Carter Hawkins: When I Was a Kid

Below is the delightful lead-off story by Carter Hawkins at Tenx9 Nashville’s October event: “When I Was a Kid”

*     *     *

When I was a kid, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… seriously, I’m not kidding.

It was the summer after my fifth grade year, three days before my elementary school career was set to end, and I had just walked out of the theater, my entire mind blown by Return of the Jedi, and I suddenly knew how I would be spending every waking moment of my entire summer break.

So while all of my friends were playing backyard flag football or watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island, I was busily turning my entire upstairs bedroom at the end of the hallway of the house at 3826 Point Clear Drive into the command bridge of a Galactic-Class Starship, where for three months I would perform my duties as Captain, roaming the Universe, protecting Earth from evil alien invasions.  You’re welcome, citizens.

And before you turn to your table mates and knowingly roll your eyes and snicker, I have absolutely no problem freely admitting that I was “that kid”, the loner type who oftentimes preferred to live on his own little planet.

But that’s because I had something that most of the other kids in my neighborhood would not have recognized if it had stunned them like a phaser.

I had Imagination. Imagination so big that not even the boundaries of time and space could contain it, and for the months of June, July and August of 1983, I was NOT going to let my imagination go to waste.

Captain’s Log: Star date 011283 – It’s officially the first day of summer, and my mission to leave Earth has begun. I started by scavenging the garage for parts. Plywood, mostly. Some two-by-fours and nails. Some old wires and light switches. And Dad’s old recliner, which was about to become my new captain’s chair.

I spent the rest of the day hauling my supplies and some tools up into my quarters, and starting the difficult work of building my command bridge. It occurred to me that my bunk beds would make an excellent frame for the new additions I had planned, so without clearing a single thing with my superiors downstairs at Fleet Headquarters, I pushed the bunks to the center of the room, removed the sleeping surfaces, and began nailing and screwing the newly requisitioned parts to the frame. I positioned the captain’s chair, and used some heavy blankets to block out the light from my windows. By the time my mother came up to see what all the noise was about, I had the basic hull structure and floorplan pretty well finished.

That night I was invited to dine with my superior officers, Brigadier General Dad and Fleet Commander Mom . It would be the first of many such dinners, but this one had the potential to halt my entire mission before it even got off the ground. I had already prepared my defense with well-rehearsed lines about how important imagination and exploration were to the whole human race, especially to 11 year-old captains who had a daring mission to protect the less imaginatively gifted beings of the planet from impending doom.

Much to my surprise, my commanding officers allowed the mission to move forward, albeit with heavy supervision and regular progress reports. I informed them that there may be some off-world trips to the electronics salvage store that would have to be funded by Starfleet, and they even signed off on my budget. And just like that, the whole thing jumped into hyperdrive.

I spent most of June that summer rigging my ship. With some help from my Starfleet Father, I learned to use a jigsaw and a soldering iron. I learned that using 62 AA batteries taped end-to-end as the ship’s power source was a really bad idea, and thankfully only three of them exploded before the blast was contained. I had a viewing portal, two Atari joystick controls, one mounted to each arm of the captain’s chair. Red, yellow and green indicator lights, a warning alarm buzzer that didn’t sound like the one on Star Trek, but then again, it didn’t sound half-bad, either. There was a wrap-around control console complete with blinking lights and a Commodore 64 monitor, and most importantly, enough dials and switches and gauges to push, flip, turn, press and study to make any young Captain’s heart race with giddy delight. The ship was finally ready to pass inspection and embark on its first mission.

It was then that I made my first mistake. I enlisted my two younger brothers as my crew. I put them through a form of basic cadet training that mostly consisted of getting them to practice shouting, “Yes SIR, Captain, Sir!”. Yeah, you can imagine how well that went. All they wanted to do was run around with their fingers pointed like pistols, yelling “Aliens! Get ‘em! Pew pew pew! Finally, I wrestled them off the flight deck and down to the brig, where I explained to Fleet Commander Mom that- under penalty of DEATH- they were not allowed within a 15 light-year radius of my ship.

So instead of dealing with the hassle of a crew, I decided to install one last bit of advanced technology on board. I had a tape recorder, one of those old portable type cassette recorders which I know you’ve seen and used, and if you’re too young to understand what I’m talking about, then I am truly sorry, but I don’t have time to explain. Anyway, I decided to turn the cassette recorder into the voice of the ship’s computer. I spent hours writing scripts, stories, where I was doing battle with some never before seen species of alien, my ship taking damage, and me, trying to come out of it alive. It was a dialogue. I had my role as captain to play, and then I recorded the part of the ship’s computer in the best computer monotone I could muster. I meticulously timed out the lines, so that just as I was finishing delivering one of my captain lines, like, “We’ve sustained a direct hit to the starboard engines! We’re drifting right into the gravitational pull of the planet! Computer! Divert all power to remaining thrusters and bring us about!”

And the cassette tape recording of the ship’s computer would respond (if I timed it right) “Captain, all thrusters are offline. I have raised shields to maximum. Please brace for planetary impact in 10…9…8…7…”

Man it was intense! All these years later, I still get goosebumps just thinking about those adventures! I imagined worlds that would’ve made Gene Roddenberry himself wet his pants. Aliens so fierce and strange and ugly that they still sometimes show up in my nightmares.

But it never failed. Right at the height of the storyline, just when I was so lost in my own imagination that nothing from my present reality could have found me and dragged me back, I’d get the call…

“Carter? Are you in there? You missed dinner, Are you hungry?…”

It was my mom, standing outside my bedroom door, at the end of the upstairs hallway.

“Mom!” I’d protest… “C’mon! Say it right.” A few seconds would pass, then,

“KKhkk! Captain, we called you to the mess hall an hour ago. Your meatloaf rations are now cold. Kkhkk!”

(I made her do the little Kkhkk intercom sounds… I did! And she would DO it for me! GOD I loved that woman!

“Khkk! Anyway, i have a tray for you here. Do you want me to bring it in?”

“No! Don’t open the outside maintenance hatch! You’ll blow the seals and suck us all into the vacuum of space!”  Nothing but silence on the other side of the door…

“It’s okay Mom. I need some R&R after the mission I just completed. Tell you what, I’ll teleport down to the surface of the planet and eat my dinner at headquarters, that is if you’ll sit with me.”

“Kkhkk! That’s affirmative Captain. I look forward to debriefing you upon your arrival. Fleet Commander Mom out. Kkhkk!”

Before heading for the closet, which also served as the transporter room, I sat back in my captain’s chair, and as I flipped a few switches and powered down all main systems, I realized that one amazing and incredibly short summer was about to be over. I reminisced about the incredible journeys I had taken. It was an honor to risk my life in the service of my home planet. I almost hated to see it come to an end… But in just a few short days, I would be transferred to my new assignment.  My imagination had already started to paint a vivid picture of what I’d find when I arrived, and it was enough to make me shudder in terror.

Nonetheless, my ongoing mission remained unchanged: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, to boldly go where no kid captain had gone before –

Junior High.

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