The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #4
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

The little outpost sat upon a large asteroid. The large asteroid hung listlessly in a sea of smaller asteroids. The sea of asteroids was minding its own business on the fringes of the Outer Rim of The Galaxy. In contrast, the Outer Rim of The Galaxy scarcely had any business to mind. So, thought Colonel Starrkin as he and his three wingmen approached the lonely outpost sitting upon the large asteroid, this is where they’ve sent us. Not even a proper bloody planet. Not even a moon. Just a lonely little outpost in some forgotten asteroid field. He shook his head forlornly. Well, that’s politics for you.

The four spacecraft formed up to land. The Colonel’s TIE Advanced was in the lead position. The three Interceptors followed close behind. Starrkin switched on his intercom.

“Colonel Starrkin to Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, requesting permission to land. Over.” For a moment there was nothing but silence; then a click as a rather bored sounding voice filled his earpiece.

“Lonely Outpost to Starrkin. Bring ‘em in, chief.” The com clicked off. Colonel Starrkin waited in awkward silence. The bored voice spoke again, this time with a hint of annoyance. “Do you copy, Colonel? I said, bring ‘em in.” Underneath his flight helmet, Colonel Starrkin raised his left eyebrow. ((He’d been practicing with his left lately. The reason for this being that he had begun to feel his right eyebrow was outpacing the left in strength, due to all the recent archings he’d put it through, and he’d begun to feel a tad bit worried that it was giving his face a bit of a lopsided look.))

“Err, yes, I copied.” He paused awkwardly. “But you didn’t say ‘over,’ so I wasn’t sure you were done speaking. Over.”

“Well, you heard me click off, didn’t you?” There was no longer any boredom in the voice, just annoyance.

“I suppose I did, yes,” said the Colonel. No answer. “I’m sorry,” he said with a hint of confusion. “This is Imperial Outpost 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango, is it not? Over.”

“Well it’s certainly not Jabba the Hut’s Pleasure Palace, is it? Check your coordinates, chief. You’re in the right place.” The com clicked off again. The Colonel waited in awkward silence once more. The com clicked back on. “Ugh. OVER.”

“This guy’s a regular Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep, ((Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep was a well known Imperial stand-up comedian. In fact, his videos were the most highly rented throughout the galaxy.))” came Reg’s voice over the ship-to-ship. Starrkin ignored this remark.

“Indeed,” replied the Colonel to the space-traffic controller. “It’s just that you identified yourself as ‘Lonely Outpost.’ Over.” As he clicked off, he could swear he heard laughter in the background.

“Oh, that,” said the space-traffic controller. “Well it’s a lot easier to say ‘Lonely Outpost’ than ‘Imperial Outpost number 7-4-2-6-7-3-Alpha-Charlie-Tango,’ innit?” This time the Colonel sighed audibly into his mouthpiece. Hearing this, the controller spoke again. “Look mate, out here we don’t say ‘over’ every time we’re done speaking. You’d best get used to it.” The Colonel noticed that the controller had yet to call him ‘sir.’ He was about to say something about this, but then thought better of it.

“Very well, Lonely Outpost,” answered the Colonel. “Beginning our approach. Over.” Colonel Starrkin considered himself to be a highly adaptable sort of fellow. But old habits die hard, as they say, and he wasn’t ready to give up his ‘over’s just yet. He waited a moment for confirmation. But when it didn’t come after a few seconds, he decided it never would. He switched on his ship-to-ship.

“Alright, gentlemen, let’s form up for landing.” He checked his scope and found that his wingmen had already anticipated his order.

“They’re a silly lot, ain’t they,” said Micky.

“I’ll say,” agreed Nick.

“Bloody provincials,” added Reg for good measure.

Colonel Starrkin would have reprimanded this sort of chatter. At least, he would have done, were he not already thinking the same thing. As the four little fighters began their approach, the sight that greeted them was something altogether new. On the asteroid was a little ramshackle structure which they took to be the Outpost proper. Beside it, scratched into the rocky surface, was a small landing strip. And lining the landing strip were two-dozen spacecraft. Nothing about this was unusual. Except, that is, for the fact that none of the ships were of Imperial make, save a single Lambda class shuttle.

“Colonel, you sure this is the right place, sir?” asked Reg.

“You heard my communication with flight control, pilot.” The Colonel didn’t want to make any definitive answers, mostly because he had no definitive answers to give at the moment. “Alright, gentlemen,” he added. “Let’s make this look good. Let’s show them how it’s done.” With that, the four little fighters executed a textbook landing that would have impressed even the most seasoned of pilots. Once safely on the ground, they hopped out of their ships and looked around. Only, the thing they were looking around for was nowhere to be seen. Specifically, nobody was there to greet them. They all four looked at each other. And though their faces were all hidden behind their flight helmets, the three wingmen knew instinctively that the Colonel was arching an eyebrow. Though which eyebrow he was arching was a matter of not a little interest to them. For they had lately begun to place bets on this matter.

With a wave his hand, the Colonel began to make his way towards the ramshackle structure. The others shrugged collectively and followed. In a moment, they were standing before the door. Nothing happened. The Colonel looked around for a buzzer or a bell. Finally, he spotted something buzzer-sized. This buzzer-sized object was, honestly, shaped exactly like Darth Vader’s helmet. Hesitantly, he pushed on it. Nothing happened. He pushed on it again. Nothing happened again. Then, after a long pause, a little video screen located just beside it lit up. In the center of the screen was an image of a man, sitting behind a desk. The right half of another man could be seen to the left the center man.

“Whozit?” asked the center man.

“Who do you bloody think it is?” asked the other man, leaning further into the picture.

“How in the salt mines of Kessel should I know?” said the first.

“Well it’s obviously the bloody Colonel what just landed,” said the second. “Who else would it be?” he added rhetorically.

“Could be the postman,” answered the first, missing the fact that the question had been rhetorical.

“The postman?!” screeched the second. “Four fighters show up requesting permission to land and you think it’s the bleedin’ postman?”

“Well, it’s just that I ordered a few videos for rental last month, and I was hoping maybe they’d finally shown up is all.”

