The Argument

Chris Van Deelen

Staff Sergeant Young opened his eyes and looked blearily around. At first his mind was a jumbled, chaotic mess of conflicting images and sounds, and nothing made sense. The air smelled sweet and there was the scent of new life mingled in with exhaust and the tantalizing smell of vendor trucks.

“What the hell is going on?” He asked aloud. He discovered he was sitting on a wooden bench and within the time it took for his heart to pump once, he realized he was planet-side. Earth? He wondered. The gravity felt right, the sky was the correct shade of blue, and there was not a single cloud to be seen anywhere.

“How did I get here?” He said in confusion as he stood up on shaky legs. His body was soaked in sweat and his hair was plastered to his forehead. He took a deep breath and felt the familiar dull ache he always experienced when he had been exerting himself beyond the breaking point.

And yet… it looked as if he was outside a large office complex. He turned and looked about, seeing trees, shrubs and a line of food trucks lined up along the street. Although it had to be twenty years since he had stepped inside such a location, he knew it quite well. The green space was set aside for employees to relax and take a break or even enjoy a lunch in the sunshine.

All around him he saw men and women in suits, skirts and ties. There were the usual crowd of support staff, and he instantly could make out the IT or information technology employees. They were the ones wearing jeans and T-shirts and definitely looked out of place.

“Dude, what’s with the armor?” A young man said as he passed. He was munching on a bag of Doritos while he walked. Young looked at the man, his face a mask of confusion. The speaker was wearing grey shorts, a white t-shirt and a black button up long-sleeve shirt over that. He also had a pair of flip-flops which made a swish-slap sound with each step. Feeling Young’s gaze, the man stopped and stared at him. “I mean, come on, it’s casual Friday, but this is ridiculous!”

“Casual Friday?” Young parroted stupidly.

“Whatever, dude, but you better not let Vader catch you like that,” he waved dismissively. With a shake of his head, he reached into the bag and pulled out a handful of chips. The IT man proceeded to stuff them into his mouth and he walked away.

Young shook his head and he could feel the pressure from a headache just starting to form. His vision went blurry for a moment and he felt a disturbing wave of vertigo but it passed quickly.

A pair of young women, both in skirts and sharp business blazers over white blouses walked by. Both gave him the once over and appeared to be both amused and interested all at once.

“Ladies,” he managed to say in as casual a voice as he could muster.

The older of the two, a woman in her mid to late twenties, smiled and winked. She had a very pretty face and dark brown eyes and hair. “Looks good on you, Marine,” she laughed and then they were gone.

“Marine?” He said stupidly. Young was really starting to get annoyed with himself and the stupid way he was mimicking everything people were saying to him. He looked down and was shocked to discover he was dressed in dirty, sweat stained fatigues and the standard M3 combat armor.

“Oh.” He wanted to punch himself in the face, right there and then.

“Staff Sergeant Young, would you mind telling me what you’re doing here?” A deep, resonant voice called it. There was a strange, nearly robotic quality to the voice and it commanded his immediate attention. The voice had his full, undivided attention.  It was like a Chihuahua – once it bit, it refused to let go.

“Do not make me repeat myself,” the voice repeated.

Young nearly burst out laughing at the absurdity of the statement and finally turned to face the speaker. He blinked and shook his head at the sight. “Vader?”

The speaker was a large man, about Young’s height. He was dressed in a black dress-shirt, trousers, a grey tie and red suspenders. The familiar helmet covered his face and he was holding a mug in his right hand. The mug had the Sith logo and the title ‘Sith Tech’. Vader’s entire demeanor was that of supreme annoyance. “That’s Lord Vader to you, Staff Sergeant Young.”

Young held up his hands and shook his head. “Wait, wait, wait, wait – Lord Vader?” He asked his voice one part amusement, one part incredulousness. “I mean, come on now, you’re just middle management. You have to get to CEO status before you can call yourself ‘Lord’,” he made air quotes with his fingers.

“I’m working my way up, and if you know what is good for you, Staff Sergeant Young, you will start to address in the manner befitting my stature.”

