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?”

“Aye-aye.”

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.

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Philip K. Dick, Science Fiction

There, But Not There: Intertextual Encounters with Blade Runner

I used Grammarly for proofreading because I’m just too tired, okay?

It’s hard to imagine a world without Philip K. Dick (aka PKD for brevity and to avoid the obvious joke of the last-name-appellation standard for authors). His way of thinking is so perfectly suited to our contemporary style of ingestion—short, persistently relevant chunks of compressed information. His ideas were just barely coming into vogue before he died in 1982 but the recent onset of surveillance culture, multiple online masks/personalities, and the generally persistent breakdown of what constitutes “the real” make him seem like a freakin’ prophet in retrospect.

Dick’s ideas are, in fact, so important to the modern way of living and thinking, they’ve been translated from the confines of his short, easily digestible books and immortalized on film, more than any other contemporary author perhaps, save Stephen King. These include, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and Blade Runner, to name only the more successful and enduring examples. In a way, this inadvertent legacy as an ex post facto film producer is the highest honor our culture can offer him, to say, “What you’re trying to say is so important, even people who don’t read shouldn’t miss this.”


With all due respect to those other films, Blade Runner, based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is the only masterpiece adaptation of a PKD book, a complex work of art that extrapolates from the themes of its source material to create its own vibrant atmosphere. If you are in need of convincing of this fact, please, check out thedocumentary covering the creative cottage industry that yielded the film’s visionary set designs and performances. It’s certainly a favorite of mine and one that I’ve revisited for nearly two decades.

Yet, even as a fan of PKD, I hadn’t gotten around to reading the source material (he’s written a lot of books; at 7 titles deep, I am light in the proverbial shit) for reasons that aren’t too compelling. I think the title was a big sticking point: as a rhetorical question devoid of any context,Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is genuinely, impenetrably uninteresting. The fact that it’s based on a subplot from the novel that the creators of Blade Runner neglected—the adoption of android animals by a post-war populace severely lacking in the real thing—is the crucial missing bit of information that turns this frankly goofy prompt into a poignant thought to consider upon completing the book.

My reasons for reading it now? To learn the book’s stance on Deckard’s status as a replicant versus the film’s. The question of whether or not Deckard is a replicant was purportedly put to bed by Ridley Scott at some point (he is) but a quick YouTube search turns up this rather ambiguous response. So the answer is “maybe,” which is a perfectly PKD answer and one supported by the book. The fact remains, however, that he must be, simply, one or the other. The book, as PKD himself was, is much more interested in how its characters perceive the possibility of their own artificiality rather than the firm truth of whether or not they are. This wasn’t navel-gazing, either. PKD’s fascination resides in the ways in which we can read our reality with the simplest tools possible, namely our perceptions. Why is deception and darkness so convincing if they’re untrue or refutable through scientific fact? Why are humans still in the dark ages, emotionally, when so much more is known about the universe in which we live than ever before? And—getting back to the book itself—why are we to regard humans who rely on empathy boxes and programmed psychological states as more real than androids who require none of these mediations and are, in fact, actively seeking their own freedom?

With many of these dilemmas removed from the film, the question becomes balder and harder to determine, and perhaps for the best—existential dithering is not as powerful of a narrative tool in filmmaking as some wish it to be and the film’s focus on in-the-moment action serves it well. This makes the moments when the dialogue veers towards “fortune cookie” territory—most notably in antagonist Roy Baty’s (a show-stealing, and improvising, Rutger Hauer) “Tears in rain” speech. The possibility that Deckard is a replicant is never verbalized. It’s presented through memories, memories of a white horse triggered by Deckard’s spotting of an origami figurine, memories that could be his…or implants. The question is left up for grabs through his conversations with other replicants, his doubt presented to us as a quiet stoicism (in keeping with the strong and silent gumshoe portrayal by Harrison Ford).

In the context of the film, then, Deckard himself isn’t the big question; he is merely a clause within it. But by glossing over the relevance of his replicant status, we miss an important implication: if he is, in fact, a replicant, that implies that he was not only an android being sent to kill other androids, but an android designed to kill other androids. In other words, it was not an incidental part of his task but the sine qua non of his existence. Consequently, his memories, along with his expert ability to determine whether or not someone is a replicant, become significant barriers to the plausibility of his android status, and presumably, palliate the violent Nexus-6 desire for humanity.

(Then there’s this.)

Of course, in keeping with the source material, this is the fundamental irony of Do Androids…: an expert at identifying and decommissioning androids may be an android himself. It’s not, however, the story’s primary preoccupation. The book gets far screwier with this question as Deckard is arrested, told the police station he reports to is obsolete and that the android test he administers does not exist, and is, consequently, accused of being an escaped androids. As it turns out, the people implicating him in this conspiracy are—you guessed it—androids themselves! With the added component of a strange religion called Mercerism and the notion of characters artificially dosing themselves with emotions, PKD spins us around so often and so thoroughly, the book effectively leaves the reader in the “what is real?” state he, apparently, often found himself in in life.

That’s not necessarily the aim of the film, however. The film takes an interest in these issues only insofar as they generate atmospheres and textures that are sufficiently compelling in and of themselves. Baty’s speech, the interview with the replicant in the first scene, and Deckard’s reverie at the memory of the horse—these are all colors in Ridley Scott’s palette.

Which brings us back to the question of how best to adapt a PKD book. There’s a style to it and ample precedent for the approach. In the case of A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater’s slavish adaptation yields one of the least compelling PKD-based films. He gets every detail right and even produces some innovative effects with his rotoscope animation portraying the story’s “scramble suit” as accurately as one could possibly imagine. The problem? Everything is there. There is an art to omission and adapting a novel into film is one of an artist’s key opportunities to practice it. This is because the process of intertextuality gives all involved permission to leave out so much exposition simply due to the existence of the source material. No one need intend or announce it; it simply is. No matter how far transposed PKD’s source material may be, it still exists in dialogue with the film it became. In the case of A Scanner Darkly, the problem then is one of redundancy—why make a film that is exactly like the book? What understanding of the latter’s themes can the former present?

