Star Troupers

“All who love are damned
Those who love actors. . .
doubly so”

~ Draven Chandler, Character Actor, Thespian Star Troupe Initiative

Chapter One ~ the Company

I suppose that in every story there must be a dramatic question. For Instance, ‘Can a troupe of re-purposed metamorph assassins effectively bring Central Human culture to the backwater planets of the Inner-Rim?’ Some of the auxiliary questions could be: ‘Can they do this better than the Droid Theatre troupes on Central?’, ‘Can they do this without being shot from the sky?’, ‘Can they do this without killing each other after months of ship time?’, or perhaps, “Can they do this without picking a random star and sailing off into the Vasty-Void, never to be seen again?’
Of course there was always the question of “Would it be a good idea to get these actors away from the centers of civilization? And then there were those unsubstantiated rumors that our troupe was nothing more than cadre of shape-shifting spies for Central. But I digress.
~
As we emerged from Geodesic Space the Citizens Armada of Eljera made its presence known in the form of planetary gnats swarming the IGS Parnassus, our ship.
I was allowed on the bridge to speak with the aboriginals, provided, of course, I didn’t touch anything or distract any of the crew who were engaged in the ‘important’ tasks.
Dwight Ikewater (ship’s Go-captain) was not involved with any of the important activities as we plunged toward the primary star. He leaned against the communication console while I dialed in the lead hornet in the swarm.
The ruddy face of the wing captain rezzed into view on the display. Our escort was of a stocky build with very odd hand manners, weird exaggerated mouth and lip movements, sneaky slit eyes and a mop of unkempt hair.
Dwight whispered, “It seems hygiene is something of a lost art on the Rim.”
I said, “Salutation and regards from the IGS Parnassus. We are pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“Now, just you hold back there a second, Mack.”
“Yes, I am holding.”
He seemed to be ruminating, then said, “We don’t need you here messing with our people.”
“Is there a problem?”
He said, “Yeah, we don’t want Central here.”
“OK. What do you suggest?”
“Turn around. . .”
Dwight nudged me aside and I slid out of the seat. Dwight paused a moment to be certain wing captain could see him. “Wing Captain, I need to speak with your commander.”
“Commander don’t need you. . .” and Dwight broke the link.
He called up several files and dialed two other numbers. The second one pulled in a man who looked very much like a retired Marine Corps commander, which in fact, he was.
Dwight smiled and the man on the screen did much the same. The man said, “How may I assist you?”
“Commander, it is my understanding that the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative has been negotiated with the regional government of the Eljera system. Imagine my concern when I am instructed to ‘turn around’ and go back.”
The Commander leaned closer to his pickup, “I’ve met you, haven’t I?”
“Commander, I am Dwight Ikewater, ship’s Go-captain for the IGS Parnassus.”
“Ikewater. . .? the New Gaelic Dragoons?”
“That was during the Fell Wars, sir. I served under General Marzet. I’m a pilot on civilian craft now.”
“Local color doesn’t care much for Central.”
“Sir, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative is an NGO. They do not answer to Central. Here is Draven Chandler the alpha of the theater troupe we are transporting. He can explain it better than I.”
I slid into view, said, “Hello. We are a band of traveling actors with no political agenda. We won a grant to do Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar for the Inner-Rim and we would like to present a few shows for you before we head on to our next venue.”
“What did you do during the war?”
“Nothing sir, I am an actor.”
The Commander asked, “Metamorph?”
“Yes, not all actors are metamorphs, but all metamorphs are actors.”
“You a changeling? Show me something.”
“Don’t believe the chatter, morph-transformation takes several days and we can’t change things like our height and weight.”
“You have been briefed on local protocols?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ikewater, I’ll reign in the hounds of war and we’ll pass approach vectors to your ship’s Stop-captain. Gentlemen, Eljera can be a nice place once you get to know it.” The screen went blank.
Anouk (ship’s Stop-captain) spoke up from her harness, “Ike? What’s the call?”
“Planet traffic control will be feeding you approach vectors in a moment.”
“Are we good, Ike?”
“Yeah, we’re going in.”
~
After the Fell Wars of 2347 it was decided that the Metamorph Assassin Corps, developed by all parties, might be reintegrated and re-purposed as actors. Hence, the Thespian Star Troupe Initiative was set up as a Non-governmental Organization and home for some very cranky metamorphs.
Shakespeare productions were often the most popular choices of our planners. To this end our trope was assigned the play Julius Caesar.
Why did it have to be the Julius Caesar? What in the Seven Heavens would a dirt-grubbing pack of Inner-Rim rubes in the Eljera system get out of one of Shakespeare’s Earth-history plays? I’ve always felt the play should have been named after my character, after all Brutus has four times as many lines as Caesar; and the central drama of the play my character’s struggle with the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship. The Tragedy of Brutus, catchy, no?
On a totally different vector, I’ve often heard it said that nothing good ever comes from putting on the Scottish Play, but you have to love the characters. . . Of course there isn’t anything wrong with doing Brutus; what’s not to love? (Could’a been worse, could’a been Romeo and Juliet)

