Breathe in. Breathe out. Put on a smile.
Like a superhero donning a mask, I step out of me and into Darien Freeman, swallowed up by the ravaging screams of five hundred teenage girls.
THE BEAUTIFUL FACE—ANNOYINGLY BEAUTIFUL, the kind you’ll remember because it’ll be plastered on every fragrance ad and billboard for the next ten years—of Darien Freeman stretches across the entirety of my stepmother’s 54-inch plasma TV, grinning in an easygoing sort of way. Brown skin, long eyelashes, curly hair. He might look the part, but his smile’s so bright it’s almost blinding. Not dour, brooding Federation Prince material. Not even cut from the same cloth.
Carmindor smiled only once in all fifty-four episodes. At Princess Amara in episode 53. The episode before—
No, no. No one thinks about that last episode, let alone talks about it. It never happened. I even blacklisted any mention of it from my blog.
Rockefeller Center is crowded with Starfield blue and silver. A gaggle of fangirls in the front row wave around STARCRUSH ME! and I WANT TO WABBA-WABBA WITH YOU signs like they’ve all watched the interstellar missions against the Nox firsthand. Which they haven’t.
Even I haven’t.
Dad, though…he was there from the beginning. The original fanboy. He even started a convention for it. ExcelsiCon. We went every year. I remember meeting the aging cast, getting my stargun signed. Hiding it in my book bag during school. Waking up every morning to Dad’s alarm clock playing the theme song. Eating Wabba-Wabba Flakes for breakfast (which were really Frosted Flakes, but six-year-old me didn’t know the difference). Stargazing in the summers and pretending to defeat the Nox in our backyard. Saving the galaxy from being sucked into the Black Nebula…
Living with Dad was like living in a universe where the Federation Prince Carmindor existed.
And then—in the blink of an eye—that universe vanished.
My finger hovers over the POWER button on the remote, but I can’t seem to look away. How will Seaside Cove fans clash with us Stargunners? It’s like seeing two souped-up racecars headed for a collision at full speed—I have to watch.
Leaning back in the comfy-looking chair, Darien Freeman waves—a little shy, a little taken aback—to his sea of fans as the cohosts welcome him to the show. I’m sure he thinks it’s cute.
“It’s great to be here,” Darien Freeman begins. His fans screech like ambulance sirens: “I love you, Darien!” and “Marry me!”
Ugh, gag me.
One of the cohosts, a guy with a massive chin, says, “We’re so excited to have you! I remember—and this might date me—but I remember staying up late just to watch the show. It’s a classic! How do you feel stepping into a role as big as Carmindor?”
The actor smiles. His teeth are too white, his lips too balanced—I bet he practices it in the mirror. “It’s an honor, for sure,” he says, even though he wouldn’t know a classic if it shot phaser cannons at him. “And I’m looking forward to stepping into Carmindor. Big shoes to fill.”
“Big boots, you mean,” I say to no one. David Singh was phenomenal. A barrier breaker in the days when almost no other sci-fi shows had a lead actor of color. An advocate for human rights, onscreen and off. A man who tell truly believed in the philosophy of Starfield.
“Well, unlike Rick here, I never watched Starfield,” says the second cohost, a petite woman in a white pantsuit who probably doesn’t mean to look like a Stormtrooper but totally does. “But it seems like everyone knows about it these days! That motto—how does it go?”
“Look to the stars. Aim. Ignite,” Darien says. “And I hope you become a fan. Starfield has a little something for everyone. It’s a story about the good ship Prospero and its crew as they fight to protect the galaxy and uphold the standards of peace and equality. Oh”—he grins—“and fight aliens.”
“That sounds downright terrifying!” The cohost gasps. I roll my eyes. “Fight aliens” is not how I’d describe facing down the Nox King—technically the humans are the aliens in the series. But then again, I’m an actual Stargunner.
“Now, don’t hate us for this,” the cohost goes on, “but we like to play little games on our show, and since you seem to know so much about Starfield, I thought I could challenge you to Dunk Tank!”
The camera pans wide to a water-filled booth with a bull’s-eye on the side. The camera cuts back to Darien, looking—well, faking—a shocked expression. “Oh man! Really?”
