The Artist

Kenya Starflight

Rated PG for mild violence and language (it's been replaced with *** marks, but some people still appreciate the warning...)

Devon crushed the paper he was holding and balled it up, lobbing it into the school parking lot. The stormtrooper he'd been trying to draw looked more like a deformed robot.

He glanced up from his seat on the curb to see Bus 125 pull away. With a shout of dismay he stood and ran after it, but it was hopeless. Mrs. Dunnet, his bus driver, never stopped unnecessarily, even to pick up a straggler. He'd just missed the bus.

"Guess I walk home," he grumbled, setting off. It wasn't far to his house, only about five blocks. But he preferred the bus. For one thing, it meant he didn't have to risk getting pounded by Steel and his gang.

"Hey, it's the geek!"

Uh-oh. Steel had just spotted him. He broke into a run.

"Where ya goin', geek?" Steel taunted.

Devon ducked down a side street, hoping to lose his pursuers. Steel was the biggest kid in the third grade, and he took great advantage of his size. Only his teachers called him by his real name, Jedidiah. To the rest of the school, he went by his "wrestling name." Most of the kids at Rock Creek Elementary had been roughed up by him and his pack at least once, and Devon was a favorite target of theirs.

"Slow down so we can play WWF with you!" one of the goons hollered.

He wished he weren't carrying his backpack right now; it was really weighing him down. But he'd already lost one backpack this year thanks to Steel, and he didn't want to have to give up more allowance money this year to pay for another one.

Another turn found him in a commercial area of the city. Thinking Steel wouldn't press the fight in a store, he ducked into the first door he could find, a strip of bells announcing his entry.

Through the glass door he could see Steel and three of his cronies look up and down the street. Muffled conversation drifted through the glass.

"He must've gone into the gas station."

"I ain't goin' in there! It smells!"

"Let's just go to the arcade. We'll get the geek tomorrow."

Devon breathed a sigh of relief as they left. They especially liked to whale on him for being a geek, a Star Wars aficianado. He hated being singled out for bullying like that. So what if he drew X-wing/TIE fighter battles on his papers? So what if he brought action figures to school to play with during recess? He didn't rag on them for being dumb ugly gorillas, did he?

Not that anyone in their right mind ragged on Steel's gang for any reason.

He looked around to see where he was -- and screamed.

Jango Fett towered over him, twin blasters cocked in his direction. Seeing the figure startled him, but he calmed down when he saw it was just a dummy in armor. Was this a costume actually used in the making of the movie? He doubted it.

It's a Star Wars shop, he realized. For every collectible he could imagine hung from the walls, sat on shelves, or was displayed in glass cases along the walls. Action figures, toy ships, lightsabers, masks, model kits, posters, statues, comics, T-shirts, books, Lego sets, video games, even watches and coffee mugs gleamed in the flourescent lights. Devon had to pinch himself to make sure this was real.

"Wow," he breathed. He would never get bored in this place. Spying a cool-looking toy blaster hanging from a peg on the wall, he went over to investigate it.

Over the blaster hung a painting of Yoda. Devon's eyes went wide. He'd seen paintings of Star Wars characters on the Internet before, but none as realistic as this. The tiny Jedi stood on a hummock of swampy ground, leaning on his cane, mouth slightly open as if about to speak. Indeed, Devon half-expected to hear Yoda's gravelly voice advise "Always in motion is the future" or "Away put your weapon" or something similar. It was framed with braided twigs or vines, quite appropriate for the subject matter.

I wish I could draw that good, he thought enviously.

"All right, all right, y' win, I can pick up the shipment tomorrow," another voice huffed, this one high-pitched and warbly, with a strange accent Devon couldn't place.

He turned to see a scrawny old man slam a phone back in its receiver. The store owner was barely taller than Devon, with baggy wrinkly skin the color of nutmeg and a ring of shocking white hair encircling an otherwise bald scalp. A beard the same startling shade of white hung down to his chest, and a bushy mustache underlined a nose that resembled a hawk's beak. He spotted Devon and flashed an enthusiastic smile, showing off two gold teeth.

"Hey there, lad, can I help y'?"

"Just... looking," Devon replied weakly.

"Well, no need to fear me, lad. I ain't goin' to bite." The old man scooted from behind the counter to stand by Devon. He wore a red-and-orange Darth Maul T-shirt and a pair of too-big khakis, and ridiculous beaded sandals showed off his bony toes. "What's your name?"

