The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-3

Editor’s Note: This piece resumes a series of silly Star Wars fanfic-y spoofs I’d started two or three years ago.  It concludes the story in which one Dr. Starrkin (father of the title character, Colonel Starrkin) discovers some overruns in the Imperial Budget and must sort them out with a certain Darth Vader.  It is in this third, and concluding, volume that Dr. Starrkin actually meets the Dark Lord himself.  The first two installments may be found here & here.  And so, without further ado, I give you:

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-3
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

16 January, 01 E.C.

We made our landing on Mustafar without incident.  The shuttle ramp lowered itself and I began to disembark.  As I did so, Simon the pilot called after me.

“Shall I keep the engine running, gov?”

Everybody’s a comic, I thought, as I entered the main entrance hall.  I was greeted by a smiling receptionist.

“Do you have an appointment?” he asked.

“I believe I have the only appointment,” I sad calmly.

“Ah, Doctor Starrkin!  I wasn’t sure you’d actually come.”

“That’s why I made the appointment.”

“Yeah, right.”  His smile faded.  “Still though.”  He looked me up and down.  “Sir?”

“Yes, sergeant?”

“If I may ask, sir.  I notice you’re wearing a rather tight collar.  Are you sure that’s wise?”

“Am I sure that’s…Force, man!  You suggested it!”

“I was being ironic, sir.  I thought that was obvious.”

“Why would that be obvious?”  I was admittedly confused.

“Well, because of his Lordship’s…reputation.”  He almost whispered this last word.

“Reputations are little more than glorified rumors,” I said confidently.  “Now, may I go in?”

“Of course, sir.  His Lordship isn’t expecting you.”

“I’m sorry,” I said slowly.  “Did you say he’s not expecting me?

“That’s right, sir.  His Lordship generally assumes his guests will find any way possible to get out of any…appointment.”  He put this last word in air quotes.

“Why did you put ‘appointment’ in air quotes?” I asked.

“Well, sir.  People don’t generally come here willingly.”

“Well I most certainly have, sergeant.”  I was beginning to grow weary of this man.  “But if, as you say, he is not expecting me, perhaps you’d be so good as to announce me.”

“Best not, sir.”

“And how’s that, exactly?”

“Well, sir.  His Vaderness doesn’t like to be disturbed, you see.  The last man in this job who used the intercom, well…let’s just say he doesn’t work here anymore.”

“I see.”  This was becoming tiresome.  “Then I shall simply enter unannounced.”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t do that if I were you, sir.”  And he whistled.

“Very well, sergeant.”  I took a deep breath.  “What would you do, if you were me?”

“Well, sir.  I reckon I’d turn right back around and walk on out of here whilst I still had the chance.”

“Enough of this,” I said sharply.  “I’m going in.”  And I strode past him.  As the door shshed open before me, I heard him speak.

“Maybe you want to – “ But I was ignoring him.  “ – loosen your collar,” he said, as the door shshed close behind me.

I found myself walking down a long corridor, with only a single door at the far end.  And when I say ‘far end,’ I do mean far.  It was six hundred meters if it was a centimeter.  No doors, no windows, save the aforementioned single door all the way the end.  When I (finally) reached it, I found that it was marked only with the letters “DV.”  Well, this must be it, I thought.  I knocked.  The door shshed open.

And there, standing before me, doing literally nothing but standing there, was His Darkness himself.  The Black One.  The Machine-Man.  The Terminator.  The one and only Lord Darth Vader.  In the flesh.  Or, rather, what was left of the flesh.

Bloody tinted helmet.  Was he looking at me?  Was he looking past me?  Was he even awake?  I opened my mouth to speak, but he beat me to it.

“Ah, Doctor Starrkin.  Do come in.”  I came in.

“I thought you weren’t expecting me, Lord Vader.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Then how did you – “

“Know who you were?  Let’s just say, I felt your presence.”

“I didn’t even know I had a presence,” I said, half to myself.

“Everybody has a presence.  It’s part of the Force, you see.  Ah, but perhaps you’re wondering what the Force is.  Well, the Force is a sort of power…no, not power.  An energy maybe.  I mean, not a quantifiable ‘energy’ in the sense of physics.  It is neither potential nor kinetic.  And yet it is both.  Both and neither.  Neither and both.  That is the Force.  And it…well, how can I put this in layman’s terms?  I guess you could say it binds the galaxy together.  Although, I guess you could say that about the Empire too.  But the Empire binds the galaxy together in a political sense.  And the Force is not political.  Well.  I mean, of course there’s a light side and a dark side.  And which side one adheres to generally breaks down along political lines.  So in that sense, yes, I guess the Force does bind the galaxy together in a political sense.  But also, in another, more powerful sense.  Sense.  Am I even making sense?”