In the case of Blade Runner, a sci-fi noir was pulled out of a prototypical PKD existential crisis, one which calls into question our relationships with God, reality, and each other. And yet, I was surprised to find that it was missing a very special questionable relationship from his repertoire—our relationship with ourselves. Again, being relatively light on the man’s substantial oeuvre, I’d presumed from A Scanner Darkly, VALIS, and Minority Report that the schizophrenic’s theme—in which the pursuant subject becomes the pursued object—was a constant in his stories. That’s why I thought reading Do Androids…would lend more ballast to my notion that Deckard was a special hunting model of the Nexus-6, not less. There was a passage suggesting many varieties of replicants beyond what Deckard imagined but other than that, the topic of his replicant-ness was almost a red herring—apparently not a very interesting topic to PKD!

Blade Runner is where the question of his artificiality has more weight, and in its empty spaces, we can project much. The Deckard of the novel is complex, troubled, and starving for human (and animal—not in that way) contact. The Deckard of the film may be as well but he’s a cypher—macho and reserved, not letting on about much of anything. We’re led to believe that his game face is part of the job, part of why he’s so damn good at decommissioning replicants. If the Deckard of the book were designed exclusively for that reason, I’d send Tyrell Corp. back to the drawing board until they came up with something like the Deckard of the film.

But after reading the book, I’m always going to see Harrison Ford’s Deckard as crying on the inside.

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Science Fiction, star wars

STAR WARS: BEFORE THE FALL, Pt. 2 — “He’s No Good to Me Dead”

On the bridge of an Imperial Star Destroyer halfway between Bespin and Tatooine, two men argue over money.

“Due to the circumstances of Captain Solo’s capture, the Empire must deduct a small portion of your pay.”

“That is not what I consider small.”

“It’s more than reasonable for the loss of five of my best men.”

He rests his palm on his blaster. “I don’t pay for the Empire’s losses, Lord Vader.”

“Today, I’m afraid, you do.”

Only Darth Vader has the nerve to short Boba Fett by 100,000 credits. Only Boba Fett has the nerve to threaten Vader’s life over it. Vader has more than a little respect for the bounty hunter and offers something of a justification for ripping him off.

“Your arrival at Bespin was ostentatious and sloppy in the extreme. I expected a subtler approach from the great Boba Fett. There’s reason to believe that city guardians were preparing their counter strike before we revealed our presence.”

“That’s preposterous.”

“Make of it what you will. You’re earning much more than any of your peers charge. Frankly, I think you were overpriced.”

That does it. Boba Fett draws his blaster and shoots off several rounds having switched to automatic rapid-fire without Vader noticing. Vader deflects each shot with his arm, leaving minor scars on his armor. Vader attempts to draw the blaster towards him but Boba Fett ups the ante tremendously by engaging his jetpack and shooting himself out of the window overhead.

The bridge’s two helmsmen are sucked out into the vacuum of space immediately. Using every ounce of concentration he possesses, Vader keeps his footing and peers out of the gash in the window towards a seemingly patient Boba Fett. Having deployed two magnetic grapplers on his palm, Boba Fett hugs the hull on all fours like a stalking animal ready to pounce. It’s not the best vantage point but he can see Vader pushing his apprehension of the Force to its limit, attempting to maintain his position. Surprisingly, he kneels onto the floor as the blast gates of the ship begin to close above him. Effortlessly, with one upraised hand, Lord Vader locks them in place before they shut, a stream of precious oxygen and useless particulate continuing to gust out of the bridge.

Spellbound, Boba Fett watches from his perch, his heart beating in his throat. For a fleeting moment, the thought crosses his mind that challenging Darth Vader may have been a foolish idea. He squashes this notion instantly and reloads. He has about five minutes of oxygen left in this suit and he gathers Vader may have a little more if he doesn’t exhaust himself by resisting vacuum, that is.

Too late Boba Fett realizes that passively waiting for his seemingly incapacitated foe is improper. In one fluid motion, Vader casts his head down and lets his body fly out through the gash, tearing it open wider and knocking Bobba Fett back from his spy’s perch. The bounty hunter quickly regains his bearings, catching the edge of the next higher tier along the hull. He scans in every direction for Vader, finding him nowhere. He gazes up at the starry firmament. The astonishing notion that he may have just defeated The Dark Lord of the Sith makes him chuckle. Not so overpriced now, he thinks.

At first, he assumes that his oxygen supply is low. He can hardly catch his breath. A glance at his meter reveals a full three minutes remaining. The thought that that can’t make any sense is abruptly interrupted by an intense constriction about his throat. His airways shut and he presses his helmet against the side of the hull. He doesn’t believe in The Force, he never did; but if it does exist, he thinks, he’d like to formally beg it for mercy right now.

That thought barely escapes his mind when he sees a familiar black boot step before his visor. He looks up and Lord Vader, standing with clenched fist, brushes him away with one hand hurtling back through the open blast gates. Boba Fett’s jetpack hits the bridge floor with such force it rattles his teeth. The blast gates immediately seal shut and oxygen and gravity return to the bridge floor. Boba Fett, still supine on the deck, looks about him at the dark abandoned bridge, a single red alert siren bleating and flashing to illuminate the darkness. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the regal gentleman warrior of the Empire approach, walking slowly as if there is no hurry, and indeed, there is not; not when you’re accustomed to thinking several steps ahead of your opponent, calculating outcomes and possibilities, measuring energies and intentions, all with the inevitability of victory in mind. Nothing happens to Vader, the bounty hunter thinks, that he doesn’t expressly wish to happen.

There is never a moment when he is not in control.

Boba Fett’s jetpack is now empty of fuel. He lost his blaster during one of the upheavals on the ship’s exterior, and he now has barely two minutes of oxygen remaining. There is no upper hand to be had right now and he waits for Lord Vader to approach him, seemingly slower than before, and issue a judgment. The Lord of the Sith glances around him at the carnage and damage left by this stunt and throws the promised amount, minus 100,000 credits as he’d insisted, by the bounty hunter’s feet.

“I did not deduct any more from your compensation. You’ve pointed out to me the folly in having any kind of override for our blast gates. Consider your survival and my agreement to the previous terms as a form of grace.”

Vader turns his back on Boba Fett who wouldn’t dare retaliate at this point.

