An "Eye of the Storm" story
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I'm fond of author's notes before stories, if you haven't already noticed. This story is a sort of interlude between "Eye of the Storm" and "The Armor of Vader," taking place during the Christmas between the two stories (the original tales were spaced a year apart).
If you haven't yet read "Eye," please stop here and find and read it; otherwise you probably won't know what's going on. Even if you have read the story, it won't hurt to re-read it and refresh your memory.
It isn't necessary to read "Armor of Vader" to understand "Crystal Blizzard," but there are one or two elements in this story that relate to "Armor."
And finally, yes, I am a Mormon. I harbor no ill feelings toward my religion or anyone else's, though. The views expressed in this fic are the views of the characters only.Chapter 1 – Christmas Invitation
"Daddy, make them stop!" Emma cried, hands over her ears.
"I don't care if they're not my kids," muttered Cody. "I'm gonna kill 'em if they don't can it!"
"They've been at this for forty-five minutes," Liberty replied. "They're bound to run out of hot air soon."
But neither Gideon nor Trapper showed any signs of stopping their argument, which consisted solely of shouting those two names at each other like broken holorecordings.
Anakin Skywalker, formerly known as Darth Vader, sighed deeply. How in the galaxy had he managed to get himself into this mess anyhow?
It had all started a few days after the American holiday of Thanksgiving, when Brigham had taken his motorcycle into Anakin's auto shop for a winter tune-up. While Jason and Patrick tended to the bike and Anakin finished writing up a price quote, Brigham took a few minutes to make small talk.
"So, any plans for the Christmas holidays, anyone?"
Anakin had heard about the Earth tradition of Christmas, of course. Everyone in the Vader's Elite fan club had explained the holiday to him – or tried to. The entire season was rather complex, seeing as everyone had conflicting views of it.
"It's when Santa Claus comes!" Rachel had happily informed him. Luke had gladly granted her a few weeks from her Jedi training to spend with her parents over the holidays, and she was looking forward eagerly to a visit from that mystical old man from Earth's mythology, who supposedly left gifts for "good" children on Christmas Eve.
"It's a season of love," Emily had explained. "Of rekindling the eternal dream of man to someday finally establish peace on our world. And it's a time to renew bonds with one's family and loved ones." This last Emily said with a sort of wistful air; her own family had disowned her years ago when she'd "come out of the closet," and her parents still hadn't forgiven her, though at least her brothers and sisters were speaking to her again.
"It's a Christian thing," Liz had said dismissively. Due to her religion, she celebrated Hanukkah rather than Christmas and right now was no doubt educating her husband, Boba Fett, on the particulars of the Festival of Lights.
"It's said to be the birthday of Jesus Christ," Amethyst had told him. "He established Christianity, one of the major religions on our planet, and he was so influential on our world that we measure time from the year of his birth."
But the Elite couldn't even agree on exactly how influential Christ was, and their explanations of exactly who he was differed as much as their views on the holiday celebrating his birth. Brigham claimed he was the Savior of the world who died for everyone's sins. Jason insisted that he was just another religious leader who'd been murdered for his teachings. Zack theorized that he was a Jedi who'd come to Earth to teach people about the Force in a format they could understand (though seeing as Zack also contended that the "UFO crash" at Roswell had been a downed Republic ship and the Taliban had been in cahoots with the Empire, Anakin took this latest theory with a liberal dose of salt). Mike, when questioned, only said "Don't ask me; I'm still trying to figure out 'The Da Vinci Code.'"
It was Patrick who'd at last given the answer that Anakin liked the most. He'd thought on the question a long moment, then spoken with his usual frugality of words.
"He's our world's Chosen One. He was born of a virgin mother and taught mankind to love one another and turn away hate. Regardless of whether he's a Son of God, a prophet, or a simple teacher of men, he left behind truths that still resonate today."
So when Brigham asked about his plans for the holiday, the question didn't precipitate an enormous philosophical and theological debate as it might have with another native of the galaxy beyond Earth.
"Nothing much," Jason replied. "Gonna fly to Cleveland for our family bash, then probably hang out at home and watch Christmas movies."
Brigham nodded. "What about you, Anakin?"
He gave a little shrug. "I'm banished to Earth. I can't exactly visit my family. Thus, I'll most likely be spending the holidays at my apartment." Not exactly a cheerful prospect, but it wasn't like he had a choice in the matter.
"Excellent!" Brigham exclaimed to Anakin's utter surprise. "You can come with me! My parents own this huge house in Salt Lake City, and every year they invite the whole family for Christmas – my grandparents, my brothers and sisters, and their spouses and kids. They told me I could invite whoever I like to spend the holidays, since I don't have a family of my own to bring. I usually invite anyone in the Elite who wants to come over, and you're more than welcome to join us."
"That would be wonderful," Anakin replied, smiling beneath his mask. He considered the Elite an extension of his family; what better way to spend the holidays than with them?
So when December 20th dawned, gray and snowy, Anakin was standing on a street corner near the Leapfrog Diner in Star City, a duffel at his feet and a heavy cloak wrapped around his body as a backup in case his temperature control systems became overworked in the cold. Austin, Trapper, and Liberty huddled nearby, steam pluming from their mouths. Brigham, meanwhile, was talking on his cell phone with whoever was going to be driving them to Salt Lake, presumably his brother.
Cody emerged from the Leapfrog with hot chocolate for everybody. "So when's your brother going to get here?" he asked, handing a cup to Brigham.
"He got held up by a car wreck on the freeway," Brigham replied, cupping his hands around the Styrofoam cup. "But he should be here in a few minutes."
"Does he have a family?" asked Austin.
"Yeah, he's married and has 4.5 kids."
"How do you have 4.5 kids?" demanded Liberty.
"The last one's only six months along," Brigham explained. "So is this everyone who's coming?"
"Zack was gonna come, but his mom had a fit," Cody explained. "Wanted him to spend Christmas with the family instead of a bunch of weirdo geeks."
"The Churches are in Oregon with family," Austin added. "I think everyone else has family celebrations they'd rather attend. Not that we're going to force them to come with us, of course. We're friends, but we can't do everything together."
At that moment a large rental bus arrived, pulling up to the corner. Four small faces pressed against the windows, greeting them with the most grotesque expressions they were capable of.
"Ah, the welcoming committee," Anakin noted with a chuckle. "Makes me wish I had grandchildren."
Brigham was the first to board, hugging his brother and sister-in-law before introducing the others.
"Guys, this is my older brother Hyrum Pratt," he told them. "This is his wife Lydia, and their children are Gideon – he's your age, Trapper – Christopher, who's six; Emma, she'll be five on New Year's Day; and Wendy's two years old today."
Hyrum's smile was bright and easy as he shook Anakin's hand. If he hadn't already known he was Brigham's brother, he probably could have guessed easily enough; the family resemblance was striking. Lydia was a tall woman, slender excepting the swell of her gravid belly, who had a gentle demeanor about her.
"A pleasure to meet you all," Anakin informed them.
"Are you really Darth Vader?" gushed Christopher.
He laughed. "Not anymore. My name is Anakin."
"Can I have your autograph?" Christopher begged.
The bus lurched away as the kids clamored over Anakin's presence, bombarding him with questions. Could he really use the Force? Was it like magic? Did he like it here on Earth? How had he gotten here? Where was his lightsaber? What was it like facing the Emperor? Did they have Christmas in outer space? Did he know any Christmas songs?
"Hey Mom, he doesn't know any Christmas songs!" exclaimed Emma.
"Then teach him a few," Lydia suggested.
"Sing 'Fwosty!'" squealed Wendy.
"Frosty it is," declared Gideon. "'Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul…'"
Trapper enthusiastically joined in as the Pratt kids engaged in a carol marathon, belting out every Christmas song known to man at least three times apiece at the top of their lungs. The adults chimed in from time to time with a quieter carol such as "Silent Night" or "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," but once the final note had faded the kids insisted on turning back to their rowdy favorites – "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas."
Somewhere between "Feliz Navidad" and "Angels We Have Heard On High," Hyrum managed to get a few words in edgewise.
"You folks wouldn't happen to be interested in investigating our church, would you?"
Anakin had been anticipating this question. When he, Luke, and Fett had first come to Earth, the first thing Brigham had done after overcoming his shock had been to give them the entire spiel on his religion. Though he respected Brigham's beliefs, he just wasn't interested, and he knew the others would be no more receptive to it. Cody was a confirmed Catholic, Liberty preferred her New Age lifestyle to organized religion, and Austin was an agnostic who was infamous in their neighborhood for turning on the lawn sprinklers on missionary and Jehovah's Witness alike.
"Not at this time, thanks," Liberty replied politely.
"All right," Hyrum replied. "But I'll warn you ahead of time that we have some rules at our parent's house. No swearing, no drinking or smoking, and if you want to get romantic, get a hotel room."
"Fine by us," Austin replied. "As long as your family respects our decision to not be proselyted at every opportunity."
"I'll be sure to let them know."
Much later, after yet another argument over exactly who the Harold referred to in "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" was, the kids had to concede that they were out of Christmas songs.
"So," Trapper tried, "any of you like fantasy books?"
That was the question that had started the name fight. For Gideon turned out to be as big a fan of sci-fi and fantasy as Trapper was, and the two of them promptly began discussing the merits of J.R. Tolkein and J.K. Rowling – and which of them had turned out a better hero. At first the Frodo Baggins vs. Harry Potter debate had been halfway civil ("After all, Frodo has the One Ring; Harry's got a stick that shoots sparks," Gideon had contended), but as time went by it became more and more heated ("How's Frodo gonna attack Harry, jump up and punch him in the knee?" exclaimed Trapper) until it devolved into a simple yelling of names, as if by outshouting the other one of them could win the argument.
"Frodo!" insisted Gideon.
"Harry!" defended Trapper.
"Trapper, isn't there a better way to express your opinions?" demanded Austin.
"Dad, I have a position to defend here!" Trapper protested.
"FrodoFrodoFrodoFrodoFrodoFrodoFrodo!" Gideon retorted, as if he could win the battle through repetition.
"Luke Skywalker's the best hero, so shut up the two of you," growled Cody, clamping on his headphones to drown out the noise.
"I KNOW A BOY WHO'S GOING TO BE WALKING TO SALT LAKE IF I HEAR THE NAME 'FRODO' ONE MORE TIME!" bellowed Hyrum.
Dead silence. Then Trapper's smug whisper of "Harry."
"Shut up," grumbled Gideon.
"Um, Hyrum?" said Brigham. "You just passed the Salt Lake turnoff."
"Any particular reason?"
"Yeah, Mom wants us to make a detour through Boise to pick up Opal."
"Opal? I didn't think she wanted to come."
"Well, you know how Grandma can be pretty persuasive."
"Who's Opal?" asked Austin.
"Opal Patten, our mother's brother's daughter," explained Hyrum. "She lives in Boise. Hasn't had contact with most of the family for awhile."
"Why not?" asked Anakin.
"It's kind of hard to explain," Brigham replied. "To make a long story short, since I'm a single geek with mostly non-Mormon friends, I was the black sheep of the family for a long time. But three years ago Opal took that honor from me."
"What do you mean?" Anakin pressed.
Brigham sighed. "The sad thing about our church is that we kind of get stuck on ourselves for being 'the only true church.' A lot of Mormons tend to ignore those not of our faith, and anyone who leaves the church by choice or by excommunication is often ostracized horribly. Opal was engaged to a guy she loved very much, and two weeks before their wedding he was killed in a forest fire. Well, tragedy can draw some people closer to their God, or it can drive them away, and in Opal's case the latter was true. After the funeral she asked to have her name removed from the records of the church, effectively leaving the faith."
"And the family disowned her over that?" asked Liberty, stunned. "That's awful."
"Brigham keeps in touch with her," Hyrum defended. "He's a decent guy. But this'll be the first time in three years Opal's attended a family gathering, so everyone be gentle with her."
After a few more minutes, Gideon turned to Trapper. "So who's the better writer, C.S. Lewis or Mercedes Lackey?"
Not this again, thought Anakin resignedly.
The bus trundled past, splashing waves of ugly blackish-brown slush onto the sidewalk. No one paid it much mind.
Except a pair of yellow eyes watching from a window in a Moxie Java restaurant.
Skipping town, are you, Vader? the bearer of those eyes thought, sipping at his mocha. Where are you off to, anyhow? Not a spaceport, even you wouldn't dare break the terms of your exile. But where are you going?
He turned his attention to the woman who'd just entered and was currently mulling over a selection of biscotti and scones. Standing, he strode over to her and tapped her shoulder.
"Yeah, what?" she asked, turning to face him.
"Don't I know you?" he asked.
She stared at him, puzzled. His hooded jacket obscured his face, but even if she'd seen his features he doubted she'd recognize him.
"Dunno," she replied. "Who are you?"
"I met you at Nova-Con last year," he lied. "I was the one in the Darth Maul costume, remember?"
Her eyes lit up. "Oh yeah, you! You're a wicked Podracer player." She shook his gloved hand. "I'm Amethyst, remember me?"
"I couldn't forget that face," he replied. "Hey, I just saw another member of your group go by a little bit ago – the Mormon boy, the one who beat the stuffing out of Ezekiel this summer."
"Brigham? I thought he left today."
"Yeah, he was taking a bunch of friends and relatives down to Salt Lake to visit his parents over Christmas." She shrugged. "Must've gotten held up."
"I see." He pretended to check his watch. "Uh-oh, I'm cutting it short. Sorry I can't chat, but I'm late as it is."
"See ya round," she told him.
He smiled as he retrieved his coffee and left the building. Earth people were so gullible. He'd thought Amethyst to be among the cleverer members of that Vader's Elite that was now so famous in this city, but she had proven easy prey.
So Vader was traveling to Utah with Brigham. Perfect. He had connections there. It would be a simple matter to have his revenge.
I'm not dead, Vader. You think you've destroyed me, but I live. And you will finally pay for destroying everything I was, everything I valued.
Time to book a flight to Salt Lake City. Vader's head on a platter was going to be the perfect Christmas present this year.