Thursday, December 29, 2005

Star Wars Dreamin’

I love vacation, especially when it’s mine.  Last week I learned that I had seven vacation days that I would lose at the end of the year, so I worked extra hours to finish the new exporter.  

With the increase in sleep that accompanies a vacation I’ve been having many dreams, and they’ve been fun — last night I was fighting a zombie invasion — which reminded me of a dream I had a couple of months ago.  This is the only Star Wars-related dream I’ve ever had, and I’ve surprised it was as good as it was considering that I’m not the biggest fan of that mythos.  Anyway, hope you like it (Please let me know if you did ... or didn’t.  This blog is such a lonely space).


     “It’s hot,” she said, not really intending it to sound as frustrated as it did.
     “Yeah.”  Luke could appreciate his sister’s attitude.  He had grown up in the desert, living on his uncle’s moisture farm.  Leia was raised in very different surroundings.  Born First Daughter of the House Organa, Royal Princess of the planet Alderan, Leia was groomed for diplomacy and grew to become a Senator of the Republic.  Now, she was practicing a fighting stance under the mid-afternoon glare of Tatooine’s twin suns and sweating profusely.
     Maybe we should take a break,” he said, not intending to sound so conciliatory.
     “I don’t want to take a break.  I want to get this over — “ her frustration surged through and she broke her stance a moment, then forced herself back, her right foot forward, left foot behind and turned ninety degrees, weight up on the balls of her feet, lifting the sword with both hands until the pommel rested just inches from the right side of her face, the blade pointing towards the sky.  “I mean, I want to get this right.”
     She wants to be pushed, he thought, and he should be pushing her.
     She started the breathing exercises, which felt more awkward now then they did when she began them this morning.  “I thought you said there were no bugs here,” she said, annoyed.
     “Bugs?  Ah, there aren’t, unless you count the Silver Vulture but that’s more of a bird and it’s got a big —“
     “Then what am I hearing?  It’s really distracting.”
     He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them with a slight smile, “Oh, that’s the hum from the light saber.  I guess it does sound like an insect.  I’m not used to hearing them since I didn’t grow up around them.”  He wanted to tell her about the insects in the swamps where he trained on the planet Degobah, but he noticed her lips pursed in a scowl, and he dropped the smile from his face.  “She’s your student,” he said inwardly, “not your buddy.  Forget that she’s your sister and be her teacher.”  He suspended all other thought to allow this one to sink down and plant itself into his consciousness, but before it could embed itself another burst through; “But she is your sister.”
     In a flash of memory, Luke is ten years old, tuning the moisture reclaimators on the South Ridge, a box of tools his only company.  Surrounding him is the brown of sun baked sand and wind scoured rock.  This is when he thought he was an orphan, before he learned what really happened to his parents and that he had a twin sister.
     Now he’s eleven and his uncle has purchased a droid to run diagnostics and reduce downtime.  Its only vocalizations are beeps and whistles but Luke wishes the reclaimators to break down so that the droid can accompany him.  Once, in the hopes that he and the droid could spend a couple of days doing a replacement, he tuned one unit’s thermostats so low that it continuously cycled until the motor burned out.  When his uncle heard the unit went down, however, he just assumed that even Luke’s tuning could not be trusted.  Another flash and he’s standing in front of his furious uncle, his eyes cast down at the sand.
     Leia’s words brought him back, “I haven’t seen any birds since I got here.”
     “The Silver Vulture is rare.  It nests just under the sand to escape the heat.”  Luke blinks hard in an attempt to clear his head.  “Now, let’s try and focus on your breathing while keeping your body relaxed.  If you tense up your muscles won’t be able to hold the stance.”  He can see signs of her tension as the tip of the light saber begins to waver.  The amount of time she holds the fighting posture should be getting longer, but if anything her progress is degrading.  He opens his mouth to suggest another break when he sees a figure watching them.
     “Speaking of rare ... I’ll be right back,” he said as he walked toward the observer.  The figure was a middle aged man with brown hair who wore the robes of a Jedi.  Surrounding him was a thin glow, the halo that marks a Force ghost.
     “Hello, Luke.  You look well, my son,” the man said and smiled.  No matter how often Luke saw his father smile, he always noticed a small sadness in his face, something ineffable, as if he lost something dear a long time ago and for all his searching can’t find it.
     “Thanks, Father.  It’s really good to see you.”
     “I know it’s been some time, Luke.  Please understand that I don’t want to disrupt your sister’s training.  She’s beginning her life as a Jedi, and beginnings are delicate things.”
     “Yeah,” Luke glances back at Leia to see the tip of the light saber shaking as if she was trying to draw small circles in the air, “it’s ... delicate.”
     “It would be easier if she wasn’t your sister.”
     Turning back, Luke looked down at the sand, “I should be tougher on her, like Master Yoda was with me.  I’m amazed to hear myself say it, but it’s true.  He was hard on me but I learned a lot, and when I got tired he pushed me not to give up.”
     Anakin looked at his son a moment, and then said, “Do something for me.”  Lowering his voice to just above a whisper, “Make her angry.”
     “What?” Luke said too loudly.  Catching himself, he continued, “She’s frustrated as it is, which is ruining her posture, not to mention her control.  And how am I supposed to make her angry, anyway?”
     Keeping his voice quiet, Anakin leaned closer, “You’re her brother, Luke.  It won’t be that hard.”
     Luke took a moment as his father’s words sink in.  “Yeah.  Ok.”  He turned and walked back to Leia and the struggling light saber, whose circles had grown wider and more chaotic.  “Dad’s here, just saying ‘Hi.’  But he doesn’t want to distract us, so you keep up that, ah,” he chuckles, “yeah, keep it up,” turning his head and clumsily attempting to cover another chuckle with a cough.
     “What’s funny?” Leia asked.
