Friday, 22 April 2016

Proudly Inerrant — Chapter 11

Preamble: This the eleventh chapter of a serialized science-fiction novellette concerning failures of fidelity in the transmission of culture. (Previously: Chapter 1, and Chapter 2, and Chapter 3, and Chapter 4, and Chapter 5, and Chapter 6, and Chapter 7, and Chapter 8, and Chapter 9, and Chapter 10)

by Cheeseburger Brown

PART II, Chapter 11.

She squatted in the garden, inspecting the leaves of the sprouting produce while babby slept on her back, swaddled like a hurt finger. The old douche bag cocked her head as the texture of the insect and bird noises around her changed, announcing an arrival from the west.

Babby fussed. She pinched it and hissed, "Shut shut!"

Babby shut it. Both of them looked west, first with their eyes and then with their heads. The douche straightened. Pebbles skittered down the slope prefiguring the visitor's arrival. A moment later a hooded figure was revealed between the rocks.

"Yo," called out the douche. "Yo yo yo. Who go, bitch?"

The hooded figure dropped her hood. That was me. I was showing my face to her so she would know I was a douche. Then I let my cloak fall open so she could see babby in babby's sling and know I was also a douche bag. Inerrant and functional.

But I could still sense her dissatisfaction. More than that I could identify so strongly when I saw the tiny and quiet expressions flicker over her face -- which was also my face -- I felt as if I could feel her emotions with my own heart. If I closed my eyes I almost believed I would see my approach from her eyes. I, too, could notice how alien the interloper was. There was something not quite normal about the interloper. The interloper who was me.

"Ima Jolly, douche of the north. All respects."

She squinted at me suspiciously but replied in kind. "Ima Bubbles, douche of the twin ridges. Some welcomes, noble douche. You has babby formed? By cause, you sex-oven is way fruity."

"Amen," I agreed. "And you has babby formed, too? Verily fruity is your own oven, sister."

"Amen," she nodded, then shifted her weight and watched me.

After a moment I pushed it ahead. "May we kiss?"

Slowly she shook her head. "You talk is all busted. You hair is weird. I worry you spoiled. I worry you rotten, hard. I tink you it-douche what mayors call for culling, what lies with enemies, what slinks with anti-founderites and all perdition and shit."

"It's weird for douches not to even kiss at all. How can we member each nother?"

"Stand where you stand. No toxins must ruin my garden stuff. I tink-well alls I needs tink of you. How's it I risk anti-founderite cooties touching babby? How's it autocorrect at all even?"

I hung my head in acknowledgement of her logic as well as her seniority. By her sun-marked skin I knew she had at least nine years on me, maybe more. There was no question which douche would order and which would obey.

Bubbles allowed me inside her yard. She told me to strip off my clothes and then she threw buckets of specially purified water over babby and myself until she detected no more outlander smell, then we kneeled in a muddy corner of purifying pig mud while she stood on the other side of the fence and asked me questions about outlander plans for war.

"They don't even has one arrow. They don't even has one spear. Verily, believe. Read my face, sister. Tink my tunk, douche."

Bubbles nodded. "Lo, I mayhaps has to torture you a bit so we're causally, causally certain."

I nodded back. "Okay."

Both of us cried before it was over. It was hard not to feel each other's pain. It became challenging to separate what she did to me, and what she did to herself in order to cause sympathetic effects in me. For a long time afterwards we slept, waking only to feed our babbies, lying on the cool stone floor of Bubbles' slaughterhouse. Pigs on hooks swayed slightly in the air, metal fixtures squeaking.

At twilight we washed and dressed our wounds. We had a kiss, to exchange novelties and remember the varied tastes. Within an hour she was experimenting with simple expressions in Marsgo and so was her babby. She closed her eyes to see my memories of the outlanders and asked after each one's details. Their names were garbled when she spoke them, and I wondered if this was how I sounded when I'd first arrived among them. It was hard to say for sure, because so many of my memories had been updated. The transition times were especially grey and dilute, a confusion resulting from my standing on a bridge between two very different language islands at the time of encoding.

