Friday, February 27, 2009

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Chapter One




"General Puri, a platoon of droid troops has been spotted surrounding a Separatist bunker, forty kilometers east of your position. Sensors tell us that it might be the droids' shield generator for this system." The clone trooper's voice crackled over the two Jedi Knights' comlinks.

Both Romulus Wort and Wo-Chen Puri exchanged hopeful looks. The destruction of the droid army's shield generator could spell victory for the Republic's army here on Dallik. It could also mean the capture of former Republic Senator Perdito Vedlik, now one of the Separatist leaders in this sector. The Jedi Master responded, "Hold your position, Sergeant Minos. Colonel Wort will soon link up with you to initiate an assault on the generator station."

"Roger that, General Puri."

Wo-Chen turned to his former apprentice. "Romulus, I'm sure that you know what to do. As soon as you and Telos knock out the shield generator, contact me. I will move in to arrest Vedlik at the City Administration building."

Romulus responded with a sharp nod. "Right. I should be able to contact, as soon as possible." He turned to face the clone officer nearby. "Captain, bring three platoons and follow me."

Captain Telos crisply replied, "Yes sir." The clone officer turned away to bark orders to his subordinates.

As Romulus prepared to depart, Wo-Chen spoke up. "By the way, Romulus . . ." the young Jedi Knight stared at the older man. "No mad rushes to overwhelm to the enemy. I do not want a repeat of what happened on Koorivar." Romulus' face turned hot. He knew that Master Puri spoke of an impetuous charge he had led against a company of Corporate Alliance troopers in the midst of one of the planet's lush rainforests. He had barely survived.

"I promise to be careful, Master," Romulus replied.

Wo-Chen smiled affectionately. "Good. I would hate for the Order to lose such a promising knight, such as yourself."

The comment drew a surprised stare from the young Jedi. "I never realized that you consider me promising, Wo-Chen."

The Jedi Master responded with a warm smile. "Of course I have. Yes, you can be slightly impatient, but that is only indicative of your age. With time and more experience, you can become one of the Order's most highly regarded knights. Now, enough of this. You need to take out that shield generator."

For one long moment, Romulus stared at Master Puri. A disturbing thought came to him that he and his former master might soon be permanently separated. Which seemed ridiculous, as he gave a second thought to the idea. After all, he should have no problem knocking out that shield generator. And Wo-Chen will only be forty kilometers away. Romulus flashed a bright smile at the older man and replied, "Yes, Master." Then he followed Captain Telos and the other clone troopers away from the city's administration building.

The half-ruined streets and avenues of Amarath's main business district provided a maze for Romulus and his command. They eventually found Sergeant Minos and a squad of clonetroopers gathered in a small passageway between two buildings along Avenue Caldik. The wide avenue overlooked a once spacious park now slightly damaged by combat. At the park's northwest edge stood a low bunker surrounded by trees and Trade Federation droids.

At first, Romulus wondered how he could take the droids by surprise. Then an idea came to him. He ordered one of the lieutenants from Captain Telos' company to lead a squad back into the city's streets and make their way toward Boulevard Trilak, which bordered the park's northern side. "Lieutenant, you and your squad are to make your way to the hotel over. Once you position yourself, place a few snipers on the roof and take out those droids guarding the bunker." The clone lieutenant acknowledged Romulus' orders and disappeared from view with a squad of troops.

To Romulus' relief, everything went according to plan. Lieutenant Bellon and his squad managed to position themselves at the hotel/casino on Boulevard Trilak. Minutes later, the Jedi Knight used his macrobinoculars to observe the blaster fire that eliminated the bunker's guards. Once the bunker was left vulnerable, more droid troops poured out of its left side. Romulus ordered Telos to lead the remaining company in an all out attack. During the middle of the firefight, the doors to the bunker's main entrance slid open. More droid troops appeared. Romulus lit up his lightsaber. Then he turned to his remaining men and ordered them to follow him.

Romulus took a deep breath and rushed forward. The clone troopers followed. Blaster fire exploded to the left and right of the Jedi Knight. Using his lightsaber, he deflected the droids' blaster fire and sliced several of them in half. Finally, he and Captain Telos met near the bunker's entrance. "All right, Captain," Romulus said, "I want you to prevent the droids out here from following me, while I'll take a squad inside."

"Yes sir," Telos replied with a sharp nod.

With his lightsaber still lit up, Romulus led his contingent deep inside the bunker. There, they found a handful of droid troops and a Neimodian officer, standing in front of generator, armed with blasters. The enemy fired and Romulus deflected most of the shots with his lightsaber. One of his troops ended up struck down. The Neimodian aimed his blaster at Romulus and fired. The Jedi Knight easily deflected the blasts and killed the officer. It did not take long for his command to destroy the rest of the droid troops.

"Sergeant," Romulus began, "have your men place the charges around the generator. Give yourself time to clear out."

The sergeant nodded. "Yes sir." While Romulus strode out of the generator room, Minos barked orders to the remaining troops.

Once outside of the bunker, Romulus contacted Wo-Chen. "Master, we have assumed control of the shield generator. It should be destroyed . . ." He paused, as Sergeant Minos and the other clone troopers rushed out of the bunker. Several explosions consumed the structure.

An anxious-sounding Wo-Chen cried out, "Romulus? What happened?"

From the corner of his eye, Romulus saw the remaining fighting droids come to a standstill. "My troops and I have destroyed the shield generator, Wo-Chen."

"Yes, I see," the Jedi Master commented drily. "Good job. Make sure that all other Separatist troops have been captured."

"Yes, Master."

While flames continued to engulf the bunker, Romulus strode toward Captain Telos. He had not taken five steps, when he dropped his commlink. As he bent over to pick it up, blaster fire zipped over his head. Stunned, Romulus glanced up and saw none other than Captain Telos aiming a blaster rifle . . . at him! What in the blazes? Romulus quickly straighten up and grabbed his lightsaber hilt. And just in time. He lit up his blade and managed to deflect more shots from Telos and the other clone troopers. One of the blasts he had deflected, struck the officer's chest.

More blaster fire came from troopers behind the Jedi Knight. Thankfully, the blasts missed. Romulus tossed them back, using his telekinesis. It finally occurred to the Jedi Knight that Wo-Chen might also be in danger. Using accelerated speed, he zoomed away from the burning bunker and toward the city's center.

By the time Romulus reached the city's Administration Hall, he found his former master battling clone troopers on the building's wide steps. Separatist leader, Perdito Vedlik laid dead beside Wo-Chen. The young Jedi Knight stepped forward to aid his former master, when three clone troopers emerged from the building's entrance and fired upon the Jedi Master. The latter fell forward - dead.

"Wo-Cheeeen!" Rage overwhelmed Romulus, as he lit up his lightsaber. The clone troopers spotted him and began to fire. Romulus deflected their fire with ease, killing several troopers in the process. Eventually, some semblance of common sense broke through his anger and he realized that he could not single-handedly defend himself against an entire battalion. He immediately snapped off his lightsaber and once again, fled from certain death.



Red-hot sparks upward, while two men in Jedi tunics swung back and forth from cables that hung from a metal collector tower that flowed along a river of lava. Despite their situation, the pair managed to continue a deadly lightsaber duel that had begun not long ago on more solid ground.

Anakin Skywalker, now the Sith Lord, Darth Vader, had been sent by his new master to permanently deal with the Separatist leadership. He had arrived on the fiery planet of Mustafar, met with the surviving Separatist leaders and slain every last one of them - including the troublesome Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation. Once he had completed his task, he had been surprised to learn that his very pregnant wife, Senator Padme Amidala, had followed him to Mustafar in order to confront him about what really happened at the Jedi Temple back on Coruscant. And he had his former master, Obi-Wan Kenobi to thank. Surprise, however, soon turned to shock and anger when the hated Kenobi appeared on the ramp of Padme's skiff - confirming Anakin's suspicions that Padme and Obi-Wan had betrayed him.

Anakin's anger had led to his attack upon Padme. Obi-Wan stopped him before he had the chance to kill her. But that did not stop the young Sith Lord from demanding that Obi-Wan pledge allegiance to the new Emperor. When his former master refused, a fight ensued.

The brutal duel, which had begun just meters away from the Nabooan skiff, now continued on the metal tower collector, as it floated on the lava river. Anakin felt oblivious to his tenuous situation. His attention remained focused upon the bearded man, who seemed determined to end this duel with a fatal blow, as much as he did. Then a loud snap caught the young Sith Lord's attention. He glanced up. The collector's metal had begun to break apart. More snaps followed, along with a few loud groans. Not only was the contraption in danger of breaking apart, it seemed to be heading straight toward a lava fall. Anakin glanced at Obi-Wan. Apparently, the latter had also noticed the danger. The older man did a double-back flip and landed squarely on a platform floating along the river.

Panic briefly struck Anakin. He realized that not only lack a structure to land safely upon, he was in danger of sinking into the lava river, along with this tower. Then he spotted a solution to his problem. Construction droids. Anakin took a deep breath and swung back to the tower's main column. Then he climbed up the tower, made a running leap and landed on top of a chattering construction droid.