     “Nothing.” Luke said a little too quickly, followed by another suppressed laugh.  “Nothing at all.”
     Leia broke her stance, loosely holding the still active light saber in her right hand while placing her left hand on her hip.  “What’s so funny?”
     “Really, nothing” Luke said while a grin broke free on his face and betrayed him.
     “Listen!  I’m hot, I’m frustrated, and I’m armed!  So, you’d better tell me!”
     “Ok,” Luke said between giggles, “it’s just, you still stand like a Princess.”
     “And what’s that supposed to mean?” she shouted.
“     You know, the way you’re always posing.”
     “Posing?  I’m in a fighting stance, so I guess you could call that a pose!”
     “Yeah, but your chin does that thing,” Luke said, followed by more giggles.
     “What thing?” her voice louder.
     “It sticks up like you’re sniffing something gross.”
     Leia stabs her brother with an accusatory finger.  “Well, then maybe it’s bathtime, Mister!” she said, with no trace of humor on her face.
     “And your,” Luke said before his laughter stopped him.
     “My what?!” Leia shouts.
     “Your butt,” he said, clutching at his sides.
     “WHAT’S WRONG WITH MY BUTT!” she roared, her face contorted with rage.
     “It,” he pauses to wipe a tear, “it sticks out like your light saber got stuck up — “
     Leia’s angry scream cut him short as Luke rolled out of the way of a light saber swinging toward his chest.  Returning to his feet he somersaulted backwards as Leia buried the light saber in the sand where he stood a moment before, the heat of the blade leaving a line of glass in the sand.  
     “He wanted me to make her angry,” Luke thought, “so I guess I’ve done one thing right today.”  He couldn’t remember seeing her so incensed.  Before he could contemplate begging her to stop her onslaught, Luke dodged left and then right, barely avoiding another couple of vicious slashes.  Leia’s reflexes were impressive.  Suddenly Luke saw Anakin beckoning to him from over Leia’s right shoulder, standing about thirty meters away.  Dropping to a crouch to avoid a blow to his head, he then leapt twice his height over his sister’s head and landed in a sprint for the area in which his father, now nowhere to be seen, was standing.  
     If he thought Leia was surprised by his leap, he didn’t think it for long.  Luke realized that his sister was faster than him, and he could hear from the crunch of the sand and the hum of the light saber that she was gaining ground.  “I’m going to have to turn and fight,” he said to himself, but the thought of fighting — really fighting — his sister put panic into his run.  “Father!” he shouted, hoping to get some idea from Anakin of what to do, but he heard no response.  Just then, his right foot abruptly sunk several inches into the sand and Luke fell hard, badly scrapping his face on the desert floor.
     He rolled onto his back to see his sister standing over him, her eyes wide with rage, raising the light saber high.  He made ready to deliver a kick that would likely shatter her kneecap, pulling his left knee to his chest, but just before he could release he saw his father appear, his lips almost touching her right ear.
     “Yes, my daughter,” Anakin said in a calm voice, “do it.”
     Just then, a high pitched shriek split the air, followed by another.  Luke could see that Leia was no longer looking at him, but at something on the ground by his right foot.  He lifted his head to see a partially uncovered nest with two Silver Vulture chicks.  Newly hatched, their pure white fuzzy down shone brighter than the suns.
     “Strike, Leia.  You may kill them but who cares?  You weren’t thinking of consequences when you allowed yourself to get angry, when you tried to hurt your own brother.  Do it.”
     “No!” Leia turned, placing the blade between her and her father.
     Luke could see the sad expression taking hold of his father’s features once again.  “The ignorant think that anger makes them strong,” Anakin said, “but it’s a blind strength.  What good is strength when you can’t discern friend from foe?  Or enemy from innocent?”  
     A heavy silence hung for a few moments before Leia broke it by deactivating the light saber.  Luke got back to his feet, quickly testing his right ankle to find that while a little tender, it wasn’t sprained.  Anakin said, ‘Be well, my children,’ before turning and walking toward the setting suns.  
     Watching him go, Luke said, “I think that’s enough for today.”  Leia attached the light saber to her belt and walked away, a mixture of shock and revulsion on her face.  
     Wiping blood from his sand-scraped face, Luke knelt before the nest, trying to cover the exposed portion while his thoughts replayed the events of the past few minutes.  He wondered if he went too far, or what he might have done if he’d been forced to fight Leia.  What if one of them was seriously hurt?  His eyes drifted toward his prosthetic hand, remembering.  “None of this would have happened,” he mumbled aloud to himself, “if I’d been a better teacher.”
     By accident, Luke discovered that by mixing his blood with the sand he could make thin strips, enough to cover the nest, which he then sprinkled with loose sand to make them look like the surroundings.  It wasn’t unnoticeable, but it seemed to do the job, and the chicks stopped their crying.  
     As he stood to get a better look, he heard a familiar voice beside him.
     “Clever, you are.”
     Luke looked to see the image of his former master, Yoda, gazing up at him, shimmering with the same halo as his father.
     “Hello, Master Yoda.”  Luke felt a swell of happiness at seeing his old teacher, but he didn’t feel like smiling.  “I wish I was clever.”
     “Your father you saw today.”
     “Help you with Leia’s training, did he?” Yoda asked.
     “I think Leia learned a lot from him today.”
     “And learned what did you?”
     “I think that all I learned was that I’m not a very good teacher.”
     “Our greatest teacher, your father is,” Yoda said in a quiet voice.  “In all the history of the Jedi, the best he has become.”
     “My father is the greatest teacher in Jedi history,” Luke said, taking in the enormous number of years that history spans.  “Better than you?  Master Yoda, how is that possible?  How did he learn so much?”
     “Made the most mistakes, he did.  Study and train, day after day, yet always Failure our best teacher remains.  Fail well, young Skywalker.”  And with those words, Yoda left Luke staring at the reddening sky.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Adventures With an Artificial Tree

