Sunday 27 September 2020

Star Wars Fanfic - Meiloorun Cocktails


(c) Levente Peterffy

I look upon the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the cantina on Jondari. Fifteen years into the glorious rule of the Empire, and there are still places like this strewn all over the Galaxy; existing right under the nose of the authorities, where illegal deals and criminal activities are carried out; where those scum, the Rebels, flourish.


I know the time will come when all the Galaxy will bow to Emperor Palpatine, from the aristocrats in their palaces to the minor miscreants in run-down places like this. But for now, the Emperor has other priorities, and so these places are allowed to exist.


“Why are we here, Agent Taus?” 


He’s a good lad, is Captain Argon. Top of his class at the Imperial Academy. Has become my right-hand man in many ways. 


“To smoke out a Rebel cell, Argon,” I say, checking my blaster. It’s fully-charged. It was when I left the ship, of course, but it never hurts to check again. In the Empire, we are nothing if not thorough. Argon does the same.


“What information do we have? You didn’t brief me at the base as you usually do.”


“Indeed, Argon, because this information is for your ears only. You know what our primary task is, don’t you?”


“To locate, investigate and eliminate all Rebel activity.”


“That’s right. And we have done that pretty well so far, haven’t we?”


“We have, Agent Taus.”


“Well, a Rebel cell exists on Jondari. We know this because there have been several attacks on our fuel shipments over the course of the last few rotations, and plotting out where they occurred on a map leads us to believe Jondari must be the locus of these attacks, ergo…”


“The Rebels have a base here.”


“That’s right. And our people have been searching for it, but with no success. Until earlier today, I intercepted a scrambled transmission sent from here. From this specific cantina—” 


“If it was a scrambled transmission, how did you gather anything from it?”


I take back my words about Argon. He asks too many questions. 


“It doesn’t matter what it said, you idiot, why would anyone send a scrambled transmission if they weren’t Rebels?”


“There could be any number of reasons why a transmission would be scrambled,” he says. 


“By the Emperor, Argon! What are you, a bleedin’ Jedi? Always looking for another explanation that doesn’t incriminate people?”


“What’s a Jedi, Agent Taus?” he asks, reminding me he’s from an Outer Rim planet that probably never heard of those cultists.


“It was a religious order of warrior monks sort of thing,” I tell him. “They had a Temple up on Coruscant and fought with light-sabers and what not. Advocated peace and brotherhood…up until they tried to kill the Emperor. This was before he was the Emperor, but you get my drift. We got rid of them all, we did.”


“What’s a light-saber?”


“Oh pfft…what does it sound like? There was a handle, see? And when you pressed a switch on it, a laser-blade would come from the handle, like a sword-blade. I remember they would be green or blue in colour, and could cut through anything, even metal. Very dangerous, they were. Very very dangerous. Took a lot of good soldiers to kill them all. Haven’t seen one these last fifteen years though, thank the Emperor! Good riddance.”


“Did you ever see a Jedi yourself, Agent Taus?”


“Matter of fact, yes. I was assigned as a Senate Guard back during the Clone Wars. Saw my share of those nasty traitors. Shaak-Ti, Depa Billaba, Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”


“Isn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi on the list of the Empire’s most wanted criminals?”


“Indeed he is, number one on the list.”


“Who’s number two?”


Fact is, I don’t remember, the Most Wanted list is well above my pay grade. I have not seen it in years. That’s the purview of the Emperor’s Special Enforcer, that creepy half-machine, Darth Vader. 


So to change the subject I stride past him, into the cantina, and fire my blaster at the ceiling. This results in a section of the roof falling on my head and sending me sprawling to the ground. I am thankful for my helmet, I guess I’d have gotten a much nastier hit without it. Argon helps me get back up, as every patron in the cantina stares at us.


“You’re supposed to set it to minimum damage mode before shooting at ceilings, Agent Taus. It says in Standard Operating Procedure Manual Rule number…”


“Shut up, Argon,” I grumble. 