Without pressure from the two men's combined weight, the giant collector tower moved swifter along the lava's current, until it eventually disappeared over the falls. Meanwhile, both Anakin's droid and Obi-Wan's platform floated toward the lava river's bank. The moment Anakin's droid reached the platform, the young Sith Lord and the Jedi Master resumed their duel.

Balanced precariously on the droid and the platform, the two men battled away with fury. But their situation made it impossible to deliver any meaningful blows. To Anakin's surprise, Obi-Wan paused and stared at him with eyes that illuminated with disappointment and regret. "I have failed you, Anakin! I was never able to teach you to think."

The Jedi Master's words inflamed Anakin's rage. "I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over!" he cried.

"From the Sith! Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!"

"From the Jedi point of view!" Anakin retorted. "From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!"

Disbelief now shone in Obi-Wan's eyes. "Well, then you are lost!"

But Anakin did not hear his former master's last words. Instead, he declared, "This is the end for you, my Master. I wish it were otherwise." He flipped onto Obi-Wan's platform and the fighting resumed.

As the platform eased closer toward the riverbank, Obi-Wan surprised Anakin for the second time and jumped to the safety of the lava bank's black sand. "It's over, Anakin! I have the high ground!"

Anakin's eyes scanned the lava bank. Sure enough, Obi-Wan stood on a high bank that sloped upward from the river of lava. But the younger man refused to give up. He felt certain that he could overcome his former master's advantage. "You underestimate my power!" he growled.

Obi-Wan shot back, "Don't try it!"

Before he could spring off the platform, disturbing images filled Anakin's mind. He saw himself leap from the platform in order to attack Obi-Wan. He saw the latter cut off his legs at the knees and his left arm. More disturbing images followed - his torso engulfed in flames, his body encased in a monstrous black suit, him strangling Padme with the Force and her dead body being carried throughout the streets of Theed. Anakin blinked several times. Memories of his past deeds and what laid in store for him filled him with horror. The red haze that had gripped his mind, slowly disappeared.

"Anakin?" Obi-Wan cried out.

The young Sith Lord's gaze fell downward. He saw that the platform was in danger of melting into the lava. Using the Force, Anakin levitated toward the sandy bank, opposite Obi-Wan. He turned off his lightsaber. "You're right, Obi-Wan. It's over." He sighed and shook his head. "What have I done?" he muttered to himself. Feeling a sense of failure and utter despair, Anakin turned away.

Again, Obi-Wan cried out, "Anakin!"

"You've won, my Master. Let it go."

But in another one of those rare moments, Anakin saw that even Obi-Wan had difficulty in letting go. "Let it go?" the Jedi Master exclaimed angrily. "You were the Chosen One! It was said that you who would bring balance to the Force! Not leave it in Darkness!"

Anakin opened his mouth to speak. But words failed to spill out. How could he deny Obi-Wan's accusations? Because of him, the Jedi Order no longer existed. He took a deep breath, silently shook his head and started to walk away.

Obi-Wan bellowed ominously, "Anakin! Where do you think you are going?"

The younger man murmured, "Honestly, I do not know. But definitely away from here."

"We are not finished . . ." Obi-Wan continued. But Anakin spotted a well-sized rock in the black sand. With the Force, he used it to strike Obi-Wan's left temple. The older man immediately fell to the ground, unconscious.

Anakin regarded his former master with pain and regret. Then he stared at the lightsaber in his hand and tossed it at Obi-Wan's prone body. He quickly made his way back to Padme's skiff, where he found Threepio and Artoo attempting to carry his unconscious body inside the vehicle. More waves of guilt washed over Anakin, as he again recalled his attack upon Padme.

"Threepio, I'll take her." Anakin stepped forward and the protocol droid placed Padme into his arms. He carried her aboard the ship, ignoring Threepio's chatter and Artoo's beeps. Once inside the skiff, Anakin gently placed his wife upon a narrow bunk. He leaned down and placed a light kiss on her forehead. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Padme," he murmured in a wavering voice. "I've ruined everything. I can't . . . I can no longer be with you." He inhaled deeply. "I don't deserve to be with you. You and the baby will never be safe with me. You need to be strong, Padme. For you and the baby's future. But don't forget . . . I will always love you. Forever." Then he kissed her forehead again. "May the Force be with you."

Anakin strode down the skiff's ramp with Threepio close at his heels. "Master Anakin," the droid cried, "where are you going?"

"I'm leaving, Threepio." Anakin headed toward his fighter. "Don't worry, Master Kenobi should soon join you. Meanwhile, I need you to take care of the senator."

Threepio refused to be deterred. "But sir, what shall I tell Mistress Padme? Where are you going?"

The protocol droid's question led Anakin to pause beside his fighter. He heaved a loud sigh. "Tell her . . . tell her that I love her." Then he patted the droid's golden forearm. "Good-bye Threepio. Take care of your mistress and the baby."

Threepio merely stared, as Anakin began to climb into the cockpit. A series of whistles and beeps revealed Artoo rushing toward the starfighter. Anakin waved him away. "No, Artoo. You stay with Padme. She will need you a lot more than I will."

Low whistles emitted from Artoo, indicating the droid's displeasure. Anakin settled inside the cockpit. As he glanced down at the two druids, he realized with a pang that he might never see them or his beloved wife, again. Even worse, he would never have a chance to know his child - thanks to his blind arrogance and selfishness. Anakin closed his eyes and heaved one last sigh. After donning his headset, he closed the cockpit and started the engines. Before long, his old Jedi fighter finally zoomed out of Mustafar's smoky atmosphere and into deep space.


An uncomfortable, burning sensation tingled the surface of Obi-Wan's right cheek. His eyes flickered open and he realized that he lay sprawled on the black, steaming sand. Then it all came back to him - stowing aboard Padme's ship, confronting Anakin, the duel and the sensation of pain striking his left temple. Anakin.

The Jedi Master struggled to his feet. He spotted his lightsaber on the ground and picked it up. Then he saw the other object - Anakin's lightsaber. Obi-Wan regarded it with a frown. His former padawan must have tossed it aside. But why? What had led Anakin to end the duel, let alone give up his weapon? An anxious thought came to the Jedi Master. Padme. Anakin may have taken both her and the droids away from Mustafar. Hopefully, not back Coruscant . . . and Sidious.

Fighting back a sense of panic, Obi-Wan picked up the other lightsaber and rushed back to Padme and her starship. To his relief, he found the Nabooan skiff still there, along with the Skywalkers' two droids.

"Master Kenobi!" Threepio's voice rang with relief. "Oh, I am so glad to see you!"

Obi-Wan nodded curtly. "Where is Anakin? Is he with the senator?"

Threepio replied, "Oh no, Master Kenobi. Master Anakin has left. But Miss Padme is aboard the ship. He had carried her aboard before leaving."

Anakin had left? Obi-Wan glanced to his right. Sure enough, the yellow Jedi fighter had disappeared. An unexpected pang struck the Jedi Master beneath his chest. He felt as if a part of his life had suddenly been erased. Obi-Wan had not experienced such a feeling since Qui-Gon Jinn's death.

With a sigh, he ordered Threepio and Artoo to board the skiff. After he followed the pair aboard, Obi-Wan ordered the protocol droid to take off. Meanwhile, he followed Artoo to one of the bunks, where he found a semi-conscious Padme mumbling incoherently.

The senator's dark eyes fluttered open. "Obi-Wan?" Breathing heavily, she added, "Is Anakin . . . all right?"

Obi-Wan began to answer, "Yes, he . . ." Then he found himself unable to speak.

"He spoke . . . to me," Padme continued to whisper. "But he's go . . ." She broke off and became unconscious.

A heavy sadness welled within Obi-Wan's heart, as he brushed tendrils of Padme's hair from her forehead. Poor thing. He left Artoo with the unconscious senator, while he joined Threepio in the cockpit.

The protocol droid asked, "Pardon me sir, but where are we going?"

Lacking an answer, Obi-Wan merely stared ahead in pensive silence.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Major Problems of "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II"

Below is an article I had written about the questionable plot points I had discovered, while watching the miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II":

The Major Problems of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”

In the eyes of many fans of the trilogy of miniseries based upon John Jakes’ saga, ”The NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy”, the only miniseries not worthy of the entire saga is the third one - ”HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH III”. I wish I could agree with them. After all, the production values for ”Book III” had not been as impressive as the other two. And of the three miniseries, ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” had the best costume designs. But looking at the three miniseries from the prospective of a writer, I have finally come to the conclusion that it was ”BOOK II” (set during the Civil War), and not ”BOOK III” that ended up being a lot more disappointing to me.

None of the three miniseries were exact copies of the novels from which they had been adapted. Changes were made in all three. Despite some flaws, I had no problems with most of the changes in ”BOOK I” and ”BOOK III”. But I found some of the changes in ”BOOK II” to be very questionable. In fact, some of these changes really did nothing to serve the miniseries’ story, except pad it unnecessarily in order to ensure that it would last six episodes.

Below are some examples of the questionable plotlines I found in ”BOOK II”:

*Around the end of Episode I, Brett Main Hazard (Genie Francis) – a South Carolina belle who had recently married Pennsylvania-born army officer, Billy Hazard (Parker Stevenson) - and her maid, Semiramis (Erica Gimpel), had left Washington D.C. just before the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). The former had received a written note about Madeline LaMotte (Lesley Anne Down)’s kidnapping by her estranged husband (David Carridine) and the injuries that Brett’s mother – Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) – had suffered following a barn fire at the Main’s South Carolina plantation, Mont Royal. Brett and Semiramis finally reached Mont Royal in November 1861. I have a lot of problems with this.

