Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Crossroads of the Force" [PG-13] - Chapter Six



"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"


CHAPTER SIX

ANCHORHEAD, TATOOINE

The burly man strode casually along one of Anchorhead's dusty streets, accompanied by two children. The golden protocol droid followed closely behind, filling their ears with incessant chatter.

"I really do not see why Miss Padme had left behind and taken Artoo," the droid complained. "As a protocol droid, I have knowledge of over six million forms of communication in my programming. Surely, I could have serve as interpreter for Miss Pad . . ."

"Not now, Threepio!" Luke barked. "Now is not the time for you to be complaining about being left behind. Mother has made her decision."

The protocol droid sounded affronted by his young charge's outburst. "Well really, Master Luke! I did not realize . . ."

"One other thing, Threepio," Owen added, "I don't think it's a good idea for you to be bandying Miss Padme's name out loud. There might be Imperial ears listening."

"Yes, Master Owen."

The group finally reached a poundstone store that sold power converters at the street's south end. Uncle Owen turned to Luke and Leia. "I want you two to wait here. Threepio and I will be right back."

"You need me, Master Owen?" the droid asked.

With a sigh, the moisture farmer replied, "Yes, Threepio. I need you to translate the binary language for the moisture vaporators." He nodded at Luke and Leia. "And you two, stay close." Then he and Threepio entered the shop.

The twins settled on a small bench outside of the shop. Nearly ten minutes passed before Leia heaved a loud sigh. "I'm bored," she muttered darkly. "I thought that Anchorhead would be more exciting than this."

Luke rolled his eyes. His sister could be quite a grouch at times. "Then you should have stayed at the farm."

"And spend hours in the company of two women barely able to conduct a conversation with each other?" Leia snorted. "Thanks, but no thanks."

Another three minutes passed. Leia opened her mouth for another complaint, but Luke spotted a familiar figure. "Hey! It's Biggs!" Then he cried out, "Biggs!" A dark-haired boy around the twins' ages stared at the twins. A smile lit up this thin face, before he waved. Luke waved back and stood up.

"Luke, where are you going?" Leia demanded. "Uncle Owen told us to stay here." The fair-haired boy ignored his sister and rushed toward his best friend. "Luke!"

The two boys met in the middle of the street and slapped each other on the backs. "Hey Luke!" Biggs Darklighter greeted. "What are you doing here on Tatooine? Your family usually don't visit until another two months from now." Biggs happened to be the son of a wealthy land magnate . . . and Luke's best friend for the past six years.

Luke shrugged. "Leia and I are staying with our uncle, while Mother is on a business trip. Are you with your father?"

Biggs pointed at the Weary Traveler Tavern. "He's in there, getting a drink. I saw you and Leia. Where's your uncle?"

"Buying a new moisture vaporator," Luke answered.

Biggs nodded. "Maybe your uncle can allow you to visit our home before you leave. Dad just bought me a new skyhopper. A suborbital T-12 model." A wide grin appeared on his face. "The wings' span are this wide, and . . ." As he threw out his arms, his left hand knocked against a burlap sack held by a passing pedestrian. Bottles of liquor fell out of the sack and crashed upon the ground. Luke detected the strong odor of alcohol.

Tall, burly and grizzled, the pedestrian cast an intimidating glare at the Biggs. "Clumsy brat!" he growled. "Look at what you've done! I had paid a good amount of wupiupi for those bottles of ale."

"I'm sorry, sir," a slightly frightened Biggs pleaded. "It was an accident."

The man retorted, "Sorry doesn't mean anything! I'm out of 200 wupiupi and some good Spiced Ale!" He grabbed Biggs by the latter's tunic. "It's gonna take more than an apology to make up for my loss, boy!"

Luke decided to help Biggs escape the man's grip. "Hey! Let go of my friend! He said that he was sorry!" Then Luke tried to pry the man's fingers from Biggs' tunic. His efforts ended in vain, when the man shoved Luke aside with a free hand. The eleven year-old's rump landed on the ground.

"Luke!" Leia rushed forward and helped her brother to his feet. She then rounded furiously on the man. "You bully! I suppose you consider yourself brave for picking on boys half your age!"

Sensing the man's growing ire, Luke grabbed his sister's shoulders and drew her back. "No! Leia! Don't!" he hissed.

But Leia's temper had passed the point of no return. "Why don't you let our friend go? What can you possibly achieve by bullying a twelve year-old boy?"

With Biggs still in his grip, the man leaned down and sneered at Leia. "Mighty fine words coming out of the mouth of a little girl. Your friend just cost me 200 wupiupi. One way or the other, I'm getting payback!"

"By bullying a child?"

"Is there a problem?" another masculine voice asked. The three children and the pedestrian stared at the robed figure that had materialized before them. Luke immediately recognized the mysterious man who had joined Mother, Uncle Bail and another man at Mos Eisley. "You seemed to have that young man in a rather tight grip, Mister . . .?"

The man snarled, "The name is Oswald Rankin and this matter is none of your concern!"

"What has the boy done to you?"

Looking slightly annoyed, Rankin retorted, "He had cost me two hundred wupiupi, when he broke my bottles of very expensive Corellian Spiced Ale!"

The robed stranger smiled. "Really? And did the boy break your bottles of ale on . . . purpose?"

"Look here, old man! I suggest that you leave now! Like I said, this is none of your concern."

Luke glanced up at the robed man's face and noticed that his blue eyes glittered mysteriously. "This boy has not harmed you in any way."

Rankin stared hard at the robed stranger. It seemed to Luke as if the former had suddenly become mesmerized, as he released Biggs. "You're right," Rankin murmured. "The boy did not harm me."

The robed stranger murmured, "He did not mean to break your bottles."

With a nod, Rankin added, "Yes, you're right. He did not mean to break them."

"Perhaps it is best that the ale is gone," the stranger added. "You do not need to consume all that alcohol."

His eyes still glazed, Rankin said, "No . . . I don't."

"You will forget this incident and go home."

Rankin frowned momentarily. Then he said to the stranger, "What incident?" He stared at the three children. "What's going on?"

"It is nothing, sir," the stranger answered with a smile. "You seemed a bit out of sorts. We were all trying to assist you."

"Well, I'm fine." Rankin regarded the others with confusion. "Um . . . thanks. Excuse me." He nodded curtly and walked away.

Luke and his two companions stared at the robed stranger. "How did you do that?" he demanded. "How did you manipulate his thoughts like that?"

The robed man merely smiled in a mysterious fashion. "I'm afraid that your Mr. Rankin might be an easily suggestive person." He regarded the three children with concern. "And you . . . are you three unharmed? Has he . . .?"

"I'm fine," Biggs replied. "Other than he nearly scared me senseless."

Luke added, "No harm . . . except for my pride and backside." He thrust out his hand to the stranger. "Thanks for your help. I'm Luke Sk . . . uh, Organa, by the way. And this is my sister, Leia and my friend, Biggs Darklighter."

The man shook Luke's hand. "It's very nice to meet you."

"And exactly who are you?" Leia demanded. "You look familiar."

The man's smile widened. "My name is Ben. Ben Kenobi."

------------

WORLPORT, ORD MANTELL

Once the Alberforce penetrated Ord Mantell’s thick outer cometary cloud, it made its way toward the planet’s glittering capital, Worlport. A heavy sheet of rain greeted the starship’s passengers and crew as it finally settled upon one of the spaceport’s landing platforms.

The starship rolled into an empty hangar and came to a halt. Several minutes later, Padme and R2-D2 followed Bail, Captain Sen and their Jedi protector down the Alberforce’s boarding ramp. “I need to report my arrival to the portmaster,” Voranda declared. “I will meet all you at the hotel, later.” She hesitated. “What names will you be using to check in? In case I need to contact you.”

Bail replied, “I will be using the name, Tam Avner. As for Senator Amidala, she will . . .”

“My name will be Rhiannon,” Padme added. “Rhiannon Chir.”

Voranda nodded. “Good. I will check with you, later tonight.” She walked away from the others.

Bail led the others outside of the hangar. Then he hailed a shuttle taxi to convey them to the Hotel Grand. Dominated by skyscrapers and red-domed topped buildings, Worlport’s skyline reminded Padme of a heady mixture of Coruscant and Naboo’s capital, Theed. To her surprise, Master Olin expressed a similar opinion, out loud.

“I must say that this is a very lovely city,” he commented, while glancing out of a shuttle window. “I cannot tell whether it reminds me of Coruscant or Theed.”

Padme stared at the former Jedi. “You’ve been to Naboo?”

“Yes, Milady.” Unease briefly shadowed his eyes. “Nine years ago, to be exact.”

“Around the time of Queen Apaliana’s death,” Padme murmured quietly. “And the death of my grandmother.”

The former Jedi remained silent, while Bail continued, “It is hard to believe that this place is now a smuggler’s haven. Especially since it was originally settled by Corellian farmers.”

“A Jedi master named Pablo-Jill had managed to bring peace to this planet about fourteen or fifteen years ago. Just before the Clone Wars.”

“You must be very proud.” The words came out more sardonic than Padme had originally intended. Master Olin stiffened, while Bail focused his attention to the view beyond his window.

Padme glanced out of the window beside her and spotted the words – HOTEL GRAND – in bright lights that illuminated through the heavy rain and gray skies. The shuttle soon descended upon one of the hotel’s landing platforms. Upon reaching the hotel lobby, Bail and Padme checked into their rooms under their aliases. Bail managed to acquire a suite with adjoining bedrooms for himself and Master Olin. Padme acquired a room next door to theirs. The trio and R2-D2 then set out for the hotel’s turbolifts. Upon entering one, they encountered none other than the senator from Chandrila, Mon Mothma.

“I see that you’ve all finally made it,” the Chadrilian senator greeted.

Bail asked, “Are we the last to arrive?”

“No. One other is still missing.” Mon shot an uneasy glance at Olin. “Who is your friend?”

Bail made the introductions. “This is our protector, Master Ferus Olin. He is a former Jedi.”

Mon continued to eye the younger man uneasily. “Really?” Then her gaze narrowed. “Have you ever been on Coruscant? In recent years, I mean.”

“I’m afraid that it has been quite a while, Milady,” Olin calmly answered.