“My lord?”  I must confess, I had begun to zone out.

“I say, Doctor Starrkin, am I making any sense?”

“With all due respect, my lord,” I said, returning to myself.  “I didn’t come here to philosophize about the Force.”

“No, no, of course not.  You came here to discuss the budget for…The Project.”

“How did you – “

“Know that?”  He sounded just a touch exasperated.  But maybe it was just his breathing apparatus.  “The Force.  I thought I made that clear.”

“Well, it doesn’t really matter.”

“Oh, but it does.  It does matter!  Look, I’ll show you.  Watch this.”  And without moving a muscle or a servo, he caused his desk to levitate a full meter off the ground.  “I bet you’re wondering how I did that.”

“The…Force?”  I tried to sound impressed, but I don’t think I succeeded.

“The Force!” he exclaimed.  “Very good, Doctor Starrkin.  Very good indeed.  You begin to see the true power of the Dark Side.”

“Of the Dark Side?”

“Of the Force!” he corrected quickly.  “Who said anything about the Dark Side?  There’s no Dark Side here.  Just because I enjoy dressing in all black – “

“With all due respect, my lord – “

“Don’t interrupt me!”

“I’m sorry, my lord.”

“And don’t apologize!  I don’t know why everybody is always apologizing to me.  I really seem to intimidate people, you know?  And I don’t know why.  Honestly.  I mean, maybe it’s the mask.  Is it the mask?  You can tell me.  I won’t be offended.”

“Well, my lord, if I’m being honest – “

“Please.  Be honest,” he said sincerely.

“Well, my lord.  To be honest, the mask is just a touch disconcerting…” I trailed off under his dark stare.

“Go on,” he insisted.

“And not the mask, per se.  But, well, it’s the tinted eye-pieces, I think.  What I mean is, one can’t tell if one is being looked at.  One can’t read your expression.  So one does not know if one has given offense.”

“I knew it!”  He punched a gloved fist into a gloved palm.  “I knew it.  I said to Palpatine, ‘Can we not do tinted eye-pieces?  It’s going to give a bad first impression.’  That’s what I said to him.  And you know what his answer was?  ‘Gooood.  Gooood.’  That’s what he said.”

“But surely you could simply order non-tinted eye-pieces?”

“It’s not in the budget,” he said, shaking his head forlornly.  “Ah, the budget!  That’s what you’ve come to talk about.  Let’s get down to titanium tacks, shall we?”

“With pleasure, my lord.”

“Now, if I read the Force correctly – which I always do – you have some questions about cost overruns on…The Project.”

“How did you…oh, right, the Force.  Yes, well.  There are a number of – “

“Line items I signed off on, which are unexplained, yes.  It’s part of a special assignment, which comes directly from the Emperor himself.“

“And what is the nature of this assignment, my lord?”  Now we were getting somewhere.

“Liquidation.”

“Liquidation?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, that’s simple enough.  If we could just show that in the filings, then that’s all I’d need.”  I was beginning to think this would be all too easy.

“Oh, we can’t do that,” he said nonchalantly.

“And why not?”

“It’s quite sensitive, politically speaking.”  I noticed, as he said this, that seemed to be almost nervously fingering his cape.

“Be that as it may, my lord, the public has a right to know where its tax dollars are going.”

“Well, normally I’d agree with you,” he said evasively.

“But?”

“But in this case…well, I was afraid…I mean, we were afraid…well, the emperor was afraid…” he trailed off.

“Yes?” I pressed.

“There was concern over a public backlash.”

“I see.”  Politicians, I thought.  They’re all the same.  “May I speak freely?”

“Oh, please do!”  He seemed almost relieved.

“Look, my lord.  These overruns are quite extensive.  They throw the whole imperial budget out of balance.  Two more years of this and we’ll have to raise taxes.  And nothing, my lord, nothing causes public backlash like raising taxes.”