Man, I’m surprised that it’s actually been a while since I wrote, as it doesn’t feel that way.  Maybe that’s a testament to how busy I’ve been with trying to finish up the new exporter code.  This past weekend saw Hazel’s birthday party and the day before the decorating of the Christmas tree ... and before that was the adventure around getting the tree.

Friday saw a nice Nor-easter blow through New England.  By the late afternoon I measured 14.5 inches of freshly fallen snow in the front yard.  Friday was also the day that our new Christmas tree was scheduled to be delivered.  

Amanda and I have always gotten real trees in the past, as we were recovering from a series of crazy Seuss-trees from our childhoods, but this year the Wife was adamant; no more needles or watering.  She even insisted on an end to stringing lights.  We were getting an artificial pre-lit tree.  We wanted one that looked real, and I argued for a tall one that wouldn’t look dinky in the cathedral-ceilinged Family Room.  

So Friday at noon I get a call from the delivery company, a young woman who informs me that because of the blizzard they’re only delivering to businesses.  What day next week did I want it delivered?  That won’t work, I explain, because with my wife’s work schedule the following day is the only one in which we can decorate the tree.  Sitting in front of the laptop I jam over to Google Maps and plot directions.  Could I drive down to their warehouse to pick up the tree myself tomorrow morning?  No, not open on weekends.  Could I meet the driver somewhere?  Probably, as he’s only in Exeter which in normal weather is a fifteen minute drive.  He’ll give me a call.  When he does a few minutes later we agree to meet at in the parking lot of the new Lowes in Epping in thirty minutes.  I hang up.

Amanda has the station wagon, which has the hatchback and the seats that fold down, and the roof rack.  I have the Saturn sedan ... no roof rack there.  The tree is nine-feet tall and weights over 120 pounds.  I don’t have any rope long enough to tie it down.  Well, good thing we’re meeting by Lowes, so I’ll buy rope there.