The turbolift arrived on the hotel’s tenth floor. All of the occupants stepped out. “Your room is on this floor?” Padme asked.

The Chandrilian senator smiled. “I have ensured that all of us have rooms on this floor. The conference room is located here, as well.” After shooting another curious glance at Olin, Mon added, “Well, I should prepare for supper.”

“Who hasn’t arrived, yet?” Bail asked.

“Zoebeida,” Mon replied. “She has yet to arrive.” Padme realized that Mon had referred to Zoebeida Dalhma of Maldare.

They came upon Padme’s room. “Well, here we are,” she announced. “When will the first meeting . . .?”

“A dinner for us has been scheduled to begin in about five hours,” Mon replied. “Just down the corridor, in the Jewel Room. I will see you then.”

Padme nodded. “I only hope that Zoebeida arrives in time, as well.” She and R2 entered her room. As the door shut behind her, Padme heaved a sigh. Between the upcoming Alliance meetings, having a former Jedi in her midst and being separated from her children, the next two days might prove to be strenuous.

-----------

ANCHORHEAD, TATOOINE

Owen and CP-30 stepped out of the junk shop and noticed something very alarming – Luke and Leia seemed to be missing. Contrary to his instructions, they had left the bench in front of the shop.

“Oh Master Owen!” Threepio wailed. “Something terrible must have happened to them!”

The moisture farmer rolled his eyes. Threepio could be ridiculously melodramatic at times. Like now. On the other hand, there was a possibility that the twins might be in danger.

“Uncle Owen!”

Owen glanced to his left and saw both Leia, Luke and Biggs Darklighter rush toward him. A man in a hooded robe accompanied them. Alarm bells rang in Owen’s mind, when the man threw back his hood. Obi-Wan Kenobi beamed at him. Owen realized that Padme would have his hide if she knew that her children had met the former Jedi Master.

Luke reached the moisture farmer first. “Uncle Owen, guess who we ran into? Mother and Uncle Bail’s friend from Mos Eisley, Mister Ken . . . uh . . .”

The former Jedi paused before the moisture farmer. “Kenobi. Ben Kenobi. Good day to you, Master Lars.” He held out his hand.

Owen reluctantly grabbed Kenobi’s hand and shook it. “Good day.” He frowned at the twins. “What did I tell you two about not wandering off?”

Leia calmly explained, “We saw Biggs and left the bench to say hello. Only we had trouble with this common . . . thug, who bullied Biggs for accidentally breaking his liquor bottles. Fortunately, Mister Kenobi,” she nodded at the former Jedi Master, “came to our rescue. I think we should repay Mister Kenobi’s assistance with an invitation to dinner. He does not live that far from the farm. In the Jundland Wasteland.”

The moisture farmer found himself unable to respond. If Kenobi had been someone else, he would have accepted Leia’s suggestion. But this was Anakin’s former Jedi master. Owen knew that Padme would disapprove of her children having any contact with the man. “Well, I . . .” he began.

Kenobi spoke up. “Thank you, Miss Organa. But I’m afraid that I might have to decline your kind invitation. I have . . . uh, pressing matters, tonight.”

“What about tomorrow night?” Leia demanded.

Both Owen and Kenobi stared at each other and blinked. How could they explain the truth to the twins without revealing the tumultuous history of their parents? Owen said, “I don’t think . . .”

“You have pressing matters tomorrow night, as well, Mr. Kenobi?” Luke asked. “You sure have a lot of business, lately.”

Kenobi heaved a sigh. At that moment, Owen knew that he and Beru would have a dinner guest, tomorrow evening. “I suppose I could join you for supper, tomorrow,” Kenobi finally said, much to Owen’s consternation. He turned to the farmer. “If that is fine with you?”

Owen realized that he had been trapped by Leia’s sense of courtesy and Kenobi’s eagerness to become acquainted with the twins. He sighed. “I’m sure that . . . Beru would not mind preparing for a guest tomorrow night.”

The children and Kenobi became all smiles and excited chatter. Owen hoped and prayed that Padme would never learn of this encounter with the former Jedi Master. But he suspected that his hopes would prove to be futile in the end.


END OF CHAPTER SIX

Monday, April 28, 2008

RETROSPECT: (6.17) “Hyde School Reunion”




RETROSPECT: (6.17) “Hyde School Reunion”

”Hyde School Reunion” is an episode from Season Six of the TV series, ”CHARMED” (1998-2006). It is viewed as controversial by many fans of the show. I wish I could say that its controversy revolved around any innovative storytelling. I wish I could say this . . . but I cannot. Because ”Hyde School Reunion” is without a doubt one of the worst ”CHARMED” episodes to air on television.

In this episode, Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) inadvertently cast a spell – written in her high school yearbook – that allowed her wild personality from her “troubled” adolescent to take over her. And this all happened at her tenth high school reunion. At the same time, Piper (Holly Maries Combs) is trying to figure out why Chris (Drew Fuller), who had recently been revealed as her son from the future, has been avoiding her. She recruits the help of her dad Victor Bennett (James Read) to delve into the big mystery. In the end, Piper and Victor learned that Chris is wary of Piper’s presence, because she is destined to die fourteen years in the future. Ugh. Also, Chris is being hunted by Scabber demons. As for Phoebe . . . oh God, it resulted in one big mess.

In a nutshell, younger Phoebe or ”Freebie” - as one of her old schoolmates had nicknamed her – wrecked havoc with magic by plotting the escape of an old classmate named Rick Gittridge (Rodney Rowland) from jail. When Rick realized that his former classmate can use magic, he wants her – namely Phoebe – to help him rob an armored car. I would love NOT to go into details of how this all unfolds. Must I? Must I do this? Sigh! I suppose I must. Anyway, the other two Halliwells whisked Phoebe back to the Manor before she could do anything about Rick. When she returned to Rick, Phoebe learned that one of her old school mates, Ramona, is missing. Rick had kidnapped her to secure Phoebe's help. They robbed an armored car, but Phoebe cast a spell upon Rick, making him believe that the cops are almost upon them. They fled back to the Manor, where Rick ended up insisting that Phoebe give him a new face before he tells her where Ramona is. Paige appeared and Phoebe suggested that the younger sister give Rick Chris' face. Chris – who is being hunted by Scabber demons. Rick ended up pleased – until the Scabber demons show up and killed him.

The positive aspects of ”Hyde School Reunion” came in the subplot involving Chris, Piper and Victor. Although I could not understand why Chris could warn his grandfather to stop smoking in order to avoid emphysema and prevent Paige from being killed by Titans (see ”Oh Goddess!” from late Season 5), prevent Wyatt from turning evil, yet could not warn his mother that she will be dead in fourteen years for fear of changing the timeline? What the hell? What saved this subplot were the performances of Chris Fuller, Holly Marie Combs and James Read.

Unfortunately, the major plotline for ”Hyde School Reunion” revolved around Phoebe’s high school reunion and her messy little ”flashback” to her adolescent past. There was so much wrong with this story that I had to make a list:

*Phoebe graduated from high school in 1994? In 1994, she was eighteen, going on nineteen. What happened? She had to repeat a grade?

*Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan’s outfits at the reunion – questionable. Poor Rose looked as if her jacket was made from the fur of a dead animal that had the bad luck to be dyed in a garish turquoise blue. Alyssa’s boobs looked as if they threatened to pop out any minute. Even worse, her nipples are so obvious that they seemed to shout at the television screen.

*In the previous episode, ”The Courtship of Wyatt’s Father”, Leo finally managed to boink Piper and plant baby Chris in her. Yet, in the following episode – namely this one – Piper is "months" pregnant. How many months had passed between the two episodes? I realize that Holly Marie Combs was pregnant at the time, but talk about ill timing!

*Why do nearly every Halliwell sister either seemed to possess that hideous hairstyle that consisted of long hair and bangs, braces or all? Do you think I am exaggerating? Take a gander at the photos below -


Prue transformed back to her seventeen year-old self in "Be Careful What You Witch For"




Piper's high school yearbook photo in "Coyote Piper"




Phoebe's high school yearbook photo in "Hyde School Reunion"




Paige transformed back to her seventeen year-old self in "A Paige From the Past"




*Phoebe wrote a poem in her high school yearbook . . . that turned out to be a spell? My God, how lame!

*How is it that one of Phoebe’s old gym teacher, Miss Hickok, has no idea that Phoebe is now a famous columnist, whose mug is plastered on billboards all over San Francisco?

*I realize that in this episode, Freebie has adult Phoebe’s powers. Could someone please explain how she learned how to use magic? Please? Adult Phoebe knew nothing of magic until she was two months shy of her 23rd birthday? How did adolescent Freebie suddenly learn how to cast a spell and turn her old classmates into teenaged Neanderthals? Hell, the only magic that Phoebe knew around 22 and 23 were the old ”The Power of Three will set us free” chant and her premonitions, over which she had (and possessed) no control.

*Chris, who is the son of a chef, had no idea what mutton was? Being a vegetarian is no excuse. Unless mutton no longer exists in the 2020s.

*Why were Scabber demons after Chris? That story plot had evaded me.

*Could someone PLEASE explain how Freebie managed to shapeshift Rick, who was disguised as a guard, back to his old self with a flick of her wrist? HOW? Even adult Phoebe lacked this ability. She would have had to use a spell or chant to do this. Shapeshifting was not one of her psi abilities.

*Between the time Piper and Paige had teleported Phoebe from the warehouse to the Manor and back took less than a minute. How did Rick managed to tie up Todd – another Freebie classmate – and hide Ramona in that short space of time?

*Why didn’t Phoebe simply use a spell to coerce Rick into revealing where he had hidden Ramona . . . instead of aiding him in his so-called crime spree?


The major faux pas of ”Hyde School Reunion” centered around the death of Rick Gittridge. Many fans have commented on certain acts surrounding the unfolding events. One, why did Paige fail to teleport orb the shotgun from Rick’s hand? Two, why did Phoebe suggest that Paige turn Rick’s face into Chris’ face before Rick could verify where he had hidden Ramona . . . so that the Scabber demons would go after him? Why did she not do the dirty deed, herself?

