Thursday, May 14, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 144: Time Bomb to Kashyyyk

          I sneezed violently, making a mental note (the fifth of such) to dust my next bedroom occasionally. While no one ever entered my bedroom typically--it being a haven for all the clothes I couldn't be bothered to throw into the hamper, as well as housing my impressive collection of Nerf paraphernalia--and the dust normally didn't bother me, it got to be a bit of a pain when I began packing.
          It was common, of course, for me to get distracted during my attempts at packing. Inevitable, actually, given my squirrel-like tendencies towards getting sidetracked. However, it was one thing to get absorbed by the random pieces of garbage I was discovering...and it was entirely another to take a completely unexpected side trip.
          Maybe I should back up. The reason I was packing (actually, still am--like I said, I get distracted) was because I had finally graduated with my Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering (and yet I still write...why?) and I was in the process of finalizing which company I wanted to work for. Since the end was definitely in sight, as far as current living quarters went, I decided to consolidate my junk, pack it up, and pitch as much of it as I could to making moving easier.
          It was definitely a work in progress.
          I cleared off my endtable fairly quickly, following that up with the junk collecting in the drawers themselves. Most of that went into the trash. I straightened up and, without looking, reached over to my dresser to sweep everything off the top and into the trash bin.
          My right hand settled on a cylindrical object...and automatically closed around it. I picked it up involuntarily, my left hand settling into the familiar-yet-long-forgotten grip below my right hand...
          ...and I found myself back on Kashyyyk, staring out through the dense forest. Ten years previously.

          A sudden crackling sent me spinning around, back towards the downed spaceship. It was just my brother, who was descending the ladder. "Any sign of them?" he called.
          I turned back towards the creek. "Not yet. But they should be following up on us pretty shortly. How's the ship?"
          "Pretty bad," Nemesis informed me grimly. "We should be able to get it fixed, but we need time. Oh, and a new hyperdrive."
          "Maybe we can pick one up from the Neimoidians," I suggested. "Y'know, since they were the ones who shot us down in the first place. Got your electrobinoculars?"
          Nemesis brightened, pressing the 'nocs to his eyes. "Seems fair. Hey, there's a base on the hill, other side of this valley. And--droids coming!"
          "Where?" I snapped, dropping into a defensive crouch.
          Nemesis gestured, crouching next to me. "Just across the creek. They'll see us--"
          "They saw us," I cut him off, listening to the distant shout of discovery.
          Nemesis grinned. "Let's take them out before they can call their base!"
          I grinned back. "I'm on the comm guy."
          We exploded out of the undergrowth. I located their communications droid and thrust my hand out, force-punching him straight off his tank. The other droids snapped their blasters up, tracking us...
          Almost in unison, my brother and I punched the our respective buttons. With a snap-hiss, our lightsabers sprang to life.
          The first two ranks of droids opened fire--and promptly died as Nemesis and I batted their bolts right back at them. We jumped the creek together, slashing and stabbing at the metal ranks closing to meet us. Nemesis and I got separated; I was okay with that, though. If we were separated, there was no confusion as to who killed what.
          I force-pushed another droid straight into his commander's tank, sending him, sparking, to the ground. I ducked and rolled under the tank, slashing through its repulsor unit and diving out the back. The tank crashed to the ground and exploded, decimating the rest of the squad I was taking on. The last few droids made the mistake of firing, so I deflected their shots right back at them again.
          Nemesis had apparently just finished as well. I closed down my lightsaber. "I got my tank first."
          "Yeah, well, I jumped inside my tank, killed the droids, and then slashed my way out the back," Nemesis retorted, a bit  competitively.
          I shrugged. "Let's recon the base. Quietly--silenced blasters only." I drew the blaster strapped to my thigh.
          Nemesis followed me up the hill. "I take it we don't want to let them know there are Jedi on the planet?"
          "Yepp," I nodded.
          "What about the squads we just took out?" Nemesis persisted.
          I shrugged. "By the time they find those guys, we'll be off-planet."
          Quickly and efficiently, we sniped the lookouts off their perches. I sneaked over to the door and put two shots into the lock, blasting it open. We shot inside and slammed straight into--
          "Oh, hi, boys," Mom greeted us. "I was just about to call you; it's time for lunch. Radar, change your shirt--were you rolling in mud?"
          "I had to take out a tank," I informed her indignantly.
          Mom couldn't help smiling. "Well, put your laser sword--"
          "Lightsaber," Nemesis and I chorused.
          "--lightsaber away and get yourselves into the kitchen," Mom laughed.
          "Duel you!" I yelled and flicked my lightsaber back on, charging Nemesis and backing him towards the stairs.
          Mom sighed. "Don't hit the pictures!" she called after us.

