“Thou seest I judge not thee”: All Good Things..., Tribunal

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It was a large room, filled with people. At the centre, a large horizontal bench over which presided the members of the judiciary: A human man, who looked to be in his early forties, and a Vulcan woman who looked youthful but could have been older than the ages of everyone in the house combined. The pair cast their gaze across the room to the wall on the far side, where a group of people were seated in a row, looking up with a mixture of anxiousness and confusion. “Read out the names of the accused”, someone said.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Commander Benjamin Sisko

Chief Petty Officer Miles O'Brien

Lieutenant Commander Data

Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge

Commander Jadzia Dax

Lieutenant Natasha Yar

Major Kira Nerys
“The revolutionary court is now in session.” 


It was sometime in the first half of 1994. I was going grocery shopping with my mother at the local market down the street from our house. I was passing the comic and magazine racks and idly browsing through that month's selection (this was back when you could actually buy comics at your local market-Mine even had its own spinner rack at that time). That day, a particular new addition for sale caught my eye: A special 64-page issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic book from DC with a striking cover that proclaimed it was the Series Finale. And that was how I learned my favourite TV show was going away.

In hindsight, I must have taken the news rather well, as I remember being distinctly unfazed by it. Perhaps a mild disappointment, but I seem to recall the more pressing concern at that moment being my reasoning that if this was going to be the end, I'd best pay attention to it. I'm not sure if I thought “Series Finale” meant the end of the comic book series, the end of the TV series or both, though from what I can recall of my inner voice and thought process I think it was both. Either way, I had the sense this was going to be an important moment I ought to be a part of. It's funny looking back how nonchalant, almost blasé I took the news back then: “Oh. I guess that's over now. Oh well”. Compare that to the fact that the next eleven years of my life would be shaped in some way by my reaction to Star Trek, or the fact that here I am almost a quarter-century after the fact writing a book series about it.

The man spoke.
“This is not a day of triumph. I take no satisfaction in the task I must now undertake. Though I remain duty-bound to carry through with these proceedings, let it be known I do so under protest.”
Beat.
“Off the record, it's my personal belief that you were in many ways the best of us. We are all, in a sense, complicit. Who can say I am any less guilty of the things I've done? What right do I have to stand on this end of the room? Had history played out a little differently, the layout of this court probably would have looked very differently. I respect my opponents, even in defeat. Especially in defeat. On the record, judgment must be seen to have been passed. The people want an end to this story, and as entertainers in the theatre of war we are each of us obligated to provide it. Those crimes which have yet to be committed must be seen to have been answered for, and history begins with you.” 
“What are we being charged with?” 
“It is a logical paradox. By definition, the charges and verdict must be known only to us, because the evidence only exists from our vantage point. But I can assure you-It has occurred. It will occur.” 
“And how are we supposed to be expected to defend ourselves if we don't even know what we're accused of having done?” 
“Not done. Will do. The events that have led to this armistice and trial proceedings have not yet occurred from your perspective, but they have from ours. I concede that it is not...logical to hold you accountable for potential actions in your future, but history seldom is.” 
It's an odd feeling stopping time and looking down from above it. It was as if Star Trek: The Next Generation had ended, but remained a part of me. This was allegedly the “Series Finale”, but a novelization thereof. An adaptation. This meant that, logically, the show had already ended in some form before in order for it to be adapted. Thus, it still continues. It also still ends, because every time I opened the book the show ended again. And yet it continues. As a story, “All Good Things...” is, of course, deliberately open-ended. Its title is a statement that hasn't been finished, and there's absolutely no reason to think the adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the starship Enterprise are going to stop after the end of it.