“Nobody gives a Hut’s left tit about your bloody video rentals, Roger,” said a voice off-screen.

“Nobody bloody asked you, Tony,” yelled Roger over his shoulder. Then he turned back to face the video screen. “So are you the postman or the Colonel then?”

“Colonel Starrkin, reporting for duty,” said the Colonel as professionally as he could. The man in the screen looked disappointed.

“That’s just the way, innit?” said Roger. “You order a video and it never bloody comes, does it? I mean, what good is all this bureaucracy if you can’t even get your soddin’ videos on time? What am I even paying taxes for? Coruscant is more than happy to garnish your wages for Imperial dues, but when it comes time to serve the little guy – “ he was cut off by the second man leaning into the screen and speaking into the monitor.

“Don’t mind ‘im, mate,” said the man. “’Is girl left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did, and now all ‘e’s got to look forward to are his blasted video rentals.” At this, Reg elbowed Nick in the ribs. “But what am I saying? Do come in. Come in!” And reaching over Roger, the second man pushed a button which simultaneously opened the door and shut off the video screen. The four men entered through the door and into an airlock.

The four men stood and looked at each other awkwardly as they waited for the airlock to decompress. When a large indicator light finally flashed green, they removed their flight helmets and held them in the crook of their arms liked the seasoned veterans they were. Micky was the first to speak.

“I’ve seen womprats with more sense than this lot,” he said.

“They’re like bloody jawas without the hoods,” added Nick.

“Or like tall, skinny Ewoks,” offered Reg.

Colonel Starrkin facepalmed. At that moment, the inner door shshed open. The second man from the video screen stood before them. He was wearing khaki shorts and a cotton T-shirt with his rank insignia printed near the v-neck collar.

“Sorry ‘bout all that,” he offered apologetically. “Right this way, please. The General will want to see you right away, Colonel. As for your men,” he said, gesturing in their general direction, “they’re welcome to relax in the video lounge. I’m afraid we don’t have anything current. But we do have Dagoh Bah Bah Blacksheep’s comedy special from the Emperor’s Silver Jubilee.” He paused. “And a couple o’ skin flicks, if that’s your fancy.” He winked at the pilots in a way that made each of them slightly uncomfortable. “Follow me.” And he walked off, not bothering to see if his new charges were actually following him. And for a moment they didn’t. But soon enough they were hurrying to catch up. After a left turn, then a right turn, and then a bit of straight, they found themselves in the space-traffic control center. Their docent gestured towards a man sitting dejectedly at a desk. “You’ve already met Roger,” he said with a roll of his eyes. Roger looked up and nodded at them, unaware, apparently, that he should have been at least somewhat embarrassed. “And that’s Tony,” he said pointing to a man in the back of the room. Tony waved, but didn’t look up.

“And who are you, corporal?” asked Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, how thoughtless of me,” said the man. “I’m Spliff, begging your pardon, Colonel.”

“Spliff?” belched Reg. “What, were your parents hippies then?”

“Reg!” hissed Colonel Starrkin.

“Oh, it’s quite alright, sir,” said Spliff. “I get that all the time. But no, it’s short for Spliffander. Me old dad’s name was Spander, you see. And me granddad’s name was Liffim. ((Spander and Liffim: Two very Star Warsy sounding names, if I do say so myself. [Author’s note])) So they just mashed up ‘em up for me, my parents did, and here I am. Spliffander, at your service. Bit of a portmanteau, if you will.”

“Port-man-what?” asked Micky.

“Tony, will you show the new pilots to the video lounge?” called Spliff, ignoring the question. For a moment, Tony seemed not to move. Then, grudgingly, he got out of his chair and hobbled over.

“Right this way, lads,” he said, waving them on to follow him out of the room. With that, he hobbled slowly away. Reg, Micky and Nick looked at each other before following, walking at half speed to keep pace with their lame leader. Colonel Starrkin looked after them, arching his right eyebrow briefly before self-consciously switching to his left. Noting this, Spliff offered an explanation.

“’E wasn’t always like that, you know.”

“How’s that again?” said the Colonel, trying to sound nonchalant.

“’Is leg, sir. I saw you lookin’ at ‘im,” said Spliff deferentially. “What ‘appened was, ‘e was stationed at the base what the rebels stole the first Death Star plans from. ‘Ad his leg shot out from under ‘im, ‘e did. Tell ya what, though. ‘E killed many Bothans on that day. A real hero of the Empire, ‘e is, and there’ ain’t no mistake.”

“Indeed,” was all Colonel Starrkin could think to say.

“Yes, well.” Spliff was overtly disappointed that the Colonel was not more impressed by this. “Right then. The General will be wantin’ to see you, sir.” He turned and started to walk out of the room. “If you’ll follow me, sir,” he called over his shoulder. And so, Colonel Starrkin followed him out of the room, off to meet The General.

Tune in to the next installment of The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
Wherein the Colonel meets The General…

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

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

Colonel Starrkin was trying to keep his composure as he stood before his men in Break Room 24 of the Forward Starboard Quarter ((This Star Destroyer was fitted with 30 Break Rooms per Quarter. There were, counterintuitively, 16 Quarters on the ship; four quarters per Quarter, as it were. Thus were there a grand total of 480 break rooms on the IS Triplicate. The name, of course, was an homage to the Imperial bureaucracy which the Admiral loved so well.)) of the Imperial Star Destroyer Triplicate. He had just got done explaining his promotion and their re-assignment to the Outer Rim. The men were staring at him with a collective look that stood somewhere between confusion as to why their “reward” was to be shipped out to the Great Galactic Backwater and annoyance as to why they should be having this meeting in Break Room 24, when everybody knew that Break Room 17 had the better view and the only frozen yogurt machine that could be relied upon to function with anything approaching regularity.