Some member of a ”CHARMED” message board once commented that this entire scene lacked sense because as ”good witches”, the Charmed Ones would have never set up a human to be killed by demons. I say . . . bullshit to that! The Halliwells have proven in the past how murderous and self-righteous they could be. How many times has Prue – believing to be wronged - allowed her temper to get the best of her? In "P3 H2O", a very self-righteous Phoebe had accused Sam Wilder – Mommy Dearest’s whitelighter and Paige’s dad – of failing to save Patty before the latter was killed by a water demon. Paige was stupid, murderous and self-righteous enough to attempt to kill Cole when he had finally given up on getting Phoebe back in ”Centennial Charmed”. ”Mortality Bites” is a prime example of how murderous and self-righteous the Halliwells can be. I will tell you exactly what really bothered me about ”Hyde School Reunion”:

Phoebe: How do we know you're telling the truth?

Rick: You don't. Now, my face. Make it different. Heartbreaking, charming, young.

(Phoebe gets an idea.)

Phoebe: You know, I'm thinking maybe you should use our nephew for inspiration.

Paige: "Who you were, you're now another, take the face of Wyatt's brother."

(Rick turns into Chris. He looks in the mirror.)

Chris: Yeah, I like it. This'll work.

Paige: Pheebs, watch out, this could get messy. (Phoebe and Paige hide behind a wall. Three Scabbar demons appear in the room. Rick shoots at them but doesn't harm them. They spit the green acid goo at Rick which melts him to nothing. The demons disappear. Phoebe and Paige come out from behind the wall.) You okay?

Phoebe: Yeah.

Paige: You know you had to, right?

Phoebe: I know.


She had to? Phoebe had to give Chris’ face to Rick, knowing that her nephew was being hunted by Scabber demons? Why was it necessary for Phoebe to set Rick up to be murdered? Who in the fuck wrote this episode? Oh yes, some joker named David Simkins. If he is still writing television, the son-of-a-bitch should give up screenwriting and take up a profession that suits his lack of talent. Moron. Brad Kern is a moron for approving this script. And I wonder if Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan had expressed concerns about what Phoebe and Paige did to Rick. If they did not, they should be ashamed of themselves.

This episode truly ranks as amongst the worst of the series’ eight year history. Honestly. And the fact that it climaxed into the murder of a human, thanks to the scheming of two of the three major characters really sticks in my craw. But what really pisses me off about ”Hyde School Reunion” is that Kern and screenwriter, David Simkins, actually believed that the viewers would sit in front of a television set and accept that Phoebe and Paige’s murderous act was ”necessary”, is an insult not only to my intelligence, but to the intelligence of the series’ many other viewers and fans.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

"The Rain Chronicles" [PG] - Book I




"The Rain Chronicles" [PG] - Book I

RATING: [PG] For mild language. Very mild.
SUMMARY: By some twist of fate, Rain Robinson from Season 3's "Future's End", ends up on Voyager. Told from Rain, B'Elanna and Janeway's POV. Book 1.
FEEDBACK: lee66132000@yahoo.com - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B'Elanna and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be. Dammit!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've always wondered if there would have been a Paris/Torres romance if Rain Robinson had ended up on Voyager.


----------

RAIN ROBINSON - May 2, 1996:

It began with a simple touch. Can you believe it? A simple touch. One little act that would change my life for good. Why did I do it? Was it my natural curiosity, first sparked by that ? signal I had detected at the Observatory? Or was it a pair of warm blue eyes that led me to give in to such an impulse? Maybe the latter. Who knows?

It was the signal started everything. Signs of Gamma emissions that drew the attention of my sponsor at the Observatory and all-round creep, Henry Starling. It also attracted the attention of the owner of those blue eyes - Tom Paris - and his two oddball friends, Tuvok and Mr. Leisure Suit. Thanks to Tom and his friends, I discovered that Mr. Starling could not be trusted and wanted me dead. Tom and Tuvok wanted him for another reason. Something to do with a ship in Starling's possession. A timeship, I believe. Despite what Tom may think, I was paying attention. Tom and I eventually chased Starling's pet thug into the desert, outside L.A. The poor bastard ended up blown to bits by some strange aircraft. One that I suspect Tom was very familiar with.

Tom Paris. I once told him that he reminded me of Howdy Doody, but in a sexy way. He still does. Strange guy, very good-looking and charming, but also very smart. Nor did he seem turned off by my own brains and my big mouth. In short, I wanted him to stay. But he couldn't. He had to return to from wherever he came from.

So there we stood in the middle of the desert, facing each other. Tom said that he had never met anyone quite like me and probably never will. Then he kissed me. Properly. Not like others who usually gave wet, sloppy kisses or timid ones. A real, honest-to-God kiss with the pair of the warmest lips I had ever felt. When he eventually turned his back on me, something inside could not give him up. A strange, blue light enveloped him and with my usual impulsiveness, I touched his shirt and found myself caught up in the light. One moment we had been surrounded by the California desert, the next inside the strange aircraft, which had even stranger technology. Before Tom or anyone else could spot me, I ducked behind some console and out of sight.

"Chakotay to Voyager," a soft, deep voice called out. "We've picked up Tom. All are accounted for."

A husky, female voice that sounded slightly familiar, responded, "Acknowledged Commander. Report to the Bridge as soon as you return. Janeway out."

Voyager? The only other Voyager I could recall was a satellite probe that had ended up missing years ago. Judging from Ms. Janeway's voice, Voyager seemed to be more than a satellite. Instinct also told me that it was not on this earth. Okay, actually it was my stomach that conveyed the message. Especially after the way it bounced to my throat after the craft rose further in the air. How far we traveled? I have no idea.

We finally arrived at our destination and I ducked my head behind the console once more. Tom, Tuvok and the others filed out of the aircraft. The moment their voices vanished, I decided it was safe to leave my hiding place. Upon leaving the aircraft, I found myself alone, surrounded by similar aircrafts - much to my relief. It looked as if I was in the middle of an airplane hangar. Or something similar. I glanced to my left and nearly passed out with shock. Instead of a solid wall, I faced a blanket of space - namely outer space. Good grief! Where in the hell did I end up?

* * * *


LIEUTENANT B'ELANNA TORRES - STARDATE 50316.95:

We did it. Believe it or not, Voyager managed to save Earth's future by preventing that greedy bastard, Henry Starling, from traveling to the 29th century and destroying it. Idiot. The man was an idiot whose greed led him to his destruction. Well, the Captain actually destroyed him and the timeship. It was either that or allow him to destroy Earth.

My adventures with Chakotay nearly proved to be just as interesting. It seemed that Voyager's two senior ex-Maquis would end up meeting their counterparts in 20th century Arizona. Although I must say that I found it difficult to consider those Neanderthals as freedom fighters. Their goals seemed a lot less noble and more self-serving than our own.

But I must remember that I'm no longer with the Maquis. I'm an officer and chief engineer aboard a Starfleet vessel. And have been for the past two years. That scenario almost ended, thanks to Henry Starling. Who knows how our lives may have ended on 20th century Earth. I remember Chakotay expressing an interest in becoming an anthropologist at some North American university. I cannot imagine me finding it so easy to blend in. What in the hell could a half-Klingon with forehead ridges do in the 20th century? Before Earth had ever made any contact with another alien species?

I had no doubt how Tom Paris would have fared. Probably spend his time exploring his favorite period in history. And with that Rain Robinson woman he had befriended, as his companion. I finally saw her. While our shuttle hovered above the California desert. I still remember the way he kissed her before we beamed him aboard.

Stop! What in the hell is wrong with me? Why am I thinking about Tom Paris, of all people? And why would I even care about his latest conquest? So what if he had once propositioned me? Big deal! I had immediately informed him on how I really felt about a date with him on the holodeck. Or did I? Would an hour or two, sailing on Lake Como had been that bad? Oh hell! Why bother contemplating on that now? Paris has not made an attempt for another date, since. And he'll probably spend the next few days or so, remembering the charms of Miss Rain Robinson. Yet, in the end, he will forget her. Like he has forgotten the other women in his life.

"Senior staff to the Conference Room," I heard Chakotay's voice announce over the Comm system. Another senior staff meeting? We just had one not long after our return to Delta Quadrant. Oh well. Maybe the Captain had decided to plan a celebration for saving Earth's future.

* *

Kahless! What a day! A surprise awaited the senior staff when we reported to the Conference Room. Captain Janeway was furious! I have never seen her look that angry since the time the Vidiians had stolen Neelix's lungs. I still remember what those bastards did to me. But I'm digressing.

Upon our return to the Delta Quadrant, the Captain and Chakotay discovered that Captain Braxton, that stupid p'tak from the 29th century, had failed to realize the new passenger we had picked up during our time travels. It seemed that we - and I mean myself, Chakotay, the Doctor and Tuvok - had not only transported Paris to the shuttle, but also another passenger, from the California desert. That extra passenger turned out to be none other than Tom's friend, Rain Robinson. Tom had no idea that Miss Robinson had decided to hitch a ride when we beamed him up. In fact, no one had even spotted her on the ship - until after our return to the Delta Quadrant. A Security detail caught her roaming around Deck Seven.

Typical Braxton. The idiot was so determined to return us to our proper time and place in history that he failed to account for a 20th century woman aboard Voyager. So much for his temporal magic. What an idiot!

When I said that the Captain was angry, I was not joking. She castigated Miss Robinson for sneaking aboard the ship. She almost accused Tom of helping his friend, until Miss Robinson took full responsibility and insisted that she had acted alone. Janeway, however, did chastise Paris and the rest of us for our "lack of diligence" - her words, not mine.

Rain Robinson. What an odd name for a Human! Now, she was a permanent member of Voyager's crew. Like Neelix and Kes, she decided to remain a civilian. The Captain assigned her to Stellar Cartography, since she was an astronomer. Now I ask you, exactly what good is a 20th century astronomer aboard a 24th century starship? Personally, I suspect that no one has any idea, including the Captain and Miss Robinson. I bet that Tom Paris doesn't care. Now that he has his lady love by his side. Of course, I must admit that Miss Robinson seemed a little displeased when the Captain ordered Tom to act as her escort aboard ship. Any other woman would be thrilled.

