Rex was so busy backing the Force Adept into a corner that he didn’t even see that the Dark Jedi had thrown his lightsaber at him - let alone notice that its trajectory traced a broad loop around him and that it was now heading directly at the back of his neck. Luckily, even the most sneakily thrown of lightsabers is no match for ears honed for balance and blend by years of choral singing. Rex heard the characteristic thrum of the blade at the last instant, turned a backward somersault over the saber and then leaped sideways, trying to get both Sith in front of him. He reflected idly on how much the two-on-one sucked you had guy on either side of you.
The adept was to his left, pushing and pulling him with the Force to keep him off balance while his friend came in with a series of strong swipes. A couple of times the adept tried the classic choke-and-lift so his buddy could get a clean slice in, but there was no way Rex was going to fall for the oldest trick in the book.
He had just ducked behind a pillar and was getting ready to come out swinging when the mobile phone on his hip began beeping. Just then the force adept drenched his hidey-hole with evil blue force lightning while the dark Jedi came in over the top. Rex rolled low and turned away into the main corridor of the ancient Jedi tomb where they battled. His mobile phone was still beeping. He ran back towards the main hall in order to buy enough time to check his caller id.
Shit - his girlfriend. I had to take it.
Regretfully, Rex hit the ‘pause’ button on his Xbox.
“Hey hon,” said Kathy’s voice, “how’s tricks.”
“Just fine,” he said idly, “Perfecting my double-bladed light saber technique.”
“Double-bladed…?” she said with initial perplexity that quickly turned into more than a little hint of fed-upness in her voice, “Rex, you already are a Jedi. You don’t need to play video games - you’ve actually _got_ a lightsaber for chrissakes!”
“Are you kidding me,” Rex replied, cradling the phone between my elbow and neck and walking into the kitchen to make another martini, “Yoda and Nelson Rockefeller both have five bucks that say I’ll be able to take Chen at the LAN party in the council chambers next month. I can’t let them down - and you know how much time Chen spends online.”
Like most mobile phones, his got shitty reception. But Rex could still tell that the static on the other end of the line was Kathy sighing in exasperated resignation and not the signal fading out.
“Well if I may interrupt you, your Jediness, there’s something I thought you ought to know about.”
“But of course dearest,” He said sweetly, trying desperately not to piss off the lady with the crowbar, “what is it…?”
“I’m going to be a little late. Section 13 staff meeting after class, so I gotta stick around. Is it ok if we go out a little late?”
“Sure why not? We’re on vacation after all.”
* * *
Rex hung up and turned back to the TV screen. He looked curiously at his avatar, leaning with his back to a pillar as force lightning sizzled past his breast. The computer graphics weren’t good enough for the avatar’s head to turn to one side to see the Dark Jedi coming at him. The man was frozen four feet in the air, legs spread in a great bull frog leap, bringing his lightsaber straight down on top of Rex’s avatar’s skull. Rex shuddered - he’s seen that before in real life and remembered what a terrifying thing it was, Jedi equanimity or no. Realizing there was no way he could unfreeze the game without getting thoroughly cleaved, Rex spared his avatar the indignity of a high-resolution death and aborted the game. Back at the main menu he clicked into multiplayer.
To mere mortals the !YavinOnlyD00d! server was nothing more than the high-ping home of a particularly talented guild of Jedi Academy players with an idiosyncratic penchant for playing solely on the Yavin Temple map. Not that most people stayed very long - they got bored of the same map over and over again, and although lag and distance wrecked havoc on the future sight that Jedi reflexes relied on, even the most battle-hardened gamer geeks who wandered on to the server generally got their asses handed to them on a platter. Since guild membership was restricted to padawan and full Jedi, no outsiders ever got to join. The end result was that Jedi playing Jedi Academy online were pretty much left to themselves. This was fine with them - like Rex, most took a sort of wistful pleasure in the game’s hyperbolic representation of their abilities. Life as a Jedi in Jedi Academy seemed mysterious and powerful, not the endless striving towards self-improvement and moral clarity that was a real-life Jedi’s lot. And of all the maps you could play, Yavin Temple was a unanimous favorite. It was a graceful pseudo-Mayan interior with huge galleries and a mazes of corridors, the home of the Academy founded by Luke Skywalker in the years after Return of the Jedi as imagined by the fan community and immortalized in endless, poorly written mass market Star Wars-themed paperbacks. Why real Jedi found it so compelling was hard to determine. Maybe it was the Gothic way it was choked by vines. Maybe it was its ancient elegance. Rex had been heard to hypothesize that it was because, unlike the real Jedi Academy, Padawan hadn’t been forced to clean and scrub every corner of it in order to achieve a Zen-like calm and defray the horrendous maintenance costs that plagued the real Academy. All in all it was super-cool, and everyone loved it. Rex logged in.
