The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale
Major Starrkin sat in the anteroom of the Admiral’s Secretary’s office, which was itself an anteroom to the Admiral’s own office, which was itself little more than an anteroom to the Admiral’s private squash courts. The fact that the Admiral had a private squash court1 aboard his active duty battleship, some felt, spoke to the decadence and deterioration of the Empire. None of the people who felt this way, it is worth noting, happened to hold positions of power within the Empire. Thus were their critiques rounded down to sour grapes and tiny violins.
For his part, Major Starrkin reserved judgment. The critiques were not without merit, he reasoned. But on the other hand, what good was having a Galactic Empire if it didn’t come with perks such as private squash courts, Twi’lek masseuses and free video rental privileges. Against this last indulgence, Rebel propaganda asked why, if the Empire was so great, were they still using an outdated video rental system? Should they not just make streaming video freely available to all citizens? Surely the burdensome2 tax structure imposed by the Empire would more than cover the cost of such a simple service. As it happened, however, Major Starrkin didn’t read Rebel propaganda. Though had he done so, he likely would have reasoned that you can’t have private squash courts on Star Destroyers and free galaxy-wide streaming video and still have enough left over to crush a nattering rebellion. Some people, he would have thought, always want to have their cake and eat it too.
“The Secretary will see you now,” said the Secretarial Ante-Room Matron in a rather nasal and condescending tone of voice. Major Starrkin stood up and pressed the pleats of his uniform, accentuating the flairs of his riding pants. He was very proud of those pants, actually. Throughout the Empire, riding pants were seen as a sign of respect. Horses, on the other hand, were rarely seen. Form, in this case, had apparently outlived function.3
The Major strode proudly into the Secretary’s office. Although he had borne personal witness to the destruction of the Second Death Star,4 he still carried himself as an officer and a gentleman. It was a bad day for the Empire, to be sure. But Major Starrkin was ready for the next battle.
“Please have a seat,” said the Secretary without looking up from his video display. Major Starrkin took a seat. As he waited patiently, he heard a soft whirring sound emanating from the Secretary’s desk. The Secretary himself was still staring intently at his monitor. “Sorry, Major,” he said vaguely. “I’ll just be a moment.” More whirring. The Major sat ramrod straight. At last, the whirring stopped. A smile of simple satisfaction passed over the Secretary’s face. “At last,” he said, almost to himself. Then he pressed a button on his desk, which ejected a videocassette into his waiting hand. Gently, he placed the cassette squarely and neatly on top of a pile of other videocassettes. Finally, the Secretary stood and turned to face Major Starrkin. He wore a slightly apologetic smile.
“Sorry about that, Major. But the Admiral insists that all of his videos be rewound before being returned to Central Library. ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay a red Imperial cent in rewind fees,’ he always says. ‘I run a tight ship,’ he always says. And you’d do well to take note of that, Major. That sort of attention to detail may well land you a command of your own one day.” It was clear that the Secretary considered himself quite lucky to be working under one of the more clever commanders in the fleet.
“I shall keep that in mind, sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound both impressed and grateful, or gratepressed as it was called in OCS. The Secretary seemed pleased by this.
“Now then,” said the Secretary, picking up the Major’s after-action report. “Someone had a good day yesterday, didn’t they?” He was smiling. Major Starrkin was trying to figure out why.
“With all due respect sir, I don’t think anything about yesterday was particularly good.” This time he tried to sound grateful with a tinge of deferential confusion, or gratedefcon as it was called in OCS. As the words left his mouth, the Major briefly wondered at the resources that must have gone in to creating such a byzantine system of nuanced interlocution. And as the words reached the Secretary’s ears, he himself was awed by the attention to detail that went in to crafting such a nuanced system of Byzantine interlocution.
“Hmm? No, no of course not. Death of the Emperor and all that. Tragic, really. Still though, he had a good run. And between you and me, Major, the Old Man wasn’t going to live forever, was he?”
“No, sir. He did sir. I don’t imagine he would have sir.” Major Starrkin tried to sound as deferentially polite as he could, though the Secretary found his tone not nearly obsequious enough. The Major was quick to pick up on this, however, and quickly added an afterthought. “Still though, sir. Terrible about the Death Star. Tragic loss of life, sir, if I do say so.”
