Many Bothans died to bring us this information
Science Fiction, star wars

STAR WARS: BEFORE THE FALL, PT. 3 — “Many Bothans died to bring us this information.”

Her skin glows. A bright lavender haze. His hand approaches her cheek and he feels more warmth than he knows possible emitting from her skin. For a moment he wonders if he could make do with just this.

Long ago, it was considered inappropriate for Bothans to get close to other species as inter-species bonds inspire stronger emotions. As his grandfather insisted, until the day he died, “Nothing is more useless than a spy in love.”

Dakkah can sit for hours looking at her skin, the way it’s paler and almost ethereally bright at her naked hips, believing that it might help him crack the code on his people’s ignorance regarding love. It’s not love that Bothans fear, he realized; it’s the dread of being stuck in those indisposed hours, days, and weeks that attend the loss of love. The weakness that results from that state can cost you your life and that’s not a hyperbolic point, either. Indulgence in morbid self-pity gets you ostracized instantly from the work—no more meetings and no more missions. If that doesn’t drive you to be a freight runner for the Empire, at best you’ll end up old and desperate, hooked on Arrixan blood to numb the pain. Or perhaps both will synergistically null you out of existence in some outer system, far from anyone who cares, where an impatient Imperial dock worker waits until you pass out so he can pocket your pay then kick you onto the refuse heap, left to jettison with the garbage before the next run. It’s happened exactly that way more than a few times.

But that’s all passed. There are more pressing concerns now and like some infinite cycle, there are new ways love can kill you; things you can’t discuss.

He has to make an exception for her. Because of that skin. Skin that will haunt him to even the furthest system like a waking nightmare if he doesn’t dare touch it.

So he does.

These days, it truly isn’t that hard to hide it. There’s a war going on; people are busy. In the case of Mon Mothma and Makkah, they’re more than cautious, maintaining a strategic amount of public animosity, just enough to give the impression that their only passion is for the Rebellion and that each believes the other is one move from its demise. At the base on Dantooine, inconveniently stopped in a busy corridor, they bicker.

“I explicitly recall you agreeing to send in a team of rebel spies undercover to map the Death Star.”

“Yes. And now I am contradicting what I said then. I think it’s a terrible plan.”

“You are not the one making a sacrifice.”

“I am the one making the decision.”

“That can be changed. I can order your rank surrendered. Perhaps I can call your record into question. The last two intel ops you oversaw were unquestionable failures.”

“Yes, this is true.” Mon Mothma liked to turn her head away at a certain point in their public arguments, as though there was nothing more Dakkah could add to sway her. “Because I took my responsibility seriously and refused to permit suicide missions.”

He gets impossibly frustrated when she pulls this trump card; and impossibly aroused. The fact that they’re debating the valid concerns of the Rebellion in these theatrical disputes complicates their emotions. Mon Mothma eventually defers to Dakkah as head of espionage for the Bothan spy detail while everyone in earshot gets some food for thought about the moral challenge to rebel strategies. It’s a productive song and dance that truthfully injects some life into an unchallenged and idealistic intellectual environment all while making them hot for each other’s flesh; a victimless charade.

“What if a suicide mission is essential for the greater good?” A charade whose lines get blurrier as it progresses. Dakkah makes a sincerely interesting point and the darkest one to emerge in their arguments thus far.

Mon Mothma’s eyes grow wide but she keeps her game face. “Well, Dakkah, then I’m glad you’re not the one in charge of ordering them!” And with that, she storms off past gawking officers through the lighted corridor. Dakkah smirks, applauding her in his mind for what he believes was an excellent display of feigned anger. He runs to their usual meeting place, a clearing just outside of the hangar bay, a spot where only pilots and deck hands tread. It’s loud and busy and upper levels simply have no business here. It’s perfect.

He runs out past the trees that cover the little spot that one of them sets up with blankets and a bottle of Karpas nectar; today is her turn. He reaches the spot and it’s all gone, cleared away by someone or something. In their place, he finds Varan staring him down, daring him to start explaining himself. Dakkah’s blood runs cold for a moment before his brain begins damage control.

“So you’ve found my spot.” Dakkah chuckles to himself like this is all part of his plan. “There’s really no better vantage point to observe takeoff sequences. You notice a fantastic amount of intentional geometry in rebel aircraft configurations.” Dakkah points out a clear gap in the tree canopy from which the launch sequences were easiest to glimpse. “It’s terribly consistent. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know. If it isn’t, that makes it all the more beautiful in my opinion.” It is indeed very easy to see the patterns of sacred geometry left behind by the vapor trails of the ships, geometry meaningful to anyone who studies Dantooine mythology. It is quite beautiful, really, once you concentrate on the settling forms of the trails without being distracted by the ships themselves. Dakkah’s explanation to a seemingly credulous Varan is objectively as fascinating as the best lecture from their academy days, and Dakkah makes up every word of it. It’s a testament to how good he is that Varan, fairly certain this is a fabrication, hinges on every word. The fact is Dakkah knows that Varan suspects this is all fiction but he’s counting on the hypnotic effects of rhetoric so that by the time he’s done pointing out how the vapor trails themselves evolve into yet different patterns, ones that describe in abstract terms not just how the battle that these craft are about to engage in will turn out but what the battle’s long term ramifications will be, it seems that whatever pretense caused Varan to corner him in these secluded woods couldn’t be less important.

“Thank you, I— That is indeed fascinating. Was I mistaken in believing you are scheduled for a mission soon?”

“That’s correct.” Dakkah’s mouth forms a slight grin. “I’m scheduled for a team mission of Imperial construction interception.”

“Construction of what?”

Dakkah cocks his head. “The Death Star, of course.”

“Rumors of a new Death Star. Hmm.” Varan nods, stroking his chin hairs, as though he’s pretending to consider the advice of a child. “You believe those as well, then?”

Dakkah freezes. Varan tries to hide a smile. Put the fear in him so he’ll be cautious, not paralyzed.