Chapter Two ~ the Incident in the Welcome-bay

Jennifer James (Troupe Director), Chy 9 (Alpha Droid & Stage Manager) and 01010111.0100001 (57.42, Fifty Seven Forty Two or Forty two {his nick-number}, Gaffer) and I were summoned into the Welcome-bay. The Eljera Land-captain seemed pleased to see us. As the alpha actor I was only there as a courtesy, but Forty-two, Chy and I had become friends on the voyage.
Fairly standard port protocols and lots of moderately interested local folk. . .
An overweight, light haired curmudgeon (the Elected President) surrounded by lilliputian sycophants wadded into the Welcome bay. Being a metamorph I immediately noticed the dissonance between everyone’s expression and their body language. These people were terrified.
The Bay-captain’s eyes told a tale of loss and horror within a face that sought to show happiness. Not for the first time I realized that every human living in a civilization is some kind of metamorph. Sad.
“What, ever, you, do. . . never play cards with him,” the Bay-captain interrupted my reverie.
“?”
“He’ll trump you every time and have your head if you point out the cards up his sleeve. No, he literally has cards up his sleeves. . .”
“I shall bow to your wisdom Captain. However, I’d thought Eljera to be a democracy.”
“Democracy doesn’t work if the population is too lazy and afraid to do anything to maintain it.”
“Yeah, history has a way of repeating itself. Perhaps our show might be something of a revival. . .”
And the Elected President spoke through a sound system attached to the back of one of his people, “This is the biggest crowd to meet the messengers of Central – Ever! Everybody, let’s show these guys just how – what are they doing again?” One of his circle turned the system off and there issued a short, silent, animated discussion. The President turned the system back on, “And I am so pleased that this William Shakesbaby fellow has come all this way to see how we do it on the Inner-Rim. By the way, all that stuff you heard about the problems with the gladiators on the moon of Nambia – that’s all fake. That will be all.” And the band blared out the recessional.