1) Why was the message about Clarissa and Madeline sent to Brett in
Washington D.C. and not to Brett’s older brother, General Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) in Richmond? It would have been easier to reach him, since Richmond was inside Confederate territory.

2) Would it have been easier for Brett and Semiramis remain in Richmond and wait for
Orry to depart for South Carolina? What was the point of them leaving him a message and continuing their journey south? They would have reached Mont Royal a lot sooner.

3) Why did it take them three to four months to reach South Carolina? It took them at least less than a week to travel from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia – despite being delayed by Union troops. They were on horseback. So why did it take them an additional three-and-a-half months to reach Mont Royal in South Carolina?

*Episode I revealed that both George Hazard and Orry Main served as military aides for the respective leaders - Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.  Between Episode I and early Episode II, George provided information to Lincoln on battle results and on the President's behalf, interviewed General Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, to see if the latter was the right man to take over the Army of the Potomoc in Virginia.  George became a field commander right before the Battle of Gettysburg.  Orry not only provided battle results and other information to Davis, he also served as some kind of quartermaster and investigator of corruption within the Confederacy.  He became a field commander right before the Battle of Sayler's Creek in Episode VI.  I had problems with this.

2) Neither George or Orry had acquired any further military experiences or participated in any political movements or organizations in their respective home states of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, during those thirteen years between 1848 and 1861.

3) Although George primarily served as an adviser for Lincoln before becoming a field commander, Orry served in a confusing mixture of duties that included military adviser, quartermaster, and investigator. What the hell? It almost seemed as if the screenwriters could not make up their minds on what capacity Orry had served in the Confederate Army, before becoming a field commander during the war's final month.

4) In the early summer of 1863, George became an artillery commander in the Army of the Potomoc. I am aware that he had graduated from West Point near the top of class, ranking sixth. But in 1846, George decided to choose the Infantry in which to serve. His only previous military experience before the Battle of Gettysburg was fifteen months as a junior infantry officer. How on earth did he end up in artillery, with no previous experience in that particular field?

George and Orry's military experiences during the war smacked of a great deal of bad continuity, lack of logic and confusion.

*In Episode III, despondent over being unable to see Brett for two years, Billy decides to go AWOL, following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and head south to South Carolina to see Brett. Upon his arrival at Mont Royal, he stays there less than 24 hours and leaves to return to the Army. He returned to duty in Hiram Burdam (Kurtwood Smith)’s Sharpshooter regiment in late April/early May 1864, in time to participate in the Battle of the Wilderness. And I had problems with this.

1) It took Billy less than a month to travel from Southern Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) to Mont Royal in South Carolina. Yet, it took him at least eight to nine months to rejoin his regiment, who were back in Virginia by the time of his arrival. Why did it take him longer to travel from South Carolina to Virginia, than it did for him to travel from Southern Pennsylvania to South Carolina? He was on horseback.

2) Billy had been AWOL from the Army for at least nine to ten months (July 1863 – late April/early May 1864). Why did Colonel Burdan fail to punish him for abandoning his post without permission . . . for so long? In the spring of 1864, the Union Army was not exactly desperate for an increase in manpower, unlike the Confederate Army. In fact, Billy never even faced a court martial or trial of any kind for his actions. His only punishments were a stern lecture from Burdan and being passed over for a promotion to the rank of captain. This is illogical . . . even for a fictional story.

*Charles Main (Lewis Smith) and Augusta Barclay (Kate McNeil) first met each other while the former was on a scouting mission for the Confederacy and the latter was smuggling medicine in July 1861. They met again, the following year, when Charles appeared at her farm, wounded. In the spring of 1864, following the Battle of the Wilderness, they began a love affair that lasted until they said good-bye for the last time in February 1865. Two months later, following the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, Charles returned to Barclay Farm and learned that Augusta had died while giving birth to his son. Charles learned that Augusta’s South Carolina relatives had taken custody of Charles Augustus Main and returned to Charleston. There, Charles took custody of his son for the first time. I have a problem.

1) Charles and Augusta saw each other for the last time in February 1865. When Charles returned to her farm, two months later, her former servant – Washington (John Nixon) – informed him that she had recently died from giving birth to Charles’ son. Yet, Augusta certainly did not look pregnant, during Charles’ last visit two months ago - when the unborn baby should have been at least six to seven months old. And she was wearing a corset.

2) Following his discovery that he was a father, it did not take Charles very long to return to South Carolina and claim his child. Yet, the recently Charles Augustus Main looked at least between one to two years old. If that had been the child’s real age, Charles and Augusta’s son would have been born a year earlier – before they had consummated their relationship in May 1864.

*After being driven from Mont Royal by the discovery of a family secret by Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber), Madeline Main (Lesley Anne-Down) settles in Charleston around July-September 1863. The following spring in May 1864, she meets a former slave/refugee named Jim (Bumper Robinson) and his sick mother. Because of this meeting, Madeline decides to offer aid to many of Charleston’s war refugees – whether they are ex-slaves or poor whites. She also learns about Jim and his mother’s personal history. Apparently, they were Tennessee slaves who were freed upon the arrival of Union troops at their former master’s plantation, who decided to make their way to Charleston.

1) WHAT IN THE HELL IS THIS? Why on earth would recently emancipated slaves make their way deep into Confederate territory? Did the writers of the miniseries honestly believe that slaves were that stupid? Jim and his mother were from Tennessee. They could have made their way to any of the following cities:

*Nashville, Tennessee – which fell to Union troops in February 1862
*Memphis, Tennessee – captured by the Union in June 1862
*New Orleans, Louisiana – fell to Union troops in April 1862
*Louisville, Kentucky – which remained in the Union throughout the war

Any of the above cities were closer to the plantation owned by Michael’s master and could have provided safe refuge for him and his mother. Certainly not Charleston, South Carolina, which was too far and still Confederate territory by the spring of 1864.

2) The writers could have written Michael and his mother as South Carolina slaves. And yet . . . they would have been wiser to head for Hilton Head, the only safe refuge for runaway slaves in South Carolina, until February 1865.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Top Five (5) Favorite JAMES BOND Theme Songs

Below are my top five (5) favorite James Bond theme songs of all time:


“Nobody Does It Better” (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME – 1977)

“Live and Let Die” (LIVE AND LET DIE – 1973)

“Goldfinger” (GOLDFINGER – 1964)

“You Know My Name” (CASINO ROYALE – 2006)

“The World Is Not Enough” (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH – 1999)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Return With a Vengeance" [PG-13] - 8/18



The moment Cole's guest disappeared, the half-daemon gave Olivia a hard stare. "Okay, Miss McNeill, what in the hell just happened?"

"What do you mean?" Green eyes grew wide with innocence.

Cole continued, "Suz . . . uh, Mrs. Maxwell. She practically ran out of here, with her tail tucked between her legs. What were you two talking about?"

Olivia coolly replied, "Nothing. I merely asked her a . . . few questions. About what she did for a living. Where she came from."

"In other words, being a very suspicious cop, you couldn't help but interrogate her." Cole waved his hand over the spilled brandy and it disappeared. "What did you learn?"

Taking a deep breath, Olivia answered, "Well, that she's from Vancouver. Until I reminded her that she spoke with an American accent."

Cole grunted. "And?"

"Then she claimed that she originally came from Portland, Oregon." Olivia paused dramatically. "Awfully close to Seattle, isn't it?"

Shaking his head, Cole gave his neighbor an admiring look. "You know, it's a good thing that the Triad or the Source had never sent me after you. Hell, going against your parents, twenty-five years ago, was bad enough."

Olivia plopped down on the sofa. Then she reached inside her jeans pocket and retrieved a folded slip of paper. She handed it to Cole. "Look familiar?"

Cole found himself staring at a drawing of a very familiar face. "Yeah. Isn't this the warlock I had changed into a pebble outside the Tower Bay warehouse, last month?"

"Oh, that's him alright. Cecile had a vision of him killing some janitor. Whose body was found, this morning. The janitor used to work at the Hopkins Building on Powell."

"Why would a Crozat warlock kill this . . . what's his name?"

Olivia answered, "Pablo Alvarez. Darryl and I checked his background. An immigrant from El Salvador, who came to this country, nearly twenty years ago. I also checked with a few fellow witches. As far as anyone knows, he's mortal." She paused. A calculated gleam lit up her eyes. "Take a closer look at the drawing. Does he remind you of anyone?"

Cole sat down on the sofa and stared at the drawing. Dark hair and eyes. High cheekbones. Narrow chin. Then a grim smile appeared on his face, as he stared at Olivia. "Of course! Suzanne. So, she's a Crozat, after all."

"I had the same thought when I first saw her," Olivia added.

"The question is . . . what does want with me?" Cole frowned at Olivia. "I understand she might want revenge for the destruction of her coven. But what makes her think she can harm me?"