"Devon," he replied, gaining a little confidence.

"Pleased to meet y' Devon. I'm Mr. Makatzo, proprietor of this, the Mos Espa Street Market. Though it ain't a street market, no lad. Too many blasted thievin' buggers in this town."

Devon laughed. He decided he liked Mr. Makatzo. "Where'd you get the painting? It's really cool."

"Ah," Mr. Makatzo sighed, stroking his beard. "That's my work, lad. Painted it m'self, when I was younger and my eyes not so bad."

"How much is it?" Devon asked. Probably way out of his price range.

The little old man laughed. "Not for sale, lad. Display only. Gives the old place atmosphere."

"Did you paint anything else?"

"Did I now! Got dozens! I'll show y' another!" And he practically dragged him across the store, knocking over a display of PEZ dispensers on the way. "Only show three at a time. Here's the second."

"Whoa!" Devon gaped. It was Taun We and Lamaa Su of Kamino, standing on a balcony and watching the pounding waves below. This one had to be a fairly recent picture, seeing as these were "Attack of the Clones" characters, and if this was an example of his later work, he'd lost none of his talent. The frame was a bit weird -- clear plastic tubing filled with water, with jets at each corner to circulate bubbles throughout the frame -- but strangely appropriate.

"Where's the third?"

"Right here." And once again Mr. Makatzo hauled him to the painting, this one over the counter where the register was. It was a Boba Fett painting framed with pieces of rusty metal. The hunter was shown rocketing in the air with his jet pack, firing his flamethrower at some unseen foe below.


"Glad y' like him, lad," the old man said quietly. "He has quite a story to tell. They all do." And he seemed to tune Devon out as a faraway look came over his face.

"Uh, Mr. Makatzo?"

He snapped out of his trance. "So what'll it be, lad? A comic book? Maybe some action figures y' ain't got in your collection yet, eh?"

"I only got two dollars on me."

"Only two dollars? Hmmm." He turned to a shelf and picked up a sheet of Episode II stickers. "Y' can start small, I s'pose..."

"Great!" He reached for the stickers.

"But why should y'?" He dropped the stickers and grabbed a Luke Skywalker Unleashed statuette instead.


"A special for y', lad. Don't get many young-blood customers."

"I can't take it for two dollars!" Devon protested, even though he'd coveted the Unleashed line for months.

Mr. Makatzo smiled and ruffled his hair. "Got a good heart in y', lad. Tell y' what -- y' can help me 'round the shop a tad -- stockin' shelves, cleanin' a little. Earn y' some money. Then y' can buy some real collectibles."

"Really? I'd love that! When can I start?"

"T'night, if you'd like. Best call your folks first so they know where y' are."

"Great!" He grabbed the phone.


After that, he spent most of his evenings after school helping out at the Mos Espa Street Market. His parents approved fully -- indeed, they were thrilled that their youngest child was learning responsibility at this age. Though he ended up blowing most of his salary on collectibles, he was saving some each week for his college fund (either that or a 1977 figure, which Mr. Makatzo sold several of).

It wasn't hard work, and when things were slow he and Mr. Makatzo often played a game or read comic books or just had a snack and discussed Star Wars. He'd learned a lot about the movies from Mr. Makatzo, as well as how to develop a taste for the old man's special blend of gunpowder green tea. And every day he perused the shop's shelves and added to his list of items he'd purchase someday.

Several weeks into his job, he and Mr. Makatzo were snacking on Nacho Cheesier Doritos and tea and playing Star Wars Battleship, yakking about the weaponry embedded in Jango and Boba Fett's armor. Devon had read about it, but Mr. Makatzo knew much more than the book had described.

"I wish I knew as much as you," Devon said enviously.

Mr. Makatzo laughed. "Give it time, lad. You're still young." He paused to crunch into a chip. "So what pictures should go up t'night when we close? I was thinkin' Yoda, the Tusken Raider, and Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia."

"Do Darth Vader," Devon advised. "He's cooler than Luke and Leia."

"All right, Vader it is. We'll swap the paintings 'round soon as we've closed shop."

Devon grinned. Changing the paintings was one of his favorite jobs. He felt that he was holding something of great value -- something almost sacred -- when he handled one. And it thrilled him to know Mr. Makatzo trusted him with his precious artwork.