“Hmm?” The Secretary arched an eyebrow. “Ah, yes. Tragic loss of life. Quite right, Major. And yet, I’ve said all along these Death Stars are a waste of resources. Force willing, we’ve seen the last of them.” Now it was the Major who arched an eyebrow.
“But surely, sir, they provided an element of fear throughout the Empire. And is it not fear that keeps that local systems in line?” The Major was arguing from doctrine while sounding deferentially confused,5 which was the only permissible way to question a superior.
“I see you’ve studied your Moff Tarkin…Major Starrkin.” The Secretary grinned at his play on words. The Major coughed, slightly. “Yes, well. The truth is, Major, that way of thinking has simply gone out of style. Unlike our fine riding pants, which I pray never will.” He looked at the Major for approval. The Major nodded. “No, it is not fear that keeps the local systems in line,” continued the Secretary. “It is bureaucracy. Ponderous, opaque, world-crushing bureaucracy, plain and simple. There is no greater…force…in the universe.” He smiled proudly at his pun. The Major twitched the left corner of his mouth slightly upwards. The Secretary walked out from behind his desk and stood face to face with his subordinate.
“You’re a pilot. And a damned fine one,” said the Secretary. “Tell me something, Major. How long does it take to bring an Imperial Star Destroyer, traveling at full impulse speed, to a dead stop?” The Major looked momentarily confused by this line of inquiry.
“Well, sir,” he said slowly. “That depends on a number of variables, from gravimetric anomalies, atmospheric conditions (if applicable), state of overall repair of said ship, spatial density – “
“A perfectly tuned Star Destroyer in a total vacuum. How long, Major?”
“Twenty-seven minutes, sir.”
“Twenty-seven minutes. Very good, Major. And that’s just for one ship. A single Star Destroyer. Now imagine that that Star Destroyer is a galaxy-wide, barely competently run, Byzantine bureaucracy. How long would it take to bring it to a total standstill?”
“I’m sure I have no idea, sir.”
“Generations, Major. Generations.” At this last word, the Secretary stomped his foot smartly against the plushly carpeted deck-plating. “You see, the very incompetence for which the Rebels incessantly lambast us is, in actuality, our single greatest strength. It doesn’t know how to stop. It couldn’t stop if it wanted to. To put it in terms you, as a pilot, will understand, Major, it is inertia, pure and simple. Emperors come and go. Death Stars are built and destroyed. But bureaucracy, Major. That is forever.”
“Yes, sir,” defconned Major Starrkin. “I suppose I never thought of it that way, sir.”
“No, I don’t suppose you have, Major,” said the Secretary with a tinge of pity. “They teach you a lot of things in flight school, and still more in OCS. But if you want to have a future in this Empire, Major, you’d do well to take a course in political theory.”
“I shall make every effort, sir,” said Major Starrkin defingenuously.6
“See that you do, Major. See that you do.” Before he could say anything else, the Secretary was distracted by a flashing red light on his desk. “Ah! The Admiral will see you now.”
“Thank you, sir,” said the Major as he made his way to the Admiral’s office.
The Admiral’s office was full of all sorts of treasures from all sorts of worlds. Every inch of countertop was covered with some or other trinket, no doubt pillaged in the course of his Imperial duties. A full catalog of these could be found in the ShipLibrary. But the most conspicuous of all was a stuffed Ewok sitting atop a beanbag chair in the shape of the Sith Lord Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader’s helmet.7 The Admiral’s office was, however, conspicuously lacking in one very important detail. And that was the Admiral himself. With nothing else to do, Major Starrkin stood at attention and waited in the uncomfortable stare of that freshly stuffed Ewok.
After a few minutes, the back door to the office shshed open, through which the Admiral made a grand entrance from his private squash courts. The Major snapped off a salute. The Admiral looked momentarily confused before returning the salute. Major Starrkin had never personally met the Admiral before, and so had no idea what to expect. The sight which greeted him was breathtaking.
The Admiral stood there, glorying in his squash shorts8 and polo tunic, sweat dripping from his luxuriously quaffed hair. He eyed the Major, and smiled.
“Major Thtarrkin, I prethume?” The Admiral had a pronounced lisp. It was impossible to know, however, if this lisp was a natural defect or a polished affectation. Lisps had become quite fashionable of late in the Imperial Court, and it was not uncommon to find high-ranking officers with political aspirations developing finely crafted lisps of their own these days.
