THE PASTEL TERROR

by Larry Niven

"The Pastel Terror" is now also available as scans from T-Negative.

THE PASTEL TERROR

(an outline for a STAR TREK plot)
((reprinted from Apa-L))
by Larry Niven

((I dreamed this up years ago, during STAR TREK's second or third season.  I never tried to sell it, for reasons which will probably become clear as you read on.

((The show would take at least two hours.  Possibly three.))

TEASER

     The Enterprise is sent to investigate a Cepheid variable star.  Scene opens aboard the Enterprise, in one of the auxiliary rooms, with some odd-looking equipment sitting where people will have to squeeze around it. (i.e., it's new.)  Part of the equipment is a big screen showing a star, close up, in (say) green light.  Photosphere is showing rapid activity.

     Voice of Kirk in the background, recording for the log.  "A mission such as this one should have been undertaken long ago.  Cepheids were probably ignored because of their obvious uselessness for human colonization... Instruments seem to show a form of life within the photosphere.  Our best guess is that it thrives on neutrino emissions, that its activity interferes with normal stellar activity, that the star therefore suffers periods of quiet.  The -- beast -- goes through a period analogous to sleep or hibernation until the star can build up again.

     "The star is passing through its peak activity now.  In a few minutes we should see some response on the part of the beast.  The beast is a plasmoid life form, by the way, formed of highly ionized gas, easily visible to a magnascreen.

     "Something's happening..."

     On the screen, something is flowing out from the star in pastel colors.  Kirk says, "It didn't do that on the last cycle.  The star may have a double period, not obvious except from this close...no, I'm wrong.  It's coming for us, coming for the drive.  Kirk signing off."  Kirk calls, "Bridge!  Bridge!  Get us out of here fast!"  On the screen, the pastel terror is getting bigger and bigger.  It envelops the screen entirely as we break to

COMMERCIAL

     So far, so good.  From here on the plot runs as follows:

I

     The Enterprise is entirely surrounded by the plasma.

     The drive slows 'way down.  Matter-antimatter fuel is being consumed, but the energy isn't getting to the motors.  Kirk was wrong about the Beast.  It eats neutrinos and every other form of electromagnetic force.

     Aboard the Enterprise, everything is in twilight.

     Detectors are working fine, except that everything is dark.  The Beast is invisible except to the right detectors.  The sky is clear, but the stars are dim.  Light has to get through the Beast.

     The Enterprise cannot get up to Warp l.  At top acceleration, the Beast still surrounds the Enterprise like a halo.

     They can't go home.  And wouldn't if they could!  The Beast might take over a star belonging to some populated world!

II

     Mr. Spock's suggestion is obviously the only one that can work.  It runs as follows:

     l) The Beast can absorb anything put out by the Warp engines.  But it could not interfere with the impulse drive, as it is a reaction motor.  (Obviously it is, as it goes through the center of mass of the Enterprise.)

     2) The impulse drive won't take the Enterprise over light speed.  However, there is a planet in the system.  Not habitable, exactly, but it is a planet.

     3) The Enterprise is designed to come apart.  (Obviously.  The primary hull is aerodynamically designed, where the rest of the Enterprise isn't.  The impulse drive goes through the center of mass of the Enterprise and of the primary hull alone.)

     4) So.  Take the Enterprise apart.  Occupy the primary hull, send the rest of the ship off toward interstellar space, with the matter-antimatter tanks set to go dead.  When whatever is keeping the antimatter from touching the tank walls stops, the Enterprise will explode.  At best, the Beast will be destroyed.  If not, it will be stranded in interstellar space and must go into hibernation.

III

     It's the only thing left to try, by now.

     Kirk refuses.  "You won't destroy my ship!"

     Duty above all else.  Spock uses the nerve pinch, puts Kirk under the care of Bones, and takes over the ship according to the articles on incompetency of the captain.

IV

     Kirk comes out of it.  He gets to a screen in time to watch the secondary-hull-plus-fuel-tanks receding at a very great distance.  They are already too far to be caught.  Kirk is working out a course to catch them anyway, when the whole thing goes up in blue-white light.

     Spock's own screen shows the pastel colors of the Beast, spreading and disintegrating and finally vanishing.

     Kirk tries to beat him up.  Spock takes it with patience, until the doctor can put Kirk out again.

V

     Bones' verdict is: the captain is fit to command what's left of the Enterprise.  He may lose his mind if he's not restored to command.  He was too tied up with the Enterprise; he must be given a chance to save at least what's left.

     So the captain is in command as they approach Cepheii One.  But he and Spock aren't speaking unless necessary.  And Kirk isn't too happy with Bones either.

VI

     Cepheii One is a moonless world, Earth size, with an atmosphere.  That atmosphere is poisonous, but it is enough to shield an explorer from the variable sunlight and radiation.

     The Enterprise is likely to be there for some time.  A planet is a big place.  But the primary hull alone could not sustain life forever.  There is force dome equipment, etc.

