever leave the ship for DS9, nor was the Enterprise E ever commissioned. However one ship like the Enterprise E was built, the USS Sovereign.

 

Orion Log

Stardate 19707.22

Adm Mars Recording

We have not been able to find a way out of this parallel universe, so until we can get out, we have decided to join up with the resistance and help them fight the Romulan occupation of Federation space. We have already started to outfit their ships with our technology.

The fleet planned to ambush a Romulan convoy that would be passing the nebula, but as the convoy fell back when we attacked it, many more Romulan ships, including super Warbirds, decloked and trapped our fleet. The Orion was able to fight its way back to the nebula, but one of our crew members, Cdt Mavric1 was beamed through our shields onto a Romulan ship, than some time later, beamed back to the Orion.

We have also lost contact with the Monitor, we believe that she is on her way to contact the Dominion and bring them in on our side.

 

USS Orion Log #28

Stardate 19707.29

Admiral Mars Recording

The Orion has been able to return to our own universe, however, the USS Monitor was left behind. With the resistance cell devastated from the Romulan ambush, we received orders to join up with the resistance cell at the Eagle Nebula. However, before we got there, we were attacked. A battle ensued, but we were able to escape and set up a jump matrix to get back home. However the USS Monitor decided to stay behind and fight with the resistance. We can only hope that they will come home.

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19708.19

Adm Mars recording.

The Orion responded to the distress call at the Drakia 4 colony. When we got there, we found their central environmental dome had collapsed as result of an explosion. Medical and engineering teams responded, and we found many of the colonists experiencing hallucinations, and they even injected several away team members with the drugs.

It was found that the colonists, who were part of a religious colt, were being injected those drugs - which not only controlled their minds, but made them see religious type apparitions.

 

Orion Log #32

Stardate 19708.26

Adm Mars recording.

The away teams that were sorting through the wreckage of the collapsed environmental dome came across an old man who was dancing around. He approached the away team, and unable to control him, the team fired a phaser at him on stun, but that did not stop him. The man was taken up to the ship and he is apparently is the leader of the colony. On the ship, the doctor and the sick bay staff were drugged with a mind control device, and he and his followers soon took control of the bridge. I was thrown in the brig, but the people didn't know how to work the forcefields, so I was able to escape and make my way to engineering.

The old man and his followers have apparently set a course for Romulan space, and there they plan to hand the ship over to the Romulans as a gift.

 

Orion Log 33

Stardate 19709.02

Adm Mars Recording

We have retaken the ship... unfortunately the First Officer and the Romulan terrorists have escaped to a near by planet, which appears to be similar to medieval Europe - Kings and Vikings and the such. We must go down there, capture the team and try to stop any cultural contamination.

 

Orion Log

Stardate 19709.09

Adm Mars Recording

Our quest to recover the Romulans and our First Officer was a success. The Romulans are now at Starbase 711 awaiting trial and the XO is in sickbay recovering from her mental control and brainwashing of sorts. We beamed down to the planet and came across a medieval type of village that had already been influenced by some of the technology taken from the crashed shuttle. A few people had phasers, tricorders, etc. One man even built an airship and went flying around dropping wreckage from the shuttle on everyone's head.

When the old man who lead the Romulans entered the town, being worshipped by the masses as a god, Sean Tripoli used his abilities to hover, managed to get the crowd to warship him, and then sent them into a sleepy trance. As a result, when they woke up, everything would appeared to have been a dream - if they remembered at all. After that, I and jiShifterXij made our way to the crashed shuttle, where we destroyed it, beamed the Romulans and such back up to the ship, and than we beamed back to the Orion to await our next mission.

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19709.16

Admiral Mars recording.

The Orion has returned to the alternate universe where the Federation has been over run by the Romulans. As we jumped in, several Romulan ships decloked and opened fire on us, however the Monitor quickly came to our rescue and drove off the Romulans.