“I trust you have faith in the power of the force now.” Vader exits the bridge and this is the last interaction between these two men, arguing over money.

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Science Fiction, star wars

STAR WARS: BEFORE THE FALL, Pt. 1 — “An Older Code”

[The first in a series of (ahem) fan fictions, designed to fill in some interesting cracks in the original Star Wars continuity with pure conjecture based on the actions of minor characters I love. Today’s subject: Admiral Firmus Piett]

With a massive handful of chak, several stalks of which she’s resolved to prepare for breakfast, Nieve Piett tiptoes towards the stove during the pre-dawn hours so as not to wake her children. She’s unsure how this works; collectively, the three-foot stalks are four times the size of her biggest pot. Supposedly, chak boils down and its stalks soften to a creamy texture but she couldn’t place much faith in that level of transmutation this morning.

Most of the indigenous population of the Taere system wakes up two hours earlier to start preparing bundles of chak for much bigger families. Skeptical that it could take so long to cook for three kids, as well as fundamentally unwilling to lose that much sleep over breakfast, Nieve starts boiling water a mere hour before the children awaken. Exhausted from picking the chak (it HAS to be fresh or it tastes distressingly close to rancid Bantha meat) she peers at the water every couple of minutes, her stomach audibly grumbling. If this doesn’t work, she thinks, she’ll forsake sleep and wake up early. It’s important to adopt the culture of the place where you live, she thinks. Even if the Empire successfully stomps it out, perhaps the families of the Imperial Army will sustain it, at least in part. There is certainly nothing better to do as she and her children wait on this planet that is not their home, while Firmus negotiates the unfortunate privilege of standing at the helm of a galactic war.

*

She turns up the heat and laughs inwardly, wondering if this water might boil faster if she had the Force. It is then that she misses Firmus, a fierce pinching feeling that seems to rise along the wall of her stomach. Perhaps it’s the hunger, she thinks, but when she stands she sees her reflection against the still-dark window pane and notices the moisture of tears on her cheek, tears she hadn’t realized she wept. Soon, Firmus had said, soon a significant gesture would be made that will weaken the Rebellion. If not for good, then for long enough so that he could return and spend an entire year, likely longer, with his family.

Still gazing at her reflection, she forces herself to smile, then she does smile of her own accord when she recalls the first time she met him. So clever, so much promise. Once again, she distinctly remembers that conversation they had the second night they’d spent together, one Firmus persistently denies having, the one in which he told her he’d distinctly felt the Force within himself and what if he became a Jedi?

A loud triplet of knocks interrupts her thought, as though Firmus had sent a visitor in his stead before she got carried away with that idea. The water is still cool.

It’s Brenn Ozzel. If there’s anyone she doesn’t have the patience for, and with an empty stomach and the bleakest mood she’s been in since Firmus left, it’s Brenn Ozzel. Being kind to Brenn is a sort of charity. The moment she opens the door, Nieve notices the freshly made dish of chak Brenn holds and suddenly, she feels a bit more charitable.

“Nieve, how are you today?”

“I’m fine. It’s early.”

“Yes. Not early enough of course but certainly hours before the little ones are due to rise. How are they, by the way? Kendal and I love children, you know.”

It always makes her nauseous to hear that name and in her current state, she chokes back vomit.

“Hmm. Yes, they’re fine, Brenn. Did you need something, or…?” Nieve is so anxious for her to offer some of the steaming, fragrant plate of food, she fears it may not in fact happen.

“Of course not. It is you, who needs something, my dear.” Nieve’s eyes widen. She doesn’t care about this whole obnoxious exchange because Brenn is now handing her the hot plate of chak. “I prepared it just this morning. I make a family’s portion so of course I’ve made far too much.”

Nieve takes the bowl and breathes in a deep waft of the warm steam rising from the bowl. The complex spiced aroma and golden sweet glaze is universes away from the batch of hardy weeds on her table.

“It turned out perfect, as usual. And I’d remembered something you said about attempting to make your own this morning and I thought, well, that’s not going to go too well, I imagine.” Brenn smiles. Nieve’s desire to punch Brenn’s face bloody threatens to build to the surface–it always somehow feels stronger than the last time, as though each offense builds on the one prior–but subsides in pity, as always.

“My goodness it feels like they’ve been gone forever, hasn’t it? I do miss Kendal something fierce.”

Nieve clears her throat. She’s not sure what to say; she’s never sure what to say when they talk about Kendal. She only knows because Firmus knows and they’d agreed they ought to let the Empire inform her, though they hadn’t and may never bother at this point. It is perhaps time for Nieve to take it upon herself and tell Brenn. It’s been long since time, actually but it takes an overwhelming effort to crush this small woman’s soul, ultimately more than Nieve has within her. Tears drop down her cheeks when she so much as considers the idea. So she just nods and listens.

“Did you hear they’re due back as early as tomorrow?”

Nieve face turns white and her eyes go wide. The lid of her largest steel pot clangs as the water finally reaches boiling.

“I– I hadn’t heard anything certain one way or the other.” Nieve is being diplomatic. She’d spoken with Firmus via teleview earlier this week and he was vague about exact times. She pressed him for it but he said nothing was certain and he didn’t want to get her hopes up. Point taken, Firmus, she thinks. Hopes are now officially and impossibly, up.

“Well, that’s what several Imperial families had heard. Obviously I haven’t spoken to Kendal so I make do with murmurings!” That name again. Nieve feels a pang of sourness. Just as she’s about to ask a half dozen questions she knows she shouldn’t, Brenn clicks her tongue and interjects her exit. “How exciting, no? Enjoy the chak. I’ll stop by later for the bowl.” Her complete disinterest in Nieve’s input was never more welcome. Brenn turns and walks away, her clean gray wool suit swaying at her ankles.

A sliver of sun sets the horizon ablaze with deep reds and oranges and Nieve Piett decides that tomorrow she will tell Brenn Ozzel that her husband Kendal is dead.

*

Admiral Firmus Piett is losing the war on behalf of the Empire yet keeping quite calm about the fact. He leans in quietly to express his concerns to the first helmsman aboard The Executor. “Officer Krevot, please listen to me closely. Despite what Lord Vader believes, I am under the impression that we must begin an evasive maneuver.”

