Monthly Archives: January 2016

Unexpected Part II: Why do I care?

Takes place during The Shadow of Revan storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  PC is the Imperial Agent.  Minor spoilers.

You walk up the beach towards us and I can feel the confidence in your steps.  Or maybe that’s due to the blaster riffle strapped to your back and the vibroblade sheathed on your hip.  You nod to Lana and me before greeting the Wookie and his droid.

“Jakarro.  Deefour.”

I let them bicker about the proper way to treat you before I chime in with my own greeting.  “Hey.  We’re set to move on the Temple of the Ancient when you are.”

I’m not sure the type of response I am expecting, but you are all business.  It’s nice to work with a professional who knows how to get the job done.  We brief you on the situation with the traitors’ base of operations.  Lana and I won’t be on the ground ourselves, that’s your job and I don’t like stepping on toes, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t already scouted the area.

“Should warn you, it’s a rough road to the temple.  The area’s lousy with tribal Rakatans more than happy to fight.  Found that out the hard way…”  You nod at me as Lana finishes her last words of wisdom to you.  Some ridiculous Force mumbo-jumbo about staying focused.  I watch you before you turn away to head up the trail and into battle.  There is a fire in your eyes that I know all too well – you are going to enjoy this.

Lana and I head to Jakarro’s ship to monitor you from above.

Watching you work is a learning experience.  You slip in and out of the tribal Rakatan camps, your stealth generator quite impression (I am most definitely not jealous).  You kill some of them, but only when you can’t get around them or are attacked.  It’s not exactly what I expected from an Imperial agent.  I guess I’ve dealt too much with the overtly evil and destructive side of the Empire.  And while I’ve had a few run ins with other Imperial agents, I’ve never really seen their work up close and personal before.  You are minimalistic and precise.  I can appreciate both.

I track your progress on my monitors.  The route you’re on is going to take you straight into a mountain, but the only other route goes right through the largest of the Rakata settlements.  Nothing can be done about it.  I am genuinely sorry though.

You acknowledge with a muffled, “On it,” and switch courses without another question.  I’m not sure if it’s because you trust me or because you know Lana is standing right next to me watching everything I do.  Or maybe you’re just a professional who knows how to get the job done.

“Did you just send her toward that rancor?” Lana chirps from my side.  Opps.

“No way around that rancor.  I do not envy you,” I comment into the comms, partly because you need to be warned but also because I’m curious what you’ll do.  I can hear the small sigh, but you activate your stealth generator (okay, fine, I want one of those) and slip behind the rancor, slicing it down the back before it even knows you’re there.  You make quick work of it and its handler.  My respect for you is growing by the minute.

My implants pick up a signal from the Revanites camped near your position.  They came across a cache of Rakata-tech weapons.  I have seen what those types of weapons do to people.  We do not want them keeping those.

“Might want to do something about that,” I inform you as you work your way deeper into the Revanite camp.  I watch on the monitor as you use your stealth generator to sneak around Revanites, killing only when you have to.  Even then, you make it quick.  I suddenly wonder if all Imperial agents are like you.  Somehow I doubt it.  Lana keeps saying that you are special.  I’m starting to believe her.  And believing a Sith can be a dangerous game.

Finally, you arrive at the Revanite main base.  “Look for a control console and open a channel there,” I instruct you like this is your first time or something.  “I’ll be able to slice into their systems remotely.”  You’ve already given me access before I can complete the sentence.  Lana is tapping at the keypad next to me.  She might make a decent slicer one day.

“That’s it.  We’re in.  Theron?”

“Okay,” I start my work.  While you are great at the ground work, I excel at slicing.  “According to the structural plans, the only way to get at the head Revanites is through that conscription center.”  I pull up the plans and silently curse.  There are tanks of cyborgs in there.  “The cyborgs are dormant for now, but they’re set to go on high alert once they detect you.  A console overload will fry them from the inside.”  I type at the keypad, trying to find a way to remotely trigger the overload.  Unfortunately, the cyborg console isn’t connected to the main computer system.  Can’t slice something if it isn’t connected.

“Nope.  Can’t work the power safeties from here.  You’ll have to do the honors.”

“A sound plan,” Lana adds.  She turns to me, “Theron, why can’t I get this sensor to work?”

Boy do I know a dismissal when I’ve heard one.  She wants to talk to her agent alone, huh?  Fine.  We’ll play the game, Lana.  “Because Jakarro isn’t a big fan of upkeep?” I shrug.  “Probably a dead relay.  I’ll check it out.”

I rise out of the chair and make my way to the back of the ship, but not before syncing my implants to the ships onboard communications relay.  Come on guys, I’ve been in this business for a long time now.  I’m willing to work with you and Lana, but that doesn’t mean that I trust Lana.  I’m not quite sure how I feel about you, yet.  You’re quick, efficient, and very smart.  You’re also an Imperial and very lethal.  I don’t exactly distrust you, but I’m not ready to put my guard down around you.  Probably never will be.

My implants crackle with static before they pick up the relay.

