by MJ Mink
Darkness was rapidly downloading into nightfall as Luke locked the control panel, waved farewell to the file manager, and left his laserjet connected in the parallel port. He hurried through the myst and down the nearly-deserted path, making a quick decision not to stop at a menubar for a few drinks and sushi. He didn't like being out after dark; it reminded him of his father and, despite the relentless passage of the years, Certain People refused to allow him to delete those programs that caused him distress, grief, misery and feelings of doom. Besides, he was anxious to see Han and Leia again. This galaxy-wide search had become tedious and time-consuming, and he sometimes regretted the megs it took away from his family, his homepage, and his beloved computers.
He paused in front of a window and studied his black and brooding reflection. His appearance was worn and tired, as befitted an Icon who'd experienced major formatting problems throughout his life. But his innocence remained unchanged, and it gave him a delicate, ethernet air. With a sigh of contentment, he began to cross the path, lost in thoughts of everything his computers might have been doing during his absence, as well as the pleasant doubleclicking sounds made by his reboots, when a harsh bleating noise made him leap out of the way of a bright red winzip. The vehicle screeched to a halt.
"Whasamatter, mac?" a mouse-haired youngster screamed at him. "Wanna get yourself splattered, you idiot?"
Luke, the Icon Skywalker, clicked on pause. What
was an 'idiot'? It didn't sound like something he was or ever had been.
Perhaps a new colloquialdisk had been created during his extended absence.
And 'splattered'? Shaking his head in amazement over the language of the
younger generation (Had he ever been that young? As he recalled, Certain
People had aged him with the Burdens of his Life and made him older than
his tender years.) he scrolled the remaining distance to the Organa-Solo
home, recognizing it by the lightsabers that glowed brightly in the downstairs
"Am I online for dinner?" He never ate, but perhaps it would distract him from the painful encounter he'd just had with the computer that lurked with seeming nonchalance in the foyer. He shot it another glance that, to a disinterested bystander, would have been deceptively casual. Oh, the encounter hadn't been emotional, but all computers reminded him of Canasta. Would he ever forget her, or forget what her voice, her wit, her long megs, her luscious baud had meant to him? Just when he'd thought he'd seen the last of Dead Icons, she had appeared and changed his life forever, again. Stealthily, he let his fingers simm the data entry board in a caressing motion, searching out a frame of compatibility. The keys were ivory touched with gold, much like his hair had been and, occasionally, in the better stories, still was.
Computers...they were in his blood. After all, hadn't his father been half-computer? And his mother--was it true what his recurring dream told him, that she had not been human at all, but rather a 900086 wmgates? Or (and here he was bitterly ashamed) had that just been a fantasy created by his hungry, lonely, orphaned mind? Certain People expected too much of him (as usual) if they believed he would ever internet with a mere mortal woman when he could web with his chips and screensavers. Ah, memories...the sweet audioclips that whispered to him when he pressed their little buttons and slid cold megs into their extra expansion slots, the familiar hum when he turned them on--his own high-pitched beeps when the favor was reciprocated--and those files he'd downloaded from the black marketeer Stern, the ones with images of their naked motherboards exposed for anyone to see. Anyone with the price of a modem. And the laptops--! He licked his lips in anticipation and was immediately mortified.
Oh, the shame of it! The cheap, degrading macroshame! Despite everything computers had done for him (and they had done a lot, story upon story--in fact, computers had become his life!) he was a willing part of their debasement! It was cads like him that filled computers with the unpaid shareware that made them go down.
He bowed his head. Computers. Forever would they dominate his destiny. They were inexorably linked together, he and them, Master and Slave.
But was he truly certain which he was? Who servered whom? And, more to the point, who mastered whom? It was something he would have to contemplate long and hard. A sudden, pulsating beep from the butler droid reminded him of his faithful Artoo, and he lifted his chin like the brave, persevering hero he was. "Am I online for dinner?" he repeated, firmly thrusting the throbbing thoughts deep into the secret passage in his yearning mind.
