Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 05, Officer Candidate School

As author-editor Shawn Coyne of The Story Grid often opines, nothing kills a story like too much exposition. You want facts, go to an encyclopedia.  This is a story, for Heaven’s sake. Get on  with it.

You may have been muttering this to yourself. In this episode, you’ll see that you’re not alone.

“Pardon?” Jane asks. “Officer Candidate School?”

Scott smiles. “You think the Cortical Crew, with all its complicated language and processes, pops up from nowhere? Think about it: what are you except the sum of all you’ve seen, heard, experienced? Long before you were aware of anything you’ve learned, we’ve been hard at work down here.  Let me show you.”

With that, Scott snaps his fingers, and immediately columns of light form throughout the transformer platform, transforming into multiple balls of light bouncing around the Transporter Room like pinballs.

“Move!” shouts First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr brings the camera to his shoulder and begins filming, while simultaneously leafing through the file cabinet at his side. SFC Uhura Sr begins relaying orders via her headphones. SFC Sulu Sr keeps his eyes on the lights, readjusting his position as they bounce to and fro.

The Emotions jump into the fray, corralling some balls of light, as they knock others into a void. As they guide the remaining balls together, a more coherent mass of light forms, its edges beginning to become discernible.

Then SFC Chekhov Sr shouts, “Got it!”, at which point Joe, up in the Mezzanine, shouts, “Hey, what’s that?”, pointing to the left.

Over to the side appears a one-way escalator, moving from the Transporter Room area to the Mezzanine.  And standing at the top, in full dress uniform, is a smiling Major (MAJ) Chekhov.

“Just because you all cannot come down here,” says Scott from down in the Transporter Room, “doesn’t mean that the opposite is true. Watch.”

And as Jane and Joe do, the light-form takes a humanoid shape and proceeds to ride the escalator to the top, at which point MAJ Chekhov points it toward a far door, and then both slowly fade away.

Joe and Jane turn back toward Mr. Scott.

“Day and night, awake and asleep, dreaming or not, we are always working,” he says.  “Processing information from outside the body and from inside it, forming the officers, the very bases of your memories, your experiences, your physical processes.”

He turns to his soldiers.  “At ease,” he says, at which point all assume a comfortable parade rest, and all, including Scott, look up at Jane and Joe.

“So,” he says. “That’s the full story of how we work to get PTSD better. It’s not just the Bridge and the Cortical Crew. It’s all of us, conscious and unconscious. We’re proud to serve.”  He clears his throat and takes a step back. “So, any questions?  Are we done?”

Jane’s eyes widen. “You serious? That’s all you have to tell me?”

Scott and his soldiers merely stand there, looking at them.

“Uh, Jane,” Joe mutters, “Say, why don’t we head back now, huh? I mean, we’ve got a basic idea of what we came for, and . . . ”

Jane looks right at him. “Joe, if you’ve had it with PTSD treatment because of your bad luck, that’s fine. But I’m here to figure out how PTSD can get better. I don’t even have a decent idea of how it forms!”

Scott clears his throat again.  “Well, ma’am, if that’s what you’re wanting, we can help. But we’ll have to show you. And if we have to show you, you’ll likely have to feel it.”

Jane looks down at him. “Trust me, I can handle it, Mr. Scott.  Let’s go.”

Scott nods and then snaps his fingers.

With that, a single column of light appears on the transporter platform. Immediately it transforms into a ball of light that flashes all around the room and then bursts open.

With it comes a sound. The sound of an alarm.

Narrative Device, or the Russian Dolls

The groundwork for Beam Me Home, Scotty!:  How Star Trek Can Help Us Make Sense of the Brain, PTSD, & Combat Trauma continues.

Another big shtik of The Story Grid’s Shawn Coyne and of his business partner, Stephen Pressfield, the author of such well-known novels as The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire, is “narrative device,” i.e., “just how are you planning on keeping this story moving?’

For all of you who still remember Senior English, narrative device is essentially the set-up and management of point-of-view. Pressfield’s Bagger Vance is a story told by an older man looking back on his past, for example, while Gates of Fire is  a survivor’s recounting  of the Spartans’ last stand at Thermopylae, as told to the scribe of the king who defeated them—but who, in the end, did not.

So here’s how I’m going to try to manage this:

I’m going to do “story within a story,”  Russian-doll style, i.e., in this case, with three separate stories, one contained within another.

In Shawn’s advice on using Story Grid principles to guide the writing of a non-fiction work, he does stress the need to get the theme/point of the book out before the reader as quickly as possible. Thus, the top layer of the book will be—me, speaking directly to combat vets about what I hope they might gain from using Star Trek characters and settings to understand what has happened to many of them after war.

An important part of that introduction will be a request: that the reader-vets consider the possibility that by using their imagination, they might be able to learn more about themselves than they otherwise might have thought possible. Thus, I will quickly ask them then to imagine that they are watching a film with me, a film the opening sequence of which shows me looking out onto Boston Harbor in Massachusetts, USA, eventually pointing the reader’s “gaze” toward Logan Airport, across the water.

From there, we move into Story Two, as the reader and I watch “Doc” board a plan in San Francisco for an overnight flight to Boston. On the flight, he happens to sit between two combat-vet friends, GI Jane, a nurse from Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and a former medic in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and GI Joe, an English teacher in a community college near Columbus, Ohio, USA, and a former language/military intelligence specialist in the Vietnam War.

After Jane and Joe discover that Doc is a psychiatrist who has worked for the Veterans Health Administration in the US, they cannot help but ask him his thoughts about PTSD and then share with him their questions about the challenges of returning home from war. Consequently, Doc asks them if they would be willing to use their imaginations to enter a world where the answers to those questions might more easily be understood.  Jane willingly—and Joe less-so—agree to do just that.

And thus Story Three, in which Jane and Joe find themselves standing at first by themselves on the Bridge of the USS Enterprise, only to be welcomed soon after by none other than Colonel (not Captain) James T. Kirk.

And we’re off.

Story Three will come to its end with quite different results for Jane and Joe, but as it does so, the reader and I will find ourselves looking at them after the plane has arrived in Boston. There, they come to grips with what they have learned on the journey, showing the reader and me a couple of ways that the ideas of the Story Three can be used, thus bringing Story Two to its end.

And then finally, we come back to me, still standing at Boston Harbor. As you’ll find, though, Story One is not quite the usual “bird’s-eye-view” of the standard non-fiction book.  If you’ll allow me a quick move into the postmodern, it will turn out that Doc learns or, perhaps better, re-learns a lesson or two from the combat vets’ journeys as well.

So there you have it.

Before we get to the genres of the various stories (and what I’ve learned from considering them), let’s get to the book’s Big Idea itself, i.e., what’s going to be the point of all this?

See you next time.


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