Chapter Three ~ the Show Must Go On

I love opening nights.
Earlier, as I ate lunch, I watched Crew Droids 27 thru 79 and the Droid Lifters 0 thru 21 assemble our set and stages. Director Jennifer decided to set the play in ancient Rome, with togas, short swords and Roman shields, fluted columns and Latin inscriptions. Unimaginative perhaps, but solid.
The synth-wool costumes are durable and kept us actors warm and safe when we’re covered with liters of wet blood, some for over half an hour. The set was open to the sky and the nights get a bit frosty on Eljera. I welcomed the warmth though I’ll never quite get used to the texture of the cloth.
Under a clouded sky the color of an old man’s urine, the mechanical-spiders wove their filament-fibers into the most incredibility detailed Roman architecture. . . I could watched those guys for hours. There is always a kind of music in their movements.
People from all over the Eljera system had arrived and taken seats surrounding our improvised thrust stage protruding from the lower half of the Parnassus. They were eating and snoozing while waiting for the show to start. Our arrival provided them with a holiday and they appeared to be very serious in their pursuit of leisure time.
Chy 9 was whispering through the tocsin in my ear, as it is prone to do to all those in any production, “Places, actor to places. . . Cue the smart-paint. . . Holografitic arrays to full and . . . Lights. Sound? Music on my mark. . . Start.”
ACT I, SCENE I. Rome. A street. The play opened with two tribunes finding the common-folk celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumphant return after stomping Pompey. The tribunes insulted the crowd for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar and promptly attempted to end the festivities, not to mention the drinking and debauchery.
The audience, several hundred common-folk in their brown work-uniforms and maybe twenty group leaders in their gray suits, laughed hard and applauded and cheered frequently as the play progressed.
ACT I, SCENE II. A public place. Draven made his entrance as Brutus. Christopher (Julius Caesar), Thompson (Mark Antony), Phaedrae 437 (Soothsayer) take the stage and we’re nailing it.
Soothsayer ignored, check.
And out of nowhere, a forty-foot-long heavy lifter carrying a platform, entered from the back of the house. The Elected President and his sycophant suck-ups dressed in full regalia were prominently displayed for all to see. Commoners and management scrambled to get out from under the massive, flat-bottomed lifter but the platform was not lowered. Instead, it was lifted to a point just above the level of the stage so that the Elected President could look down on our little drama. Those who’d fled found places in the aisles and their attention drifted back to the stage.
Professionals all, we didn’t miss a beat.
That is until the President’s sound system blared some kind of message. It took Hazen Ames (Ship’s Engineer) about twenty seconds to mess with the electronics of the President’s sound system and all messages from the house were silenced. To his credit the President sat down and the play resumed.
Actors back on marks, everyone back on script and we stabbed Caesar.
Boom! Mayhem, pandemonium and melee. . . The Hounds of Chaos ran through the audience and Forty-two lifted me bodily from the stage, used its carapace to shield me while it carried me back into the ship’s cargo hatch. I ran back to the opening as other actors were likewise dragged to safety.
Parnassus is a civilian ship so it carries no heavy armament but its defense servos could be used to drive back a contingent of unarmored aggressors. I later found out both captains had anticipated some kind of incident. They had aimed the servos into the air and when the first round of servo-cannons fired a warning shot the crowd went silent. Then the mob collectively decided that it was best to leave the area of the ship by the nearest exits.
Everyone was running every-way and the launch warning-bells only contributed to the bedlam. The Droid Lifters and the Crew Droids were cutting the connecting fibers to the set. We were about to cut free and run for the sky.
The Elected President tried to step through the hatch. “They want to kill me. You guys have to save me.” Everyone in my area simply stopped to gape at the disheveled political bully as he tried to push his way into the ship.
“You’re that Raven guy. . .”
“Draven. . .”
“You Central guys can get me out of here.”
I laughed out loud. “I’m sorry, but there is really nothing we can do.” Forty-two was holding him and was not being very gentle in the process.
“You guys, assassins, metamorphs, one of you can change to look like me and be a decoy!”
“So, let me see f I have this right. You game the political system to get elected by a mob, make a total mess of the Eljera political system and now that the mob has turned on you, you think one of us should draw them off so that you can sneak out and save your sweat-soaked skin?”
“Yeah, you Central guys are so smart. . . “
“NO.” Forty-two picked the man up so that his feet no longer had traction.
“Don’t throw me out there with that bunch of losers!”
“Mister President. . .”
“Yes?”
“I believe that your concern for your people will mandate you to leave this ship and get any of your people three hundred meters away from the blast area of this ship. Three hundred meters. . .”
“I don’t care about these stinkin losers. . .”
“Stop, just stop.” and Forty-two carried the crazy demented Elected President out the hatch and returned empty handed.
The in-ship speaker paused the launch warning-bells, then Ikewater’s voice came through, “Draven? Are we ready to Lift?”
“Go-captain we are ready here.”
“Everyone to station. Strap in folks, this might be a bumpy ride.”

finis
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Dramatis Personæ of IGS Parnassus, Starship Troupe for the Julius Caesar Tour

Draven Chandler ~ Marcus Brutus
Christopher L. Irving ~ Julius Caesar
Thompson Driver ~ Mark Antony
Phaedrae 437 ~ Soothsayer
Catherine Miami ~ Portia
Anastasia Murova ~ Calpurnia – Caesar’s wife
Bella Ambra Panta ~ Portia – Brutus’ wife
Clovis Kanji ~ Cicero
Phlyn Austin ~ Cassius
Fredrick Arnold ~ Casca
Tykit Merriweather ~ Lepidus/Cinna
Aeon Orlando ~ Titinius/ Metellus Cimber/ Cinna the Poet
Zippo Leipzig ~ Lucius/Young Cato
Jon Richardson ~ Messala/ Cicero
Katy Stevens ~ Calpurnia
Droid Lifters 0 – 21 ~ Stage Crew
Jennifer James ~ Director (keeper of the Kill-codes)
Chy 9 ~ Alpha Droid & Stage Manager
01010111.0100001 ~ Gaffer (5742, Fifty seven forty two – Forty-two – nick-number)
Dwight Ikewater ~ Ship’s Go-captain
Anouk ~ Ship’s Stop-captain
Alexei Leonard ~ Ship’s Physician
Hazen Ames ~ Ship’s Engineer (agent for Central)
Crew Droids 27 – 79 ~ Crew of IGS Parnassus

