Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Quality of Mercy

Millennium Falcon
Gliding through the great black emptiness of space proved as simple as gliding through the arid skies of Tatooine. With the power of years of stored energy from Tatooine's twin suns flooding his cells, young Clark Kenobi ate up the distance between the Millennium Falcon and a dozen approaching TIE fighters.

For not the first time in his life, Clark held the power of life and death in his heart. Ben Kenobi had done his best to teach him about the dark side and the light side of the Force, but Clark felt no connection to it, even though Kenobi--and Luke--claimed it permeated the universe. And while he hadn't said so, out of respect for the old man, Clark found it odd that the Jedis seemed to see nothing wrong with the way certain beings could own and control other beings, just because some beings were arbitrarily deemed slaves, and others masters. Clark knew slaves--'droid, alien, human--he liked better than masters.

It didn't help that the history books Kenobi had asked him to read seemed rife with contradiction. Clark wasn't naive--he knew from personal experience the Empire was capable of acts of profound evil--but the Old Republic the Empire had replaced was certainly oppressive in its own way, raising armies of clones seemingly devoid of free will and using those clones to suppress dissent.

Clark didn't think himself particularly wise. But the education crystals Jor-El had included in the rocketship that saved his son suggested different philosophies. Kryptonian philosophy held the values of compassion and egalitarianism in high regard. And the people of Krypton knew of other worlds, lost, distant planets like Oa and Earth and Thanagar that raised champions to fight for truth, justice, and the oppressed.

Clark did not wish to contradict a man he revered, and a foster brother he admired. But nonetheless, he felt there was a right and a wrong in the universe, and the distinction was not very difficult to make. To murder, to bully, to oppress--these things were wrong. To pursue kindness, freedom, to improve quality of life for everyone--these things were right.

So when the first TIE fighter came approached, Clark knew what to do. He could not allow any harm to come to his friends, so he would stop the Imperials. But he would do it his way.

Clark floated to a stop and used his heat vision to sear the wings from the first TIE fighter. The three constituent parts floated away helplessly, the fighter's pilot utterly bewildered.

Clark's alien lungs held several tons of compressed air, which he blasted out in small doses to freeze the next two ships solid, leaving the pilots shivering in their cockpits.

The next TIE drew a bead on him and started shooting. "It tickles," Clark thought to himself as the superheated plasma evaporated harmlessly off his skin. Clark ripped the hatch of that fighter open, yanked out the pilot, and tossed him at a fast but safe speed back toward his home fleet. Clark's X-Ray vision revealed the pilot's air would last more than long enough for one of his colleagues to retrieve him.

Clark was busy tearing the wings off another TIE when he saw blaster fire from behind damage another incoming fighter. Clark turned to see the Millennium Falcon approaching, her dorsal and ventral guns spitting fire at the TIE squadron.

Clark flew up to each turret and shook his head "no" at his foster father and brother in turn. Stunned, the elder Kenobi and Skywalker let their guns fall silent as Clark zigzagged across the TIE formation, freezing some TIEs, melting the wings off others, or simply smashing their laser ports with his indestructible fists. Then, he gathered up the fighters he'd completely disabled and gently shoved them back toward the star destroyer in the distance.

The immediate crisis past, he flew back into the airlock and returned to the Falcon's passenger lounge, where Ben and Luke were waiting.

"Clark that was...incredible," Luke said.

"Indeed," Ben said. "You showed remarkable restraint. But this is a time of war, Clark. Those men you spared have killed innocents before, and could kill again."

"You don't know that," Clark said. "For any one of those men--or women--it might have been the first time they were called out to fight. Most of them probably only joined the Imperial Navy because they needed work."

Ben was about to say something, but at that moment Han Solo barged into the room, having left the cockpit to Chewbacca.

"What the hell were you thinking out there, kid? I mean - I'm still not even sure I believe exactly what I saw, and I sure as hell don't know how you did what I think I saw you do, but I'll tell you I don't know what scares me more: that you can do all that, or that you can do all that but you let all those bastards live!"

"Han, come on...he's just a kid, you can't expect him to be a killer..."

Han pointed at Clark. "A kid, huh? When's the last time you saw a kid who could shoot I-don't-know-what from his eyes? Or who could freeze things by blowing on them? Or, for that matter, who can not only fly, but can fly without a ship, and without a spacesuit, IN OUTER SPACE? Am I the only one who thinks something's just a little strange here?"

"With the Force..." Ben started.

"Don't start with that crap, old man."

"Hey, that's not nice," Clark said.

Han's eyebrows lifted. "Well. I'm SORRY. But it's been kind of a crazy day for me."

Luke waved a hand. "Han, I think what's most important is getting out of here. Did Chewbacca have any luck with--"

Just then, they all felt the hull shudder slightly as the ship leapt back into hyperspace.

"I guess that's a yes," Luke said.

Han smirked. "Nice, job, Chewie!" he jogged back to the cockpit.

"We must discuss this further, Clark."

The boy yawned. "Later, Ben? I'm kinda tired out."

He wasn't. He felt like he could take on the galaxy.

Luke and Ben turned away reluctantly. They shared an uneasy glance. And while Luke had no way of knowing it, Ben's thoughts turned back to another time when he'd mentored a young boy of fantastic potential...a failure that changed the path of a galaxy for the worse.

Star Destroyer Validator
"There was nothing we could do, Lord Vader. I don't know how he did it, but he wrecked every fighter in the squadron. He could have killed us all, but he made sure we'd get back to the fleet."

Vader said nothing. But he trembled slightly. Boiling inside was a rage he'd not felt since he killed that fool Anakin Skywalker, his former best friend, the great betrayer.

The force the pilots described took the form of a teenager. A teenager who could wreck starfighters with a glance. A teenager with such control and compassion that he could not just disable an enemy, but humiliate him with his mercy.

It was intolerable. It was an affront to the Dark Side, to the natural order of the universe.

Vader didn't even look at the twenty-four survivors of the sortie against the Millenium Falcon. Behind his death mask, his eyes closed as he reached out with the invisible tendrils of the Force and slowly, sadistically crushed the throats of each and every pilot the young superboy had spared. They fell to the hangar deck, some twitching for a moment or two before going as still as their dead compatriots.

Vader knew he had a greater calling now. Wiping out the insignificant Rebellion meant virtually nothing compared to his burning need to find and destroy the being that so casually spat in the face of everything Vader believed.

No one is that good, Vader thought. Not Kenobi, not Skywalker, not Yoda, not even Padme. I will find you, young one. I will find you, and before I destroy you, I will rip through that facade and reveal your Dark Side for all to see. 

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