Olivia shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe she has some plan to use you to get to us. Or perhaps . . ." A wicked smile stretched her mouth. "Perhaps she had something else in mind. I noticed that Mrs. Maxwell seemed rather . . . frustrated. Did I disturb something?"

"Nothing happened between us . . . at least not yet," Cole retorted good naturally. "Besides, what's wrong with a little seduction? I had hoped to find out what she's up to."

Olivia's eyes narrowed playfully. "You know, I have the oddest feeling that I may have interrupted the possibility of some very serious sex. Of course, Mrs. Maxwell, or Ms. Crozat doesn't exactly strike me as your type." Olivia stood up and started toward the door.

"I don't recall ever having a type," Cole retorted with a smirk. Then his eyes focused on Olivia's hand and noticed that the bottle of parsley was missing. "Uh, what happened to the parsley I gave you?"

Green eyes blinked. "What?" Olivia glanced at her empty hands and shrugged. "Oh. I guess I forgot about it."

"Really? I'm beginning to think that you didn't really need any parsley in the first place."

Olivia shot Cole a cool stare. "Of course I did. What makes you think otherwise?"

"I don't know. Maybe you were interested in getting a glimpse of Suzanne Maxwell."

Disbelief now glimmered in the witch's green eyes. "Wait a minute! Are you insinuating that I'm jealous?"

Cole responded with a shrug. "Hey, you said it, not me."

Olivia rolled her eyes. "You know what, Cole? Blow me!" She opened the door and stalked out of the penthouse.

"It would be my pleasure," Cole murmured under his breath, as his eyes examined the shapely backside of his neighbor.

* * * *

Phoebe, Paige and Leo tramped into the kitchen and found Piper preparing breakfast. "Honey, what are you doing?" Phoebe demanded. "Paige and I can fix breakfast. You shouldn't be on your feet, now that your pregnancy is advancing."

"And have all of us suffer from an upset stomach? No thanks," Piper retorted. "Besides, I don't mind cooking. Helps me relax."

Paige asked, "What are we having?"

"Nothing special. Scrambled eggs, toast and bacon." Piper placed both the toast and the bacon on the kitchen table. "The rest of the breakfast should be ready in a few minutes." The others sat down in the chairs that surrounded the table.

Phoebe reached for the pitcher of orange juice and poured herself a glass. "God, I'm hungry! Come to think of it, I haven't felt this hungry in a long time."

"It's your week off," Paige commented. "I know exactly how you feel. Ever since I had quit my job, my appetite has increased." She paused. "By the way, are you still going to help me find some Mugwort from that shop in Chinatown?"

Aware of the stares from Piper and Leo, Phoebe merely stared back. "What did you mean by 'still going'? Of course I will. Why wouldn't I?"

Paige hesitated. "Because you've barely spoken to me, since yesterday evening."

Shame overwhelmed Phoebe. She had never realized, until now, how her anger toward Cole and the McNeills had affected her family. Especially Paige. "Honey, I'm sorry," she said quietly. "I didn't mean . . ." Phoebe sighed. "You know, it's amazing how I have allowed Cole to poison everything. Well you know what? I'm tired of it. And I'm tired of him. Unless he deliberately hurts someone, I couldn't care less what he does. And if the McNeills want to be friends with him, let 'em. It's their funeral." From the corner of her eye, she saw Leo stiffened. "I'm sorry, Leo. I realize that if Olivia, Bruce and Harry want to be friends with Cole, it's their choice. I only hope they don't pay the price for that friendship."

"I understand," Leo murmured.

Phoebe added, "And Paige, I'm sorry for giving you the third degree. You're entitled to your own feelings."

"It's okay." Paige smiled timidly. "I'm just glad we're talking. And that we'll get to spend the day, together."

"Honey, I'm afraid that it will only be the morning. I have a doctor's appointment with Ava, this afternoon."

The telephone inside the kitchen rang. Piper answered. "Hello?"

Phoebe and the others watched as the oldest Halliwell continued the phone conversation. Curiosity became anxiety, as a concerned frown formed on Piper's face. She added, "Give us a call if you don't hear from Darryl or Olivia." Then she hung up.

"What's wrong?" Leo asked.

Still frowning, Piper replied, "That was Sheila Morris. Apparently, Darryl is missing. She woke up around five this morning and found him gone. I told her to give Olivia a call."

"Good suggestion. Olivia is probably the best person to find Darryl."

Phoebe took a sip of her juice. "Are you sure he's in danger? Maybe Darryl is at the station. This isn't the first time he has ended up working at odd hours."

"Unfortunately, Sheila did call the station. He's not there."

Paige added, "And what about that premonition that Olivia's friend received about Darryl?"

Phoebe retorted, "What premonition? A feeling? According to Darryl, she wasn't even able to receive a vision."

"She's right," Piper said. "And quite frankly, I'd rather rely on Phoebe's premonitions." She faced Leo. "Can you sense him?"

The whitelighter shook his head. "Darryl's not a witch. Or one of my charges. Sorry."

Piper heaved a large sigh. "Then I guess it's up to Olivia." She served the rest of the breakfast to her family.

* * * *

The morning was proving to be very enjoyable for Cecile. She had joined Olivia's mother, Gweneth McNeill, on a morning shopping spree around the city of San Francisco. Using the latter's car, they had already visited several out-of-the way shops, including a rare bookstore, a clothing store and a shop in the Castro District that sold a variety of candy - especially chocolate.

After a purchase of chocolate truffles, the two women returned to Mrs. McNeill's lime-green Nexus. "Our next stop will be a herbal store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I need some purple basil and lavender for a recipe I'm experimenting on."

"Isn't Wu Choi in Chinatown?" Cecile asked. It was the shop she used whenever she visited San Francisco.

Mrs. McNeill steered the Lexus down Washington. "Didn't Livy tell you? Barbara has opened a new shop. She sells herbs and other substances for potions from all over the world. It has been opened for the past five months."

"No, Olivia didn't say a word. How is it doing?"

The older woman nodded. "Not bad," she said in a soft Welsh accent. "In fact, quite well."

The two women finally reached their destination - a shop located on the first floor of a late Victorian manor. After Mrs. McNeill found a parking spot, the duo headed for the shop. "Hey! Cecile! Long time, no see!" a beautiful woman with long blonde hair and a cheerful countenance greeted Cecile with a hug. Barbara Bowen also happened to be engaged to Mrs. McNeill oldest offspring, Bruce. "Wow! I seemed to be getting a lot of surprise visitors, today!"

Mrs. McNeill's green eyes looked confused. "More visitors?"

Barbara nodded at the shop's other two occupants, standing near one of the large shelves. "Yeah! Look who's here."

Cecile and Mrs. McNeill stared at the visitors. The former did not recognize them, but the older woman did. And it seemed obvious that they recognized her.

"Phoebe!" the middle-aged woman greeted the young woman with shoulder-length dark-brown hair. Then she nodded at the other woman. The latter possessed bright red hair - a dye job, Cecile immediately surmised - and the same dark eyes. "And Paige!" Gweneth McNeill added. "What are you two doing here? I didn't realize you were among Barbara's regular customers."

The woman called Phoebe smiled politely. "Paige is looking for some Mugwort. Since this is my week off, I thought I accompany her. She couldn't find what she was looking for, in Chinatown."

"Well, isn't that's nice," Mrs. McNeill said with a nod. She turned to Cecile. "I would like you to meet an old friend of Olivia's - Cecile Dubois. Cecile is from New Orleans. Cecile, this is Phoebe and Paige Halliwell. They're the sisters of Olivia's old classmate." She smiled.

Cecile greeted the two women. "Nice to meet you."

"Yeah, same here," the redhead replied. "And I'm Paige Matthew, by the way. I'm Phoebe and Piper's half-sister."

Nodding, Cecile said to other woman, "And you must be Phoebe, Cole's ex-wife. Right?"

The other sister stiffened. Her smile became less warm. "Leo tell us that you practice Voodoo."

"Vodoun," Cecile corrected. "It means 'spirit' in the Fon language. Voodoo is some European version of the word."

Phoebe's brows shot upward. "I guess that means there's no such thing as witch doctors and zombies, huh?"

"Just as I'm sure that all witches don't look like Margaret Hamilton in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Or worship the devil." Cecile's smile widened, as Phoebe's disappeared.

Paige asked, "So you don't have zombies?"

Cecile's gaze returned to the redhead. Barbara answered before she could. "Zombies don't really exist in West African Vodoun. Some bokors use a poison from a blowfish called teterododixin to give their victims the appearance of a zombie."

Paige's dark eyes widened. "Bokor?"

"A sorcerer who practices magic for evil purposes," Cecile explained.


Silence followed. The Halliwell women regarded the new visitors with discomfort. Finally, Barbara rescued the moment by tapping Paige's shoulder. "By the way, I found that Mugwort you were looking for. Follow me." She started toward the back of the shop. To Cecile's relief, the two sisters followed.

Cecile turned to Gweneth McNeill. "Not a very friendly bunch, are they?"

The older woman sighed. "Actually, I believe they're quite nice. It's just that . . . well, they've been through a lot during the past few years. Especially with Cole. And they're not exactly thrilled by our friendship with him."

"No kidding."