“Come with me.” Varan walks him deeper into the secluded woods. “Let me ask you something, why would the Empire seek such a remote center of operations when the whole of the galaxy is theirs to call home? Isn’t it possible that they’re trying to draw us out, sending precious resources to find a massive battle station that exists more as an idea than a reality, then crushing our base on Dantooine? Hmm?”

“We’ve seen extensive footage—”

“Holograms. Convincing ones, I’ll grant that.”

“You underestimate our advantage. We outnumber the Empire in several key systems at this point. What better time to double efforts on a massive weapon with the powers of the Death Star and deliver the death knell to the Rebellion?”

“Yes, they will need such a weapon. That’s why they have the Executor, a weapon nearly equal in power and much more mobile than the Death Star. Mark my words, the minute we send an armada for this alleged Death Star, they’ll send the Executor here to cut us off at the head.”

The question of how Varan found this spot recedes against the increasingly plausible theory that the Death Star is just a red herring—as Varan intended. “Ironically, this doesn’t change your plans very much. We’re still sending you on a reconnaissance mission to a small Imperial base on Endor. We need to confirm whether our concerns about a new Death Star are founded or not.”

Dakkah nods. “I suspected as much. When will my ship be ready?”

“Ship? Haven’t they told you? You’ll be delivered via teleportation.”

Dakkah feels his throat go dry and his skin go cold. Teleportation technology is extremely primitive, especially with regards to reconstituting organic matter. The odds of surviving a dogfight against an Imperial squadron are legitimately higher.

“I was unaware that we had the means to safely transport organic matter.”

“Advances have been made.” Varan speaks without making eye contact, just this once.

They leave the woods with the understanding that why they met here and what they discussed will never be spoken of, by them or anyone else.

Dakkah finds Mon Mothma several hours later in the middle of a discussion with a junior rebel officer. They are discussing how completely preposterous the Dantooine mythology seems when one applied even the most cursory logic to its superstitious collection of “meaning-dense” symbols. This, Dakkah thinks, is why I love you.

Dakkah taps her on the shoulder. Mon Mothma turns and wags a dismissive finger at him, all while maintaining her diatribe on local myth to the very eager-to-please—and strikingly handsome—young rebel officer. Dakkah knows this is all part of the game but for the first time, he can’t help feeling offense. And not just offense; his reaction to being ignored develops from a confused tinge of annoyance to what feels like an abscess gnawing at the walls of his stomach so startlingly fast, he has to run.

“Excuse me.” Dakkah begs the pardon of these two, still ignoring him, to jog in a circuit around this wing of the facility. The feeling grows until he feels his stomach ready to burst. At last he returns to find Mon Mothma saying goodbye to the young officer, a fairly slow goodbye with perhaps a little too much affection in the eyes of the young man. She turns to smile at Dakkah with a fullness that overturns the imagined rot in his gut, if only for a moment.

“Yes, Dakkah?”

He considers his tone before speaking. Looking around him it’s clear they’re alone but he still feels apprehensive. It’s probably best to take some sort of middle ground.

“I just wanted to apologize for criticizing your stance. I think your concern for the safety of Bothan spies is honorable.”

“Thank you.” She nods distractedly. Her eyes dart like she’s planning her exit. There’s still no one to be seen. “Dakkah, I’m afraid I have some upsetting news. I— Our relationship has come to the attention of my commanding officer and after some very sober discussion…I…”

“No.” The shock and acceptance hit him in quick succession. There’s nothing left. “Please don’t say it.”

Dakkah exits this wing of the facility with the desire to be as far away as possible from the exact location where his heart broke. Mon Mothma manages to steel herself and once Dakkah is completely out of view, she knocks on the white wall of the corridor—three times, slowly and loudly—as she’d been instructed. The light from beneath the door flickers twice, as she’d been told it would.

Her eyes cast downward, she nearly chokes on the lump in her throat, steeling herself to hold back the tears for just a few more moments until he can’t hear them.

Dakkah wakes from a restless sleep several hours before necessary. His mind blank, he sits at the edge of his bed until the appointed time and walks in a somnambulist haze to Training Room 2F, home of the makeshift transporter that will presumably take him to Endor. It’s quiet. The interior appears dark. Presuming everyone is already inside and training has begun, he quietly steps inside. It is pitch black inside the room, so dark in fact that not only can he not make out the lay of the room, but his echolocation senses are thrown as to its actual dimensions—it could be as large as an aircraft hangar or as small as personal quarters, it’s impossible to tell. Just as he stretches a probing hand to feel his way ahead, an artificial voice squawks over the speaker system.

“Good morning, Dakkah. Do you have any questions for me?” It isn’t a robot but it’s distorted and a strange discontinuous pulse attends each utterance, closing at each pause as though by some kind of gatekeeper for the aural emission.

It repeats, “Good morning, Dakkah. Do you have any questions for me?” It doesn’t sound exactly the same as before, possessing enough variation to tell him that it is a living thing speaking to him. As such, he feels even more nervous as that implies this thing knows who he is and why he’s there and clearly expects some thoughtful inquiry from him. Hairs all over his body tingle and raise in apprehension. A massive foreboding clouds his reason and he lets out a low primal growl.

“Okay, Dakkah. If you have no questions, let’s begin.” A red ray projects from the computer to scan him up and down. With no further notice or warning, a flood of lights go up and Dakkah’s knees are drawn to the ground, like they’re suddenly heavy as concrete before inexplicably dissolving his rigid matter into a kind of light mist. His body feels weightless; all he can see is a blinding white. There’s a very specific moment where he feels his mind turn off, like a power switch: on, then off.

Without explanation or cause, the fullness of his body returns and he finds himself standing inside an Imperial hangar bay. Dakkah hits the deck and a perplexed staff sergeant marches towards him.

“You there, are you hurt?”

Dakkah clears his throat. Why haven’t they swarmed me yet? “No. I am…not hurt.”