Reg was the first to speak. “Sir, now that you’re a Colonel and all – and congratulations on that, by the way, sir – well, the men and I were wondering, sir. Can’t you pull some strings and get us some time in Break Room 17, sir? It’s just that, well, sir, Mick and I, we was really wanting some frozen yogurt. And I know the timing is terrible, sir, what with the death of the Emperor and the Death Star going all up in ashes. But, you see, sir, a bit of fro-yo would soften the blow, so to speak.” Colonel Starrkin returned an icy stare. Reg frowned, but soldiered on. “Sir, if it’s about Nick being lactose intolerant, well, ‘e already said ‘e didn’t mind, sir. Says ‘e wouldn’t feel left out. Says ‘e’s watching his weight, ‘e is.”

“That’s right, sir,” chimed in Nick. “It don’t bother me none. Way I see it, I reckon Reg and Micky deserve a bit of comfort food, sir. After all, sir, we may not find any frozen yogurt once we get out to the Rim, sir. And as for me, sir. Well, it’s just as Reg says. I’m watching me weight.” He patted his belly. “Or, at least, I’s trying to, sir.” Colonel Starrkin pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed sharply.

“Gentlemen, I fear that you fail to perceive the gravity of the situation.”

“Or was that the captain of the Executor, who parked his ship in the gravity well of the Death Star!?” Micky slapped his knee as he guffawed at his own joke. Reg and Nick registered their approval slappingly upon his shoulders. Colonel Starrkin, however, was not laughing. Micky looked up, slightly embarrassed. “Too soon?” he asked meekly? The Colonel shook his head in silent disapproval. The three pilots shook off their laughter and sat at attention.

“Now then,” said Colonel Starrkin. “As pilots, your service has been exemplary. In this most recent battle, my five kills earned me a promotion. Thus, since as a wing, we produced nine kills, it seems to me that you all deserve promotions as well. It is with great pleasure, then, that I raise you three men to the rank of Lieutenant.” There was stunned silence. “Are there any questions?” Micky tentatively raised his hand. “Yes, Micky?”

“Sir, does this mean we’re now eligible for vision, sir?”

“Excuse me?” The Colonel was a bit confused.

“Insurance, sir,” clarified Micky. “Now that we’re Lieutenants, are we eligible for vision insurance? Glasses and all that, I mean, sir.”

“What a ridiculous question!” cried out Reg. “You’re a pilot. You’ve got bloody 20/20, haven’t you? What on Coruscant do you need vision insurance for?”

“Well, sure, I’ve got 20/20 now,” said Micky defiantly. “But what about down the line? Your eyes get worse with age, don’t they? I mean, maybe I’ll need glasses ten years from now.”

“Not bloody likely, that,” came back Reg. “You’re genetically engineered, mate.”

“You want to put your stock in Imperial engineering then?” asked Nick. “I mean, just look at the bloody Death Star. Or should I say, Death Stars?”

“You mean Dead Stars,” called out Micky.

“Too soon!” cried Reg. “Too soon, mate.” And Reg shook his head in disapproval.

“Gentlemen, please,” moaned Colonel Starrkin, thinking that if he had an Imperial nickel for every time he’d had to say ‘gentlemen, please’ he could have retired to a small Bespinian cloud-farm years ago.

“Sorry, sir,” groaned the three men in unison.

“Thank you. Now, are there any other questions?” asked Colonel Starrkin. And just as a Mon Calamari admiral almost immediately regrets bringing his fleet out of hyperspace, when the enemy is nowhere to be seen and an unfinished Death Star hangs over an idyllic forest moon in the springtime when the flies swarm around the Ewok dung-heaps, so too did the Colonel almost immediately regret bringing those interrogative words out of his mouth, in the stillness of the Break Room when not even the hum of a working frozen-yogurt machine may be heard. Nick raised his hand. The Colonel braced himself. “Yes, Nick?”

“Sir, what about dental, sir?” He seemed, for the moment, a bit chastened. “Do we get dental insurance with our new ranks, sir?” Colonel Starrkin tried to look out of the window, but found his view blocked by turbo-laser battery. And so he stared at the battery for long moment, studying its features. He wondered what his life would have been like if he were just a simple anti-spacecraft gunner’s mate. But deep down in his soul, he knew the truth. Anti-spacecraft gunners’ mates weren’t eligible for vision or dental, and they certainly weren’t eligible for riding pants. No, he concluded. He could never have been anything other than what he was. And what he was was a –

“Well, sir?” Nick’s question brought him abruptly back to Break Room 24. Colonel Starrkin looked at his three men and smiled.

“Yes,” he said pleasantly. “Vision and dental both.”

“Bullocks,” muttered Nick.

“Bullocks?” repeated Reg. “Why in a bantha’s balls did you ask, if you don’t even want it?” Reg was astounded.

“It’s to do with the Mrs., I expect,” whispered Micky.

“The ex-Mrs.,” corrected Nick. “She’s still on my plan, mate. If I get dental, that means she’s covered too. And I’d just as soon see her rotten teeth fall out of her stupid whore mouth.” With reddening cheeks, he looked up at his commanding officer. “Begging your pardon, sir,” he added softly. The Colonel, who was not accustomed to meddling in the personal affairs of his men, looked thoroughly confused. Reg, upon seeing this, offered an explanation.

“Left ‘im for a Corellian smuggler, she did,” he said gently. “And after all ‘e’s done for ‘er, too.” He sighed. “It ain’t right, sir.” Colonel Starrkin caught himself playing with the flares of his riding pants, trying to hide his embarrassment. He tried to gather his thoughts.

“Well,” he said slowly. “I don’t want to give you wrong information, Nick. But I believe you don’t have to accept the dental plan. Still, I suggest you see HR ((HR took up the entire Port-Aft-Quarter of the ship. From the Admiral’s point of view, no amount of space was too much space to dedicate to the glorious bureaucratic machinery of his ship’s HR department.)) about it.” At this answer, Micky whistled in dismay.

“You’d better get down there right now, mate,” said Reg. “It’ll take weeks to get through all the paperwork. And by then, she could have all new teeth. And a spare set too.” Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Finally, he raised his hand again. Colonel Starrkin nodded to him.