"So tell me, Devon," Mr. Makatzo said, leaning forward, "do y' believe in other worlds?"

"Sure," Devon replied, gulping the rest of his tea. "I think the universe is too big for there not to be other planets with life on them..."

"Not planets, lad," the old man corrected. "Worlds."

Devon stared. "What's the difference?"

"Not worlds as in planets, satellites, spheres of interstellar rock. Worlds as in universes, dimensions, alternate realities. Where the laws of our universe may be radically altered or even gone altogether. Where things beyond your wildest imaginings may exist."

The shopkeeper's eyes had a strange gleam in them, and his high wavery voice became strong and rough. Devon frowned, wondering what he was getting at and why it excited him so.

"Uh... I dunno."

Mr. Makatzo gave a sad little smile, becoming his regular self. "Ah well. Sorry, lad. Subject matter may be a tad over your head." He began to put away the game. "Heard someone come in just now. I'd better man the register. Why don't y' go ahead and sweep out the back while I help the customer?"

He nodded, grateful for the change of subject.


Devon roused, grimacing, wondering why his front was so wet. Then he realized he'd fallen asleep while scrubbing behind the counter. Great, he thought, glancing at the clock. It's nine. Mom and Dad are gonna skin me alive for being late.

He cleaned up the scrubbing water still on the floor, dropped the sponge in the bucket, and groped around in his pocket for the key. Mr. Makatzo had closed the store at eight and gone to bed, having an apartment behind the store. He'd told Devon to lock the door and throw the key through the mail slot before he went home.

A crash made him freeze in place, a crash followed by the wild jingling of falling glass. His insides twisted into a complex knot as he poked his head over the counter.


A half dozen nasty-looking teenagers were stepping through the broken glass door. One carried a handgun, two more knives, and the only girl in the group held an aluminum bat, no doubt what they'd used to break through the door. All wore ski masks over their faces, bulky jackets, and ragged jeans -- except the girl, who looked uncomfortable in her leather mini-skirt.

"Place looks like a nerd's acid trip."

"Keep it down, man!"

"Old man sleeps like a log. He won't hear us."

"Check it out! He's got vintage action figures!"

"Nab 'em. They might be worth some dough."

Devon gulped and crouched down low, praying he wouldn't be spotted. This was probably some gang from the inner city. They normally didn't stray out this far, but lately some of them had gotten bolder and were claiming new turfs in the suburbs. Hopefully they'd just swipe some collectibles and leave. If they raided the cash register, they'd find his hiding place.

"Dude, it's Yoda!" one of them exclaimed, no doubt referring to Mr. Makatzo's painting.

"And there's a weirdo alien on the back wall," another pointed out. He was referring to the Tusken Raider, pictured astride his bantha and holding his gaffi stick aloft in triumph. The frame was carved sandstone, beautiful but a real pain to lift and hang.

"Think they're worth anything?" asked the girl.

"You kidding? Unless this guy's a big-name artist, which he ain't, they're worth squat."

"Check out the Vader one. It's got a frame that might get a good five hundred."

Devon peeked over the counter to see three of them greedily approach the painting. It portrayed Vader striding confidently down a Stardestroyer hallway, flanked by three stormtroopers on each side. That had to be Devon's favorite picture. Vader was his favorite character, and Mr. Makatzo had captured the Dark Lord in all his fearsome majesty. But the goons wanted the frame, which was of stainless steel that many people mistook for silver.

Get your grimy hands off that, he thought angrily as the tallest gangster grabbed the picture and lifted it off the peg. Immediately it slid out of his hands and crashed to the floor, glass flying everywhere. Almost, Devon thought, as if it couldn't stand being in the guy's clutches.

"****! Watch it!"

"It's heavy, man!"

"**** it! This isn't silver! We got gyped!"

"What about the pic?"

"Ain't worth bull."

"Hey you!"

Devon whirled to see a burly goon pointing his gun at him. The guy was built like an older version of Steel, with a stained denim jacket on and a lip ring protruding through his ski mask. Devon nearly wet his pants upon seeing him.

The goon made a small movement upward with his gun, a silent order for Trevor to stand. He obeyed, though his legs were shaking so badly he almost sat back down again.

"Hey, look what I found!" he told the others.

"Shut the **** up! You'll wake the old man up!"

"Hey, it's the kid who works here," the girl noted, approaching. "Why aren't you at home, kid?"

"I... fell asleep cleaning..." he squeaked.

