Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 11, The Corporal

Subplots aren’t always about romance, you know.

But then, that doesn’t mean they can’t be about something just as important.

Upon seeing Joe and the dead soldier’s body, Jane again grabs the Mezzanine guardrail.

Down in the Subcortex/Transporter Room, the General looks at Joe and then turns up toward Jane.

“Joe was one of the best Vietnamese linguists around,” the General says, “and every First Sergeant knew it. One in particular took Joe under his wing, and he wouldn’t go anywhere to meet with nationals without Joe along. He was the father Joe never had, a soldier’s soldier who never sent his men to do what he would not. It was the First Sergeant, ‘Top,’ who’d seen that specialist go down when they were ambushed, who jumped out of the vehicle to cover him. It was Joe who was right behind him when the First Sergeant stepped on that mine.”

“My God,” Jane whispers. “My God.”

“If you call to him,” the General says, “he’ll hear you. Whether he responds or not, we’ll have to see.”

Jane swallows and then speaks.


Joe quits rocking.

“Hey, old man! It’s me. The kid.”

Joe looks at her.

“Hey, Joe, the General here, he wants to help. I know he doesn’t look like a general, but he is and…and he’s a good man, Joe. Let him help you.”

Joe looks over toward the General. His eyes widen.

“Junior?” he says.

Jane looks over to the General as well. But instead of the young soldier, she sees a thirty-something man wearing sweat pants and a Miami-of-Ohio sweatshirt. He has all Joe’s features, right down to the one eyebrow slightly bushier than the other.

“Dad,” the man said, a voice unmistakably like Joe’s. “It’s me, Dad, the General. Please, Dad…”

Then from the back of the Transporter Room another young soldier blazes forward, out of breath, covered in blood.

The soldier is Joe, around age twenty. No doubt about it.

“How f***ing dare you?” the young Joe screams. “God damn you! Now you show up! Where the f*** were you back then? Where have you ever been, acting as if you want to give a sh** about anything? I was a f***ing linguist, God damn it! What the f*** was I supposed to do, Top bleeding all over me? The Doc just kept screaming for me to get out of the way, but he was already dead, God damn it! Already f***ing dead! I don’t give a God-damn how many times I’ve pushed my f***ing kid away, that doesn’t give you one f***ing right to stand there looking like him and…”

“Soldier!” Joe’s son says, but in the General’s voice. “It’s me. I’m here now. Stand down. I’m here. I’m here.”

The young Joe steps back and transforms into another soldier, a young corporal. He takes a deep breath and then assumes a parade rest.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “Thank you, sir.”

Jane turns to see First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr. move forward.

“Ma’am,” he says. “May I introduce you to the final member of the Emotions crew. This is Corporal (CPL) PANIC-GRIEF. I am FEAR, the Emotion that responds to danger of attack. The Corporal is the Emotion that responds to the danger of utter aloneness, of utter vulnerability.”

“We haven’t seen the Corporal of Joe’s crew for years, Jane,” says Mr. Scott, stepping forward. “Like many combat vets, Joe has assumed that he became PANIC/GRIEF that day. When Joe looks back on himself at that moment, he doesn’t see a competent young man who came across a tragedy he couldn’t change. He sees nothing but a raw Emotion that leads him to feel shame and disgust.”

Still looking at the Corporal, Joe Jr/the General says to him, “It’s OK now, soldier. I’ll take it from here. Rejoin your team.”

The Corporal nods. “Thank you, sir.” And he steps into the line.

“Dad,” Joe Jr./the General says, looking back at Joe. “you see? You’ve always been more than that moment back then. I’m not saying to get back into treatment right now. I’m just asking you to let me help you get ready for whatever comes: treatment, life! Doing this on your own hasn’t worked. We both see that. Let me help you, through a friend, through a service animal—through your real-life son who always comes back for another try, even after you’ve screamed at each other. Love gets us humans better, Dad, real connection with others in the world. Sounds hokey, I know, but…it’s all we’ve got, Dad. Each other. Just like you and Top. That’s all we’ve got, Dad.”

On the Mezzanine, Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Troi walks up to COL Kirk.

“Colonel,” she says, “Joe’s body is not doing well.”

Kirk approaches the guardrail.

“Joe, it’s me, Kirk. Come on, buddy. Let’s take a Vistaril. It’s not addictive. It’s not going to change the world, but we’ve got to get you back up here. Come on.”

Joe looks up at Kirk and then nods.

Major (MAJ) Sulu appears next to Kirk on the Mezzanine and then snaps his fingers.

At that, Jane sees a drone aircraft maneuver over the Mezzanine, down into the Transporter Room. As it does, it begins to spray a fine mist over the area, whereupon Joe and the entire Subcortex/Transporter Room Crew appear to relax their musculature ever so slightly. The drone then moves back up and out through a side door, toward the remainder of the Brain/Enterprise.

LTC Spock then appears on the Mezzanine.

