by Michael Bowen

Stardate 1692.04 After beaming down, our landing party has established a perimeter in a remote northern-hemisphere area of Pah'n Dreae 5. At the helm of the shuttlecraft Ulysses, Commander Brian Stevens hovers just above the planet's dense vegetation, bravely drawing heavy fire from the Klingon enemy. I scan for life forms, but Kh'arg-bogh must have transmogrified the Romulans' cloaking device by diverticulating the Arcturian transponder frequencies.

My mind races, but years of Academy training compel me to assess my situation objectively: I am not in the Pah'n Dreae system at all. I'm in the piney woods out behind some guy's house near Diamond Lake, and I'm clutching a paintball marker resembling an AK-47 that I don't know how to use while a bunch of pot-bellied guys in black who do know how to use these things are hunting me down.

Earlier, outside the battlefield, a man in a bright orange referee's vest had shouted, "Ten minutes. Ten minutes to Attack and Defend. All Federation members get ready!" Brett Malone is running this paintball scenario, and he remains calm even though there's a family of Klingons in full regalia standing in his driveway. (When extraterrestrials drop by, he tells 'em to ship up and fly straight.)

Malone prepares me for my maiden paintball experience: "Let out the safety here... cock it here... level... aim both eyes open... see the red dot... fire!" The man had a lot of weapons to tend to.

I hadn't seen the red of the safety catch, hadn't seen any red dot, and even attempted to fire with my barrel plug still inserted. But once I got all that sorted out, I was accurate to within about a dozen yards of a target 30 feet away, so I figure, game on, we're eatin' roast Klingon tonight.

Captain Tim Taggert issues our battle orders. (You know he's the captain: His official Federation T-shirt is lemon yellow and he has the cutest little row of sequins glued to his collar.) We are to fan out and lie in wait for the Klingon scum. I crawl on my belly and try to look menacing.

It's quiet out there. My goggles are fogging up. Eventually my mind wanders back to lunch break, when I had asked a man wearing Vulcan ears and smoking a cigarette about his paintballing experience. "Major Wuss" -- his real name is Dean Rockliffe, and he works for the Spokane County Engineering Department -- answered that he'd been doing it for about eight months. "I was a Net gamer," he said. "You know, Mac Warrior and America's Army." I didn't know. "It's from the Department of Defense. It's a free download," he announced, and I recalled how he had peered at me earlier while responding that markers are "Accurate? To about 60 feet. But a range of about 120." To the major, I was just fresh meat.

Fashion statements here tend toward black colors, camouflage wear, heavy boots. Expressions are grim, black. (The Klingons are dressed entirely in black.) More than one paint-splattered Trekkie proudly raised his shirt to display a nasty welt received in battle -- "peeled back the skin right here," volunteers Cameron Berger. He's a plumber from Nine Mile Falls. Nearby, two 12-year-olds in camo pants are discussing strategies for tactical assault on the shuttlecraft. (A four-wheel-drive vehicle of WWII vintage with aluminum siding and plastic windows, it's a "tank" whenever they play Vietnam war games up here, but this week it's a "shuttlecraft," darn it, even if the windshield wipers are broken. The Klingons spray the deflector shields with paint, obscuring our vision. Bastards.)

At this point, I'm thinking, nice guys, wrong planet -- especially after a towering Klingon brandishes his four-foot-long Swiss-knife-scimitar-on-steroids, informing us that "This is a bat'leth. I had it made for me by a guy in Hanford."

Is that also in the Alpha Quadrant, then?

Back to the battlefield. We're playing Capture the Flag now, though a Borg Collective game is scheduled for later. It's too quiet out there; I'm grateful to hear the shuttlecraft backfire as it crunches over pine branches.

No sooner does one of my blue-shirted Feddie buddies take cover than several Phaser bursts vaporize him before my very eyes. Thanks to the eerily bright atmosphere of Pah'n Dreae 5 with its twin suns, I spy a glint of Klingon armor. I had just brought my weapon to bear on the uncivilized brute when enemy fire streaks into my position. The Klingon had "put out of rope of paint" and "lit me up," turning my wrist into... the nicest shade of peach, actually -- didn't hurt at all. You know, this would go with those new wall sconces we just bought...

After you're hit, they tell you, hold your marker in the air and walk out slowly, all the while repeating the phrase, "Dead man coming out."

The enemy appeared out of nowhere. "I could shoot you right now," he growled, crouching in the underbrush, "but I won't. You're on the wrong side of the yellow line. You're also walking the wrong way to get out of here. Turn back."

I thanked the nice little Klingon, then scampered over the gully and through the woods back to the safety of base camp, where there are smiling people who don't train markers on you whenever you twitch.

I was a dead man, all right. But I was coming out, too -- out of the Trekkie closet, dammit, and I don't care who knows. For I am honored to have served under Capt. Stevens on the Starship Endeavor, honored to have fended off the Klingon menace successfully, at least for the nine minutes before they splattered me. And though I sorely regret venturing into the woods without my bug spray, I nonetheless remain a stalwart Federation ensign.

Two to beam up. From now on, in any galaxy, my paintball Phaser and I are inseparable.

Located out in the woods behind the Malone place near Diamond Lake, the Weekend Warriors Paintball Park plans a North vs. South Civil War scenario on Aug. 21 and a Vietnam "mil sim" game sometime in September. Visit or call (509) 447-0808.

Publication date: 6/24/04

Educator's Day @ Art Salvage Spokane

Sat., Aug. 13, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.