Young snorted, a grin crossing his face and he waved a dismissive hand. “A two bit, tin plated middle management dictator with delusions of emperor-hood?”

Vader stood there, mug in hand, breathing his deep, monotone inhalations. The only sign of agitation was the mug in his hand began to tremble slightly. “You would be wise to consider your words before you spoke. You have no idea the power of middle management.”

“Fine, fine, whatever, go write me up for insubordination. What’s the worst you could do? Send me off on some mission to a colony world we lost contact with?” He snorted in derision and waved a dismissive hand.

“There is always the experimental division, they are always looking for volunteers to test new bio-weapons on,” Vader replied. He had regained control over his temper and the mug no longer trembled.

He could feel the sweat trickling down his back. He opened his mouth to speak and got a sudden whiff of something acrid, like metal subjected to concentrated acid. “Look, Vader, I’m on my break, can’t this wait until I get back to work?” It felt like the right thing to say, so he decided to go with it.

“You have failed me for the last time,” Vader hissed out menacingly.

“What?” Young threw his hands up in exasperation. “What the hell are you talking about?”

Vader lifted the Sith mug to the grate covering his mouth. There was a loud clink of ceramic on metal and he stared at the cup as if it had just offended him. “You know what I’m talking about,” he growled.

This time Young could not restrain the laughter. It hurt his head; it felt as if someone was beating the inside of his skull with a rubber chicken. That thought gave him pause. What the hell did it feel like, having the inside of your head whacked with a rubber chicken? He had no idea, but he was certain it felt just like this. “How are you going to drink your coffee through that mask?”

Vader took a menacing step towards him and then paused and looked at the mug in his gauntleted fist. “That does not concern you,” he growled out. “And do not mock me again; you underestimate the power of the dark side.”

“And that is exactly why I’m just a lowly Staff Sergeant and you’re in middle management,” Young mocked. “I read the pamphlets, I know the line,” he made air quotes again. “Join the dark side, we have cookies!”

“Well,” Vader said, tilting his head to the side and staring at Young. “We do! Chocolate Chip, Oreo, and the emperor’s favorite, Vanilla Wafers.

Young raised his hands in exasperation. “Like I give a damn what the emperor likes, he’s not down here in the trenches. He certainly isn’t watching his buddies get torn apart and burning his hands changing out M41A1 magazines.”

“Watch what you say about the emperor,” Vader warned, pointing at Young with one finger. “He is not as forgiving as I am.”

“Um, Vader?”

“What?”

“Don’t you have some chickens to force-choke or something? Leave me alone, I need to get back to lunch. Hell I haven’t even decided what I am going to eat!”

Vader reacted as if someone had just slapped him across the face. He staggered back several steps, sputtering and unsuccessfully trying to string more than three words together.

Young, feeling emboldened, followed in his footsteps. “Your Midi-Chlorian levels too low or something?”

He stopped and reached out with one hand. Young felt a slight pressure at his throat, as if a child had placed his hand there and was trying to squeeze. Vader lifted his arm, but Young’s feet remained firmly planted on the ground. The dark lord of the Sith, despite having the full mask covering his face, looked perplexed.

“Tell you what, Vader,” Young offered. “Why not stop with the middle-management micromanaging and let me buy you lunch?”  He waved a hand over to the trucks. “After all, they have Snickers, and you know how unpleasant you get when you’re hungry.”

Vader’s gaze followed Young’s hand and he contemplated the offer. Then with a shake of his head, he spoke; “You may dispense with the pleasantries, Staff Sergeant. I am here to put you back on schedule”

“What bloody schedule?” Young threw up his hands in exasperation. “I’m on lunch for the love of Christ!”

“Really?” Vader asked and he lifted one gauntleted hand to look at a non-existent watch. He then turned his gaze upon the Staff Sergeant. “What time is it?”

Young glanced down at his right wrist. The hair on his arm was singed and he could see several deep scratches. Funny, he did not feel any pain. There was a battered old-fashioned watch held in place by a thick leather strap. He tried to read the numbers, but they appeared as gibberish. Instead of letting it show on his face, he shrugged. “A few minutes after twelve.”