I hop in the car and start wondering about the road conditions.  Visibility is bad, and I soon learn that the roads suck.  Any faster than 30 mph and the tires start to slip.  Ice quickly gets attached to the driver’s side windshield wiper, making it useless.  I pull over into a parking lot to free the ice, and find the parking lot hasn’t been plowed.  After freeing the ice from the wiper blade I need five minutes to rock the car free of the snow to get back on the road.  I’m crawling down Route 125, passing the occasional car that’s spun off the road and down the embankment.  A snowmobile is parked next to one car that went all the way down and kissed the trees.  

The drive would normally take ten minutes, so thirty-five later I’m pulling into the parking lot in front of the waiting truck.  I get out and walk over to the driver, who gives my car a stare and then turns to me with a raised eyebrow.  “That isn’t gonna fit,” he says with a hint of mirth.  I’m in no mood.  “You’re not giving me a choice,” I reply.  We hoist the box carrying the tree onto the roof.  I ask Chuckles to do me a favor and wait five minutes while I head into Lowes and get the rope.  As I’m checking out with 100 feet of nylon rope in hand, I ask if there’s anyone who might be able to help me tie something down on my roof, and I nice young kid named Eric walks out with me.  

Eric’s a soft-spoken twenty something and a funky looking kid by New Hampshire standards.  He’s already been out in the snow as he’s been on snow-blowing detail and he genuinely doesn’t seem to mind helping me.  I sign what Chuckles needs signed and he’s now sounding apologetic, so I tell him that it’s not his fault and wish him a Merry Christmas (people still do that in New Hampshire).  Eric and I take up the tying and we fumble with it a bit but he puts his back into it and we get it done fairly quickly.  I’ve got a ten dollar bill in my wallet with his name on it and I give it to him with another Merry Christmas.

The drive back is slow but triumphant, and I even managed to remove the rope without cutting it.  This tree had better last us forty-years at least.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Our National Debt

I’ve been hearing a lot this week about the booming U.S. economy, and then I got the following quote in one of my daily newsletters:

I place economy among the first and most important republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.
-Thomas Jefferson

Which got me wondering exactly where our debt stands today, which as of this writing is $8,110,766,8637.94 (see here for a cheery update).  Then I got that familiar feeling and realized that this sounds a lot like what happened in the Big 80’s when Reagan tripled our national debt.  Initially, there was a big boom, and then like in an explosion, the boom was followed by a big mess.    

Thursday, December 01, 2005

“Lost” Angels?

*** “Lost” spoilers for those who haven’t seen the episode titled “The Other 48 Days.” ***

I still think the jury is out about whether “Lost” is a good show or a great show, but the episode I watched last night sparked an idea that could elevate it to the latter category.  In “The Other 48 Days,” we meet gentle Goodwin, who claims to have been in the Peace Corps but ends up being one of the highly lethal Others.  For the first time, we get a real conversation with one of “them,” and in it our man Goodwin drops an intriguing clue that could place the entire “Lost” cosmology.  Anna Lucia, the tougher-than-leather cop who should wear shoulder pads to bear the weight of chips she carries in that area, asks Goodwin about a list of people the Others took during an earlier snatch-n-grab, and a missing man named Nathan.  “Nathan was not a good person,” Goodwin explains.  “That’s why he wasn’t on the list.”

So the Others cull the good people, and while that adjective can mean many things, I think I’m safe in assuming it means either moral or an unblemished background, and if I’m right then that begs another question.  How’d the Others separate the good from the wicked?  Did Goodwin live with them long enough to make an assessment?  Seems doubtful, since the first attack occurred the first night after the crash, and the second (in which the list was found) was only a few days later.  Of course, the Others could be homicidally insane, which leads to snap judgments so I’m told, but what if the Others have another way of knowing who’s been bad and who’s been good?  What if they’re angels?

The idea that everyone died in the crash was obvious from the first episode, placing the cast in their own purgatorial paradise, but its very obviousness made it unlikely.  After all, why would such clever writers as J.J. Abrams and David Fury go for the cheap and easy?  Maybe (just maybe) because there’s a twist; this purgatory is inhabited by seemingly savage angels who remove the good, since purgatory can offer them nothing, then menace those left behind, spurring them forward on their paths to redemption.  I chose “remove” in the previous sentence because we’re not entirely sure what happens to those taken, but we imagine they’re killed, but what’s that mean if you’re already dead?  Another nice twist would be that meeting your end on the island means leaving Purgatory and going on to face what’s next.

Hey, I’m probably completely wrong, but part of the fun of Speculative Fiction is speculating.