“But, sir–”

“Please let me finish. That is, however, not the stated order of The Empire, therefore we must do everything in our power to, shall we say, make progress in that direction as subtly as possible.”

“Admiral Piett, with all due respect, The Executor is incapable of subtlety.”

Piett’s eyes narrow and he does his level best to intimidate Krevot, despite his realization that the young helmsman is indeed, right. “Surely the crown jewel of the Imperial Navy can steel itself against destruction.”

That word ‘destruction’ visibly chills Krevot. Good god, Piett thinks, do they not see how poorly this is going? Do they believe Vader infallible and capable of some advantage even at this juncture? It’s an unfortunate series of circumstances that led Piett to the Admiral’s chair, the ultimate irony being that the highest ranking officer in the Empire has little faith in the Empire’s resolve. He doubts not their power but their ability to respond creatively to subversions of their power. Yes, Admiral Piett wants to turn and run because he feels the Empire is destined to lose, and entertaining that thought–amidst battle on the deck of The Executor, no less–fills him with a terror so massive, only the image of his wife feeding their children consoles him. He swears he can see what she’s doing at any given moment (though he’s never admitted that to her) and right now she’s doing that very thing as the sun is rising in a place that is not their home and he’s filled with a temporarily palliating peace. If he dies, so be it. May the Force be with her.

“Begin evasive maneuvers, Officer Krevot.”

Krevot’s eyes wander the immediate vicinity for validation that he does not find. No one so much as notices Piett’s quiet declaration of mutiny. Krevot, his mind made up the moment the words escaped Piett’s lips, realizes that the Admiral is, in fact, far off script.

“Admiral, I’m afraid I cannot do that.”

“Say again?”

“I said I cannot steer The Executor away from its present course.”

“Cannot or will not?”

Krevot clears his throat, surer in defiance than an allegiance. “Both, sir.”

Piett attempts to regain some composure and curb the terribly emotional flares he’s let off. “It’s become clear to me that this ambush was in fact poorly planned and if we act quickly we might save The Executor. It is an executive decision.”

“Without the explicit order of Lord Vader or The Emperor, I will not–”

Piett grows deeply frustrated. “Am I not your commanding officer, Krevot?”

“Yes sir.”

“And am I not better apprised of the realities of this conflict, given my vantage point?”

“Perhaps, sir, but I–”

“Then is this not insubordination?”

Krevot’s face pinches. He’s genuinely offended though refusing to lose his temper. “You’ve suggested mutiny, Admiral.”

“This will save our lives!”

Piett raps his fist on the helm, having officially captured the attention of everyone in earshot including Captain Gherant, his far more dedicated subordinate.

“Admiral, is there a problem?”

Piett and Krevot eye each other, each wondering who really possesses the upper hand in this unique situation where one is in the right and one is in charge. Krevot is steeling himself to fall on his sword when Piett beats him to the punch.

“No problem at all, Captain.” Piett straightens his posture. “There was a question of tactics, we had a difference of opinion, and I let myself get carried away.” Krevot’s eyes widen and his lips shut. “I think I will defer to the helmsman in this case. Carry on.”

Krevot never entered the next set of coordinates. From the moment Piett began his response, the helmsman hadn’t noted a word of it, fixated as he was on a small rebel craft spinning wildly out of control off starboard, on a course to fly over their heads in a matter of sixty seconds. And yet the craft, through no effort of its own, seemed to be drawing lower as it approached, perhaps due to The Executor’s onboard gravitational engine drawing it closer.

“Admiral, look.”

From this vantage point, Krevot could see the pilot struggling to fire the thrusters but it was clearly no use. The craft was now quite close and, due to the pull of the grav engine, drawing exponentially closer, now destined for the bridge windows.

Even in the maw of death, Piett is not small enough to say, I told you so. “All hands, take evasive action.”

Krevot’s already made up his mind. Captain Gherant is the first one to hit the deck.

“It’s too late!”

The rebel ship bursts through the glass in a conflagration soon to be swallowed by the vacuum of space.

*

It was in the middle of breakfast, her children happily stuffing their faces, when the comm-feed started up, accelerating steadily from that point on. The first few are variations on anonymously sent communiques she receives at least once a week.

“It’s over.”

“They’re done.”

“Rebels on their way.”

It’s not the increasing volume of messages that tips Nieve off, it’s when they start arriving with names attached.

“Death Star destroyed.”

“The reign is over. Pray they don’t find us.”

Names of Imperial families. Just the last names as though such pseudo-anonymity protects the writers. Everyone knows an Imperial family by last name so treasonous dispatches usually get sent out with anonymous home signatures. Sometimes these are the expected rebels hiding amongst indigenous tribes, sowing discontent. Sometimes however it is, in fact, Imperial families, usually an older child afflicted with sympathy for The Rebellion. This happened precisely once where the guilty party, the son of a recently slain Imperial pilot, used his real full name to lament his father’s death and curse the Empire for their “casual and dehumanizing attitude towards butchery.” He demanded to speak with the Emperor himself, confident that he could convince him to convert the Death Star into an orphanage (Lord Vader was purportedly “extremely enthusiastic” about this courageous young man and wanted to meet him personally.)

This morning is officially the second time a first name was used since that incident. The message read: “The Empire is defeated. May The Force be with those you love.”

The signature: Brenn Ozzel.

*

A torrent of bodies flies out the window on the uppermost deck of The Executor bridge before two sets of automatic blast doors close. The last three of these catch in the internal doors’ rapidly closing teeth. Two men, Captain Gherant and Officer Krevot, are stuck with their lower halves facing the outer doors, still alive despite the teeth of the doors gnashing their mid-sections, the gears moaning as they persist in their attempt to close fully. In between them lies Officer Bá, only his legs visible as his torso dangles on the other side of the maw, limp and lifeless, several pink- and blue-colored gooey lumps of his viscera draped atop blunted gunmetal gray teeth.

Captain Gherant spots at least a dozen breathing pods deployed atop the deck floor, most of which are now deflated and taut against the corpses of their occupants. Some of these are black and charred inside, the automatically deployed pods having captured flames from the crash and supplied them with the oxygen to burst, turning the pods into little death traps.