"Yeah, but you're gonna wish you weren't." Han leaned over and whispered into his soundblaster, "In honor of your homecoming, Leia's cooking."
Luke winced. As much as he enjoyed looking at freshly prepared meals, Leia's skills did not lie in the culinary arts. Plus, she almost always fixed the organic food that Han liked and Luke couldn't tolerate. It had been years since he'd eaten anything organic. Indeed, his body no longer required sustenance, except when he was wounded and suffering delusions (as he had with Canasta); then he knew thirst. Once, the evening before he'd joined the Alliance, Aunt Beru had cooked, and he'd eaten a few mouthfuls--proof, if any was needed, that nothing had bothered him in those foolish, wasteful, innocent, farmboy days; he'd had neither conscience nor scruples nor two bits to call his own. But after he'd headed into cyberspace and joined the Rebel assault, food had become of little importance. In fact, the only time he remembering eating during the war had been on Dagobah. He'd taken a nibble of a synthstick and foolishly thrown it away--he would have killed for it during the following years--and later that same day he had sampled a few spoonfuls of Yoda's ram chowder.
Food. It had been so sparse, so rare, so unforgiving; yet, he'd tossed its offerings aside like the naive lad he'd once been but was no longer, thanks to creative insight. Food had been the blueprint for his life; if only he'd realized it sooner, then he would have known that Vader was his father--because Vader never ate. But what of Anakin Skywalker? Had he indulged a secret passion for food? (To say nothing of computers? Or had that vice been solely for the gratification of Vader, leader of the Dark forces?) Alas, it was a mystery never to be solved. Then (here he thought more of food itself and less of its philosophical implications) after the Rebellion, others had occasionally allowed him to eat, but more often than not he'd spent his waking hours in constant meditation, trapped in other dimensions, acquiring a little dangerous knowledge regarding this mysterious "Force" everyone kept talking about, being bested by his sister in various confrontations, and communing with Nature on a very basic level. In retrospect, he supposed that the lack of food was a good thing--not only had he lost his desire for it, but there were no sanitary facilities anywhere in the galaxy, and it would not be proper for an Icon to seek relief for his hardware in Nature's setting, particularly after Nature had saved his life. After that near-disaster on the witch-planet, he could no more eat a blade of grass than he could take a floppy into his mouth and sink his teeth into its--
"What's she fixing?" he asked with deadly resignation.
"Fontroots, serialport, and duck, I dunno what for dessert. Plus the usual assortment of wysiwyg."
He knew what fontroots were--organic! its brothers had saved his life!--and he'd heard talk that serialport was not just for breakfast anymore, but a 'duck'? "What's a--"
"Unca Luke! Unca Luke!" The twins hurled themselves at him, knocking over his wan, weak self with the Force of their arrival. "What'd you bring us? What'd you bring us?"
"Hi, kids." He accepted their enthusiastic, greedy little hugs and pointed toward the den. "In the sack." The sack he'd propped next to the...computer.
"Thanks! Thanks!" They deleted themselves from the foyer.
Rising slowly, weary in both body and feet, Luke shook his head. Perhaps he was imperfect (his heart was plugged in the right port, but his mind lacked a certain intel inside) because seeing the twins again made him realize the wisdom of his decision to accept his novel destiny as a bachelor. Computers could be unplugged and set aside, but a mate and children were forever. If he bonded, there would be no more roaming the galaxy and having adventures, no more women to meet, love, and delete from his conventional memory before moving on to the next document in his file. No, it was best to remain alone, unattached and unattainable. To love, pure, and chased from afar. To simm with his last ounce of courage. To dream the impossible--
"Will you stop that humming?" Han met his gaze and understood his thoughts; an inconsequential portion of the Force was with him. "Just be grateful you're Anakin's godfather, and not theirs."
'Anakin'? "Don't you mean--"
"Anyway, you shouldn't spoil them so much. You don't have to bring back gifts every time you come home."