As my tongue-space was reordered so too was my memory-space. Distant thoughts in the daily talk started to sound alien to my mind's ear. Even Classical English had changed for me, and therefore changed me.

"You talk is all busted," Bubbles had said, even when I spoke with my most proper and on-high voice. I could not talk as I once had. Nor could I think as I once had. Bubbles said, "You bloods boil with anti-founderite malarkey."

What could I do but hang my head? I mumbled, "We take the filth upon us for the good of the inerrant, sister."

"Amen," she said but it was perfunctory. "That is why I allows youse in my house."

Negotiations were long but by morning we had reached an accord. If it would expedite the anti-founderite departure from the world, Bubbles would indeed buy us a day to scavenge from the caves. She would stall the mayoralty with elaborate soothseeing rituals. "All day?" I prompted.

"Prolly no. But half a day. The morning I fill with forecasts, and in the afternoon they will burn me."

"No!" I cried. "You can't go tits up for just us. You are a noble and senior douche and you babby still is way small. The peeps need youse. The peeps need youse hard."

She nodded and offered a tired, wan smile. "Ima twenty plus seven. My die is soon. This babby how's it going to has survive without me, no matter what or whatever. I keeped her only cause of habits. My daughters is all olded. My daughters is already leaved, and already has they places elsewhere in the mayoralty. In the west, in the east…" She paused. "And in the north. You dig?"

I looked up sharply. "Is…is you my douche bag?"

"I smell so," she said. "Welcome home, babby."

That made us cry all over again. We hugged and tasted one another's tears.

"We gots to book," she reminded me. "The day spends itself way quick. Even now the mayors assemble their big-fat armies. Can't you smell the dusts on the wind?"

"What can we do?"

"I go out and meets them. I buy youse what hours I can. I will confound their shit."

"What if you has n'autocorrect? What if it's me and mine who should best die? If the anti-founderites will have a douchery, shouldn't the seeding happen by you cause you are senior and not me, who has seen less? We should best trade places with each nother."

"I twenty plus seven years olded," she reminded me. "Every day is a pain trial. I has enough, yo. I wish peace. Be the seed, Jolly. Be all fruitful. Maybe even the damned need douche helps now."

We looked at each other for a long moment.

Softly I said, "Amen and roll out, my douche bag."

"Amen, my sister-babby-friend."

The cave beneath the lip of the westward ridge was enormous, and it housed a jagged slurry of straight boxes and bent boxes and tiny odd bits and twists and scraps -- all of it unfathomably hard metal or plastic, each individual geometry complex and purposeful but utterly alien. What the outlanders identified as ovens or musical instruments or household utensils looked nothing like their descriptions; how could an oven be smaller than baby, and have no exhaust port? How could a musical instrument be smaller than my thumb? Why would a household utensil fail to operate in the absence of electric motivation?

The outlanders took only the tiniest pieces from each battered artifact. Mr. Codeburg held up a sliver of winking whitish metal. "See?" he asked me. "Very special metal. It's trivalent, with extra positivity. That makes it valuable. Do you know what ‘valuable' means?"

"If I didn't know what ‘valuable' means ‘trivalent' probably wouldn't do much for me, either."

He marked the white metal with a circle of glowing paint and walked on, calling over his shoulder, "…What does ‘trivalent' do for you, can I ask?"

"It makes me think of balls."

He turned and looked at me. "Balls?"

"Balls within balls, joined to other balls. You call the joinings ‘little lumps.'"


"That's what I said."

Mr. Codeburg shook his head and gave me a funny half-smile. "I've got to stop talking to you like you're a kid."

I nodded. So did babby.