"Let's have some fun with him," the guy with the gun suggested.

"Nah, he's just a kid," another said, vetoing the idea. "Just have him open the register and leave him."

Devon felt the gun dig into his back. "You heard him. Open the register."

His gaze fell on the painting, now crushed in one teen's gloved hand. "D-d-don't ruin that..." he pleaded.

"Oh, this?" the guy asked, holding up the badly creased painting. He grinned and jammed his knife through the canvas.

"Stop it!" Devon cried, throwing himself at him. A burly arm caught him at the waist and held him back.

Laughing, the goon continued to shred the painting, scattering the pieces all over the floor. Then he went to the Yoda painting.

"No!" he shouted, squirming.

"Open the cash register or Yoda gets the same," his captor snarled. "Right dude?" He turned to the guy on his left, who'd gone pale with terror. "Uh, dude?"

"Anyone else hear that or am I nuts?" the guy asked in a surprisingly falsetto voice. "Please tell me I'm nuts!"

"Why, whaddaya hear?" the girl asked.

They all paused. There was indeed a strange noise in the shop -- a rhythmic, airy sound, like air being let out of a tire in measured bursts, only lower. An ominous hiss-whoosh that sent shivers of fright up Devon's spine as his mind placed the sound.

Turning, he saw blinking lights in the darkness by the cash register. Heavy footsteps pulsed as a tall figure stepped into the moonlight that spilled in through the shattered door. Blue-white light eerily highlighted the sinister ebony mask, the gleaming shoulder and chest armor, the shin greaves and thick gauntlets. A night-black cloak trailed after him like a set of wings.

Devon swallowed. Things couldn't get any worse.

Someone whimpered as six more figures emerged from the shadows. Their armor gleamed bone-white in the watery light, their forever-frowning helmets regarding the intruders detatchedly. Their black-gloved hands clutched wicked-looking blaster rifles that gave no indication of being just for show.

Devon tried to swallow again but had no spit left to do so. Things had just gotten worse.

Lord Darth Vader gazed contemptuously down at the gangsters. "I do not believe you are authorized to be here at this hour," he noted, his voice resonant and metallic, as dark and foreboding as the rest of him.

"Uh... we were... just leaving..." choked the smallest teen in the group.

"Keep it together, man," his comrade encouraged. "He's just trying to scare us."

He's doing a good job of it, too, thought Devon in panic.

"Who are you cats?" the guy holding Devon demanded.

"I am Lord Darth Vader," Vader replied menacingly. "This is my escort."

"Bull****!" the girl sneered. "I suggest you uber-geeks move your crazy ***es out of our way before we move them for you!"

"Girl, you realize who we're messing with?!" screeched the tallest member of the gang, who was still a good foot shorter than Vader. "He'll strangle us all!"

"Don't buy his ****!" she shouted back. "Vader don't exist! This guy's a ****ing fraud!"

Vader drew himself up straight, no doubt highly insulted by the remark. "If it is proof of my statement you want, you shall have it. But first, release the boy. He has no quarrel with you."

Obediently the goon holding him let him go. Devon was too terrified to do anything but stand rooted in place, however.

Vader stepped forward and put his hand on Devon's shoulder. He flinched, but nothing happened to him.

"Go to Master Makatzo," he ordered in a gentler tone. "Tell him what is happening."

It took his brain a minute to digest the command. "Now?"

The fearsome helmet lowered and raised slightly in a nod.

Devon ran for the door in the back that led to Mr. Makatzo's apartment. Abruptly three deafening pops sounded, and he hit the floor instinctively. Had the hoods really shot at Darth Vader?

He raised his head a bit and was treated to an awesome sight. Vader was lifting the heaviest goon one-handed by his neck, the gangster's legs kicking furiously. The gun-toting one was still firing at the stormtroopers, but the bullets merely embedded themselves in the white armor, not even penetrating the metal. The troopers, meanwhile, fired at the teens' feet, making them dance a wild-looking jig.

Devon picked himself up and reached the door just as Mr. Makatzo opened it, wearing a white undershirt, X-wing boxers, duck slippers, and an old-fashioned sleeping cap and carrying a shotgun in one hand.

"What's goin' on?" he demanded.

Devon opened his mouth to explain, but no sound came out. Instead he threw his arms around the storekeeper and buried his face in his shoulder.