“Sir, may I please be excused, sir?” The Colonel nodded again. And with that, Nick bolted out of the room and headed straight for HR. ((He arrived 2.5 hours later. It was only a matter of minutes by turbo-lift. Unfortunately, the turbo-lift was down at the moment. Fortunately, the Secretary had filed the paperwork for repairs as soon as he learned of the malfunction. This meant that repairs would begin as early as next month.)) The Colonel threw one last longing glance at the turbo-laser battery. Turning once more to his two remaining men, he spoke.

“Now then. Are there any other questions?” Reg and Micky both raised their hands. “That don’t have to do with your benefit packages?” Reg lowered his hand. “Or Break Room privileges?” Micky lowered his hand. “Very good.” The Colonel was just about to adjourn the meeting when the Break Room door shshed open. In walked the Secretary carrying a pizza box, which he placed fastidiously in the very center of the Break Room table. The Colonel arched an eyebrow while Reg and Micky looked on with a mixture of disdain and hunger.

Ceremoniously, the Secretary opened the box. Instead of one little, round plastic table in the center of the pie, each slice had its very own little, round plastic table nestled just in front of the crust. “Gentlemen,” said the Secretary regally, “the Admiral sends his compliments.” Colonel Starrkin arched his other eyebrow, giving his usual eyebrow a bit of a much-needed break.

“Thank you, Secretary,” he said with a hint of disdain. “But what’s with all the little, round plastic tables. Seems a very un-Admiral-like waste of resources.”

“Oh, that?” The Secretary smiled proudly, glad that anyone had noticed. “The Admiral fancies that they make each slice look like little Star Destroyers.”

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #2

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 court ((Two, actually.)) 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 burdensome ((“Crushing” was actually the word used in Rebel e-leaflets.)) 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. ((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.))

The Major strode proudly into the Secretary’s office. Although he had borne personal witness to the destruction of the Second Death Star, ((Already being referred to by the lower ranks as “the Dead Star.”)) 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, ((Defconargudoct being the official term for this.)) 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. ((With deferential disingenuousness.))

“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. ((The fact that Ewoks had only just lately triumphed over Lord Vader was an irony not entirely lost on Major Starrkin.)) 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 shorts ((These squash shorts were little more than riding pants which had been cut off at the knee.)) 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. ((In the Imperial fleet, this was known as the Quiet Insult, or the quietsult.)) 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.

“Yes, Secretary?”

“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.”

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #1

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.)
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish ((Star Wars fans tend to take these things quite seriously. However, I can’t be bothered to do even the least bit of “research” for this project – hence, the “-ish.” [Author’s note])) Kinda Thing ((I’m hoping to do at least a few serialized posts. We’ll see what happens. [Author’s note])) ((All footnotes should be read as if supplied by the narrator, unless otherwise noted thusly – Author’s note.))
Mostly for Dale

The mottled space-Snuggy of blue and white receded into a quilt of shining stars as the almost farcically large Imperial Star Destroyer dropped out of hyperspace. If the crew stationed on the port side of the ship had been permitted the luxury of looking out of their windows, they would have seen the nearly completed Second Death Star hanging ominously in space, like the ruins of some ancient spherical, and let’s be honest, really quite evil and nefarious, temple, upon which the savages of time seemed to be working in reverse.

In the event, they were not actually allowed to look out of their windows. For had they done so, they might have felt a twinge of awe. And awe, in the Empire, was an emotion specifically and legally reserved only for His Majesty the Emperor; and to a legally prescribed slightly lesser extent, His Lordship and Second Sith Darth Anakin Skywalker Vader. That was his official title, anyway. Among the troops, he was lately being referred to – albeit rather furtively – as Black Daddy Sith. This epithet had only lately replaced the now little used Force Lord Robo-Pop. ((This epithet had a short but popular lifespan in the wake of a viral video in which an old Daft Punk video was Photoshopped to include a dancing – and somehow smiling – version of the Sith Lord. The video was, of course, quickly banned. But the name hung on for quite a while. And there were many who thought – though fewer who dared to say – that the popularity of such a video spoke volumes for the state of the Empire, and not at all in a good way.))

As the massive ship took up its position, a wing of TIE Interceptors emerged from its starboard launch bay. The little ships buzzed and whizzed and zoomed their way into formation, despite the fact that such onomatopoetic sounds should hardly be possible in space, above the forest moon of Endor.

Major Starrkin, the group leader, clicked on his intercom:
“Here we are, gentlemen. The forest moon of Endor.”
“Forest Moon of Endor. Does nobody else have a problem with that?” came the reply.
“How do you mean?” came a third voice.
“Well, just, what is it with all of these worlds of homogeneous geography? Forest Moon of Endor; Swamp World of Dagobah; Desert Planet of Tatooine; Ice World of – “
Major Starrkin cut in. “This is hardly the time, gentlemen.”
“But Major,” came the third voice. “I reckon Reg has a point here. I mean, surely it goes against everything we know about astrogeography, to say nothing of the laws of physics.”
“Thank you, Nick.” Reg again. “I mean, of course you would expect to find jungles and forests in the more temperate regions of Kashyyk, but all the way up to the poles? It strains credulity.”
“To say nothing of the Cloud Planet of Bespin,” came a fourth voice. “I mean, what’s even under all those clouds? Is it just clouds all the way down?”
“I never even thought of that one, Micky,” answered Reg. “That’s a right good question.”
“Tell you one planet that was normal, was Alderaan,” said Nick. “But we eighty-sixed that one, didn’t we? I mean, makes you wonder doesn’t it? Was that really a political move, or were they snuffed out merely for their conformity to the laws of astrogeography?”
“Ooh, that’s a bit conspiratorial, even for me,” said Reg. “Still though, I wouldn’t put it past Force Lord Robo-pop.”
“I thought we were calling him Black Daddy Sith now,” added Micky.
“Gentlemen, please!” Major Starrkin was getting annoyed. It wasn’t that he minded his men’s idle chatter. Indeed he thought it was good for morale. But Space Traffic Control would be monitoring their frequency, and this sort of discourse would make for an uncomfortable debriefing. If they survived the battle.

Major Starrkin waited. Static greeted him over the intercom. “Thank you.” He checked his instruments. “Right. Now the rebel fleet is expected to show up in twelve minutes time, just above the Forest Mo-…just above Endor. Let’s look sharp!”