“Look a senior officer in the eye when you answer!” He barks at Dakkah like he’s an absentminded trainee. What’s happening here? Is this real? It certainly looks, sounds, and even smells real but if it is, why isn’t this sergeant pointing a blaster to his head?

Surveying his own body, Dakkah feels the thick wool of a standard-issue Imperial tunic on his chest. The last time he touched on of these was on the body of a target, feeling his blaster-scorched chest to confirm the kill.

It worked; this is real.

“Sir, I am not hurt.”  Dakkah sprang to his feet. “I sustained a rather serious leg injury in the Battle of Hoth.”

“Hoth.” The sergeant is stunned out of his mood. “I was there, too. Were you on the ground?”

Think, think. A glance at his uniform insignia reveals he’s engineering class.

“Sir, I was assigned to one of the more sophisticated AT-ATs, for my technical acumen, only. I’m not someone you would consider battle-ready.”

“I was on the ground. My troupe sustained heavy losses, perhaps the heaviest of the entire campaign. I was awarded a commendation, essentially for surviving.” The sergeant gets a faraway look in his eyes, like he’s deciding how much to divulge right now to this unfamiliar engineer. “Strategically, the operation was a significant win. But no one really discusses how some of us…suffered to achieve it.”

“No, they do not.” Dakkah rubs his leg for effect. “I’ve healed but the injury continues to affect my balance. Hence, the occasional fall.”

“Yes, well, fortunately for us, you’re not flying one of these things.” The sergeant flashes the briefest, approving smile. “Carry on.”

Dakkah’s espionage instincts begin to awaken. He formulates his mission in the bluntest terms in his head while maintaining his facade. Other Bothans convince themselves that they are the persona they’re adopting, thinking and acting like it, even in private. Dakkah believed that was a road to madness. He may have been right.

“Sir, this is a rather complex facility and I feel foolish for being so far from my post but if you please…”

“Yes, yes, come with me. I’m used to helping junior engineers navigate Imperial bases. But you seem rather…senior.” The sergeant keeps a furious pace while enunciating his accusations calmly.

“These newer facilities are based on the geometry of Jedi temples, are they not?” Dakkah is grateful for his habit casually reading hopelessly mundane Imperial briefings on subjects like facilities and equipment updates. “I confess I’m not the most intuitive officer. All superstitious nonsense if you ask me.”

“I agree.” The sergeant smiles. “You must be a recent transfer, then. It takes the better part of a week to memorize the lay of the station.” For the length of their conversation, they walk past legions of dutiful Imperial deck hands preparing land weaponry and arming aircraft, distributed across multiple tiers and levels stretching so high skyward, Dakkah strains to discern the topmost level from the skylight. Endor’s atmosphere being so close to the surface, he realizes they are in fact far underground at the moment in what must be a terribly elaborate undergound facility, a single base housing more Imperial battleships than belong to the entire Rebellion, medical and exploratory craft included. Perhaps the Death Star is a diversion, he thinks. This armada backed by the Executor will wipe us out, no question—all they need is to draw us out from the safety of our hidden bases. He presses a finger to his forehead to etch his thought patterns onto a mind plate, accumulating as many as possible while he still has the time.

At last, they reach the drafting room, a bank of computers and graphic screens in which Imperial engineers, architects, and designers plot the shape of the Empire’s coming strike. It is here that Dakkah at last catches a reflection of himself and feels a shiver of fear down his spine that rattles him so thoroughly, he nearly blows his cover. He sees a pale humanoid man where his face should be, a good foot shorter with close cropped brown hair. His stature is slim, no longer the stout imposing beast of a Bothan he so proudly finds each morning, a visage from which he draws confidence, all of which seems to drain from his pores.

The sudden blaring sound of the alarm doesn’t startle him—but the frozen concern amongst everyone in his vicinity does. A sharp voice cuts the bustle throughout the halls via the security intercom.

“Attention all units. There is a Bothan spy in our midst. Please remain at your stations. He has been detected and he will be executed at once.”

“G— wait, where is he?! Where did he go?!?!”

Several data engineers clack away nervously at their terminals, downloading as much data as possible from the Bothan spy closest to the terminal before facing Mon Mothma’s withering stare.

“I can’t find him! He’s not on any of my readouts. It’s like he just disappeared.”

“I can—.” One of the engineers manages to squeeze out an utterance but can’t quite complete his thought, lest he miss any of the data coming in from the increasingly weak signal. At last, there is only so much data remaining, more than manageable for his cohort to record themselves, unfortunately. “Mon Mothma, one of our spies is very, very close to the base’s core—he’s seeing things we never could have imagined about the next stage of Imperial strategy and weapons technology. Unfortunately, as we predicted, the innermost rooms on these bases are where signal is weakest, obstructed by multiple levels of protective construction. That means he’s very close to highly sensitive information, information that likely confirms our worst fears.”

“The Death Star? It’s real?”

“It’s—.” He looks downward. “Too soon to say.”

“It’s hard to imagine they’d be this protective of anything less. What else can you—.”

A klaxon peals. The engineers freeze. They resume work, slower and sullen. Mon Mothma knows that sound—a spy has fallen.

A phalanx of guards storm out of an adjacent chamber towards the main gates dragging the body of a dead Bothan spy. The gate’s maw opens and a rush of humid air and flaxen sunlight dapple their jet helmets and illuminate the burnt corpse of Alga, the next best decorated spy in Dakkah’s troupe. Smoke rises from her head, wounds still fresh from an excessive close-range blaster assault. Dakkah detects an overwhelming sadness welling up and pushes it down, resolving to embrace it at a safer time.

There were others, as he’d expected—there was no telling who would survive the transportation process. Again, he stifles his anger upon acknowledging the necessities of war—the lies, secrets, and omissions—that turn living beings into tools of cynicism, left to die at the hand of the Empire, with no regard to their sacrifice. He navigates this vexation in seconds and returns to his avatar as Imperial engineer, alum of Hoth—there is a mission to complete, there was a war going on. Lest he be accused of being too invested in this scene, he taps the sergeant on his shoulder.