Mr. Codeburg shuffled on, sweeping his sensing device over the litter. He was heading up the effort because he had camera eyes that could see through things, and Potassium Americana was making sure none of the cables got tangled up. I slogged through the piles with them while Gao, Upsell and Chaudry followed us, picking up the items Codeburg tagged with glowing paint, and busting them open to find the good bits.

The efforts echoed tinnily through the cavern.

Codeburg stopped and cocked his head. Soundlessly his mouth and throat made the shapes of, "Roger that, Captain," and then he said aloud to all of us, "Twelve minutes to enemy contact. Let's hustle."

The rummaging sounds resumed with new rhythm. Codeburg's apparatus beeped. He painted a bright orange dot on the side of a metal box, then walked on. Potassium gave me a little wink as he dragged the apparatus along, teasing the cables off an edge by yanking on a loop of slack.

Beep! Spray. Trundle. Pause. Beep!

"Gadolin­ium," reported Codeburg with a satisfied grunt. "Gorgeous."

Upsell prised the prize free with her tools, the metal case squawking as it bent. Gao packed it on the skiff floating at their heels. Lam called up from the bottom of the heap: "Status? It's nine minutes to contact."

"Hold your horses, Mu, hold your horses," said Codeburg as he took a last look sweep with his instrument. "There's gold in them there hills."

Babby squirmed irritably in her sling. I looked up. Quietly: "Mr. Codeburg sir, it really is time to hastefully book."

He nodded. "Okay, okay. Po: suck up the cables and fold down. Michael! Noble! Run the skiff to the shuttle. We're bailing."

At the mouth of the shadowed tunnel leading to our exit point we were met by a battered metal skeleton with chipped red epaulettes. "Sirs," it croaked, "a serious animal control situation has developed ahead-d-d."

Chaudry explained to us the robots had reported vermin upon opening up the cave, but that they had made a rapid retreat in advance of the robot incursion. Mr. Codeburg grunted, "Jolly?"

I consulted what I'd learned from Bubbles. "Probably rats," I told them.

"Rats? Rats are real?" cried Potassium. "I thought they were just the fairy tale version of mice."

Mr. Codeburg shook his head. "No such luck. I've seen one stuffed and simulated, at the Royal Museum. Wicked little cat-mouse things."

Upsell shrugged. "That sounds kind of cute, actually."

Mr. Codeburg just shook his head again.

Gao: "Three minutes to enemy."

Upsell: "Are we afraid of mice? How many mouse-things are we talking about here?"

"Make no mistake," I told her. "Rats are vicious. They are the natural predator of people. Cunning and pitiless."

Chaudry: "But they're small? We'll just have to run."

"They cooperate," I said. "Running won't be enough."

Gao: "Two minutes thirty seconds. Captain on the comm. Agitated."

"Defecation," swore Mr. Codeburg. And then, "How many jules are left in that palette?"

We rode the palette like a magic carpet. It whinnied and sighed beneath our collective weight, each of us perched uncomfortably on top of the buckets of loot and boxes of tools and spools of cable. We were flanked by two robots walking slowly by steadily.

We rounded the corner into the antechamber at the cave's end. Fading orange sunlight splashed in over the furthest rocks, but the rest of the chamber was in gloom.

My eyes adjusted quickly. I was first to notice how the gloom squirmed.

The chamber came alive with the echoing sound of overlapping shrieks, like gulls at the seashore over the body of a beached shark. It was an unnerving, terrifying sound and I smelled the changes in the perspiration of the people around me. The little hairs on their bodies were standing on end.

"What the hell is that noise?"

"Forget the noise! Drive the palette!"

"Shuttle party has engaged the enemy. Captain reports active combat."

"Drive! Drive! Drive!"

The cargo palette whined, bobbing dangerously as it felt its way over the uneven cave floor. Its headlamps picked twin soft circles of writhing fur and pink tails slithering past one another, occasionally catching the glint of a mad black eye.

"Arm yourselves," I said.

Upsell: "What? We're hovering more than a meter over them."

"They cooperate," I said again.