The fighter wing joined up with two others and now presented themselves as a mean little ensemble, ready to tango. Or at least salsa. And this they did with aplomb. In the course of the ensuing battle, our band of fighter pilots accounted for nine rebel kills, five of which went to Major Starrkin himself.

It happened, however, that there was an unfortunate inverse relationship between fuel-supply and battle-duration. And so it was that the Major gathered up his merry band of wingmen and headed for the mother-ship, there to top-up their tanks. It was then that the unthinkable happened. Reg was the first to notice.

“Major,” he called. “I think the Executor is on fire.” Starrkin looked for himself. Sure enough, the Executor – Super Star Destroyer, flagship of the fleet – was definitely on fire. What’s more, it seemed to be caught in the gravity well of the Death Star, it’s nose sinking precipitously towards the surface of the space station. Stunned static reigned over the intercom.

The men watched as the actually farcically large battleship descended slowly to its doom. As the craft made contact with the killer orb, one explosion after another cascaded up its hull, engulfing it in flame as the oxygen of its life support systems burned itself out in a blaze of glory. In less than a minute, there was nothing to see but a giant crater on the surface of the Glory of The Empire.

Micky was the first to speak. “It’s all so…senseless.”
“This bloody war,” answered Major Starrkin. “The loss of life. Yes, so senseless.”
“Well, yeah, that,” replied Micky.
“I don’t think that’s what he meant, Major,” said Reg. “Go on, Mick.” Micky was only too happy to oblige.
“Well, it’s just bad tactics, innit? I mean, a ship that size. And the flagship of the fleet, no less. What’s it doing anywhere near the Death Star’s gravity well?”
“I reckon you’re right, Mick.” Reg was working it out as he spoke. “I mean, the damage to the ship was hardly fatal, even if the engines had been knocked out, which, I think we can assume was the case, based on what we’ve just seen.”
“Exactly my point, Reg,” said Micky triumphantly. “Way I see it, had she been outside the gravity well – i.e. where she should have been – she would have been dead in the water, sure. But we could have formed up several star destroyers around her in a protective convoy. Then we would have had a chance at saving her.”
“It’s all down to politics.” This was Nick. “It’s a well known fact that Lord Vader has purged the best officers, and usually for no better reason than they didn’t take The Force seriously. So now you’ve got a bunch of mediocrities in charge, and they clearly don’t know the first thing about spatial dynamics. And now look where it’s got us.”
“There he goes again,” called Reg. “Nick and his conspiracy theories.”
“Well how else do you explain it?” Asked Nick plaintively.
“It’s very simple,” said Reg professorially. “After the first Death Star debacle – and I think we can all agree that’s exactly what that was – High Command didn’t want to take any chances. They knew the Rebs would be looking for a way in with their little sports cars all over again. They simply wanted to cover the new Death Star with as much firepower as possible, so as to prevent a repeat of last – “
“Umm, you guys,” cut in Mick.

They all looked up. Small fires were breaking out all over the Death Star. The space station seemed to shudder and heave in its orbit. The battle stood still around them. You could have heard a pin drop. Or at least, you could have had the Empire kept up its intercom contract with Sprint. As it was, all you could hear was cold static. And then, the Voice of Reason. The Voice of Reason was called Reg.

“Nothing to worry about, I’m sure. Probably just a coincidental occurrence of crashing ships, isolated fire-control failures, and a tactical adjustment of the inertial dampeners.” He paused. “The only other explanation, of course, would be a complete failure of the reactor core. But the odds of that – “

Nobody heard the end of that sentence. For just at that moment, the intercoms went dead it the wake of a massive electro-magnetic pulse. This however, was secondary to the blinding flash of light which accompanied said EM pulse. And this blinding flash of light was itself secondary to the mammoth, titanic, gargantuan explosion which was the cause of said blinding flash. It hardly needs to be said that said explosion was Death Star II doing its best impersonation of Death Star I. As impersonations go, this was somewhere between Dana Carvey as George Bush and Larry David as Bernie Sanders. Which is to say, quite good, but not nearly as funny as it could have been.

“Umm, you guys.” The intercom system had been reset. Mick’s brain, not so much.
“Wasn’t the Emperor in there?” called Reg. They all knew that he was.
“And wasn’t Black Daddy Sith on there too?” asked Mick after a pause.
“No, he was on Endor, I think,” answered Reg.
“No, he was definitely on there,” declared Nick.
“And how do you know?” asked Reg.
“My cousin Ralph is mates with Vader’s shuttle pilot,” said Nick coolly. “He texted me just after we launched that he was taking “BDS and that Skywalker punk” up to see “The Old Man.”
“Well I’m just glad Skywalker went with it,” added Micky, sounding still a bit stunned.
“Is that the same cousin Ralph who caught the clap from that Twi’lek dancer on Ord Mantell?” needled Reg.
“He’s a damn fine pilot!” shot back Nick.
“Not if the way he treats his joy-stick is any indication,” chided Reg.
“That’s enough!” cut in Major Starrkin. “This is a dark day for the Empire. And that’s to say nothing of how many brave men have just lost their lives to this senseless rebellion. I’m ordering you to cut the chatter.” He glanced down at his display. “I’ve just received orders from Base-ship. We’re to dock immediately. And then we’re getting the hell out of here.”

“Aye-eye, Major,” answered the three wingmen professionally. But as they made their way home, the sound of two hands slowly clapping drifted over the intercom. Reg, apparently, did not feel that this last insult constituted “chatter.”

Tune in next time for the continued adventures of
Col. Starrkin (ret.)

De Dracula

De Dracula ((“De” takes the ablative, so you know the last “a” is long. #Latin Dracula, btw, means “little dragon” in Latin.  Also, this is as good a place as any to note that, to the handful of people that actually read this blog, you will probably find this post quite boring. #fairwarning))

So, thanks to hurricane whatever-the-fuck-we’re-calling-this-one, I’m stuck inside trying to write this post without my trusty pipe. On the other hand, this weather allows to me say honestly, if not well-writtenly, that it was a dark and stormy night. In any case, trying to write this post pipeless, as it were, may be somewhat fitting. After all, did Professor Van Helsing smoke a pipe? Did Jonathan Harker? Or Dr. Seward? Or any of the other characters who kept a journal in Bram Stoker’s vampirepic? ((That portmanteau seemed cooler in my head.))