“Sir, where are the interfaces on this level? We’re quite far behind already and we mustn’t fall any furth—.”

A rush of pain stabs at Dakkah’s chest. His head feels light. A glance down at the source of the pain emanating from his core shows alternating ribbons of smeary reality, the hardy Bothan man that he knows himself to be, and the skinny pale Imperial engineer. For a moment the two worlds blend, and just like that, they’re gone.

“We mustn’t fall any further behind, lest it displease the Emperor.”

He wonders if anyone noticed—he looks about him to find all, including his sergeant, still focused on Alga’s corpse being jettisoned out of the hangar bay. Dakkah looks again: he is back to his disguise persona.

The sergeant at last turns and twitches, like an animal shaking off a trauma. “Yes, of course. You there.” He points to an otherwise focused senior engineer, a dazed sloth of a man who peers up from his screen. “Get this one started.”

The dazed sloth waddles over and speaks with a surprisingly articulate voice. “So, what’s your specialty, structural or fission?”

“Right.” Think fast. “Well, both.”

“Confident, are we?” The sloth of a man smiles and chuckles. “I like that. Well, the structural aspect is mostly taken care of so why don’t you help me with this.”

With astonishingly few keystrokes, he summons a holographic image of the Death Star onto the table. Dakkah’s eyes widen. They focus in on the core of the great station dominated by a massive reactor as powerful as a small sun.

“The problem is, they’ve consolidated all their power into the core and I’m telling them that’s foolish. Don’t you agree?”

“Yes.” Dakkah studies it from every angle hoping someone, somewhere, is seeing what he is seeing. “Quite foolish.”

Mon Mothma can always focus on work whenever doom looms too close and for that she is thankful. There’s nothing to do right now but help out the engineers, furiously collecting data from the Bothan spy initiative whose window may close at any moment. Hacking away on the terminal, she feels young again, searching for obscure lines of relevant data in streams of code like an academy student. As she surveys all the queued data that cut off moments ago, a surge of relief arrives in the form of new data: shapes, plans…for something. The possibility of knowing what they’ve been seeking all this time co-arises with another knowing she’s nurtured since that piercing klaxon sounded earlier: he may still be alive.

She feels her pulse race as she furiously uploads each new piece of data to central intel, still trying to suss out their coordinates in the meantime. It’s only natural that after so many years away from the terminal that novel solutions might appear. She is so focused on said solution that she doesn’t notice Varan marching down the hall towards the open door of the transmission room.

“Mon, Mothma, I need a word with you.”

Mon Mothma’s eyes meet his. She leaps from her chair to pull the emergency lockdown lever.

“Don’t you—.”

Varan runs into the shut door, bashing his nose bloody on its clean white surface. He slams his hand in frustration against the locked door.

“Now you’re locked in there, you realize that?!” No answer. “I am a commanding officer of this operation and will have you demoted if you choose to keep this door sealed!” He pounds on the door with a closed fist as though he could break the titanium. “Do not choose poorly!”

She pounds away at her terminal. She’s isolated the coordinates for the nine remaining officers and banks them to central intel. They’re ready to be brought home. All she has to do is give the word.

“Please! Let me explain!” Still no answer.

The firm swish of the emergency panel opening nearly knocks Varan backwards. Out steps Mon Mothma, as calm and graceful as she’s ever been.

“Hello, Varan.”

Sitting on the cold concrete, his tailbone sore from the ejection, he can only muster the faintest nod. “Mon Mothma, I hope you under—.”

“First things first, Varan: plans for the Death Star core are difficult to discern based on transmissions—we’ll need as many of them back alive as possible.”

“But the mind plates—.”

“Yes, a good start, but the information is incomplete. Their mind plate transmissions are compromised by some sort of dense building material near the intelligence inner sanctum. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“But you do have something?”

“What we’re left with is like a puzzle with too many missing pieces. We need to get them within transporting range—literally anywhere outside the base—and transport as many of them back as possible. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to send them a primitive low-data transmission ordering them to leave the station as quickly as possible. I can have the engineers transmit the signal as soon as you give the word.”

“I see.” He seems to be searching the air for an answer as though by facing in some particular direction he might breathe it in. “And you’re confident they’ve reached the innermost intelligence sanctum?”

“The fact that their signal is so weak is proof of it.”

He nods. She sighs and taps her comm link. “Begin the retrieval process.”

The squawk from the other end is silent for a moment, a doubtful ripple of static before a resigned voice speaks. “They need to be outside the hangar bay for this to work.”

“Proceed under the presumption that they will be prepared for you. Is that clear?”


Varan walks away, knowing they have unfinished business and hoping she’s forgotten. She has not.

“Why did you ask me to do what I did to Dakkah?” Mon Mothma is a pillar of stoicism ready for any direction this response will take. “Why have me break his heart before sending him off to what is most likely his death? At least let us say goodbye.”

“The transporters.” He draws a deep breath. “I remember on Hoth, we tested two tauntauns in the transporter—one survived the process, and one did not. We searched through our data and isolated some factors: one was female, feral and violent after being disregarded by her mother at a young age. The other, a male, was plucked from the wild just that morning, more pliant and agreeable after years of grooming and emotional support from his family. The female tauntaun survived.”

Mon Mothma’s eyes widen as she attempts to digest the implications of Varan’s words. Is he kidding? They only had a theory?

“I know it sounds fantastic, but there were numerous tests that all confirmed what we didn’t want to believe: the stronger the emotional connection, the more challenging the reconstitution process proved to be.”

“You think he can be rid of me that fast? What kind of a child believes—.”

“Dakkah, like any good Bothan spy, simply shifts his state of being…” He snaps. “And negotiates the consequences later.”

Mon Mothma bites her trembling lip. “At least let us say goodbye.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Consolidation of anything—whether resources or defense mechanisms—is a wisdom economically and nowhere else. A broad distribution of resources and defenses, no matter the cost in labor or time, offers an invaluable advantage.”