“Medications aren’t a mystery, Jane. They work at a physical level, in various ways, in various parts of the brain, primarily to decrease physical responses so that the tension throughout the body and brain is not as high, so that the Colonel and I can have some time and space to evaluate the informational intelligence we’re receiving from throughout the Enterprise and make appropriate decisions.”

He nods toward the Transporter Room. Jane looks down to find the body of the First Sergeant gone. Standing in its place is McCoy, at parade rest. He nods toward the Mezzanine.

Jane looks to her left, and there, standing next to COL Kirk, is Joe.

“Thanks, kid,” he says.

“It’s up to you, Joe.”

At the sound of the General’s voice, Jane looks down to see him standing just before McCoy, back to his original form.

Jane looks to Joe. “Up to you, what?”

“Joe has an opportunity now to give back to you,” the General says. “Information. Hard-learned information.”

Joe looks down at the General.

“You can do it, Dad. It’s all we’ve got. All we’ve got.”

The General had spoken in Joe Jr.’s voice.

“But you don’t have to,” says Kirk, approaching Joe on the Mezzanine. “It’s up to you. We can pick it up from here, if you’d prefer.”

Kirk pauses. “So, Joe, are we done?”

Joe looks at Kirk and then at Jane.

“Kid, I’ve not been that willing to give myself fully to treatment, for all the reasons you now know. But there is one thing I’ve learned so far.”

He looks down at McCoy.

“The Sergeant Major isn’t the villain, Jane. He’s just trying to keep us alive, keep us from the pain that stops us cold. He’s not what’s preventing us from getting better.”

He looks back at Jane.

“Kid, our ships are haunted.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 10, The General

We’re still in Shawn Coyne’s Middle Build, but all hope is no longer lost. In fact, after an Ordeal such as Jane’s  on the Hero’s Journey, it’s time to re-group and explore this Reward.

It’s time for a subplot.

After taking his place back with his Subcortex/Transporter Room soldiers, Command Sergeant Major (CSM) McCoy nods at First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr.

“Ma’am,” Spock Sr. says, “when I was introducing the Emotions who work under me, I was not, if you recall, able to introduce them all.”

Mr. Scott smiles and moves forward. “Yes, ma’am. As the Officer-in-Charge, it is my honor to present to you the Brain-Enterprise’s—even Colonel (COL) Kirk’s—senior Command, General CARE/NURTURANCE.”

Smiling, the young soldier nods to Scott and then turns back to Jane.

“I know,” he says. “The uniform confuses everyone, military and civilian alike. Hazard of the job.”

“You’re…a general?” Jane says.

“Yes, ma’am.” the young General says. “I am the Emotion that has preserved you from your life’s beginning, all the physical processes that calm you, soothe you when you are meaningfully connected to others in your world. I am what ran through your body when your Mama and Daddy held you as an infant, when your Grandmama hummed her favorite hymn to rock you to sleep. I’m the very opposite of Power. I make joy and meaning possible, for you, for everyone.”

Janes smiles. “Not exactly the kind of general I remember.”

“True,” the General says. “You can’t recognize me by my uniform, that’s for sure. You can only know me by the effect I have when I walk into a room. Of course, therein lies the problem.”

“How so?” Jane asks.

“A lot of folks—if I might add, a whole lot of combat vets—are not, shall we say, ‘into’ touchy-feely connection. They may not mind me every once in a while, when all is quiet. But they sure aren’t going to spend any time with me. And down here, when things get hopping? If the Brain crew hasn’t spent time with me, they often fail to recognize me when I can be of the most help. Instead of seeing a general who has the power to make all work more smoothly, they see a uniform without a marking on it, a “fuzzy,” the lowest of the low in their world, someone who is to shut up and do as he’s told.”

“Work more smoothly, how?” Jane asks.

“If I may,” the General says, “I’d be glad to show you how I’m the ultimate answer to your question about PTSD and getting better. But I will have to ask you a favor in order to do so.”

“A favor?”

“Jane,” he says. “This Brain-Enterprise has become your ship. We are here for you. You happen, however, not to be alone on it at this point.”

Jane nods. “Joe, right?”

“Yes, Jane,” an again-familiar voice says, from behind her on the Mezzanine.

Jane turns to see COL Kirk.

“The Colonel and I have been here many times with Joe,” the General says from below. “But never before on someone else’s ship, someone who might—just might—be able to make a difference for him.”

Jane turns back to the General. “Pardon me?”

“Jane,” the General says. “Joe’s home was not like yours. He had no Grandmama humming him hymns, no Mama and Daddy he could rely on to hold him. He’s not even convinced that I exist inside him. But together you and I might be able to connect with him now just enough to allow him to consider at least some possibility of alternative to the abandoned loneliness he has felt for years.”

“It’s up to you, Jane,” Kirk says, approaching her. “You don’t have to. As the General said, this isn’t our first time in this spot with Joe. We can take it from here.”

Jane shakes her head. “He can be such an ass. But there’s always been something about him.” She looks back down at the General and then back at Kirk. “So it’s my ship, my decision?”