One pod, however, remains inflated, rising and falling in time with its occupant’s breath. Peering out of bleary sweat-soaked eyes from inside the maw of the blast gates, its teeth dully gnawing at the walls of his intestines, Gherant thinks he spies a familiar face through the foggy plastic of the pod.

“Firmus?”

*

Dragging her confused son and daughter behind her, Nieve Piett runs for the Ozzel settlement less than one mile away. She’s heaving breaths and tears. Her children wonder why she’s crying in the unemotional, detached way typical of children of a certain age for whom empathy is not necessary and even potentially toxic. They run in the tall weeds behind her and come to believe that what’s happening is actually some sort of game and so they start laughing to each other while their mother drags them towards Brenn’s door.

She’s doing precisely what she’d feared which was to engage Brenn Ozzel in the midst of tumultuous emotions at the moment when she’s to deliver the horrible news. Between hyperventilating breaths and the pounding pulse of blood in her head, she knocks the door and thinks that for the first time in her life, she’ll make it up as she goes along. May The Force be with her.

Brenn answers the door looking clean and collected as ever. In fact, she looks down with pity at a hunched and emotionally spent Nieve who can barely look up through the tears. Her children play several meters behind her, long since forgetting to care what the point of this walk had been and hiding behind trees and giggling as they chased one another while a now full and bright sun cast gold over the fields.

“Nieve? Oh my goodness, whatever is the matter?”

A thousand things Nieve is too horrified to say pass through her head and as if from somewhere outside herself, she simply allows herself to speak.

“He’s dead.”

Brenn’s face scrunches in confusion. “Who do you mean? Who’s dead?”

“Kendal. He’s been dead. I never could tell you, it’s just–” And with that she bursts into tears. An eerily calm Brenn is now in the strange position of consoling a completely overcome Nieve and, without further ado, pulls back from Nieve and makes a confession of her own.

“Well, of course he is. Didn’t you think I knew?”

The relief that Nieve feels at hearing this is the lightest she’ll feel for the rest of the day and for a long while afterwards. She hugs Brenn and both of them hear Brenn’s comm feed furiously double its output with reports that The Executor has been destroyed.

*

Immediately upon opening his eyes, Firmus Piett thinks he’s blind and on fire. Beneath his sweat-caked uniform, his skin feels tinged with fever. He gasps for quick breaths that cast an ever-blooming shot of condensation onto the blurry plastic before him. The one thing she taught him, that is, the thing he learned once he fell in love, is not to panic. Panic begets rash judgments and imprecision. It is the precursor to all failures, and is right now, quite literally the very oxygen upon which the growing flame on the cuff of his trousers feeds. Firmus Piett focuses on grasping the small blade that resides in his belt pouch, paying no mind to the astonishing progress of the errant flame that spreads to the waist of his trousers in seconds.

The blade extends and with one sure swipe, he slashes open the plastic shell of the oxygen pod. Immediately, Firmus rolls out across the bridge floor, through no effort of his own. The Executor’s orientation shifts drastically, having lost all thruster power. Its nose faces the Death Star and will soon crash against its hull but no one alive on The Executor inside its massively disabled bridge is privy to that information. Elsewhere, the flagship’s occupants make their way towards all available escape pods and TIE fighters. The Empire’s premier battleship has fallen and with it, a substantial chunk of its first officers and Navy. The Rebellion has officially won the battle, if not yet the war.

“Firmus! Come quickly, please!” Captain Gherant spits up blood, his eyes trained firmly on the Admiral as the latter stamps out the flames engulfing his pants leg. Gherant strains not to look to his left, where he knows he’ll spy the dead legs of Bá twitching and further over, Officer Krevot, whose pale face and maimed mid-section mirror too closely Gherant’s own. “Firmus, please drag what’s left of me to an escape pod. I beg you to hurry.”

At last able to focus his attention on something other than his enflamed leg, Admiral Piett glances up, recoiling instantly at the terrifying triptych of Gherant’s and Krevot’s top halves on either side of Bá’s bottom, the whine of the gears unremitting as it pulses to close shut. Presuming that these men still demand a leader, if not for the sake of battle then at least to bolster their flagging wills, Piett calls upon every ounce of his will not to vomit at this scene. Krevot can only utter a barely perceptible periodic moan while Gherant continues to beg for Piett’s speed.

“Please, Admiral. Only my bones prevent these teeth from sealing shut.”

These horrible details are of course useless to Piett, whose tuning out everything he sees and hears to focus on manipulating the control panel beside the blast gates. Tinkering with buttons and circuits disseminates a deeply absorbing calm throughout his system. His panic never fully subsides; instead, it shrinks back and waits like a sniper. Having no proper familiarity with these controls, he experiments with some informed guesses, attempting various protocols, even some highly classified overrides. But as Krevot’s first intelligible utterance confirms, it’s no use.

“No use… sir. Can’t… stop… these doors.”

Piett’s eyes widen. “That’s– that’s monstrous! Are you sure?”

Krevot nods, closing his mouth to mine his palate for precious moisture. “Part of… design.” Then he glances at Piett knowingly and smiles. “Stubborn… ship.”

Choking back tears for this poor boy half his age, he bites his lip and looks about the bridge floor. Noticing a loaded blaster a few paces away, he quickly fetches it and presents his last order as the commanding officer of the now-rumbling and thrusterless Executor.

“I will attempt to bisect the both of you with this blaster, thus freeing the essential top halves of your bodies.”

Gherant vomits blood. “D-dear god.”

“I know this is horrific but I’m confident your bottom halves will be easier to replicate than the top. The blast will also cauterize your wounds thus affording you the best chance of survival possible.”

Krevot still seems too dazed and unaware to realize what’s happening. Gherant is openly weeping. Recalling nothing useful from his astonishingly brief stint as a medical intern, Piett steels himself for an amateur surgerical procedure.

“Gentlemen, are you prepared?”

Piett’s aimed for Gherant’s mid-section but Gherant is anything but prepared.

“Please, Admiral! Free the boy first. It’s only proper!”

Piett nods. Gherant is a coward but he’ll grant him this reprieve for the sake of time, if nothing else. Piett trains his blaster on Krevot and applies a light, fixed pressure to the trigger, unleashing a stream that he uses as a surgical tool. As the laser cuts along his mid-section, Krevot only makes a vague grimace, his nerves likely too damaged to register the pain. As Piett reaches the halfway point, he notices the teeth of the blast doors closing tighter. Gherant notices too.