“What do you mean, by a broad base of defenses?” The sloth of a man scratches his chin in earnest trying to suss out Dakkah’s point. “You mean external defense mechanisms?”

“Yes. As many as possible while creating the illusion of a centralized base of operations. Spread the power around. For example, shielding. Why not operate that externally. You draw out the opposition, giving them multiple points of focus, stretching their resources thin, and then pick them off one by one.”

“Interesting.” The engineer nods and pads furiously at his terminal. “You know a lot about strategy for an engineer.”

“He doesn’t seem to know too much about engineering, however.” Dakkah looks up to see the chief lieutenant of this detail with the sergeant, looking pale as disheartened as though recently admonished, trailing behind him. “We’ve had a problem with Bothan spies this morning and I’m afraid no one can place you, Officer—?”

It suddenly occurs to Dakkah, that no one has asked his name yet. “Omach. Officer Omach. Hoth veteran.” There’s a fine line between saying too much and too little. The staff sergeant may have been convinced if he hadn’t remembered something from earlier.

“Tell the commander, please, what happened to that leg of yours. On Hoth, I mean.”

“Injured. In battle, at the helm of an AT-AT.”

The lieutenant smiles and raises his blaster. “Lord Vader once told me, ‘If one needs an explanation, no explanation can suffice.’ I find that rings truer every day.” He gestures to two stormtroopers. “Take him out of here at once. Execute him.”

“Just a moment!” The sloth senior engineer speaks up. “This young man has been sharing some fascinating insight into our strategies that will unquestionably improve—.”

“Stop, please!” The lieutenant’s hand goes up. “He’s drawn you into his web of lies. I have no desire to be drawn in along yours or the sergeant’s side. Bind him by the mouth so he can’t speak and deceive us any further.”

“Now, just a minute,” Furious, the slothful engineer stood up to a man who had no interest in the life of the mind, for the first and last time. “I happen to pull some weight around here.”

While they commiserate, a message erupts in Dakkah’s inner ear: “Leave the base. Mission priority number one. Leave the base. Mission priority number one.” A few seconds of eye contact is all it takes for Dakkah to take control of a simple stormtrooper; he never needs words. He seizes the blaster and delivers a gutshot to the still-dazed stormtrooper, then grabs the sergeant in one fluid motion. Dakkah’s facade, a kind of consensus hallucination, fades away like a molting skin, leaving him as his barrel-chested self. The lieutenant halts his advance and stays the hand of his troupe and all oncoming guards swarming the scene.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?” The lieutenant taps on his lapel link. “Alert! All stations, aler—!” A blaster shot to the temple silences the lieutenant. Another Bothan spy reveals herself. There passes a quiet instant in which all the remaining Bothan spies on the base realize that they must shed their disguises for any of them to fair a chance at survival. A firefight erupts.

A storm of crisscrossing laser blasts erupt through the hall as the Bothans gravitate towards one another, nine of them total. Strength in numbers. A mass of soldiers sent on a suicide mission coalescing in order to survive. Imperial gunmen operating from sniper points rain down fire and wipe out three spies in mere moments before they can find arms. The surviving six provide each other with cover fire as they make their way towards an empty transport craft. That passage halves their number.

“Shut it! Shut it, now!” The doors are closing but the Bothan skeleton crew is on board, powering up their ship. They speak with their eyes, no one exchanging a word for fear of wasting a precious moment of their escape window. The ship powers up as the doors sluggishly close. Stormtrooper blasters riddle the side of the ship, aiming for its thrusters to no avail. The gap between the gates is barely a sliver but it’s enough to get through.

Dakkah powers up the ship’s single onboard cannon, training his sights on the stormtroopers below, picking them off one by one. As usual, during the most serious moments in life, Dakkah can’t help but smile.

The room is still warm, though not quite as dark as when Dakkah entered it this morning. Mon Mothma enters his coordinates into the computer hoping that something will just happen. She completes the sequence: nothing. She repeats the sequence: still nothing. Seeking both clarity and lateral solutions, she drops to the floor and begins her meditation practice. A sequence of remote viewing native to Dantooine mythology wells up from her memory, a silly thing he’d taught her that she’d never expected to take seriously.

One last time, she traces the sigils onto the air while visualizing his face, just as she’d been taught.

For one more minute, an undefended rush towards the gates remains a viable option; a suicide mission within a suicide mission, so what is there to lose? They retract the cannon and make their way for the thin gap in the gates.

The rush is nearly successful. The ship makes it past the gates but one of their four thrusters is tagged by the maw of the closing gates. Dakkah points the cannon and shoots it off. “We can get past the atmosphere without it.” It’s true though an incomprehensible challenge. They barely escape the now-fully-closed maw of the hangar bay gates with three remaining thrusters, carefully and slowly gaining altitude to leave Endor.

Inside the hangar bay the sergeant whose previous ease allowed Dakkah safe passage directs a small team of stormtroopers down the stairs below the hangar bay, a massive ion gun in tow. “That craft must be shot down at all costs. If it leaves Endor, the existing plans for the Death Star are null and void. If we fail to shoot it down, we all go before Vader, is that clear?” The troops all confirm and finish positioning their ion gun below the hangar bay gates, training their sights on one of the spy ship’s thruster.

“Friends, I think we have a better chance—.”

Immediately, the spy known as Lakoff devolves into a blue mist, transporting back to the Rebel base.

“…Staying on board.” Dakkah turns to Avun, the only other spy aboard. “Dammit, they’re bringing us home already.” He focuses on engaging the last of the three machine thrusters. “Avun, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Don’t ask me to do that.”

“If no one is piloting, we die. Tell them to get me last.”

The ship shudders as they take their first hit. All at once, the engines cut and they nose dive towards the surface of the massive Ocean of the Forest Moon, which comprises one-third of Endor’s surface and is its only body of water, completely surrounded, otherwise, by land. Streams of water enter from multiple pregnable points along the critically-damaged aft thrusters, overwhelming the cracks until the pressure sends a proper tide through.

