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The PR Man
-- Round Robin
It started from a bit of news and some joking:

"I said to George [Lucas]: 'I don't want you to think I'm asking for more close-ups. But whenever possible, could you please shoot me from the waist up? These boots are killing me.' He very kindly agreed. So, there I was, stomping around, shouting orders to cut people's heads off right and left, and I was really wearing carpet slippers." - Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) The Best of Star Wars

-- Carpet slippers?! Carpet slippers?! Oh that completely ruins my image of Tarkin now! He's supposed to be tromping around in power boots, black leather all the way up to his fricken' thighs, for the Emperor's sake! LOL

Narayana's sketch started the whole thing:

"But what is it?" Needa said.

"It's a 'suit'". The little man before him pressed a tab on the side of the palm holo-projector and the generated image of a smiling Lieutenant Needa wearing a khaki Armani cotton suit was replaced by an image of Needa wearing a pair of DKNY pants, long sleeved black sweater and sneakers with no socks. He was kicking a football.

"Are you convinced this is necessary, Tarkin?" Needa said, turning to the intense Moff scowling beside him at the navigation table. The nav indicators were off, as though all shipping had disappeared from the spacelanes. A swirling gray fog had replaced the bright lights of the navs, as if someone had dumped dry ice into an above-ground Jacuzzi.

"Of course. Elementary. When you drop through a wormhole into a completely unknown patch of space that is possibly extra-galactic, it pays to use caution. Butter the natives up a little. We have no idea how technologically advanced they are."

"A big worm," Piett said. He kept his eyes on the flickering holo held by the little man.

"What?"

"A big worm, this Super Star Destroyer."

"Precisely," Needa said. "Since we have apparently brought The Executor with us, we should just tell these "natives" to help us or else we'll melt their planet's surface to slag."

Tarkin raised his eyes in exasperation. "You can catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar, lieutenant."

Needa was surprised. "That's the first time I've ever heard *you* espouse *that* concept."

"We will continue to work with Mr. Halbstraum, the ah, "PR Man", find out a little more about this planet, and when we get back we'll *still* have the capacity to fuse the planet into slag, Needa, if that eventually becomes necessary."

"We could beam down some redshirts instead. They're expendable," Piett suggested.

"That's Star Trek, not Star Wars," Tarkin pointed out acidly. Piett blushed.

The little hologram now showed Piett's face, but the body was wearing a paprika sports shirt and cinnamon shorts, both by Izod. He was holding a surfboard. An American flag fluttered behind him.

"What is Vader going to wear?"

Tarkin rolled his eyes again. "We are leaving our honorable shipmate Vader on board. We had considered telling Mr. Bush that Vader was our ship's Superhero, hence the cape, but Mr. Halbstraum informs me that they don't exist."

"Not that Bush has any clue," said Mr. Halbstraum. "But somebody might notice and tell him. Colin Powell looks like he might be able to tell fact from fiction, at least some of the time."

"Whatever. Needa! Go and get fitted out with relevant duds. It looks like Halbstraum has quite the choice. Even you should be able to find something."

Needa turned to the PR Man. "Any robes?"

"What are you, the Pope?" Mr. Halbstraum said. "No robes."

Needa was back in half an hour wearing a perfectly-fitted dark cotton Vestimenta suit, Salvatore Ferragamo split-toe leather loafers and an immaculately folded handkerchief in his breast pocket. His shot his cuffs and fiddled with his shirt collar, considering the wisdom of choosing this rather bold tie-less look. He checked his Rado Sintro watch and stood rather uncomfortably for a moment, waiting for the others.

Tarkin appeared, preceded by the brisk tapping of his Kenneth Cole Venice black calfskin, leather-lined, slip-on dress shoes. He was wearing a black rope striped, bespoke tailored three-piece suit of immaculately stitched dark blue worsted wool cloth of English manufacture, with a monogrammed shirt of the finest two-fold cotton poplin and Saxe Blue boxcloth suspenders of a pure wool material with gilt brass fittings and black goatskin leather ends. His ramrod straight posture had eased a little, and he leaned on the horse-headed antique ivory handle of an Irish Blackthorn cane. A steel curve at his right cuff hinted at the Hamilton Ventura Chrono on his arm. He took a pair of Ray-Bans from his pocket.