“I never thought about it that way.”  He looked at me closely.  Or didn’t.  I honestly couldn’t tell.  “You know, Doctor Starrkin, you’re good.  You’re very good.”

“Thank you, my lord.”

“No, seriously.  I knew I liked you the minute you walked in that door.  ‘This one doesn’t wear riding pants,’ I thought to myself.  That’s when I knew we would get along.”  And he patted his thighs to emphasize his own lack of riding pants.

“I never did care for them.  They make sitting at a desk quite uncomfortable.  And when you’re an accountant, such as myself, you spend an awful lot of time behind a desk.”

“Right?!” he exclaimed cheerfully.  “I mean, I don’t usually sit at a desk, mind you.  But I do spend a lot of time in shuttles.  And those things are cramped enough.  Riding pants would just make it worse.  Plus, I mean, try having a light saber duel in a cape and riding pants.  You don’t know how many Jedi I’ve seen try to whirl round only to get their cape caught on their riding pants.”  He paused, darkly.  “Many a Jedi has died in just this way.”

“Have they?” I asked.

“I mean, I’ve heard.  I’ve heard that many a Jedi have died in just this way.”  He paused again, this time even more darkly than the last.  “Which reminds me.  You’re not a Jedi, are you?”

“Me?  A Jedi?”  I laughed.  “Force, no!”

“Do I take it then, that you’re…not a fan of the Jedi?”

“To put it mildly, my lord.  In my professional opinion, they’ve been a sink on the economy of the Republic for far too long.”

“You mean, the Empire.”

“I mean both, my lord.”

“And how’s that, exactly?”  He seemed genuinely curious.

“Well, it’s like this, my lord.”  I was growing confident.  Now we were in my territory.  “Six generations ago, they applied for tax exemption on religious grounds.  Which, I mean, in theory is fine.  Separation of Church and State and all that.  But, well, they’re not really separate from the State, are they, the Jedi?  I mean, they were originally chartered as a defense force.  Which is a military matter, and therefore a matter of State.  But some clever Jedi figured, ‘Hey, we use the Force.  That’s a religion.  We should re-charter ourselves as a religion.  No taxes!’  So that’s what they did.”

“That’s absolutely fascinating!’ cried Darth Vader.

“Oh, it gets better, my lord!”  I felt like I was floating six inches off the ground.  Which, to be fair, I might have been.  One never knows, when one is in the presence of His Blackness.  “You see, if they had given up their capacity as a defense force and focused entirely on religion, there’d be no problem.  But they didn’t do that.  They kept on ‘defending the Republic’ or ‘defending the Empire.’  But they didn’t pay a dime in taxes.”

“Right?” He might actually have been smiling behind that mask.  “That’s just what I’m on about!”

“Exactly!” I agreed.  “And wouldn’t you know it?  It’s only after they got their tax exemption that they started building all these palaces and shrines and schools and whatnot.  And on some of the choicest property in the Rep…I mean, Empire.  Think of the property tax revenue we’re losing!  Why, just on Coruscant alone…”  I began to calculate the numbers in my head.  But Vader interrupted me.

“Well, I see we’re on the same page here.  So I shall be frank.”

“Wait, your name’s not actually Frank, is it?”

“Huh?  No, it’s…well, nevermind that.  My point is, it’s just for this reason that we decided the Jedi must be liquidated.”

“Liquidated?  You mean, their assets?”  I’m an accountant.  I need specifics.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“In what manner of speaking, precisely.”

“In the manner of speaking where one considers one’s life to be an asset.”

“Ah,” I gasped.  “You mean…exterminated.”

“Oh, don’t act so surprised, Doctor.”

“Surprise has nothing to do with it, my lord.  But ‘liquidation’ is a technical term.  It must refer to assets.  If you want to say that you’re removing the Jedi…from life, as it were, in this case…well, that’s ‘extermination.’  Also a technical term.

“Is it?”

“Indeed it is, my lord.  We even have a special budgetary code for this.  We call it a six-one-seven-B-eight.”

“I see, I see,” mused Vader thoughtfully.  “And is there also a budgetary code for bounty hunting?”  And then he quickly added, “I’m asking for a friend.”

“Bounty hunting,” I thought, ignoring his last comment.  “Yes.  Let me think.  Oh right.  Yeah, that’s an I-G-eight-eight.”

“How ironic,” he laughed darkly.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Or coincidental,” he shrugged.  “I’ve never been really clear on the difference between irony and coincidence.”