Mrs. McNeill grabbed Cecile's arm and led her to one of the shelves. "Listen dearie, could you help me search for that purple basil and lavender? Barbara has an enormous stock of herbs and I'm going to need your help."

It did not take Mrs. McNeill long to find the purple basil. The lavender proved to be another matter. From the corner of her eye, Cecile spotted Barbara and the Halliwells return to the store's main room. She ignored them and continued the search for the lavender. Not long after the sisters left the shop, a vision gripped Cecile. She saw a shadowy figure shoot bolts of lightning at Paige Matthew, sending the latter flying across a living room.

The vision ended. Cecile gasped and her eyes flew open. Surprising both Mrs. McNeill and Barbara, she raced outside of the shop, yelling, "Wait! Wait!" But it was too late. Paige and Phoebe had climbed into a car. Just as Cecile began to race after it, the car roared away.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2005 biopic about boxer James J. Braddock called "CINDERELLA MAN". Directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti:

"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Photo Gallery

Friday, February 13, 2009

"The Helmsman's Logs - 2373" [PG-13] - Part I

I am continuing with the saga of Lieutenant Tom Paris' personal experiences with the Voyager crew. The following focuses upon Voyager's third year in the Delta Quadrant.


SUMMARY: The third in a collection of Tom Paris' personal logs during Voyager's seven years in the Delta Quadrant. Part 3 focuses upon the ship's third year, 2373.
FEEDBACK: - I would appreciate constructive feedback. Thank you.
DISCLAIMER: Tom Paris and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom, Rick Berman, the Roddenberry family and other Trek producers.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This covers episodes from the last Season 2 episode, "Basics, Part 1" to the first Season 4 episode, "Scorpion, Part 2".


Part 1

STARDATE 50004.23:

Voyager just had its first battle with the Kazon-Nistrim since entering the Gema system. It wasn't much, considering that we only encountered a Kazon shuttle that managed to disable our secondary command processors. End personal log.

STARDATE 50010.35:

We just sustained another attack by a small Kazon ship. And for the second time, the attack disabled our secondary command processors, before we could finish repairing it. We've endured two attacks and already, Harry is nervous. I don't blame him. I have a feeling that there is a reason behind these attacks on the secondary command sub-processors. And if so, Seska is still alive. Only she could think of a reason to target that particular area. End personal log.

STARDATE 50020.72:

Don't have much time to complete a log entry. Voyager has just sustained a fourth attack by the Kazon. All of the previous attacks have been by sects other than the Nistrim. And they have also targeted the secondary command processors. Now, even the Captain is becoming paranoid. Voyager is no longer in communication range with the Talaxians at Prema II. I don't know. I only hope that the Doc's plan to use the echo displacement works. One last note - I heard from Ayala that Chakotay had a fight with Tiena, before ordering him to secured quarters on Deck 8. Right next door to Lon Suder. They ought to keep each other company. End personal log.

STARDATE 50023.13:

I'm making this log entry from the shuttlecraft, Cochrane. While engaged in a major battle with the Kazon-Nistrim, yesterday, there was an explosion on Deck 8. From Tiena's quarters, not surprisingly. Anyway, I asked the Captain to give me permission to take a shuttle and contact the Talaxians for help. I barely managed to escape. Kazon weapons managed to damage the shuttle. Fortunately, I repaired all of the damages. Now all I have to do is (a klaxon signal) . . . Huh? What the hell? What the hell is wrong now? End personal log.

STARDATE 50026.43:

I've regained control of Voyager . . . with help from Commander Paxim and the Talaxians, the Doctor and get this, Lon Suder. God, what an unlikely bunch we made. Well, except for the Talaxians. Thank goodness Suder managed to avoid capture when the Kazon and Seska took control of the ship, or my plan would have never worked.

As for Suder, the poor bastard is dead. Along with Seska and most of the Kazon. Cullah, his baby and a handful of his men had fled using one of the escape pods. Although the ship's computer is back online, the Doctor's program isn't and we have some work to do. Hopefully, the crew is still alive on Hanon IV. I may be a good holoprogrammer, but I don't know if I can repair the holoemitter systems in Sick Bay. End personal log.

STARDATE 50032.65:

I am one tired man, but a happy one. The crew has managed to survive the latest threat from the Kazon-Nistrim. Well, most of us. Poor Lon Suder was killed by the Kazon. Simon Hogan and Seda Abdalla were killed by some giant land eel on Hanon IV. We held services for all three in the Observation Lounge, yesterday. Suder's body was ejected into space. Seska and the dead Kazon were buried on Hanon IV.

Today, the crew held a party at Sandrine's. I would have remained longer, but I was simply too tired. Megan Delaney invited me for dinner, tomorrow night. I accepted. Everyone offered their gratitude to both the Doctor and me. Doc seemed to be eating up the attention. Me, I just wanted to return to my quarters for some much needed rest.

Before I could leave, B'Elanna waylaid me and dragged me to a private corner. Away from prying eyes, it seemed. She wanted to thank me for saving the crew from the hell of Hanon IV. Of course, she didn't have to drag me all the way to a corner to do that. And I almost said so. Until I looked into her eyes. (Pauses) Wait, what I meant was . . . Okay, I might as well confess. I don't know. When I looked into B'Elanna's eyes, for a brief moment, I felt this . . . I don't know . . . feeling? Electricity? I'm not going to go into some rapture about lost souls bonding and nonsense like that. Let's just say that I had felt . . . goosebumps. And I had to get out of there, fast. Only B'Elanna beat me to the punch. She gave me a quick good-bye and disappeared before I could open my mouth. I had this urge to go after her, but (Pauses) maybe some other time. I need to figure this out. End personal log.

STARDATE 50051.85:

That feeling I had about B'Elanna, a week ago? It was all in my mind. It had to be. I certainly didn't feel anything special when I had dinner with her and Harry in the Mess Hall, this evening. Everything seemed normal between us. (Pauses and sighs) Okay, maybe I'm lying. I practically had trouble breathing all night long. And my eyes tend to linger on her rear end, while we played pool inside Sandrine's, after dinner. I think I better stay away from B'Elanna for a while. I wonder if Megan Delaney will be available for dinner, tomorrow? End personal log.

STARDATE 50078.65:

Another attempt to return to the Alpha Quadrant has gone bust. This time, we have a pair of Ferengi con men to thank. They had arrived in the Delta Quadrant, via the Barzan wormhole. In fact, they turned out to be the same Ferengi who had disappeared some seven years ago. Voyager would have used the wormhole to reach the Gamma Quadrant. Unfortunately, we had to prevent the Ferengi from robbing the citizens of Takar. And once we got the Ferengi aboard ship, they managed to escape through the wormhole. And not before destabilizing the damn thing with a graviton probe from their shuttle. Oh well, such is life. Poor Harry is practically crying in his Leola root stew. End personal log.

STARDATE 50092.82:

Can you believe it? Ensign Freddie Barstow tried to ask B'Elanna out for a date. That kid? Not even Harry seem that green. I'm happy to say that B'Elanna turned him down. Smart woman. End personal log.

STARDATE 50128.51:

I'd never thought I would be happy to get away from Harry. He's been babbling about Tuvok and the Captain's mind meld all evening long. Our encounter with a Type 17 nebula that contained sirillium, led to a resurgence of old memories that Tuvok had suppressed. The only way to help him seemed to be a Vulcan mind meld with a family member or close friend. Namely, the Captain. According to Harry, the meld revealed that Tuvok had once served aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior, under the legendary Captain Hikaru Sulu.

Ever since Harry learned that little tidbit, he has been in a sweat over Starfleet history. Quite frankly, it was a subject that has never interested me. Harry couldn't understand, considering my love of history. Sure, I love history - but only Earth's history, before the creation of the Federation and Starfleet. Unlike many others, I have never found either topic interesting. Especially after having them jammed down my throat for so many years by the Admiral. I think Harry was a bit put off by my attitude. End personal log.

STARDATE 50147.33:

Voyager has arrived at an M-class planet called Akritiri. After establishing the usual diplomatic ties, the Akritirian government gave us permission to enjoy shore leave on the planet's surface. Harry and I have made plans to visit Akritiri, tomorrow, following Alpha shift. B'Elanna agreed to join us. That is, if Engineering can complete the repairs on the EPS conduits on Deck 10. In other words, it will probably be just Harry and me. End personal log.

STARDATE 50165.86:

Akritiri. Huh! Another quaint little alien world, visited by Voyager, during its journey through the Delta Quadrant. Ah, Akritiri! I shall never forget it - with its sophisticated civilization, terrorist bombings and brutal justice system. I still have fond memories of the Akritirian security that interrogated me for two days, before tossing me into some dreary prison.

(Sighs) I can't believe that I survived two to three days in that hellhole! Especially with that damn clamp implanted into my skull. It was bad enough that the Akritirians dumped their prisoners in that damn prison ship. Did they have to force us to endure the clamp, as well? What was the point in stimulating our aggressive tendencies? Cheap thrills, perhaps?

It's funny. When Harry came down that chute, I had no idea that he would end up protecting me. How ironic! A hardened ex-convict being protected by a green ensign, just two years out of Starfleet Academy. If only I hadn't been stabbed by one of Pitt's henchmen. I really don't know what happened after that. Aside from warning Harry to look after himself. I do have hazy memories of us fighting over a pipe, dreaming about Megan Delaney, and Harry warning the other inmates to stay away from me. But other than that . . . nothing.