The motivation engines within the legs of our flanking robots complained audibly as the robots fought to put one foot in front of the other. Their heads dipped out of sight beneath the edge of the palette and reappeared again when they found new balance. The palette began to rock more violently as it proceeding over a moving surface. The repulsion field struck meat and pushed against it, so our progress was marked with the crackling sound of small bones breaking beneath us and the wailing of the creatures before they burst.

The robot on the left looked down, then up at us as rats come scurrying up his body, clambering over his face and then sprinting onto the palette. Gao swung around and struck at them with her baton. Chaudry swung a heavy bucket in hissing arcs, knocking the black little bodies shrieking into the gloom.

A rat crawled out of the carapace of the right-hand robot and jumped directly at me.

I struck out at it but missed. The creature landed on my front and clung to my clothing with its claws. As it reared back to sink its long yellow teeth into my neck two tiny fists clamped around its writhing body and counter-twisted smartly. The neck snapped. I scooped its slack corpse off me and looked down with a smile. "Thanks, babby."

Golden sunlight struck my eyes. We had cleared the mouth of the cave. The robots stumbled behind us, rats writhing both inside and outside their metal carapaces. A long shadow flashed over us all as the shuttle swung around overhead, cargo door yawning open.

"Allez-oop!" called the captain. He flinched as a stone-tipped spear glanced off the hull beside his head. "Quickly now!"

A rain of arrows poured over us. Upsell was pierced through her thigh as she tried to climb aboard the hovering cargo ramp, toppling backward to drop onto the rocks below. "Michael!" cried Potassium, scrambling down after her. Upsell grimaced as he helped her to stand.

The shuttle bumped down and the palette drove aboard. Codeburg used a fallen arrow to chase the last few rats out of our stuff while Lam did the same with the robots. "Get those robots in here!" roared Captain Gateway.

"But I think there's still a rat inside this one!" yelled Lam.

"I don't care!"

Lam shoved the robot onto the ramp and inside the hold, everyone else scattering away from it. "There is a malfunction in my torso," reported the robot. With wide eyes Lam jammed a long wand at the robot, and when it touched the robot there were sparks and a sudden weirdness in the air. The robot jerked and jumped like it was dancing before crumpling to the deck, limp. There arose from its skeletal body the distinct smell of roasted flesh.

"I think we got it," said Lam, sniffing the air with disdain.

"I know what I want for dinner," I said, suddenly hungry. Babby nodded.

The shuttle lurched. We strapped into our seats, Upsell with her pierced leg stretched out in front of her while Potassium leaned out to keep pressure on the wound. Pilot Domer's voice sounded over the speakers: "We're going to have to pull a few Gs. Hold tight folks."

The engines keened. We were pressed sideways. Babby cried. A rat tumbled out from the cargo palette then was mashed against a bulkhead when the metal canister it had been hiding behind broke free and followed it. Codeburg turned green and covered his mouth with his hand.

The shuttle levelled. The captain unstrapped from his seat up front and ducked his head to look at us in the hold. "How's the haul, Yoram?" he asked Codeburg. "Did we win?"

Codeburg burped, then nodded wearily. "We won."

"Michael, how's your leg?"

"It'll heal," she said, offering up a bold attempt at a smile.

Captain Gateway nodded. "Good. Now let's get our rocket finished and get the hell out of here."

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Darth Side - Darth Vader Superstar

Preamble: So, this is it. This is the concluding entry first posted ten years ago, concluding The Darth Side's original run and perhaps even fanning a faint hope among a few folks that when REVENGE OF THE SITH opened a few days later it might not be entirely disappointing. Time told.

I hope you've enjoyed the re-run. Please share it with friends if you think they'd enjoy the runs. Please do feel at liberty to social media the shit out of this link, if that's the sort of thing you care to do.

Certainly, I hope you all have a very satisfactory Star Wars Day this week. I've chosen my venue, I've got my tickets. I'm not ashamed to say I'm excited, despite the things that happened in 1999 we will never speak of again. Yes, I'm excited for the awakening -- lensflares and all.

