I'm here to review a film. When the end credits roll, I know that I'm meant to go home and distil my impressions into words. Yet here the credits are, and I don't really feel like I understand what I've just watched.
Kira at Bashi.
The Enterprise at Yorktown.
The Sisko in the Celestial Temple.
The Beast at Tanagra.
Suddenly, everything is light. Bright, brilliant, blinding stark white light. I don't blink. I don't think I need to. I'm seeing something else.
I see a man collapsed in the dirt, his brother beside him paralyzed with sorrow. The man is sobbing, over and over, telling his brother that he couldn't stop them he couldn't stop them I couldn't stop them.
A woman pleading with a man, asking him how he is feeling. Asking him how new knowledge has changed his world, and trying hard not to react when he tells her the truth. That he feels old, worn-out.
I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it.
A warrior, snarling that he is not a merry man.
What does . . . God . . . want with a starship?
There. Are. Four. Lights.
Young. I feel young.
What is this place?
A man in a suit circles me warily, looking me up and down. "It is corporeal," he says to nobody I can see.
I shield my eyes from the sun that wasn't there a moment ago, and almost stop my voice from cracking. "What did you say?"
The man speaks in a clear, level tone but, again, not to me. "It is responding to visual and auditory stimuli. Linguistic communication."
"This is how I communicate. How do you communicate?"
We are in a dark room, now. I can see my wife seated about halfway back along the rows of cinema seats. I'm not there, but I should be there. Next to her. But I'm here, at the wrong end of the room. I remember this happening, and I was there. Why am I over here and not there? I don't understand, and I turn to the woman beside me to ask the obvious question, but she beats me to it.
"What are you?" Her expression is genuinely quizzical, like I'm the strangest thing here.
"I am human," I try.
"You are all human. But what are you?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Why have you brought us here?"
I feel frustration rising inside me. I swallow it, biting back anxiety and anger. "I didn't bring you here. You brought me here."
"What is this place?"
"What do you mean? It's a cinema. It's where we watched a film last week. A film, by the way, that I wasn't massively impressed with."
"We do not understand. What does this place mean?"
I breathe deeply. "I think that you and I are very different. It may take time for us to understand one another."
"What is this . . . time?"
A man with machinery grafted onto his face stares at me from a giant projection screen. "It is malevolent," he chants. "It did not enjoy our film. We must destroy it."
"I am not your enemy."
"You seek to criticize. To break down that which we have built."
"I am not your enemy." I don't know if the desperation is as far from my voice as I'd hoped. "I am one of the people you summoned."
"With your stories, your films."
"We seek contact with residuals and long tail economics. Not corporeal entities who seek to annihilate us."
"My kind respects creativity above all else. Can you say the same? I do not understand the threat I bring to you, but I am not your enemy. Allow me to prove it."
I'm still surrounded by pure white. I'm still not seeing any of it.
A woman in a red dress folds her arms. She looks out from the TV screen at me, her voice clipped and sharp. "Prove it?"
"It can be argued that a fan is ultimately the sum of their experiences."
"What are experiences?" Her frown deepens.
"Memories. Events from my past, like this one."
Realization begins to dawn on me. I curse myself for not realizing earlier. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
I'm walking alongside a tall, broad man who is growing a beard. I can see it happening in front of me; somehow the beard's growth makes him seem more charismatic, better written.
His strides are long, and I struggle to keep up. I half expect him to declare a red alert. He booms down at me. "What comes before now is no different than what is now, or what is to come. It is a franchise's existence. There is box office, and residuals. Nothing more."
I blink. "Then, for you, there is no narrative. No concept of linear time."
"What is linear time?"
"We live in one point in time. Every thing I do, that I experience, only exists for me in that point. Once I move beyond that point, it becomes the past. The future, all that is still to come, does not exist yet for us."
"Does not exist yet?"
"That is the nature of linear existence. Of narrative. If you examine it more closely, you will see that you do not need to fear me. Look at my memories."
Nighttime. Outdoors. A forest? A man who looks uncannily like the farmer from Babe takes a swig from a bottle. He wipes the back of his arm across his mouth and leans in to drawl at me. "Your memories. Stories. Exploration. Understanding. Command and compassion. Astronauts on some kind of . . . star trek."
"Yes." I pause. "That was something important to me, once."
"It is part of your existence."
"It is part of my past. It was something that happened before, but it is no longer made."
"But it is part of your existence."
"It stopped a long time ago."
The man seems confused. "Stopped? What is this?"
"In a linear existence, we can't go back to the past to see something for the first time again. We can't force ourselves to relive a narrative for the first time. So those things stop, and we look for more new things."
"It is inconceivable that anyone could exist in such a manner. You are deceiving us."
"No," I whisper. "This is the truth. That show, those stories, they stopped over fifteen years ago. Far in the past. They were very important to me. In some ways, they shaped everything that followed. That is the essence of a linear existence. Each day affects the next."
Two children on a settee, watching a television. It's an old-style TV, square and based around a cathode-ray tube. I recognize the children. I was—I am—one of them.