* * * *

RAIN ROBINSON - April 26, 2373:

Oh. My. God! Ohmigod! I can't believe it! I'm on a spaceship nearly 380 years in the future! In the future, for crying out loud! Oh God! What have I done? No wonder that Captain Janeway was pissed! Kathryn Janeway. Now there is a woman Gloria Steinem would love to meet. Personally, I think she is a bit uptight. All right, she's a little pissed that I decided to hitchhike on her ship and I don't blame her. But Jeez! By the time she finished lecturing me, I felt like I was seventeen again being nagged to death by my mother. I really think that woman needs to get laid.

According to the Captain, what we are traveling on is a starship. Namely a space-traveling vessel that is part of some organization called Starfleet. And Starfleet happens to be the military arm of another organization called the Federation of United Planets or something. Like a futuristic version of the United Nations, only it's an alliance between different planets. Although most of Voyager's crew consists of Humans, there are some who came from other planets. Agen . . . uh, Lieutenant Tuvok happens to be one. He came from a planet called Vulcan. With those ears and his HAL-like personality, I'm not surprised.

Oh God! This is wonderful. I'm a 20th century woman stuck on a 24th century space . . . starship. And I'm attracted to a man who happens to be over 300 years younger than me. Great! Now I understand why Tom's dialogue seemed a bit . . . . well, dated at times. I mean, who uses "groovy" in 1996? Or spy against the KBG? I wonder if I was just another assignment to Tom? Or someone to be used to stop that creep, Henry Starling, from blowing up the future? I have a bad feeling that I had stowed away on that shuttle for nothing. And that Tom Paris saw nothing more than some loud, annoying woman whose company he had to endure. Just like the others. Damn!

As for my position here on Voyager, Captain Janeway assigned me to some place called Stellar Cartography. Apparently, it's where the crew map the unexplored regions of space. Hmm, sounds like my cup of tea. My first assignment is to catch up on 377 years of astronomy, astrophysics and Earth history. Easier said than done. Then again, I do like an interesting challenge. Hell, it's a lot better than roaming the ship with nothing to do. Janeway asked if I would like to become part of the ship's Starfleet personnel. Let's just say it took a great deal of effort not to laugh in her face. Instead, I merely smiled and said, "Thanks, but no thanks." What the hell? I was never the military type and I'll be damned if anyone caught me wearing one of those god-awful leisure suits.


END OF BOOK I

Saturday, April 26, 2008

"THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" (2008) Review




”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” (2008) Review

Set in present time South Boston and Ancient China, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is a martial-arts/fantasy film that was directed by Rob Minkoff. The movie also co-starred two of the most famous names in the martial-arts genre – Jackie Chan and Jet Li. The movie is basically about a South Boston teenage fan of Hong Kong kung fu films, who is transported back in time to Ancient China via a magical staff. There, he must undertake a quest to free the fabled warrior Sun Wukong aka “The Monkey King”.

In a nutshell, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining action film with strong fantasy and comedy elements. Our two martial arts stars portray Lu Yan – the Drunken Immortal (Jackie Chan) and The Silent Monk (Jet Li), who help Boston teenager Jason Williams (Michael Angarano) free Sun Wukong (also Jet Li) from the clutches of an evil immortal called the Jade Warlord (Collin Chou).

”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is not perfect. To be frank, I only have two complaints about the movie. One, the editing by Eric Strand seemed rather choppy. There were moments when the movie lacked a smooth segue from one scene to another. And two, I found the backstory for Jason’s character rather clichéd. It seemed straight out of the rulebook for typical teen angst films that started with 1979’s ”MY BODYGUARD”. You know what I am referring to - shy geeky adolescent who is terrorized by the local bully, has profound experiences before successfully confronting bully in the last reel. Come to think of it, I saw something similar in the fantasy-comedy, ”STARDUST”.

Despite the above-mentioned flaws, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining movie. Jackie Chan and Jet Li proved that despite their different styles and approaches to the martial arts genre, they could generate screen chemistry together. Michael Angarano is perfectly disarming and funny as the Boston teen who finds himself in an unfamiliar world. Portraying his potential love interest is Liu Yi Fei as Golden Sparrow, a young female orphan who seeks vengeance against the main villain. Speaking of villains, both Collin Chou (the Jade Warlord) and Li Bingbing (Ni-Chang, the White-Haired Assassin) provided a solid villainous challenge to the four heroes.

On the surface, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” provides solid entertainment and martial arts action. However, I must commend on two matters. One, I really enjoyed the superb fight sequence between the two martial arts stars – Chan and Li. Whatever expectation I had about their fight, the two stars and fight choreographer Yuen Woo-ping more than fulfilled it. I have not enjoyed such a fight scene since Jet Li’s fight with Donnie Yen in ”HERO” or the two Michelle Yeoh/Zhang Yi fight sequences in ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON”. I would also like to point out the film’s cinematography shot by Peter Pau. The various landscapes of Ancient China, whether the characters are in the tropics, the forests, the desert or in the mountain regions, are exquisite.

In short, ”THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM” is an entertaining film filled with solid action, drama, comedy, and great cinematography. As long as you are not expecting another ”CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON” or ”HOUSE OF THE FLYING DAGGERS”, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, April 25, 2008

"Obssessions" [PG-13] - Chapter 11



"OBSSESSIONS"


Part 11

The following morning, Olivia and Darryl entered the BAY-MIRROR building, located not far from Union Square. "Okay, how are we going to handle this?" the redhead asked her partner.

Darryl punched the "UP" button for the elevator. "Like this - I'll talk to Mr. Dean about his newest employee and you'll have a little discussion with the lady, herself. By the way, how's your Italian?"

"Not bad," Olivia replied. "Although I doubt that I'll need it. If this Ms. Della Scalla is able to get hired by an American newspaper, I'm certain that her English is just as good."

The partners stepped inside the elevator. As it began its ascent toward the BAY-MIRROR's main newsroom, Darryl added, "By the way, how did Cole find out about this Portia Della Scalla?"

"He met her yesterday morning. Here at the BAY-MIRROR." A pause followed before Olivia continued, "He was here with Deborah Mann to clean out her brother's belongings. Only, I didn't find out until eight hours later."

Darryl shook his head. "Are you still pissed about that? Had it ever occurred to you that the man was simply busy? I bet you must have bugged the hell out of him during your practice, yesterday."

"Actually, I didn't have any practice session with Cole," Olivia shot back. "I had a visitor."

"A visitor?"

Nodding, Olivia continued, "Paul Margolin. He came by to ask me out for dinner."

The news took Darryl by surprise. "You had dinner with the new ADA, last night?"

The elevator reached the fifth floor. "We only had coffee before he left. But we're having dinner, tonight."

"Lucky you." The elevator reached the eleventh floor. Olivia's destination. The door opened and she stepped out. Darryl added, "Meet me upstairs, when you finish with Ms. Della Scalla."

The elevator doors shut and it continued its journey upward. Darryl contemplated Olivia's news, wondering if his partner was making a mistake. Sure, the new ADA seemed more like a better prospect than Cole Turner. Not only was Margolin an officer of the courts, but also a witch. A good witch, who happened to be highly respected by Leo. But Darryl knew that a person's moral state did not determine his or her capacity to love. Or receive love. He also suspected that Olivia did not love Paul Margolin or felt any real attraction. It did not matter how "good" Margolin was. In the end, it would not serve any relationship between Margolin and Olivia one whit. And a person never really has much control over with whom he or she will fall in love - a lesson that Phoebe Halliwell has yet to learn. Darryl only hoped that both Olivia and Cole will.

The elevator reached the fifteenth floor. The doors opened and Darryl stepped out. He made his way toward the reception area, outside Jason Dean's office. Ten minutes later, he found himself in a confrontation with the young publisher over the latter's new employee.

"This is ridiculous!" Dean cried. Darryl had just asked him a few questions about Portia Della Scalla's references. "Are you trying to tell me that the police are suspicious of Ms. Della Scalla? All because she took Mann's old job? They've never even met!"

Patiently, Darryl replied, "Mr. Dean, she took over Mann's job in less than a week. That's pretty damn quick, considering that we're talking about a position that would normally be difficult to fill."

"I had put an ad for Mann's old job in various magazines and papers, on the same day I had learned of his death. Ms. Della Scalla was simply the first to respond. That's all." Dean's voice bridled with hostility. "Has it ever occurred to the police to investigate Mann's personal life?"

Darryl sighed. "We already have, Mr. Dean. And we've found nothing about his personal life that would lead to his murderer."

"And you think that Ms. Della Scalla killed him? Or is somewhat involved?"

Darryl said, "Five days, Mr. Dean. She was hired five days after Mann's death. And it took you - how long? Less than an hour to hire her for the job. Tell me, did she have a reputation as a well-known food critic?"

"I didn't hire her," Dean curtly replied. "Her editor did - Milo O'Keefe!"

An unrelenting Darryl continued, "Okay, so he hired Ms. Della Scalla. Didn't you ever wonder why Mr. O'Keefe took such a short time to hire her? Didn't he even bother to check her references?"

A scowl marred Jason Dean's handsome face. "Look, I realize that you're a close friend of Phoebe's, Inspector . . ."

"Lieutenant," Darryl corrected.

Dean nodded. "Lieutenant. Excuse me. I realize that you're Phoebe's friend and you're just doing your job. But that does not give you the right to question this paper's employment policy. Nor do you have the right to insult Ms. Della Scalla's integrity. She's a beau . . . uh, intelligent and decent woman who had no idea what she was getting into when she applied for the job." The publisher stood up and glared at the other man. "Now, if you persist with this ridiculous idea, I'll have you up on charges of harassment."

Now, Darryl stood up, his face a cold mask. "Charge me all you want, Mr. Dean. You better make damn sure that I'm wrong about my suspicions regarding your employer. If not, you might find yourself in hot water over obstructing justice. Good day." He turned on his heels and left the office.

* * * *

Outside of Dean's office, Darryl found the reception area empty. Obviously, Olivia had not finished her questioning of Portia Della Scalla. Darryl made his way to the building's eleventh floor. He arrived in time to witness Olivia leaving Milo O'Keefe's office. With the editor searing her back with a baleful glare.

Rolling her eyes, Olivia approached her partner. "How did it go with Jace?" she asked.

A gust of breath escaped from Darryl's mouth. "Badly. He seemed insulted that the police would find his newest employee suspicious. He even threatened to charge me with harassment."