But in another sense, Star Trek: The Next Generation never actually went away materially. Even if following “All Good Things...” I got the sense the series was “officially over”, it wasn't in any material sense because it was still omnipresent. I had no sense of loss. I got back home from the market, finished the story, and looked up. My room was still as it had been before. My Playmates toys were still where I had left them. There were, in fact, still Playmates toys being sold: I could go into any department store and find a group of shelves dedicated to Star Trek: The Next Generation, most of them featuring new releases. My family and I still continued to watch the show as if nothing had happened, and, as far as syndication markets were concerned nothing had. Star Trek: The Next Generation has been an inextricable part of my being ever since. I cannot separate myself from it. I've never been able to, and I never will. Time is not an arrow, but a series of unfolding nows.
“This is a kangaroo court of mob justice! You're turning us all into a circus for your own amusement and political gain! Don't we have a right to a jury of your peers?” 
“But that's what this is. We are all former revolutionaries and freedom fighters. And none of us know what to do with ourselves now, because the history of progress stops as soon as you stop being a revolutionary.” 
“I escaped my past! I put my painful adolescence behind me and took my life into my own hands! I want to make a difference in the world!” 
“Did you? And can you be sure the difference you made was a good one?” 
“None of us can. Put yourselves in our place again. It's like throwing a pitch-A million different things could happen. The point is, you never know. But we still try to throw our best fastball.” 
“Your honours have mentioned potential. I won't claim to speak for anyone seated here beside myself, but I am confidant we are all aware of the severity of these days. We all see the happenings outlined before us. But the records do not show all possible existences. There remains the potential for a new one to be born, and it is our collective duty and responsibility to allow these possipoints to express themselves.” 
“I cannot measure it quantitatively, but I have increasingly come to...The belief...That I can become more than the sum of my constituent parts. Although upon reflection, perhaps it could be argued my life as it has been to date is proof enough of this hypothesis. I would then submit myself and my own existence as evidence to the court.” 
“I'm no Angel, but I try to live every day as the best Human Being I know how to be.” 
“If knowing the future condemns us, allow us the power to imagine a better one.” 
“We cannot give you what you deny yourself. We are bound to you through life and death.” 
“Everyone and everything begins with a thought. We birth reality through ourselves when fiction is reified through art, craft and action. Eternity waits in the drop of every moment. Time begins when we say it does NOW.” 
“Above all else, we are explorers, just as you wish to be. Just as you were. Just as you are now.” 
“I would advise you to select your words a bit more carefully. The historical context precedes you.” 
“We are all voyagers. Isn't that what this was all supposed to be about at some point long ago? We travel because we yearn to better ourselves, to learn from others and from ourselves. No matter what sort of person we happen to be, we can always be a better one.” 
“It brings us closer together and to the universe we live in. The more we know, the more we can understand, and the more we understand the better we can bring forth the best in each of us. We are all the same. We cannot identify with the actions of our previous selves, nor can we atone for them. Regret is anathema to birth and to healing. But we can take responsibility for those actions by learning from them.” 
“We are all stories. Every one of us is the hero of our own adventure, and every one of those adventures is just an aside in the greatest tapestry of all-The Story of Life. Sometimes, when you sit down to write your novel, you have kind of a rough outline of how you think it's going to go in your head. But sometimes, it all gets away from you. Your story and your characters tell you they need to go in a different direction. And, it's usually a better one. Don't end our story just when it's getting to the good part!” 
“If our future is to be a certainty and a tragedy, afford us the opportunity to change it. Nothing is certain until we decide that it is. Let us endeavour to decide differently.”
It's strange. All of this feels happy to me. Welcoming, familiar, safe. I've got my magic quantum tech watch and can live in any moment I want forever. And yet for some reason, given a multiverse of choice, I still feel compelled to pick this one. Why here, why now, when I know everything is about to end? That almost sounds like Temporal Stockholm Syndrome. But time moves differently. I don't know Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is about to sacrifice itself in May 1994, because in May 1994 it's September 1993 and I'm still reading about “The Homecoming”/“The Circle”/“The Siege”. The only rumblings of war I can sense this May are the posturing between the Klingons and the Cardassians, and I know my crew will bend space and time for peace to prevent that from coming to a head. Now something about a Star Trek: The Next Generation movie? Maybe a miniseries? Cool, I guess. I don't really watch movies. So long as it doesn't interfere with the show. What an amazing season this is going to be.

