Monday, October 15, 2018

Arrow Straightens Out

I must say, season seven (seven already?) of Arrow opened with promise: the characters act in reasonable ways with believable motivations, the stakes are high and yet grounded, the action choreography is excellent, and the cast, given better material, seems more engaged. The Flash also premiered strong last week, showing many of the same strengths but with a stronger focus on lighthearted moments, which is entirely appropriate for that show. Supergirl, too, had a strong, topical opening, featuring the welcome return of Lynda Carter as the President of the United States (if only!). Things are looking up in the Arrowverse this year...

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Emperor's New Genocide

Star Destroyer Validator

Captain Piett, arms crossed stiffly behind his back, paced along the Validator bridge's main walkway, his jackboots clicking against the black mirror flooring.

He listened, with grave intent, to the chatter from the tactical well: "Crossing from sector 16 to sector 15...results null." "Scanning sector 20...results null." "Crossing from sector 15 to sector 14...scanning." "Sector 21 results...null."

Piett frowned. Imperial intelligence insisted that the long-hidden rebel base skulked somewhere along this cluster of hyperspace corridors. Probe droids and spies had tracked suspected Rebel activity--along with merely routinely suspicious traffic--up and down the length of these sectors for months. Traffic from Rann, Thanagar, and Dantooine looked particularly nefarious; large transports and mid-size cruisers with shielded communications and emission dampeners that could have been installed to evade space pirates...but that would just as well served to hide from the long arm of the Empire. More importantly, these ships never seemed to return to their home ports.

"Got something." It was Lieutenant Brill, a relatively green but sharp-eyed interdiction specialist. "Looks like a small freighter...doesn't really match the profile we're looking for, and it's coming from Tatooine."

Piett scowled. More than likely the target was just another penny ante smuggler, given its configuration and origin. On the other hand, it would be a good test of the interdiction field...

"Commander Kulyhs, as soon as that ship comes within range, energize the field."

"Aye Captain," barked the gaunt, salt-and-pepper haired officer. Seconds later: "Interdict!"

Millennium Falcon
Luke Skywalker was handily batting aside blaster bolts from the Falcon's sparring drone when he was nearly knocked off his feet by a sudden violent jolt. Master Kenobi, watching his apprentice's performance from a bench along the bulkhead, seemed unfazed the abrupt maneuver. Given the annoyed roar from below decks, Chewbacca hadn't fared quite so well.

Skywalker and Kenobi locked eyes, then dashed for the cockpit as one. When they reached it, they saw their pilot cursing the ominous sight of an Imperial Star Destroyer looming out the front windows. Clark Kenobi stared wide-eyed at the ship for a moment, moving aside a second later to allow a fuming Chewbacca to reclaim the co-pilot's chair.

"We ran straight into an Imperial interdiction field, sucked us right out of hyperspace," Solo barked. "I'm trying to bring the drive back online before they scramble fighters or come after us with a tractor beam--"

Luke shook his head, his eyes closed. "The fighters are already coming."

In the same moment, an arrogant drawl slurred from the ship's public address speakers: "Attention freighter. You are voyaging through cautioned space. Prepare to be boarded by Imperial inspectors. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear..."

Solo barked at Skywalker and Kenobi. "Get to the turrets and hold off those fighters while Chewie and I find a way to nullify the interdiction field!"

Master and apprentice sped to the turrets. Clark seemed mesmerized by the sight of the Star Destroyer, his eyes unreadable. But after a moment, the spell was broken. "What can I do?" he asked.

"Get in back and strap yourself in, kid. There's nothing you can do here." Solo's voice was harsh, but Clark knew he didn't mean to be unkind; he was simply too busy.

Clark retreated to the passenger deck, but he knew Solo was wrong. He could do something. He could do a lot of things.

He made his way to the ventral airlock.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Chariot of the Gods

HYPERSPACE, en route to Yavin IV

"Chewie, I don't want you horsing around with that kid on the ship. I'm not worried about you, but I saw him lift a  sandcrawler to save a womp rat. I wouldn't be surprised if he's strong enough to punch a hole in the hull and blow us all into space."

"Rrrrauugghhhh," Chewbacca said.

"Yeah, yeah, you vouch for him, Skywalker vouches for him, the old man vouches for him. But I'll tell ya, I've got a bad feeling about--"

"About what?" said Clark Kenobi, choosing that inopportune moment to visit the Millenium Falcon's cockpit.

"Nothing. Here, kid, take the copilot seat and see how it feels."

"Waaaughhh!" Chewbacca protested.

"Come on, Chewie, move it. You were going to replace that frozen compensator anyway, right?"

Grumbling, Chewbacca moved aft as the teenager hopped into his vacated seat.

"Gee, Captain Solo, thanks." The boy pointedly kept his hands crossed in his lap.

Well, he's disciplined, anyway, Han Solo thought. "Go ahead, take the controls for a second. You won't hurt anything."

But to Solo's surprise, the kid just shook his head. "No thanks. I like just watching the stars go by."

Solo turned his attention back to his controls, bewildered. "Suit yourself."