One of Olivia's auburn brows rose an inch. "Jason? That doesn't sound like him. Well, not quite. I mean, he's a bit overbearing at times, but not that much."

"What about Ms. Della Scalla?" Darryl asked. "Did you talk with her?"

Olivia shook her head. "She left about a few minutes before our arrival. I suspect that she's gone to see Mom and Bruce about the interview." A frown creased her brow. "Dad's suspicious of her, so hopefully both Mom and Bruce will be on their guard. In the meantime, I ended up talking with Mr. O'Keefe, who seemed downright touchy about the newest columnist. Almost hostile."

"Like your old boyfriend," Darryl added. "Interesting reaction to a woman whom he had neither met before yesterday. I wonder what Phoebe thinks of her. Let's find out." He strode toward Phoebe's office, aware of Olivia at his heels. Darryl knocked on the door before entering. "Hey Phoebe!" he greeted the Charmed One. "How's everything?"

Phoebe responded with a bright smile. "Fine, Darryl. How are you?" Her smile dimmed slightly at the sight of Olivia. "Olivia. You guys must be here for Whatshername. Patricia . . ."

"Portia," Darryl corrected. "Miss Portia Della Scalla."

"Yeah right. What do you want to know about her? Has Cole been speaking to you?"

Olivia asked, "Did he ask you about her?"

"Yesterday," Phoebe replied. "He was here with Wolfie's sister, when Jason hired that woman. Cole asked me to keep an eye on her. Said there was something odd about her." She frowned. "What's going on?"

Darryl eased himself into one of the chairs on the other side of Phoebe's desk. Olivia remained standing. "We heard about Ms. Della Scalla taking Mann's place on the staff and decided to investigate," he said.

"Yeah," Olivia added. "We were a bit surprised to find out that she was hired not long after O'Keefe and Jason interviewed her. Does she . . . um, have a reputation as a food critic or something? Because I can tell you right now that I've never heard of her. Nor has Mom or Bruce. I asked them this morning."

Phoebe shook her head. "No, I've never heard of her, either. And I guess that if Cole is suspicious of her, there might be a good reason for us to feel the same." Another frown creased her forehead. "Have you checked her background, yet?"

Darryl replied, "We're looking into it, right now. So far, we haven't found anything." He paused. "I tried to tell your boyfriend, but he gave me the brush off, instead."

"O'Keefe did the same to me," Olivia added. "I'm beginning to wonder if this Della Scalla woman has some kind of supernatural effect on others. Or that you were right about Mr. Mann's death having a magical connection."

Phoebe sighed. "Maybe. I mean, a part of me believe that you and Cole are right. It's just . . . well, there's still the matter of my premonition. I saw a man's hand slitting Wolfie's throat. Not a woman's. If this Portia woman is the killer, how do you explain that?"

Darryl stared at the Charmed One. She seemed so certain about her premonition that he began to wonder if this Portia Della Scalla was the real killer. Yet, a nagging part of him could not dismiss the fact that even Cole felt suspicious toward the woman. And who could argue with the instincts of a powerful half-demon?

* * * *

Smoke curled in the middle of an alley, before it manifested in the form of a woman. Portia Della Scalla. She smoothed down her neatly tailored gray suit and strode out of the alley. To her right stood the Golden Horn restaurant. A satisfied smile curled her lips. She loved it when a plan proceeded on course.

Portia walked into the restaurant and nearly gasped aloud. The restaurant's atmosphere nearly took her breath away. She reveled in the smell of food and wine. Her ears took in the conversation that filled the dining room and she could not help but appreciate the restaurant's elegant décor. The Golden Horn seemed to be everything that a successful restaurant should be. And more. Portia approved. Then she remembered that she had other matters to consider. Like her plan to seduce and kill one Bruce McNeill.

A well-tailored maitre'd approached the succubus. "Good afternoon, miss. How may I help you?"

Portia politely replied, "I am Portia Della Scalla of the BAY-MIRROR newspaper. I have an interview with Signor Bruce McNeill."

The eyes of the maitre'd lit up. "Oh yes! Both he and Mrs. McNeill are expecting you."

Mrs. McNeill? A small frown appeared on Portia's face, as the maitre'd led her to the restaurant's office, upstairs. As they passed the kitchen, she heard a woman bark orders to a group of cooks. The voice struck Portia as being very feminine, yet very commanding. Portia could not help but admire the woman.

Finally, the maitre'd led her to a door above the restaurant's dining room and kitchen. He knocked on the door. "Mr. McNeill, that reporter from the BAY-MIRROR is here to see you!" The door slowly opened.

The first thing that struck Portia was that Bruce McNeill seemed a lot more handsome than his photograph had hinted. In his own way, he looked just as handsome as Jason Dean, or that enigmatic lawyer she had met, yesterday. There seemed to be an open and friendly air about Signor McNeill that led Portia to believe that seducing him would be an easy task.

"Miss Della Scalla," Bruce McNeill warmly greeted the visitor, "how nice to meet you. Why don't you have a seat? My mother should be up here, any moment."

Mother? Portia gave Bruce a dazed smile. Mother? That idiotic Streghone had said anything about a mother!

* * * *

In all of her one hundred and seventy year existence as a succubus, Portia never had such difficulty with a potential victim, like she did with Bruce McNeill. She had expected to spend time alone with him and ended up spending hours on end, discussing the restaurant business with him and his mother, Gweneth. While the latter engaged in a lengthy description of the Golden Horn's development and opening day, Portia began to wonder if killing Bruce was worth all of this trouble. Worth the mind-boggling boredom.

". . . the trouble with financial backing and construction, we finally opened on May 28, 1978. On my youngest son's first birthday," the middle-aged woman added with a wistful smile.

Portia returned the smile. Politely. Before she could ask another question, the maitre'd appeared in the office's doorway. "Pardon me, Mr. McNeill," he said, "but Ms. Bowen is here to see you."

"Barbara?" Bruce frowned. "Thanks Greg. Send her in."

Seconds later, a beautiful blond-haired woman entered the office. "Hey Honey!" she greeted.

Bruce's frown remained intact. "Barbara, what are you doing here?"

"I thought your interview might be over, and decided to see if you were available for lunch." Barbara gave Portia a curious look. The succubus immediately recognized trouble. "So, you're Ms. . . Della Scalla? From the BAY-MIRROR?"

Another polite smile formed on Portia's mouth. "Si, Signorina . . .?"

"Bowen. Barbara Bowen."

Gweneth added in a voice that seemed a touch too loud. "Barbara is my son's fiancé, Miss Della Scalla. The wedding is later this month."

Portia's smile widened insincerely. "How nice."

Bruce added, "Also, Barbara used to work here, herself."

"As a waitress?" Portia asked. She felt a tug of satisfaction at the blond woman's slight frown. The insult had struck its target.

Barbara coolly replied, "No, as a pastry chef. I worked here for a few years, following college. Also, my uncle was one of the bankers who had approved the loan for the restaurant's construction."

"She's also an excellent pastry chef," Bruce said.

Portia's smile remained frozen. "Really? What was your specialty?" she asked Barbara.

It was Gweneth who answered. "Chocolate soufflé. And desert crepes."

To Portia's credit, she managed to maintain a façade of interest. "And what about you, Signor McNeill?" she asked, focusing her full attention upon the male witch. "When did you first become the restaurant's manager?"

A waiter entered the office, carrying a tray with three plates. When he spotted Barbara, he asked if she would like to order for lunch. The blond woman shook her head and the waiter left.

"Actually, Mom still pops up, now and then, to put some backbone into the staff," Bruce replied charmingly. He took a bite of his baked salmon. "As for your question . . ." Soon, Portia found herself listening to her soon-to-be victim reveal his career as a chef - his training and early career in France, and his jobs since his return to San Francisco, as she ate her lunch. It was not that Portia found Bruce a bore. On the contrary, she considered him to be a very charming and intelligent man. Unfortunately, she lacked the patience to listen to someone discuss cooking as a profession. If only he had been a fashion designer, a movie producer, or perhaps a book publisher, this interview would be a lot more bearable. And with his mother and fiancée around, Portia found it difficult to accomplish her task. She would simply have to find another way to get Bruce alone.

" . . . three years ago, last fall." Bruce paused. "But I didn't start managing the Golden Horn, until . . ." He faced his mother. "When did I take over, Mom?"

Gweneth answered, "Over two years ago. February 2001." Then she faced Portia. "How was your lunch, Miss Della Scalla? Would you like a tour of the restaurant?"

Portia glanced at her empty plate. As much as she had enjoyed her meal and Bruce's presence, she had to escape from this mess. Fast. She glanced at her watch. "Oh dear! Look at the time."

Barbara glanced at the office's wall clock. "It's only ten after one."

"Yes, and I have . . . a doctor's appointment." Portia shrugged helplessly. "I made it before I was hired by Signor Dean." She stood up. So did the others. "I am so sorry." She faced Bruce and Mrs. McNeill. "Perhaps we can re-schedule this interview for tomorrow. Yes?"

A bright smile lit up Bruce's handsome face. "Of course. I'll . . ."

An idea came to Portia, as she interrupted the witch. "Oh, one more thing. I came here by taxicab. Could you . . . could you give me a ride back to my office? If that is not too much trouble."

Nodding, Bruce replied, "Of course. I would be more than happy to. I won't actually be on duty, until this evening, anyway."

Curiosity and a touch of suspicion gleamed in the blond woman's eyes. "Excuse me, Signorina. But what about your doctor's appointment? Shouldn't you be going there, instead?"

A long pause followed. Portia smiled at Bruce's fiancée. "Of course, but I must go to the BAY-MIRROR's office, first. I have something to pick up."

"In that case, Bruce, you might as well give me a lift to the shop, as well." Barbara gave Portia a sweet smile. "If you don't mind."

Portia's returned Barbara's smile. "Of course not." Bitch.

* * * *

The bell above Ostera's front door rang, announcing a new customer. Paige glanced up from her task - examining the list of new inventory -and spotted none other than Nick Manusco, entering the shop. The man seemed to be more than a regular customer. Paige began to wonder if Nick regarded Ostera's as a second home.

"Hey Nick," she greeted him. "Back for more herbs?"

The Streghone nodded nervously. "Uh, yeah. The . . . uh, the last batch I had bought, didn't exactly work." He glanced around the shop. "Uh, where's Barbara?"