3 More Pieces from The Lost Art of Loving a Difficult Woman

Cast Photo

Here we are at the Globe
Yeah
She had a walk-on part in Mid summer’s Night Dream

I helped with the set
got paid and what a resume booster

This is the Cast Photo
That’s her right there
Pale
Raven hair
Obscene gesture

That’s her

The Street Cafe in London

One of the best runs of clement weather in 25 years
And we were lucky enough to score a walk-in table

Parmesan skin appetizers
Puffed up little pork scratchings from a rind
Espresso poured over vanilla ice cream
affogato style

She said
“In Germany
you can drink your beer on the streets
and in the subway if you don’t spill it.”

Café Babalú

Took this picture in Reykjavik
The airport isn’t actually in town
Keflavik International Airport is about 50 kilometers to the east

If you do a lay-over
and spend some tourist-time in Iceland
you get free flight continuity

The waitress dared me to eat snails
but we ordered sandwiches

She said
“The first boy I ever kissed
smelled of wanting
desperate wanting
and hurt. . .”

She pulled a stalk of parsley out of her sandwich
sniffed it
flicked it on our tray

Sipped her soda
(an Eglis Applesin)
Made a face
checked her phone
Said
“You guys are all alike
Just the same. . . .”

And she said nothing else

3 Pieces from the Lost Art of Loving a Difficult Woman

the Archon of Romance passes

wars come
wars come again

the Archon of Romance passes

caring too much
is the same kind of numb
as caring not enough

Leviathans in Dark Waters

She found me after the play
She said
“I would paint my lips with your words”

She said
“I have brought you this flower. . .”

Said
“Walk with me.”

Ellis at the Coffee Shop

He has his phone
doing that thing that everyone does
Scrolling through a life he was too busy photographing
a life he didn’t have time to live
because. . . well, you know

He said
“This is a shot of a used coffee cup.
The paper kind of cups
you get in airports. . .”

Next, he shows me a picture of a woman
He name?
Honestly, I don’t remember

Said
“She said to me
‘It’s not easy to be so loving.
People. . .
They don’t know what to do with it when I’m kind
but kindness is the only way I know to deal with people.’”

He flicks back to the picture of the cup
I notice the cup in the picture
is on the floor
He said
“She knocked the cup off the table
and left it.
She wasn’t thoughtless
just too thoughtful, perhaps. . .”

The Currency of Words

And those gathered asked many questions
thinking that as he was a poet
he would surely give them comfort

He ignored them until at length
they spake
saying
‘Tell us poet
are words not the essence of all things
known and unknown?’

Fearlessly Poetry’s Idiot
turned to face the crowd

Cheered they asked
“Are words not the means by which we may control everything?
If we know the true words
then our power is without limit.”

The smile of a ghost played across his features
His voice deep and strong said
“You seek to control what you don’t understand.
A recipe for disaster. . .”

Silence

He continued
“Words are but a poor currency
A trifling means of representing something substantial.
Show me a dollar. . .”

“These are pictures of men that no longer exist
Not real living men.
This. . .”
He pulled a dollar from one
poked two holes in it
and placed it over the face of its owner so that the bill was a mask
“This is the problem.
You no longer see the world as it is
You see the world through the paper currency of your words.”

Silence

“Better that words had never been employed
for this habit of using words
has made you all lazy.”

And he was never seen again

The First Snow of November

Misty rain at first, painting the glowing river stones. My fingers split the clear waters, but they rejoin. The tegument of the summer’s reeds undulates in ribbons, compliant playthings of the current. I wish to be like that. Wish that I could fold and unfurl without resisting, a velvet ribbon dancing with the wind. I withdraw my hand and take a certain pleasure in its tingling.

Beyond the water-color sky, lies the home of the winds, or so I am told. There the brothers and sisters of the Sun, the Wind and Moon and Rain, call to one another in their temples of pleasure.

My brother, the shadow hawk dances within this distant dream of the autumn child. His hawk heart, running wild beyond the riverbeds of Reason, knows that there are reasons beyond Reason, knows that there are pathways beyond Number. I poke under a river stone with my walking stick.

Snow flakes fall. Tiny vampire feathers that suck the warmth from the land, from my hand. The mountain grows velvety grey in the flock of falling feather.

My heart is at rest.