It was Vader’s turn to sound surprised. “Oh.” He then changed his entire demeanor and shrugged. “Fine, buy me lunch, and I’ll forget about your insubordination.”

“Not like I didn’t mention it half a dozen times,” Young grumbled.

Together, Vader and Staff Sergeant Young walked over to the nearest of the food trucks. There was nobody in line, so they walked right up to the vendor. He was a middle aged man with a great paunch, and had deep wrinkles etched upon his face. Young ordered for both and they had the food in minutes.

Together, he and Vader walked over to a couple of empty benches and sat down. They stared at one another in silence for several long seconds before Young picked up his burrito and took a bite. “So,” he said, his voice muffled by the food. “Have you heard about the new mass drivers we’re installing on the fleet battleships?” He swallowed and took another bite. “I hear we can take out an entire planet if we turn all our ships on one.”

“The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force,” Vader said deadpanned as he looked at his plate of burritos and nachos.

“There you go again, preaching your ancient religion and talk about wizardy and stuff. Get with the modern era!”

Vader looked up from his food and shook his head. “I find your lack of faith disturbing”

Young sighed and looked away. He spotted a lone woman with a head of blond hair. She was wearing short-shorts and a barely there top, and was jogging past. The way her breasts bounced up and down was – tantalizing. A second later he looked at Vader and was surprised to see one of the burritos and about a third of the nachos were gone. He was even more shocked to see Vader clearly admiring the woman as she passed.

“The force is strong in that one,” Vader quipped and nodded his helmeted head.

“Um, last time I checked I think they’re called boob-jobs.” Countered Young.

They continued to eat in silence. Every time Young looked away, more and more of the food disappeared from Vader’s plate.

“That one,” Vader pointed to a girl in a short, red dress. “I haven’t felt such a presence in…” he trailed off. As the girl walked by, he gestured with his gauntleted hand and the back of her short dress lifted, revealing a sweet, heart-shaped rear and a white thong. She screeched indignantly and dropped her bag as she fought to hold her dress down. Vader released the dress as she turned to glare at the two men.

Young nearly choked on his burrito and went into a coughing fit. He punched himself in the chest several times and finally the chunk of Mexican food found its way into his stomach.

Vader merely watched shook his head, somewhat annoyed.

“I hate to admit it, Vader,” Young said, his face beet red from nearly choking, “you’ve got a nasty sense of humor.”

The dark lord of the Sith ignored him and concentrated on his food. He even tried to watch the Dark Lord of the Sith from the corner of his eye, but something always distracted him. He decided to change tactics. “So, Vader, you wanted me back on schedule. What exactly am I doing?”

“Once lunch is over, I expect you to take the ridge,” Vader explained. “WY has a squad of mercenaries that are trying to protect the research facility near the derelict, and I expect you to take it. You have thirty minutes to accomplish this.”

“Thirty minutes? Are you insane, Vader?” Young placed his half-empty plate on the bench beside him. “That is going to take a full squad, if not two, and at least an hour!”

“I am altering the deal; pray I do not alter it any further…” Vader warned dangerously.

“What kind of deal are you talking about?” Young replied, feeling his own anger starting to build. “First you drop us on this hell-hole of a planet. Then you give us no warning about what to expect, and a timetable which is all but impossible to accomplish?” The next thing Young new, he had his service pistol in his hand and he was aiming the barrel at Vader’s helmeted face.

To his credit, Vader was unmoved. Then again, if he wore any expression at all, it would be impossible to see it. “Impressive. Most impressive. I see you have been paying attention in class. You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can lead you to completing the goals I have laid out for you.”

“Lord Vader!” A voice cried out. Both he and Young turned to see three people rushing towards them. One held a portable video camera, the other a digital camera in her hands.

“Crap,” Young cursed and quickly hid the handgun behind his back. The last thing he needed was to have a picture of him pointing a pistol at Vader. Then again, it would garner him some serious street-cred with the others in his platoon.

“Lord Vader!” The only woman in the group called out. She was a mousy-looking woman, barely five feet in height. She had on a very unflattering brown skirt-suit and a haircut which looked as if someone placed a bowl on her brown hair. The woman reeked of brown and Young would not have been surprised to see whiskers growing from her face.