But let me take a step back. What the hell am I on about anyway? If the title of this piece is any indication, I mean to talk about Dracula. But which Dracula? Stoker’s book, yes. And also the Lugosi picture. OK, actually, just those two. And really mostly the former.

Another step back. Years ago, when I was but a boy, I read some sort of abridged version of Dracula, meant for children. ((Or, more likely, “young adults.” Because I’m pretty sure children should not be reading about vampires. I mean, even German fairy tales don’t deal with vampires. And there you can find a happy ending wherein the wicked stepmother is executed by being sealed into a barrel of boiling oil…which also has poisonous vipers in it. I’m not even kidding. (And if you prefer an English rendering, you can find one here).)) It scared the hell out of me. Didn’t sleep for days. Or rather nights, as, not being a vampire, I generally didn’t sleep days. ((Naps notwithstanding.)) The point is, I didn’t exactly take to horror-fiction as a young’n. And I didn’t much go in for horror films as I got older.

That all changed, however, when last fall, while in a used book shop in Philadelphia, I picked up a copy of Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes. ((The Carpathian Castle)) Now, mind you, it wasn’t properly horror or gothic; nothing supernatural. It’s JV, after all. There’s a scientific reason for everything. However, it was dark. And it took place in the mountains of Transylvania. And I was hooked.

All of a sudden, I wanted more “darkness,” whatever that meant. So next I grabbed a copy of Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. After that, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. While in Santa Fe last month, I picked up an H.P. Lovecraft paperback, though I haven’t started it yet. Because, at the moment, I’m working through Bram Stoker’s Dracula. ((At the moment at which I started this post, anyway. I actually finished the book this afternoon.))

Funny thing about Dracula though, I can put it down. ((Yup, you read that right.)) By that I mean, the prose is just stilted enough, just 19th century enough, just affected enough, that it can be a bit tiring at times. And yet this very thing that so often makes the book feel like a chore – the language – is that which I found most interesting about it.

You see, the English that Stoker uses is hanging out in a really interesting place-time. It straddles the border of Victorian and modern. You can see our language in transition here, and it’s downright fascinating. I’ve been noticing this all along, but somewhere around chapter 19, it occurred to me that I might want to knock this post together, and so I started taking notes. Now, obviously, the bulk of my notes are going to come from chapter 19 and onwards. But I hope there’s enough meat there to make my points.

I’m going to pass over the “old,” that is to say, the Victorian. There’s no point in putting any of that down. If you’ve read Dickens or, gods help you, Austen, there will be no surprises there. What I want to focus on for the moment is the “new” English; the English that’s ready to break out into the 20th century.

For example, I’ve run across a number of idioms that would be nearly familiar to anybody reading today. And yet, they’re not quite the same. A few examples:

  • “Dog’s-eared” (of a book; opp. “dog-eared”; ch.19)
  • “Of the first water” (of magnitude; opp. “of the first order”; ch.20)
  • “Keep touch of” (to stay current with; opp. “keep a hold of”; ch.20)
  • “These times” (of current affairs; opp. “these days”; ch.20)
  • “At all events” (resumptive; opp. “in any event”; ch.21)

Now to be fair, Stoker is an Irishman writing (for these phrases, at least) English characters. Still, to see these idioms developing is quite interesting.

Then there are the “Americanisms.” I found two turns of phrase which the author, through his various narrators, identifies as being uniquely American. Yet, these two phrases are well known to us all today. I think we should expect to find them in any part of the English speaking world:

  • To “take no chances” (ch.19 & earlier)
  • “A story”, as in a news story (ch.20)

The former is interesting to me in that it is so commonplace nowadays, that needing to mark it out as American caught me off guard. The need to do so would seem to indicate that in 1897, the year of publication, the phrase was hardly known in England. As for the latter, well, the same is mostly true. Except, I remember using the term “story” to describe a news piece with a non-native speaker and being surprised when the word caught her by surprise. Though she was able to understand it from context easily enough, she’d never heard it before. And so perhaps on some level, even now, that word could fairly be marked out for extra explanation.

So much for idiom. But Stoker also plays with dialect. There are four dialects in particular which I think warrant at least a look-see. One is of course Van Helsing’s speech; but this I shall leave to the last. Then there is the working-class cockney; the mariner’s lingo; and the (I think bucolic?) dialect of the zookeeper.

The latter three are fascinating insofar as I take them to be fairly faithful renderings of the actual speech of real people (or a real class of people, at any rate) with which Stoker must have had at least some first-hand experience.

Tackling the most difficult of these first, the old mariner’s dialect was barely decipherable. To give but one example, what the hell can this possibly mean?

“I must gang ageenwards home now, miss. My granddaughter doesn’t like to be kept waitin’ when the tea is ready, for it takes me time to crammle aboon the grees, for there be a many of ‘em; an’, miss, I lack belly-timbers sairly by the clock.” (ch.6)

Well, the first sentence isn’t too bad. “Gang” is obviously some version of “go” and “ageenwards” seems to be an adverbial use of ‘again’; though ‘again’ is itself an adverb. Obviously, the granddaughter has made tea and doesn’t like to be kept waiting; clear enough. But “crammle aboon the grees?” No idea. Presumably this refers to physical obstacles he must pass on his way home. I take “crammle” to be some sort of verb of moving; “aboon” as a variant of “upon” and “the grees” as perhaps “the grass” or “the green.” And yet, noting that “there be many of ‘em” throws some shadow of doubt over those conclusions. “Belly-timbers” I take to mean strength, whether physical or spiritual. “Sairly” I wager is adverbial both by the ‘-ly’ ending and its placement in the sentence. “By the clock” must also be adverbial, though I can only guess at its meaning. Taking them together (and with context), I gather that at this late hour, he is weakened by drunkenness, and so expects his journey home to be arduous due in part to the landscape.