“Yes, sir.” Major Starrkin had no political aspirations.
“Very good. Do pleathe have a theat.” The Admiral gestured to a luxurious chair, draped with a Wookie hide, before his desk.
“Thank you, sir,” said the Major with utter deference as he sat himself down. The Admiral, however, remained standing, arms akimbo.
“What do you think of my thquath thortth?” asked the Admiral with a slight twist of his hips. “I had them thpethially made, you know.”
“I have never seen their equal, sir,” defconned the Major. This, at least, was true.
“Are you a thquath man, Major? I could have a pair made up for you, you know.”
“I’m afraid I’ve never squashed myself, sir, no. But thank you, sir.”
“Pity, that.” The Admiral paused, as though he were in deep thought. “Now. What wath it you wanted to thee me about?”
“Sir?” Major Starrkin was confused. “I was told to report to you, sir.”
“Tho you were! Tho you were.” It was all coming back to him. “You had quite a day yesterday, Major. Quite a day!”
“I suppose, sir.” The Major was in full defcon mode now. “Still though, sir. Dark day for the Empire.”
“How’th that again, Major?” The Admiral seemed not at all to understand.
“With all due respect, sir, we lost his Majesty the Emperor, Lord Vader and the Death Star yesterday.”
“Yeth, pity, that.” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts. “Thtill though, Major, you mutht admit. It didn’t put a dent into the bureaucrathy. And bureaucrathy ith the thing, Major! The very thing! We shall live to fight another day!”
“Indeed, sir.” This time Major Starrkin hit a higher note of obsequiousness, if only to avoid the need for further comment.
“Yeth, well. That ith the very thing I wished to talk with you about, Major. The very thing.” The Admiral tugged at the belt of his polo tunic. “But firtht, tell me thomething, Major. Do you watch videoth?”
“I’m afraid I hardly have the time, sir.”
“No, I thuppothe not. But maybe you will one day. And if you do, Major, a word to the withe. Alwayth rewind. We here at the Empire have the motht advancthed bureaucrathy in the hithtory of the galacthy. And if you don’t rewind, Major, they will find you. And trutht me, Major. That ith a late fee you do not want to pay.”
“I shall keep that in mind, sir. Thank you, sir.” So pleased was the Admiral at the Major’s display of obsequiousness that he gave the flares of his squash shorts an outright tug. The Major blinked the longest blink he dared blink. “Sir, what was it you wished to see me about, sir?”
“Ah, yeth.” The Admiral sat down behind his desk, satisfied that he had thoroughly impressed his audience with the magnificence of his wardrobe. “I have rethently had the pleasure of having had your after-action report read to me.”
“Read to you, sir?” This day was testing Major Starrkin’s defconning abilities.
“Oh yeth, Major. I alwayth have them read to me thethe dayth.” The Admiral seemed oddly proud of this fact. The reason for his pride was soon made clear. “I uthed to read them mythelf, you know. But they’re jutht too depreththing.” He smiled in a way that seemed wholly inappropriate. “But now, I have them read to me while I thqauth. Much eathier to take bad newth on the courtth, you know.”
“I suppose it would be, sir.”
“Anyway, Major, your report was tho ecthraordinary, I nearly miththed my shot!”
“Thank you, sir.”
“For what?” The Admiral was entirely confused.
“Nothing, sir. Sorry, sir. Please go on, sir,” said the Major.
“About what?” Too many videos, thought the Major, were not good for one’s attention span.
“My after-action report, sir.”
“Your after action report?” The Admiral stood up and fiddled with his belt buckle in an effort to hide his confusion. “Do you know thith belt buckle wath a gift from the Emperor’th thecond couthin’th third wife’th daughter? We uthed to date, actually. It theemed like a good political move at the time. Thadly, she never quite mathtered her lithp, tho I had to break it off. But she wath a thweet girl, tho I kept the buckle. Nithe, don’t you think, Major?”
“Very, sir.” Major Starrkin coughed slightly. “Sir, I was told you wanted to see me about my after-action report?”
