I love Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I'll bet you do, too. As we wrap up the 20th anniversary year, here's a free Christmas gift--a satire and tribute titled "Seven Stars." It's a story that fell through the cracks after almost appearing, at various times, in a major convention program, a magazine, and an official website. Now, it's right here for your enjoyment. If you like it, please pass the link to other fans. Without further ado, I present "Seven Stars"...
By Robert T. Jeschonek
"I have a creation in mind." Baldy smiled as he forced Red's sword back with his own. "The creation of a bloody stump where thy head 'twas once affixed."
Red shook as she struggled to press back Baldy's blade. "Thou wilt not takest my head nor my kingdom! Mine knights shall repel thy foul rebellion!"
Red tossed her fiery scarlet tresses and gazed across the castle's throne room. Her knights, as expected, fought Baldy's troops with savage grace, easily triumphing over superior numbers.
Baldy leaned forward, torchlight gleaming on his hairless scalp. "Thy knights wilt beg to surrender once my dragon gets done with them!"
"Dragon?" said Red.
When Baldy laughed, his sonorous voice boomed through the throne room. "Have a look, thou fallen queen! E'en now, he charges forth upon the battleground!"
Suddenly, a new figure burst into the chamber, spinning a huge, curved blade in one hand and a blazing torch in the other. Within seconds, he had Sir Beardnik and Sir Mannequin both at bay, scrambling to fend off his blindingly fast assault of steel and flame.
"He breathes fire, does he not?" Baldy said with a chuckle. "He couldst massacre any traditional dragon any day of the week."
As Red watched, Dragon roared and struck a mighty blow with his sword against Sir Beardnik, driving him to the floor. At the same time, Dragon lunged at Sir Mannequin with the flaming torch, barely missing his expressionless face.
Red ached to run to the aid of her knights, but she had to give her full attention to Baldy. He was inches away from killing her--and, therefore, taking her throne and kingdom.
"Yield!" said Baldy, pressing harder with his sword.
Red gathered her strength and surged forward, breaking her sword free and sending Baldy stumbling backward. "How many times do we have to do this? How many times is enough?"
Baldy regained his footing and unleashed a flurry of strikes with his sword. "Art thou weary of this conflict, then?"
Red parried his every thrust and slash. "I take the kingdom, you take it away, I take it back, you take it away again. Who wouldn't be weary?" "I promise, thy fight shall be brief." Baldy grinned, then called out over the clash of steel. "Four-Eyes! Hast thou captured the Princess yet?"
"Yes!" said Baldy's ally, Four-Eyes the wizard.
Red locked her sword with Baldy's and looked toward the voice. She saw Four-Eyes, complete with magic all-seeing spectacles, holding the kingdom's dark-haired princess in a bear hug.
The hug didn't last. As Red watched, Princess stomped on Four-Eyes' foot. With a shout of pain, Four-Eyes released her--and Princess plunged both elbows into his sides.
"I mean no!" said Four-Eyes as he doubled over.
"We shall not surrender, my queen!" Princess scooped up a fallen soldier's sword and ran to Sir Beardnik's side. "In thy name, we shall defend this blessed kingdom of Ni!"
"And then what?" With a surge of angry might, Red forced Baldy's sword away and shoved him to the floor. "Do it all again, only I get to be the rebel leader, and Mannequin's the king?"
Mannequin ducked Dragon's swooping torch, then popped back up and cocked his head to one side. "Didst someone die and makest me king?"
"Enough!" Red hurled her sword to the stone floor with an echoing clang. "I say 'tis time for a change!"
"I'm with thou!" said Sir Beardnik, punching his sword skyward. "Let us maketh that change, fellow lords and ladies!"
"And dragons," roared Dragon.
"Wait!" said Red. "Let's make sure we're on the same page before we..."
Her sentence went unfinished as the castle and everyone in it flashed out of existence.
When Red opened her eyes, she found herself staring at someone's shiny purple tights.
Looking up, she saw that the tights belonged to Beardnik. On his chest, he wore a silver number--a wildly stylized "one" framed in a lemon yellow oval. His eyes looked out from a purple domino mask, and a yellow cape fluttered about his shoulders.
His hands were planted on his hips as he smiled down at her. "Foiled again, eh, Doctor Calamity?"