They flew in silence for a while. Questions burned in Solo's mind, until he at last couldn't contain himself.

"You're not really the old man's nephew, are you?"

The boy blushed, the lie dying on his lips before he could even give it voice.

"No, but keep it a secret, please," he said. "I'm from Krypton."

Solo whistled. "Krypton. Wow. Sorry, kid. That's rough."

"It's okay. I was a baby. I never knew my real parents."

Solo didn't like where this was going. It looked like Old Ben had recruited a second starry-eyed dreamer for his hopeless crusade against the Empire. The kid couldn't be more than 14, maybe younger. Solo was a scoundrel, sure, but none of his criminal activity had ever endangered children.

"I guess you're pretty mad at the Empire, huh?"

But the younger Kenobi shook his head. "I'm not angry. But they do have to be stopped. Imperials kill people, they hurt people, they make people slaves."

"And your...uncle...thinks you can stop all that, huh?"

"I'd like to try. There's a right and a wrong in the universe, and the distinction is not very difficult to make."

I guess it beats 'May the Force be with you,' Solo  thought.

"Look, you just be careful, huh? You mess with the Empire, bad things happen."

"Maybe, but I figure if you mess with the Empire enough, some good things might start to happen too."

Solo started to cast a cynical sidelong gaze at the boy, but he froze in place as he watched young Kenobi gazing out at the blue-shifted stars of hyperspace. The boy's sapphire eyes crackled with raw, barely restrained energy. Solo felt his throat go dry. He'd seen pretty much every weird, dangerous alien the galaxy had to offer. This kid was different.

The way the kid looked through the cockpit windows...Solo wondered if he even needed a ship at all. He knew that look. They were going .5 past lightspeed, faster than practically anything else in Imperial space.

But the boy was impatient. Leaning forward. As if he wished he could just jump out and leave them all behind.

Han Solo was a realist, not given to folk tales and superstition. But in that moment, he wondered if he'd been the naive dreamer all along. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Growing Up Under Twin Suns

TATOOINE
Under the twin suns of Tatooine, the boy flourished. By the time he turned 12, he was easily defeating the Wookie who often visited Mos Eisley with his itinerant smuggler sidekick. At 14, he could run faster than the T-16 Skyhopper that often flew between Anchorhead and the Lars farm. Ben Kenobi cautioned the boy to be discreet about displaying his immense physical prowess, and to his credit the boy tried, but he was a curious one, eager to explore beyond the sand and rock that were his adopted home.

Soon I'll lose him, Kenobi thought.

"What troubles you, Master?"

Kenobi turned to face his apprentice, Luke Skywalker, now approaching his 30th year and a Jedi Knight in his own right, though he could never be called by that title in public, lest he be hunted down like the rest of the order. Kenobi and Skywalker were the last, even Master Yoda having faded into the light of the Force a decade past. Now they hid like the fugitives they were, away from the prying eyes of the Empire, on a planet so forsaken the Emperor left it to the Hutts.

"Young Clark is growing too big for this world. Like you," Kenobi said, reaching out to place a gentle hand on Skywalker's shoulder.

"Is it finally time? After all these years in exile?"

"I don't know, Luke," Kenobi said. "The Rebellion's back was nearly broken all those years ago. It's taken this long to recoup even a fraction of our strength, with the threat of the Death Star holding sympathetic worlds hostage. While the Empire's dark tyranny flourishes, we must wait."

Luke sighed. "I'm so sick of waiting. They need us. Two Jedi could make all the difference, Ben."

Kenobi nodded in acknowledgement, then turned away from his protege to watch as a whirlwind of swirling sand approached from beyond the dunes. It was a phenomenon he'd seen before; when Clark ran at his full speed, he kicked up a trail of dust in his wake.

But then something new happened. Kenobi and Skywalker watched in awe as the boy leapt into the air--and did not come down. He swooped through the sky, laughing, his red cape fluttering in the breeze behind him. It was nothing like the levitation the Force allowed, slow and graceful; the boy was a zephyr.

Kenobi pointed skyward. "Two Jedi could make a difference," he agreed. "But he could make the difference."

Kenobi's old brow furrowed as he weighed possibilities. The boy was already impervious to blaster fire. Lightsabers couldn't cut through his impenetrable hide. His alien senses matched and even outmatched many Jedi powers. He could hurl heat beams from his eyes. And now this - flying through the air without antigrav repulsors. What a soldier he'd make.

"Luke, my young, old friend," Kenobi said. "Let's go down to Mos Eisley and see if that rogue Solo is in port this month. It may be time to go after all."

YAVIN IV
In the Great Temple of Massassi that hid the remnants of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan and General Jan Dodonna leaned over a holographic display tank and watched the latest fleet strength numbers play out.

"Fifty starfighters, twelve capital ships, barely 10,000 troops," Dodonna said. "At this recruitment and resupply rate, we'll be ready for another try at the Death Star by the time you're ready for retirement, Princess."

"I'll retire when the Emperor and his hound Vader are dead, General, and their Empire shattered forever. I know I can find more allies. I just need to look farther afield...beyond the Empire's reach."