“It’s likely too late for either of us, my fr—.” Avun’s words are cut off as he devolves into blue mist, just as Dakkah’s tapped pulse transmission requested. Avun raises a hand as if that will stop the inevitable, then vanishes. Makkah watches calmly as the glass before him breaks and the helm floods.

The gray walls surrounding Mon Mothma morph into the blue of the ocean on Endor, her mind’s eye vision blending seamlessly with the featureless transporter chamber. The familiar shape of her beloved resolves above her. He meets his fate less honorably than he deserved, hundreds of feet below the surface of the water, tracers of heather blaster fire plumbing the depths.

Her horror evaporates in the face of a calming certainty. A certainty she finds in his wide open eyes, gazing into hers as oxygen fills his lungs. He smiles—his typical response to the most serious things in life—because he has everything he needs. The only sight that fills his eyes: her. The only thought that fills his mind: there is nothing more useless than a spy in love.

prometheus astro deck
Film Criticism

Sex, Science, and Horror in Prometheus

Look, it’s as simple as this: Prometheus has other things on its mind besides airtight logic. Like sex. No, not the missionary reproductive sex of our two protagonists or the semi-prude nudge-nudge, wink-wink suggestion of Charlize Theron’s and Idris Elba’s off-screen encounter (admittedly, a pretty appealing suggestion). The sexual apex of Prometheus is in the impregnation of the Engineer by the squid being birthed by Shaw. This is the primal scene made alien, the climax which the film so desperately tried to resist but ultimately couldn’t culminate without.

Mind you, this isn’t even me being metaphorical — this is literally how aliens reproduce, which, by the way:


The whole endeavor of the Alien franchise hinges on this scene. That’s not just AN alien, that’s THE alien; that’s the Queen Mother (note the belly sac) that bursts from the Engineer, the same Queen Mother that is the final boss in Aliens (as opposed to the non-reproducing male of Alien, one of the Queen Mother’s offspring). She’s the one who leaves eggs (instead of the vases of black goo) in the original two films, eggs that continue the blood line of the creature newly fabricated by the boots knocking of the squid and the Engineer.

Science is boring. Scientists aren’t necessarily boring, but it helps, because the endeavor of carefully and slowly parsing data is just not that exciting. It’s certainly not for fidgety people who need excitement or whom frustrate easily. God forbid films sex up this profession but Prometheus goes us one too far with a key protagonist.

Enter Shaw’s boyfriend, Holloway. Look, hardly anyone is oozing major insights, exhibiting career-appropriate intelligence, or even really needs to be a scientist beyond the demands of the film’s central conceit. But Holloway really should not have been a scientist. Not only is he never called upon to be one, but if he weren’t a scientist, it would perfectly contextualize his dumb suggestion to remove the helmets. Holloway should have been Shaw’s arm candy, her young, dumb, handsome dick in a jar whom she insists come along with her on the trip. He could bumble and pretend to be useful but it would become quickly apparent that he has no real utility on this trip aside from his shipmates hired for their various specialties. That way when he gets all drunk and truculent about basically nothing once the storm waylays their first exploration of the Engineer cave (didn’t they come away with an Engineer skull?), it makes sense that he’s just this bored pessimistic guy whose only purpose there is to plant his tainted seed into his partner.

(An aside: whom amongst you hasn’t met a guy like Holloway while traveling? Snotty, entitled, way too easily given to black moods when things don’t go precisely his way. Anyway…)

In as far as Prometheus is genuinely concerned with science, it shows in the tenacious and unsentimental temperament of Shaw. She’s no heartless monster at the loss of her crew but she remains preternaturally focused on the most compelling aspects of her mission and, realizing what a shame it would be to let this opportunity go to waste, keeps her eye on the prize. She pilots a ship full of black goo bombs/vases (and, presumably, more hibernating Engineers) to the fucking Engineer planet for…answers. OK. It’s the most badass thing anyone does in this movie by a country mile, especially considering how scared literally anyone would be at that point. Which brings me to the last tentpole of this film…

The original Alien was a horror movie. Prometheus is a horror movie. That’s where it shines. The second those two red shirt guys fall prey to the HammerpedeMohawk and Bargain Basement Paul Giamatti, I believe they were called? — shit is on, and it’s really just a matter of time until chest-burster-o’clock. In the meantime, we see freaky hybrid mutants incinerated, grisly battles settled with flame throwers, and Charlize Theron crushed by a rolling starship.

It’s an eminently classy horror movie, though, like Event Horizon in a tux. There’s more friction than your average horror flick. In fact, it’s an almost stupidly optimistic movie. Check out the main theme. Even after everything Shaw’s been through, this cue sounds, reminding us she’s still turning coal into diamonds. It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you try to wrap your head around it and it touches on a theme shared with Interstellar: it’s going to take a lot of heartache and horror to even proceed an inch into the unknown. And there will be zero guarantee that it’s worth it. Kind of a phenomenal takeaway for two flawed SF epics: neither a dystopia or a utopia but an…untopia. Almost more horrifying…

Welp, sleep tight and don’t let the hammerpedes bite.

Music Praise

Peptalk is the future of exotica

Michael Carter, Angelica Negron, and Shayna Dunkelman are Peptalk

This is Peptalk and their press release says they’re part Blade Runner and part Twin Peaks and I’m like you had me at “press release.”

But seriously this is some of the most transporting stuff I’ve heard in years, literally years. Sonically it’s complete and evocative to the point that it feels three (four?) dimensional. There’s a reason for this filmic references. This is cinematic music with lush production that actually uses the staggering capabilities of 21st century recording technology to make a kind of futurist vision of Les Baxter and Martin Denny. There’s so much more to it than that but do check out it for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Really feeling “Podesta” myself:

Light Will Remain cover

Evolution of an Idea: “We Speak to the Revelator”

I have no idea why, but some time around…2007(?) someone left me a voicemail with the first minute of this song:

No explanation. One of those flipphone-era voicemails with no missed call attached to it. The maddening (and kinda exciting) part was that I couldn’t really suss out what the song was. I think finally my friend Jesse pointed out that it was Cocteau Twins and an hour’s worth of blind searching later, I found “I Wear Your Ring.”