I may have got that mostly right or mostly wrong. In the grand scheme of reading the book, it doesn’t really matter. But that’s the amount of thought I needed to put in to try and make sense of just those two sentences. My other choice would have been to simply disregard it. So now, perhaps, you can see what I mean when I say it can be, at times, a tiring text. And yet fascinating.

But the fascination works on two levels here. The first is simply to a reader who is interested in language. Working though that in the way that I have outlined above is, for me, fun; no matter how tiring. But it is also meta-fascinating. By which I mean, it is fascinating outside of the context of the story. It is fascinating as a representation of the way in which a certain group of people at a certain time actually spoke; and, I suspect, no longer speak. What a window into a world that was! ((And if it be, in any way, a window into a world that still exists, how much more fascinating!?))

Likewise for the speech of the Zookeeper, which occurs in the context of a newspaper “story” in chapter 11. Here now, the language is much easier to follow. But I excerpt a more challenging passage:

“My opinion is this: that ‘ere wolf is a-‘idin’ of, somewheres. The gard’ner wot didn’t remember said he was a-gallpoin’ northward faster than a horse could go; but I don’t believe him, for, yer see, sir, wolves don’t gallop, no more nor dogs does; they not bein’ built that way. Wolves is fine things in a story-book, and I dessay when they gets in packs and does be chivyin’ somethin’ that’s more afeared than they is they can make a devil of a noise and chop it up, whatever it is.”

So as I said, this bit is much easier to understand. And yet there’s all sorts of neat things going on here which are meant to represent a certain style of speech. Some of it is accent, as with the elision of initial “h” (e.g. ‘idin’) or the contraction of “dare say” into “dessay.” Some of it is grammatical construction, as with “no more nor dogs does” for “no more than dogs do.” As a guide for all this, I took an example of “rustic” British English from Monty Python; the Flying Sheep sketch. I don’t know if this is a good, or even remotely close, guide, but it served well enough. In any case, the point is, it is one more representation of a certain style of speech. And though it can be tiring to read it at length, it is nevertheless highly interesting on its own merits.

Next we come to the working-class cockney of late 19th century London. Now, I don’t pretend to be an expert on cockney, not by any stretch. But I’m familiar enough with it to at least be able to read it with far less difficulty than the two foregoing dialects. An example, from chapter 20:

“Well, guv’nor, I forgits the nubmer, but it was only a few doors from a big white church or somethink of the kind, not long built. It was a dusty old ‘ouse, too, though nothin’ to the dustiness of the ‘ouse we tooked the bloomin’ boxes from.”

As I said, easy enough. One can easily read through the misconjugated “forgits” or “tooked,” just as easily as one can read through the mispronounced “’ouse” and “somethink.” What really caught my attention here is, for all the effort Stoker puts into capturing the ‘sound’ of these dialects, is how “th” does not become “f.” What I mean is, in modern cockney, we would expect words like “somethink” and “nothin’” to be pronounced as “somefin’” and “nofin’”. Do Stoker’s spellings mean that the “th” to “f” transition hadn’t happened as of 1897? If so, what an unexpected look into the street-talk of a bygone era! ((Pity my children, if I ever have them, that they might one day have to endure reading books with me in this way…))

Having thus dealt with the mariner, the zookeeper and Mr. Cockney, I have only to treat with the speech of the revered Dr. Van Helsing. But as his speech is, I find, of a different order, and as I have now exhausted the e-cigarette, which I purchased as a substitute for my much-beloved pipe, I think I must here pause and take up again when I have the means to write further…

…And now I have the means. It’s a bit colder out than I’d have liked, but at least the storm has passed and I can work outside again with my pipe (and some main ((In several of the cockney passages, I noticed the use of the word “main” to mean “very” or “rather” (ch.20).)) fine tobacco wot I purchased not long ago in Colorado). And so, whither Van Helsing?

Stoker has Van Helsing speak in a sort of broken “non-native” English for lack of a better word. This seems to manifest itself almost entirely by means of odd grammatical constructions and wrong idioms, but never by accent. In reading this, I did not take it as an accurate representation of the way an actual Dutchman might speak the language but simply as a way to mark his speech out as “other.” My suspicion is that as opposed to cockney, for example, Stoker perhaps didn’t have an actual Dutchman to model the speech on. That said, his rendering is not without linguistic intelligence.

For example, he often has VH assign male gender to inanimate objects; something that we do not regularly do in English. I don’t know much about Dutch, other than that it is Germanic and fairly close to today’s High German. But if you’ve ever spoken to speakers of gendered languages whose English is far from perfect, you will probably have noticed this phenomenon. So in that regard, I think it was a clever device on Stoker’s part. And yet perhaps not clever enough. For he only ever has VH assign the masculine gender, at least as far as I noticed. And so one example which stood out to me was when VH refers to blood as ‘he.’ I noticed this in particular, ((Though before I started taking notes, and so I cannot cite an example.)) because in Greek as well as German, blood is neutral, not masculine. ((αἷμα in Greek (haima, whence hemoglobin, for example) and Blut in German.))

I’ll move on from this bit rather quickly. I don’t think there’s much to be gained here from putting down examples of his odd turns of phrase or grammatical mistakes other than to say that they are constant. And while interesting on some level, and even fun at times, it is also tiring at length. And as Van Helsing has quite a bit of dialogue, it is tiring often.

One last thought on VH’s speech. All of his dialogue is recorded in the journal entries of other characters, save for his memoranda in the last chapter or two. And here, I think it is an interesting conceit to suggest that the other characters went to the trouble of putting down VH’s language exactly as they heard it, rather than paraphrasing it into their own English; and that furthermore each character – Seward and both Harkers – interpreted his speech identically. But, that is, apparently, what they did.