"Out to lunch," Paige replied. "With Bruce."

Dark brown eyes widened considerably. "Bruce? But, I thought . . ."

Paige stared at him. "Thought what?"

With a shrug, Nick replied, "I thought she . . . uh, she went to lunch around 11:30." Under Paige's unrelenting stare, he continued, "I uh . . . I wanted to ask her a few questions. About this potion I'm trying to create."

Paige finally looked away to spare Nick any further embarrassment. She knew the real reason behind his visit. Love - plain and simple. Or more likely a crush. Poor Nick. It seemed pathetic that a man in his thirties would be acting like an adolescent boy in the throes of an unrequited crush. "Maybe I can help," Paige offered.

Nick opened his mouth to speak, when the shop's door swung open. In walked Barbara, Bruce and a woman who practically resembled a super model. Paige briefly shifted her attention to Nick, whose face expressed a dazzling array of emotions. From desperate longing at the sight of Barbara, to envy and dislike toward Bruce, and finally apprehension toward the stranger. Paige frowned. Why would Nick be afraid of some unknown woman?

Barbara greeted her regular customer with a bright smile. "Nick! Back for more herbs?"

An uneasy smile quirked Nick's lips. "Uh . . . yeah. I still haven't got that po . . . uh, sauce down pat." He chuckled nervously. And yet, he continued to shoot nervous glances at the woman.

Paige was not the only one who noticed. "Oh!" Barbara said. "I'm sorry. Nick, Paige, this is Ms. Portia Della Scalla, the new food columnist at the BAY-MIRROR. Ms. Della Scalla, this is Nick Manusco, one of my regular customers, and quite an expert on Italian cuisine. And this," she indicated Paige with a nod, "is Paige Matthews, my assistant. I have another assistant, but apparently, she's out to lunch."

Ms. Della Scalla smiled politely at Paige and Nick. Her attention remained focused upon Nick. "So, you are a chef?" she asked in a bell-like voice.

"No," Nick answered in what seemed to Paige, like a choked voice. "I, uh . . . I work at an investment firm. I just . . . like to cook. Mainly my grandmother's Italian dishes."

A bright smile illuminated Ms. Della Scalla's face. Paige overheard Bruce take a deep breath. "You're Italian? But of course you are! What part of Italy does your . . .?"

"I hate to interrupt," Barbara stated, "but what about your doctor's appointment?"

The two women stared at each other. Paige could sense the mutual dislike and distrust between the pair in waves. Interesting. Then Portia Della Scalla gave Barbara what seemed to Paige, an insincere smile. "Of course. Thank you for reminding me." She turned to Bruce. "Signor? If you would please?"

To Paige's astonishment, Bruce offered the Italian woman his arm. "Sure thing," he said. Then he bid everyone good-bye and led Ms. Della Scalla out of the shop.

The moment the door closed behind the couple, Barbara growled in a rare display of anger, "Bitch!"

END OF PART 11

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Crossroads of the Force" [PG-13] - Chapter Five



"CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE"


CHAPTER FIVE

JUNDLAND WASTES, TATOOINE

The former Jedi Master and former padawan emerged from the cave hovel that served as Obi-Wan's home. The cave certainly did not seem like home to Ferus. He could not help but wonder how the older man had endured living in this desert wasteland for the past decade. Roaming the galaxy from one end to the other would seem more preferable than one year on this desolate planet.

"How can you stand it?" Ferus asked, as he regarded the craggy scenery with distaste.

The older man stared at him. "I beg your pardon?"

"Living here. How can you stand it?"

With a sigh, Obi-Wan calmly replied, "One learns to . . . adjust." He met Ferus' gaze. "I did not say this earlier, but I am truly sorry about what happened to your friends."

"They're not dead," Ferus tersely replied.

"Oh! I did not . . ." Obi-Wan hesitated. "Pardon my mistake, but you did not exactly go into details about what happened to your friends."

Memories of the last time he saw Trevor and Roan filled Ferus' mind. He especially recalled the bitter tone in Trevor's voice, while he tried to explain his decision regarding the Emperor. "If you don't mind, Obi-Wan," Ferus finally said, "I would rather not speak of the matter. At least not now."

"You sound . . . bitter," Obi-Wan commented. "Ferus, one day you will have to discuss the matter. With someone." When Ferus did not bother to respond, the former Jedi Master continued, "So, when will Senator Organa come for you?"

Ferus' gaze focused upon Tatooine's rising twin suns. "Any minute now. I had assumed we would leave yesterday, but Senator Amidala wanted to spend one last evening with her children and the Larses before she left." He paused. "You know, I do not recall her being married. And what is the history between you two?"

A long, silent pause followed. Ferus could almost feel the heat burning through the older man's eyes. "There is no . . . history between myself and Senator Amidala," Obi-Wan replied coolly. "At least nothing for you to suggest otherwise . . ."

"Forgive me, Obi-Wan," Ferus hurriedly injected. "I did not mean to imply anything . . . intimate between you and the senator. But the children . . . and you had not seem particularly surprised that she was still alive."

A sigh left Obi-Wan's mouth. "That is because Master Yoda, Senator Organa and I helped her evade the Emperor during the last days of the Clone Wars. In fact, we were the ones who faked her death. Senator Amidala . . . had been at the forefront of an attempt to drive the Palpatine out of office before he became the emperor. The senator and I have shared previous experiences together. My old master, Qui-Gon Jinn and I had assisted her during the Trade Federation's invasion of Naboo. I'm sure that you remembered that particular incident, although you were a child at the time. Both the senator and I were also among those who had fought at the Battle of Geonoisis."

"I see." Ferus did not understand, but something else puzzled him. "But if you and Master Yoda had done all that to help her, why had she seemed so . . . cold toward you? And hostile?"

Obi-Wan's stare became suspicious. "Why are you so interested in the state of my relationship with Pa . . . Senator Amidala?" From the moment Obi-Wan had appeared at that Mos Eisley inn, Ferus had detected great emotion between the former senator and the Jedi Master. Negative emotions that hinted anger, hostility, guilt and resentment. It seemed so unlike Master Kenobi to harbor such feelings toward any living soul, save a Sith Lord. Before Ferus could respond to the other man's question, Obi-Wan added, "Has this something to do with Queen Apiliana's death?"

"Pardon me?" Ferus blinked.

At that moment, a starship descended from the skies above. It turned out to be Captain Sen's skiff, the Alberforce. Once it gracefully landed on the flat desert, a boarding ramp eased to the ground. "I believe your ride has arrived," Obi-Wan coolly declared.

Captain Sen and Senator Organa descended from the skiff. "Good morning Ferus," the senator greeted. "Master Kenobi."

Obi-Wan bowed at the Alderaanian senator and prince. "Good morning to you, Senator Organa. I trust you had a restful night." He bowed at the red-haired woman. "Captain."

Captain Sen returned Obi-Wan's nod before she turned her attention to Ferus. "Master Olin, I believe it is time for us to leave."

Ferus faced Obi-Wan one last time. "I hope that we will be able to continue this conversation upon my return, Master Kenobi. Until then, good day."

The older man's eyes momentarily reflected reluctance at the idea of another conversation. Then Obi-Wan broke into a quick smile and said, "Of course. Do take care of Senator Organa and Senator Amidala. Along with yourself. May the Force be with you." He nodded at Organa. "Senator, have a safe trip." Then he turned away and strode back inside his hovel.

Both Ferus and Senator Organa followed the red-haired captain into the ship. Minutes passed before the Alberforce rose from the ground and zoomed into Tatooine's atmosphere.

--------

MALAG, MALDARE

Mako checked his data chip after his client, Sekka Verdu, handed it back to him. "There you are," the Quarren declared cheerfully. "Thirty-four thousand credits, each."

A wry Han commented, "You mean thirty-three thousand each for Set and myself."

Verdu nodded at Han and Horus' new companion. "And the Wookie?"

Mako shot an uneasy glance at the Javian Hawk's new crewman. "He's not part of the deal," he replied curtly. "Will there be anything else, Mr. Verdu?"

The Quarren's squid-like tentacles wiggled slightly. "I don't think so, Captain Spince. Our business is over until next time. Gentlemen." He nodded at the four smugglers and strode toward a shuttle parked near Mako's freighter.

As Verdu's shuttle rose above landing pad, Mako turned to his companions. "Pardon my confusion, but I thought this Wookie was supposed to be in chains!" he retorted. "Exactly when did he become part of your crew?"

Horus coolly replied, "From the moment Han escorted him aboard the Hawk. Why? Is he a problem for you?"

Ignoring the other pedestrians' stares, Mako shot back, "If Captain Skafte had the slightest hint that you were planning to free that . . ."

The Wookie growled, causing the hairs on the back of Mako's neck to stand.

"Say Mako, if you were about to call him a thing," Han began, "I better warn you that Chewie might take it personally."

"Chewie?"

After a pause, Han said, "Chewbacca. That's his name."

"I don't care what his name is," Mako retorted. "Both of you could have gotten us into a lot of trouble with that stunt."

Han opened his mouth to reply, but his partner spoke first. "I really don't see why you're so upset, Spince. Had a little trouble with Wookies in the past?"

Mako felt a flash of guilt, as recalled a pair of Wookies he had sold to a Trandoshan trader. "Of course not!" he replied hotly. "I just . . ."

Horus continued, "You just what? Thanks to you, we had ended up on a route heavily patrolled by Imperial ships. If you had chosen another route, we would have never encountered the Dreadnought . . . or met Chewbacca. Since it all ended well, neither of us have anything to complain about. Do we?"

Mako dared not stare into Horus' eyes. Quite frankly, the older man frightened him. He sometimes had the feeling that Set Horus possessed a ruthlessness that could make the galaxy tremble with fear. And he did not want to be the one to unleash that fury. "Fine," he grumbled. "You've made your point."

A cold smile curled Horus' lips. "Good! Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but I need some sleep. Someone please lead me to the nearest hotel or inn."

"There's the Lumati Hotel," Han suggested.

Mako added, "Yeah, they have a great bar. I know I'm going to need it."

The three men and the Wookie left the city's spaceport and made their way toward a nine-story hotel located in one of Malag's more pleasant districts. Mako had expected the hotel's clerk to reject the Wookie. To his surprise, the clerk did not raise a fuss.

