Author Chester Burton Brown
For new material please visit my main blog, CHEESEBURGER BROWN: SCI-FI STORY WALLAH.
Author Chester Burton Brown


For Shmi

When will fools learn that the Empire always strikes back?

Also, reflections on my mother.

Mood: somber.

The StarDestroyer Avenger has broken from the fleet, and makes for Coruscant. Aboard Executor Admiral Piett commands the hunt for the newest hiding place of the destructive Rebel Alliance, while I am returning home to report to my master, the emperor of this galaxy and a master lord of the Sith. He is...unhappy about recent developments in the whole son-of-Skywalker business and, though I am not privy to the reasons, he was extremely put out that I failed to bring him Leia Organa.

"I underestimated her importance to you," I said as I knelt before my master's flickering holograph. "My failure is indeed complete."

"Your blindness in the matter redeems your fealty," he whispered, fondling the head of his imaged cane as his imaged eyes gazed down upon it. "It is not a significant issue, my friend. Not. Significant. At all."

And indeed, now that I think about it, it isn't all that significant. Perhaps I did undervalue the importance of relaying the known rebel spy Organa to Coruscant, obsessed as I have been with confronting my son. No doubt it is this obsession about which my master wishes to question me in person. Matters of the gifted come before the affairs of low men, as His Excellency himself reminded me when he admitted Organa to be insignificant.

"Chin up, Lord Vader," my master continued. "The Empire will strike back, and that pitiful pocket of anarchists will be stamped out forever."

"But master, in my son they may have a new hope for the return of the Jedi."

"Enough of this," grunted Darth Sidious, waving his gnarled hand dismissively. "We will speak of Skywalker when you come before me on Coruscant. Make haste for the core, my servant."

"Yes, my master."

The transmission ended, and I have remained ensconced in my guest chambers aboard Avenger ever since, staring out the port-holes with my hands clasped behind my back, meditating on the shining stars and pin-prick worlds and the unholy voids that separate them.

My thoughts have ranged to my mother.

She was born to merchants, hard-working but prosperous, plying the lanes of space for their daily bread and legendary fortune if it could be found. Nomadic for generations, the Skywalkers were renowned for panning the galactic rim for the rarest artifacts and most delightful primitive curiosities, eking a living selling wholesale to the Corellians who made a killing re-selling their wares in the core.

In the days of the Old Republic the tentacles of a corrupt federation came to ensnare every trade route of every civilized system, pressing even the once mighty Corellians into the margins. Individual tribes of merchant-nomads like the Skywalkers had no chance. They were pushed further and further into the periphery, forced to buy and sell in the smaller, dirtier, meaner markets of the outer rim -- Tatooine, Dantooine, Terminus...

The greatest force in their universe became the gangster Hutts, jealous gods on whose appeasement rode the success or failure of entire franchises. But hard times meant bribes went unpaid, and the Skywalkers' ships were beset upon by pirate raiders. The pirates stole their cargoes, their virgins and their children. My mother, Shmi, was a girl of seven years when she was kidnapped, ferried away in conditions unfit for beasts, and eventually sold in a Huttese market to the highest depraved bidder.

Some masters were kind, and others were cruel. She came to Tatooine and worked beneath the twin suns. When she became "inexplicably" pregnant she was sold for less than her weight in meat, from Gardulla the Hutt to Watto, a Toydarian junkman with a soft heart despite a hard tongue.

And I was born.

"Two for the price of one! How do you like that?" is what my mother says Watto yelled out to everyone who came by the shop that day. Then he slapped my mother's ass and reminded the men of her impressive flexibility. "Fifty oldster-standard nuggets for an hour, hah? Good bargain, hah? Smile for the nice men Shmi."

And she would. She would smile. My mother could always smile. She smiled as she died in my arms.

I just wanted to say thank you. Thanks, mom. You took an unbearable burden and gladly made it heavier so that I could stay innocent as long as possible. You made every sacrifice in the hopes of wresting for me a better life -- unhesitant, unflinching, without regret. You never once questioned that the underlying force that holds people together is love, even when all you knew was suffering.

I love you. I still do. Even now. I still think of you. Every day.


Parenting 101

Okay, I admit it. I cut off the kid's hand. Everything went downhill after that.

Blast! Blast! Blast! I am such an idiot.

I surveilled my son as he walked through the city, my eyes closed, my back to the security monitors. His spirit danced and rained, his emotions farting out bright, flickering clouds of micro-causal flotsam in every direction. Lumbering arcs of probability swung around him in sick, drunken orbits, any one of them threatening to actualize at a sneeze.