"I think that might be trying too hard, Tarkin."

"Nonsense. I hear they like Men In Black," he replied. Mr. Halbstraum heldup a mirror and Tarkin smoothed back his hair and smiled faintly. "Where the hell's Piett?"

"I'm here," said Piett in his quiet voice. The others swiveled around. "I wore the best I could find."

"You're not going out looking like that!" snapped Tarkin.

"Rubbish. At least they'll notice me. Let's go."

Piett was standing there in his Imperial Space Navy gray uniform, boots planted firmly apart, his gloved hands clasped behind his back.

-****- N.

Megbo continued:

As Kate flew through the air admiring the fields below her, a strange pinging sound floated across the air. With a slight snort, she jerked her head up off the keyboard. She rubbed her cheek, trying to get rid of the key imprints from her nap. Glancing around, she hoped that none of her supervisors had seen her. While the Center for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence was a relaxed place, sleeping was not encouraged. Assuming the pinging noise was the compiler indicating an error in her code, Kate opened the Visual Basic suite she was running. However, another blinking window caught her attention.

"Hey, Mike! C'mere!"

"What is it?" he asked, peering over her shoulder.

Kate blinked hard and looked at the screen again. "I think we're picking up something." She jammed on the headphones at her station and was greeted with something that sounded like garbled English. Mike yanked them off her head and listened. He made a face and handed them back.

"Ah, it's probably just some old satellite."

"No, it's not on the right frequency for that. I really think we've got something."

"I'll get the Chief over here." He went to phone and started dialing.

She looked at the clock. "I hope this is really something. Otherwise the Chief's liable to kill both of us for waking him up at two o'clock in the morning."

Fifteen minutes later a very excited Chief of Operations was sitting behind Kate's station. With a few keystrokes, he printed out a copy of the readings.

"This is fabulous! You've been taping the transmissions, right?"

"Of course," Mike said. "I just overhauled the equipment. It's all digitally recorded now."

"I think this is the real thing. This signal is coming from around Mars, and nothing is officially registered there. The audio feed sounds like people speaking English, but it seems unlikely."

Kate shrugged. "The computer is crunching it all through as we speak. We should have some extracted speech within the hour. By morning we could have enough to show to the government."

The Chief looked at her. "And you're just the one to go and give them the reports."

"What?"

"Well, you did discover it," Mike said.

"But-"

"No complaining. You discovered it, and you're going to make a name for yourself."

*****

Two plane flights and three time zones later, Kate arrived at Reagan International Airport dragging a garment bag and small carry-on behind her. She spent a few minutes being lost, but finally found a bathroom where she changed into her suit. Keeping only an organizer and the recordings of the transmissions, she shoved her bags into a rented locker and locked it. Her high heels clacked the entire way to the taxi stand.

"The White House, please."

The taxi driver gave her a look that said "You should be in a mental institution" but started driving anyway. Upon arrival, she paid the fare and got out of the taxi. Left standing in a swirl of exhaust, she stared up at the White House.

"This is going to blow up in my face," she thought. "Oh, well." She walked to the side gate and was met by a security guard holding an M-16.

"My name is Kate Harris. I'm from SETI. The Chief of Operations should have called over here."

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we haven't received any security clearances for anyone by that name."

"But," said Kate, ignoring the three men approaching the gate, "my boss should've called me in. I've got important tapes that someone at the White House needs to listen to."

"Of course ma'am. As soon as we get confirmation of your statements, then we'll let you in."

She forced a smile and got out her cell phone. Dialing the Institute, the other men started to talk to the guard. Someone back at SETI answered the phone.

"This is Kate Harris. Hold on for second," she said into the phone. "Excuse me, there's a line here," she said to the men. Doing a double-take, her cell phone clattered to the pavement. "You're-you're-no, that's impossible. It was only a movie. But the transmissions…"

"What exactly do you mean, madam?" the older looking one asked.

"Well-you're Grand Moff Tarkin. The guy on your left is Captain Needa, and the guy on your right is Admiral Piett. Unless I'm just hallucinating and you're all creations of my mind…"

They exchanged urgent whispers. Kate felt generally confused. "Maybe I should go check myself into the nearest hospital. Save the men in white coats the work," she thought.

"I'm afraid you're going to have to come with us," Tarkin said as Needa took hold of her arm.