          I tossed my lightsaber from hand to hand before flipping the blade out. The batteries were long since dead, of course, and the hilt was scarred from long use. It looked like something that should have been thrown out long ago with my childhood, as I grew up and moved on.
          However, I had apparently only been faking it.
          I couldn't help grinning as I pretended to turn the lightsaber on, vowing to hunt down some batteries. I might physically be twenty-two and a productive member of society, but--and I spun, batting some imaginary blaster shots away--I would never, could never, give up my imagination or my admittedly childish love of pretend games.
          Still grinning, I closed down the lightsaber and carefully packed it before continuing my hunt for actual junk to throw away. After all...a Jedi should never throw away his signature weapon. After all...
's an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 143: Of Mice and Men

          The Midway siblings had been living on the farm for about a year, now--just short of a year, actually, since it was summer and they had moved in during the fall. Their dad, hoping one day to have some kind of farm animals ("USEFUL!" he clarified later--too late--when the horses, llama, and alpaca had been introduced), had seeded a large portion of the front yard with prairie grass, which took root and flourished with surprising degree of alacrity. It was, then, further astonishing that the Midway kids in general, and Radar in particular, had found no uses for the tall grass other than futile games of hide-and-seek.
          Well, right up until the day Radar wandered into the grass, bored out of his mind, and noticed that it was considerable taller than he was. Nothing clicked, save for the vague notion that he should probably not fire his cork gun in there, since he would never be able to retrieve the cork later. He slung the gun across his back and moved on, forcing his way through the thick pasture. 
          "Can't believe a cow would eat all this," he muttered to himself, looking down. "Maybe I can find a snake or somethi--hey! MOUSE!"
          Disregarding undergrowth, Radar hurled himself in pursuit of the mouse. The mouse led him on a merry dance through the grass, finally escaping when the boy, as was inevitable, tripped. At eleven, Radar was not exactly a model of grace.
          The boy groaned and rolled over on his back...and kept rolling when he landed on his gun. "Ow," he grunted, trying to decide if the stars he saw in his vision were made up of similar constellations as the ones he'd created earlier in the day with his header out of the tree. He quickly gave up mental astronomy as a useless pursuit and sat up. "Wait, where...?"
          Radar was not terrible with directions, but as he took a look around, he realized that he was decidedly lost. He dug around in carrying bag that he had belted to his waist (it was made out of his old jeans and sewed on his mom's sewing machine, much to her displeasure on both counts), but could't locate his compass. He did find the multitool that he'd swiped from his dad and took a few moments to try to make a reed whistle, but the grass wasn't hollow enough for that. 
          He wrinkled his nose and stood up. Nope, the grass was way too tall to see over, even jumping. The grass underneath him was surprisingly bouncy, though, so he started folding some more down into his landing zone and bouncing on it, just for fun.
          A few moments later, he spotted the trail that he had come through--the grass had stayed parted, marking the place he had run through. Glancing down, he took in the nest he'd made. Then he was crashing though his tunnel back to the outside world. 
          Nemesis was playing with Legos in the basement when Radar crashed into the house. Literally, in this case--he'd missed his grab for the door handle and slammed into the door at full speed. (Again, not exactly a model of grace here.) Nemesis, being a bit more reserved than his older brother and used to his rambunctious ways, didn't look up until the yelling started.
          "Radar!" Mom scolded from the kitchen. "Slow down, stop shouting and go find them! Quietly!"
          Radar gave her a look of long-suffering. "I stepped in dog doo. I don't think I should do that. NEMESIS! QUILL!! SQUIRREL!"
          "Then go wash your feet off and put your sandals on!" Mom ordered. 
          "It's summer," Radar pointed out, as befitted one to whom footgear was only to be worn during the winter, and then only when his mother caught him. 
          Mom sighed. "Go wash your feet off--GET OFF MY RUG!!"
          "But I just mopped!" Radar protested. "I don't want to stand on the floor!"
          The budding argument brought his siblings to the main floor to enjoy the scene. Radar quickly switched tracks. "Hey guys, come outside, you gotta see something!" He popped back out before his mother could catch him. 
          Curiosity won the day. His siblings joined him a few moments later. "What is it?" Quill demanded impatiently. 
          "Want to play Mice?" Radar asked.
          His siblings exchanged dubious looks. "Radar, Mom said we couldn't do that anymore after we tore her blanket making the fort last time," Nemesis pointed out.
          Squirrel shrugged. "Do you have snacks?"
          The oldest grinned. "I found a better place to play, and no," he responded. "Come on!"
          They trailed after him to the start of the prairie grass. After a quick hunt, Radar found his tunnel and led them through it to his nest. "This is my house," he announced proudly. 
          "How'd you find it?" Nemesis asked.
          Radar grinned. "I made it. Like this." On his hands and knees, he tromped out another tunnel that ran about ten feet before folding down and stomping out the grass to make another nest. "See? What do you think?"
          He was talking to thin air. The others had scattered to start tunneling out passageways and nests. Radar grinned and began adding rooms to his mansion. 
          That defined a great deal of the summer. By its end, the two acres of prairie had been riddled with passageways and houses--sometimes because the kids couldn't remember where their original work sites were and would restart elsewhere and build until they hit their old stomping grounds. This added an almost archaeological element to it, as they would re-explore the old paths and houses and try to figure out what belonged to who. Also, because he was the only one who insisted on running through the passageways, Radar used most of the Band-Aids in the house due to grass cuts and skinned knees. 
          Then Dad mowed it down in the fall...which was okay, because by that point Radar noticed that the resident mosquito population of the woods had decreased and dragged everyone out that direction at every opportunity to play Robin Hood. The Little Houses on the Prairie were never reestablished--the advent of the horses the next year kept the pasture short.
          However, Mom quickly curtailed Radar's replacement game, a reenactment of medieval jousting. Something about being too Radar invented Bike Tag.
          Apparently, he couldn't have fun without helping fund the medical industry. Go figure.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Captain's Log, Day 142: URCARU, or How to Kill a Romance Novel