Quite a lightshow, really. People who cannot see the Force have no idea what they are missing.

I was able to discern that the callow youth's undisciplined powers were being channeled into a keen signal by the famous blue astromech droid R2-D2, whose ability to manipulate or be manipulated by the Force is something I have never understood. Whether he is some kind of midichloric instrument or mechanical idiot savant, it cannot be ignored that his presence aids the boy.

So the first thing I did was separate them, by sealing a fire door between them.

Skywalker himself I teased through a maze of corridors into the bowels of this city, dangling a shadow of my presence before his nose like a carrot. I studied his mind, and found his first thoughts were not of his friends: it was only me he sought now. The Force called to him, I reasoned. Or perhaps the ghost of Kenobi whispered in his ear.

I meditated in the carbon freezing chamber as Skywalker approached. Out of the steam strode Qui-gon Jinn, shimmering and insubstantial. "Anakin," he called. "The time has come to test him."

"He is only a boy."

"He is stronger than you think," Qui-gon pronounced, and vanished.

So...chalk one up for Qui-gon. The boy is strong. Stronger than I could have imagined. Through his clumsy, novice staggers the Force blew enormous rage, a hot wind of raw power I struggled to hold my own against. I had toyed with him at first, but I soon found myself working hard. He knew none of the classic moves: his foil play was dictated directly from his heart, clubbing at me with an instinctive passion that dodged my every stratagem.

And, of course, my left leg was acting up like crazy.

I used what ounce of my will I could spare to exert control over the misfiring circuits, wrestling my wayward limb to do my bidding as I fended off the broad, single-minded thrusts of the bitchfire youth. He knocked me down and I felt his confidence swell. I realized: he loathes me!

I escalated my own level of brutality, and he lost ground. Still I found place to wonder: what fires his naked hatred? This is not the sting of a political idealist.

He popped out of the carbon chamber before I could freeze him, which was a neat trick. The duel ranged. I threw objects at him with my mind, which was obviously beyond his ken as he reacted by trying to dodge them like a low man. Then I blew him through a window.

It went on and on.

He didn't even want to talk about the power of the dark side.

And then it happened: down on the catwalk as we clashed again and he struck me with his sabre, glancing my shoulder. He struck me, and I just lost my cool -- without really thinking it through I lopped off his hand. Little bugger!

He was as raw as he was going to get, though he exerted an impressive will to keep his fear from boiling over. As he crawled away from me across the catwalk I figured I had nothing to lose. It's time to spill the beans. It's now or never. I took a deep breath: "Luke, Obi-wan never told you what happened to your father..."

He screamed and jibbered, clinging over a chasm fathoms deep. His pain moved me. And not in the usual good way. I mean I felt for him. So I did as I said I would: I reached out to him. I told him we could be in it together, come what may.

Luke jumped to his peril.

The Force is strong with him, however, and he survived his fall. I felt him call out with his mind, and watched the fabric of the Force contort as the Millennium Falcon piloted by the escaped prisoner Leia Organa and the surprisingly slippery Lando Calrissian abandoned its flight, returning to Cloud City to rescue Skywalker.

I returned aboard Executor and waited to snare the freighter as it stalled in space, unable to jump away due to a sabotaged hyperdrive (ha, ha). As the ship climbed out of Bespin's gravity-well I let my mind play out along the filigree ladders of the Force until my tendril found him, honing in on the corporeal pain of his severed arm and the throb of his psychic wounds. Luke's spirit squirmed away from my connection, burned by the truth. But I could see that he was strong enough to face it, his resolve hardened but uncracked. Impressive. Most impressive.

The crippled freighter sailed into my view from the bridge, crossing the crescent of Bespin and making for black space. In moments we would have them!

"This will be a day long rememebered," I said.

...Which is pretty much when the Millennium Falcon escaped to hyperspace.

I sighed. Why me?

I was even too dispirited to crush Admiral Piett's trachea.

Now I am in my hyperbaric chamber, listening to music (Rotan's Sonata for Holotyne) and trying to get a grip on things. Betrayed by a mimbo, surrounded by incompetence, my soul in knots; lost Skywalker, lost Organa, sold Solo...

The Emperor is going to barf when I tell him.


I Don't Know If It's Art, But I Know What I Like

Human science experiments. A meditation on sculpture.

Today we put Captain Solo into the carbon freezing chamber, in order to test the system before capturing Luke Skywalker for delivery to my master, Sidious, on Coruscant. Everything went swimmingly -- the punk smuggler was put into perfect stasis. And people question the merits of human experimentation!

Captain Solo's body was half-visible, fused in mid-emergence from the face of the carbon brick. He was frozen in a cry of agony, hands grasping like claws, pelvis turned.