"My stars," Mr. Makatzo murmured in awe as he wrapped comforting arms around the boy. "My good stars."


Devon was quite sure that the hoods wouldn't be showing their faces around this block anytime soon. And if they did choose to share the embarassing tale of how they'd failed to clean out an elderly man's "geek" store, he doubted anyone was going to believe them. He could hardly believe it himself, actually. Even though the damage was minimal and nothing had been taken, he was still in a great deal of shock regarding the entire event.

It was past midnight by the time he got home. Mr. Makatzo had given him the assignment of talking to the police while he hustled Vader and the stormtroopers into the back to hide them. Since no one would believe the truth, Devon made up an easy-to-swallow lie about how he'd snuck into the old man's bedroom and woken him up while the gang trashed the place, and how a few shotgun blasts over their heads had chased them out. Then he'd had to give descriptions of the would-be burglars, which he did as well as he was able. Then a cop had driven him home, where he'd had to repeat the whole tale to his hysterical parents. When he'd finally crawled into bed, he hadn't been able to sleep. When he'd finally dozed off at 3 A.M., nightmares of blaster fire and shattering glass kept waking him up.

He felt like a zombie going to school the next day. His mind was so foggy he couldn't remember any of his lessons, except something vague in science about molecules and how they related to the onset of the Clone Wars (hey, he was tired). But it was also the best day of school he'd ever had, since everyone -- his parents, his teacher, the principal, other students -- was hailing him as a hero for his actions the previous night.

The principal announced the story over the intercom during the morning announcements. The lunchlady, who normally scowled at the kids and lectured the cafeteria about proper nutrition, snuck him a wink and a chocolate brownie as he collected his food (the brownie tasted like Play Dough, but it was the thought that counted). All the students thought it was so cool that he'd faced robbers and grilled him continually for juicy details. Even Steel walked by him in the halls without tripping him or making snide comments about his Anakin Skywalker backpack.

When he entered the Mos Espa Street Market that afternoon, two guys dressed as stormtroopers (501st members, he guessed) were mulling over a selection of Star Wars CCG cards. One of them looked up, saw him, and tapped his companion on the shoulder, and they hurried over to meet him.

"Hey kid, you're famous!" one exclaimed.


"The paper. Evening edition. Front page, even." He flipped the newspaper open. Sure enough, there was a picture of him -- the recent school picture that he detested -- and police sketches of the goons in their masks just under the headline "Boy Prevents Gang Robbery of Local Theme Store."

"It must have been scary," the other guy noted.

"It was," he replied. Though not because of the reasons you're thinking, he added under his breath.

"Will you sign this for us?" the first guy asked. "Nice to see a local celebrity."

Devon regarded the two psuedo-troopers with a critical eye. Their plastic armor was dull and cumbersome compared to the glossy metal of the real thing. The mask lenses were set too far apart, the markings on the stomach plates inaccurate. The toy blasters at their belts smacked of sloppy duplication. After seeing the original stormtroopers for himself, even the 501st paled in comparison.

Dutifully he fished around in his backpack for a pen and scrawled his name across the horrible picture of himself.

"Thanks!" The guy mussed his hair before he and his friend left.

Mr. Makatzo looked over from straightening the Boba Fett picture that was currently replacing the Vader portrait. "Didn't expect to see y' here today, Devon."

He grunted in reply.

"Y' look beat, lad." He climbed down from his stepladder. "Why don't y' go home and get some sleep?"

He looked the old man in the eye. "All right, spit it out. You're hiding something, and it isn't just the Sith Lord and his stormtroopers. There's something magic about your paintings."

Mr. Makatzo's expression didn't change. "What makes y' say that?"

"Well, for one thing, Vader didn't show up until the hoods ripped up his picture. He knew your name, and I'm guessing he knows me too, since he didn't terrorize me. And he called you 'Master.' Now either I heard him wrong when he said 'Mr.' or you've got some kind of magic or Force trick going on here."

Mr. Makatzo smiled sadly. "Flip the sign to Closed and come in back, lad. There's somethin' I need to show y'."

They went into the living room of his apartment, where the two of them had so often drunk tea and played games and talked. There was no sign of Vader or his troops. A sketchbook lay closed on the table beside a peppermint-scented pillar candle. On the other side of the candle was a metal chest about the size of a computer monitor.