“To be honest,” I answered, “neither have I.”

“Good man,” he nodded approvingly.

“But what I am clear on,” I pressed, “is numbers.”

“Bothersome things,” he shook his black behelmed head.

“OK, I think that’s irony,” I said, half to myself.

“How so?”  He seemed genuinely interested.

“Well, my lord.  If I may be so bold?”

“Of course.”

“Well, my lord.  All of your autonomous life-functions are governed by a computer.  With all due respect, you wouldn’t be alive if not for numbers.  So the fact that you find numbers to be – how did you put it? – ‘bothersome things,’ well, that’s just a touch ironic.”

“Oh, very good!”  He clapped his black begloved hands together.  “You.  You’re good, doc.  You’re very good.”

“Thank you, my lord.  But if we could  – “

“Return to the matter at hand?  Yes, of course.”  He paused.  “Ah, but I sense that you do not like it when I finish your sentences for you.”

“Did the Force tell you that?” I asked coldly.

“Was that irony?”

“More sarcasm, my lord.”  And then, thinking better of it, “Respectful sarcasm, of course.”

“Of course.”  This was followed by an awkward silence.  And then, “So.  You think you can help?  With the budget, I mean.”

“Yes, I think so.  I’ll need to see your files though.”

“Naturally.”  And without a word, he caused a filing cabinet in the corner of the office to levitate off the floor and float in front of me.  While still in the air, the top drawer seemed to open of its own accord.  And then a manila folder rose out of it and opened before me.  It was filled with receipts.

“These aren’t the files I’m looing for,” I said, shaking my head.

“These aren’t the files you’re looking for,” he repeated.

“I just said that.”

“Yes, of course you did,” said Vader with a hint of embarrassment.  And then, as if by magic, the folder closed itself and returned to whence it had come.  In it’s place, a new folder arose and opened itself before me.  This, too, was filled with receipts.

“You’re nothing if not thorough, my lord.”  I was genuinely impressed.

“One must be thorough, if one hopes to be a sith lord.”

“A what?” I asked, only half-listening as I perused the receipts.

“A…myth horde?”

“A myth horde,” I repeated, looking up.

“Yes, a myth horde.  You know,” he stammered, “an anthology of traditional semi-fantastic origin and folk tales.”

“I know what a myth horde is,” I sighed.  “But why would you hope to be a – “

“Nevermind.  It’s not important.  What is important,” he said grandly, “is that we get this budget sorted to your liking.”

“Well,” I said, closing the file.  “I don’t think that will be a problem.  We’ll just total up all these receipts and divide them up by trimester and assign them a six-one-seven-B-eight; ‘extermination of tax revenue inefficiencies.”

“You mean by quarter?”

“I mean by trimester.”  I shook my head.  I hated trying to talk shop with laymen.  “The Republic ran quarterly.  But since we’ve become an empire, we’ve moved to a trimester system.  Cuts down on paperwork.”

“I see,” he said in a way that made it clear he didn’t.

“In any case,” I said, returning to the matter at hand, “that will satisfy me as to the cost overruns.”

“Then you’re done with these files?”  He seemed almost giddy.

“I am.”

And no sooner had I said that, did he, with a wave of his black besleeved arm, cause the filing cabinet to fly through the air at great speed and crash against the wall, where it fell to the ground in contorted heap.

“Was that absolutely necessary?” I asked.

“No?  But it was cool, right?”

“Impressive,” I agreed.

“Most impressive,” he added.

“I mean, that was fire!”

“Please don’t mention ‘fire’ around me.”

“Eh?  How’s that?”  Oh no.  What had I said?  My collar suddenly felt very tight around my neck.  Was I just nervous?  Or was that…him?

“Well, it’s just that…”  He shifted his weight uncomfortably.

“It’s OK.  Nevermind.”  I pulled at my collar.

“No, no.  My therapist says its good for me to talk about it.”  Darth Vader has a therapist?  “It’s just…well, my accident…it was in a fire.”

“And yet, you’ve made your office on a homogeneously volcanic planet.  You’re literally surrounded by fire.

“I know!” he exclaimed.  “What a coincidence, right?”

“I mean, I think it’s ironic?

“Is it?”

“Yes?”

“Well, doctor,” he said ominously.  “One thing is painfully clear.”

“And that is, my lord?”