It made a beautiful sculpture. A perfect captured moment of a man in bondage, his heart blackened by hopelessness and pain.

It really spoke to me. Made me feel weird.

The worst of it is that his friends will try to rescue him, no matter how fruitless the attempt. They will die trying to save him. He will stay in that block of carbonite, reaching out forever until they come. And they will try.

I have felt Skywalker as he landed at this city, just moments ago...

"Well, I'm off to the wop-wops," said Boba Fett genially as he stood beside me in the carbon freeze chamber. He was looking forward to his reward from the Hutts. "Crash hot kai they have on Tatoonine," he said with relish. I had no idea what he was talking about so I just nodded. In front of the prisoners and the men I bid him farewell formally and he escorted Solo's carbon prison away. "Bounty hunter," I said with a small bow.

Calrissian balked when I ordered him to take Leia Organa and the wookiee to my shuttle, but I could steer his mind with my pinky. It does not require much concentration to puppeteer fools.

...Though I admit my mind is now focused on my son. He is here!

Gotta go.


I Hate Waiting

Awaiting the arrival of Skywalker. A personal moment.

My words yesterday about Leia Organa got me to thinking. Specifically, I was thinking about the way I referred to her as her. Am I so weak that I cannot bring myself to pronounce her name?

Her name was Padme Naberrie. And she was my wife.

Do you know what I liked best about her? It was not her laugh, or her tresses, or her even her kisses: it was the fire that lit in her eyes when she was angry. That fire told you who you were dealing with: not a mere mortal, but someone who would bring rain to deserts if it suited her. A stubborn godlet, in a girl's frame. Her spirit shone so vividly I could never read her mind for all the glare.

And she had this amazing power of dignity that meant that no matter how much someone might underestimate her initially, after the first few words out of her mouth they were forced to take her seriously.

People never took me that seriously. (I mean, they do now -- but not then.) I had to kill people to get them to take me seriously.

They say I killed her, that I killed Padme. But it is not true. I choked her, yes, but it was childbirth that took her. The Force traded Padme for Luke, the boy who now races to this city to rescue his friends. As he draws nearer the strings of the Force hum in anticipation, new nodes of causality blooming at the intersections of its interstellar strands...

I wll reach out to him.

As I reached out to Obi-wan Kenobi and was denied, and left to burn, I shall reach out to take Luke's hand when he is fallen before me. I will have in abundance what no one had for me: mercy, forgiveness, understanding, trust.

When I close my eyes the sky is alight with the whorls of the Force, coalescing here around this city in the clouds. How can I doubt the truth I have divined? Luke will join me.

It is his destiny.


Does It Hurt When I Go Like This?

At the top of my game. Capturing Cloud City. Breaking Solo's will.

The signal from Boba Fett came in the early morning, and we took the fleet to Bespin. Shadowed by the girth of the gas giant the armada's sensitive sensor network marked the approach of the rebel freighter. Admiral Piett contacted me down in Cloud City: "M'lord, the Millennium Falcon has entered the system."

"Very good." I turned to face the metrosexual city administrator as he strained to appear at ease, sweat running down his brow in a constant, beading film. "Calrissian: escort Captain Solo and his party to the dining hall first thing in the morning."

"Yes, Lord Vader," he said quietly, eyes on the floor.

"I warn you, Calrissian -- do not fail me," I told him, "or your people will suffer while you watch. And listen."

Calrissian did not fail. He delivered unto me Han Solo, Leia Organa, old C-3P0 and a wookiee. Then he threw up. I had Veers put each of the captives into separate cells, except for the droid whom a stormtrooper had already incapacitated.

For the primitive our programme was simplest: he was bombarded aurally with frequencies that cause his race great physical pain, and encoded into the screeches and sirens were profane descriptions of his mother's licentiousness in the vulgar speech of Kashyyyk. He howled and hollered, beating his hairy fists against the walls and his own head. Though crude, the signals he sent were strong. His tortured heart involuntarily called out to all who loved him, and I knew my son was among them.


Leia Organa of Alderaan presented a unique challenge. In our encounters before she has always impressed me with the strength of her will, and her tolerance of corporeal pain. She has a quality of sharp pride and easy beauty about her that affects me, and I confess it is because she reminds of me her. As with her, I can never penetrate the obfuscating light that clouds her mind from me. Her spirit burns so fiercely that it is blinding, even though she does not have truck with the Force.

I entered her cell and stood over her, breathing.

"What do you want with us?" she demanded.

I made no reply, but advanced a step toward the chair where she was bound.