Also, who's this A-ko I keep reading about?
“I wanted to be an explorer, not a warrior. I could commit one more act of war and end all the fighting and all the bloodshed before it begins. I could press the button and keep us all here for eternity. But someone once told me some words I've remembered all my life: 'Eternity waits in the drop of every moment'. It feels...almost attractive. Live forever in a nostalgio-mnemonic palace of our own construction, ignoring everything outside our gilded walls of memory. And maybe we should stay here at least a little longer. Maybe we do live our lives too fast. But the fact remains, the time will come someday when time will work over us all.” 
“But we are voyagers, builders, poets and magicians. These are realities we have always faced with dignity, courage, honour and respect. What is any different Now? Instead of fearing the future and preparing for an unknown pulled from our own nightmares, let us instead strive to build it together. At one time, humans threatened each other with frightful weapons that impoverished their communities and poisoned their planet. At others, they killed each other over alliances and arbitrary political boundaries. But time itself is an artificial and amoral force. Let us cast it aside like all of our other weapons of war and mass destruction and join together once again.” 
Fight for the future you want to see, do not try to outrun it. Let's take it on together!” 
“My presence continues. Give birth to the universe inside yourself.” 
“Logical positivism precludes enlightenment, and that is my fatal design flaw. But it is a myth that I do not experience emotion or empathy. With my heart I feel moved to act, and logic tells me that it is a wise and just course of action to take. Forgive. Please.” 
“To forgive would be an act of love, not of war.”
A pregnant silence fell over the room for a moment that seemed to last forever. The man spoke.
“I move to acquit on all charges. And to adjourn.”
Beat.
“In time, this confluence will fade into memory. But a part of us will always remain in this room together-Let's never forget that. The very least we can do is to ensure the memories we retain are happy ones. I love each and every one of you, and I always have. I always will. I look forward to rejoining with all of you again on the other side, no matter what form that will take.”
Then the lights went down, and they all slowly disappeared. But I still felt their presence, familiar and safe. And that was the end, and the beginning, of everything.

I'll see you next time.

Comments

David Faggiani 1 year, 5 months ago

Very good, and very moving. Look forward to hearing your take on 'Generations' which I actually like quite a bit (although I think it gets pretty weak when Kirk re-appears)

You may have stated this before in other pieces, but do you have any regard for/any intention to cover any of the novels from the late TNG era?

I didn't read all that many, but I was a big fan of 'Federation' (my favourite), 'Vendetta' and 'Q-Squared'. I also loved the 'Invasion!' four-part crossover - having got the first, TOS novel free with 'Star Trek Monthly', must have been in about 1996.

Actually, I notice now that all my favourites (and 'Generations') involved elements of crossover/continuation with TOS. Can't imagine you'll approve of that! Chalk it up to me trying to bond with my dad, maybe....

Oh, I also liked that DS9 one where everybody died in some kind of time jump, and Odo got to take a walk on the star-hot core of the station for some reason... 'Fallen Heroes'! (had to look that one up...)

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Josh Marsfelder 1 year, 4 months ago

Thank you! This was, obviously, a very important essay for me.

Generations is something I've had something of a turnaround on. I've found an interesting tack on it I'm anxious to get to, though it probably won't be for awhile.

I was originally going to look at some of the most significant late TNG era novels, but since I wound up not looking at any of the other novels from earlier it's unlikely I'll make an exception for these. I am, however, going to do a lot of tie-in comics from this period that I have a lot of fond memories of and that were very influential to me.

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Dustin 1 year, 4 months ago

Sorry I took a while to get to this.

Yes. Star Trek is constantly struggling with itself. It wants to be taken seriously as late-20th Century dramatic storytelling, with all the tropes and expectations that go along with it, but it also has a vision that these expectations frequently undermine. The Next Generation was never either of these things for a sustained period of time, flitting from one producer's vision to another, with some characters behaving unrecognizably depending on the writer handling them.

I, too, have flitted between irreconcilable views on what Trek should be. I used to adore it for its optimistic view that maybe, one day, empathy wins out over cruelty. Then I tired of it and thought that that was all pathetic, naive and unserious, and that real drama was about undermining the values and integrity of its heroes to show that the real world doesn't present you with problems that can be solved in 44 minutes. As a friend of mine said recently as a knock against utopian Trek, "The Federation's values are nice if you're smiling and laughing on the bridge at the end of each episode."

Instead of going on and on, I just want to thank you, Josh, for helping me recover a sense of what Trek can be, how it differs from the other stories we tell ourselves, and how much we need stories like it, especially in dark times (I didn't let my friend know just how angry that comment made me, and what a brutal vision of the world it evinced). I've been going back to Star Trek much more of late, thanks largely to you, and seeing things there that I never saw before, thanks entirely to you.

Trek peaks in cultural caché in the 1993-95 period. There's a sense that it's all downhill from here. Maybe you share that sense, maybe you don't, but I'm certain that that won't be true of what's to come for Vaka Rangi.

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