Rex was fifth in the guild, with admin privileges that let him teleport around and shit. Unbeknowst to him, this position - higher than some members of the Council itself - was one of the major topics of discussion that swirled around him and his career every year when his position came up for review. Some cited it, along with his superb service record and unparalleled abilities with the lightsaber, as reason to promote him from adjunct to visiting assistant Jedi status. The conservative members of the council were suspicious of anyone who had started the training late, much less someone who tried to keep a romantic entanglement - oh yes, they knew all about that too - secret from the council. They argued that he had just played too many video games as a kid. All of which is to say that Rex logged on looking for blood and hoping 4n4k1n_5ux5 was online. Rex had never met 4n4k1n in real life but knew he was a 10 year old Padawan named Wilfred with a bright future ahead of him. Although his day job at this point doubtless consisted of mopping floors and trying in vain to get a small glass globe to levitate, he was an absolutely killer Jedi Academy player and was rising fast in the guild. The last time they had crossed virtual blades he had even managed to kill Rex once. It made Rex feel old, and so now he had something to prove.
And so Rex wandered idly through Yavin Temple, taking in the Gothic vines, when a figure emerged out of the shadows. A normal person’s hands would have tightened imperceptibly on the controls of Rex’s X-box. But Rex allowed an icy, emotionless calm to come over him and began casting about in his intuition of the future to see how he could best kick some ten year old Jedi ass.
Surprisingly, he felt no one there with him. He let out a short, un-Jedi-like snort of disgust when he realized he was about to cut down some newbie moron who had wander onto the server.
hi nfp k?
messaged the guy to him. The nickname to the left of the message was ‘thor_g’. Nfp (’No Force Powers’) was a standard convention in on-line fighting. It meant they’d just use sabers and not any of the other Jedi powers which were, somewhat inaccurately in Rex’s opinion, built into the game.
Rex sent back, his unimaginative screen name, RexM, glowing emerald to the left of the message.
They squared off and the guy ran a short macro that made him make a beckoning gesture with one hand while his lightsaber twirled in the air over the upturned palm of the other. Rex made his double lightsaber live.
Rex advanced towards the man, his avatar twisting to the left and right like an epileptic - totally unrealistic but an essential part of online play. Rex came at his with a fast forward swipe and then pulled back to get out of his range and… found his body sizzling on the floor, dead.
The console in his window read thor_g: gf
gf: ‘good fight’.
“Holy shit,” murmured Rex, gf’ing thor_g back in a spirit of good sportsmanship. He respawned and teleported back to the room.
admin huh? kewl. gen :?)
Rex took stock of the man again. He was fighting with a single lightsaber with a blue blade. Now, as far as Rex was concerned a single blade was the only way to fight in real-life. But a blue blade? As far as Rex was concerned, fighting with a blue blade, like the name ‘Rainbow,’ was the sort of thing female padwan chose for themselves as little girls and never managed to live down ever. Not that this guy could have know about the elaborate ins-and-outs of Jedi chic, but still. Rex decided this guy was a fucking looser.
Rex moved in a little more slowly. The man stabbed quickly at him and backed away. Rex kept moving and made a strong thrust. Thor_g parried and Rex did a back flip, trying to get away before thor_g could exploit the momentary vulnerability programmed into the game after anyone made a strong strike. He was halfway in the air when thor_g followed him forward in the leap and, in a miracle of precision timing, clocked him in the head. Rex’s eyes narrowed in concentration as he watched his health bar sink by two thirds. He was in trouble. And thor_g knew it too - he was pressing his attack, not giving Rex any room. Rex somersaulted back again, managing to get past thor_g’s defenses and deal him at least a little bit of damage. Thor_g followed him on the ground. Rex landed, parried, and, sensing an opportunity, laid into him. Thor_g took the damage, almost as much as Rex had just sustained, soaked it up, and waited to Rex’s strike to end. Then he ran him through on his blade.
thor_g: gf gen?