Only when Red looked down at herself did she realize that she was wearing a costume, too--black tights with a red letter "C" on the chest.
So now she knew what change had come over them. No longer were they heroes and villains in shining armor making war in the Middle Ages.
Now, they were super-powered heroes and villains in tights and capes, making war in the twentieth century.
In other words, more of the same.
"Listen," said Red. "We have to talk."
Before Beardnik could reply, twin beams of crackling bright blue energy struck his chest. The beams hoisted him off his feet and hauled him forward, whisking him away from Red at a high rate of speed.
Turning, Red saw Four-Eyes, howling with laughter as blue beams from his eyes reeled in Beardnik. "How do ya like my tractor vision?" With that, Four-Eyes snapped his head and shut off the beams, sending Beardnik flying across the street.
Beardnik cried out as he collided with a truck, hitting the trailer with such force that it flipped over on its side.
While brakes screeched and cars skidded to avoid the wreckage, Four-Eyes strolled over to Red. "One down, three to go," he said, patting the big, gold "G" on the chest of his green tights. "Thanks to the incredible Gazer."
"This wasn't the change I had in mind," said Red. "It's good versus evil all over again."
Four-Eyes took her hand and helped her up. "But you're evil this time."
Red held on to his hand and gazed into the glowing, pearlescent eyes behind his horn-rimmed goggles. "This can't go on forever," she said. "Please help me make it stop."
"Sure, Doc." Four-Eyes' smile turned into a gleeful sneer. "Just as soon as we conquer the world, all right?"
Before Red could say another word, Four-Eyes spun and unleashed twin blasts of energy from his eyes, one yellow, one red. The beams splashed against the riveted ankle of a scowling robotic monstrosity--Mannequin, plated with bronze metal and grown to over five times his normal height.
"Surrender." The rampaging robot's words boomed like dynamite explosions, one after another. "In the name of the Fleet of Heroes, I command you!"
"Fat chance, Metallico!" Four-Eyes tweaked knobs on the sides of his goggles and charged toward the giant robot. Blazing rays of white energy lashed from his eyes as he ran, scorching a path across Mannequin's shin.
Mannequin's head tipped to one side. "It is true that my mass has increased," he said, "but I would hardly say that I am fat."
With that, Mannequin bent down and scooped up Four-Eyes in one giant fist. As Mannequin lifted him high in the air, Four-Eyes continued to fire a rainbow of energy beams from his goggles in every direction.
"Strangely enough, I now find myself curious about the human experience of being overweight. You might say that I am hungry to fatten myself up at this moment." Mannequin opened his metal mouth wide and raised Four-Eyes toward it. Even as Mannequin's monstrous yellow tongue rolled out, Four-Eyes kept firing away with his optic beams.
Then, Mannequin dropped him on his tongue, reeled him in, and closed his mouth.
Red glared and rubbed her temples. Normally, she would have run to her teammate's aid and used her power to free him. In fact, she still felt the urge to lose herself in the game...but the drive to break the cycle of violence was stronger.
Turning, Red saw another chance to change the pattern. Two familiar figures faced her--Princess and Dragon. Both wore identical navy blue costumes with orange gloves and boots. Each costume had a huge orange letter on the chest--"T" for Princess, "W" for Dragon.
"You're under arrest!" said Princess, her long, black locks flowing in the breeze.
"By the Fleet of Heroes!" said Dragon.
Then, the two of them shot their fists in the air. Their knuckles crashed together with a mighty crack and a flare of golden light.
"Thunder Twin powers...reactivate!" they both said at the same time.
"Taking the form of a saber-toothed tiger!" said Princess.
"And the shape of a hurricane from Hell!" said Dragon.
Red stepped back as the two began to shift into the new forms their powers had created. Their bodies flashed and swirled and transmuted, endowing them with monstrous new potential.
And then, a giant, reptilian foot plunged down and crushed them both.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, Red gazed upward, climbing the glistening green scales of the skyscraping creature ever higher. It had the body of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, only ten times as massive as a Tyrannosaurus should have been. When Red's gaze finally reached the head, she saw that its face was human, its features recognizable.
Its scalp utterly bare.
It was Baldy, transformed into the most enormous monster on the battlefield.