Before that though, I transcribed the main melody and most of the chord changes. I stayed obsessed enough with the idea to begin fashioning a whole song around it. The song would have numerous shifts and time signatures but still retain a kind of poppy feel. As well, I wanted the listener to feel like they were actually “moving” through multiple aural environments during the song, using instruments almost as cinematic foley to create scenarios in the mind’s eye. I had a really vivid idea in my head but it was hard to translate.

So I started sharing the bits and pieces I had with my cohort in The Atomic Bomb Audition. It was too abstract not to get a bit warped in translation but the piece inevitably went from soundscapes to atmospheric rock. And it gave a home to a nice little riff that I had that was very easy to build up to a satisfying peak but..didn’t really go anywhere interesting after that. That became the intro. The only thing left missing was the ending.

So I stole something else. Something I knew. It was “Betty’s Theme” by Angelo Badalamenti from David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. (start at 1:05 to hear the part I’m referencing):

One of my favorite pieces of music just…ever. So? I did something supremely obnoxious: I pilfered the melody and put words to it.

The resulting amalgam of all the above is:

Hey, we tried…


How are we doing?

My cat Easy (named after the late Eazy-E) is in poor health. He’s got the stereotypical nine lives and he’s a survivor. So despite several brushes with death, he’s with us today. He’s also a motherfucking haggler. If you don’t give him something he wants, he finds a way to get it. He persists with louder meows, pacing the house (loudly, with unclipped nails), and occasionally knocking shit over until you give him what he wants.

He’s also one of the smarter animals I’ve encountered. He knows how to get your sympathy. He knows when you want to give him medicine that tastes like shit and avoids you like the plague. And he can twist fucking doorknobs with his paws.

But he does a strange thing that I’ve noticed that’s not not smart but it’s one of those revealing “ah, you don’t have the universe in the palm of your hand quite like you thought” behaviors. Here it is, step by step:

1. Looks in his food area for food.
2. Demands to be let outside.
[maybe two minutes elapse]
3. Immediately demands to be let back in.
4. Checks for food again in his food area.

Because he goes outside sometimes with no desire but to hunt rats and leap fences (which sometimes results in him being gone until dinner), I think he thinks the action of going outside at all leads to a refresh of his food bowl. Thus he observes a correlation (going outside/inside=food o’clock) that is not entirely accurate.

So, lede-burier that I am, I finally wonder: what do even the smartest humans do that’s based on a false correlation? And who is watching us with enough intellectual remove to recognize that? Because the former can’t exist without the latter and vice versa. Wondering who the who in this question might be is the closest I get to believing in aliens are in our midst. Or at least capable of observing us intimately yet from a distance.

Point being: my cat makes me confident that aliens exist. Check out the title to this record by the inestimable Jack O’ The Clock for the sliver of inspiration that led us here tonight.

New Music Masters

Aerial Ruin is Magic

Erik Moggridge is Aerial Ruin. I’ve been a fan of his music for almost ten years and was lucky enough to tour with and befriend the man in 2008 (maybe 2009?) while in the Pacific Northwest with my old band, The Atomic Bomb Audition. Just an acoustic guitar and a gentle tenor carrying the wisdom of millennia and he out-heavied our 1000 watts handily. The man is special and his music is magic so go drown in his gorgeous new album, Ash of Your Cares, below:

Great, right? And he’s on a really long tour right now. See if he’s coming near you soon:

Aerial Ruin Spring Tour


What’s truly damaged about this Joker…

OK. Let’s start with the forehead tattoo…

Tattooing “Damaged” on the forehead of one of the most iconic villains of all time is so hilariously clueless, I have to believe that a lot of talented people involved in the movie, including the director and Leto himself, had to be against it. Look, I can live with the Graffix bong collage on his torso—pick your battles—but writing “Damaged” on the Joker’s forehead is like scribing “Sexy” and “Dangerous” on each of James Bond’s pecs (in old English). WE GET IT; WE KNOW THE GUY. My mom knows who the Joker is. Y’all are gonna throw out your back with all this lily gilding, DC. It’s nearly condescending, cynical, and insecure as offering movie goers an instructional manual as they walk into the theatre.

That said, I still think it’s great that they’re making Suicide Squad and I still think Leto can be a fantastic Joker. But when you can’t wash the veneer of the creative committee process from the work you’re trying to pass off as art, people will smell that shit. They’ll know. I think if nothing else, what people respond to most strongly in art, whether exceedingly commercial or avant-garde, is coherence of vision. Which is not the same as a coherent story. It’s that phenomenon when an idea comes from one brain. And that idea is so strong it resonates to everyone involved. That idea influences the actors and crew to add all the right details to enhance the message, not reiterate or rephrase it. That’s what leads to collaboration, not committee. Committee is what’s above, a half-dozen ideas in nearly the same zip code, all pelted against the subject without a great regard for the whole. I’ll give it this, though. Something in Jared Leto’s eyes is still genuinely unnerving. This film might be a case of some clarion calls of talent inspiration cutting through the white noise of second guessing and studio notes.

Ah, I’m talking out my ass at this point. Heh…”damaged”…


My thinking had become very uptight…

I may go so far as to say if you don’t like The Big Lebowski, stop reading this blog.

(I’m just kidding. Come back. P-please?)

One of the amazing things about the Coen Bros’ story is the way The Dude experiences epiphanies that ultimately enlighten no one but him. He’s like this sub-Philip Marlowe upon whom nothing depends and the only useful realization he forms is that he is the mark. Before expressing his final epiphany, he begins, “My thinking about this case had become very uptight,” a line that’s become a kind of mantra for me. How often, for example, do you express an opinion about something then immediately catch yourself with the thought, “I’m positive I don’t have all the facts.” I skew gullible so for me the answer is, quite often.