Without a word Mr. Makatzo opened the chest and removed a lightsaber. Devon gaped, knowing it had to be the real McCoy and not a movie prop. The old man set the weapon aside and also withdrew a long braid of jet-black hair, which Devon guessed was a Padawan braid. Finally he held up a folded set of robes the color of beach sand and a worn cloak the color of river mud.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection. "You're a Jedi Knight."

He nodded. "Jedi Knight Akri Makatzo, native to Nar Shadda." He chuckled. "Don't be fooled by the lightsaber, lad. I was never much of a fighter. More of a bookworm. I preferred to research new ways of using the Force."

Devon gazed at the man with new respect. Never mind that he looked nothing like a Jedi with his Episode I baseball cap, black "Got Force?" T-shirt, baggy jeans shorts, and beaded sandals. This was much cooler than meeting a Star Wars celebrity. They were just actors. This guy was real.

"I was very interested in finding a way to preserve life forms without injurin' them," he went on as he repacked the trunk. "Carbonite was chancy, and it always had nasty side effects. It took me years of testin', both in the Jedi Temple and in hidin' during the Purges, before I discovered and perfected a method."

Mr. Makatzo picked up a sketchbook and flipped it open to the first page. It was a very detailed sketch of Darth Vader and six stormtroopers. Devon wished he could draw half as well.

"I was always hopeless with art," the old man said as if reading his mind. "Only when I used the Force and had a subject did it turn out well."

"What do you mean?" Devon asked.

Silently Mr. Makatzo ripped the page out, crumpled it into a loose ball, and dropped it in the lit candle. The tiny flame caressed the paper wad, leaving dark smears, then merry flames engulfed the drawing. As it crumbled and flaked into oblivion faint sillhouettes of Vader and his men appeared by the table. By the time the sketch was consumed entirely, the seven of them had fully materialized.

The Dark Lord stepped forward and gave a respectful bow. "Master Jedi Makatzo. I am pleased to meet you again in less chaotic circumstances."

"Same here, my Lord." Mr. Makatzo replied. He stood behind Devon and placed his hands on the boy's shoulders. "This is Devon, the boy I hired. Y' been seein' him 'round the store, I believe."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintence, Devon," Vader rumbled, extending a hand.

"Hello, Lord Vader," he replied, shaking the huge hand. "Can I get your autograph?"

A deep metallic laugh echoed from somewhere in Vader's torso.

"The lad wants to hear our story," Mr. Makatzo explained. "I'll put on the teapot and and fix y' all some lunch before y' go back to your painting."

"Do you have those cakes?" asked one of the stormtroopers. "You know, the yellow ones with the gooey white stuff in the center? I love those."

And so it was that Devon found himself eating toasted cheese sandwiches, Twinkies, and green tea with the Dark Lord, six clones, and a Jedi Knight. This alone, he thought, was worth facing a gang.

"I can't believe you guys really exist!" he gushed. "All that 'long time ago in a galaxy far, far away' stuff was true!"

"'Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent,'" Vader quoted, taking a bite out of his sandwich -- though how he did so without taking off the mask baffled Devon. "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, fantastic writer."

"But I always thought Lucas invented Star Wars," Devon said, puzzled.

"Lucas was granted the knowledge through a divergence in the Force," Mr. Makatzo explained. "To prepare your world for us."


"Remember when I asked y' if y' believed in other realities, lad? Star Wars tells the tale of one such reality and its inhabitants. They aren't just characters, lad -- they LIVED. They ate and slept, laughed and cried, dreamed and worked and played and made love and bled and died. Until somethin' happened." He stared into his teacup, eyes misty.

"Your universe blew up, didn't it?" asked Devon.

"Reality is always an unstable thing," Vader mused. "Learned men question it, the religious seek a way to breach it, the fatalistic deny it. And on occasion it fluctuates, giving individuals brief, wondrous tastes of what lies beyond their own plane." His voice lowered to a whisper that was nearly drowned out by the surrussus of his respirator. "It was at the bloody height of the Galactic Civil War, before the events of 'Return of the Jedi' could occur, when the Emperor -- may his wretched soul rot in oblivion -- made it his final act to destroy our world. I tried to kill him before he could do so, but his last words before I struck him down were 'One world under my rule, or no world.'"

"It wasn't an immediate thing," a trooper added, wiping Twinkie cream from the corners of his mouth. "The galaxy slowly collapsed on itself over the course of a year. Refugees flooded Corusant to escape oblivion, for the capitol was the last planet to go. We knew we had to flee to another reality if we wanted to live, and yours was the most compatible. But your world was also in the throes of World War II and very far behind technologically."