Rex was now thoroughly pissed off. First, he had just been beaten twice in a row - something that almost never happened to him. And by a non-Jedi no less! Second, the motherfucker had a blue blade. And finally, he just would not stop using those goddamn smilies. Fuck!
RexM: gf sorry gotta go c u
Rex logged off in disgust and leaned back on the couch. Ambi ran in from the other room and, seeing his master’s upside down frown, put his head in Rex’s lap and gave him an Unconditional Dog Love stare.
“Yeah yeah I know,” said Rex, scratching Ambi’s head, “some walkies would probably make both of us feel better.”
* * *
To most Jedi, the translucent green credit card in Rex’s pocket was a valuable tool not to be abused. The younger Padawan, however, referred to it as “The Jedi Platinum Express - the credit card you mysteriously want to accept.” Rex walked up to an ATM, took out a few hundred dollars, and overrode the $1.75 processing fee just because he could.
“Rex, you just took out like five hundred dollars from that machine!” Said Kathy, eyes bugging out.
“Yeah well I figured: God forbid The Fung should make some money tonight.”
“But, like, five hundred dollars?”
“You never told me you could do that! Let me see!” said Kathy, snatching the card out of Rex’s hand and holding it under the bug-splattered fluorescent light which cast a pool of light around the ATM. Downtown Honolulu smelled like asphalt and humidity, not flowers and the sea.
“Most of the time there’s no need. It’s considered kinda ghetto to have to ever actually use money as a Jedi. But it’s there if we need it, and it’s not at all unusual for Jedi to use it when on leave.”
“Damn,” said Kathy, staring at the card. “Could I buy a Lexus with this?”
Rex snatched it out of her hand and snuck it back into his pocket.
“That’s not the point, Kathy.” He took her by the arm and they started walking towards the club.
“I’m just saying.”
“There’s a difference between being able to do something and actually deciding to do it.”
“That’s ridiculous. Come at the world with the biggest guns you’ve got — that’s my motto.”
“No shit. But it’s not mine.”
“C’mon Rex that’s bullshit — you’re a Jedi. All you do is come at the world with big guns,” she kissed him on the ear as they walked. “That’s why I like you.”
Rex laughed sadly.
“Trust me. The whole point of not going all Dark Jedi — other than the terrible skin and awful taste in decor — is to do what you _have to_ and not what you _can_ do.”
“Now that is truly the biggest lie I’ve heard from you. All you Jedi do is be awesome and kick ass.”
“You’ve never met another Jedi beside me, Kathy.” said Rex, a bit tiredly.
“Well we decided a long time ago not to mix business with pleasure. I sure as hell haven’t seen that card before. I’d have remembered it if I had, that’s for sure.”
“Just take my word for it.”
“I still say it’s bullshit.”
Rex stopped walking and stared at her.
“Is it Kathy? Is it really? Do you know what I’m really capable of?”
“Rex, we grew up together. I’m keenly aware of how little you can do.”
“Well do you know how it is sometimes when we fight and you get pissed at me, I’ve said something wrong or done something to upset you or make you unhappy, and you’re chewing me out and I look up at you with puppy dog eyes and say ‘Kathy, why do we have to do this? I love you.’ And your anger evaporates and you’re filled with an overwhelming, selfless urge to make me happy?”
“No,” said Kathy skeptically. “Normally when I’m pissed at you I punch you in the kidneys or deny you cigarettes.”
Kathy laughed a little too sharply.
“That’s bullshit,” she said, less certainly “you can’t do that.”
Rex turned her to face him and put his arms on her shoulders.
“Do you want me to prove it to you? Now?” he said sadly, softly. He slowly let his conscious uncoil into hers.
His eyes swallowed her up with an awful certainty and force.
“No,” she said, blanching. “Don’t. Please don’t. Ever.”
He stared at her for a long second and then pulled her towards him. He kissed her hair.
“I don’t like it when we’re unhappy,” he said. “But I… it would be wrong to… Oh Kathy, there’s just some things… there’s just no point sometimes…”
* * *
They walked along in the warm dark for a few minutes in silence.
“Bad afternoon?” she ventured.
“Got my ass kicked online,” he confirmed.
“Well a dance or two and you’ll feel better,” she said, slipping her arm around him and squeezing. Rex smiled. They walked into the club.