Two years ago, Star Trek: The Experience closed down at the Las Vegas Hilton. Ever since, Trekkers around the universe have wondered where the hell the huge, elaborate sets went.
Over the weekend, fans saw for themselves. CBS, which handles "Star Trek" licensing, put set pieces on sale in a depot near Henderson.
"This is the biggest secret in Las Vegas -- this warehouse at 66 Spectrum Drive," said Paul Walker, captain of the Trekker club USS Las Vegas.
Fans came to eyeball a Borg alcove ($800) and to buy vent tubes inscribed with "Plasmacoil" and "Cryogenic Fluid" ($200).
Actors and extras bought their old uniforms. Imagine the indignity. Some created their own characters, then frolicked with fans at The Experience's Quark's Bar, staying in character for years no matter what you blurted at them, yet they couldn't keep their costumes or their nametags.
So Saturday, they came. They bought. They wept. I think there were more teary eyes here than there were at Danny Gans' hotel memorial last year.
Among mourners at the tombstone sale was opera-trained actress April Hebert, who for 11 years played two characters, the emotionless Vulcan Professor T'Pril and the overly emotional Commander Tahryn.
Hebert told me a fan she got to know while mingling at The Experience was a woman who eventually told her she had a "disfigurement." Hebert had never noticed it. Over time, the woman explained, she had watched actors stay in character and realized: She too could present herself to the world as something she was not: a woman without a disfigurement.
"People started treating her differently" as a result, Hebert told me, stopping herself from crying. "I was like, 'I did that for somebody?'"
Hebert still gets together regularly with actors and fans at Hilton's SpaceQuest Bar. One of those friends is actor Vernon Wilmer, who played Borg Drone 7 of 16.
At SpaceQuest, "We stare at the blank wall where The Experience used to be," Wilmer said. "It's half-depressing and half beneficially therapeutic."
On Saturday, Hebert and Wilmer were hanging next to the sci-fi seats of the Enterprise D bridge. Hebert slid a hand in its cushions. That's where she used to hide her ChapStick.
"A lot of fun has been had in these chairs," Wilmer said mischievously.
"Oh, reeeally," Hebert said and laughed, eyes drying.
A prime set piece was bought by Vic Bowman. He took home a huge replica of a Klingon Bird of Prey spaceship ($1,000).
Like most things at the sale, the Bird of Prey hadn't been well-cared for and was beat up. Bowman can resuscitate it. He builds props and creates artwork for haunted houses and Renaissance fairs.
He eyeballed the Bird of Prey with love.
"I will have to make it pretty," he said. "I will probably just sit in the dark and stare at it, and drool."
Bowman wants to one day open a movie-themed coffee shop, adorned with the Bird of Prey and other props. ("I built a castle I've been meaning to use.")
For now, where will he store it?
"Mom's backyard. Isn't that sad?" he said with a knowing smirk.
The sale was put on by Propworx. CBS hired the company to organize Saturday's sale for items deemed unworthy of auctioning. Propworx will put items in better condition on auction this August at the Hilton, during the "Star Trek" convention, with 600 items from the TV shows and movies.
So, what most people didn't see Saturday were auction pieces that had been loaded in a 53-foot truck and hauled away for the next four months.
Saturday's sale made national news and spawned emotional calls.
One woman phoned Propworx marketing director Shelley Oliver Littleton and said she married her husband at The Experience, but he's since died. Oliver Littleton listened to her story, trying not to cry.
I know what that's like. I know you want to laugh at "Trekkies." It's OK. Fanatics are fun to mock. But I don't watch "Star Trek" shows, and I thought Quark's had the sweetest, most welcoming patrons ever.
At last year's convention, the first since the end of The Experience, fans wrote tributes on Post-it Notes and stuck them on a wall next to the closed space for The Experience.
Fan Gina McCollough, then sad and angry, raised her voice: "Mr. Hilton! Tear down that wall!"
But Mr. Hilton doesn't own the Hilton anymore. And the license for The Experience is now held by a company that hasn't (as vowed) reopened it downtown in Neonopolis.
Many still blame the Hilton for not renewing the contract for The Experience, or they blame the company that ran it for cutting marketing dollars, or they blame Michael Jackson because rumors had it the Hilton was shutting the attraction with the ludicrous hope of coaxing MJ to sing there.
Where are they now?
The Experience bartender Darren Benjamin wrote an "Intergalactic Bartender" guide for Quark's-like drinks. He tends bar at McMullan's Pub where you should ask him for a Quark's cocktail. He also does a podcast with David Ivy (at Trekcast.com). Walker can no longer lead fan club meetings at Quark's so he takes 80 members (or 40 active members) elsewhere.
"We meet at a Memphis Championship Barbecue," he said. "It doesn't exactly have the same feel."
Wilmer (7 of 16) has filmed three episodes of a 12-part documentary, "Star Trek: My Experience" (on blip.tv).
And Hebert teaches communications at the College of Southern Nevada. She misses adult fans she "Experienced."
"After a half-hour and a couple of Romulan ale, we were friends," she said.
She and the rest have moved on. But they remain bound together in a post-Experience vortex. They are a crew without a ship.
Doug Elfman's column appears on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Contact him at 383-0391 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.