“…might want its own Infinite Army someday.  You would have to fight those cyborgs, but…”  That’s Lana for you.  I should have known that she would want to take the cyborgs for the Empire.  Too bad I couldn’t have fried them from up here.  I pretend to tinker with the sensors relay system in front of me.

“There goes any concern of you getting too cozy with the Republic spy,” you reply.  Do I detect just a little bit of…relief in your voice?  As if you ever had to worry about Lana and me.  I think I’m going to be sick just thinking about it.  No thank you.  I want none of that.

“Make no mistake, I serve the Empire.”

You sigh.  It’s faint, but I can hear it.  I don’t envy you fighting those cyborgs.  I do admire your loyalty to the Empire, if only a little bit.  And honestly, I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if our situations were reversed.  Loyal to a fault.  “As do I.  We’ll do this your way.”

Ah, that’s my cue.  I stroll back into the cockpit.  “Hey, what happened?  Why’s the console still running?”  I’m not a bad actor when I have to be.  Ball’s in your court, Lana Beniko.

“We couldn’t make it work.  The room will have to be traversed the hard way.”  Not bad.

“Are you sure?  What did you try?” I probe.  Lana glares at me.  I risk a glance at you.  There’s that smirk on your lips again, just like I saw on Manaan.  You make no attempt to hide it.  You also make no attempt to assist Lana.  I’m still watching you when Lana replies.

“Everything.”  Not very creative, Lana, but I’ll let it drop.  By the flash in your dark blue eyes and the smirk on your full lips, I’m sure you are amused at the situation.  Not everyone can think of good excuses quickly.  It’s a skill that takes years of practice.  I know you understand.

“If you say so,” I reply without pushing.  But that doesn’t mean I’m done.  “Hey, those sensor relays were fine, by the way.  Not sure what the problem is.”

“Was,” Lana says quickly, “The senor appears to be working again…”

“The Revanite leaders are inside, yes,” you finally say.  “Do we have a fix on them?”

Ok, fine, I get your point.  I sit back in my chair and begin typing again, scanning the temple for any signs of the Arkous and Darok while you activate your stealth generator and sneak inside the temple.  I stop typing for a moment to watch as you dispatch the cyborgs waiting on the inside.  I shouldn’t be surprised at the speed that you finish them.  I also notice the swell of your vitals and the small red flash that indicates you’ve been wounded.  I know you have combat triage training, but I glance accusingly at Lana anyway.

“There was no way around it,” she maintains, not looking away from her station.

“Yeah,” I grunt in reply.  No time to argue about it.  The scanners are picking up movement on the temple-roof.

“Might be Darok and Arkous trying to make an escape,” I say to you after conveying the information from the scanners.  You turn a corner, expertly sneaking past Revanites that litter the temple.  I’m sure most agents would have killed them all.  I’m not sure why you let them live, but I do admire it.  After we capture their leaders, maybe we can convert the followers away from life as a cult member.  I don’t know if that’s what you’re thinking too, but I want to hope that it is.

That gives me pause.  I stop typing for a moment to contemplate.  Why do I care what you’re thinking?  Why does it matter to me that you aren’t killing the cultists?  Why do I care that you were injured fighting the cyborgs?  You are an Imperial agent.  We are enemies.  The second this alliance is over, we will be back fighting each other.  But right now, none of that matters.  Right now, we are allies and I can admire an ally, right?  That’s all it is, admiration for an ally.

“Theron,” Lana says, glancing at me as she monitors her station.  I don’t glance back as I resume typing.  I don’t answer her.  Instead, I comm you.

“Look like they’ve got a shuttle-we can shoot it down if we have to, but I’d rather take them in for questioning if you can.  Hurry!”

You hurry toward the temple-roof, where Jakarro joins you.  I know Darok won’t back down.  I’ve knew him for a bit now, I’ve looked into his record.  He doesn’t give up.  I just hope Arkous isn’t as foolish.  But there is no luck.  Neither Revanite will stand down.  I can only watch as you and Jakarro fight them off.  Lana visibly swoons when Darth Arkous falls.  I look away when Colonel Darok falls besides him.

Your voice comes over the comm as your image is projected on the holo.  You stand calmly, yet I can hear the remorse in your voice.  “Arkous and Darkos were never going to be taken alive.  They were never going to talk.”

Lana shakes her head. “I felt Darth Arkous’s passing.  This is an unfortunate turn.”

Jakarro replies, his Wookie loud as he yells his victory and revenge.  His droid agrees, but I can’t.

“Blast it!” I shout.  I’m not really mad at you.  I’m mad that Darok was stupid enough to fight to the death.  “Those two were running the show.  They were our best hope of exposing the Revanites.”

You nod, perhaps understanding my anger, perhaps agreeing with me.  Lana, on the other hand, shakes her head again.

“No.  They weren’t in change.  The disturbance in the Force,” she trails off for a moment, “I still feel it.  It’s…arrived.”

The second she says it, the scanner go crazy.  They beep and lights flash as several ships jump out of hyperspace almost on top of the planet.