"It's nothing really," he said vaguely. "Just some pretty green rocks I found on Krypton. I thought the kids would enjoy analyzing their chemical compositions."
"Luke!" Leia rushed into the foyer and hugged him fiercely, ignoring the steady hum (full of jealous undertones) that issued from the nearby computer. "Welcome back. We've missed you."
"It's good to be back," he replied uncertainly, knowing that chaos would erupt soon, as it always did when he returned to Coruscant. There had been a time, years ago, when he (shamefully) had wanted to config his sys. Certain People believed he still did. But they didn't understand that his drive had changed; he couldn't help comparing the microsoftness of her body with the cool, firm rigidity of a cpu. Yes, now she seemed huge and bulky, a table model that should have been retired year ago when minitowers appeared on the scene. He eased awkwardly out of her embrace. She smiled, and her teeth resembled a small keyboard...so like Canasta's keyboard.
"Come in, sit down, and tell us all about your trip."
"My what?" He followed his sister and bondbrother into the main room where they all sat together on the small loveseat. "You mean my chip?"
"Did you find any students for your Jedi Academy?"
He shifted uncomfortably, unused to such close contact with other humans. "My what?" he asked absently, eyeing a cute desktop monitor that nestled on a corner table, a frisky invitation implicit in its coy blinking. "You mean, did I find any files in my red-eye directory?"
"What's wrong with you?" Leia demanded in her customary manner. "You're acting goofy. Did you meet someone?"
'Goofy'? Luke blinked in confusion. "What? You mean gopher?"
"That's it!" Leia leaned on him to address Han who sat on his left hand. "He's met someone! He's in love!"
"Oh, no!" Han rolled his eyes. "Not another computer, Luke, we've got enough! We can't take any more of your rejects! We have over five hundred flytoasters in this house alone! When are you going to pick one floppy--or hard drive, what you do in the privacy of your own home doesn't matter to us--and settle down?"
Trip. Duck. Goofy. And what had that young boy called him--an idiot! He needed to log these words and search the memory banks for translations. Perhaps there would be an explanation of what was happening here. He had to investigate this! Luke stood. "I need a computer," he declared.
Han groaned. "Backup, kid. Can't you at least wait until after dinner?"
He reached through the Force and into Han's mind. Food lay there. "You mean... 'simmer'?"
His bondsister and brother stared at him. "What?" they asked, their words coming together as they often did.
He shook his head. Whatever this contamination
was, it was spreading fast. Soon it would be an epidemic, and a beautiful
female doctor from the CDC would arrive on Coruscant. There would be time
for explanations later, if this outbreak couldn't be controlled. Right
now, he needed to investigate this mysterious phenomena--could it be an
alien invasion, a tevemovee, or--worse--a scifiwrytr? Without another word,
he swirled abruptly, yet with graceful, wanton abandon, his black cloak
flapping behind him like the wings of a giant pentium. It had been neither
lust nor simple friendship that had made the foyer computer tackle him--it
had information to transmit!
But there was no information, no matter how many keys he pressed or how many commands he issued. Even when his commands turned to pleas, to beggings, to implorings, to entreaties, even when he threatened it with the worst cursors he knew--still the computer teased him, beeping alluringly yet declining to unveil the fax hidden deep within its hot interior. But there WAS something wrong. Could the problem lie dormant within him? He froze, icy, cold, frosted, chilled with horror--and suddenly very thirsty. Was he contaminated, too? Was this an evil machination of the Darkside? Or worse--had the Emperor returned...again? Would he never be finished with these clones?