These provincials like Argon can really get on the nerves sometimes. I look around the cantina. The bartender is a Rodian. One of the waitresses is a Palliduvian, another a Trandoshan. The band is Bith, and there are two dancers, one a Palliduvian (who finds that attractive, I cannot imagine—creepy as anything with that pale white skin and slit eyes) and another—well, this is a surprise—a rather attractive Togruta. The dancers one gets to see on these boondock planets are usually the rejects of better places—girls too old or too unattractive to pass muster there. But this one is a beauty; red skin, white markings, tall white lekkus with bright blue stripes. She reminds me of someone I’ve seen somewhere, I don’t quite remember now, but…but it doesn’t matter. After all, they are all typical alien scum. The Republic encouraged equal rights for all races and laws to keep those protections in place. Absolute bantha-shit! Humans are superior, and the Empire has ensured these riff-raff know their place. 


“This is Imperial Agent Taus,” I announce. “Everyone stay in your places. Who is in charge here?”


The Rodian steps forward from behind the bar and starts speaking his gibberish. The problem with these middle-of-nowhere planets like Jondari is that species like Rodians, who are perfectly capable of forming human words, are able to get away with never learning a proper language.


“Anyone who speaks Imperial Basic?” I say. 


“We can send for a interpreter droid,” says Argon. “We can—”


“Can I help you with anything, Agent Taus?” The Togruta dancer steps down from her stage. She’s dressed in a clinging blue blouse, matching skirt, and has a clear voice with a perfect Coruscanti inflection. Impressive, for a cantina dancer.


“I’m Captain Argon,” says Argon. “We are here to—”


“Shut up, Argon,” I say. “We don’t want to talk to an alien whore like you, we need to talk to someone with responsibility! Can someone translate the Rodian’s speech? The Palliduvian?” I don’t like Palliduvians much; but they look more human than these animals like Togruta and Trandoshans and the like.


“I am the Manager of this establishment, Agent Taus,” she says, pulling on a grey robe that she had draped over a stand by the wall. “Aldo here works for me. Now what was it you wanted?”


I hide my surprise that an alien woman, and a Torgruta at that, could be a Manager of any establishment, though I suppose a tiny cantina like this is not very particular. 


“What is your name?” I ask.


“Padme,” she replies. “Padme…Offee.”


“Well, Padme Offee, a transmission was sent from here four standard hours ago,” I say. “A scrambled transmission. Oh, don’t worry, our best minds are working on decoding it, but we don’t need to know what it says to know it has to have been sent by a Rebel operative.”


“A scrambled transmission, from here? Interesting…we do have two holo-communicators, but they are on an open frequency,” she says, pointing. 


“Someone must have brought in a scrambler,” says Argon. 


“It’s possible,” says the Togruta female. “You can check the two there, all the comms sent out…we record every message. If someone brought a scrambler, it would encrypt the signal as it went out, but it would be intact on our recorder.”


We follow her to a room behind the bar, where she leads us to a desk and pulls up the holo-recordings in a few strokes of a touchpad. 


“Four hours ago, did you say?” she asks. 


“Yes,” I confirm.


A series of recordings begin to play. They’re all harmless. Usual scum-talk. Men lying to their wives, children lying to their parents, businessmen lying to their partners. The Togruta leaves the room, telling us to make ourselves at home. This is actually a good thing. Shows she feels she has nothing to hide. 


“There’s nothing here, Agent Taus,” says Argon. We’ve been in there an hour, each of us going over one set of recordings.


“I suppose the team that monitors transmission back at base made a mistake,” I say. It could happen. Maybe it was not a scrambled signal at all, or they were the ones who scrambled it or something.


We step out of the office, back into the cantina. It looks strangely empty. In fact, as I look around, I realise that there are almost no patrons sitting there. But the entry of Imperial Officers like myself and Argon can have this impact. The sort of vermin that inhabits such places tends to fear us, and for good reason too. But I have no inclination to look into that now. It’s been a long day with no output.


“Did you find what you were looking for, Agent Taus?” asks the Togruta, looking at me with wide eyes. It’s odd how, in this grey robe, she looks so different from the alluring temptress who had been up on the stage. She seems very young now, though you never know how old these alien species are for sure. I’ve heard of some that live for centuries. 


“Uh no, that is…there must have been some mistake,” I say.


“But, Agent Taus,” says Argon, pulling at my sleeve.