See you on the other side, folks.

(Previously: PART I - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10; PART II - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20; PART III - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9.)

by Cheeseburger Brown

PART III, Chapter 10 - Darth Vader Superstar

My name is Anakin Skywalker.

I was born forty-nine years ago, less a day. I was born a slave, as billions are born slaves. When I was a child I did not immediately imagine that I deserved freedom, for this was not my mother's attitude. Suffering was to be endured. She admitted a patient hope for less cruel masters, when we were between them. She taught that if freedom was in our destinies, fate would find us.

We were not starved, and were seldom beaten. I didn't think it was so bad. My mother Shmi and I looked out for one another. When the loathsome Gardulla the Hutt lost us to Watto the junk-dealer I got my first chance to take machines apart and put them back together, and it was amazing. The more I fixed things the more things Watto gave me to fix. My mother was also profitable. It was a happy relationship that more than halfway resembled a family, much like the one Watto had lost years before on Toydaria.

Everything changed after the Mandalorian came. With a cold manner he made his cruel desires plain. My mother refused him. Watto backed her up and the Mandalorian attacked him, casting him about the shop like a sack of meal. He could not protect her. I ran out and stuck a knife in the Mandalorian's thigh. He struck back at me savagely. I lay dazed in the corner as he laughed and turned on my mother.

I could not protect her.

I was six.

That is when the dreams began, in which I could fix the mechanisms of life as easily as I could machines. At night I saw an elaborate tapestry of iridescent threads that connected all things to all others, backwards and forwards through time forever. To play a song upon its fibres required only the gentlest flexing of my mind, the resonating harmonies describing new patterns in the network of connection that in turn rippled through to the arrangement of real things. The dreams were incredible. Like flying. Like being free.

One night near Boonta Eve I was working to exhaustion to repair Watto's sponsored racer in time for the next day's qualifier. I was so tired I began to dream with my eyes open. I could see the strands that bound all things with my waking vision, swimming and forking in reaction to my thoughts and movements. Suddenly the solution to a vexing problem with the starboard thruster was as clear as day -- it was obvious, when one could read between the lines.

And then I dreamed that I wielded a sword of fire, and that I slay any enemy that stood in my path. I dreamed I was a warrior, and that I could protect everybody. It was better than flying. I was a hero.

I mentioned the dreams idly to my mother one day. To my surprise she took the matter very seriously. "Anakin," she said, touching my shoulders and looking into my eyes, "has anyone ever told you about the Jedi?"

I shook my head. "What's a Jedi?"

"They are warrior-monks from the Republic. Their weapons are laser-swords."

"Just like in my dream!"

"Just like in your dream," she echoed. "You are a very special boy, Anakin, and I believe that the Force speaks through you."

"What's the Force?"

She smiled and closed her eyes for a moment, asking me to do the same. I closed my eyes. She said, "Anakin, in the quietest night, without sand-crickets or womp-rats, when the temperature is so perfect you can't even feel your blanket, and everything is still, and your mind is quiet...even if you seal out every part of the world you feel -- there is still something there."

"Yes," I whispered.

"That is the Force, Anakin," she said, putting her hand on my heart. "And it will never leave you. It is always there for us. It is a part of being alive."

That was a long, long time ago.

It is she, Shmi Skywalker, who haunts my thoughts tonight as I stare out over the night forest of Endor's moon. I miss her. But in some ways she is alive again, for I saw her spectre in my son's eyes, and heard it in his voice. It was a like physical blow.

Galaxy save me.

My son said, "I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully. That was why you couldn't destroy me, that's why you won't bring me to your Emperor now."

He looked out into the forest spread out beneath the landing platform, his back to me. I ignited his light-sabre, its green glow filling the corridor. Smooth action, nice gyroscopic response. I always end up fiddling around with gadgets whenever somebody says something that makes me feel uncomfortable. "I see you have constructed a new light-sabre," I said, retracting the blade and turning the handle over in my hands. "Your skills are complete. Indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen."