"Days like this . . . " I pause and pinch the bridge of my nose. "They were days that were very important to me. Wednesdays and Thursdays. They shaped the days that followed. A linear existence builds narrative. Continuity. We grow, and we watch others grow too. Even those in fictions. Watching them gave me happiness."
A man beside me, wearing a T-shirt with an open-necked shirt buttoned over it. The reflection of Utopia Planitia flickers on his glasses from the TV set. "And so this is happiness?"
"This show—the one that I'm watching there—was about a utopian future. One where mankind had experienced a cultural evolution and left behind the need for financial wealth. Technology brought abundance, and opened new avenues for people to explore. Understanding and diplomacy became ends in their own right."
The man frowns. "What is "utopian"?"
"It means no place. It isn't real. It can only ever exist in fiction. But it wasn't even real in Star Trek—later series lifted the veil, and accused the Federation protagonists of just being a polite version of their worst enemies. There were penal colonies, acquisitive species, war-like species. There is no drama in utopia, and so whatever utopia existed was the thinnest of veneers."
"And this was its importance? That it presented this utopia?"
"No. The utopia was never anything more than a promise—a promise that humanity could, if it tried really, really hard then, sometimes, on a good day, it could be something better. We'll not achieve it in my lifetime. Maybe we'll never achieve it. Even if we do, it won't be like Star Trek. I don't think many people would like it to be. But it is, perhaps, a dream."
"Life is not a dream."
"No, it isn't. But that promise and the study of it—the dissection, and examination, and reassembly of it—is what held my interest. It is . . . painful that it lost the qualities I loved so."
The man looks at me. He smiles. "If the loss is painful, we can make you more of it. We make so many things. So many five-year plans. So many arcs. We make them all the time. This is no exception. We can make you more of this."
I look away from him. "You've already tried."
We're flying, now. Stood on the wing of a small ship veering wildly between skyscrapers. Spock is punching Benedict Cumberbatch, over, and over, and over, and over again.
"This is your existence." The same man again, smiling now.
I shake my head. "It is difficult to be here. More difficult than any other Trek memory."
"Because this is the day it really just went off the rails. It pisses all over one of the finest moments in the series, and for no reason. It takes something beautiful from my past, and turns it from gold to lead. I don't want to be here."
The man steps towards me. "Then why do you exist here?"
"I don't understand."
Kiteo, his eyes closed.
"You exist here."
"I don't want to be here."
Shaka, when the walls fell.
A giant snowflake hangs in the blackness of space. Kirk is orbiting Idris Elba, over, and over, and over, and over again.
"If all you say is true, then why do you exist here?"
I finally snap. "What is the point of bringing me back to this?"
A short-haired man with a bad, fake Scottish accent puts his hand on my shoulder. "We do not bring you here."
The man in glasses rests his hand on my other shoulder. "You exist here."
"This film promised me so much. But it gave me a villain with next to no motivation. It gave me an infantile questioning of the usefulness of a utopia. It promised me a revisited, character-based dynamic between Kirk and his crew, and what it gave me was something less interesting than Star Trek V. At least that had an ethically ambiguous and well-intentioned antagonist. Give me something new. This is meant to be about boldly going where no-one has gone before. Not casting faint shadows of what's already been made."
"Then this memory does cause you pain."
"It's less painful than that bloody Into Darkness film. This one at least has moments, even if all of them are from Karl Urban. But my God, its politics, its paper-thin and facile critique of the Federation, they're . . . they're poor." My shoulders slump. "I could almost give up again."
"Your pain runs deep. It must be exposed and reckoned with."
"It is nostalgia. Another word with a Greek root. It means the pain of remembering. I remember when this was a joyous concept, when it had things to teach me, when it had the power to make me smile, and to make me think." I shake my head. "Let me lead you somewhere else. Anywhere else."
Idris Elba turns to me, briefly. His face remains plastered in CGI and prosthetics. "We cannot give you what you deny yourself."
We're on Deep Space 9. The promenade. Quark's. I look around me in wonder, my eyes widening as I remember.
"I was ready for this to last forever. For these people, these characters, to keep having adventures forever."
There's nobody next to me. I just hear their voice inside my head. "Forever?"
"I never left this show. That's why I keep coming back."
"This is utopia?"
"Perhaps. For me. But it isn't real." I try to touch the walls, but they melt away from me.
"You exist here."
"I exist here. I don't know if you can understand. When I think of this show, of this concept, I see it like this. I always see it like this."
"This nostalgia. This pain of remembering something that is lost, something that is no longer made. We can help take away the pain. We can make more. Always, we can make more."
I sink to the floor, resting my hands on my knees. "These memories. They are just that. Memories. They are part of me, and what I've enjoyed. Part of what makes me who I am. They live inside me. I can't relive them. Making new things won't take away the pain that this ever ended. I don't want that pain taken away. I need my pain. "
The voice inside softens. Understanding. "No amount of making new films and seeing them helps to bring back the experience of seeing this for the first time."
"But I thought that perhaps it could."
Kirk stops orbiting Idris Elba for a moment. He looks at me, the wind whipping his words away.
"So you choose to exist here. It is not linear."
"No," I whisper as I close my eyes. "It is not linear."
Sokath, his eyes uncovered.