“We’ve got company!” I yell over the noise.  “Ships. Capital-sized, whole bunch of them.  Can’t tell if they’re yours or ours, but one of them’s dropping in to visit.”

The image that comes over the holo isn’t possible.  I know that man.  I would know that man anywhere.  He is a part of me, a part of my history.  I have known about him since I was old enough to understand Jedi and Sith.  But he’s dead.  He’s been dead for a century.  It isn’t possible.  It must be an imposter.

“As important as Arkous and Darok were to the cause, their deaths won’t stop us.  They won’t even slow us down.”

“That voice.  I’ve heard it before.”  I don’t even realize I said the words out loud until they sound in my eyes.  I’d know that voice anywhere.  I heard recordings of his voice for most of my life.

“It’s Revan,” Lana remarks, almost as shocked as I am.

“I almost had the Infinite Army I wanted so badly.  But even without them, I have enough.”

I can’t speak.  I can’t barely breathe.  “If you think you can take on the Empire, you’re in for a rude awakening.”  Of course you can speak up to Revan.  It’s right there that I realize that my admiration for you might be a little more than pure admiration.  I push that though to the way back of my brain.  I can analyze that later.

But you’ve managed to wake me from my shock.  Instead, I start preparing the ship to come get you.  I realize as I listen to you talk, to you goat Revan, that you are stalling for time.  Lana must realize it too.

“We have to hurry,” she urges.  She doesn’t need to tell me twice.  We work together, trying to get to you.

“I’ve finally let the Revanites into my world-a world you have to be erased from.”

Oh no.  “Turbolasers are locking on…!  Get out of there!”

Both Lana and I realize it at the same time.  “We can’t reach you in Jakarro’s ship!  Take the shuttle!”

The turbolasers lock on to the temple-roof.  All’s I see is a flash of red and the destruction on the scanners.  Lana goes pale.

“I’m sure she made it,” I say as I maneuver the ship away from the capital-sized ships.  “But we have to leave, now!”

“We can’t just leave her behind.”

I look at the scanner.  They’ve locked on to us.  “We don’t have a choice.  We’ll be shot to pieces if we try to land now.  We have to go, Lana.”

One of the pursuing ships fires at us, almost hitting us.  It’s enough to rock the small smuggler ship to the side, almost throwing Lana to the ground.

“Ok, let’s go.”  Neither of us says it, but I hope you are alive.  I hope I meet you again.

On Science

I had an interesting conversation with someone over winter break.  We were talking about science and how, in opinion, there are some problems with the way we treat scientists in this country.  Mostly, I was talking about how researchers are pressured into publishing their findings before someone “scoops” them because of funding models.  This causes professors at universities to write grants most of the time while their doctoral candidates are running the labs.  PHD comics does a great job of showing the life of a grad student in a satirical, funny way.  And while the comic is just that, a comic, many graduate students I know (especially in the sciences) talk about the realities of being a scientist today.

Back to the conversation I had.  I was telling this person that scientists are pressured to publish and because of this pressure, there are have problems with some scientists faking their data.  There was a notable case where a physicist faked some of his data in published, peer reviewed, papers.  The Schon scandal along with other, more deliberate studies show that there is a problem in how we evaluate peer review studies in this country.

The first thing my friend said was “And how do they expect us to believe that GMO is safe to eat?”

What?  I’m talking about physics studies and you jump to GMO.  Totally different fields of studies.  That’s like me saying “We need to help the rainforest” and you replying with “Well, I do yoga.”  They don’t relate at all.

I think that is the problem with science communication in this country.  People seem to think that all SCIENCE is done in a box and if one part of SCIENCE is flawed, than all of SCIENCE is flawed.  Of course parts of science are flawed, because PEOPLE do science.  Science doesn’t happen in a vacuum or a box, it happens because people are passionate about it.  So of course there are going to be flaws and biases and bad data.  That doesn’t mean we throw it all out.  That means we have better checks in place.  Instead of pressuring people into publishing, let them double and triple check their results.

A second problem is how scientists communicate with the public.  Many scientists would hesitate to say that we “absolutely know” or it is “100% safe”.  Most would say “the likelihood is high” or “it is possible but highly unlikely”.  People don’t like those qualifiers.  People want something to be 100% safe or 100% right.  Maybe this is more a fault of education in this country.  We often treat science education as “this is fact” when science isn’t about facts at all.  Science is about likelihoods and probabilities.  For example, I teach my students about the probability of finding an electron at a certain place at a certain time.  We can’t know for sure that the electron is there, but the probability of finding it is high.  That doesn’t sit well with students, or with most people.  They want to know for sure where the electron is.  I think scientists and educators need to do a better job explaining why we can’t know for certain if something is or isn’t.

Mainly, I think people need to realize that science isn’t this one caught all thing that is done perfectly all the time.  Scientists are human and make mistakes.  Their mistakes need to be recognized as part of the scientific process, not crucified for not being perfect.  After all, no one stopped driving because Volvo recalled their trucks.  We shouldn’t throw out all of science because a few people have made mistakes.  We should learn from those mistakes, help fix the system that caused those mistakes, and continue forward.  That is, after all, how science works.

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