I turned away then, my feelings threatening my composure and the stability of my left leg. I felt Luke's mind open to my own, reading my heart in a rush of communication I was too slow to interrupt. His thoughts were flavoured like mine, and my defenses could not discern them. His mind is mine.

"Come with me," he implored suddenly.

Through the fabric of the Force I could feel him reaching out to me, his hand open. It just about broke my heart. Only Shmi Skywalker knew love that pure, and I felt her spirit stir within him to my horror and shame. I took hold of the railing, fearing I would fall.

And then I felt the slithering tentacles of Darth Sidious' mind descend upon my consciousness, encircling my wounded heart and cooling it. A voice in my thoughts asked me what destiny of chaos I would have the galaxy face if not for the strength of the enduring New Order. My spirit suffused with a dark light, and my leg began to feel normal again.

I turned around to face my son. "You don't understand the power of the dark side. I must obey my master."

Luke made his appeal again, stepping up to me and searching my lenses with his eyes. "I feel the conflict with you, let go of your hate!"

Poor fool, if only he knew. Innocent as a junior temple youngling, he parroted the dead preachings of an extinct order of loveless charlatans. If only the difference between dark and light were so simple as not being afraid. He cannot conceive of the fear he must know if he is to face the burden of the true Force.

It is too late for me. My hour has come and gone. Words would gain us nothing. And I could stand the torment of his gaze no longer. I ordered Skywalker be flown up to the Death Star without further delay. "...My father is truly dead," said my son as the lift closed.

My leg drooped and I stepped over to the railing again, facing my own dim reflection in the windows. My throat filled with bile as I considered that I had just lost the faith of the one person in this universe who would forgive me, and whose love could redeem me. I have just closed the door on my salvation...

My name is Anakin Skywalker, and I am responsible for the death of my mother, because I broke our bond to pursue my ambition. I am responsible for the death of my wife, the mother of my child, the only woman strong enough and smart enough to win my faith. I am responsible for the death of Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi, who once tried to show me the real meaning of friendship and loyalty. And then there was Qui-gon Jinn who could have been like the father I never had, but Palpatine stole him from me.


I think I have always hated him, channeling my jealousy at his power and dignity into a sick kind of devotion. I wanted him to love me, but he is not really a man with a heart -- whatever daemon rules him has its tonsils deep in the darkest layers of this galaxy.

I know now that my master, Darth Sidious the Emperor Palpatine, means to betray the Sith and subvert the prophecy. He means to replace me with my son as his prodigal servant. So armed he means to rule the stars himself, forever.

This job has a glass ceiling.

I should never have been born. Without me, Palpatine would be lost. I was essential. But now I am nothing. My very life inside this mechanized mockery of a body relies on the raw power of the dark side that is focused through him. I could not be without his blessing. And his blessing fails, so I go to join Tyrannus.

I was not strong enough. I have failed everyone.

...And yet, there is my son with Shmi in his eyes -- a product of love, before the storm. He is no Jedi, for his passion blows too hot, but perhaps he is not Sith, either. He is an instrument of change. He is the catalyst at the centre, the fulcrum on which pivot fates. To see him is to be blinded by the glory of the Force that orbits him like living netting.

My meditation was interrupted by the scintillating spirit of Qui-gon Jinn appearing at my elbow. "Anakin," he called, his voice sounding far away. "Take heart: the prophecy is fulfilled on the morrow."

"But how?" I asked, shaking my head. "How can that be? What can I do?"

Qui-gon's eyes sparkled. "You will make the right decision, when the choice lies before you."

"Sidious must die, but I cannot slay him. And Luke cannot hope to have enough power to do so himself."

"There are different kinds of power," Qui-gon pointed out. "You are the Son of Suns. Nothing can change that, Ani. Just because you cannot see the path does not mean it is not beneath your feet."