-- Megbo

Narayana:

She briefly considered struggling, but all three were likely to be armed. She decided to wait. If they were admitted to the White House, there would be a weapons check procedure at the next gate. If they were denied entrance, she could kick Needa in the ankle and run - no one would pursue a woman through the streets of Washington. She could be lost in a slum area within five minutes.

"Can I see your ID, sir?" the security guard asked.

Tarkin held up his exquisitely faked New York driver's license. The guard looked from the little card to his face, and Tarkin stood tall, squared his shoulders, and attempted a grin so cheesy it would have put legendary Jedi Kit Fisto to shame.

The guard waved them through. "The administrative assistant is waiting for you, sirs . . . and madam."

They progressed to the bullet-proof glass doors of the Inner Sanctum. A hard-eyed Marine stood guard, along with two black-suited men with wires in their ears. The Marine asked for ID, again, while the two FBI men stood casually by, their cool eyes on the foursome and their hands inches from their hidden weapons.

The Marine waved a wand over the visitors, one by one. The Imperials' polycarbonate weapons did not show up, exactly as they had expected. Kate fretted over her various PDAs, which were indeed detected but the guard simply gestured for her to open them up and use them, to prove they were not fakes.

Two of the shady black suit-wearers fell in behind them as they walked through to the administrative assistant's office. Piett caught one adjusting a tell-tale lump at his side. "What's that?" he asked.

The Special Agent replied, "It's a Heckler and Koch MP7, sir."

Piett reviewed the stats he had learned about this machine pistol in his hypno-sleep preparation for the trip. All carbon fiber, as invisible as his own weapons to screening. A 20 shot magazine, loaded in a 13 inch gun. The round's velocity was four times that of a conventional pistol, and the gun could fire 950 rounds a minute. He thought quietly. The MP7 rounds could penetrate titanium at a range of 500 feet. The stabilized stock gave the GI man an assault weapon with barely the recoil of a .22. The weapon was at least the match of his blaster.

"Can I try it?" Piett said, with genuine interest.

"Of course not, sir," the GI man said.

They walked on a moment in silence. "You don't need to call me 'sir'," Piett said at last.

"I have to call everyone 'sir', sir."

They reached the administrative assistant's office. A harried public service official rushed to meet them.

"The deputation from Coruscant? I've been told by the President himself to send you through to the Oval Office." He scurried - there was no other word that could apply - and eventually straightened up and marched them into the Inner Sanctum. Bush was waiting for them, it seemed.

-- N.

Megbo:

Kate's mind raced through every emotion, and she tried to get herself under control. Glancing around the Oval Office, she reviewed her options and discovered they were few. She could politely slip out to use the restroom and then sneak away. However, that would only end in the Secret Service agents politely escorting her back to the Oval Office. If she tried to make a run for it, the Secret Service agents would either catch her or shoot her. It was too much of a risk for her to take, and she didn't feel like risking her life, at least not until the situation became hopeless.

The President welcomed them, and everyone shook hands and exchanged rather meaningless greetings. Sitting down, Kate could only think of one word. "Scheisse."

"I've done a quick review of the request you faxed ahead," Bush said. The three men perked up a bit. "Of course, it will take some time and review from the physicists before any action can be taken. Building a wormhole takes time."

"Naturally, but-"

"Just a second," Kate said, interrupting Tarkin. He gave her a look that made her blood run cold, but she continued. "No one on this planet has the capability to create exotic matter, the stuff that holds wormholes open."

Tarkin continued where he had left off, as though Kate had never spoken. She had a feeling she would regret having spoken very soon. In her mind, she began forming plans and decided there were two viable options. She could try to escape when they left the White House, what little good that would do, or she could try to join them and save her own life. "But what on Earth have I got to offer them that they don't already have," she thought. "I don't know enough quantum physics to save my life. I remembered that from college."

Everybody was shaking hands again, and Kate followed suit.

"I look forward to seeing you all at the press conference later today," Bush said.

After being escorted from the building, Kate tried to feel a bit more optimistic. "Well, at least the Secret Service won't shoot me now," she thought. She looked at the three Imperials. "But they might." After walking many winding blocks, they arrived at a shuttle, guarded by two stormtroopers.

"Where are we going now?" Kate asked.