"So Mr. Makatzo put you all in paintings," Devon realized. "To keep you safe until Earth catches up with your universe."

"Not all of us," another trooper mumbled through a mouthful of sandwich. He swallowed. "Many decided to 'go down with the ship,' as it were. In the end, about five thousand men, women, aliens, and droids were painted into Master Makatzo's paintings, preserved for a second chance at life. A pitiful number compared to the trillions and trillions of beings that once inhabited our domain, but not all could be saved -- and not all wished to be."

"Y' asked once why Jabba the Hutt and Darth Maul were not among my pictures, lad," Mr. Makatzo said. "Well, Jabba decided he'd rather die nobly than stand the confinement of preservation. And Maul, of course, was dead already."

"And you don't have Jango Fett, Emperor Palpatine, Mace Windu, Obi-wan Kenobi, Padme, or Count Dooku for the same reasons," Devon added.

"Exactly." Mr. Makatzo sighed. "Jedi live long lives, but I won't be around much longer, I fear. I'd hoped Earth would catch up to our world by the time my time came, but that doesn't appear to be the case."

Devon stared into his cup, then looked up at Vader. "When I grow up, I'm gonna be a scientist," he declared. "And I'll find a way to make lightsabers and holograms and hyperdrives so you won't be stuck in your paintings forever."

Vader reached out and good-naturedly ruffled the boy's hair. "You have a fine young man here, Master Makatzo. Let him carry on in your stead when you pass on. He can be trusted."

"Very well." The old man smiled at him. "Devon, would y' like my paintings when I die? If y' like, I can teach y' the preservation technique in case one is damaged or destroyed. But y' must only use it in an emergency."

He nodded solemnly. "I'd like that very much."


It was very funny to see the tiny old man bossing the massive Sith Lord around, trying to get just the right pose for the new picture. Devon chuckled as he tied on a smock and picked up his paintbrush. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.

"All right, if y' insist, we can try a new pose," Mr. Makatzo snapped. "An action scene, perhaps, with your troops firin' on somethin' and y' givin' orders, unless y' want to be shown with your lightsaber drawn... Hey now, man, do y' really want to go down in history like that?" he demanded of the trooper who was absent-mindedly scratching his crotch.

The guy paused in mid-scratch. "Guess not."

At last they decided on a pose, the six stormtroopers standing or kneeling as they aimed their guns to the left, Vader with his glowing red saber cocked at a battle-ready angle. Mr. Makatzo turned on the fan for the "billow effect" on Vader's cape, then nodded at Devon.

"It's all y' now, lad. Remember, let the Force guide your hand and eye."

He carefully dipped his brush in the special blend of paint, then raised it to the meticulously prepared canvas. An unseen hand seemed to guide his arm as he applied gentle strokes, slowly creating an image. As the mock-battle fleshed out on the canvas, the models seemed to go transparent so he could see the apartment walls through them.

Tears pricked his eyes. "I don't want them to go," he whispered.

"Well, y' can't leave them like that, lad," Mr. Makatzo said kindly. "Finish your work. They won't be gone forever."

He obeyed. The background of a fierce ground war completed, he painted the stormtroopers one by one. Each soldier faded and vanished as he transferred them to the painting. At last he worked on Vader, and he, too, disappeared.

"Thank you," the Dark Lord breathed just before Devon added the last stroke, putting him entirely into the painting.

Mr. Makatzo squeezed his shoulders affectionately. "It's hard sendin' them back. Sometimes I'll rip up a painting and let one go just for some companionship, and I always hate puttin' them back. But they understand it's necessary, and so do I."

Devon laid the brush down. "Why don't you join them, Mr. Makatzo? I can paint you, then when the time comes to let you all go you can all be together at once."

"Oh, I've thought about that." He helped Devon clean up the art supplies. "But I've got my own life now. And I'm quite happy with it." He smiled. "Better run home, lad. It's gettin' late. And if your parents ask why I kept y', I'm teachin' y' how to paint in gratitude for savin' the store."

Devon picked up his backpack and the stack of Star Wars Infinities comics he'd bought that day. "See you tomorrow after school."

"See y' then." He winked. "May the Force be with y', Devon."

"May the Force be with you, Mr. Makatzo."