And with that he faded away, leaving me alone.

The world crept back in. First crickets, then the buzzing lights of the corridor, the call of a raptor, the rustling leaves. The living Force undulated around me, my breath carried away to mix with the wind. I drank deep. One must never forget to taste the present, the fleeting, sweetest moment you can ever know no matter how many adventures you pursue. There is nothing like the now, to cleanse you.

Qui-gon was right. My mother was, too. The Force has shaped this life of mine, from birth to this holy now. Every turn in the path has been an instruction in a series of lessons designed to make me the monster I am, to breed my unwilling heart for whatever lies ahead tomorrow.

Qui-gon said I would have a choice. I cannot fathom it but I have faith.

If he's right, I need not die a slave.

The sun is rising. Morning birds are singing. The mist is burning off the trees. I have already delayed too long. I must join my son on the Death Star, and bring him before my master. Come what may.

And so, dear reader, I must bid you adieu. You have been along with me for much, but you cannot join me on this final journey.

I go now to meet my destiny.

Monday, 14 December 2015

The Darth Side - Here Comes the Son

Preamble: Darth gets down to the short strokes as the date of his next domestic confrontation draws nigh....)

(Previously: PART I - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10; PART II - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20; PART III - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8.)

by Cheeseburger Brown

PART III, Chapter 9 - Here Comes the Son

The air is rich with portend. Destinies flicker in snaking forks from the fabric of space. Luke Skywalker is here now, on Endor's forest moon below.

Mood: everything!

I waited an hour in the anteroom to the tower of my master Darth Sidious the Emperor Palpatine before the crimson-clad Imperial Guards motioned to me that I was now cleared to proceed. It's always pomp and circumstance with those guys. I stepped inside the lift, and when the door slid back again I saw my master's throne turned away toward the stars.

I climbed the steps and stood before him. After a pause he turned his throne only partly and muttered with irritation, "I told you to remain on the command ship."

I explained about the rebels aboard the Tyderian shuttle. Sidious turned to face me, the corners of his mouth drawn down in a sneer of contempt. "Yes, I know," he said sharply, yellow eyes piercing me from the shadows of his mantle.

"My son is with them," I added.

I felt his surprise ripple through the Force. "Are you sure?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.

"I have felt him, my master."

"Strange that I have not," he said airly, his fingers playing thoughtfully against one another. I felt his mind touch mine, probing around its edges, quietly deflected by the cloud of obfuscation I felt myself generating without conscious effort. Sidious leaned forward. "I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader."

"They are clear, my master," I said with terror in my heart.

It was an agonizing moment before he replied, and I felt certain he had penetrated my intimate mind and seen the confusion there. Instead he sat back in his throne and said, "Then you must go to the Sanctuary Moon, and wait for him."

"He will come to me?"

"I have foreseen it," enunciated Sidious crisply. I sensed that his thoughts lacked the conviction of his demeanor -- he was troubled by the shadows in his vision. I felt his mind lick at my spirit again, feeling over the exterior veneer. "His compassion for you will be his undoing," said Sidious. I hesitated, so he continued with strained patience: "He will come to you, and then you will bring him before me."

He turned his throne back toward the stars.

"As you wish," I said, and took my leave silently.

In the corridor I nearly ran into Moff Jerjerrod, who flinched back from me with wide eyes. "Lord Vader," he whispered, his throat raw from yesterday's little incident between us, "General Veers has signalled from the surface. He says a rebel terrorist has surrendered to his forces."

So, my master's vision is not entirely enshrouded! The surrendering rebel could only be my son, Skywalker, as Sidious had foreseen. I took a moment to absorb the information, breathing slowly as I stood over Jerjerrod.

I heard a trickling splash, and looked down to see a small puddle gathering around the good Moff's boots.

Like I said before, joy in life is found in the little things. To Jerjerrod I said, "Prepare my shuttle. I will see to this personally."