“What is it?” Vader demanded as the trio stopped in front of him.

“The Emperor has named you manager of the month,” she began.

“What, wait, seriously?” Young laughed. “Vader, manager of the month? If that’s the best we can do, no matter WY is dominating the stock-market.”  He managed to slip the pistol back into the holster at his hip.

“Shut up,” Vader hissed. “The Emperor knows what he is doing.”

Young made loud kissing noises and pointed at his camouflaged ass.

“Are you two finished?” The mousy woman demanded haughtily. “Lord Vader, the Emperor wants a picture of you with one of your peons, I mean, workers, for next month’s newsletter.”

After studying the woman for several seconds, Young decided he would call her miss mousy. It fit her like a glove.

“There is no one suitable for that,” Vader began.

“Nonsense!” The woman cried. “You, the guy who takes casual Friday to the extreme, stand next to Lord Vader.”

Young looked around and with mounting horror; realized miss mousy was speaking to him. He held out his hands in front of him and shook his head. “Oh hell no!” He began to back away. “No way, not a chance. We all know what he’s like,” he jerked a thumb towards Vader. “And we’ve all see the pictures some idiot keeps placing around the office!”

“You have no choice,” Vader said simply. “Just get over here and let’s get this over.” He pointed at the ground next to him. “Believe me, I’d rather have my picture taken with a force-choked chicken than you, but we all have to make sacrifices.”

“Right,” Young retorted. “Great, and now you’re using my own jokes,” He sighed in resignation. “I’m in the trenches, fighting the battles you twits in middle and upper management demand us to fight. We die, you guys get promoted. How fair is that?” Young whined. He was still feeling the aches and pains and wondered why his left arm felt like it was burning. When he looked down he could see spots covering about a quarter of the flesh. Where the spots appeared, the hair had burned away and he could see small craters, which looked as if he had been hit with drops of acid. Why it did not hurt worse, he wondered?

“Time’s wasting,” miss mousy demanded. “Get your skinny ass over there and smile for the camera.”

With a sigh, Young stood next to Vader. He crossed his arms so he could cover the strange burns and did his best to smile.

“That’s more like it,” she beamed. Miss mousy stood aside and held a microphone up to her lips and began to speak. She started out saying how Vader had begun his career as a lowly office worker. She went on to explain how through diligent work and courses he had managed to secure his place in middle management and had the Emperor’s attention.

“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this fake-assed smile on my face!” Young complained through the corner of his mouth. He glanced out of the corner of his eye. “Jeeze, at least you have a mask on, you don’t have to keep a smile plastered on your lips.”

“I am smiling,” Vader retorted.

Young dropped his arms and faced Vader, as miss mousy continued her deadly-dull monolog. “Yeah, right,” he laughed bitterly. “I bet you haven’t seen the meme that’s been floating around.”

“I have,” Vader said, turning to stare at him. “I thought it was highly amusing.” He stood and pointed at his face. “This is my angry face,” he turned his head and looked back. “This is my surprised face,” then he looked at the ground. “This is my sad face.”

Young could not help it, he started to laugh. He slapped his thigh and his left leg began to throb. Strange, he frowned. Young could have sworn something heavy was pinning it down, but that was impossible.

Wasn’t it?

“Are you two finished?” Miss mousy woman demanded.

When he turned to look at her, he nearly choked again. She was as red as a lobster and her eyes were nearly bulging out of her skull, she was so angry.

“Yes,” Vader said in his flat monotone voice. “We are, you may continue.”

Miss mousy nodded curtly and pointed at Young. “Smile, drone!”

Young was tempted to pull his pistol and put a round between those ugly, mouse-brown eyes but he refrained. He did not want to deal with the paperwork. He plastered the best smile he could manage on his face and held the pose he had adopted earlier. “Vader,” he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

“What is it this time?” Vader demanded, equally low.

“You should capture her speech; it would make the company millions as a remedy for insomnia.”

Vader actually laughed. “I’ll send a memo to the R&D department.”

After what felt like an eternity, miss mousy finished her speech and the pictures were taken. The camera man came up and held up the camera for Vader and Young to see. He had to admit, he was impressed. He looked good!