“Tho I did! Tho I did.” The Admiral rummaged around his desk and pulled out a copy of the report. He handed it across to Major Starrkin and asked him to read the kill-summary. The Major had a sneaking suspicion that the Admiral could not, in fact, read.
“Five kills, sir.”
“Five killth,” repeated the Admiral. “Very good! Very good indeed.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Well, that’th jutht the thing, Major.” The Admiral was frowning now. In fact, his displeasure was getting the best of him. So much so, in fact, that he forgot his lisp. “You see, it’s almost too good. With all the losses we suffered yesterday, your success stands out like a sore thumb. Indeed, one might even think you were enjoying yourself out there; on the very day during which we lost not only the Death Star, not only Lord Vader, not only the Executor, but His Majesty the Emperor himself already.”
“I assure you, sir,” cut in the Major in a gross breech of etiquette, “I did not enjoy it in the least.”
“No,” frowned the Admiral. “I’m sure you didn’t. Still, we must keep up appearances. Do you realize what it looks like for you to score five whole kills on a day of such tragic loss for the Empire? Do you know what that does to morale?”
“But, sir.” Major Starrkin could not believe what he was hearing. “With all due respect, sir. I scored all five of my kills before we lost the Executor, let alone the Death Star or His Majesty the Emperor.”
“And that’s lucky for you, Major.” And then, inexplicably, the Admiral smiled. He was in control again, of his emotions and his lisp. “Or should I thay…Colonel?”
“Sir?” This time there was no deference. Just confusion.
“For your actth of valor, for your conthpicuouth bravery, and for your thervithe to the Empire, I hereby promote you to the rank of Colonel, with all rank and privilegeth pertaining thereto.” Major Starrkin was speechless. The Admiral continued. “Of courthe, it won’t do any good to have you here, around the troopth. And more to the point, Colonel, I can’t have you around me. I’m on the fatht track to the Imperial Court, you know. And thuctheth thuch ath yourth would dim my thtar, tho to thpeak. That ith why I mutht, I’m afraid, tranthfer you and your wing, to the Outer Rim.”
“But, sir!” interjected the newly minted Colonel, after an appropriately long pause which he used to parse the Admiral’s lisp.
“Now, now, Colonel. No need to thank me. Indeed, it ith I who thankth you!” The Admiral tugged at the flares of his squash shorts again. “The Thecretary will have your orderth for you on the way out.” The Colonel stood for a moment in stunned silence. He had no more words for the Admiral.9 Whereupon did Major Starrkin salute and turn sharply on his heels to go. But as the door shshed open before him, the Admiral called to him one last time. “Oh, and Colonel! Do let me know if you would like a pair of thquath shortth! It’th the leatht I can do…for a hero of the Empire.”
Colonel Starrkin nodded, his back still turned to the Admrial, and left. The Secretary was waiting for him as he entered the room. “Your orders, Colenel,” he said with a smile as he handed him a sheaf of papers. Starrkin took them silently in his hand, hoping to leave without any further discussion. But the Secretary didn’t let go of them, and he met the Colonel’s eye.
“Can I ask you something, sir?” The Secretary hung on the word sir. “I suppose I have to call you sir now, don’t I, sir.” Starrkin nodded. “Sir, I was just wondering.” He seemed to hesitate.
“Did the Admiral offer you a pair of squash shorts?”
Colonel Starrkin sighed loudly, no longer needing to genuflect before a subordinate officer. With that, he wrenched his orders from the Secretary’s hand and left the office without another word. As the doors shshed closed behind him, the Secretary muttered to himself. “Bloody upstarts.”
- Two, actually. [↩]
- “Crushing” was actually the word used in Rebel e-leaflets. [↩]
- This was another criticism lobbed at the Empire by Rebel propaganda. “The Empire: As Useless as Riding Pants” went the slogan. Where one stood on (or perhaps in) riding pants often determined one’s politics. [↩]
- Already being referred to by the lower ranks as “the Dead Star.” [↩]
- Defconargudoct being the official term for this. [↩]
- With deferential disingenuousness. [↩]
- The fact that Ewoks had only just lately triumphed over Lord Vader was an irony not entirely lost on Major Starrkin. [↩]
- These squash shorts were little more than riding pants which had been cut off at the knee. [↩]
- In the Imperial fleet, this was known as the Quiet Insult, or the quietsult. [↩]