Thank goodness, the Captain, Tuvok and a few others came to our rescue. Another day in that hellhole and I would have been dead. Kes and the Doctor had informed me that my knife wound had become infected. Poor Harry would have ended up out of his mind, like his friend, Zio. Him and his damn manifesto! He can keep it, as far as I'm concerned.

Harry is still a little out of it, despite my assurances that I don't blame him for assaulting me. I thought a lie would help. Keep him succumbing to guilt and depression. Believe me, I've been down that road before. I also suggested a little feast to celebrate our rescue from prison. Maybe I should invite the Delaney sisters. End personal log.

STARDATE 50168.04:

The feast to celebrate our rescue from the Akritirian prison turned out nice. Harry and I replicated so many dishes that I can't remember them all.

(Pauses) Okay, so I lied about enjoying myself. The evening could have been better, but Harry continued to brood over what happened in that prison. The Delaneys couldn't make it and we ended up inviting B'Elanna to join us. That would not have been so bad, except she spent most of the evening trying to snap Harry out of his funk. Even worse, I had a nightmare, later that night. A nightmare filled with images of both New Zealand and the Akritirian prison. Christ! When will I ever get over this? End personal log.

STARDATE 50188.13:

While delivering my navigation report to Engineering, I found Barstow asking B'Elanna out. Again. What is with that kid? Doesn't he realize that B'Elanna would eat him alive? End personal log.

STARDATE 50199.11:

While traveling through the Fima system, Voyager came across a ship filled with alien colonists. The Enarans. It seems this particular group was returning to their homeworld after spending decades on a colony. Some of the Enarans have never laid eyes on their homeworld.

They remind me of the Baneans in appearance. For one horrible moment, I found myself thinking of Lidell Ren. Fortunately, there wasn't a murderous adulteress in the bunch. They all seemed pretty nice. And we've discovered that they're also telepathic. Since their ship became incapable of traveling at warp speed, the Captain offered them a lift to Enara Prime. In return, the Enarans have agreed to help make our engines more efficient. Like I said, very nice people. End personal log.

STARDATE 50205.39:

Had a very nice time, this evening. The crew hosted a party for our visitors, in the Mess Hall. Harry really seemed to enjoy himself. He spent most of the evening with this Enaran woman named Jessen. I spent most of my time with the Delaneys. The only person missing was B'Elanna. I wonder what happened to her. Ensign Barstow seemed particularly disappointed by her non-appearance. End personal log.

STARDATE 50211.82:

So much for the Enarans being nice. Last night, B'Elanna came storming into the Mess Hall and accused them of genocide. Apparently, an elderly Enaran named Korenna Mirell, had telepathically passed her memories to B'Elanna. It was through these memories that our chief engineer learned about the genocide of the Regressives, another race that used to reside on Enara Prime. Naturally, Jor Brel and the other Enarans refused to believe her. Nor could the Doctor prove that Korenna Mirell had been murdered. Now that we have arrived at Enara Prime, our guests will be leaving this morning. B'Elanna told us that she had passed Korenna's memories to Jessen, Harry's friend. Maybe word of the Regressive genocide will get around, after all.

Meanwhile, Harry and I tried to get B'Elanna to tell us about Korenna's memories. She revealed everything to us - well, almost. Her early recollections of this man, Dathan, seemed suspiciously vague. Which makes me wonder what really happened. End personal log.

STARDATE 50229.72:

I couldn't believe it when I heard the news. B'Elanna had finally given in to Freddie Barstow. According to Neelix, B'Elanna accepted his offer for a game of Parises Squares. Which means they're on Holodeck Two, right now. Playing. And God knows what else. (Pauses) Wait a minute. I take that back. I don't know what made me think that B'Elanna and Barstow would be doing more than playing Parises Squares. It's not like she has any interest in the little worm. Right? End personal log.

STARDATE 50232.56:

I meant to ask B'Elanna about her date with Freddie Barstow. But for some reason, my nerve failed me. Geez! What the hell is wrong with me, anyway? And why in the hell should I care about what happened between those two? Harry thinks I'm jealous. Ha! Talk about a disillusioned mind! What the hell do I have to be jealous about? I'm not jealous of Barstow. I just don't think he and B'Elanna are suited for each other. End personal log.

STARDATE 50252.3:

While Voyager takes on supplies, Lt. Torres and I are investigating some intermittent sensor readings we picked up this morning. End personal log.

STARDATE 50256.16:

After yesterday's excitement, I felt too tired to make a log entry. I feel a lot better after a night's rest. Yesterday took a lot out of me. Got my nerves zapped by a pair of aliens that boarded the shuttle carrying B'Elanna and me. The Doc's program malfunctioned and Kes ended up saving my life. Whew! While crossing the Swarm's territory, I had to push Voyager to a 9.8 warp speed. Didn't help in the end. The aliens managed to beam to the Bridge and I ended up in a wrestling match with one of them. If the Captain and Harry had not reversed the shield frequency polarization to drive off the Swarm, we would have met the same fate as the crew of that dead alien.

I suppose all well that ends well. But one wouldn't think so after being in Tuvok's gloomy presence. It was obvious that he was still upset over the Captain's decision to break precious Starfleet protocols and ignore his advice. I accused him of being rigid and added that he should be thankful that we managed to shave off 15 months from our journey. He reminded me that he had thought an alliance with the Kazon was a good idea, despite Federation principles. He also added that Voyager was at least 70 years away from the Alpha Quadrant. A fifteen-month detour seemed paltry in comparison. Hell, even I couldn't argue with that.

One last thing - I finally learned what B'Elanna thought about Freddie Barstow. In a nutshell, she considered him a mere child who was lousy at Parises Squares. Her remark encouraged me to do a stupid thing. I asked her out for a date. Apparently, she found the idea of a date with me even more ludicrous than one with Barstow. Well, it's nice to know what she really thinks of me. End personal log.

STARDATE 50282.21:

Just had a date with Renlay Sharr. (Pauses) It was okay. We had dinner on the holodeck and later, ended up in her quarters. It was . . . well, okay. All right, so the earth didn't move. But at least I had a nice . . . time. I think. Geez, I better stop before I end up feeling disappointed. End personal log.

STARDATE 50316.52:

Who would have thought that a sighting of a temporal rift would lead to an exciting adventure? Or the chance of a lifetime to see history unfold right before my eyes? Or give me the opportunity to meet a potential soul mate? Okay, maybe I had exaggerated on that last entry. Rain wasn't a soul mate - just a very interesting, beautiful, intelligent, and witty young woman who happened to share my taste in entertainment. (Pauses) Then again, maybe she was a soul mate. Hell, I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was another day in the Delta Quadrant, when a temporal rift appeared, along with a ship from the 29th century. Can you believe it? The ship's pilot was this pompous fool named Captain Braxton. He accused us of being responsible for a major catastrophe 500 years from now. Apparently, he's part of some Temporal Intelligence Agency that Starfleet will have in the future. Our time traveler tried to destroy us, but thanks to Chakotay, we were able to stop him. Both Braxton's ship and Voyager got sucked into the rift.

Where did we end up? Orbiting around Earth. Twentieth century Earth. In 1996, almost 400 years in the past. Tuvok detected more temporal readings from the North American continent - in Los Angeles. To track down Braxton and his ship, the Captain led an Away team that included her, Chakotay, Tuvok and myself, to the surface. That left Harry in command of the ship. I bet that made him happy.

Late twentieth century Earth must have struck the others as bizarre. Off-the-wall. To be honest, I also found it a little overwhelming, but I still enjoyed it. A lot. For some odd reason, I felt at home. We managed to find Braxton near the beach, but before we could question him, Harry informed us that someone had spotted Voyager orbiting above Earth and made contact with the ship. The Captain ordered Tuvok and me to find this person and extract any data. And that is how I met Rain Robinson.

She worked at the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills, above Los Angeles. It was Rain who had detected Voyager's gamma emissions and used an old (well, in 24th century terms) SETI communications greeting to contact the ship. When I first spotted the science-fiction movie posters on her office wall, I wondered if I had found a kindred spirit. And when I finally met her, I knew it. Rain seemed a bit reserved at first. Didn't blame her, there. Especially with two strangers in her office. But once I broke down her defenses - at least I think I did - we warmed to each other right away. She's so intelligent and feisty and beautiful. And at the same time, there seemed to be a vulnerability about her. One of a person who had spent many years, alone.

In the end, Tuvok and I used Rain's help to find the person in possession of Captain Braxton's technology - a businessman named Henry Starling. Fearful of being tracked down, Braxton hired Rain to keep an eye on any extraterrestrials - namely anyone from the future. When she realized that Starling had no intention of keeping her alive, Rain helped us kidnapped him.

With a shuttled manned by Chakotay and B'Elanna, we managed to beam Starling to Voyager. We also learned that the Doctor, whose program had been stolen by Starling, could now exist outside a room with holoemitters. And that Chakotay and B'Elanna's shuttle had crashed somewhere in Arizona.