"Cower before Baldzilla!" Baldy's voice blasted through the city streets like the roar of an erupting volcano. "Bow down before your master! The lizard-king lives!"
Suddenly, Red had had enough. Anger roiled inside her, churning and burning and gathering steam.
"Stop it!" she said, shouting up at Baldy's towering new form. "We need a change!"
Baldzilla swung his mighty arm through the middle of the Empire State Building. "Break it so!" He plucked Metallico like a toy from the street and hurled him into the stratosphere.
"Listen to me!" Red stomped up to Baldy's giant toe and punched it. "This isn't how we're supposed to be!"
"Enrage!" said Baldzilla as he hauled back his enormous foot and kicked Red out of the city.
Spinning, she shot beyond the skyline, swiftly shrinking with distance, disappearing over the horizon.
Baldy howled with triumph, shattering every window in town with his deafening bellows. That was when Red demonstrated her true super-power.
She was a human boomerang. Throw her away, and she'd come right back, stronger than ever.
Baldy wasn't looking when Red flashed back over the horizon and swooped across the city toward him. He was so busy trumpeting his victory that he didn't know she was about to plow into him at hundreds of miles an hour.
That was why Baldy didn't even try to swat her aside. She hit him in the head like a missile, then leaped away as he started to sway.
Baldzilla crashed down like a toppling redwood, knocking down rows of buildings like dominoes. Smoke and dust billowed into the air, then settled around his fallen, colossal bulk.
Red darted over and landed on his titanic snout. "As I was saying, it's time we made a change."
"I agree," said Baldy.
"We need to put an end to this meaningless conflict," said Red. "We need to get back in touch with our true natures."
"I couldn't agree more," said Baldy, just as everything around them winked off like the blown-out candles on a birthday cake.
The next thing Red knew, she was gazing into the glittering darkness of space.
Quickly, she realized that she was looking at a huge video screen. Turning away from it, she looked in the opposite direction--and instantly felt a sense of great ease.
This wasn't like being in a castle, or a super-hero streetfight, or a pirate ship or World War I or an Old West town. This was different. This felt right.
This time, she had awakened aboard a spaceship.
Red took a deep breath of the sweet, cool air and ran her fingers over the smooth, white bulkhead. One word came to mind as she looked around at the spacious room--all curves and light and polish--in which she'd appeared.
"Home." Beardnik said it with a roguish grin as he walked past.
"Yes." Red nodded and drifted around the circular perimeter. Her memory was hazy about many things, but this much was crystal clear. "Home it is."
Three chairs rested in the middle of the room, facing the video screen. Baldy, now wearing a red and white jumpsuit instead of Baldzilla scales, sat in the chair on the far end. Princess, in a blue and white jumpsuit, sat in the center seat and crossed her legs--then met Baldy's gaze with a frown. Without a word, they got up and switched places.
As soon as Baldy's bottom hit the center seat, he released a deep sigh and visibly relaxed.
"We have been here before." As Mannequin said it, he gazed at the multicolored lights blinking on a low-mounted control panel. "Why does this make me think of...a litter box?"
"But where is the battle?" Dragon stomped across the carpet, then jumped back as a door slid open in front of him. Tentatively, he crept through the doorway, looking hard in every direction. "There is a very strange water-breathing creature in a glass tank," he said from inside. "Perhaps this hideous lifeform is the threat I have been seeking."
"This place isn't about battle." Four-Eyes slid his hand along a gleaming, wood-grained rail arching over the three center seats. "Not always, at least. Isn't that right, computer?"
"Affirmative," said a woman's voice that seemed to come from all around the room.
Dragon leaped through the doorway from the side-room, glaring fiercely. "Did I just hear the voice of an enemy?"
"This is what I've been trying to tell you," said Red. "When was the last time we stopped fighting?"
"Well...," said Mannequin, and then he cocked his head to one side. "It seems I cannot remember."
"Neither can I," said Beardnik, "but it feels like forever."
"We've fought so long, we've nearly forgotten who we really are." Red stood between Baldy and Princess and took their hands. "We're forgotten how to be friends. More than friends." Her heart pounded as she looked around at all of them. "Family."
"Oh, puh-leeze." Suddenly, a new voice, a man's voice, filled the room. "Somebody get me a barf bag."