“Admiral! Please, the teeth are closing! I can feel my insides– GYAH!!!”

Piett pretends not to hear this. The lack of tension from a third body is allowing the gates to close. That, he thinks, is no reason to ignore the task at hand. He guides the laser stream below Krevot’s stomach, mercifully preserving its integrity.

“Admiral! Surely a superior officer must be– AGH– priority?!”

The laser is almost clean across. The teeth are nearly met.

“Please!!!”

I have made my choice.

Krevot’s torso falls to the ground, and the young officer lets a gasp escape from what remains of his body. The teeth meet snapping Bá and Gherant in half in a ceremonious doubled burst of blood. Using time he might have possibly spent cauterizing the captain’s garish mortal wound, Piett performs a perfunctory vital scan on Krevot confirming the operation successful. Gherant bleeds to death atop the bridge floor.

Deep inside the Death Star, unbeknownst to all but one Rebel soldier, the Emperor has also met his end at the hands of Lord Vader.

And with that, the last commanding officer still dedicated to the Imperial cause, dies.

*

Brenn Ozzel finds herself frankly confused as she consoles a tearful Nieve Piett while Rebel craft swarm the skies of Taere. All comm-feeds have been intercepted to formally grant every member of an Imperial family amnesty once the forced migration of non-native Taerens begins.

Nieve’s children are still playing outside, spreading their arms out to ape the landing X-Wing squadron.

*

Piett hoists Krevot’s salvaged half over his shoulders as they make their way towards one of the dozen unjettisoned escape pods available for an almost fully expired bridge crew. Krevot squeaks out a few words in his weak state.

“You saved me?”

Piett plants the torso firmly in the seat opposite his, adjusting Krevot’s safety straps before buckling his own. Firmus Piett clears his throat as though to begin processing his own small rebellion.

“I admire you.”

Krevot nods and looks around the pod with a heavy daze in his eyes before his remarkably casual response.

“I wouldn’t save you.”

Piett pauses before initiating the launch sequence that aims their pod towards the far side of Endor.

“Yes, I suspected that.” Piett pauses a beat before giving a speech that pains him to start but that he must give, now, if his words and his loyalty and his love are to mean anything ever again. “Before we launch, I’d like to make it clear that I intend to surrender myself to the Rebellion. Moreover, I intend to support their cause to its logical end until the day I die. If for any reason you no longer wish to join me, you may stay aboard The Executor and die. But under no circumstances will I tolerate you subverting my plan in the name of The Empire once we reach Endor. Is that clear?”

Krevot stares around the interior of the hatch with a preternatural calm. He looks down where his legs used to be and lets out a small snort. The rattle from explosions on lower decks grows louder and closer. Piett’s nostrils flare though his temper remains even. He’s still holding the blaster in his lap and his grip tightens around its handle.

“What will it be then?”

*

“I can assure you that you and your children will be safe with us. Can I get your name, please?”

“No. Please.”

Nieve Piett does her level best to retain her composure and it’s working but there’s certain things she’s not presently willing to oblige. Like this handsome young rebel pilot asking her name as she boards their transport shuttle. The pilot nods and doesn’t press.

“We understand if some Imperial families wish to remain anonymous. It does not effect your safety. Welcome aboard.”

He smiles at her, a beaming charismatic smile that she doesn’t attempt to return. All she can see when this man smiles, when any of these smug rebels so much as open their mouths, is a missile blast cutting through the flesh of the man she called her husband. Of course, she knows it wasn’t a missile blast; they say it was a crash of some sort. They say that all the occupants of The Executor were killed in the crash. They say that every Imperial commanding officer involved in The Battle of Endor is now dead. All of them? she thinks to herself, each time she spies this message now glutting every visible comm-feed on Taere. How do they know? And how has no one mentioned the Empire’s accidental third in command by name?

The other families on the shuttle, families Nieve Piett doesn’t recognize and never cared to know, show a range of emotions, from anger to sadness to relief to joy, as one might expect. But unlike Nieve they do indeed show these emotions while she stares blankly at the handsome and happy rebel pilot as he jots or withholds names from the ledger. She stares and seethes, hating this Rebellion and its success. The spite feels as though it might rot a hole in her stomach and she idly wonders if there’s enough hate in her heart to help someone more powerful than she destroy this Rebellion.

At long last, this spite releases not in anger, but in sadness. Her tears fall on the shoulder of her oldest son who gently pats the back of her head, not asking her why she cries.

*

The lone escape pod to eject from The Executor maintains its course, unperturbed, to the far side of the forest moon. It’s days before the rebels discover it and its two occupants–one dead, one alive.

According to all known records of the Empire and the Rebellion, Admiral Firmus Piett did not survive The Battle of Endor.

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fantasy, novel, san fernando valley, Science Fiction

An(other) update

I’m writing a novel.

There’s a bunch of other things going on as well, but the one that I am most excited about, particularly because it seems the most daunting, is a full-length prose novel.

WHAT IS KNOWN SO FAR:

It’s an SF/fantasy story set in 1983. Its locale is the West San Fernando Valley near LA, which is where I grew up. This book is important to me for a lot of reasons but that stuff is better to share when you have the actual book in your hands. For now, I’ll explain a little bit about what I want to pull off with this book.

The idea in a nutshell, is that this book be both smart and entertaining. I want it to be both a quick, plot-heavy read and a dense slow-burner with hidden layers for those who wish to take their time. Also: topping out at 200-250 pp. max. Books are SO goddamn long, aren’t they? Who are these motherfuckers in 2011 who think they have 500+ pp. of interesting shit to say? I want to trim the fat and make every paragraph just thick with ideas, images, and moods. This book will be edited within an inch of its life–no wasted scenes, no gratuitous references to my favorite indie rock song, no chapter-long expositions.