“You two may return to your lunch,” miss mousy intoned and without waiting for a reply, she and her lackeys left.

“Thank god,” Young breathed in relief. He rubbed his eyes and then wiped the sweat off his brow.

“Indeed,” Vader agreed. “I feel like joining the light-side after that.”

“We have cookies,” Young laughed light. He winced, feeling the pressure building in his skull, as if someone was squeezing his temples.

“Who’s using whose joke now,” Vader snorted.

“Look, I have to get back to work, especially if you expect me to take that ridge.”

Vader nodded. “I have faith in you, son.”

“Wait, what?” Young blurted. The pressure continued to mount in his skull and he could swear he was hearing voices, calling as if from a long distance. “I’m not your son, and that’s pretty damned demeaning.”

The dark lord of the Sith turned and placed one gauntleted hand on his hip, the other still held the ‘Sith Tech’ mug. “Young, I am your father.”

“Hey, Vader, whatever you’re smoking, how about sharing some? I know I could use it right about now.” In the distance, he thought he could hear screaming. The sounds of several M41A1’s on full auto were as clear as if they were being fired next to him.

“Young, wake up!” Someone screamed at him.

He looked around, and the scenery flickered from a pleasant, manicured lawn and food trucks to a rocky, grey, rain-washed plateau. He blinked and the scene returned to the lawn.

“Search your feelings, Young. You know this to be true.”

“Vader, enough already, I’m older than you by nearly 18 years!”

“That doesn’t matter, Vader said,” he held up the mug. “One last thing – if you could go out there and kill some more xenomorphs that would be great!”

“Xenomorphs?” Young asked and something stung his face and there was a powerful, acrid scent filling his nose. He blinked and then the entire scene changed.

“What the hell?”

“Sarge,” a young man in Colonial Marine armor with a large Red Cross emblazoned on his chest called out in relief. “Thank Christ, you’re alive!”

It took Young a second to blink away the strange vision he had just been experiencing. Everything came rushing back to him in a single heartbeat. They were on a planet called LV-426. He had been part of the marine contingent on the Sephora. They had been sent to investigate the derelict ship, the Sulaco.

In a matter of hours, the situation went from bad to worse. On board the Sulaco he had faced and battled creatures out of his worst nightmare. Coupled with Weyland-Yutani mercenaries, the situation got completely out of hand.

Now, he and the surviving marines were stranded on the surface and have been battling for their very lives for what felt like days. In truth, it had only been a few hours, but he was exhausted and wounded.

“Sarge,” the medic snarled. “Snap out of it!”

Young shook his head and felt around on the ground next to him. His hand came to rest on the familiar shape of his trusty M41A1 pulse rifle. In a flash he had it in both hands and turned the weapon over to read the counter. Fifty rounds left. “Got any spare magazines?”

The medic grabbed four and shoved them at Young. He grabbed all the ammunition and slid the magazines home in the webbing on his armor.

“We’re holding this ridge, but there are too many of those creatures,” the medic told him.

Cursing, Young scrambled to his feet. He nearly fell back down when the waves of vertigo hit him.

“Easy,” the medic said. “You’ve got a concussion.

“Make up your mind,” Young snarled as he fought to keep his stomach down and waited for the dizziness and nausea to subside. There was a sharp prick on his arm and he looked down just in time to see the medic pulling out a needle. “What the hell?”

“That’ll help with your symptoms.”

Before Young could reply, a huge, black form appeared behind the medic. It was one of the nightmarish creatures he had faced on the Sulaco and had been battling across the surface of the planet. “Down!” He screamed.

The medic did not have to be told twice. He dropped and rolled to the side as Young brought up the rifle and fired off a burst. The creature screamed in agony as the rounds punched through the rib-cage and staggered it back. “You want some of this?” Young screamed and pulled the trigger again. This time the creature’s eyeless face exploded and sprayed a thick, yellow liquid everywhere.

That’s where he got the burns from, he realized. The damn bugs have acid for blood!

Luckily, no one was caught in the spray from the creature’s death-throes.