Jedi beamed onboard the Orion, and we discussed the situation at hand. After the Orion left, and the Monitor stayed behind. Jedi worked with Riker and his resistance cell to help to retake the Federation, and they were successful in destroying a huge chunk of the overstretched Romulan fleet, and managed to retake Earth shortly before the Orion arrived. However, for some unexplained reason, Admiral Riker became increasingly hostile towards Jedi, eventually kicking him out of the resistance cell.

The Orion came under attack by one of Riker's ships, which the Monitor promptly destroyed, so we decided to head for Earth and take the matter up with Riker.

Upon arriving at Earth, a huge fleet greeted us, so we decided to turn away, and headed back out into space... planning our next move.

 

Chas note - after several battles, the Romulans were defeated. The Orion and Monitor returned to our normal universe. As I am sure you have noticed, these sims are typical TOL fair - playful with bits of silliness, but overall professional and very well executed. Of course, sometimes things become a little jumpy and as a result the sims would not hold up as a movie or book, but such is the nature of simming. A detailed, well thought out plot in which everything is coherent and logical do not make for good sims.

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19711.11

Admiral Mars Recording

I was quite excited that Star Fleet engineers were able to put the Orion back together and update our systems in such a short amount of time. However, we soon found out why it didn't take that long - for nothing worked. Our sensors were malfunctioning and the computers were out in la la land. This caused the Orion to go off course and wonder into some explored space where we came across a secrete Starfleet group called the Elite. They repaired our ship and than began to tell us about their mission and history... as it turned out, they have been watching me for several years and brought the Orion to them.

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19711.18

Adm Mars Recording

With the assistance of the Elite, the Orion was repaired and made it safely back to Federation Space. It did get rather interesting when the computer went crazy and began to blast over the loud speakers Dixie Land and the 1812 Overture, and at the same time, blow out the holodeck when the computer attempted to stage a full reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo.

But all of those problems were fixed, and we headed back to the Federation. We were attacked by some enemy force of the Elite, but the Elite covered us and we made it home...

 

Chas note:

The Elite became part of the story of Viper Flight. After Ben tried to take the sim out of TOL, I removed Matt from command and decided to take command myself. By that time - February of 1999 - the Orion had been shut down, and several of its crew members, including Shane and Morgan, had made their way over to AOL and joined Viper Flight. There, the sim became about the adventures of Charles Mars before he gained command of the Orion, and over time the story of the Elite was slowly introduced (how the Elite had been watching Mars while he was with Viper Flight) and Viper Flight - in the tradition of the story arcs we undertook on the Orion - became TOLs grand epic sim.

The winter of 1998 was a bad time for the Orion. We had low attendance and did not sim for several weeks because of it. However, by March attendance improved and a few more people joined the crew. We were able to put together one last grand story arcs of the Orion. It lasted for 2 months which involved Romulan and Maquis intrigue at a Federation Colony (as you can tell, I am big fans of the Romulans and Maquis. I wish Trek had done more with the Maquis in their episodes).

 

Admirals Log

Stardate 19803.06

Our first mission since our little vacation there is coming along nicely. We picked up a distress call and responded. Arriving at a colony our sensors indicated that the colony was heavily damaged. An away team beamed down, but only to find that the colony was in perfect shape. When the away team beamed into the governors office to ask what was going on, they found him talking to several Romulans and Maquis, who quickly beamed back to their ship or base.

The governor asked to be beamed up to the Orion and speak with me, however, Romulan troops beamed back down and killed the governor. One Romulan was killed by the away team, another was stunned. Both of them - along with the Lt. governor and the governors secretary were beamed back to the Orion for questioning (and one autopsy).

A sensor scan of the planet showed a hidden base 10km north of the colony... the mission continues.

 

Chas Note:

Over time, we found that the governor had sold out to the Romulans and a group of Maquis who were allied with the Romulans. They had established a base on the planet and were using it to funnel supplies and weapons to the Maquis. After a series of sims we tracked the flow of goods. The Monitor flew out to destroy the convoys and attack the involved Maquis while the Orion shut down the base on the planet and arrested those involved.

During the summer of 1998, the Orion continued to hold more wonderful sims, even as our attendance was slowly declining. During the month of June, we had the following sim as reported in the TOL Times...