          Nemesis is also a writer, like me. Unlike me, it's closer to being his life--he's going for an English major (which is a waste of a good math brain, but he punches me every time I point that out). The following story was written by him for a contest, which he won, surprising no one but himself. I decided to publish it on here, too, because it's hysterical.

Or, How to Kill a Romance Novel

            “Jonah…we need to talk.”
            Jonah sat across the cafĂ© table, feeling an ominous sense of dread welling up inside him. Only a few days ago had they met at this public hiding place, and his sweetheart had borne upon her face an expression of matchless joy far more powerful than any of the gloomy clouds of care. But today she sat in a winter of silence, and Jonah could feel the cold from where he sat. It terrified him immeasurably, like he was on the edge of a fog-obscured clifftop. “Hannah,” he ventured to ask, “is something the matter?”
            Hannah avoided his eyes, afraid her confidant’s soul was now an abyss of deceit. “It’s nothing,” she lied, afraid to confront her fears. “I…I don’t know if this is working out, that’s all.”
            The cliff had been found – Jonah felt the whole world vanish from under his feet. “Not working out?” he asked in panicked disbelief. “Why? Is it something I did?”
            “No, no,” she said, trying desperately to preserve his heart. “I’m just not sure…I don’t know how much I really mean to you anymore.”
            “But why? I’m always with you! I couldn’t imagine being with anyone else!”
            “Could you?” Hannah looked up at Jonah, the corners of her eyes ready to flood. “How can I trust you?”
            Finally the potted plant on the table had heard enough.
            The couple’s argument was unexpectedly cut off by a loud beep. Their gazes leaped to the small flowerpot next to the water pitcher – its flowers had suddenly been sucked back into the soil. What followed was a medley of clicks and whirring noises as the table decoration split into segments, reconfiguring into an odd little machine with tiny blue eyes and the figure of a squat sitting owl.
            “[URCARU-Bot #55783 Online: Situation detected. Scanning subjects for grievances and recent histories.]”
            Jonah, being an ordinary human male, was speechless at the robotic transformation of the tabletop ornament (and was secretly wondering if any other of his everyday items were capable of this feat), so it fell to Hannah to ask the Question. “Um…what are you?” she warily asked the little machination.
            In response, the bot projected an image onto the table: a heart, cracked down the middle but being held together with a padlock. The ex-decoration began his explanation in a fuzzy little voice. “[I am an operative of the Unnecessary Romantic Complication Assessment and Rectification Unit, URCARU. It has come to our unit’s attention that a significant percentage of interpersonal complications have come about due to a proliferation of mishandled situations that, under normal treatment, can be defused without major damage to the relationship. However, in these modern times (particularly in the cinematic arts), people have seemingly lost the ability to repair these occurrences on their own, leading to an increase in average social isolation and depression. URCARU-Bots are here to help, mediating any uncomfortable scenarios until a beneficial result is achieved.]”
            His tiny eyes blinked twice. “[Scan completed. Structure of recent history compiled and sent to the Mainframe.]”
            “Wait!” Jonah interjected. “Did you just –“
            “[Good news!]” URCARU-Bot interrupted him. “[Mainframe has determined that your relationship with each other is healthy enough to continue existing. Before your lives can continue, however, the current complication must be rectified. Fortunately, the problem appears to have a greater amount of miscommunication as a causal factor than outright egotism. Solution: conversation.]” The robot stuck a stubby hand towards Hannah. “[The lady shall commence. Party One: Please state in clear, concise terms the nature of your grievance.]”