It almost didn't end well. Starling's personal thug managed to beam him back to Earth with 29th century technology. And I also detected the timeship being moved from Chronowerx in a truck. That turned out to be a trick. Starling still had the timeship in one of his labs and he launched it for his own trip into the future. Fortunately, Tuvok and the Doctor rescued B'Elanna and Chakotay from a group of Arizona militia, repair the shuttle and rescue me from the California desert. And we, along with the Captain and Harry, managed to stop Starling from traveling to the 29th century and creating a catastrophe. Once disaster had been averted, Braxton reappeared - this one had never been on Earth - and returned us to the 24th century Delta Quadrant.

The worst part of all this was saying good-bye to Rain. I knew I had my duty to finish. And I realized I had to return to Voyager. But I didn't want to leave her. And I still wish I hadn't. Rain is probably the first woman - maybe the only one - who accepted me as myself. She didn't mind my ”geeky" nature, she shared my taste in horror B-movies, and she's also a great kisser. I had told her the truth when I said that I had never met anyone like her. God, I'm going to miss her. End personal log.

STARDATE 50333.82:

I think I'm getting on Harry's nerves. Or making him depressed. Perhaps, because I've been mooning over Rain during the past week or so. I didn't think it would be so hard for me to get over her. But it has. I've watched "Orgy of the Walking Dead" and "Bride of the Corpse" practically every day since our adventures in the past. Harry suggested I try out his new volleyball program with him. Unfortunately, volleyball has never been a favorite sport of mine.

I've checked Rain Robinson's name in the computer database. After a brief participation in the Eugenics War, she became a prominent astronomer for NASA. She even participated in the Ares program, including John Kelly's famous flight in 2032. Rain married a writer from Mexico named Diego Salazar. They had a daughter and son, before they got divorced after fifteen years of marriage. In 2053, ten years before First Contact, Rain was killed during a bombardment by the then Eastern Coalition. She was 73 years old. End personal log.

STARDATE 50341.96:

Had dinner with Harry and B'Elanna. It was nice. We joked a bit. B'Elanna and I told Harry more stories about our experiences on Earth. I also mentioned the information I found on Rain. Maybe I was imagining things, but B'Elanna seemed . . . I don't know, irritated. Huh. Even stranger was her reaction when I mentioned Rain's husband and children. I wonder why. End personal log.

STARDATE 50347.06:

We rescued three aliens from a ship leaking with radiation. It was also in danger of destruction from a core breach. Harry beamed them to Sick Bay, where they were treated by the Doc and Kes. One of them died. We discovered that they were from a planet called Ilari and Voyager is heading there to deliver the survivors to their people.

Also, Neelix introduced the crew to his new holoprogram. It's a recreation of the Paxau Resort, a popular holiday resort for wealthy Talaxians. It was nice. Sort of. Well, it did seemed a bit too formal for Harry and me. I added a few changes and addition to the program. You know, exotic drinks, Calypso music from Earth's Caribbean region, and more relaxed clothing for the resort's employees. Harry added one special feature - beautiful and scantily-clad females from his volleyball program. He claimed they were the Swedish volleyball team from some past Olympic games. You know, not only has Harry learned to put Libby behind him, I think he's developing a roving eye for the ladies. Good for him. End personal log.

STARDATE 50349.88:

Harry and I found B'Elanna using the resort program. Even I had to admit that she looked great in her blue swim suit. It fitted in all the right places. Ahem! Too bad she brought along that overdeveloped lapdog with her. I thought she had better taste in men than that. End personal log.

STARDATE 50358.7:

Just got back from commiserating with poor Neelix. Poor guy still can't believe that Kes has ended their romance for good. Come to think of it, neither can I. Neelix had thought Tiernan's possession of Kes was to blame for her sudden distant behavior. As it turned out, Tiernan only tapped into Kes' real feelings.

And who is Tiernan? Oh, just this warlord from the 22nd century, who started out as a war hero on Ilari and became a tyrant. His people eventually ousted him and Tiernan's conscience or spirit has spent the past two centuries, using host bodies to reclaim his position as Autarch of Ilari. He was in the body of the Ilarian who had died from radiation exposure, four days ago. Only, once that host body died, he took possession of Kes. Using her body, Tiernan stole a shuttle and reconquered Ilari. Tuvok tried to rescue Kes, but was captured, instead. The Captain, Chakotay, Neelix, a Security team, myself and a few Ilarians eventually conducted a raid on the planet's surface and rescued Kes and Tuvok.

Voyager got Kes back, but Neelix lost her in the end. Poor guy. I know exactly how he feels. In fact, I said so before I told him about Susie Crabtree. End personal log.

STARDATE 50372.46:

There are times I wish I could stuff Harry into the nearest airlock and space him! I think Ensign Kim has romance on the brain. Or maybe sex. Maybe he's been hanging around that volleyball team of his, too long. What in the hell made him think that I'm jealous of some damn holo character? It's ridiculous! Why on earth would I be jealous of B'Elanna's little holostud? He's just some muscle-bound creep who massages her every time she visits the Resort. Might as well be a professional masseuse! End personal log.

STARDATE 50382.83:

Today marked the third time a Starfleet crew witnessed a supernova. The first two supernovas had been witnessed by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, under James Kirk's command - Minara in 2268 and Beta Niobe in 2269. Since Astrophysics was one of my majors at the Academy, I would have found the phenomenon exciting. Except, I was too concerned with getting Voyager out of the way of the star's fusion explosion. Still, it was a great sight.

Oh, one last thing - Q paid the Captain a visit in her quarters, later that day. That's right, he's back. And it seems that he wants to mate with her. Yeah, right! I wonder what he really wanted. End personal log.

STARDATE 50387.74:

Once more, Voyager's crew made history. Not only did we become the second Starfleet crew to witness a supernova, we ended up witnessing three of them. All because of the Q Continuum's civil war. The supernovas were side effects of the battles in the war. And we were wrong about Q. He really did want to mate with the Captain. He wanted omnipotent Q baby with human DNA to usher in some kind of new era for the Continuum. And stop the civil war.

The female Q, who wanted nothing more than to prevent her "beloved" and the Captain from procreating, helped Voyager enter the Continuum and stop the war. The Continuum actually resembled a battlefield from the American Civil War of the 19th century. Interesting. I even managed to get the drop on Q's nemesis. With a weapon harmful to omnipotent beings, of course. Frankly, I'm glad the whole thing is over. Both Qs managed to get on my nerves. Especially that female Q. Thanks to her, I have a new nickname - Helmboy. (Pause) Bitch. End personal log.


I forgot to add that I've decided to surrender and enjoy Harry's little collection of Swedish beauties. Who knew they would turn out to be such great masseuses? Besides, I might as well surrender. I'm not interested in any particular woman aboard ship. And I can't keep brooding over Rain forever. Especially since she is over 68,000 light years away and 377 years in the past. Oh well. End personal log.

STARDATE 50402.58:

I saw that B'Elanna has stopped using her little holostud in the Resort. She didn't have to. Not on my account. All I did was comment that he reminded me of Heller Prisco, a cadet I had known at the Academy. Prisco was known as a body building fanatic who had graduated second from the bottom of my class. It's not that I was comparing the holostud's IQ with Prisco's . . . or anything like that. I guess B'Elanna felt otherwise. End personal log.

STARDATE 50418.35:

Voyager came into contact with a new race called the Tak Tak. Since we're in dire need of foodstuff and dilithium, the Captain decided to trade some of our deuterium for them. She asked Neelix to accompany her to the Tak Tak homeworld. Guess whom Neelix asked to take care of the Mess Hall in his absence? That's right. Yours truly. (Sighs) Why can't I be the bastard that many already believe I am? End personal log.

STARDATE 50428.3:

I hope that Neelix never asks me to temporarily take over his Mess Hall duties again. Especially after what happened. Okay, the whole trouble didn't start in the Mess Hall, but on a mining colony called Garan that had been inflicted by some kind of outbreak. The Doc went on an Away mission to respond to the colony's medical distress call. He ended up returning to the ship with these macroviruses. It seemed they were attracted to his photon light and the ship's biofilters weren't able to detect them. And the entire crew ended up being infected.

Right now, I don't have much of an appetite. Especially after the events of yesterday. I especially don't have an appetite for any of Neelix's food. I guess facing a hungry crowd after burning a pot roast, getting infected by those macroviruses and seeing lavaflies pour out of B'Elanna's neck did the trick.

Speaking of B'Elanna, (Sighs) she's okay, thank goodness. She was the first to be infected after bursting that gel pack in the Mess Hall. I must say - she does have a sadistic wit. Maybe I shouldn't have teased her about Engineering's technical abilities. I couldn't help it. I guess it was my way of (Pauses) well . . . (Sighs) Oh God! I might as well admit it. I was trying to flirt with her. There! I . . . flirted . . . with . . . B'Elanna Torres. That wasn't so hard. Right? Right!

At least one good thing came out of this whole mess. The Captain decided to give the crew a little R and R to recover from the macroviruses. The duty shifts have been shortened for today. I heard that Chakotay and a few others plan to go skiing down a Ktarian glacier. Sounds like my kind of fun, but I plan to join Harry and B'Elanna, elsewhere. Paxan Resort, here I come! End personal log.