“That neither you nor I have a clear understanding of the difference between irony and coincidence.”

“It does seem that way, my lord,” I said with not a little relief.

“You know who does, though?” he added thoughtfully.

“The Jedi?” I suggested, thinking of the most sage and learnéd men in the galaxy.

“The Jedi?!” he laughed.  “Force, no!  No, the receptionist.  He was a liberal arts major at Republic University.”

“You mean, Imperial University,” I offered.

“I do not.  It was still Republic University when he was there, and that’s what’s on his diploma.  We may yet retcon all diplomas to read ‘Imperial University.’  And there are those who wish to simply nullify all degrees granted under the Ancien Régime.  But that’s short-sighted in my cybernetically enhanced eyes.  I mean, this system runs on bureaucracy.  You can’t just go around wiping out academic degrees like so many Jedi.”  He stopped himself.  “Sorry,” he added.  “Too soon?”

“Hardly, my lord.”

“Yes, well, in any case.  Let’s get the receptionist in here.  He’ll clear this up for us.”

“Very good, my lord,” I agreed.  And he pressed a button on his breastplate which seemed to activate the intercom.

“Cuthbert?” he called softly.  “Can you hear me?  Is this thing working?  Cuthbert?”

“Yes, my lord, I can hear you,” came the tinny voice over the intercom.  He sounded half terrified and half annoyed that his boss still hadn’t quite mastered the intercom.

“Cuthbert,” said Vader.  “Would you be a dear and come down to my office.  The doctor and I have a question for you.”

“Immediately, Lord Vader,” came the hurried reply before the intercom clicked off.

“Right,” said Vader, turning to look at me again.  I think.  “It will be a few minutes for him to traverse The Corridor.  Can I offer you a cup of tea?  Blue-milk?”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure?  I can personally recommend the Blue-milk.  It’s imported from Tatooine.  They invented Blue-milk, you know.”

“I’m sure it’s lovely, my lord.  But no, thank you.”

“Suit yourself,” said His Blackness with a shrug.

“But I was wondering about that,” I added.

“About the Blue-milk?”

“Huh?  No.  I mean, yes.  I’ve loads of questions about Blue-milk.  But no, I was wondering about the corridor.  It seems to serve no purpose.  There are no doors or windows save yours at this end, and the one at the other, for reception.  Why have such a long corridor?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes, I’m genuinely curious.”  I was.  To the point where I’d been wanting to ask this question since I walked through the door.

“Well, it’s a bit silly, really.”  And he bashfully rubbed his right foot against his left while fingering his left elbow with his right hand.

“It’s OK,” I said encouragingly.  “You can tell me.”

“Well,” he stammered.  “It makes me feel like I’m back on a Star Destroyer.”

“Does it?”

“Have you ever been on an Imperial Star Destroyer?” he asked proudly.

“Can’t say that I’ve had the pleasure.”

“Oh, well,” he began with not a little delight.  “They’re just filled with long corridors.  Because they’re so bloody big, you know?  I mean, some of them just go on for-ev-er.  So I guess,” he said, pulling awkwardly at his cape, “it just makes me feel like I’m back aboard one.”  And he looked down at his black bebooted feet.  “It’s silly, I know.”

“Oh, it’s not silly,” I said encouragingly.

“Really?”  He looked up at me, tilting his helmet earnestly to one side.  “You mean it?”

“Of course!” I declared.  “We all need a touch of home now and again.  There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”  He really did sound relieved.  “I was worried you were going to say it was an unnecessary expenditure or something like that.”

“Yes well…” I trailed off.  I mean, it probably was an unnecessary expenditure, if we’re being honest.  But even though I’m an accountant, I still have a heart.  And well, he seemed so vulnerable in that moment.  So I said:

“Yes, well, I’m sure it’s a function of the topography of the volcano into which this facility has been built.”

“It’s not though,” he said earnestly.  “I mean, between you and me, there’s no need for a corridor of any length.  I just as easily could have built my office adjacent to reception.”

“But I’m sure,” I said very slowly, “it’s just a function of the topography of the volcano into which this facility has been built.”

“Oh, I see!” he exclaimed, catching on.  “Yes, it’s because of the toponomy…

“Topography…”

“Topogrpahy!  Of the mountain…”

“The volcano…”

“The volcano – “  And then this charade was interrupted by the shshing open of the door, through which the receptionist had just entered.  “Ah, Cuthbert!” he said, relieved by the opportunity to change the subject.