“I’m sorry to hear that,” she says. “But of course I would have been mortified to know my cantina was being used for any sort of anti-Imperial activity. We are all loyal subjects here.”


“Agent Taus,” repeats Argon.


“You should know that you’re welcome here, at any time, Agent Taus,” she goes on. “It would be our honour and privilege to have you here as our guest. Would you like some Jamba Juice? Meiloorun Cocktails?”


“Why, that’s very…very kind of you,” I say, lost; quite lost in her shining blue eyes. “Uh…but maybe not right now, that is, it’s a long way back, and I—we—have to report our findings…”


“Agent Taus,” says Argon, almost shouting now. “There was a communicator in the office! It was on the desk! We did not check the logs.”


“What?” I ask.


“The office. The Manager’s office that we were just in. It had a private communicator. The suspicious message could have been sent from there. We should check its logs too!”


The Togruta female turns to the bar and picks up a narrow wine-glass in which the Rodian has poured some drink. She brings it to her lips, and I notice how elegant her fingers are, as though used to holding such finery. Truly odd to find someone like her in a place like this.


“Why, Agent Taus,” she says, waving her hand dismissively. “I assure you, no one but me has used that communicator. You don’t need to check those logs.”


“No one but you has used that communicator. I don’t need to check those logs,” I say, agreeing.


“No, look ‘ere, Agent Taus…she—she’s not telling us everything,” says Argon, and draws his blaster. He IS a fool.


“If you really want to check the logs, you can go back in there,” she says, placing her hands upon her hips, arching her waist ever-so-slightly to the right, suddenly bringing back the seductive dancer in front of my eyes.


“No, here. Bring them out here,” says Argon. 


“I will not,” she says, sounding quite indignant now. “You can’t just come in here and bully us because you’re Imperials! I run an honest business here.”


“Look, Argon, put that blaster down,” I say.


“That office is a death trap, Agent Taus,” he says, finger on the trigger. “If we go in in there, there’s only one way out, we would be sitting ducks!”


“Are you going to…blast me if I don’t comply?” she asks, incredulity flashing in her eyes. 


“I’ve set this blaster to the lowest setting,” says Argon. “Won’t kill you, Miss Offee, but will incapacitate you for a while, and pain like blazes after. If you don’t bring those recordings out even then, I’ll let you have it at full power.”


“You cannot be serious—” she says, looking at me in appeal.


Argon shoots.


His aim is dead straight at her chest.


She sways out of the way, like a dancer’s pirouette. The blast hits the wall behind. A few bottles explode.


Her hands are still on her hips. 


No one can move that fast. To avoid a blaster shot at this range, you’d have to be a combat droid. But who braves a blaster-bolt to protect a mere holo-recording?


I draw my blaster as well.


“Citizen,” I say. “We need to see those recordings, now. Bring the recording here and we will take it back to our base with us—and you will come along too.”


“Are you sure you want that, Agent?” she asks. “I assure you, it’s quite unnecessary.” 


Where have I seen her before? Why does she look so familiar?


“Padme Offee, you are under arrest for withholding information from an Imperial Officer. You can come with us now, or face the consequences of resisting arrest.”


“You should put those blasters down,” she says.


I fire. So does Argon.


Somehow, we both miss. Or rather, we don’t, because once again the shots end up behind her, exactly where the earlier one was, this time smashing nearly half the wall. 


Full-power blasters.


Not a scratch on the target. 


Not a combat droid, no, clearly not. But those reflexes, those…I remember my training officer’s words when we were being taught to use blasters.


“Most cadets focus on learning to shoot rapidly, but if you want to be promoted, to be more than an ordinary grunt, learn to fire with accuracy. A blaster bolt is quick, Taus. Shoot it at the right spot and you’ll get your target every time. Well, unless it’s a combat droid, they move fast. That, or a Jedi.”


And as I see two rays of pure white light appear from the handles in each hand, one shorter, one longer, one held in a reverse grip and one in a regular grip, I realise that those holo-recordings were not the only thing she withheld. 