 

USS Orion

Report filed by AdmMarsTOL, CO of the Orion

The USS Orion has had a very good month. Our current mission has taken many twists and turns. The Orion was sent to find Arcon, a wanted and highly dangerous criminal suspected of stealing classified items from several Federation bases. We found him and his ship heading towards a nebula, but we were not able to reach and engage him until we entered the nebula. After a battle, where we took some damage, we were able to cripple his ship and beam Arcon onboard to a holding cell. His ship was brought onboard, where engineering teams found it composed of a mish mesh of parts and stolen technology.

The doctor began to treat Arcon in his cell for injuries sustained. However he took the doctor hostage, used her to escape the cell and than, using some kind of sonic devise, incapacitated the security in the cell block and made his escape. He knocked out sensors and made his way to his ship, only to find it stripped apart. He quickly beamed to a runabout and began to launch. There, Viper began to fire his phaser at the runabout, hitting its engines, causing the runabout to crash and causing extensive damage to the bay in the process.

However medical teams could not find any trace of Arcon in the wreckage, and security reported that there was no way Viper could have destroyed the runabout that quickly. These facts, combined with mysterious power and system outages on the ship caused the Orion to be placed on a full security alert. After the alert began, and security teams began patrolling all decks and securing all vital areas, the system outages stopped. However Admiral Mars did not report to duty the next day, and security did not find him in his quarters, despite the fact that the computer said he was there. A little while there after, most of the systems on the ship, including main power and sensors overloaded, knocking most of them offline. When the sensors did return, they showed a small ship moving away at high warp. The Orion followed, only to find that the warp engines of the small ship had overloaded, causing its destruction.

At that point, Admiral Mars walked onto the bridge, sat down and asked for a status report. First Officer Bond pulled a phaser and demanded to know what was going on...

And that's where we now stand...

 

Sadly, this storyline was never finished. The key people involved in the sim never showed up together on the same week, and we unable to continue.

In July of 1998 we had two memorable sims. One involved a cruise ship that had come under Jeh'madar attack, a la The 5th Element. However, the much more interesting sim that month involved several crew members being unknowingly trapped on a holodeck - beamed there as some part of an advanced program left behind when a criminal was killed. The crew on the holodeck was put through a maze before the program finally closed in on them. However I was rescued from the holodeck by crew members on the outside working to free us, but the program beamed me back in. Yet, by know knowing that it was a program, I was able to reach the other crew members and inform them of what was going on, at what time all they had to do was say, "Computer, end program" which freed each one of them from its grasp.

In August, we revisited Shane's Elite plot, and this would be the last adventure of the Orion. As I reported... We received a communication from Starfleet that they had lost communications with an outlying colony, and we were sent to investigate. When we arrived we found none other than the Borg. Several Borg cubes engaged us, and after an extensive fire fight, we were able to destroy one cube, but the Orion took heavy damage her self. Warp nacelles blown off, several hull breaches, power failing. Just than, several worm holes opened up and out poured several craft, who engaged the Borg, and quickly destroyed them. We found that the people who came to our aid were the Elite, a former Federation special ops group whose mission was to collect advanced technology. As they grew in power, Starfeet tried to destroy them. The Elite escaped and now operate on their own.

 

Sadly, in September, our attendance disappeared. The core of my crew had been active in the sim right up to the end, but after almost 2 years they were busy with other things and were not attending every week. Thus, only one of two of them would show up on any given night. We needed random people to come along and sim for the night or join the crew for a few weeks, but there were none of them online anymore. Prodigy's chat rooms were completely empty. So, on October 13, 1998, I decided to cancel the Orion sim and shut down TOL Prodigy to focus my attention on AOL. It was a hard decision to make, but we did not have one sim during September, and despite my attempts to recruit, there was no one around to recruit. I had no other choice. Classic Prodigy itself would be shut down and cease to exist as an online service a year later.

But, the Orion - as you can tell from the logs - was a great sim. I had a wonderful time and I miss it.