Feeling like the odd man out, Mako curtly excused himself and headed toward his room. He washed himself and changed into clean clothes before returning downstairs . . . and heading straight toward the hotel's bar, the Twilight Star. Once settled upon an empty stool, he ordered Corellian ale. "A whole pitcher," the smuggler added.

After the bartender returned with a pitcher of Corellian ale and a glass mug, Mako poured himself a drink. He had taken a few sips, when a stranger approached him. "Pardon me sir, but are you a . . . spacer?"

Mako glanced to his right and found a short and stocky man with curly black hair, standing next to his stool. He sighed. "Yes, I am. Why? You need a pilot?"

The man hesitated. "Actually, my employer does require one. This is an important job that will pay at least one thousand credits."

With a shrug, Mako grumbled, "I've just finished a job that earned me thirty-four thousand credits. Why would I need another one?" He took another swig of ale.

"Greed?"

Slowly, Mako placed his mug on the bar and turned to stare at the stranger. A long moment passed before he mouth slowly stretched into a wide grin. "You know me well, do you Mister?" Then he took another swallow of ale. "You've got a deal. When do we leave?"

The man coughed nervously. "Um . . . you're not exactly hired. The best I can offer is an interview."

Mako frowned. "A what?"

"My employer . . . will offer the job. But only after an interview." The man paused. "In Suite 60-A."

The Corellian rolled his eyes in disgust. He considered himself a smuggler, not an employee of the Tagge Corporation. But his sense of greed could not dismiss the idea of an extra one thousand credits. Especially since he had originally expected to earn at least fifty thousand. "All right," he said with a sigh, "I'll meet your employer in Room . . ."

"Suite 60-A," the man corrected. "Please be there within an hour." He gave a quick nod and walked away.

Mako finished the ale in his mug. He dared not drink another serving. Not if wanted that extra thousand credits.

--------

Within a small room inside one of the Lumati Hotel's suites, Zoebeida Dahlma observed her aide and manservant interview another candidate for the Ord Mantell job via a holo projector. She had to admit that the bearded young man looked very handsome. He also seemed to project a charm that would appeal to many women. Yet, Igraine seemed immune to the pilot's charm. Zoebeida shared her aide's sentiments. Despite his physical appeal, he harbored a predatory air that she found distasteful.

The pilot's surname had certainly come as a surprise. Zoebeida found herself wondering if this Mako Spince was anyway related to Senator Spince of Corellia. She hoped not. The idea of this disreputable pilot being part of the distinguished Spince line seemed like a crime.

The interview finally ended. Igraine stood up and headed toward the room where Zoebeida awaited. "Milady," she declared upon entering the room. "What do you think of Captain Spince? He seems like a competent pilot, but . . ."

"Let him go," Zoebeida ordered. The younger woman arched a questionable eyebrow before the former added, "I don't trust him. I realize that most . . . smugglers are disreputable, but there is something about him that I dislike. My feelings tell me that he would sell us to the Imperials without hesitation . . . if it meant saving his skin. Thank him kindly for his time and let him go."

Igraine seemed relieved by Zoebeida's decision. "If you wish, Milady." She bowed and left the bedroom.

The Maldarian woman leaned back into her chair and sighed. It occurred to her that if she did not find a pilot soon, she might be forced to choose the first one in her thoughts. And unfortunately, Mako Spince seemed to be the only one in her mind, at the moment.

-------

"This is nice." Han settled back into his chair inside the Lumati Hotel's only outdoor café. "Isn't this nice? I mean, I love that waterfall near the waiter's station. And the drinks - really fancy. A guy could dine here for the rest of his life."

Anakin heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Han, I don't want to sound like a grouch, but could you please shut up?"

"What?"

"I know that you don't want to be here," Anakin continued.

Han grunted and took a sip of his Corellian ale. "Then why are we here?"

Anakin grabbed his glass of Juma juice. "I . . . am here because this restaurant makes the best Kommerken steak in this part of the galaxy. You knew this when you suggested that we stay here, in the first place. You also had a chance to accompany our new friend, Chewbacca, to one of the local taverns. But you didn't."

"Listen, watching a Wookie eat a side of raw meat does not do wonders for my appetite," Han retorted. "Sharing the dinner table with Dewlanna - rest her poor soul - had already added plenty of trauma to my childhood."

Anakin murmured, "Hmmm. Poor Chewbacca spends his first meal as part of our crew . . . alone, because you can't stand to watch Wookies eat. I'll be sure to remind him."

"Wait a minute!" Han paused, as an anxious expression appeared on his face. "You're not serious, are you?"

A teasing smile curled Anakin's lips. "Maybe." Before Han could protest any further, the waiter returned with their meals.

The Kommerken steak proved to be excellent, as usual. Upon the completion of their dinner, the pair left the café and strolled across the lobby. Just as they were about to contact their new companion, a short man with dark and curly hair approached them. "Pardon me gentlemen, but I was told that you were pilots. Is this true?"

Anakin regarded the man with narrowed eyes. "And who told you this?"

"The hotel clerk," the man answered. "If this is true, I have a proposition for a job. One that is at least worth one thousand credits. If you're interested, please meet me in Suite 60-A."

"Wait a minute," Anakin began. "What exactly is this . . .?"

Han interjected, "A thousand credits, huh? We'll be there."

The man nodded. "Good. Don't forget . . . Suite 60-A." He walked away.

An irritated Anakin rounded on his younger partner. "Do you mind telling me why you had accepted that man's offer?"

Han shrugged. "I thought we might need the extra money. To compensate for the credits we had lost, buying Chewie."

"As I recall, buying Chewbacca from the Imperials was supposed to be an act of compassion."

Han shot back, "Well . . . being compassionate can also be a little expensive. And besides, we've just been given a chance to make up for our loss. Why ignore it?"

Anakin sighed. Heavily. "All right. You have a point. But remember . . . you've just accepted an offer we don't know anything about. I only hope that we don't end up regretting this."

--------

THE BRAK SECTOR

Padme sat quietly in her seat, as she glanced out of one of the starship's windows. Small, bright lights glittered in the dark space, prompting her to sigh.

"Miss the children already?" Bail's voice asked, interrupting her thoughts.

"Hmmm?" Padme glanced away and found her fellow passenger staring at her.

Bail continued, "You seemed to be deep in thought."

"I suppose I am thinking of the children," Padme commented. "Especially Leia. She is . . . not very fond of Tatooine. Mind you, she loves Owen and Beru, but the planet is not exactly to her taste. She prefers Bakura . . . and Alderaan."

Master Olin spoke up. "I cannot say that I blame her, Milady. Tatooine strikes me as rather desolate. Nor can I understand why Master Kenobi had chosen it as his home."

"Tatooine is not exactly the place that is bound to attract Imperial attention, Master Olin," Bail explained. "I believe that Master Kenobi has made the perfect choice."

Padme added caustically, "I suppose that Tatooine must fit Obi-Wan's sense of martyrdom. As I recall, he did not care much for it when we first landed there, twenty-four years ago."

A long silence followed. Padme realized that her current hostility toward her husband's former Jedi master might have been revealed. Her cheeks burning with embarrassment, she turned away and resumed staring out of the window.

"Excuse me," Bail said, unfastening his seat strap. "I believe I should check with Captain Sen about supper." He stood up and made his way toward the cockpit.

Padme found herself enduring another long stretch of silence. Eventually, Master Olin broke it when he asked, "How long have you known Obi . . . Master Kenobi?"

"For at least twenty-four years," Padme replied. "When he and Qui-Gon Jinn had rescued me from the Trade Federation. That's when I first saw Tatooine." And met Anakin, she added silently. Padme continued out loud, "I had also fought beside Obi-Wan and . . . his padawan during the first battle of the Clone Wars, on Geonosis."

A bewildered looking Ferus Olin shook his head. "I don't understand. If you two have such a long history together, why . . . Why did I sense hostility between you two on Tatooine? Or when I first mentioned him a few minutes ago?"

Padme sighed. "Obi-Wan and I had a . . . disagreement during those last days of the war. When he, Master Yoda and Bail helped me evade the Empire. It's . . . a private matter."

"I see." Ferus paused. Padme wondered what he was thinking. Then he said, "Your children seemed very attractive and intelligent. Your son . . . he . . . Pardon me, but he reminds me of someone I knew." Padme felt a lump in her throat, as Olin continued, "In fact, he reminds me of Obi-Wan's former padawan."

The lump in Padme's throat grew larger. "Really? I have never considered such a thing. But I suppose that it has been a while since I last saw . . . Master Skywalker." Padme wondered if Olin had sensed her emotional turmoil at the mention of Anakin's name. She glanced at the former Jedi padawan, who wore a calm expression. If he had, he gave no indication.

Bail reappeared in the skiff's passenger section. "I found Captain Sen in the galley, not the cockpit. It seems that supper is ready." He stood before Padme. "Milady?"

With a faint smile, Padme rose to her feet. She nodded at Bail, who linked his arm with hers and drew her into the ship's narrow passageway. Master Ferus rose to his feet and followed closely behind them.

-----------

MALAG, MALDARE

The moment he walked inside the hotel suite, Igraine's heart skipped a beat. She could not keep her eyes off him. The newcomer and his companion gave her a slight nod before they sat down on the suite's wide sofa.

Igraine struggled to keep herself from staring at the older man. What woman could ignore the lean and muscular quality of his tall frame? Or his dark blond close-cropped curls that framed his handsome, yet hard-edged face? How could any woman not notice the intense blue eyes that seemed to sear into one's soul? And no one could fail to notice the light scar around his right eye that gave him an extra dangerous aura that rarely surrounded a man of his age. Igraine figured that he must be at least thirty. Or slightly older.

"Nice place!" the man's companion exclaimed. "A night in this suite could cost a spacer at least two jobs." Igraine directed her attention at the younger man. There seemed to be no doubt that he was handsome and possessed a scruffy air that women might find appealing. Although affable, his brown eyes had an edge of one who may have seen too much of life for one so young.

Igraine fixed a polite smile on her face. "Good evening, gentlemen. Would you care for a drink?" Both men politely turned down her offer. Then she added, "May I have your names?"

"May we have yours?" the older man countered. His deep voice produced a wave of heat throughout Igraine's body.