“Seal the door, Aldo,” I hear her say. The Rodian sidles toward the control panel. Her voice is no longer that of a seductive cantina dancer or a business Manager. It’s the voice of someone used to giving orders. A warrior. A commander…


In a flash, I remember where I’ve seen her. In the Senate buildings, back in the day…and also, and also…in the list…I recall it now, yes, I recall who is second on the Empire’s Most Wanted List. Her name. Her name is…Soka? No, it’s…


“Yes, Commander Tano,” he replies, as the doors seal shut. I am about to tap the button activating my distress beacon, but I know there’s no point, I’d just be sentencing to death anyone who comes to our relief.

(c) Charlestanart

Me and Argon? We are about to die. We know it, even as we open blaster fire. We know it, even as she deflects the bolts effortlessly, almost lazily.


We are in a room with Ahsoka Tano, former Commander of the 501st Legion, apprentice to Anakin Skywalker, one of the last surviving Jedi.


We are about to die.


She raises her right hand, the one with the long lightsaber in it, turning off the blade. Argon goes sprawling backward into the wall, where his head collides with the concrete with such force that his helmet cracks and he falls to the floor in a heap. I wonder if he is alive in there.


I keep firing, though I know its little more than a distraction.


She walks up to me, as though taking a walk in the Palace Gardens. The shoto—the lightsaber in her off-hand—flashes, and my blaster is cut in half and falls to the floor. It must have taken incredible precision to cut only the blaster in half and not take off a part of my hand with it. But then, she’s Ahsoka Tano. 


“I could kill you, but the Empire would find out there was a Jedi here, and a Rebel cell, anyway, wouldn’t they?” she says, conversationally, switching on the second lightsaber, and holding both, crossed over each other, such that my head is between the blade. One swish and I will be decapitated.


“I…I have sent for reinforcements already,” I lie. “They will be here any moment.”


“Have you?” she says. “Aldo, get out from the back way. Take only what’s important. Girls, you know where to go. Tell everyone to take off and make for Chopper Base.”


“You won’t get out in time. We are monitoring all ships leaving the system,” I say. “You can’t leave the planet.”


“No you aren’t,” she shoots back. “We would know. The only real question, Agent Taus, is whether you’re going to leave this cantina.”


“Am I?” I ask.


“That, Agent Taus, is up to you,” she switches off the sabers, and with a gesture, pulls up a chair for herself. 


I stare as she sits, and crosses one leg over the other. The minutes tick on the holo-clock. She’s waiting for the Rebels to leave the planet before she…what? Why am I even alive, still? 


“You haven’t sent a distress signal,” she states. It is not a question, so I don’t reply, I just nod. “Why?”


“You’d have killed them all.”


“I’d have had to,” she points out.


“You haven’t killed us yet,” I say.


“Will I have to?”


Her communicator springs to life. A Twi’lek female’s face appears. Her, I know. She’s exactly in the sort of Most Wanted list that is in my pay grade. Hera Syndulla, Phoenix Squadron.


“Ready for extraction, Commander Tano,” she says. 


She gets up. 


“Have you identified me, Agent Taus?”


“Yes,” I say.


“Has your friend there identified me?”




She gets up. The lightsabers are still in her hand, but they remain switched off. She begins walking to the office.


“So, what happened here, Agent Taus?” she asks.


I take a deep breath. 


“Why, Manager Padme Offee, Agent Argon and I stepped in to look into a suspected Rebel transmission, but found nothing. However, a fight broke out and led to a lot of damage. The losses led to the business folding up, and the Manager and staff, unable to make good the losses, have given up and are untraceable. We will find, I’m sure, when we unscramble the message, that it WAS a Rebel message, but by that time we will have no one to trace it back to. Could be any of the patrons who used to come here.”


“And will Captain Argon say the same?”


I lift up my blaster. It’s broken, of course. I get up and walk over to Argon. He is not moving, but he IS groaning. I pick up his blaster, that had fallen from his hand when he slammed into the wall. My hand trembles. To my credit, it trembles. I fire.


“Very unfortunate, but Captain Argon was killed by a stray blaster-shot.”


She opens the door of the office. 


“Pleasure doing business with you, Agent Taus,” she says. “I’d ask you to come back to the Jondari Cantina for that Meiloorun cocktail, but as you can see, we’re shutting down.”