"I won't tell you anything," she swore.

My respirator clicking, I advanced again and patiently held my place, my lenses fixed on her eyes. She started to speak again but it caught in her throat, and she drew back against her bonds.

I put in her mind the image of Coruscant burning, the sky black with debris and the oil of broiled flesh. Hammered by my hatred, I blasted her mind with this picture of abject chaos and loss.

Startled, horrified, bewildered, her mind sang out in reflexive misery.


I nodded to myself with satisfaction and then made my way to the cell containing the estimable rogue Captain Han Solo, whom my men had secured to an angled platform facing an intimidating array of glowing and buzzing interview tools. I signalled to the commanding trooper and he toggled the control that tilted Solo toward the bristling bank of tongue-loosening hardware.

Solo stole furitive looks at me again and again. He expected questions. I chuckled and signalled for the trooper to stop. "What do you want?" asked Solo through gritted teeth.

"Only your pain," I said.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," he went on. "Gettin' a chance to talk, just you and me. You wanna know why?"

"Pray tell, Captain."

"I know who you are!" he shouted.

Though my masque betrayed nothing I was startled. Did Luke know about me? I knew the liar Obi-wan would never have told him the truth...but could this smuggler know to tell him? How could that be possible?

"You can't hide it from me any more!" Solo continued. "Your cruelty reveals everything, Lord Vader."

"So, you know the truth..." I said, suddenly afflicted with a pain in the control circuitry of my left leg.

"Yeah, I know alright," spat Solo. "You're my father!"

It took me a moment to absorb that. Then I shook my head and smiled behind my masque. "No Solo," I pronounced darkly. "I killed your father."

Solo winced as if I had struck him. "That's not true," he muttered. "That's impossible."


I waved my hand dismissively and nodded to the trooper to commence the physical torture. The probes began to spark. Solo groaned and screamed behind me as I left the cell to confer with Calrissian and Fett outside. Both of them were whiney, but they could not burst my bubble.

The trap is set, and the ripples of his friends' pain are travelling outward, backwards and forwards through time, touching my son even before the event has taken place. I feel that Skywalker is already on his way. Soon he will arrive, and I will tell him everything.

I am walking on sunshine.


Scar Friends Luncheon Circle

Lunch with Fett. Piett's new boy.

The noose tightens.

Boba Fett is one of the few people with whom I will share a meal. He was horribly disfigured by acid years ago, and I feel we hold a bond in common in that respect. He has never so much as winced at the ghastly noises that come through my ventilator while I chew, because he is a gentleman.

He is also a bounty hunter, which is why I have invited him over to chat.

"They won't leave this sector," he assured me as he sprinkled hot sauce on his vegetables. "That freighter can't be jacked out of a prang this time -- Captain Solo will limp someplace safe to lick his wounds."

"And you know where that will be?" I asked, drawing in some meat through a straw.

Fett gave me a level look. "That's my hard yakka, Lord Vader."

"The contract is yours. You know the other bounty hunters will find nothing."

He nodded slowly, returning his attention to the meal. "They'll swim for Bespin, my Lord, to have a smoko with a gas-cocky called Calrissian. He and Solo go back yonks."

Calrissian! I knew the Force did not orbit him for no reason. To Fett I said, "Excellent, Boba. You will be rewarded handsomely. By the way, your scars are looking quite good."

"I've been using a new cream," he told me.

I did my famous corpse of Mace Windu imitation, which made Fett snort wine through his nose. "This party's over," I quipped, and Fett howled. Long ago Windu was First Speaker of the Jedi High Council, a fierce warrior who slew Boba's father and tried to kill my master. In vain, of course. These days the Emperor uses Windu's purple light-sabre to trim his hedges.

We understand one another, Fett and I, and so we share a certain mutual regard. When all of the bounty hunters are assembled on the bridge we pretend no special relation. Should Boba Fett gain a reputation as a man of the Empire he would lose the trust of the Hutts.

Captain Needa of the StarDestroyer Avenger found and then lost the Millennium Falcon again. The good captain subsequently lost consciousness. Whether or not he finds it again is not my concern. The bounty hunters have been dispatched, and the fleet moves on to Anoat to await Fett's signal.

Also, Admiral Piett seems to have a new boy. I don't know what happened to the old one, but I am fairly certain I did not kill him. At any rate I came upon the two of them in the pit this morning and Piett seemed somewhat sheepish. "This is my new yeoman, m'Lord," he said too brightly. "Yeoman Broderick, Lord Vader."

"M'lord," whispered Broderick.

"Getting younger all the time, aren't they?" I asked Piett.

He smiled tightly. "Sir," he said.