“Yes, Jane.” Kirk smiles. “So, are we done?”

Jane looks back down at the General and nods. “Next step, Sir?”

The General smiles and opens his mouth. Out of it comes a woman’s resonant voice.

“Always knew you had it in you, Baby!”

Yet before Jane can respond, the General turns to CSM McCoy and, back in his own voice, says, “Sergeant Major?”

“Will do, Sir.” With that, McCoy disappears.

All Subcortex/Transporter Room soldiers step back. The General turns to Jane.

“This is not going to be pretty, Jane. Stick with us, though,” he says. “Just like your Grandmama said, we can do this.”

The General snaps his fingers.

And there, in the center of the Transporter Room, lies the mangled, bloodied body of a solider, a First Sergeant.

And next to him, no longer on the Mezzanine, is an older man, clutching his knees to his chest, rocking back and forth, mumbling over and over, “Top. Top.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 09, The Private

Shawn Coyne of The Story Grid calls it the “All is Lost” moment.  Christopher Vogler calls it The Ordeal of the Hero’s Journey.

Basically, it’s at the center of the story, and it’s the point at which it’s “sink or swim.”  The Hero faces the Dark Force and either gains the Elixir that can be brought back home to save—or doesn’t.

So which will it be?

A familiar voice comes over the intercom.

“Yes, Mr. Scott?”

“Hello, sir,” says the Boy. “Ahmed here.  Good to hear your voice, Colonel. Sir.”

“What?” Kirk shouts. “Scotty, Troi, is McCoy out?”

“I’ve been showing Miss Jane how good my English has become down here, Colonel,” the Boy says. “Why, I think it’s even better than my father’s now. Don’t you think? Ask Major (MAJ) Chekhov. He’ll remember.”

“Good God,” Kirk says. “McCoy, leave Joe and Jane alone, do you hear? That’s an order!”

The Boy smiles at Jane.

“He always says that,” the Boy says. “You know the Brass. They never really know what’s going on where it matters. If you want to survive, you have to pick and choose what you pay attention to. Do you have any chocolate for me today, Miss Jane?”

Jane grips the guardrail and tries to breathe.

“MAJ Sulu,” Kirk shouts. “get her moving, up and down the aisle, to the bathroom, anywhere. We’ve got to get her away from McCoy.”

No one in the Transporter Room moves.

“Poor man,” the Boy says. “He still thinks the reasoning part of the brain runs this ship at times like these. Sad, isn’t it, Miss Jane? Although, come to think of it—maybe not as sad as…me?”

The Boy slams his hand against his abdomen.

Jane grips the guardrail even harder.

“LUST, PLAY, SEEKING!” Kirk shouts. “Get up here, Sergeants! Look, I’ll promote you to lieutenants. Just get up here and get her doing something: drinking, flirting, checking out the movie channel, I don’t care! We need to move!”

In an instant, three members of the Transporter Room crew disappear.

“He always tells them that,” says the Boy, who presses his hand even further into his abdomen. “He always promises that if they run after distractions, I’ll fade away, and everything will be forgotten and fine. They always come back, though, always…oh, Miss Jane!”

The Boy pulls his hand away, looks at it, and then turns his palm toward Jane.

“Look!” he says, “I’m bleeding!”

Jane’s knees buckle. She grips the guardrail even harder as she looks at the blood rushing out of the Boy’s abdomen.

Then she hears Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Troi, who has moved behind her.

“Jane,” she says. “Look to your right.”

When Jane does, she sees one of the other Transporter Crew members, a young man with well-defined features, a private, straight out of boot camp, it appears.

With a slow, yet steady gait, he approaches the Boy.

The Boy begins to sink to the ground.

“The bleeding never stops here, does it, Miss Jane?” the Boy says. “At least it stopped out there. Didn’t it.”

It was not a question.

The Private tries to place his hand on the Boy’s shoulder, but the Boy shrinks away.

“He’ll try to help us, Miss Jane,” the Boy says, his eyes still fixed on Jane. “But he can’t help. We’re both medics. We both know that it’s too late for me. You remember what happened, don’t you, Miss Jane?”

LTC Troi again approaches Jane. “Look at the Private. He’s saying something.”

Jane can’t make it out.

“Don’t waste your time, girlfriend. I already told you. He can’t help you!”

It is now McCoy’s voice coming out of the Boy’s body.

“This doesn’t end well, Jane,” McCoy continues, “and you know it. Stop this now. Get out of here. I’m warning you.”

Then Jane hears the Private. But he is speaking in a woman’s voice.

“We can do this, baby!” The rich voice rolls out of the young Private. “Never give up, baby! We can do this!”

Jane straightens. “Grandmama?”

“She’s dead!” McCoy shouts, still in the Boy’s body. “And she’s not coming back. There’s nothing she can do. There’s nothing this Private can do. We are in danger, Jane. Get. The. Hell. Out. Of. Here.”

“What is going…?”