Her smile widened. "For the moment, I wish to remain anonymous." She paused, taking note of the pair's questioning stares. "This job is one that requires anonymity. Especially for . . . me. But as my man had told you, it does pay one thousand credits."

The two pilots exchanged meaningful looks before the older one sighed. "If you wish, Milady. My name is Captain Set Horus. And this is my companion, Han Solo."

"Captain Solo," the younger man added.

Igraine continued to stare at the older man. "Does your starship provide space for passengers?" She noticed how his eyes swept over her in an appreciative manner.

Captain Solo replied, "For at least four passengers. And the Hawk is one of the fastest ships in this galaxy. Trust me."

Still aware of Captain Horus' stare, a mesmerized Igraine continued, "Well, that's is um . . . I believe . . ." She broke off, as Senator Dahlma's manservant, Chattal Rahm, whispered a message in her ear. She smiled at the two men. "Excuse me." Then she rushed into the suite's bedroom, where she found the older woman pacing back and fourth. "Is there something you wish to tell me, Milady? Will these two pilots do?"

The senator, who regarded Igraine with an amused expression, replied, "Apparently they will . . . for you. Captain Horus is a very handsome man."

"So is Captain Solo," Igraine quickly added. Then she blinked, realizing that Senator Dahlma had seen through her little charade. "Um . . . if you're not comfortable . . ."

Senator Dahlma quickly interjected, "They will do. Tell them I will be ready to leave, tomorrow morning."

Igraine responded with a slight nod. "Yes, Milady. Pardon me." And she left the bedroom. The Maldarian woman found the two pilots staring out of a window, talking. "Gentlemen," she announced, drawing their attention, "I am happy to tell you that you're hired. We will meet you at the city's . . ."

"We?" Captain Horus asked, with a raised brow.

A wave of heat flushed over Igraine's face. "Yes, um . . . there will be a second passenger. As I was saying, we'll meet you at the city's spaceport, tomorrow morning. Where, uh . . .?"

"Our hangar is located on Vox Avenue," Solo added. "We'll see you around eight in the morning." He glanced at Captain Horus. "Is that about right?"

The older man nodded. "That would be fine." He gently took hold of Igraine's hand and bowed over it. "Until tomorrow morning, Milady."

A breathless Igraine replied, "Captain Horus." Remembering the other man, she nodded at him. "And Captain Solo. Good evening to you both."

The two men bowed - the older one with more ease - and left the suite. With Captain Horus' departure, Igraine felt a personal sense of bereft . . . something she had not experienced since the death of her former fiancé. And it frightened her.

--------

The following morning, the Javian Hawk's three crewmen stood near the bottom of the ramp, inside the Vox Avenue hangar. "It's almost eight," Han complained. "Where are they?"

"They have another eight minutes," Anakin replied. "Give them time." He paused before adding, "Are all systems in order?"

Chewbacca growled, which Han took as an affirmative.

"I wonder why our employers didn't just give us her name," Han speculated. "This trip must be very special."

Anakin replied, "Perhaps she doesn't want the Empire to know about this trip. And she's not our employer."

Han frowned. "How do you know?"

"Let's just say that I had sensed another presence inside our employer's suite." From the corner of his eye, he saw Han struggled to keep from expressing contempt at Anakin's reference to the Force.

Another growl emitted from Chewbacca. Han translated. "Here they come." Two cloaked females entered the hangar. The older woman looked slightly familiar to Han, who murmured to Anakin, "Looks like you were right about a second person."

The two women paused before the Javian Hawk's crew. "Good morning Captain Horus, Captain Solo," the older woman greeted. Her dark eyes settled upon Chewbacca. "A Wookie! Well!" She nodded at the latter. "Good morning to you, sir." Chewie responded with a polite growl.

Anakin bowed before the women. "Good morning, Senator Dahlma." The older woman's eyes widened with shock. "Yes, I had recognized you from a half-torn campaign poster on a wall, nearby."

Grudging respect dawned in the senator's eyes. "So much for anonymity," she murmured. Then she turned to her younger companion. "I believe you have already met my aide, last night. Igraine Colbert."

Anakin's gaze met the petite woman's vivid green eyes. He bowed. "Milady."

"Captain," Miss Colbert murmured. Red spots began to form on her cheeks. Anakin wondered if she felt just as attracted to him, as he did toward her. A part of him hoped so. Another part felt reluctance at the idea. Aside from a mere physical longing for Vi'dal, Anakin had never felt so drawn toward any woman after Padme. He doubted that his feelings for Miss Colbert matched his intense love for his wife. But he felt more than simple lust for the young Maldarian woman.

Being his usual pragmatic self, Han asked, "Where are we going?"

The senator hesitated. "Worlport, on Ord Mantell."

Anakin recalled the former military station located in the Bright Jewel System. It had possessed a weapons storage facility and a series of barracks for the clone troopers during the Clone Wars. "Ord Mantell? That's at least a day's journey from here," he said. "But it should take us less than a day if we jump to hyperspace. The trip should not be any problem."

"Good," Senator Dahlma replied. "Shall we go?"

Nearly fifteen minutes later, Anakin guided the Javian Hawk out of the Vox Avenue hangar. Just before the starship could lift off, he spotted a man hovering near the hangar's entrance. Now what was Mako Spince doing there this early in the morning?

END OF CHAPTER FIVE

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD" (1938) Review




”THE ADVENTUERS OF ROBIN HOOD” (1938) Review

Seventy years ago today, the 1938 film, ”THE ADVENTUERS OF ROBIN HOOD”, was released in theaters for the first time. For many fans and film critics, the swashbuckler is considered the definitive Errol Flynn movie. They also view his character, Sir Robin of Locksley, as the pinnacle of the Australian actor’s career.

There have been previous versions of the Robin Hood tale before and after. The other most famous versions are the 1922 silent film that starred Douglas Fairbanks and the 1950s TV series that starred Richard Greene. Like the other versions, the movie told the story of the young Saxon nobleman (Flynn) who created a band of outlaws to protest against the reign of Prince John (Claude Rains) in England during the early 1190s. With King Richard the Lionhearted (Ian Hunter) a hostage of Austria’s king, John usurps the royal power to oppress the English poor – especially the Saxons – with the help of Sir Guy Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) and the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper). Robin and his right hand man, Will Scarlett (Patric Knowles), recruits the likes of Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.), Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), Much the Miller's Son (Herbert Mundin) and a band of outlaws. Soon, Prince John and his Norman cronies find their cruelties opposed and themselves harassed beyond all bearing. Robin also finds the time to fall in love with the Norman noblewoman and royal ward, Maid Marian Fitzwalter (Olivia de Havilland).

To be frank, ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” is a glorious triumph not only for the Warner Bros. studio, but for Flynn as well. It has everything that the moviegoer could possibly want in a swashbuckler – great action, rich color, a superb score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and a leading man who more than embodied what the main character stood for. Warner Bros. executives Jack Warner and Hal Wallis had originally cast James Cagney in the lead. But the actor became embroiled in one of his many feuds with the studio and two years later, Flynn won the role. I cannot say how Cagney would have portrayed Robin of Locksley. But Warner and Wallis certainly struck it rich with Flynn in the lead. Not only did he look the part, he handled the role's physical aspects with great aplomb. Flynn also injected a heady mixture of roguish humor and genuine compassion into the role.

The rest of the cast were also superb. Olivia de Havilland was never more lovelier. Even better, her Maid Marian became more than just the love interest and damsel-in-distress. Once Robin had swayed her to his cause, she turned out to be a valuable recruit. Not only did she managed to come up with a plan to save Robin from execution, she was the one who discovered a plot by Prince John, Sir Guy and the Sheriff to assassinate the returning King Richard.

Claude Rains, with his soft voice, made a deliciously sly Prince John. Basil Rathbone was tough enough to serve as a physical adversary for Robin. Their duel in the final scene at Nottingham Castle is considered a classic, thanks to the fencing choreography staged by Fred Cavens. And Melville Cooper was his usual funny self as the buffoonish Sheriff of Nottingham. Although I find it odd that he was the only one who was able to come up with a successful plan to capture Sir Robin. And where would ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” be without its supporting cast that portrayed Robin’s Merry Men? The handsome Patric Knowles made a sly and witty Will Scarlett. Alan Dale Sr. returned as Little John, a role he had first made famous in the 1922 film. Eugene Pallette made great use of his frog voice and gruff demeanor as Friar Tuck. And Herbert Mundin, as Much the Miller’s Son, seemed to be the best of the bunch. Not only did he proved to be as brave as Robin, he also won the hand of Marian’s nurse, Bess, portrayed by the always memorable Una O’Connor.

Surprisingly, ”THE ADVENTUES OF ROBIN HOOD” had two directors. Hal Wallis first assigned the film to William Keighley, who had directed Flynn in ”THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER” (1937). But Hal Wallis felt slightly dissatisfied with Keighley’s slow handling of the action sequences and replaced him with Warner Bros’ reliable warhorse, Michael Curtiz. Flynn, who detested the Hungarian-born director, must have screamed in frustration. But Curtiz’s direction gave the film a tighter pace and better action sequences for which the movie is famous. ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” was one of the first films of the studio to use the old three-strip Technicolor process. And it paid off, giving the movie a rich color and vibrancy. And what would this version of Robin Hood be without Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Academy Award winning score. I am still surprised that Korngold had originally turned down the assignment because he felt that his score could not live up to the movie’s action. Thankfully, he proved himself wrong.

”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” seemed to have everything going for it – great cast, great photography, great action and great music. And it all seemed to blend seamlessly. Yet . . . it is not my favorite Errol Flynn movie. I had come across a review of the film in which a critic stated that one of the reasons this was his favorite Flynn movie was its light-hearted tone and simplistic characterizations that allowed the audience to escape from the more complex, modern world. And I could see those traits in the movie. But as much as I had enjoyed it, there were times when the movie came off as a little too light or simple for me. Sir Robin of Locksley may be considered Flynn’s best role, but I must admit that I found his portrayal of Geoffrey Vickers in ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” (1936) and Geoffrey Thorpe in ”THE SEA HAWK” (1940) more complex and interesting. In fact, I consider the two movies to be my favorites that Flynn ever made. However, I do love ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” and consider it one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen.