Star City, USA

Kenya Starflight

Rated PG for mild violence and language

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Having written four stories set in the "Eye of the Storm" universe, I have suddenly found myself inundated with plot bunnies for further adventures in that realm. Rather than giving each bunny a multi-chapter story, I have decided to compile this collection.

"Star City, USA" will be a compilation of vignettes, one-shots, missing scenes from the longer stories, and short character studies set in the "Eye" universe. Some will take place before the events of "Eye," some will take place after "Armor of Vader," some will be set between or during the stories, etc. Each short will be prefaced by a short explanation as to the time frame, so as not to confuse the reader.

If anyone has ideas for a new chapter, e-mail me. I can't promise I'll use it, but I'll give it due thought and give you credit if I end up using it.

Guest of Honor

NOTE: Set after "Eye of the Storm," approximately one month before the events of "Armor of Vader." Yes, Anakin is still in the armor. Thanks to Kellen and Jedipati for the idea.

It was a relatively peaceful town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, bordered on one side by a thickly forested national park and sporting gorgeous scenery, a pristine lake, plentiful wildlife, and a small-town feel to the atmosphere. Just an hour and a half drive from Denver, Star City bore the dubious and debatable title of "Star Wars Capitol of the World" thanks to the double conventions it hosted in the summer, but for nine months of the year the town was otherwise ignored, which was how the locals preferred it.

Especially one local in particular, who at the moment wanted nothing to do with celebrity of any kind, especially now.

"What are the three branches of the government?" Zack barked. "Quick, no time to think!"

"Legislative, executive, judicial," Anakin fired back. "Honestly, Zack, I can do this without your help."

"C'mon, this makes studying fun!" the scrawny, greasy-haired, scraggly-bearded geek replied with a wide grin, pausing a moment to stuff some popcorn into his mouth. Zachary Brown was one of the self-proclaimed "Star Wars" fanatics who had accepted Anakin, Fett, and Luke and helped them adjust to Earth life almost a year ago. Twenty-eight years old and still living with his mother, he was under the strange notion that the geek lifestyle was the only way to live, as if he could achieve some kind of sci-fi Zen through hoarding action figures and memorizing obscure trivia.

"Pledge of Allegiance!"

Anakin smiled tolerantly and recited the pledge. He didn't have to bother with all this, really. The President had offered him political asylum in the country until his Jedi-ordered five-year exile was through. But Anakin insisted on earning American citizenship status. If nothing else, it would ensure he had someplace to call home if he could go nowhere else.

And it let him take his mind off of all the annoying phone calls he'd been receiving lately. If those people didn't stop trying to contact him, he would have to resort to aggressive negotiations soon.

"…and justice for all," he finished. "Are you through yet?"

"Nope," Zack grinned. "If the President dies or is suddenly unable to hold office, who takes his place?"

"The Vice President."

"And if they're both incapacitated?"

Before Anakin could answer, the phone rang. Zack put down the book and leaned over to check the caller ID.

"Who's calling you from California?" he asked. "I thought your number was unlisted."

"Don't answer," Anakin replied. "Let it hit the machine."

Wooden thudding filled the apartment as someone pounded on the door.

"Can I get that?" asked Zack.

"Go ahead. It is most likely my ghostwriter."

Zack stood, wiped his hands on his "Han Shot First" T-shirt, and went to the door. He opened it a crack and peeked out.

"Um… didn't know your ghostwriter took to dressing like you."

"Mr. Skywalker!" whoever was on the other side of the door shouted. "Can I get your autograph?"

"Tell him to come back another time," Anakin ordered.

"He says get lost," Zack relayed.

Anakin winced. "Tact" was a word whose meaning was generally lost on Zack.

"Tell him I think he's the bomb!" the eager fan gushed.

Zack shut the door. "There, got rid of him for you."

"Next time, I will answer the door," Anakin replied.

At that moment, the answering machine picked up the phone call. "You have reached the message unit of Anakin Skywalker. You know what to do after the tone."

"Hi, Mr. Skywalker, this is Angie from Twentieth Century Fox, calling on behalf of Lucasfilm."

Zack gave Anakin a wide-eyed look. "They're calling YOU?"

Anakin rolled his eyes. The creators of the "Star Wars" movies had suddenly decided that they had to consult him on every detail of the last movie, from sets to scripts to costumes. He didn't see what the problem was. George Lucas had certainly done well enough the last five times without his help. If he needed ideas or wanted to verify the facts, he could easily consult a copy of the Galactic Encyclopedia or just rely on his own vibrant imagination.

Besides, didn't Lucas know just how painful this whole issue was with him? The members of Vader's Elite, the fan club Anakin and his friends and family had befriended here on Earth, had told him often enough that Episode III would chronicle his fall to the dark side. That was something he did not want to talk about with anyone except his children and, to a limited extent, the ghostwriter of his memoir. And he certainly didn't want to think about it more than he had to.

"We would like to cordially invite you to the premiere of Episode III this next week," Angie's voice went on. "We're offering you free tickets for yourself and as many guests as you'd like, and are willing to pay for any and all travel expenses, including airfare and hotel reservations. Please give me a call back and let me know how many will be coming. Thank you and have a good day."

Zack's eyes were practically bulging out of his head by the time Angie had finished. "FREE tickets to see the premiere! Dude, can I go?"

Anakin shook his head. "I am not going."

"Aw, why not? It'll be a blast!"

Anakin just gazed at Zack, letting his silence communicate what he thought of attending the premiere.

"Oh," Zack said at length. "Sorry. Yeah, might not be the best thing for you."

The door pounded again. Zack moved to stand up, but a heavy black-gloved hand on his shoulder held him in place. Anakin was the one to answer the door, only to be blinded by a flash of light straight in his face.

"Mr. Skywalker, tell us what you think of Episode III's release this next week!"

The hallway outside his apartment was clogged with reporters and cameramen, all talking at once. Mrs. Hendrix, his feisty landlady, was at the rear of the pack looking fit to kill, and a few of the other tenants were gaping from their doors. Anakin wondered if using the Force to throttle a few of the paparazzi could be justified in this case.

"Mr. Skywalker, this newest 'Star Wars' film is probably the most controversial release of 2005 and has already been banned on a few planets. What are your opinions?"

"Do you plan to see the movie, Mr. Skywalker?"

"Do you plan on filing suit against Lucasfilm?"

"I have no comments regarding 'Revenge of the Sith' at this time," Anakin replied shortly, and was about to shut the door.

"Ow! Hey! Please let me through!"

He froze. He knew that voice, and it was no reporter. It took a minute of searching, but he soon spotted the source – a small, pale, mousy young woman carrying a laptop computer under one arm and struggling to fight her way through the crowd, looking more and more terrified by the second. She hated crowds and looked about to break down any second.

"Move aside!" Anakin shouted, reaching into the crowd and grasping her hand. Swiftly he pulled her into the sanctuary of his apartment and slammed the door in the faces of the deserving reporters.

"Thanks," she sighed, much relieved.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

She nodded. Opal Patten was the cousin of Brigham Pratt, another original member of the Elite, and she had just joined the fan club this last Christmas. Painfully shy and quiet, she was nonetheless a brilliant writer. She hadn't been able to gather the courage to submit her work for publication, so Anakin had hired her to ghostwrite his memoir. The book would not have her name on it in the end, but seeing her words in print might give her the boost she needed to submit something else.

"Hey, I know you!" Zack gushed. "You're Brig's cousin… um… Crystal? No, Pearl…"

"Opal," she replied, ducking her head and blushing.

"That's right, Opal. Knew it was a gemstone."

She sat down at the table and opened her laptop. "So what did the publisher say, Mr. Skywalker?"

"They are willing to take the manuscript," Anakin replied. "But they have given a two-year deadline."

"Then let's get cracking," she replied, her fingers curled over the keyboard.

"Wait a minute, Ruby, you're not gonna believe this," Zack cut in.

"Opal," she corrected.

"Sorry. But he's been offered free tickets to see the premiere of Episode III, and he's gonna turn them down!"

Opal shrugged. "Do you blame him?"

"Well, no. But still…"

"Zack, I will make this perfectly clear," Anakin said sternly. "I have no desire to relive that portion of my past. I have no desire to watch myself fall to the dark side again, even if in the back of my mind I know it is all computer graphics and bad acting. I will NOT be watching Episode III. End of discussion. You can go now."

"Fine, I'll go," Zack muttered. "I can tell when I'm not wanted." He picked up his books and strode out. "See ya round, Topaz."

"Opal."

"Oops, Opal."

A rare smile blossomed on Opal's lips after Zack had gone. "He's kind of cute."

"And annoying as hell," Anakin replied, going to sit in his chair. "Where did we leave off?"

Opal tapped a finger lightly against the keyboard, thoughtful. "You know," she said at length, "it would be fun to go to the premiere. I know you don't want to sit through that… but the rest of us, who've never lived through 'Star Wars' until very recently… we'd have a blast."

He had to concede that point. Even after living on Earth for a year, he still occasionally forgot that, to these people, the galaxy beyond theirs was still very much a novelty. And just because they now knew that the beloved heroes and villains of "Star Wars" really existed didn't mean their interest in the films had dimmed. If anything, that knowledge had only whetted their appetites for the final installment of the series.

But just because these people were obsessed with the films to the point of impersonating the characters, camping in front of theaters, writing lengthy fanfic, and counting down the seconds to May 19th didn't mean he had to get a piece of the action…

Then inspiration struck.

Opal had spent a lot of time around Anakin and had learned his body language well, so she picked up on what was going on immediately. "I've seen that look before. What's on your mind?"

"Hold the writing," he told her. He picked up the phone and dialed.

"This is Angie."

"Angie, this is Mr. Skywalker."

"Oh hi! So you got my message…"

"Yes, and you said I could have as many tickets as I wanted."

"Uh-huh?"

He made eye contact with Opal and nodded. "What if I needed an entire theater?"

Opal smiled again.

Break…

The theater was jammed with so many Stargeeks that some took to sitting on the floor in front of the screen or in the aisles. Fake lightsabers waved in the semidarkness, conversation bubbled and buzzed all around, buckets of popcorn were passed around. The atmosphere fairly vibrated with excitement as those gathered awaited the highly anticipated "Revenge of the Sith," due to start in ten minutes.

"This is so cool!" gushed Trapper, planting himself right in front of the big screen and craning his neck.

"Not so close, you'll hurt your eyes!" Austin ordered.

"Honestly, how can you see that close to the screen?" wondered Liz.

Anakin just smiled as he turned to shake the hand of Nick Staples, a deaf fan who had befriended his son last summer. This entire theater had been reserved for any of the citizens of Star City who wished to view the premiere – the entire Vader's Elite, other local fan clubs, casual fans, even a few people who had previously declared themselves against anything "Star Wars." In return for booking the entire theater, Anakin would remain outside for the duration of the film, answering questions and signing autographs. He thought it a fair exchange.

"Father?"

He turned to see Luke, Leia, and Han entering the theater. Chewie was close behind, a bucket of popcorn in each arm and his mouth full of the buttery kernels. Luke stepped aside to let the others find seats.

"Luke?" He wasn't expecting to see his son here.

Luke grinned. "Had to catch the action."

"I thought I told you all of this…"

"I know." He smiled. "But I would like to see for myself, if only to understand a little better."

Anakin wasn't sure about this. "Luke, it's extremely disturbing. Please understand that. If you watch this film… you'll probably hate me."

Luke placed a hand on his father's arm. "Father, this is my choice. I'm an adult, I can decide for myself. And no, I won't hate you. I may not like what you did, but I can't hate you."

He reached out and embraced his son. "I love you, Luke. I've said this many times, but you have your mother's heart."

Luke nodded. He knew how hard this was for Anakin. He knew about the slaughter of the Jedi, the fateful duel on Mustafar, even Padme's death as a result of his actions as Vader. And yet despite all that, he still loved him, still believed there was good in him.

His compassion would serve the Jedi well.

The Twentieth Century Fox fanfare began playing. The theater erupted into applause.

"I must go," Anakin told his son. "Take care."

"I will," Luke told him as he left the theater.

Break…

Anakin came home from the premiere to find a fresh bag of mail on his doorstep – letters from fans, some shocked, some angry, others sympathetic. The next few days brought floods more as the world let him know exactly what they thought of him in the wake of "Revenge of the Sith." He was surprised to find the notes of sympathy greatly outnumbered the flames.

"I detest your actions in Episode III, but I understand that you were manipulated into those actions. No, that doesn't make what you did right, but it's clear to me, at least, that you are not entirely at fault in what happened. The Emperor and the Jedi should share the blame. Gregory Palmer, Enterprise, FL."

"The Emperor was a cruel bastard and can rot in the underworld for all I care. You didn't deserve what he did to you. Kristen McFarland, Montreal, Canada."

"Question: If Obi-wan Kenobi was such a great friend to you, why didn't he try to save you after you fell in the pit, or at least grant you the mercy of a quick death? As a retired firefighter who's seen men killed in action, I know that burning is the most painful way to die. I think that Obi-wan should have acted with a little more compassion and not just jetted with your lightsaber, wife, and kids. Roger Shepherd, Memphis, TN."

"If marriage, love, and family weren't banned in the first place, would all this have happened? Tyler Denaski, Gresham, OR."

The phone rang in the midst of sorting, and he paused to answer.

"Father, it's me."

"Luke, what is it?" There was something about his son's voice.

Silence. Then, "I forgive you. For everything."

The latest letter blurred as tears filled Anakin's eyes. "My son… I wanted what was best for my family. I went about it the wrong way… but understand that I had no intention of becoming… that."

"I know, Father. I know. But I think things have turned out okay."

There was a long pause that spoke volumes. Then they exchanged goodbyes and hung up.

Anakin balled up the letter in his hands – an angry tirade calling for his immediate lynching – and lobbed it into the trash. Let the world think what they would. All that mattered was that he had not lost his son to the horrors of his past.