            After an awkward pause, Hannah decided that compliance would be the only path of escape. “Well…I saw Jonah in school yesterday with Bethany Simkins. They’d taken one of the private study rooms, just the two of them. I didn’t know what to think – I was too afraid to ask what had happened, if Jonah was maybe getting tired of me…” she trailed off.
            “[Grievance noted.]” The little hand shifted to Jonah. “[Party Two: Please explain your perspective of the distressing event.]”
            Jonah stared at his girlfriend in disbelief. “What? You mean you got worked up over that? I – ouch!”
            In danger of losing control of the situation, the robot zapped Jonah mid-exclamation. “[Protocol error. Please keep vocal levels normal, and state your view in a civilized manner.]”
            “Sorry.” Jonah ran a hand through his hair. “Just…Bethany wanted help with her calculus notes, and I thought it would be rude to say no. We just studied, that’s all that happened.”
            The bot gave him a quick scan. “[Party Two’s account is valid,]” it concluded. “[Party One, do you require clarification?]”
            “She asked you for help, though?” Hannah burst out, no longer speaking to the robot. “Why not Horton, that nerdy kid in the back row who’s always pulling off perfect grades? He’d be a much better person to ask for help on that subject!”
            “Excuse me?”
            “[Party Two’s current calculus grades support the objection,]” URCARU-Bot sided with Hannah. “[Do you have a defense?]”
            Justin wrung his hands for a few seconds, trying to hold back what he knew, but Hannah’s stare combined with the robot’s unmoving blue lights cracked him. “Okay, I’ll admit it,” he spoke. “Bethany did try to flirt with me in there. She stormed out after I told her she was crazy – everybody knows I’m already in a relationship. With you.”
            Hannah kept staring, but…with a different intensity.
            URCARU-Bot performed another scan. “[Party Two’s phone data indicates four deleted calls from this ‘Bethany Simkins’, with no replies on record. Evidence suggests that Party Two’s affections have not wavered. Party One, do you have any further objections?]”
            She couldn’t make a sound. Jonah’s eyes weren’t as empty to her anymore.
            “[Party Two, do you have any comments?]”
            Jonah was also lost for words.
            “[Excellent,]” the robot nodded. “[Situation rectified. Closing Advice: Party One, before any relationship termination strategies are employed, I recommend first discovering the nature of the event with an objective perspective, considering all factors – including the testimony of the other party. Party Two, in order to avoid such a precarious situation to be misinterpreted, employ strategies to negate the social pressure. Perhaps Bethany could have been recommended by you to a more astute student, or you could have invited more people to join the study. Now,]” a daisy grew out of the bot’s hand, “[offer this to her as a token for reparation.]”
            Like a clumsy child, Jonah plucked the flower from the machine and sheepishly held it out to his sweetheart. The next action nearly destroyed both gift and giver – Hannah lunged across the table to envelop her boyfriend in a crushing hug. Her smile was back; the gloomy clouds began scudding away once more.
            URCARU-Bot’s eyes dimmed. “[#55783 to Mainframe: Relationship rectification has reached the Much Uncomfortable Social Hugging (MUSH) Stage. Requesting immediate deactivation.]”
            The robot shrank back into a common flowerpot, but the couple barely noticed his departure. The storm was past, the cliff averted. The sun was out again.

            Remember your friendly URCARU-Bot!

          *Notes: This account was for advertisement purposes only: Mainframe is aware of multiple scenarios with varying complexities – heck, he’s not even done compiling all possible relationship factors. URCARU services are not yet worldwide. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

Published in Loomings 2015