 (A small request to any of y'all who've made it this far. If you liked this fic, do go over to the fic over at Archive of our own and leave a Kudos or a comment!)


Daily Drabble #5 - Knife


“It’s not that unusual to…get bored in a marriage after this many years,” she says, though the tremor in her voice belies a certain amount of uncertainty.


“No, I suppose not,” I reply.


“It’s not that I don’t have feelings for him at all,” she says, repeating herself from maybe five minutes before.


“Is that so?” I mutter. I’m not really interested in conversation, and certainly not about her husband.


“But that being said, it would certainly be convenient if he weren’t there.”


“But he is,” I point out. “And you don’t seem interested in filing for divorce.”


“I couldn’t, I couldn’t,” she says. “It’s not like this is…a normal relationship, you know.”


I know it isn’t. He’s a gangster-turned-politician. She’s the daughter of his political mentor. It’s all terribly complicated.


“There’s other ways to get rid of him, you know—the way his family usually takes care of such matters,” I joke. 


Her lips twitch and curl upwards at the edges just a bit; it’s one of those hopeless smiles that I have become used to seeing from her more and more.


“Need help cutting those tomatoes?” she asks, shaking her head, as though discarding the preceding conversation from her mind and from reality.


“Wouldn’t mind,” I say, sliding the knife toward her.


“It’s sharp,” she notes, as even, perfectly-circular slices fall upon the cutting-board, oozing juice. 


“German make, very expensive,” I reply. “You remember our Prof back at College always said you can’t go wrong with German knives.”


“I do, I do,” she agrees, smiling broadly this time—as though the memory of our time as friends, before I even knew she was a politician’s daughter, and before she knew I was born on the wrong side of the bed, has taken her back in time to a happier place. 


Sandwiches are not the best meal a pair of Catering College graduates should make for a meal, but they are what we end up making, convenience trumping the desire to show off our skills. Paired with white wine, though, they do well enough. I fall asleep before she leaves, and wake up, on the couch, at some ungodly hour. I bring myself, somehow, to stagger to my bed, but not before I check the knife-stand. 


It’s dark, I’m groggy, but I see it. It’s there, in its due place. She hasn’t taken it with her. 


I heave a sigh of relief. And regret.

Monday 13 July 2020




“Grand Hotel…always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”


Dr. Otternschlag, a disfigured World War 1 veteran says these, the opening lines of 1932’s Grand Hotel, and it is already evident he will soon be proved wrong. After all, no one’s going to make a film about nothing happening, and certainly not on the scale that MGM made Grand Hotel. For, in a time when studios zealously guarded their star power, only serving them out in moderate, digestible spoon-fuls of one or at best two from their A-list in a single film, MGM served up no less than five of their, and cinema history’s, most dazzling stars. 


The Barrymore brothers, John and Lionel. Wallace Beery. Greta Garbo. Joan Crawford. Each one could, and did, carry films on their own, and yet the studio found this story, adapted from a novel and already running as a musical on Broadway, worth investing their resources into, on this scale.

The star cast
(L-R) Lewis Stone, Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford,
Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Jean Hersholt

That alone would make this film a significant piece of film history. Add to that its Best Picture win at the Oscars and the fact that it is this film that contains the line that pretty much became Garbo’s motto—I vant to be alone—and you have enough reasons to see the film for that historical value alone. Certainly, when I decided to watch it, I was not hoping for much more than an interesting historical artifact.


I was wrong.


The opening scene shows three of our protagonists using the payphones in the hotel lobby to speak to someone on the other end, and establishes their characters in a few deft lines of dialogue, a device that is now so standard in films that we don’t even realise it’s being used. 


The Baron (played by John Barrymore) is genteel, refined, and deeply in debt.


Otto Kringlein (played by Lionel Barrymore) is an accountant who has learned of his terminal illness and plans to spend his last days enjoying the grandeur of the hotel.


Preysing (played by Wallace Beery) is a pompous capitalist with an inflated pride and sense of moral superiority, who nonetheless is actually heading a failing company (and incidentally, Kringlein works at that same factory). 


