Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Wrath and Recrimination

Previously on Jedi/Superman . . .
Last Son of the Republic
Growing Up Under Twin Suns
Chariot of the Gods
The Emperor's New Genocide
The Quality of Mercy
A Job for Supermen
The Green, Green Glow of Homicide
A Dream of Droids
A Vision of Future Past
The Dark Heart of Krypton
The Phantom Hope

Death Star bridge

Tarkin, Vader, and Zod looked down upon Yavin IV and the Star Destroyers that were, at this distance, just pinpricks of light surrounding the planet. A corner of the massive viewscreen flickered; General Veers’ hologram flared into existence.

“The Rebel base has been fully pacified,” Veers reported. “I’m sorry to report, sir, that only a few droids were left behind. The remaining Rebels either escaped or were killed in the attempt to run our blockade.”

“Thank you, General Veers,” Tarkin said, closing the connection, disgust scrawled across his skeletal features.

“It doesn’t matter,” Vader growled. “I’ll hunt down the Rebel remnant myself. Killing each traitor to the Emperor, one after the other, will be a worthy tribute to the Sith.”

“Killing for the sake of killing is primitive and crude,” Zod spat. “Control is what matters, eh, Tarkin? That’s where true power lies. Why kill when the people will kneel?”

Though killing was often useful as a route to power, Zod thought to himself. With the Emperor dead—incinerated in his own throne room by a blast of Zod’s heat vision months ago—only minor obstacles remained before he, Zod, would rule the galaxy, a prize that made poor backwater Earth look like the cheapest bauble imaginable. Such was the Emperor’s love of secrecy and seclusion that no one yet suspected he was dead, that Zod himself had been pulling the Empire’s strings ever since. How fitting that Krypton’s final heir would be the one to avenge his world’s assassination.

And yet the young Rebel super-man troubled him. It wasn’t just that his existence seemed to somehow blight his own status as sole survivor of Krypton—nor was it just that this survivor was the son of backstabbing, lickspittle Jor-El. It was the actions the whelp had taken since coming into his abilities. Liberating Imperial-occupied worlds, but with a minimum of casualties, leaving open the possibility that those living foes would rise up again and undo his work. Why couldn’t Kal-El see that in times of war, mercy was not just misguided, but fatal?

He and Jor-El had been at war. It was a war for Krypton’s destiny. Jor-El, ever the moderate, ever the coward, convinced their people that waiting for the Empire’s inevitable fall was Krypton’s best chance to survive. It meant bowing to tyranny for years, perhaps decades, perhaps even centuries.

Zod could not imagine his people in bondage—not to anyone but himself. He pleaded with Krypton’s leaders to reach out to the Rebel Alliance, to join forces. Krypton’s advanced science could give the Rebel war machine the edge it needed to overthrow the Empire and protect Krypton’s freedom, her legacy.

But Krypton embraced Jor-El's plan. And so Zod’s hand was forced. Through back channels he reached out, sending whispers of Kryptonian treason through networks of traders, functionaries, eventually Imperial Intelligence itself.

At the same time, Zod planned his own escape and eventual return. Deep in Jor-El’s personal files he found extensive descriptions of a planet called Earth or sometimes Terra, far on the Outer Rim, more remote even than places like Tatooine or Dantooine. Jor-El’s commentary on the planet was dry, academic, except in one respect: according to Jor-El’s calculations, any Kryptonian who bathed in the yellow sun of that star system would gain power undreamed of. Clearly Jor-El planned to take that power for himself, though it seemed to Zod out of character for his milquetoast enemy.

It didn’t matter. Zod copied the Terra files, destroyed the originals, and booked transit on the next Imperial transport to the Outer Rim. It would take months to reach Terra, months of underground dealing with shady smugglers who didn’t ask questions. But he’d get there, and bask in that yellow sun until no one could ever deny his right to rule.

Just a few weeks before he reached Earth, word of Krypton’s destruction by the Death Star rode in on the hyperspace news channels. Zod felt something mournful and ugly twist in his heart, but the sensation was fleeting. His course was set. He was mastering his destiny. In time, he would rule one world; and then, in due time, he would rule a galaxy.

Soon now, he thought, ignoring Vader and Tarkin. Very soon.

Detention Block AA-23

Alone in his cramped, dimly-lit cell, Ben Kenobi cradled his callused hands in his lap and pondered the future—short as that future might be for him and his companions. He felt strange ripples in the Force, ripples that warped and skewed the prescience he was trying to coax into being. He’d never been much of a seer—his Force strengths leaned in other directions—but even so, he should be able to sense a general portent of good or ill. Perhaps the uncertainties were so great now that not even the Force had awareness enough to know the course of time.

Suddenly the far wall of his cell began to crumple. At length, a portion of the wall split open, and there was Clark, sweating with effort as he widened the breach through sheer brute force. His hands, Kenobi noted with alarm, were bleeding.

Once the gap was wide enough, Clark climbed through, followed by Luke and Leia.