"You are going back to the ship," Tarkin said, motioning the troopers over. "We are going to the press conference to help accelerate the process of getting us home."

"But-"

"No arguments," said Tarkin as the troopers took her arms and escorted her into the shuttle.

Kate managed to get a glimpse of the cockpit before she was ushered into the passenger section of the shuttle and had her hands cuffed behind her back. Biting the inside of her cheek, she decided there was no escape at this point. She was unarmed and had no idea how to fly anything in the Imperial Navy, even if she could get free. With a deep sigh, she settled in for the flight and fervently hoped she would live to see the Earth again.

With a slight shudder, the shuttle landed in one of the many docking bays of the Executor. Kate was lead by two stormtroopers to a room at least 15 levels above the docking bay. She was roughly shoved into a room and the door was locked after her.

"Wait!" she yelled through the door. Frantically, she hit buttons on the door control panel but received only indignant beeps. She kicked the door a few times but got no response.

"Fine mess I've gotten myself into this time," she said to the empty room.

-- Meg

Narayana:

Tarkin, Needa and Piett walked into the lobby of the Cedar Tree Inn Hotel, where they had stayed the night before. The atrium-cum-lobby made Lorth Needa feel quite at home. The towering glass structure was a study in vast amounts of wasted space, and the whole thing was a tribute to the misapplied genius of the civil engineer. It reminded him of the topless towers of Coruscant, built by humans just because they could. And this thing was a hotel, not even a private or government building. Inside the soaring pyramid there were two Ferris wheels, a merry-go-round, six Queen palm trees and a display of eight top-of-the line Lexus new models.

Unbelievably, in this arid, glassed-in city, they were immediately located, recognized and hailed by the mile-wide smile and double- breasted lapels of Sal Halbstraum, the PR Man.

"How did it go, boys?" he asked, arms held out expansively. "You just met with the Pres-i-dent of the Yew-nited . . . States . . . of . . . America! God bless her! That's a rush, am I right?"

"Frankly, disappointing," Tarkin fretted. "The man seems to think it'll be months before NASA can work on creating the exotic matter, and honestly, I think he's holding out for cash."

"Cash?" Needa exploded. "What does he want, gold, lead, arsenic? What's rare here on this benighted planet? I can turn the Executor's engines over to transmuting metals and have a ton of whatever it is dropped on him within a week!"

"That's an idea," Piett said mildly. "Drop a one ton ingot of gold on the White House from Mars orbit. The hoi-polloi won't know whether to laugh or cry."

Tarkin fixed him with a quizzical eye. "The 'hoi-polloi' don't sell exotic matter from their greengrocers' shops, Piett. Who cares what they think? We need that idiot Bush to push something through quickly. Or we can stay here. It's not a bad solar system, when you think about it. It's primitive, but there's luxury to be had, if we want it." He considered. "For instance, the female was attractive, if a little over-educated."

"What female?" Needa asked.

"The one you threw in the brig, Lieutenant. What happened to your short-term memory?"

"It went where Coruscant went, Tarkin, and it will be back directly."

"Wait," the raspy voice of Halbstraum interjected. "You've taken an Earth female to your ship?"

"First person we met there recognized us. Got our ranks wrong, but named us immediately. We had to limit her freedom to pass on her knowledge."

"That's bad," Halbstraum said. "It sounds Iike there's a leakage from your reality to ours."

"What do you mean?" Needa asked. "No, belay that question. Do you think that bar over there serves Arak?"

"There's no point in drinking in a hotel bar, Lieutenant, you'll be bankrupt in a week unless you're on the corporate card. I'll take you somewhere nice. I know Washington pretty well."

A short limo ride, and the officers found themselves in a booth in the Pink Pussycat. A short distance away, a discrete green neon sign proclaimed the door below it to be the "private lap dancing room". Piett had no idea what that might be, but assumed it was difficult to perform, like limbo dancing or break dancing.

Halbstraum elbowed him. "See over there? That's Lorne Anger, the star of "The Mighty", and the girl with him is not his wife. She's a starlet I've seen on sitcoms in the past. The guy in the private booth to your right is Congressman Nick Halpert, and he's not with his wife either, but the boychick he's trying to get drunk seems familiar."