“If you don’t get out right now,” McCoy shouts, the Boy now lying on the floor. “I’ll crawl up to the damn Bridge myself and rip the controls right out of Sulu’s hands, and you’ll regret it, sister, I promise you. If I have to make a fool out of you, if I have to make you hurt yourself, I will. Survival is survival, even if that means cutting you open and taking our chances.”

The Boy/McCoy lunges to his feet.

“This is it, Jane!” he shouts. “Who’s it going to be? Me? Or the Private?”

Jane stiffens.

‘That was my grandmama!’ she shouts to the Boy/McCoy. “That was . . .”

She looks toward the Private, then turns back to McCoy, and points directly at the young soldier below her.

“I’ll take the Private!” she shouts.

And in an instant, all the lights come back on.

And there, in front of her, is no longer the Boy.

It is McCoy. Smiling. A smile very different from previous ones.

“Well, my, my, Jane,” he says. He then turns toward the remaining soldiers, the three sergeants having suddenly re-appeared. “She really does mean it!”

He turns back toward Jane.

“Good for you, Jane.” He nods. “Good for you.”

At that, he turns toward the Private, who remains standing next to him.

“She’s all yours, Sir,” he says to him. “I’m ready to do whatever you need me to do.”

With a respectful nod, he then backs up to join the other soldiers.

The Private looks up at Jane.

“Yes, Jane” he says, now in his own voice. “You heard that right. He called me, ‘Sir.’”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 08, Sergeant Survival

It’s still Shawn Coyne’s Middle Build.  It’s still Christopher Vogler’s Approach to the Inmost Cave.

It’s not exactly Jane’s best day.

Still motionless, Jane looks at McCoy. “I know you.  And not from TV.”

McCoy chuckles. “Of course you do, Jane. I’m your old friend: Survival. Some people say I have my own spot in the brain, the place where fear and uncertainty meet. But I like to think of myself as the ‘Kirk of the Subcortex,’ of everything below all those officers and their SOP’s. I’m the whole point of this dog-and-pony show down here.”

“What…do you want from me?” Jane asks.

“Oh, come on, girl! I’m an old 68-Whiskey (68W) medic, like yourself. You know what all of us 68W’s want: to bring our folks back alive. And since I’m in your brain, Janie, that means bringing you back alive, whether in the middle of the desert or in the middle of the wacky fantasy this doctor’s got you in.”

“I…I just want this PTSD to get better.”

“Oh, don’t we all, darlin’?  But when the old man has to come out and settle things down? We’ll leave the ‘gettin’ better’ for another day, another time.”

“Mr Scott?” Jane asks, looking at him. “Aren’t you…”

“Sorry, ma’am,” he says. “True, I’m the Officer-in-Charge, but at times of ‘freeze,’ whether back then or now, my only real job—to keep communication open with the Bridge—breaks down. We can hear them, but they can’t hear us. That’s why you remember terrible times as so hazy, strange. I’m in Communications, not Medical. When it comes to survival, the Sergeant Major here is in charge.”

“And without guidance from the Bridge,” Sergeant First Class (SFC) Sulu Sr. says, “I’m left with only two choices for physical reaction. I fly into a panic or rage, just as Joe did.  Or I freeze.  Just as you are doing.”

“And after a while,” says SFC Uhura Sr., “there’s little adrenaline left, and the Engine Room crew of the brainstem has to resort to the calming-chemical system.   But now it’s not about calming. It’s about slowing everything done as much as possible, to preserve energy, to keep the body alive.”

“Plus, ma’am,” says SFC Chekhov Sr., “as you can see, I’m not filming. During freeze, no time-based memory is made. Any so-called memories of the situation become incoherent. They don’t fit together in time. What takes seconds can feel like hours, and vice versa.”

Jane looks back at McCoy. “What do you want from me?”

“Simple enough, Jane,” says McCoy, no longer smiling. “I want you to stop this ridiculous game you’re playing. Scott here already tried to invite you to head back to reality. You seem to be having problems with diplomatic suggestions. So we’ll cut the diplomacy. You need to get the hell out of here.”

“But…” Jane says.

“No ‘buts,’ Janie-Jane,” McCoy says. “Up to this point you’ve kept to yourself all the war shit that’s stored down here. Until now I’ve been willing to give you a break and not torment you too much about it, because you had at least been cooperative with our little co-pact of silence. But we both know what this place looks like and sounds like when you start thinking about the war too much, and I ain’t having it. We survived once. We ain’t going back there, no way, no how.”


“You got hearing problems?” McCoy shouts, walking up to the guardrail. “We are not going back to the War, not now, not ever. So I’d suggest you wake yourself up right about now and drop five bucks for a whiskey and tell your fine VA shrink ‘thanks, but no thanks,’ and stare at the lights of Omaha below until you get your ass to sleep, before…”

“Before what?” Jane shouts.

McCoy steps back. His eyes narrow.

“It is time to be done. Now.”

“What does Kirk have to say about this?” Jane shouts. “I want to hear from him.”