"Yes, my Lord," he squeaked and then scurried away. Which was fortunate timing, because I would have been embarrassed to have him witness the way I fell against the corridor bulkhead, my left leg jerking spasmodically under me.

I recovered myself with an effort, and again summoned the tendrils of Force I would need to wrap through my leg's control circuitry and restore me to a dignified level of function. I did not sleep last night and the exhaustion has magnified my limb's recalcitrance. I felt overwhelmed with melancholy, and suddenly so very weak.

As I made my way through the Death Star I found myself looking upon it with a strange nostalgia. There is always something going on aboard the Death Star -- from the galleria mall to the competitive gymnasium -- and though I have always felt apart from the life of the men I have never felt so disconnected as I do today.

I stopped in for a quick pick-me-up at the Imperial House Tavern, and by coincidence ended up standing at the bar next to Admiral Piett his newest protege, a third-class midshipman with blonde hair and a vapid expression. "What a pleasure!" Piett greeted me warmly. "Can I buy you a drink, m'Lord?"

"Corellian wine," I said. "I will take it in my private booth." I began to walk away and then paused. "Why don't you join me, Admiral?"

Piett looked stricken for a fleeting second. "Sir," he replied with a nod.

He came around with the drinks in just a few minutes, his new boy following timidly on his heels. They ranged themselves around the octagonal table as the door hissed shut. Piett placed a goblet before me. "Thank you," I said. After a brief pause I announced awkwardly, "I will take off my mask now."

"Of course, m'Lord," said Piett. I saw him swallow hard. His boy kept his eyes on his drink, stirring it nervously with his pinky.

I disengaged my hood and then removed the upper section of my face-plate, my burned and scarred features visible above the breathing apparatus at my chin. Piett maintained a rigid composure betraying no shock, but the midshipman could not help but gape. With a snortling suction sound the private booth's life support umbilicus attached itself to a port on my neck. "I propose a toast," I said.

Piett and the midshipman raised their glasses expectantly.

"To destiny," I said simply.

"To destiny!" they echoed, and we all drank. There was an awkward moment after that. Piett coughed and then asked, "Pardon my candor m'Lord, but is there something troubling you?"

I sipped my drink again. "Do you have any children, Piett?"

"Children?" he replied, looking faintly amused. "No, m'Lord, no children."

"I have a brother," offered the midshipman helpfully.

"I have a son," I said. Piett's eyes widened but his expression remained smooth.

The midshipman grinned. "Congratulations!"

Piett watched me with concern. "M'Lord?" he prompted gently.

"My son is a member of the Rebel Alliance," I confessed, eyes cast down at my drink. "He has surrendered to Veers, and I go now to take him into custody."

I heard Piett sigh. "Blast," he said under his breath. He finished the rest of his drink in a swallow. "Is there -- is there something I can do, m'Lord? You know you can ask anything of me, sir."

I nodded slowly and gave his shoulder a squeeze. "You are a good man, Piett. But I must face him...alone."

After a few more moments of silence I finished my drink and replaced my mask. Outside the booth came the sounds of laughter and merry chatter, and it made me feel hollow inside. I flexed my fingers and stood up. "You understand, of course, this conversation never took place."

"Of course, m'Lord," replied Piett.

"Unfortunate about the boy," I added, glancing over at the blonde midshipman.

Piett blinked, and then regained his composure. "There are plenty more where he came from, m'Lord."

"What do you mean?" asked the midshipman right before his head dropped heavily to the table, his last breath pressing windily out of his lungs. I tossed a few Imperial coins down and left. "Sorry about the mess," I muttered to the proprietor.

Now I am aboard my shuttle, taking these idle moments to chronicle the day's events before I go to meet Skywalker on the surface. I do not know when I will next have a chance to write. Even now my shuttle has crossed the terminator into the forest's moons shadow, descending through the wet, night air toward the landing platform where Veers' walker will meet us.

The time of confrontation is at last here!

Daddy's home.