Take the Apple Watch, for example. I was ready to join the chorus that this was a luxury item, a status symbol, and a sign that Apple was moving into a high-end product niche for only its richest clients. It’s also clear that it’s impractical to use for typing messages and/or browsing and utterly dependent on the iPhone. None of these things is untrue but none of these observations can be reverse-engineered into a proper motivation for the Apple Watch’s existence. In courting these criticisms, I had no perspective on the motivation for creating such a thing. Which given the amount of money and effort it had to involve, was unlikely to be slight.

I’m sort of appreciating this after reading this incredible Wired piece on the behind-the-scenes thinking and tinkering that went into designing the Apple Watch.

Look, I’m as disappointed as you are that this post turned into me saying, “Actually the Apple Watch is kinda cool?!?!” but hear me out…

The TL;DR of the thing is that Apple is trying to revolutionize and tier our interactions with push notifications. The watch notifies you of different events in different ways while offering a dynamic array of interactions with those notices by sensing your movements. And apparently you’re not meant to actually text with the thing (it’s interesting—read the piece). What these guys tinkered into oblivion was a new way to keep you from looking at your phone. That’s what the fucking Apple Watch does. And that’s…kinda great?

Yes, spending $400 on a thing that keeps you from being enslaved to the thing you bought for $700 (and pay $100 for monthly) is next-level first-world problem solving. But that’s not the point nor what I find interesting about this whole thing. What’s interesting is the idea of intention and how mangled it gets. I don’t want an Apple Watch (not now, anyway) but the amount of love and care these guys put into an electronic watch (well, actually a supercomputer on your arm) made me think of recording sessions where a short space of, say, four seconds and perhaps 50-odd tracks gets belabored with stupid levels of intensity. In that moment, that four seconds becomes your world. And when it’s finally right, it becomes this massively powerful detail in your experience of the music, as a creator.

That detail is almost never meaningful to an outside listener. That’s why when I’m listening to something that isn’t really clicking for me, I try to give it that generous ear, try to isolate and expand one of those expansive four-second cross-sections the band and engineer just labored and argued into being. Sometimes I still hate what I’m hearing. But sometimes, I get it.

That detailed moment is literally everywhere. It’s in the design of a doll’s tiny felt cape or even in the location of the zip ties that braced it to the cardboard. It’s in the load-bearing strength of the guard rail hugging a canyon road and in the plotting of the grade of said road. I’m constantly surprised by what happens haphazardly, just the result of throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks with users/consumers/etc. and what is the result of painstaking consideration. It’s not always obvious.

What’s obvious is almost never worth the trouble, not in the long-term certainly. The surface experience of reality is not only boring, it’ll probably lead you to being exploited at some point. Like The Dude.

“My thinking about this case had become very uptight.”


Scarier than Skynet

Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, essentially an academic paper on the concerns around AI, the possible ways by (and speeds at) which it may lap human intelligence, and the multiple potential outcomes of those scenarios is smart, more comprehensive than you can imagine, and really fucking scary. Scary because it’s often as dry as an instruction manual. Imagine reading detailed instructions on a new device and coming across something to this effect: “Do not cross these two wires. Crossing these two wires together yields planetary-level damage. Do not cross these two wires under any circumstances.” Imagine glossing over that detail buried on page 10. Of course, a robot would never do that…

This is no pop science book. It’s a struggle to read sometimes and often slow going. Bostrom has degrees in robotics, philosophy, math, and physics. He occasionally uses a down-to-earth metaphor but as I mentioned, this is an exhaustively researched book that reads like an extremely technical and academic thesis. And, as he demonstrates, it serves no one if he dumbs this down. Here’s why: after enumerating what he believes to be an exhaustive list of edge cases related to a particular scenario in which, say, an AI might pretend to exhibit rational operations while planning a large-scale domination or species-wide genocide, he’ll often suggest that perhaps the AI may take a route that we may not have considered and cannot consider. Always, he insists, this possibility exists.

At it’s best, Superintelligence blends clinical thoroughness with jaw-droppingly evocative as in this fantastic passage:

Consider a superintelligent agent with actuators connected to a nanotech assembler. Such an agent is already powerful enough to overcome any natural obstacles to its indefinite survival. Faced with no intelligent opposition, such an agent could plot a safe course of development that would lead to its acquiring the complete inventory of technologies that would be useful to the attainment of its goals. For example, it could develop the technology to build and launch von Neumann probes, machines capable of interstellar travel that can use resources such as asteroids, planets, and stars to make copies of themselves.[emphasis mine]

Ya don’t say! Throughout the book, Bostrom remains keen to the idea that AI can reach for the resources of the known universe. This is considerably more ambitious and, well, scary than the concept of Skynet. Skynet essentially had one trump move: pit two human superpowers (the US and the USSR) against one another to facilitate mutually assured destruction. Then, after crippling the human race that tried to deactivate it, Skynet continues to defend itself…through a ground war. I admit, I’d never considered this unsophisticated second stage to be an unlikely move for a machine intelligence. If we’re giving credit to The Terminator mythos (and I’m inclined to do so) we could imagine that Skynet operates through what Bostrom calls a “stunted” AI, one that has deliberately been given limited information or a restricted flow of data from which to generate judgments. But as he explains, a proper AI likely can fill in an incomplete picture:

It might be that a superintelligence could correctly surmise a great deal from what seem, to dull-witted human minds, meager scraps of evidence. Even without any designated knowledge base at all, a sufficiently superior mind might be able to learn much by simply introspecting on the workings of its own psyche—the design choices reflected in its source code, the physical characteristics of its circuitry.

Don’t try to get the jump on a machine. As bummer as this book can be at times, it’s actually weirdly fun and a breath of fresh air on the non-fiction tip. With the sustainability of our planet’s resources and the psychotic teetering of our global economy, it’s bonkers to consider adding concerns over machine intelligence superseding our own. If it’s any conciliation, the conditions could accrete so fast, we may never even have the chance to see it coming…

Good night!