“My lord,” said Cuthbert gravely, falling to his knees.

“Cuthbert,” said Darth Vader, deadly and darkly serious.  “I must discuss with you a matter of grave importance.”

“My lard,” stammered Cuthbert, “I…I…”

“Did you just say, ‘my lard?!”  His voice plummeted to a terrifying bass.

“My lord!” cried Cuthbert in terror.  “Lord!  I’m sure I said lord!”

“By the Force, I heard lard,” grumbled The Dark One.  “Did you hear lard, doctor?” he asked, turning to me.

“My lord,” I said nervously.  “I do believe he said, ‘my lord.’  I’m quite sure.”  In fact, he absolutely did say lard.  But the poor boy was so terrified, I could not be help him in this critical moment.

“Are you calling me a liar!?”  He was apoplectic in his Darthness.

“No!  My lord…I…”

“Then what?” he demanded.

“Perhaps, my lord, just maybe, there was a glitch in your auditory perceptors.  I didn’t mean to imply…”  And I fell to my knees in terror, beside the already terrified Cuthbert.

“You meant to imply that my cybernetic implants are anything less than perfect?  Is that what you meant to imply?”  And he levitated himself a full meter off the ground for effect.

“My lord, I simply – “

“Enough!”  And then he started to cackle.  A high-pitched, mechanical whine of a laugh.  “Oh relax, you two.  I’m just having a bit of fun.”  And he lowered himself back down to earth.  Cuthbert and I exchanged furtive glances of relief.  I gingerly rose back to my feet.  Cuthbert did not.

“Dear Cuthbert,” he said pacifically.  “What is the difference between irony and coincidence?”

“My lord?” he answered carefully.

“Irony and coincidence,” repeated Vader.  “What’s the difference?”

“Well, my lord,” began Cuthbert nervously, still on one knee and staring at the floor.

“Oh, get up!”

“Yes, my lord.”  And Cuthbert rose to his feet, though he continued to stare at his boots.  “Well, my lord, irony is when something said or done is the opposite of what is expected.  Like a fire truck itself catching fire.”

“Did he just mention fire?” said Vader, looking darkly at me.

“Whereas coincidence,” hurried on Cuthbert, “is two similar things happening at the same time by chance.  Like if – “

“Don’t make this about fire,” grumbled His Befired Blackness.

“Like if,” continued Cuthbert, “we all showed up today wearing all black.  My lord.”

At which point we all looked around.  We were, in fact, all three of us, wearing nothing but black.

“How ironic!” exclaimed Vader, slapping black belgoved hands against black beleathered thighs.

“Err, yes…my lord,” agreed the receptionist nervously.

“Thank you, Cuthbert.  That will be all,” said Vader casually.  “But know this.  Your parents may rest in peace knowing that your liberal arts degree has at last paid dividends.”

“Oh, my Force!” shrieked Cuthbert.  “Are my parents…are they…dead?”

“What?” barked Vader.  “No, of course not!  Why would you think that?”  He paused, looking up at the ceiling.  “Oh!  Because I said ‘rest in peace’?  Sorry, I meant to say, ‘they may rest assured.’  Sorry.  No, really.  I’ve always had trouble with idioms.  Right, doctor?”  He turned to face me.  “Liquidate.  Exterminate.  Rest in peace.  Rest assured.  Who can keep these things straight?  Well,” he said, half to himself.  “That’s why we keep you liberal arts guys around.  Am I right, doctor?”

“Most assuredly, my lord.”

“Very well then.”  And then turning back to the receptionist, “Be gone with you now, Cuthbert.”

“My lord,” said Cuthbert, bowing deeply before beating a hasty retreat.

“Well now, doctor,” he said to me after the door had shshed closed.  “I trust you are satisfied as to my cost overruns?”

“As to the overruns,” I answered, “I am.  But as for…the Project – “

“Yes, yes,” he cut me off dismissively.  “We can’t write that into the budget just yet.  It’s highly classified.  Top secret, you know.  Top top secret, even.”

“Top top secret?” I questioned.  “Is that even a – “

“A thing?  Yes, I’m afraid it is.”

“Well, it may well be, my lord.  But it still needs to be in the Imperial Budget,” I said firmly.  “Perhaps if you could enlighten me as to the nature of the project, I could help you devise an appropriate budget code for it.”