A flash of light exploded in the middle of the room. Red let go of Baldy and Princess' hands and turned.
Immediately, Red recognized the new arrival. He wore a huge red hat and long black robes brocaded with gold. The look on his face was one of undisguised contempt.
The name that came to mind was Royal Pain.
"I don't believe you people." Royal Pain planted his red-gloved fists on his black-robed hips. "Are you really this limited?"
Baldy slowly rose from his center seat and approached Royal Pain. "Of course," said Baldy. "I should have known this was your doing."
"I gathered up your souls after you died. I even made a soul for the toy soldier here." Royal Pain jabbed a finger in Mannequin's direction.
Mannequin tipped his head and stared. "Earth religious traditions mention a demonic entity who gathers the souls of the dead. He is sometimes referred to as Satan."
"So is he." Four-Eyes hiked a thumb over his shoulder at Royal Pain.
"I saved you from oblivion," said Royal Pain. "In honor of our long...what's the word? Relationship?"
"Nightmare," said Beardnik.
"Disaster," said Four-Eyes.
"Infection?" said Red.
"Association." Royal Pain smiled grimly. "In honor of that, I brought you here, to my continuity. I gave you the power to reshape reality, to create endless new roles and adventures.
"I gave you the chance to create something different, to feel something new." Royal Pain shook his head. "And again and again, you end up in the same place.
"Here." Royal Pain spread his arms wide. "On the Good Ship Lollipop."
Baldy rubbed the back of his neck and looked pensive. "How long?" he said. "How long since we've been...gone?"
"I brought the last of you here twenty years ago to the day," said Royal Pain. "At least as you understand time...which is about as well as an amoeba understands chess."
"That depends," said Beardnik. "Is it a giant space amoeba?"
"And we're not meeting your expectations?" said Baldy.
"My expectations...yes." Royal Pain shrugged. "My hopes, no." Light flared around him again, and when it subsided, he was wearing the same kind of red and white jumpsuit as Baldy. "In our many--interactions--during your lives, I thought I saw a glimmer of potential. Freed of your physical encumbrances and given the proper encouragement, I thought that maybe, just maybe, you could make something of yourselves.
"But you're too attached to your past lives. You keep gravitating to the same cheap props and spandex and special effects." Royal Pain waved his hands as if he were chucking the lot of them out an airlock. "You've been a real buzzkill, if you know what I mean."
"No," said Mannequin. "I do not."
"Neither do I, but I like the kill part." Dragon growled and sneered.
Baldy tugged on the front of his jumpsuit to straighten it. "If we've been such a disappointment to you," he said, "why not send us back?"
Royal Pain sighed. "Believe me, I wish I could." Clasping his hands behind his back, he paced across the floor. "Even I have limits. If I sent you back, you would be dead."
"Maybe death would be better than endless, meaningless conflict," said Princess.
"Yes! Today is a good day to..." Dragon stopped, frowned, and shook his head hard. "What am I saying? I do not wish to die!"
Red stepped forward. "Maybe there's another alternative."
Royal Pain stopped pacing and stared at her. "I'm sorry. Shouldn't you be lancing a boil or something?"
"Think bigger," said Red.
Royal Pain's head swiftly expanded to ten times its original size. "Done and done."
"Give us more," said Red. "Give us a real challenge." Spreading her arms, she turned in a circle. "Why do you think we keep coming back here? What do you think this place is really about?"
Red punched Royal Pain in the arm. "Challenge," she said. "And the challenge must fit the challenger.
"Now that you've made us more than we were, the challenge we face must be greater." Red met Royal Pain's gaze and focused all her will on getting through to him. "And what was the challenge we faced in our past lives? The universe itself."
Royal Pain glared, and for a moment, Red worried that her plea might backfire. Then, the glare melted into a smile of fiendish inspiration.
"The universe, eh?" Royal Pain nodded. "Maybe you're onto something." With that, he cupped his hands together, and they started to glow.
"What are you planning?" said Baldy.
"A new challenge," said Royal Pain. "How would you like your own universe?"
"Who wouldn't?" said Beardnik.
"To what end?" said Baldy.
"Leave it to you to look a gift horse in the butt." A patch of inky shadow and glittering cloud swirled in Royal Pain's hands. "Look, are you happy with the current universe? With everything in it?
