While off on a book tour in Germany John Scalzi left a dozen humorous SciFi prompts for his Film Critic post. This story is in response to his third prompt, "One night, in a dark and depressing cantina on the shady side of Coruscant, you meet up with a man who claims to be the Marksman Instructor at the Stormtrooper Academy. Share with us his drunken lament."
D. Paul Angel
"You ever wonder who taught Stormtroopers to shoot?" a voice close to me suddenly asked. I'd sat at the table so fast I didn't even realize someone was already there. I was just trying to avoid Empire entanglements, so to speak, and an empty table with a bottle of Vodak seemed like the perfect combination for hiding. I looked over to an older man with slumped shoulders and darkened, defeated eyes. I instantly felt pity for him as he answered his own question with deep sadness, "I did."
The full impact of his claim didn't sink in until after I'd already checked the room to see if anyone noticed my entrance. There are a lot of eyes on Coruscant, especially on the shadow levels. "Really?" I blurted out, not really in disbelief so much as surprise. He took it with resigned acceptance, poured me a drink, and asked me if I'd ever been to Tatooine.
"There's nothing to do there," he said, pausing as a sudden, passionate glint filled his otherwise dulled eyes, "except shoot. Lots of empty desert for shooting."
"So you're good at it?" I added, trying to show interest and hopefully keep the Vodak flowing.
"I was the best." For a minute there, right after he said it, his face flushed with confidence and he looked ten years younger. But, just as quickly, the look faded and the already familiar slump returned, "But, that was a long, long time ago."
His pause dragged on for a bit as his gaze turned inward. "So what happened?" I asked to keep things going. I was curious now and also hoping he wouldn't walk away with the bottle.
"Well, I was a sniper in Tatooine's Militia. You know, I could hit a womp rat from a kilometer away?"
I gave a low whistle signifying how impressed I was, even though I hadn't a clue what a womp rat was. He continued, "A visiting Empire Officer saw me shoot one day and then the next I was heading to the far side of the Galaxy. I can still smell the stench from that horrid junker. Probably the bravest thing I ever did was get in that rusty bucket of bolts!"
"You want another drink?" I asked, offering to pour, and helping myself while I was at it. The interruption helped refocus him back on the story.
"Sure. So... I land who knows where, but I was at a clone farm. They didn't call it that, of course, but that's what it was. There were hundreds of thousands of clones there growing up and training to be Stormtroopers. They were in top physical shape, learning everything; the whole thing. Except... They couldn't shoot.
"It was, seriously, deeply embarrassing."
My skepticism must've shown for he chuckled before continuing, "I can see you don't believe me. I don't blame you. No one ever does. But surely you've heard the stories of how they'll open fire on a crowd or rebel base and only manage to hit a handful? They couldn't even have done that without me!
"Here's the thing: they had no concept of shooting. None. Not until they're teens. So their whole life up until then had been one of perfection. Every test? Perfect. Every challenge? Perfect. That's how they grew them! But now, they start shooting and they miss for the first time. Not just the first time for shooting, but the first time ever!
"It really messed them up in the head. So they brought me in."
"But," I interjected while pouring us each another stiff one, feeling a bit confused, "you said they still can't shoot?"
"Yeah, well, they shot good enough for the staff higher-ups. Truth is, between you and me friend," he lowered his head and voice in deep conspiracy, "I think that's how some of the Generals wanted it."
"What?" I blurted out, suddenly regretting it. You never know if such blunt disagreement is going to stop the Vodak flow.
He laughed out loud and looked at me again, "Think about it. Think! The clones are smarter, stronger, and faster than their Commanders. If they can shoot perfectly too...," he let the thought linger unanswered, "But, shooting that's good enough to disperse a crowd, scare some rebels, or hit a vehicle is really all that's needed."
I found myself nodding in fuzzy agreement as he continued on, "That's why coming from Tatooine was so helpful. The Jawas there have sandcrawlers the size of this building! Then there are banthas, Sand People, and the Jawas themselves. Each a factor smaller. So the plan was easy: start with the sandcrawler."
"Have them shoot at a building?"
"Exactly! Build their confidence. So we built full scale sandcrawlers for them to shoot at. Then they'd move on to banthas, Sand People, and finally Jawas. Their confidence would build on itself."
"So what happened?" I asked, genuinely curious but also noting that we'd just finished the bottle.
"Exactly as I planned. We worked for weeks on the sandcrawler and they finally got it down. Such precision! It really was a sight to see. But then..." He trailed off and started fingering the bottle. I didn't say anything, hoping he'd order another.
No such luck. He continued, "Then they shipped off the Clones."
"Oh," I said, remembering, "The War."
"Exactly. They all shipped off and, by the time they were done, their blaster training was, too."
"So they never came back for anything more advanced?"
"Never. I was dismissed, of course, and eventually ended up here."
"Wow," I said kind of stunned. I had expected it to be a crazy story I'd endure for a drink (or two), but it actually held together. If I had any credits myself, I'd actually think of buying him a drink.
"I'll tell you one more thing," he said as he got up to leave, "If Stormtroopers ever do have to shoot at a sandcrawler- a case of Vodak says they jack the shit out of it!"