Or was this backslash for his illicit desires? If it was, he deserved more and better punishment--indeed, he deserved a veritable thesaurus of chastisement, perhaps even beatings, torture, abuse, maimings, ravishings, skylarkings, the occasional fondlings, or whatever garbage Certain People wanted to heap on his bent, bloodied, but full of indomitable courage, head. Giving himself neither the time nor the luxury of contemplating further erotic possibilities, he snapped off the monitor with relentless finality. He didn't want to be biosed, but if he never saw another dos in his life, it would be just fate, no more. And, certainly, no less. He had to escape. He was signing off computers. It would be better in the long run if he remained solitaire, a lonely unix. Then perhaps his world would return to normal. There would be no more strange spellchecks, no eerie disks in the night, no weirdly palpatining tape drives or macabre error messages--no more, no more, no more! From this scroll downward, all he would need was a warm boot to lay his body and a root directory over his head. Computers were for dummies.
And he was no dummy, he was an Icon, standing erect and proud, like his father before him. His father, half human, half...computer.
Luke gave a beep of dismay. Would his father's legacy haunt his upper memory forever?
He'd given up (not permanently, but he was entitled to his moments of discouragement before Certain People injected him with new life and new hope just when everything seemed lifeless and hopeless) his search for the source document behind this latest mystery. He had a more immediate problem--his prosthetic rightbutton seemed to have developed a mind of its own, and not for the first time. Usually, though, his prosthesis worked in sync with his joystick. Tonight, however, it kept creeping toward his laptop. Luke grabbed it with his leftbutton and put it back where it belonged. He caught Leia's questioning stare like a trackball.
"Sorry," he said weakly.
She frowned. "What's wrong with your hand? Is the circuitry acting up again?"
He knew what she meant even though he'd never heard the word 'hand' before. "New ch-chip," he stuttered, feeling a blush upload its way into his face. He stared fixedly at the fully laden table of contents.
"I'm really good with machines," a small voice announced brightly, "like Unca Luke! I take afta Unca Luke and Gramps!"
"That's not something we discuss at the table, dear," Leia said vaguely. Then her voice sharpened. "What are you doing at the table anyway? Children never eat with us! Winter! Come fetch little Anakin!"
Luke blinked. Surely the boy's name was Analog? Why, he'd been named after his own father's alter password, Analog Skywalker. But not--
He was losing his control key. Luke dug his fingers into his mouse, a very private form of torture. The rightbutton made a squeak of delight. Leia looked at him disapprovingly.
"Certain People don't think you should be doing those kinds of things, Luke. You're supposed to be pure."
"It's not my default," he whispered pitifully, his huge eyes focusing on her like blue moons standing alone without a love of their own, now that Canasta was only a memory.
Han picked up the spearing fork and the long, huge, enormously symbolic knife, rubbing them together gleefully. Sparks flew, and they made a screeching noise that reminded Luke of the fireworks of a very happy scanner he'd once shorted out, years ago, when he'd briefly tumbled with the Dark Side of the Disk.
Ivory teeth flashed as Han smiled at him, the gesture an unintentionally cruel reminder of Canasta's keyboard. "I'll bet you're ready for a few bytes! It's been a long time, huh, kid?"
Luke closed his eyes and thought of pixels. "Very long," he said softly.
"Okay, here we go! Do your thing, toots."
Luke stared as Leia levitated the silver cover off the steaming platter. He studied the roasted bird carefully. As usual, Leia had left on both the head and the feathers, and something about the colorful dotmatrix pattern around the eyes seemed familiar. Abruptly, and with no warning, the memory of the evil shade of a scifiwrytr trampled through his head. "That's a wwwebfoot!" he exclaimed in sudden recognition as the data downloaded in his brain.
Han stopped slashing and eyed him strangely. "What's wrong with you, Luke? Did that Canasta have some strange effect on you?" he asked with concern. He looked down at the platter and pulled the fork out of the bird. "This is a duck. What's a wwwebfoot?"
Luke sighed, surrendering to the confusing net that had been cast over his mind. Duck. That was the keyword. There was something familiar about it. Somewhere, sometime, someplace, he'd heard that word before.
If only Canasta were still with him. They could have cruised her encyclopedic memory together. They would have found the answers he sought.
But such happiness was not meant to be. Computers...forever
would they dominate his password.