McCoy steps back even more. Then he begins to laugh.

“Oh, Sister-Sue,” he says. “Are you f-in’ serious? Kirk?”

He turns to the rest of the Transporter Room crew. “Our fine lady wants to know what Kirk has to say about this?”

No one moves. He turns back to Jane

“Mr. Scott,” he shouts, staring Jane in the eyes.

“Yes, Sergeant Major,” Scott replies.

“A request, sir, if I may.”

“Yes, Sergeant Major?”

“Might you be so kind, sir, as to turn on the intercom so that Jane might be able to hear what her fine Colonel Kirk has to say about this?”

“Certainly, Sergeant Major. Glad to…”

“Oh,” McCoy says, turning to Scott.  “But, sir, please. A moment first?”

“Of course, Sergeant  Major.”

McCoy turns back toward Jane.

“A change of costume, Jane. Shall we?”

With that, McCoy pivots 360 to his left.

But when he faces Jane again, he is no longer McCoy.

He is an eleven-year-old Iraqi boy, shirtless, shoeless, dust-covered.

“Hello, Miss Jane,” the boy says, looking directly at her.

Jane doesn’t move.

The boy turns toward Mr. Scott.

“Now, Mr. Scott,” he says. “if you will.”

The boy turns back toward Jane.

“Ahmed always like to hear from the Colonel.”

The boy then smiles.


Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 07, The Freeze

We’re still in the Middle Build of Shawn Coyne’s Story GridObstacles continue.

According to Christopher Vogler, in the Hero’s Journey, after one has slogged past obstacle after obstacle to get to one’s goal, one reaches the Approach to the Inmost Cave, the preparation for the dark place where all hope is lost (before hope can be found.)

Ask any combat vet:  dark, it is.


As soon as the lights go out, a loud click is heard, and the low, generator lights come on.

But no one in the Transporter Room moves.

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr. stands with his camera dangling to his side, making no attempt to look at the file cabinet.

“Oh, no,” Joe says.

“Yes,” Scott says, looking up at him. “No turning back now.”

“Sir,” SFC Sulu Sr. says, turning toward Scott.  “It’s…it’s no good. The worst has happened. There’s no place to go. There’s nothing to do.  All the training, it…it doesn’t matter any more, Sir.”

Joe begins to back away from the guardrail. “Oh, shit. No, no…”

SFC Uhura Sr. begins yelling into her headphones, “Push more adrenaline! Adjust the heart rate, the breathing! There’s got to be…”

Jane looks at Joe. “What’s the matter, what’s…”

“No more, Uhura,” Mr. Scott yells. “No more. It’s too late.”

Joe drops to his knees. “Oh, God, not again, no, no…”

Jane yells down, “What the hell is going on? What…”

Scott snaps his fingers.

Jane suddenly sees a figure rushing out of the darkness, down at the back of the Transporter Room. It’s a soldier, a sergeant, a medic like herself. He runs directly up to the guardrail and looks up at Joe, who is still on his knees.

“Get back, soldier!” he shouts at Joe.  “There’s nothing you can do. Get back!”

Joe grabs his head and screams, “Top!”

And then disappears.

Before Jane can say anything, another figure rushes out of the back of the Transporter Room, this time toward her. It’s another soldier, a nurse. She too runs up to the guardrail, just below Jane.

“There nothing you can do, Jane!” she shouts. “He’s gone. There’s nothing you can do!”

Jane opens her mouth to speak, looks directly at Scott—and then freezes.

“Yes, Jane,” he says. “No turning back now.”

Scott turns to look at his soldiers, still motionless.

“You know what to do,” he tells them.

Without a word, all assembled in the Transporter Room back up, forming an open path into the darkness at the back of the Transporter Room.

Jane’s eyes follow the path back. At its end, at the back of the Transporter Room, stands a figure.

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

Slowly the figure steps forward, into the dim lights, until he is clearly visible to Jane.

It is Leonard McCoy. Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Leonard McCoy. Looking right at her. Smiling.

McCoy turns toward Mr. Scott.  “Thank you, sir,” he said. “I’ll take it from here.”

Looking toward the other soldiers, McCoy merely says, “At ease, folks.  The old man’s got it.”

He then looks back at Jane.  Still smiling.

Jane was not.

“Hey, Janie,” McCoy finally says.  “Long time no see, girl. Fancy meeting you here.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 06, Battlemind

Complications continue.

At the sound of the alarm, First Sergeant Spock Sr. (1SG) yells, “Incoming!”

At that, the entire Transporter Room crew is in body armor and Kevlar helmets, rushing into action.

Mr. Scott activates an intercom.  “Bridge, this is Scott!  We’ve got an incoming alarm. Advise!”

Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr, apparently not filming the scene with the camera on his shoulder, begins leafing through his file cabinet. “It could be this,” he shouts, “or maybe this, or…”

SFC Uhura Sr. barks through her headphones, “Engine Room, alert the gut, the heart, the lungs. Get ready to move, and then…”

SFC Sulu Sr., muscles tensed, gets the body ready to take action.