STARDATE 50431.53:

We've reached the border of the Nekrit Expanse, and a space station called the Nekrit Supply Depot. It's managed by this alien called Bahrat. Friendly fellow. That is, if one can call an emotionless, rigid nut, who charges visitors a 20 percent charge for trading on the station, friendly. The Captain, Chakotay and Neelix will visit the station. Ought to be interesting. End personal log.

STARDATE 50437.46:

I should have known when Neelix started asking questions about Caldik Prime that something was up. Too bad I didn't act on my suspicions and ask Neelix what was bugging him. If I had, Chakotay and I would have been spared from arrest and imprisonment for murder and trading in illegal substances.

But Neelix had it worse. Not only did his old friend, Wixiban, lure him into trouble, but also blackmailed him into getting a small supply of warp plasma particles from Voyager. Thankfully, Neelix finally found the guts to confess what happened to Bahrat and the Captain. He and Wixiban drummed up a plot to expose the drug trade that flourished on the station. Chakotay and I were finally released. Janeway punished Neelix by ordering him to scrub the deuterium exhaust manifolds for the next two weeks. As much as I feel sorry for Neelix, it's a hell of a lot better than spending the next 50 years in cryostasis suspension. End personal log.

STARDATE 50451.76:

Is it just me or is Vorik being unusually attentive to B'Elanna, lately? (Pauses) Nah! I must be imagining things. Or else Vorik is bucking for a promotion. Don't get me wrong. I like Vorik. He's a lot friendlier than Tuvok. Still, the idea of him and B'Elanna . . . (Sighs) What the hell is the matter with me? I sound like a jealous idiot and I don't have a reason to be jealous. I think my brain cells have gone soft. End personal log.

STARDATE 50460.17:

That little Vulcan worm! I should have known he was up to something! There I was, looking forward to a nice evening at Neelix's luau at the Resort. Hell, I even wore my favorite shirt - my Big Daddy-O Hawaiian shirt. Okay, B'Elanna made a few disparaging comments about it, but I decided to ignore it. After all, I liked it. And I liked B'Elanna's dress even more. She did look stunning . . . and tropical.

B'Elanna, Harry, Vorik and I had made plans to stick together during the luau. Only Harry almost didn't show up, because he was in a sweat over some hologram he had met in the Resort. Would you believe it? He went to Tuvok for advice on how to get over his infatuation. A Vulcan who would only try to get him to suppress his emotions, for crying out loud!

Speaking of Vulcans, that little backstabber, Vorik, managed to reserve seats with a - for B'Elanna and himself only. Hell, I was too surprised to give him a much deserved broken jaw. Come to think of it, I don't know if I have the strength to break a Vulcan's jaw. And how did I spend my evening? Let's just say that with Harry ending up pissed at Tuvok for spending time with that hologram and B'Elanna enjoying a dinner and a view with Vorik, I didn't exactly have a swell time. What a waste of a great shirt! End personal log.

STARDATE 50520.4:

The Captain nearly died from injuries suffered after a shuttle crash. Fortunately, Chakotay managed to keep her alive before he could contact Voyager. We eventually found them and the Doc beamed to the planet's surface to treat her injuries. Thank God he managed to save her. End personal log.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

ABRAHAM LINCOLN's 200th Birthday - List of Books/Novels

Two hundred years ago today (February 12, 1809), the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, was born on Sinking Spring Farm, in southeast Hardin County, Kentucky (now part of LaRue County), making him the first president born outside the original thirteen colonies. I could write an essay about his life and achievements. Instead, I have made a small list of historical books and novels centered around his four years as President:

ABRAHAM LINCOLN's 200th Birthday - List of Books/Novels

Historical Books

"Two Roads to Sumter" (1963) by William and Bruce Catton - This book recounts the fifteen (15) years leading up to the U.S. Civil War, seen through the vantage points of the two leading politicians involved in the conflict: Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

"Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution" (1990) by James M. McPherson - This book offers a series of thoughtful and engaging essays on aspects of Lincoln and the Civil War that have rarely been discussed in depth.

"Lincoln" (1996) by David Herbert Donald - This winner of the Lincoln Prize (awarded to awarded annually for the best non-fiction historical work of the year on the American Civil War since 1991) is a close biography of the 16th U.S. President.

"Team of Rivals: The Political Genuis of Abraham Lincoln" (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin - This is a biographical portrait of Lincoln and some of the men who served with him in his Cabinet from 1861 to 1865 - Edward Bates (Attorney General), Salmon Chase (Treasury), and William H. Seward (State).


"Lincoln" (1984) by Gore Vidal - Part of the author's "Narratives of Empire" historical fiction series on American history, this novel centered on the four years of the Lincoln Administration during the U.S. Civil War. A 1988 miniseries starring Sam Waterson and Mary Tyler Moore was based upon it.

"Freedom: A Novel of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War" (1987) by William Safire - This novel examines the careers of the principal Northern actors of the U.S. Civil War and how the Emancipation Proclamation came to be signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"TAKEN" (2009) Review

"TAKEN" (2009) Review

Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen wrote this tight thriller about a retired CIA agent who tracks down his daughter after she was kidnapped by Albanian criminals engaged in the sex slave traffic, while traveling in Europe. Directed by Pierre Morel, the movie stars Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen and Olivier Rabourdin.

Neeson stars as Bryan Mills, a divorced, former paramilitary officer from the CIA's famed Special Activities Division. His 17-year-old daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) lives with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her new wealthy husband Stuart (Xander Berkeley). After Kim accompanies her close friend, Amanda (Katie Cassidy) to Europe, they are kidnapped by sex trade traffickers from the apartment they share in Paris. Since Mills was talking to Kim at the time the kidnapping took place, he is able to get some information on who may have snatched her and Amanda before heading to Paris to track them down.

I am going to put my cards on the table. I enjoyed ”TAKEN” . . . a lot. It was a fast paced thriller filled with the usual stuff one can find in a top-notch action film – exciting car chases, tension, well choreographed fight scenes and sharp acting. I would not view it as an exceptional film. If I have to be honest, there is nothing new in this film that I have not seen in previous action thrillers. It also had its share of clichés that usually pop up in other action films. But I still enjoyed it. If there is one thing I must commend upon the movie is the level of global involvement in the sex slave traffic. Morel and screenwriters Besson and Kamen not only involved Kim’s Albanian kidnappers into the trade, but also French government officials and customers from all over the globe.

The cast did a pretty good job. But I was particularly impressed by four actors in particular. Olivier Rabourdin was surprisingly interesting as Jean-Claude - an old friend of Mills’ who also happens to be a former operative and now deputy director of the French intelligence agency. At first, I had assumed that Rabourdin would act as an ally who would help Mills in his search for his daughter. But thanks to Rabourdin’s performance, his role turned out to be surprisingly more ambiguous. I was also impressed by Famke Janssen’s performance as Mills’ ex-wife, Leonore. This was a different Janssen, who portrayed an uptight woman still harboring some residual of bitterness toward Mills and the way their marriage had ended. And I have to give kudos to Maggie Grace for effectively portraying a character that was at least seven to eight years her junior. Although I am certain that many actresses in their mid-twenties have portrayed a teenager, I have rarely come across many that were as convincing as Grace. She was excellent.

Liam Neeson must have been at least fifty-five years old when he filmed ”TAKEN”. Mind you, there have been other actors around his age or older who have managed to convincingly portray action characters. But his performance as Bryan Mills could give Jason Bourne or James Bond some stiff competition. Granted, his interactions with the various thugs and bodyguards almost made him seem unnaturally superhuman. But if one might as well accuse Matt Damon’s Bourne or Daniel Craig’s Bond of the same thing. Thankfully, Neeson’s Mills was more than just an above-average action hero. The Irish-born actor also infused his character with all of the emotional angst, paranoia and anger any father would face at the prospect of one’s child being snatched by strangers and placed into danger.

I do have one major complaint about ”TAKEN” - namely the photography and editing featured in the movie. Like ”THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”, ”THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM” and ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE” before it, ”TAKEN” is filled with that ”shaky camera” technique that I loathe so much. I realize that this technique was used to give a film an ad-hoc, news, or documentary feel. Frankly, I have never seen the need for to give action movies such as ”TAKEN” this type of style for action films, with the exception of movies based upon real life dramas or war movies. Thanks to director Morel, cinematographer Michel Abramowicz, and editor Frédéric Thoraval; the shaky camera technique only made me feel dizzy and frustrated. I am thankful that the fight scenes – especially in the film’s last twenty minutes – did not seem affected by this technique. However . . . Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two ”BOURNE” films, has a lot to answer for making this filming technique popular for action films.

In a nutshell, ”TAKEN” is not exactly what I would call an original film. It utilized many of the typical clichés used in action films. And the subject – the sex slave traffic – has been told with greater detail in such productions like 2005’s ”HUMAN TRAFFICKING”. And the shaky camera technique used by Morel, Abramowicz and Thoraval made it difficult for me to enjoy some of the actions scenes, especially those featuring car chases. But thanks to a first-rate cast led by Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace, solid direction by Morel and a straightforward script written by Besson and Kamen, ”TAKEN” is a tense, yet entertaining film that I found very satisfying. I enjoyed it so much that I might be inclined to go see it again.