Oh, also remember how I said it was an SF/fantasy book, but it’s set in the Valley in ’83? Yeah, that doesn’t mean there will be a door in our world that leads to another dimension where people are named Terl and fly on multi-headed winged beasts. Nothing against that stuff (really) but I’m trying to achieve a tone of believability that I don’t often see in the genre and have it play as realistic. This will be a book for people who pick up genre fiction and go, “ugh, not this again,” and for people who pick up experimental or ‘high’ literature and wish there was a plot. It’s about a father and his son and that’s all I should say for now.

It’s called The Anglekeeper, I’m about 1/3 of the way done with it, and I can’t wait to share it with the world.

-A

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Clive Barker, fantasy, horror, macabre, Quantum Leap, Science Fiction

Vista 2: The Young Murderers

Vista 2: The Young Murderers
[Stardate: 20110315]

“Keep all your heads DOWN! I’ll tell you when it’s your turn.” I’m lying face-down in Timothy’s Market at lunch time, feeling a pool of someone else’s blood soak my last clean white shirt. My right eye scanned the room wondering who was alive but everyone else is on the ground too. I hear moans, encouraging moans. My name is Kevin Dwight Page and I do not want to die in the town I grew up in.

My bruised lip touched the cool linoleum. Oh god, it felt so good. A wave of guilt accumulated and hit me like a motherfucker from every time I felt comfortable while others suffered—when Kally got sick after her abortion and I went to Reno with Rick and Jeremy Renfro, when my mom didn’t eat for a whole week while we were on food stamps and I had stashed a Hostess Cup Cake that I wouldn’t share, when my brother died in Iraq at the exact time (I figured it out) I was getting a blowjob from Christy Sanders. If I get out of this, I will reverse my desire to be on the receiving end of the gifts I find in this world. I have to give someone else that gift.

Jesse Klier and Mike Beatty came down from the hills overlooking Parable, CA (pop. 1400) to Timothy’s Market during lunchtime (when barbeque is served) expecting fifteen but they only got five men and women, lambs to carve with their angel of death-looking scythes. The first hit was Dr. Carter, who got a hack to the thigh so deep, the rusty teeth lodged into this femur. Mike had to step down on his leg so he could pull the blade out; he stepped so hard, Dr. Carter’s leg just snapped like plywood. His screams cut through the air for the duration of the slaughter. The weird part was that these screams, instead of weighing on the hearts of the killers, made their work easier. There’s something about a perpetual sound, no matter how horrid, that starts to become soothing. It loses its edge because it literally has no end: a scream with no shock and no cut. So they cut more and felt less remorse, severing flesh, gouging eyes, tearing limb from torso. While Mr. Carter wailed like an infinite stuck pig, they were getting into the physicality of it all, realizing they were naturals at the sport of hacking the human body. If Dr. Carter knew that he was making it easier for them to kill, he’d have winced in silence, holding back the pain past tears and vomit.

Before this, neither Jesse nor Mike had even so much as punched another man. Today was about transformation—they could feel every new kill in their bones, in their blood, infusing their being with responsibility, irrevocable gestures that they had no choice but to own. Their weapons breaking skin slowly and tentatively at first—Jesse held them down (he was the sturdier of the two at 260 pounds, 6’2”) and Mike ran the blade—then graduating to precise butcher-like flesh rending. It felt good, they thought, to exercise their ability to change the reality. Outside, the freezing cold crystallized the green of a new spring.

In the aftermath, this will be characterized as a senseless tragedy. It was a tragedy. It wasn’t senseless. The sense that Mike and Jesse had was that on the deepest structural level, nothing would ever change. Kings are born kings but these two young men received the poor fate to serve. Only tearing at the fabric of their fate would force God to sew them a new one.

Jesse Klier’s mom is the Queen of Dumb. I say this not to be unduly obnoxious but to highlight that she’s never said a single insightful or clever thing in her life. I give Jesse a break because I cannot imagine a more exceptionally unfortunate fate than to be born to a woman like Bernadette Klier.

Because there is literally nothing else she can do in this life in exchange for payment (including housekeeping) she assigns numbers at the DMV in Redwood, CA, about two and a half hours drive from here. Half her daily paycheck goes to the gas she uses to get there and back, which bothers Jesse way more than it does her. She comes home, heats up a red-beef burrito and opens an orange soda, and watches this television program about a kid who solves crimes by talking to his dog. A constantly thickening layer of Ho-Hos and bad TV dulls her senses to where she can barely turn a deadbolt. If I could see anything in Jesse’s eyes it was fear—fear that callousness like that was even possible. I think that’s the only thing that’s different about us. I see that and I want to leave this place, put myself as far away from it as possible. He sees it and he starts to sink…

A damp iron chill hung in the air. My lungs filled with cold blood vapor. Jesse stood over us with his head arched. His upper lip twitched up at the corner of his mouth as he looked over the carnage, physically unable to have an opinion about it but under the impression that he processing it. The twitch was the humble morality of a guy who’s never done shit in his life revisiting a body that was now occupied by the Black Angel of Death’s right-hand man. The profound division inside a body fueled by cheetos and orange soda made him so sick he felt he’d throw up his internal organs. For the first time in his life, he felt what a “splitting” headache was.

Mike—whose arm was drenched elbow-deep in blood from plumbing Vicki Sanchez’s belly with a bladed knuckle (his own invention)—was, of course, our Black Angel of Death incarnate. He was mainlining Christ’s blood, feeling the power of a god while on this earth. This inverse divinity was so far off the map of his fated path, you could practically see the universe ripping around him, shafts of light emerging to close the gaps in the realm of the perceived. The screams of Mr. Carter have faded to reveal the eerie low groan of the newly dead. There’s one body left before the Black Angel’s feast completes; then he’s a free agent again. Occupation is the name of the game in the hungry spirit world and (apparently) no one’s hungrier than Death.

“What are ya thinkin’ about?” Jesse barely mumbled these words, thucking me in the stomach with his steel toes. He did this lightly for a 260-pound guy, which is to say I tasted this morning’s mac and cheese coming back up.

I don’t know why I said this: “I was wondering…why are you lettin’ me live?”

Mike rushed to interrupt this little moment here: “Hey yo, Jesse, don’t listen to this fuck. Who says we’re letting you live? You see how I’m killing motherfuckers? Wait your turn!”

“You’re talkin’ to me. You didn’t talk to anybody else. Didn’t even wanna look at them.”