A couple of other things regarding the language were of interest to me. One is the use of foreign language in set phrases. This is done primarily (if not exclusively) by VH, who throws around the odd bit of French and Latin, and even one (really rather wrong) Greek quote of Archimedes. ((And yet, there is some further indication that Stoker was at least peripherally familiar with Greek. In chapter 20, he uses the word aërial, spelled thusly with the umlaut. This is indeed reflective of the word’s Greek origin (ἀήρ aer, whence our air). The umlaut shows that in Greek the ae were not blended into a diphthong but that the letters were distinct vowels. We probably wouldn’t spell the word this way today, and indeed my spellchecker here tried to remove the umlaut.  This conclusion is also furthered by his invention (which Seward claims as his own, at any rate) of the adjective “zoöphageous” to describe the “life devouring” Renfield; the umlaut again signifying the difference (lost in English) between the Greek omega and omicron.)) But I thought this was kind of cool, as it shows the breadth of Stoker’s learning. He even shows he knows a bit of German in the first couple of chapters.

Another point of interest was hyphenation. It is fairly common in English that when new compound words are introduced, they often start out hyphenated, before the hyphen is eventually lost. And so, here, in 1897 we see “To-morrow” as the preferred spelling. And yet, in chapter 20, he refers to “chopsticks.” I was first of all surprised to see this word in so comparatively old a text (though that may simply speak to my ignorance); but doubly so to see it compounded without hyphen.

Next, there were some old words and phrases which were not unfamiliar per se, but which, by their usage seemed strange to me. In chapter 19, I came across the phrases, “in an indexy sort of way” and “helping his fads.” From context I could glean the sense of them, but these were usages which I had not seen before, and which, presumably have since died out.

Another example was the apparent use of “earnest” as a noun. I give here a portion of the sentence: “…when I had promised to pay for his information and given him an earnest.” ((Ch.20)) I considered whether this was perhaps a typographical error ((It is here worth noting that all references and quotations are taken from the 2007 Sigent Classics edition.)) and should have read “in earnest,” which of course is a common collocation. But reading it over two or three times, I took it as it was ((We should always prefer the lectio difficilior. #nerdspeak)) and interpreted it as something like “a substantial enough offering to demonstrate one’s sincerity.”

Finally, there was the note written by the barely literate laborer. This was cool, as it showcased in microcosm Stoker’s attention to phonetics. The little note simply read: “Sam Bloxam, Korkrans, 4, Poters Cort, Bartel Street, Walworth. Arsk for the depite.” ((Ch.20)) I didn’t feel too bad when I read down the page and saw that good Jonathan Harker had as much trouble with this as I did. It should have read: “Sam Bloxam, Corcoran’s [a lodging-house (another hyphenation!)], 4 Potter’s Court, Bartel Street, Walworth. Ask for the deputy.”

So much for the language. Two other observations and I shall wrap this up. It occurred to me that Stoker’s Renfield and Tolkien’s Gollum are of a type. Both are misshapen creatures – Renfield mentally, Gollum physically and mentally. Both ostensibly serve higher masters. Renfield with Dracula, Gollum with the Ring. Both have a taste for live animals – Renfield for flies and spiders, Gollum for fish. Both spend most of the story as ostensible bad guys, but both end up serving the heroes in the end (though in fairness, Renfield less integrally than Gollum). And both, for all their misdeeds, ultimately show themselves to have a shred of decency in them that makes them worth saving; or at least, worth trying to save. For both end up dead in the end. Not being an English Lit major, I was left wondering if these two are mere manifestations of a larger trope in our collective literary history. But the parallels were striking to me. And as a “so great fan of Tolkien,” as Van Helsing might say, it was an interesting way to read the character.

The last point of interest I will mention in this post concerns class. I found a striking similarity in the way Stoker writes the London working class and the way Orwell writes the Proles in 1984. Both seem to be below the radar of respectability, so to speak. Neither class seems worth writing about as “real people,” if I can say that. They both seem to operate outside the vision or understanding of the main characters, in whose worldview we the readers exist. Their entire function seems to be to drink when they are not working and to pay next to no attention to the dangers of the “real world,” whether that be the political machine of Orwell’s book or the threats of the Transylvanian Count in Stoker’s. And, for that matter, the world in which they inhabit seems as foreign a land to Harker and his band, as the inner city of the Proles seems to Winston, however much he might be intrigued by it. I may be off base with this, but I’ve always felt that a bit strange and un-American, if I can say. As if it is in someway a reflection of the striated class society that we as Americans rejected in the 18th century. ((And indeed, Lord Godalming frequently uses his rank and privilege to get away with things that “regular” folks could never do. In contrast, I kinda love how the one American in the book – Quincey Morris – routinely refers to His Lordship not just by his first name, but even by a nickname: simply “Art.” Because Americans think titles are bullshit.)) That’s how they both read to me, in any case.

Well, it’s nearly 3:30 and I am cold. So I think I shall end here. All this to say, in the end, that I found Dracula to be a fun read, though not an easy one. Yet, it is the difficulties that made the text far more interesting to me than it otherwise might have been. You can find many flaws with this book, if you’re so inclined. But one if its virtues, to me at least, is as a window into the English language of 1897.

Oh, but I did mention in the beginning of this post that I would say something about the famous movie too, didn’t I? Well, I guess I lost track of that. But I’ll close with this. The absolute best line of the movie comes when Renfield ((Though in the book it is Harker.)) first meets Dracula in his castle. There is an awkward silence as both men hear the howling of wolves outside. And then Lugosi/Dracula says, in the most badass way imaginable, and with that killer accent, “Listen to them. Children of the Night. What music they make.” And, you guys, it’s in the book! That actual amazing kick-ass line is in the freakin’ book! And when I read that, I nearly jumped out of my chair and did finger-pistols in the air.

But the second most badass line in the movie? Well. To be honest, I might screw it up. A while back, I was trying to locate a free streaming version of the film online. But the only one I could find was a German overdub. But, needing to practice my German, and figuring that this movie could only be more evil and badass in that language, that’s what I watched. And re-watched. And watched again. Anyway, in the caste, Dracula offers Renfield some wine. And Renfield is all, “aren’t you gonna have any?” To which the Count replies, “Ich trinke keinen Tropf…Wein.” ((I don’t drink…wine.)) Oh man, so fucking evil! Gives you chills, I swear. But alas. That one’s not in the book.