Fiction Experiment: Meal Break

Some people dream in colors or music. Sometimes I dream in story form. This is the result of my brain doing funky things. Enjoy.

Meal Break

My sister and I were two days out of Sullust, trying to round up the last of the Outer Rim squadrons loyal to the Alliance, when we hit a snag. The only place everyone could get to quickly was Eriadu, a world about as pro-Rebel as Coruscant, and the place was locking down quickly. By ones and threes, we’d brought our brethren, sistren, and alienen to the safe house, an apartment in the middle of the business district—more Stormtroopers, more precautions, more paranoia.

Still, we looked like a serious bunch: twenty hearty civilians in flight suits, ready to go out and do battle with the Galactic Empire. Some yawned, others shifted uncomfortably from the length of the meeting and the hour at which it was conducted. And the room was getting a little ripe, too, with human and alien body heat creating an unpleasant haze of sweat and stress pheromones. We all wanted to get things done so we could get into space where we belonged.

It was 0200 when I thought the last of the questions had been answered. Booelon, a Twi’lek with two blue tentacles sprouting from his pudgy head, recycled back to an issue I brought up at the beginning of the meeting.

“What if the Bothans are wrong, and we’re walking into a trap?”

A chorus of exasperated sighs choruses around the planning table. I waved my arm across the holomap clear, making it clear with the sweeping gesture that this would be the final discussion (argument) of the meeting. “Perhaps you missed the part seven hours ago where I explained that the Bothans we got this dump from underwent deep conditioning for truth-telling. They couldn’t scam us even if they wanted to.”

“I’m not asking if they were lying, Andros. I’m asking what if they’re just wrong?”

Alytha came to my aid because she saw I’d gone still enough that I was tempted to pull my blaster on the glymph if he said one more word. “Booelon, we’ve covered that. Everyone’s to set their hyperdrives for a single skip-jump. If there’s any sign of Imperial activity in the system, you pull the throttle again and get the hell out. No one will think the less of you. In fact, I’ve already got our ship prepped that way. Isn’t that right, Andros?” She looked pointedly in my direction. The use of my name was smart, because it took my brain off the hair-trigger and back onto the discussion. We were, after all, supposed to be allies.

“Right. Jump in, join the party, or haul jets. Easy as breaking the Falcon.

Laughter in various pitches rumbled around the table as the group of twenty started sifting out the doors in different partnerships than when they’d arrived. That, too, had been part of the plan, and it had taken multiple day cycles even to agree on that.

I looked at my wrist chrono. Four hours until up ship. I shook my head, released the gun-pulling tension in my arm, and nodded a well-done to Alytha. A couple of our fellows clapped me on the shoulder with mixed looks of admiration and pity. Leading an all-volunteer rebel cell was about as fun as herding gundarks—and about as treacherous. It turned out I had the loudest voice and the least tolerance for fooling about, so I got the job in these parts.

“Get some…,” Alytha said. I was way ahead of her. I had collapsed on one of the beaten-up benches lining the wall and was out before she could say sleep.

 

On the debit side of things, I sleep like the dead and can usually function effectively within a few seconds of waking up. I had no idea how my sister functioned because she was up after I collapsed and awakened me first. “Andros,” she whispered. “We’ve got a problem.”

“Huh? Whazzat?”

“Imperial checkpoint just set up outside. General-level or better, judging by the number of troopers.”

“Aw, hell.”

I’d really been hoping I’d get a shower before getting back into the cockpit.

*

It was worse than a general-level problem. Out in the street in front of our lodgings, a Lambda-class Imperial shuttle had landed in the street and its key passenger, Darth Vader, had emerged from its belly to conduct interrogations…with a lightsaber in hand. Alytha and I had to go past the roadblock. The alternative was to go around it to get to the spaceport, and that would take hours.

The situation was a tad curious. There were only a single officer and a couple armored Troopers standing near the Sith Lord…just out of arm and lightsaber’s reach, I noted with a bit of amusement. A pair of bowl-headed, narrow-eyed police droids lay crumpled before him, metal bodies scorched and sparking from a recent demise. A deep, intense voice arose amplified from the monstrous black helmet Vader wore. “Where are they? Where are the traitors in your midst? I know they exist, they allowed arms to be diverted to the Alliance two days ago.”

I sighed in relief. “This isn’t about us,” I whispered to Alytha. She looked as worried as I’d ever seen her, her blonde hair wild beneath her helmet, freckled face cast downward in an atypical frown, and brow pinched together in a vertical line above her nose.