“What, fucker?!?!” Even with the teeth of that blade on my neck, I was convinced: he would have done it by now.

“It’s too late. You can’t do me.”

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!!!” The words rang in my ears so bad, I didn’t even notice he had kicked me in the head, and harder than before. Blood ran down my mouth leaving a metal taste against my lips and creating that light-headedness that comes from the sensation of lifeforce oozing out of my body. Oh god, I thought, this is really happening. They’re all dead and I’m very likely dying. I think I’m taking this more seriously than my attackers. And that might be a good thing.

Mike kneeled down to press his arm against the back of my throat. “You wanna know what? It was Jesse’s idea.”

“SHUT UP, MIKE!”

“He thinks you’re smart. He looks up to you. I mean, come on, you’re smart.” He was whispering this to me in a conspiratorial tone. Was he trying to get out of this, and get out of it with me?

I REALLY don’t know why I said this: “I’m not special, Mike. Tell you what—you both leave and I’ll say I did this.”

“…”

“Don’t fuck with me, Kevin.”

“I’m not fucking with you one bit. You leave. I’ll take the fall. Who would know? They’re all dead. It’s just your word against mine.”

“Why would you do something like that for US?” Mike’s lip was trembling while he touched his blade to my head. “You got a scholarship and shit; y’all gonna be famous. You throwing that away?”

“I want to give you things that no one’s ever given you. It’s just generosity. That’s all we’ve got separating us, man. Generosity.

“The FUCK you talking about?!”

“I’ve already been given chances and I don’t want to stay small.”

I couldn’t see Mike’s face; he was staring at the ground and breathing deep breaths. He suddenly became the linchpin, and seemingly wasn’t pleased with the fact.

“This sounds like…I don’t know…this sounds like…some kinda bullshit. I have an idea, Kevin. You—.”

It happened way too fast. I heard Mike’s wrist snap. That’s all. Jesse had turned Mike’s blade on his gut, forcing the tip of the scythe through his stomach. Forced pounds of pressure set the blade deep before stopping at his vertebrae. It’s fascinating how unaware of his strength Jesse is. His whole body was vibrating as his friend fell silently with this, the last death of the day.

I looked over and Jesse was staring at me, not concentrating but staring fixedly like his daze would produce an answer. When at the point at which I looked so deep into Jesse’s eyes that I could see he was there in a life support capacity only, which is to say no one was home, I projected my self, entered his shell and began to see through his eyes. I observed myself through another person’s body for the first time, which oddly made me feel like my existence was suddenly negated. Phased.

When I say I occupied his body, I’m not speaking metaphorically. I was now in control of the body of Jesse Klier. There is a point at which the animus vacates the shell just so and I have a window of opportunity to take over. It’s sort of like breaking into a house when the person’s on the shitter but you have to be careful—once they’re alerted to your presence, you’re out. Right now though, Jesse, stone terrified by how fucked things had gotten, was more than happy to let me take the reins for the foreseeable future.

Oh, and I didn’t know ANY of this shit yet. I was just looking at my own face thinking I’d died or gone insane and wondering if I’d know the difference.

“Who are you?”

Someone said it. I think it was me. I didn’t mean it to be deep. I meant it in the most boringly literal sense possible. Then I heard it.

“Boy, wassa MATTER w’ you?!”

It was Dr. Carter.

“Wassa MATTER with YOOOOU?!?!”

“Uh…sir.”

“Murderer…’s too young…t’ be a MURDERER!!! Brough chu boys…inna th’ worl…”

“I’m not a murderer.”

“I never…never forget…I don—MMMF.”

Sigh. Deep breath. He was dying. He’d lost a lot of blood for a man his age to even be talking let alone lecturing me. I turned around to face him, as Jesse. It was the least I could do.

“Never forget…a face. Y’do sumpin’ GOOD, son. Sumpin’ fer CHRIST. Don’t die…without…”

Goodbye, Dr. Carter.

Here’s what’s gonna happen: Jesse, you and I are trading bodies. All you need to do is stay here, occupy my body, and NOT fuck up. I’m gonna leave right now in your body and figure out how to get you another chance. We’ll meet back in town when I’m done and trade back. I promise all of that. Jesse nodded with my face. I asked him for my keys and left.

Being poorly versed in the transmigration of souls, I was surprised at how well I was improvising. Mike had chained and padlocked the front door. I, having neither time nor inclination to search his corpse for the keys, remembered I was strong as fuck, covered my knuckles in a shirt, punched through the glass door and walked away from that grisly scene without so much as looking sideways. I got into my car and drove towards Eureka, for once welcoming the hours of unpopulated mountain road that lay ahead.

Nothing precludes the possibility of redemption. With that in mind, I drive north.

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heavy metal, Science Fiction

An actual update

A friend mentioned that they’d bookmarked my blog so I’ve decided to start updating it again. So what’s been up you ask?

I’ve been doing a lot of metal journalism for Invisible Oranges, the metal blog edited by Cosmo Lee. Here’s a link to my entries. I used to write a MySpace blog called The Metal Apologist (all entries of which are collected on THIS blog) and my writing at IO can be considered a substitute for MA.

The Atomic Bomb Audition has been my main focus as of late. We just self-released our 3rd album, Roots Into The See. It’s available on vinyl LP and high-quality digital download ONLY. You can buy or listen to it here: theatomicbombaudition.bandcamp.com

Lastly, my ongoing concern has been a first attempt at a large-scale writing project. This is a graphic novel script entitled Silver. I’m reluctant to share script pages; how much meaning can one glean from a technical comic script with panel descriptions and lettering instructions substituting for evocative prose? I can, however, share my essential pitch/logline:

Silver is a point of convergence: a potent chemical, a revolutionary device, a woman with staggering psychic powers—these 3 elements synthesize to create a great weapon that unravels the fabric of our reality. This is the story of the inevitabilities that lead to this convergence and its consequences.

Anything regarding this story that seems “shareable” (i.e. suitably protected and developed for your profane eyes) will make its way to CoPR.

Alee Karim & The Science Fiction will record new material this Winter to be shared in 2011. Be prepared for mega sonic evolutions and LOTS of synth via Shayna and Norman.

Cheers and thanks for reading/caring,
A

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