“Of course!” Then the cohost reaches behind her chair and pulls out a water gun. “Let’s see how well you can school us in Starfield! Every time you get an answer wrong, I get to take a shot at you.”
Oh, I think. This’ll be good. There’s no way he knows anything about the series beyond its name.
The crowd begins to chant in a loud, raucous voice. “Dunk tank! Dunk tank! Dunk tank!”
Darien throws his arms out to the crowd dramatically. “Really? Really? You want to see me get dunked?”
“Dunk tank! Dunk tank!” the crowd chants, and I have to agree.
“What do you say, Darien?” the woman host asks, grinning.
He sighs, hanging his head—acting all oh, fine, let’s get this over with. Then he slaps his hands on the side of the armchair and stands, shrugging out of his expensive-looking blazer. “All right! You’re on.”
Oh yeah? Let’s see what you’ll get wrong, Darien Freeman. I fold my arms and settle back in my chair. Onscreen, Darien climbs up onto the dunk tank, securing goggles around his eyes, and gives the thumbs-up.
The woman cocks her water gun and looks at a card in her hand. “Question one! What is the name of the government that Carmindor is a part of?”
“Seriously? Too easy!” Darien shouts back at her. “The Federation!”
A buzzer dings, signaling the right answer, and the audience boos, shouting to dunk him already. Something goes flying past Darien’s head—I think it’s underwear. He doesn’t look fazed in the least, grinning from ear to ear, swinging his feet underneath the plank he’s sitting on.
“Fine, we’ll get a little tougher!” the big-chin cohost shouts. He reads the next question. “Who is Carmindor’s best friend?”
“Euci! A little harder than that!” Darien eggs them on.
“How about what Euci does on the ship? Or in which episode does he betray Carmindor to the Nox to save his colony? Or which episode does that colony blow up anyway?” I mutter. “How about that question, pretty boy?”
The crowd chants louder. “Dunk tank, dunk tank, dunk tank!”
“What’s the name of the ship?”
“What is the Federation salute called?”
The female cohost grins and whips out the final card, clearly about to go in for the kill. I edge to the front of my seat.
“What does Carmindor call his love interest in the final episode of the series?” she asks.
Darien hesitates on that one. He looks around, out at the crowd.
“No cheating!” the cohost cries. “Are you stumped? Ten, nine…”
Up on the plank, Darien chews on his cheek, rocking back and forth. I snort. Of course he doesn’t know this one. He’s never watched an episode of Starfield in his life.
“Five! Four! Three!” The crowd begins to count along. The cohost spreads her feet apart and aims with one hand—very dramatically, which is not at all a good way to aim a water gun—as Darien scrubs the back of his neck, looking puzzled.
“Two…ONE!” The crowd cheers.
The female cohost fires her shot and it hits the bull’s-eye directly. A siren wails and a flashing light spins above Darien Freeman’s perfectly groomed head, and the plank slips out from beneath him. He goes tumbling into the water, and the crowd goes wild. They’re loving it.
Strangely, though, I’m not.
“It’s ah’blena,” I mutter, even though he’s underwater. Even though I’m seeing him through a TV. Even though he definitely can’t hear me and I’m just talking to a plasma flat screen. Still. If he’s going to be Carmindor, it’s something he should know. Dunk tank or no dunk tank. “Ah’blena is what he calls her.”
Onscreen, Darien emerges from the tank soaking wet and flips his wet hair out to the crowd, and they scream, reaching up their hands. He grins at them.
I scowl. At this point, the only way the movie can salvage itself is by announcing the perfect villain. Obviously, it should be the Nox King, because how cool would that be? The Nox are the natural enemies of the Federation, but unfortunately the early-’90s SFX in the original series didn’t do so hot with their giant ears. A reboot could make them look way better. Plus—let’s be honest—think of the slash fiction potential. I glance at my phone, just to check the time, but I’ve still got a good twenty minutes before I’m on Pumpkin duty.
Onscreen, Darien takes a towel handed to him by a PA and begins to dry off. But then someone yells at him to take his shirt off. He pauses, turning back to the crowd.
“Really?” he asks them.