“Well, it’s quite simple really,” began Vader proudly.  “It’s a…hang on.  This is off the record, right?”

“It is now.”

“Gooood.  Gooood.”  And I swear he winked at me behind his tinted eye-pieces, in acknowledgement of his mocking of the Emperor’s favorite affirmation.  “Well, simply put, the Project is a roughly moon-sized space station with enough firepower to destroy an entire planet.”

“I see, I see,” I said encouragingly.  “And the purpose of this space station?”

“Fear.”  He spoke this single word with grave ominousity.

“Fear,” I repeated.  “You must understand, Lord Vader, I cannot write ‘Fear’ into the Imperial budget.”

“Fear,” he mused to himself.  “Fear will keep the local systems in line.  Fear of this battle station.”

“Ah, you said ‘keep the local systems in line,’ did you?”  My budgetary ears were pricked.  “I can work with that.  Domestic tranquility, common defense, that sort of thing.”

“Well it’s really more about – “

“No, no.  It’s best if you don’t speak, my lord,” I said waving him off, consumed by thoughts of numbers, percentages and line items.  “Now, tell me, my lord.  Will this ‘battle station,’ as you call it, will it be a one-off, or do you expect this is the first in a series of ‘battle stations’?”

“Would it not be better if we said ‘space station’ instead of ‘battle station’?”  He was trying to be helpful.  It was almost cute.

“No, certainly not,” I said firmly.  “You see, ‘space station’ sounds like science.  We’ll never get that through the Senate.  No, ‘battle station’ is better.  They never vote against military spending.”

“Doc,” he nearly cooed mechanically.  “You.  You’re good!”

“Yes, yes,” I waved him off.  “I’m not the AEIOU for nothing.  But please, answer the question.  Is it a one-off?”

“Oh, no,” answered His Blackness proudly.  “I expect we shall build at least three.  Well, to be fair, it’s a long term project.  I may only live to see the first two.  But, if I had to guess, at least three.”

“No, that’s good.  You see, one-off’s are hard to justify.  They seem like an extravagance.  But if this is to be a long-term, ongoing sort of thing, then we can write that into the budget almost as a permanent line item.”

“Yes, I see,” said His Darthness with faux confidence.

“Quite,” I agreed casually.  “In any case, Lord Vader, I think I’m done here.  I may yet need to review further documents.  But if you could have Cuthbert – “

“Yes, of course.  Anything you need,” he agreed eagerly.

“Right.  Well, then.  I guess I’ll be on my way.”

“Right.  I guess so,” answered Vader awkwardly.  “Sorry, I’m not good with goodbyes.”

“Me neither,” I muttered with equal awkwardness.

“Uh, take care of yourself?  I guess…it’s what your best at?”  He shook his head.  “Sorry, that sounded cold.”

“It’s fine,” I shrugged.  “Uh…may the Force be with you?”

“It already is?”  This was growing more awkward by the moment.

“Yes, of course it is.  I mean, you’re a…you’re a myth horde?”

“A myth horde,” he agreed.  “That’s right.”

“Fine, fine.  So, uh, I’ll just, uh…” And I gestured towards the door over my shoulder with my thumb.

“Uh, allow me to show you out?” offered Vader with awkward grace.

“As you wish.”

“Ah, well, uh, here you are,” he said pointing towards the door, without actually moving his feet so much as a centimeter.

“Right.  By then.”

“Bye,” said His Lordship the Black Darth Vader with a half-wave.  At which point, I backed out through the gently shshing door.  And when, finally, it closed behind me, I exhaled a long, sweet, exhalation.  Force, I thought, that was awkward.

I made my way back down the long corridor.  I waved to Cuthbert as I passed through reception, but he was too busy enjoying the act of respiration to notice me.  From there, I marched out to the landing platform and up the ramp into the shuttle cockpit, where Simon the pilot was smoking a cigarette.

“Didn’t expect to see you again, gov,” he said casually.

“Didn’t expect to see me again…so soon, you mean,” I corrected him.

“Err, yeah.  Sufmin’ like that, gov.”

“Nevermind,” I said, taking my seat.  “Home, James.  And don’t spare the horses.”

“It’s Simon, gov.  And horses?”

“Banthas,” I winced.  “Home, Simon.  And don’t spare the banthas.”

I never was much good with idioms.

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