     The main reason for going down is that the Beast took too much energy from the batteries.  They need a power source.  They may have to go so far as to build a dam.

VII

     Details of moving men and equipment down to surface.  In conversation it is made clear that certain things cannot be moved down without someone takes them apart first.  There's no guarantee that any of it could be put back together, or put back together right.  And there's one block of equipment that can't be teleported down nohow.

     Meaning the teleport system.

     But they get everyone down and a force dome set up.  In a colony near a fork of a river.  The most immediately valuable material is rock, which can be chemically disassembled into air and water.

     Scenes of the personnel appreciating the increase in room, after too long aboard the cramped primary hull.

VIII

     Spock and Kirk are the only ones left aboard the stripped primary hull.

     "Fine," says Spock.  "Now, there's equipment here that can't be teleported down.  You teleport down, I'll stay here and try to affect a re-entry."

     Kirk: "But no one has tried a re-entry in a detached primary hull.  The gyros may not be able to maintain the correct attitude.  The hull could melt through.  There's a couple of holes that were never fully repaired after the battle with -- "

     "Yes, Captain, but we need certain equipment aboard.  You teleport down, I'll stay here and probably get killed."

     Kirk: "Just a minute.  Have you ever wondered why your father married your human mother?"

     Spock: "He said it seemed logical at the time."

     Kirk: "I worked it out long ago.  It couldn't have been sex.  Aside from the fact that Vulcans don't think that way, your mother couldn't have been very sexy to a Vulcan."

     Spock: "I suppose not."

     Kirk: "It must have been an experiment in genetics."

     Spock: "Of course, I should have thought of that myself.  It's entirely logical."

     Kirk: "But why?  Your father couldn't have been trying to improve the Vulcanian species.  The Vulcanians are perfect already, at least in their own view."

     Spock: "Naturally."

     Kirk: "Your father must have been trying to improve my race, the human race."

     Spock: "Now that you mention it, that makes sense.  The human race is powerful, and is gaining power.  You may well end by controlling the galaxy from edge to edge.  My father is doing a sensible thing in trying to improve your intelligence."

     Kirk: "But don't you see the point?  He produced you.  Your job is to seduce as many human women as possible.  And you've barely started!"

     Spock: "You're right.  I'll have to go down."

     Kirk: "Right!  Let's go!  The hull is already in a re-entry orbit, and it's been heating up while we've been talking.  Let's get out of here!  We'll have to hope it comes down safely without guidance."

     Spock: "No, no, Captain.  There is too much needed equipment aboard.  I will teleport down.  You stay here and guide it down and probably get killed."

IX

     Spock teleports down.  And watches, with the rest, waiting to see if the primary hull burns up in the atmosphere.

     The remains of the Enterprise come over the horizon like an orange-hot flying saucer, low and huge.

     "He's not decelerating," says Spock.  "He should be using the impulse drive."

     "It must be burned out," says -- whoever you please.

     The hull lands/crashes like a flat stone skipping across water.  It comes to a stop far beyond the force dome.  Spock runs the distance carrying two pressure suits.  He tears his way into the badly bent hulk.  Can't find Kirk anywhere.  Goes back to the force dome, finds that Kirk is already there, having used the teleport system to get there about three seconds after Spock started his dramatic run.

X

     Details of setting up a viable colony.  Dangers are optional.  It might be fun to watch the Enterprise crew building Hoover Dam with a handful of portable phasers and half an hour of hard work.

     The final ten minutes is something STAR TREK never did, and should have.  It was an obvious enough gag:

XI

     Chekov is out exploring.  The planet is barren, lifeless.  Chekov may be looking for anything we like, but probably ore of one kind or another.  The Enterprise still has signalling equipment, but it's all sublight, which means the stranded crew may be here for decades.

     Chekov uses his communicator.  "I think I've found some lead ore.  Let's see if there's more."  He's going over a peak of rock.

     He tops the rise -- and finds himself facing something in a transparent pressure suit.  It's humanoid to the point of having two arms, legs, eyes, nostrils.  Other than that it looks like a dragon.  It's twenty feet tall, with teeth the size of so many switchblade knives.  Chekov stares, frozen --

COMMERCIALS

     Cut back from commercials.  Chekov stares, frozen -- then raises his communicator.  "Captain," he says, "We're saved.  I've met a Sirian."

XII

     Final scene shows Sirian and Kirk and some crew members sharing coffee.

     Kirk: "How the hell did you get here?"

     Sirian: "We own the planet.  We've been mining it for radioactives for a century or so.  You're lucky I ran across you, it's a big planet."

     Kirk: "Right."

     All the humans are on very tall chairs so that their eyes will be level with the cross-legged Sirian's.  It becomes clear in conversation that humans and Sirians have had friendly relations for about a hundred years.

END

     See why I never tried to sell it?  The special effects would be murder.  Further, the script involves destroying the Enterprise a piece at a time, and allowing Spock to betray Kirk twice, for the most logical of reasons.



"The Pastel Terror" copyright © 1971 by Larry Niven.  All rights reserved.