"Hah?" Piett said. Needa had found his beloved Arak at this bar, and the strong liquorice and anise flavored spirit was beginning to take effect. Worse than the smell of the drink, if the clear liquor was mixed with water, it swirled white like paint thinners mixed with tap water. The officers were drinking the foul stuff with a touch of cranberry, to make a drink called 'Pink Flamingo'. Piett had gained the impression that a 'flamingo' was a Spanish Dancing Bird. The liquor was quickly cementing his tongue to the roof of his mouth. "Wait, what did you say about a leak between realities? That sounds familiar from somewhere."

"Sure," Halbstraum said in his most unctuous voice. "These wormholes, we've had them before. How did you think I was out there so fast, signaling like that to get your attention?" He took a drink of Pink Flamingo and winced. "With a big wormhole, the effect promulgates through the space-time continuum, traveling through space at the cube of the speed of its passage through time. Some people - sensitives, psychics, aluminum foil-lined-colander nuts - all those guys get the pleasure of living the pre-echo first. Like me, except I've learned to exploit it. You gotta have an angle, and there's no angle like dealing with extraterrestrials before they show up. You gotta love it."

"So," Tarkin said, "There are a number of people on this planet who have already seen us, and understand our mission?"

"Naw," Sal said, waving for a single malt to take the taste of the Arak away. "They've seen echoes. Like the ghosts on a broadcast TV signal you know?" All looked blank, but he continued, "They've seen vague examples of 'you' around in movies and folklore. It's disconcerting, yes, but not threatening."

Tarkin rapped on the table with his cane. "Officers! Stop staring at those women. We have to get back to the ship if we are to get ready for the press conference."

"I think the men are going to need some R&R," Needa said, getting up but not taking his eyes off the stage.

Tarkin said icily, "I thought you had yours already being softened up on board, Lieutenant."

"What?"

"The Katie female."

"Oh!" he said, startled. "Have you been reading 'Death Starship Revengeance' comics again, Tarkin? Do I look like a pirate?"

Tarkin didn't reply directly, as he was speaking into a communicator. "And bring the ship into Earth orbit. They might as well see what they're up against." As he took his hand away from his face, a bar patron recognized him, jumped and went white.

They left the bar and walked into a plaza. A shuttle arrived immediately, gliding in on eerily quiet repulsorlifts. They embarked quickly, and the shuttle took off again, vertically in a roar of ion engines. Needa, who was sitting in the cockpit with the pilot, saw four F-16s cleave the sky below them - the Air Force response to the violation of air space - too little, too late.

-- N.

Megbo:

By the time Kate had managed to yell herself hoarse, she had treated her guards to a tirade on everything that was wrong with her life, not excluding her present situation. More than anything, she wanted to sleep, but the binders on her wrists kept her from getting comfortable. She got up and started kicking the door again.

"Uncuff me, you bastards!" she yelled.

With a wince, she swallowed and sat back down on the bench. Swinging her legs up, she propped her shoulders against the side wall. It wasn't particularly comfortable, but it was better than standing. Her stomach grumbled, and she realized that it was probably dinner time. Or maybe lunchtime. She couldn't be sure with all of the time zone changes today. "Am I even in a time zone right now?" she wondered.

The door suddenly opened, and Kate's eyes snapped open. "I wonder when I fell asleep," she thought. Standing up, her back popped and she grimaced. She caught only a glimpse of a stormtrooper and Needa, before the trooper spun her to face the wall.

"Hey!"

"Lieutenant's orders," said the trooper, taking off her cuffs.

She turned around to see Needa waving the trooper out of the cell.

"So you felt like gracing me with your presence?" she asked, rubbing her wrists.

"Actually, I wanted to be sure that you were all right before I went to the press conference."

"Oh," Kate said, feeling some of her rage subside. "Well, I'm a bit hungry, but other than that I'm fine."

"I'll be sure you get something to eat," he said and turned to leave.

"Wait." Needa faced her and she decided she had to ask. "Will I ever get to go back home?" He started to answer, but Kate hurried to explain. "I mean, I just want to get some of my stuff. Clothes, maybe a couple pictures…"

He paused and smiled a bit. "I'll see what I can do."

"Thank you," she said as he walked out the door.

--Meg

Then I jumped in and oops, killed it. Nobody had anything to say after this. Well, at least I had fun writing my enthusiastic little section. Sorry...

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