And all the Emotions rush toward the sound, screaming at each other, some saying, “Grab it!” with others saying, “Get rid of it!”

“Stand down, everybody,” yells Mr. Scott.

All eyes turn toward him. Then a familiar voice comes over a loudspeaker.

“All OK, folks. Building security out there in our workplace is just testing the fire alarm system. No problem. We’re good. Back to work. Kirk, out.”

With that, all the crew visibly exhales, but none appears particularly calm.

“What, in God’s name,” asks Jane, “was that?”

“That, ma’am,” Scott says. “was a trigger.  That’s ‘Battlemind.’  Every combat veteran knows it well: after getting back home in your country, the sudden body rush you can feel when you drive below an overpass or see a garbage can along the side of the road. Or hear a sound like that one.”

“We get the first physical impressions of anything like that down here in the Transporter Room,” says 1SG Spock Sr., “and when we do, we move. It’s above our paygrade to figure out whether it’s ‘real’ or not. We take our cue from Chekhov Sr, and if it seems like something dangerous, our job is to prepare ourselves, no questions asked.”

“And did you see, ma’am,” says Scott, “that it took me a bit to get in touch with the Bridge? My job as the thalamus is to connect to the reasoning and evaluating parts of the brain to evaluate a stimulus like that, but that takes time. We’re soldiers down here, and if there’s a potential engagement, we all become infantry.  We act.”

“That’s why,” 1SG Spock Sr says, “combat vets like you and Joe will have immediate reactions to the smell of diesel, the sight of an overpass, the sound of an alarm. It’ll take a moment or so to come to your senses and realize what’s going on.”

“OK,” Jane says. “that I know.  Happened to me, especially when I got back. Still can happen at times, in fact, Fourth of July, the usual. If that were all I’m having to deal with, I’d make it work. But you know that’s not what is keeping me up most nights, making me hesitant to get too close to people. It’s much more specific, more real-feeling. Why does that keep happening? What happened to me in my brain? And how can that get better?”

Scott inhales deeply, then exhales slowly through his mouth.

“OK, ma’am,” he says.  “As you wish. That I can show you.”

Scott looks at 1SG Spock Sr.  “Ready?”

Spock Sr. slowly nods.

Scott then looks at SFC Sulu Sr. “You?”

Sulu Sr. swallows. “As ready as I’ll ever be, sir.”

Scott looks back up at Jane and then says. “All right. Here we go.”

He snaps his fingers. And the lights go out.

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.

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 04, The Transporter Room

Life’s complicated.  Ask the brain.

The middle part of any story—as Shawn Coyne calls it, the Middle Build—should put complication after complication in the path of the Hero to keep him/her from reaching the final goal (and to keep the reader turning the pages).

As you’ll see in this episode, the brain is more than willing to do its part in this endeavor.

So much so, with this episode I introduce in the Beam Me Home, Scotty! page  above a “Cast of Characters” page.  Should you ever forget who’s who and what’s what, you can check it out to remind yourself of all that has to be accounted for if we are to understand combat trauma—and even more, how to move forward from it.

So, on to complications.

By hovering the cursor over a Star Trek character or location, see corresponding brain function/site.

Jane and Joe turn to see over the guardrail, down in the Transporter Room, none other than Mr. Scott.

Chief Warrant Officer (CW5) Mr. Scott, that is.

“Surprised that I’m a CW5?” he asks. “Come now! I’m just a techie, like most Army warrant officers. Started out enlisted, from the earliest days of the brain’s development, and worked my way through the ranks until now I’m the Officer in Charge (OIC) down here. Welcome to the Transporter Room, and welcome to Command Central for all the first-line logistics and military intelligence in the brain.”

“And your job would be…?” asks Jane.

“I’m the thalamus,” he answers. “In some ways, I am the Transporter Room. Every sound, sight, sensation you receive, from outside your body or inside, transports here first. My job is to make sure that every sensation that ‘beams in’ gets processed and then moved on to where it needs to go. But I’d be nothing without my Senior Crew, senior, that is, in rank and in ‘age,’ in how long they have been functioning within the brain.”

At that, four other individuals appear, all non-commissioned officers (NCO’s). Once again they look very familiar—yet very, very not so.

“Wow,” says Joe. “Talk about a time warp.”

Indeed, the senior NCO of the four—a much older Vulcan—stepped forward.

“Greetings,” he says. “I’m First Sergeant (1SG) Spock Sr. No biologic relation to my “son” up on the Bridge, but we serve similar functions. Like him, I keep track of things, but here it’s not of reason, but rather of emotions. I am the amygdala, in charge of coordinating all the basic, wordless bodily impulses that push us toward something good or away from something bad.”

“And I,” says an older Russian stepping forward, a rolling file cabinet at his side, carrying, of all things, a movie camera, “am Sergeant First Class (SFC) Chekhov Sr. I am the hippocampus, the brain organ that is the deepest, oldest keeper of memory. I’m the one who must first identify sensations as either known or unknown. I’m the one who holds together all the most basic memories that make you ‘you.’”