“Are you alright?” Young called out to the medic. He was about to offer his hand when the sight that greeted his eyes caused his blood to turn to ice-water in his veins. A few hundred yards from where he stood he saw dozens upon dozens of the deadly, acid-bleeding xenomorphs. It looked as if every single one of the creatures on the planet decided to come racing at him.

The medic followed his gaze and cursed as he turned as white as a ghost. He scrambled to his feet and all around the two of them, the surviving marines opened fire.

Young switched his rifle from full auto to three-round burst mode. He knew that every single shot had to count and he was not about to ‘spray and pray’ as many green recruits would. He looked around and saw that there were maybe a dozen, possibly as many as twenty more marines with him, all of them carefully picking their targets and firing.

“Remember,” he screamed over the cacophony of weapons fire. “Short, controlled bursts!” Hefting the weapon, he was relieved to see it held two grenades in the launcher. It would help.

“Come and get some!” He screamed and then did the last thing any of his fellow marines expected… he charged the incoming wave of aliens.

With every step he took, he aimed, fired and then switched targets. “Come and get it baby!” he screamed as he downed first two, then three, and finally four of the black insect-like monstrosities.

“Sarge, get back behind the lines!” Cried one of the privates. “You’re going to get yourself killed!”

Young saw the distance between him and the closest of the creatures was down to less than a hundred yards. His mind refused to be cowed by the sight, though there were still dozens of the screaming, clawing and chittering aliens. “Come on you bastards!” He triggered the grenade launcher and the explosive round flew true, impacting in a small cluster of the creatures, blowing them apart.

“Sarge, you’re going to get yourself killed!” The same private screamed again and cursed. He leapt out from behind cover and ran after Young, firing as his long strides ate the distance.

Staff Sergeant Young hit the release button and let the empty magazine fall to the muddy ground. He slapped a fresh magazine home, charged the weapon and continued firing. Another eight of the creatures fell beneath his onslaught, more were cut down by the covering fire provided from the marines in the rear.

“Is that enough for you Vader?” He screamed. Now the creatures were less than fifty yards away. He took careful aim and dropped another three with clean single-round head-shots before his second magazine ran dry.

By now six more marines had joined him and with the added fire from their rifles. The oncoming wave of black-exoskeleton death was starting to show significant losses from the withering fire.

“Is that enough Xenomorphs for you, ya black hearted dark lord of the Sith?” He cried out as the range decreased to less than ten yards. He could see the empty eye-sockets beneath the smooth dome of the elongated skulls, the grinning, chittering teeth. The strange and deadly inner jaws pumping in anticipation of rending and tearing flesh.

The sounds of dying marines and aliens filled his entire universe. His vision narrowed to a tiny-pinprick as he focused in on the advancing aliens. The creatures died in droves and when he finally fired the last of his ammunition for the rifle, he dropped the weapon. It lay in the mud, smoking and hissing and he drew his side-arm.

Something clawed at his torso and he felt the impact of sharp talons across his chest-plate. It held and he fired, point blank into the grinning visage of one of the creatures. The fight felt like it went on forever, and the whole time he kept alternately cursing and demanding answers from Vader.

At long last, the fight was over.

Young’s vision returned to normal and he stood there, his hands on his knees, panting and trying to catch his breath. All around him the battlefield was littered with the corpses of the alien creatures. A few still moved here and there, but they were quickly dispatched by the surviving marines.

“Sarge, what the hell?” The medic demanded, coming over to him.

He blinked and wiped the sweat from his eyes. Every part of his body was a mass of pain and suffering. “What?” He asked and a second later, he puked.

“What were you doing?” The medic asked as he pulled out another needle from his rapidly diminishing medical kit. “Who the hell is lord Vader, and why were you swearing at him?”

With the back of his hand, Young wiped his mouth clean and then spit into the mud. Only a few inches away from his booted foot was the grinning skull of one of the aliens. He spit again, letting his thick saliva mingle with the rain on the creature’s face.

“I was?”

“You were.”

“Huh,” he said with a slight grin. “You said I had a concussion?”

“You have a concussion,” the medic corrected.

“Well, I certainly had one hell of a dream then.”

 

The End.