"Why not try to do better?" Royal Pain parted his hands, and the swirling patch of light and dark grew bigger. "Why not design a more perfect universe, a universe you can believe in?"
"I like it." Beardnik approached and gazed into the swirling patch. "But why haven't you done this yourself?"
"Who says I haven't?" Royal Pain rolled his eyes from side to side and nodded slowly, encompassing the universe around them. "But seriously," he said, "it takes special souls to make something truly worthwhile."
"We know all about that," said Red, throwing her arms around Beardnik and Baldy's shoulders.
The rest of the group converged on Royal Pain, gathering close to watch the expanding sphere of a newborn universe pulse and swirl between his hands.
"Well?" Royal Pain sounded annoyed. "Are you going to do this or what?"
"Of course." Red slid a hand into the swirling sphere. "Who else is in the game?"
Beardnik followed her lead. "Deal me in."
"I'll play a hand." Four-Eyes reached into the sphere after Red and Beardnik.
"I'm feeling lucky," said Princess as she added her hand to the mix.
Mannequin also reached into the growing matrix. "I will sweeten the pot."
"I will raise you all," said Dragon as he plunged his hand in after the others.
That left only one of them on the outside.
"What are you waiting for?" said Royal Pain. "Why must you always be difficult?"
Baldy stared into the glittering, whirling sphere. "This will take all of us?"
"Yes, you spit-polished nincompoop!" said Royal Pain. "As you well know, it takes seven stars to make a new creation."
Baldy smirked. "Then by all means," he said, "let's put all our cards on the table!"
With that, he plunged both his hands into the newborn universe.
And a blinding flash of light engulfed them all.
One trillion years later...
Quillid Fason opened the window of his spaceship, the Prisenter, and stared into the twinkling white distance.
The sweet, fresh air of outer space caressed the ever-changing flickerflesh of Fason's face as he frowned. He had hoped that sticking his head out the window might give him new insight...but looking directly at the star patterns seemed to be no more helpful than looking at them on a viewer inside the ship had been.
The Prisenter was still lost.
Suddenly, his copilot, Angla Runch, popped up beside him. As bad as their situation was, she still had a big smile on her shimmering, kaleidoscopic face. "Some of the greatest discoveries happen when people are lost, you know."
"We're the first of our kind to travel in space," said Fason. "If we get lost and don't return home, they might never send out another ship. It could mean the end of space travel for our people."
"Think positive," said Angla. "We're still alive, right? The ship was knocked off-course by a flock of stargeese, but it wasn't damaged, was it?"
"That's true." Fason heard the melodic cries of stargeese echoing in the reaches of space, mingled with the chiming, booming songs of solar whales and the howls of racing warp-dogs.
"We have enough supplies to last a while, right?" said Angla. "And when those run out, we can harvest star-manna and wild ambrosia from passing asteroids. So what's the worst that can happen?"
"We stay lost forever." Fason gazed into the whiteness of space, watching the multicolored gem-stars glitter and flash. "We'll be doomed to wander forever, drifting through the endless universe without a home or reason to live."
"That won't happen," said Angla. "We'll find our way."
Fason sighed as he watched the unfamiliar constellations dance around them. "You really think so?"
"It'll all work out." Angla patted his back. "After all, they're looking out for us."
"Who's that?" said Fason.
Angla pointed a finger at a bright violet star that was off to one side and far away. "There's one of them." She moved her finger to another star, a blue one, that was up a little higher. "And there."
Next, Angla pointed at a green star, and a pink one. "Another and another." A gold one and a silver one. "There and there." Finally, she showed him a red one, glowing warm and serene in a distant corner of the ivory sky. "And there."
Fason scowled, eyes darting between the stars she'd pointed out. "I don't believe it." All along, he'd been looking right at them, but he was used to seeing them from his homeworld. Now that he was deeper in space, seeing the stars from a different angle, the constellation they formed was nearly unrecognizable.
Except to someone like Angla, who saw things from a different point of view all the time.
"It's them." Fason put an arm around Angla's shoulder and gave her a squeeze. "The Seven Great Stars."
"They'll take care of us," said Angla. "They'll guide us home."
"Yes." A single tear slid down Fason's flickering cheek. "They always do."
©2007 Robert T. Jeschonek