“And I am SFC Uhura Sr.,” says the older woman who steps forward, pulling off her headphones. “Like my so-called ‘daughter’ up on the Bridge, I am the ‘communicator.’ But down here, rather than communicating with the world ‘out there,’ I communicate with the body ‘in here.’ I am the hypothalamus, who through chemical signals to the enlisted specialists and privates down in the Engine Room—the Brainstem—gets the body either to rev up or to settle down.”

“And I,” says the final older NCO, “am SFC Sulu Sr. Like my so-called ‘son,’ I am about movement. But down here, I am about automatic, ‘muscle memory’ movement. I am the cerebellum and other structures that coordinate action that doesn’t need conscious reflection, action that simply does and responds.”

“But even then,” says Mr. Scott, coming back forward, “we couldn’t do our jobs without the help of my Junior Crew, the emotions. These aren’t complex feelings like envy or warmth. Those are officers up in the cortex. As 1SG Spock Sr said, these soldiers wordlessly identify which sensations should be approached and which should be avoided. Without them there is no thought, no reason. Without them, there is no life.”

At that, six other soldiers, of varying ranks, appear next to 1SG Spock Sr.

“As the amygdala,” Spock Sr. says, “I am actually a center for one of the most powerful basic emotions, FEAR. But working with me are emotions like Staff Sergeant (SSG) RAGE, the attacker of what is to be avoided, as well as SSG LUST, the one who keeps the race procreated. Then next to them are Sergeant (SGT) SEEKING, the basic emotion that pushes us into the world; SGT PLAY, the basic emotion that pushes us to seek out our own kind, and then…”

“Well, what do you know ,” says Joe, leaning on the guardrail. “There he is, kid. The cause of all our combat pain: SSG RAGE.” He turns to Jane. “So how many times, kid, have you screwed up your life with his…”

“Not so fast, sir,” says Mr. Scott. “While it’s true that many of you combat veterans are more than acquainted with RAGE, don’t think that the sergeant is your problem. He’s just as important as the rest of my Junior Crew for getting the job done that makes you everything you are.”

“And just what job might that be?” Jane asks.

Mr. Scott smiles, looks at his subordinates, and then looks back up toward Jane and Joe.

“Glad you asked, ma’am. Welcome to the brain’s Officer Candidate School.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 03, The Mezzanine

Three days in a row.  On a roll.

Technically, we are coming to the end of what Shawn Coyne calls the “Beginning Hook.”  In terms of Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey, we’re “Crossing the First Threshold.”

Put simply, there’s no turning back now.

After this episode, GI Jane ignores the warnings of her new mentor (see below) and of her old Ally, GI Joe, and demands to move forward to learn how she can “escape from the Villain,” i.e., get better from PTSD.

Oh.  Yeah.  So PTSD must be the Villain, right?


Before reading, however, beware:  no story is told from a neutral viewpoint.  Every narrator has a point to make. Note that the Officers—the Reasoning Ones, the Cognitive Ones— have tried to keep Jane on or near the Bridge, assuring her that they can get her where she needs to go. Jane hasn’t bought what they are selling. Neither has Joe (though, admittedly, he remains far less ready to see what else might be out there).

So just what else might be out there?

Let’s continue.

By hovering the cursor over a Star Trek character or location, see corresponding brain function/site.

At the bottom of the steps, Jane and Joe find themselves on a large mezzanine, overlooking a larger space on a floor below.  As they approach the mezzanine guardrail, they recognize the lower area immediately as the Transporter Room.

“Maybe we’ll meet Mr. Scott?”  Jane asks.

“Possibly,” comes a woman’s voice behind them.

Jane and Joe turn to find a surprise bigger than any they’d met so far: before them is not just any woman—but rather Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Deanna Troi.

She smiles. “Yes, I know. Wrong version of Star Trek. But remember: the brain will surprise you.  Remember my job on ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’?”

“You were an ’empath,’ right?” Joe says. “Like the ship’s shrink?”

“Correct,” she replies. “So think of me, of this area of the brain as the body’s ’empath.’  Below the cortex lies a layer of brain tissue with many different names and functions, but our basic job here is to maintain an eye, a ‘feel’ on what is going on in the body. I’m a ‘mezzanine,’ with a full view of the floor, of the brain structures below, but I’m not like those structures.  I’m closer to the Bridge and the Cortical Crew in rank and function. Yet if you want to know about what really goes on in the brain, from this vantage point you can gather whatever information you need, from looking right down there.”

“So why not go down there ourselves?”  Jane asks.

LTC Troi shakes her head.  “Doesn’t work that way. Regulations against fraternizing: here on the mezzanine, as well as in the cortex, while our jobs are basically unconscious, in some ways we can become more conscious, more available to the conscious Bridge. But down there, in that Transporter Room and beyond? That’s an unconscious that can never be fully known by the conscious mind.”