"It's too risky. Artoo is a capable droid and Darklighter a formidable pilot, but even those two can't keep you out of trouble forever."

"Then give me an alternative."

"Princess, we have no alternatives left--" Dodonna began. But at that moment, See Threepio, a golden-hued protocol droid, hurried into the room.

"Sir! Princess! There's a message--a message from Obi-Wan Kenobi! He says...they're on their way!"

Leia and Dodonna regarded each other. "They?" Leia said.

Dodonna could only shrug helplessly. And yet somehow...they both knew something had changed. A new hope washed over them.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Last Son of the Republic

The world ended for Ensign Chadwick when he failed to establish a tracking lock on the Corellian frigate that had just jumped into hyperspace with the plans to the Death Star. He cast his terrified eyes up from the navigation well of the Star Destroyer's bridge and trembled at the scowling--somehow the mask always seemed to be scowling--visage of Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin's walking nightmare. That iron scowl was the last thing he saw before his throat constricted and his heart stopped. He crumpled to the deck, the final line of the final chapter of a wholly unremarkable story.

Silent, Vader turned and made his way to his quarters. He reported to the Emperor first, of course, and only then to Tarkin. Tarkin's bluster and red-faced foaming was a mere annoyance. The Emperor's hate-fuelled snarl was something else again. Vader swore to himself that he would find those plans before they could be turned against the Death Star. Not because he thought Tarkin's new toy had any significance compared to the Force, but because the Emperor seemed to think the battlestation would be useful.

A few days later, Vader arrived on the station itself, barely restraining himself from killing that fool Tagge right in the middle of a meeting. His control was slipping; the loss of the Death Star schematics and the lack of progress in tracking them down was wearing on him. Some reports even speculated nervously that the nascent Rebels had already analyzed the plans and were even now planning some sort of doubtless futile assault.

Tarkin seemed remarkably serene about the missing plans. He scheduled a demonstration of the battlestation's power as if there were no risk at all that a Rebel fleet would soon careen out of the darkness hell-bent on exploiting some heretofore unknown weakness.

Vader arrived on the Death Star's bridge as Tarkin and an aide discussed the shortlist of targets.

"Tatooine, Dantooine, Kashyyk, Alderaan, Mongo, Krypton, Naboo, Barsoom, Jasoom. The Emperor has given you leave to choose one of these worlds for the test, sir, at your discretion."

Tarkin considered. "I see the Emperor is amusing himself by testing my mettle, even after all these years," he said, directing the comment at Vader as the assassin approached. "He knows full well that The galaxy will barely blink if I blow up a hundred backwaters like Jasoom or Tatooine. No, it'll have to be Naboo or Alderaan--"

"Krypton," Vader said.

"Eh? Granted they're heavily populated, rich, and probably provide covert support to the rebellion, but clearly Alderaan and Naboo would send a much stronger message."

"Krypton," Vader hissed. "Some weeks ago I was in the system and sensed...a presence. A pool of vast potential from the light side of the Force."

Tarkin rolled his eyes. "I hardly think one of your hunches is reason to--"

"Ah, pardon me, sir," the aide said. "But Krypton would shave a week off our travel time, which could be important if the Rebels do stage an attack."

Tarkin fell into silent thought for a moment.

"Fine," he said. "Set course for Krypton."

* * *

A few days later, Jor-El and Lara of Krypton folded baby Kal-El into a nest of red, yellow, and blue blankets, then sealed the hatch of the tiny rocket that would carry him into hyperspace - and safety.

"He's coming now," Jor-El said to the wavering hologram of Obi-Wan Kenobi. "When the Emperor destroys us, so ends the Old Republic. I send you its last son."

"May the Force be with you, my old friends," Kenobi said.

Lara caressed the rocket one final time before pressing the button that launched the craft. It disappeared into hyperspace before it even left the atmosphere, bound for Tatooine.

Jor-El and Lara had time for one last kiss before they, and all nine billion Kryptonians save one, were obliterated. The planet exploded so violently under the Death Star's superlaser assault that the planet's red star exploded as well, a completely unforeseen side effect that resulted in mild radiation burns for several thousand personnel on the sunlit side of the battlestation.

Less than seventeen hours later, a fleet of several dozen Rebel fighters burst out of hyperspace and were quickly annihilated after trying in vain to launch proton torpedoes down an obscure exhaust port. A quick analysis revealed that had they succeeded in hitting the target, a proton torpedo could have caused significant damage - perhaps enough to destroy the station. The flaw was quickly corrected.

Mere hours after that, old Ben Kenobi wandered into the twice-baked deserts of Tatooine and retrieved a wailing baby boy from his rocket.

"There, there, my boy," he said, twirling his finger through the lock of curly blue-black hair that adorned the infant's forehead. "Let me show you your new home."

The baby gurgled, suddenly content, and took hold of Kenobi's finger, giving it a small squeeze.

The boy already has quite a grip, the old man thought. 

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Tanks for the Playtime

Farewell, World War II toy tank made by Corgi and purchased sometime in the 1970s in Thompson or Leaf Rapids, I barely knew ye.