“What do you mean, it’s not about us?”

“I mean he’s after someone else. We’re just moving people through. If someone’s diverting police supplies, it ain’t us.”

“Yeah, but it’s…him.” I did what I always do when Alytha’s brow went vertical: I smiled my most reckless smile and pressed my thumb over the bridge of her nose, pretending to erase the worry line.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got this. Get to the ship, get ‘er ready.”

And without a look back, I turned away from my agitated sibling and strolled casually toward the Emperor’s right-hand man. “Wait! What the hell do you think you’re…” But it was too late. I’d meandered through the curious, fearful alien crowd until I was shoulder to shoulder with one of the grey-hat officers in Vader’s entourage. I realized this display of dynamic droid disassembly was more for show than to get answers. The force didn’t work mechanical minds. However, the gradual movement of Vader down the line of police officers was getting closer to a human who could feel fear…and would talk.

The Imperial officer shook slightly at my presence—I imagine anyone close to the Dark Lord was likely to be a little jumpy—and then resumed command of himself and down his birdlike nose at the scruffy pilot who’d dared approach him.

“What do you want?”

“I’d like a word with Darth Vader, if I might?”

Nonplussed, the officer signalled for the two troopers to come over and push me back away from Vader’s presence. The black-armored executioner heard me, however, and whirled in my general direction, lightsaber up and ready to strike. I’ve got to admit, it was difficult not to flinch a little.

“You have something to say?” The reflective lenses of his helmet were expressionless, but the tension in the man’s body provided all the expression one needed.

“I was just wondering if you’d had breakfast yet, m’lord.”

“WHAAAT?” The saber came down just a tad.

“I was offering to buy you breakfast, sir. Your morning doesn’t appear to be going to well.”

The lightsaber retracting caused me to jump more than its activation had. My reckless smile returned. I was going to baffle my way through this, though. The menace in the amplified voice dropped a level. “That it isn’t.”

With as slow and casual a gesture as I could manage, I pointed to the counter outside the entry to my lodging. “There’s a Shrooby Fruit stand right over here, sir. It would be my pleasure…sir.”

Much to the surprise and relief of the Eriadu police, Vader looked toward the Shrooby Fruit and turned to march that direction. “Stay here,” he commanded the policemen and machines. I followed the armored enforcer, who quickly cleared the counter with his approach. The green-spined Rodian clerk looked like he was about to faint. What pupils he had filled his insectoid eyes.

“Monjak,” I said, keeping my tone friendly, as if this sort of thing happened every day, “An egg loop for me and a Shrooby Fruit for Lord Vader here.” I waved half a dozen credits in his face.

Monjak’s jaw dropped. Vader turned his attention to him, head slightly tilted, and asked, “Well?” Hands shaking, the clerk took to the credits, dropping them behind the counter. He handled Vader’s order first, mixing pink fruit and blue milk into a tall cup and dropping a sucker tube into it. Afraid he’d lose a hand if it held it out too far, he placed the drink on the counter, then proceeded to shove a couple local domestic eggs in an oval of bread and give me my change.

Vader took the drink in his hand, inserted the tube into his facemask, and sipped. The crowd around the counter stared in wild fascination. Apparently unaccustomed to eating in public, the Dark Lord looked around at them, growling, “Is there a problem?” A dozen civilians disappeared into the city.

The Dark Lord sipped the drink again, then looking up, seeming to remember something, before turning in my direction. “Thank you, Sir…”

“Andros.”

“Thank you, Andros. Your gesture was appreciated.”

“You’re quite welcome, sir. I hope you have a better day.”

I nodded, since I just didn’t have it in my to bow, and walked through the crowd, past the Imperial shuttle on the street, and toward the spaceport. What happened to the Eriadu police after that, I have not a clue. However, I did catch Lord Vader sitting on one of the stools at the Shrooby Fruit, quietly sipping his drink.

*

The whole thing was recorded on video capture by a surveillance droid and made for great political talk on both sides of the Galactic Civil War for a day before the Battle of Endor began. I got my ship disabled within about ten minutes of a thousand TIE fighters showing up to mix up the party, so I didn’t do a whole lot for our grand victory. But if you want to know why former Alliance pilots still buy my drinks at the bar, that would be why. How many of you can say you bought Darth Vader a drink?

(c) 2020 by Bart Leahy

Based on characters created by George Lucas

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