“That’s where my combat experiences are, right?” Jane asks.

“In great part,” Troi answers.

“So that’s what we’ve got to learn about, down there, right?”

Troi looks at Joe.

“What?” Jane asks.

“Kid,” he says.  “You know I don’t get into psychobabble. But I have spent too much time with so-called therapists, and I can tell you:  what’s down there, you really don’t want know about.”

“And even if you do,” Troi says. “You must realize: everything you learn from here on can’t be unlearned. The brain doesn’t play games. Or necessarily follow orders.”

“I was a soldier,” Jane tells them both. “I want to know if PTSD can ever  get better. When I start a mission, I complete a mission. No matter where it takes me.”

“Well then, ma’am” comes a familiar Scottish brogue behind them, though at a distance.  “You’ve come to the right place.”

Beam Me Home, Scotty!: 02, The Bridge

We’ll keep plugging along.

For the Hero’s Journey, after our Hero receives “the call,” there is usually a second thought or two.   Christopher Vogel (and the late, great Joseph Campbell) calls this “The Refusal of the Call.”

Yet the second thoughts need not be expressed directly by our ever-brave Hero.  Just like in the old cartoons where the steer-skull in the desert warns the hapless Popeye or Bugs Bunny, “You’ll be sooooo-rry,” the archetypes known as The Threshold Guardians take over the reluctance function.

Joe and Jane turn to look at each other. I’m nowhere to be found.

But instead of being on a plane, they find themselves on a very familiar bridge of a very familiar ship.

A familiar voice then speaks behind them, “Welcome, soldiers.”

They turn, and before them is a man both familiar, yet quite unfamiliar. For standing there in the combat uniform, the ACUs, of the United States Army, is Colonel (COL) James T. Kirk.

“I know,” he smiles.  “Always shocks everybody.  Welcome to the USS Enterprise, and welcome to the brain. You see, here in the brain, you get both what you might expect and what you never would expect.  Think of us as a Joint Operation Command around here, and for your tour of duty at least, you’re working with the Army. And welcome to the Bridge, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain behind your forehead, the center of all your conscious activity. As the senior officers in charge, I and my team are more than glad to welcome you to our Command.”

At that, four other individuals appear around him, again looking quite familiar except for the green uniforms they sport. Each smiles as well, and in turn they introduce themselves.

“I’m Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Spock,” says the Vulcan.  “As second-in-command, I am the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the logic center of your brain, the part that tries to make sure we do what makes sense.”

“And I’m Major (MAJ) Uhura,” says the women seated at the console. “As in the Star Trek series, I’m the communications officer. In your brain, I’m the orbitofrontal cortex, the part that picks up on the subtle communications of others, that gives us our feel for the people around us, how to respond to them.”

“And I,”  says the Russian seated before them, “am MAJ Chekhov, the ship’s navigator. In the brain, I am the sum of all the conscious memory processes throughout all the brain, pulling together all the various types of memory so that we can decide what to do, how to feel.”

“And I,” says the man seated next to him, “am MAJ Sulu, the ship’s pilot, the premotor cortex. Strictly speaking I’m in a different part of the brain, back a bit from the Bridge, but I am who makes the conscious decisions to move our arms, our legs, to take action once we all decide what to do.”

“And I?” says the Colonel. “I am what I guess you could call “The Decider,” not so much a particular part of the brain, but rather the sum total of all its functioning.  I’m you, your conscious sense of Self. And as I said, we’re here to serve and to answer your questions.”

“It’s just you guys?”  Jane asks.

“Oh, no,” says LTC Spock, pressing a button before him. “Look behind you.”

When they do, the screen that usually displays what is outside the Enterprise lights up with multi-camera views of soldiers throughout the ship, carrying out their duties, seemingly without a hitch.

“That’s our Cortical Crew,” Spock says. “The cortex, the brain’s outer part. They are the nerve centers and pathways, all officers, who make sense of our perceptions, form our language, create complex feelings, all serving as the “military intelligence” we need to decide and act. Their work is automatic, unconscious, the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) of the brain that we learn through the years, that become the basis for what makes us “us.”

“So, you see, Jane,” Kirk says, “there are plenty of us officers available to answer your question:  “Can PTSD ever get better?”

Jane raises an eyebrow. “You know, Colonel, I’ve already learned much of this from my nursing training. None of these conscious processes has ever been that helpful with my combat experiences. No one else has answers?”

Joe clears his throat. “You know, kid, I’ve done this therapy stuff before, and as crazy as this sounds, this place is looking a little too familiar for comfort. I’m not sure either one of us wants to know the answer to that question.”

Now Kirk raises an eyebrow. “Well, yes, there’s plenty more to the brain than the cortex. See that staircase over there? If you walk down it, you’ll see more the ship has to offer.  Joe’s right, though: you might not like what you find.”

Jane frowned. “I’ll take my chances.”

She headed down the stairs. Reluctantly, Joe followed.

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