“Turns out the walls between cells are weaker than the doors and the ceiling and floor bulkheads,” Clark explained. “I’ve got enough of my strength back to dig through these walls—barely—but not the doors. Not yet.”

Ben put a hand on Clark’s shoulder. “Rest a moment. Anyone can see you’re all in.” He looked over at Luke and Leia. “What about the troops?”

“They’re being held two decks down,” Luke said. “Clark can see them through the floors.”

“I still can’t believe all the stories about the ‘super-man’ are true,” Leia said. “If I didn’t just see all this with my own eyes, I’d refuse to believe it.”

“Princess, we live in an age of miracles. It’s enough to give me hope that we may yet prevail. But . . .”

“Ben . . . what is it?” Luke asked, sensing the old man’s pain and remorse.

“Luke . . . Clark . . . In all our years together, there were things I never told you. Difficult truths I concealed for selfish reasons. During those years, I watched you two grow straight and true, free of the corruption that ruined the Republic.

“Yoda warned of the Dark Heart of Krypton. My old teacher was always so much wiser than me. I’m sorry it took me so long to divine his meaning.

“Decades ago, when I was a young Jedi, there came the first crisis to strike the Republic in centuries. In our complacency, the Republic had grown stagnant. Technological progress had slowed, over the millennia, to a virtual halt. Freedoms taken for granted started to wither rimward; some worlds began to accept slavery as a fact of life, rather than an aberration to be stamped out. We restrained our machines, the last sapients in the galaxy still capable of innovation and invention. We even legalized deathsticks, though they’d been identified as health hazards eons ago.

“The pace of stagnation and the erosion of living standards was uneven. The peoples of many systems saw the end coming, and in an effort to stave off being caught in the Republic’s decline, many worlds broke away to form the Confederacy of Independent Systems.

“You all know about the Clone Wars, of course. How the Republic bred armies of clones to crush the Separatist movement—“

“Sure, the clones of Jango Fett, bred on Kamino. All of us know all this, Obi-Wan. What are you getting at?” Leia demanded.

Kenobi sighed.

“At the time it seemed so necessary, so right,” he said, his eyes looking off at some long-lost, invisible horizon. “The clones were bred on Kamino, yes. But the Clone Wars would have been impossible if Krypton hadn’t shared their cloning technology with the Republic.”

Clark gasped. “That’s impossible. Krypton banned cloning thousands of years ago.”

Ben nodded wearily. “The ancient ruling classes of Krypton bred millions of clones and harvested their organs to ensure a sort of immortality for those in power. The civil wars over cloning lasted for decades, but in the end, the practice was banned.”

“But if that’s true…how could Krypton have shared the technology with the Republic?” Leia asked.

“The technology was mothballed, but Kryptonians value knowledge above almost all else. My master at the time, Qui-Gon Jinn, knew the history of Krypton’s clone wars and urged the Jedi Council to reach out to the Kryptonian Science Council with a request for the cloning tech. Qui-Gon was dispatched to Krypton to make the request.

“The Science Council, thanks in great part to arguments from Jor-El…your father, Clark…refused to share the technology.

“That should have been the end of it. But before returning to Coruscant, Qui-Gon infiltrated the great vaults that held the secret of mass cloning technology. He stole the schematics.

“And I…I was his apprentice, you see. I was there, at his side. And I let him do it.

"If we hadn't interfered...if we'd let the civil war take its natural course...it's possible that the Old Republic could have been revitalized, rebuilt. Instead, its growing corruption and desperation allowed the Sith, led by Emperor Palpatine, to take control. 

"We were all responsible. Master Yoda, Master Windu, me. We let our fear betray us. Fear . . . that which leads inevitably to anger, to hate, to the Dark Side, to the Empire." 

Ben looked up at Luke, Clark, and Leia. Their innocence, the golden glow of decency he saw surrounding them through the Force . . . it brought tears of shame to his eyes.

"You three have given me hope. My fear is gone, though my shame remains. I hardly feel qualified to ask you to save us - much less to ask for forgiveness." 

There was a long moment of silence. Luke, Leia, and Clark regarded each other. And then, Clark spoke: 

"Ben . . . on Krypton they used to say that there is a right and a wrong in the universe, and the distinction is not very difficult to make. I've been thinking about that saying a lot over the past few months, and I've learned that in one sense, my people were right. When the choices are black and white, good and evil, then yes, the distinctions are easy. But when all your choices are wrong...what then?

"You did what you could, Ben Kenobi. You protected us from the Empire, you trained us to be ready for our moment. 

"That moment is now. But it's not just for me and Luke. It's for Leia, it's for those troopers a couple of decks down, it's for every person who wants to live in peace and stand up for truth, justice, and a better tomorrow."

"He's right, Ben. We're with you all the way," Luke said. 

Leia wrapped her arms around the old man's shoulders. "Even heroes make mistakes,"' she said. 

Overwhelmed, Ben stood. "Well . . . then let's hope that droid shows up with your lightsaber soon, Luke, because I'm getting tired of this cell." 

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