In 2020, Star Trek: Discovery will boldly go where Star Trek has never gone before: 930 years into their future, which is 1168 years in our future! Relatively speaking, this future-setting of Discovery season 3 could feel just as disorienting to Burnham and the crew as a time traveler from King Arthur’s court arriving in 2019. The USS Discovery won’t exactly be like dinosaurs warping around in a future galaxy, but they will certainly be out of step with the times.
And, because the new season will happen at the end of the 32nd century — well past most existing Trek canon — the biggest question is connected to what will be the same in the Trek galaxy. Will Starfleet exist? And what about that peaceful multi-world government, the United Federation of Planets? Will everything Burnham, Saru, and Stamets believe in still exist in the year 3187? If you look closely at the Short Trek episode “Calypso,” there’s every reason to believe the Federation does exist, but that it might not be the peaceful government we’ve come to know and love. Like, at all.
Possible spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery season 3. Full spoilers for all of season 2, and the Short Trek episode “Calypso.”
Before the ending of Discovery season 2 sent the titular starship into the far future, the Trek franchise gave us a quick glimpse of what that world might look like, but even further ahead. The future-jaunt in “Calypso” actually seems to happen past the point where Discovery is jumping; the short takes place sometime in the 33rd century, where a war has been raging for at least ten years involving the something called the “V’draysh” and the humans who settled on Alcor IV. But who are the V’draysh? According to the writer of the episode — award-winning novelist Michael Chabon — the word “V’draysh” is a transmogrification of the word “Federation.”
On Instagram last year, Chabon confirmed that “V’draysh” is a syncope of “Federation.” How did this happen? Did he outright say that the V’draysh are the future version of Federation? Yes and no. Here’s what went down. In November 2018, Chabon posted a behind-the-scenes shot of the sombrero Zora gives Craft in the episode. In one of the comments, writer and That Shelf EiC Will Perkins asked Chabon “Is “Vdraysh” a syncope of Federation?” Chabon replied with a trophy emoji and said “Bonus points for syncope.”
Syncopes creating huge plot points happen a lot in Star Trek. Remember when super-advanced aliens thought the Voyager space probe was called V’ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture? How about in the episode “The Omega Glory,” when a group of space patriots called “Yangs” really means “Yankees” as in, “Americans? (Michael Chabon also has an essay called “The Omega Glory” in his 2009 book Manhood For Amateurs, for what it’s worth.)
The point is, Chabon could have been embedding a cool Easter egg for himself — the idea that syncopes are weird in Star Trek — or, this might have been some very subtle world-building not only for Discovery season 3, but maybe for the upcoming Picard show, too.
Let’s do the math real quick to see why any of this matters.
In “Calypso,” Craft — a war veteran from Alcor IV — has been fighting the V’draysh for ten years. If we assume this episode takes place at the beginning of the 33rd century, we can guess “Calypso” happens around 3210. That would be about 23 years after the starship Discovery set to arrive in “the future.” So, that means there’s maybe over two decades (but maybe less) between Discovery’s arrival in the future and the point at which the ship is abandoned and eventually picks-up Craft, which results in his dalliance with the super nice A.I., Zora.
Then again, if Alcor IV has been at war with the V’draysh for ten years, that could mean that war started just about anywhere between the end of the 32nd century and the start of the 33rd. And, here’s the rub: we know DISCO is heading roughly 930 years into the future, but not exactly when. We’re just assuming it’s going to be the year 3187 because that’s 2257 plus 930. But way back in season 1 it was established that some of this time travel stuff was could be imprecise. Remember when Stamets accidentally brought the ship nine months past the point when they’d left from to go hang out in the Mirror Universe? Yeah, you gotta factor that in, too.
Here’s why: if Chabon’s writing did lay the groundwork for the V’draysh to become the future version of the Federation and engaged in a huge war, then season 3 of Discovery might show us the seeds of that war. And if 930 years was a rough figure, and the ship shows up in the year, say 3199, then it’s reasonable the crew could witness the start of the war between the V’draysh(Federation) and Alcor IV. Which implies that maybe, just maybe, the new version of the Federation is nothing like the Federation of old, and has perhaps become straight-up evil. Craft seemed like a nice guy, which would lead us to believe the people of Alcor IV were the good guys and the V’draysh are the bad guys.
But this is Star Trek we’re talking about, so even if the V’draysh IS the Federation and they ARE at war with the Alcor IV, and all of that is depicted in Discovery season 3, there will undoubtedly be an ethical wrinkle. In The Next Generation era, we saw the Federation go to war with its own citizens — the Maquis — over the definitions of borders in space. Could the V’draysh war with Alcor IV be similar?
In any case, if the Federation does slowly begin to change into a governing body that is unrecognizable nearly a millennium after the events of what we’ve seen in Trek canon so far, it’s also not crazy to assume the new Picard series could set some of that up, too. Alex Kurtzman has said numerous times that Picard will be dealing with the aftermath of the destruction of Romulus, which was briefly depicted in the 2009 Trek reboot movie. Presumably, this “supernova” was big enough to destroy a bunch of other stuff in the Alpha Quadrant too, which suggests that the galaxy of the Picard show will be unstable and perhaps even a little lawless.
Literally nothing that’s been released about the Picard show suggests the Federation is in good shape, or that Picard is still part of Starfleet anymore. And if Picard starts to lose faith in the Federation at the end of the 24th century and the beginning of the 25th, this could start a long journey that results in whatever way Discovery season 3 depicts the Federation in the future.
Because the Picard show is now retroactively a prequel to the events of Discovery season 3, perhaps Jean-Luc himself will witness — or cause — the Federation to eventually become… the V’draysh!
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 airs sometime in 2020. The new Picard series debuts later in 2019.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com. He is the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read (Penguin Random House 2015) and an editor at Fatherly.