A little later, we encounter the women—


Grusinskaya (played by Greta Garbo), a Russian dancer who seems to have fled / been exiled for her Tsarist sympathies from the Soviet Union. She is caught in a vicious circle—dwindling audiences for her shows have left her depressed, her depression leads to her heart not being in her dancing, with her heart not in it, her performances are not well-received, and the audiences dwindle. 


and Flaemmchen (played by Joan Crawford), a freelance stenographer with no money, an early example of the sexy-secretary archetype, no doubt, who is not unwilling to use her considerable charms to make some, though she is also starved for affection and friendship.

Joan Crawford and Wallace Beery


The ensemble characters follow their individual arcs, intersecting and cutting across each other in the opulent lobbies, rooms and corridors of the Grand Hotel


The Baron tries to balance his innate good nature with the crimes he needs to commit to survive; Kringlein finds friendship in unexpected places; Preysing’s hypocrisy leads his moral fa├žade to unravel quickly; Grusinskaya plumbs the depths of depression as the people surrounding her exploit her for their own ends; and Flaemchhen finds that walking the tightrope between worldly ambition and personal decency is far too difficult to endure.


The scenes blend seamlessly into one another and the pace is quick—one does not, for a moment, feel too far removed from the main action—this is no shuffling period piece, it’s the Grand Hotel, and for a place where nothing ever happens, there sure is a lot going on. The film uses a large cast of extras beautifully, creating the impression of a bustling, living place rather than a bland set-piece, which the Hotel could so easily have been. There are lives and stories going on in the background, behind every closed door and every counter, in the tables and the revolving doors.

Lionel Barrymore and Joan Crawford


The camerawork is exquisite, the black-and-white often more bright and alive than many a celebrated 70’s-80’s work. And MGM’s stars deliver, each doing what they need to ensure they are not lost in the ensemble.


Beery is superb in his Harvey Weinstein-esque turn, menacing and despicable in equal measure. 


Lionel Barrymore is the heart of the story, a ‘loser’ who effortlessly draws forth our empathy for the dignity with which he faces his fate, something that it takes considerable acting skill to pull off.


John Barrymore is regal, the perfect fallen aristocrat, charming and dignified, threading the needle in the conflict between his innate nobility and his circumstantial villainy.

John Barrymore and Greta Garbo


Garbo plays the dancer with exaggerated mannerisms and dialogue delivery—whether a result of her days in silent films leading her to be overdramatic in general, or as a deliberate nod to how the Tsarist Russians actually were, I could not say. Her power to enchant is undeniable however, and when she says that line, that accented delivery of “I just want to be alone,” there is a moment when we see the anguish in her eyes which, knowing what we know now about her later shutting out of Hollywood and reclusiveness, makes it especially poignant. 


And yet, Joan Crawford outshines the divine Garbo (and how many people could claim to have ever done that?) as she smoulders with sex appeal and uses her expressive eyes to great effect. Bette Davis, in one of her classic put-downs, is said to have said of Joan Crawford that she had slept with every male co-star at MGM. Well, that may not be true, but if any of her male co-stars at MGM did not want to sleep with her, they probably weren’t straight. To audiences who saw her on the big screen back then—gentlemen, you may be long-dead, but you had a glimpse of a goddess in a way that we never will, and we will forever envy you for it.

Joan Crawford and John Barrymore


Grand Hotel draws to its conclusion in under two hours, though the time seems to have flashed past us much faster than that. And as old guests check out, and new ones check in, the old doctor repeats himself.


“Grand Hotel…always the same. People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.”


And this time, we wonder whether it is really a comedic line at all. For Grand Hotel is a story that could be made today and you would have to change very little, nothing but the cosmetic details. The issues and themes it touches upon—this, this relic of a film from ninety years ago—they don’t feel aged at all. Grand Hotel is always the same because we are the same, and the world is, and even these intense stories, these great dramatic moments that are so important in that moment, mean very little, really, to others. 


For people come and people go, but the fundamentals of human nature remain the same, and Grand Hotel, well, Grand Hotel was never a film about a hotel in 1932, was it? 


It was about life.


What do you do in the Grand Hotel? Eat. Sleep. Loaf around. Flirt a little. Dance a little. A hundred doors leading to one hall, and no one knows anything about the person next to them. And when you leave, someone occupies your room, lies in your bed, and that's the end.