Patterns Of Battle (Penumbra, Part 5)
by Catriona Campbell Boyle
The red gaseous mass shifted uneasily in the vacuum of space. Differing hues of colour and light battled within its dimensions, fighting for brief seconds of life before being swallowed by the utter emptiness in which the body existed. It was, Darth Vader mused as he watched from the bridge of the Executor, much like the battle which raged within his son, much like the one he fought himself so many years ago when he was first introduced to the true source of power he held within his grasp.
Much like the battle you fight once more, My Lord Vader.
He instantly dismissed the disturbing thought. His struggle was over: Anakin Skywalker had perished years ago in the flames of darkness, his light extinguished by the passions of power. There was no battle.
His head tilted as a squadron of TIE fighters and Interceptors darted past the bridge and he watched as they disappeared into the red cloud, his eyes following the path of the lead ship. His son, however, was a different matter. Sohn Vader had learned much in the months following his capture. He had grown and matured, earned a dark edge to his personality. He had proven to be a skilled pilot, had honed his instincts when using the sabre, and had won the fear and respect of men both under and above him. But, he was still new to this power he possessed, still blind to his potential, still struggled with those brief instances of light when Luke Skywalker rose from the Vader darkness to protest at his suffocation. These were the times when Sohn faltered, when he was repelled by his new standing, by the disquiet he instilled in other men. His father knew, however, that soon he would learn to enjoy the mastery he held over lesser beings.
Vader closed his eyes behind his mask, relaxing and reaching out with his mind, searching for the fringes of his son’s consciousness. There was resistance, a brief buffer to his mental probe, but from lessons past Sohn opened his feelings to his father and exposed his inner self.
So much pain. So much fear and loneliness. Abhorrence at his father’s touch. So many twisted and confused emotions. And rage, such an intense anger that Vader almost retreated from the heat of it. However, he lingered, soaking himself with his child’s untamed energy: so much power held in the tentative grasp of a frightened boy. He had felt that hold loosen only once, had seen the effects of Sohn’s anger on the body of an unfortunate soldier who had merely walked in on the boy at the wrong moment. He would forever recall the sudden burst of fury, the searing strength of the Force and Sohn’s terror when he saw what he was capable of, his stilted surprise at his own actions. He had glanced at his father, his eyes wild with horror, with fear of reprisal, and beyond that a tiny glint of understanding, an unnerving sense of satisfaction and knowledge which had sent Vader from the room. Since that moment Sohn had acquired depth: among his chaotic emotions, his squalling powers, there was a peculiar calm which Vader could not quite grasp, which Sohn kept cleverly beyond his father’s reach. It troubled the Dark Lord: what was it that his son so jealously guarded?
You fear him.
Vader stifled the thought. No, he did not fear the boy. That emotion held nothing for him, and yet… Had he once not known fear? Had he not felt its claws scrabble through him when he had toppled back from the thrust of Obi-Wan’s sabre and fallen into the volcanic crater? Had he not suffered the same feelings as his son when comprehension hit? Had he not screamed and reached skyward when the molten rock encased his body much as Luke had when the carbonite covered him?
He had closed his mind to the shriek of mental anguish which had risen from the carbonite pit. He had heard only the hiss of steam, the cracking of freezing liquids, and the whine of servo-motors as the block of carbonite had risen into the chamber. He had required no sensors to tell him his son was alive. Even within hibernation, Luke’s presence was strong, his mind already reeling with tortured nightmares. He had gazed for a long while at the crouched figure who reached upward in the desperate hope he might find escape, whose face had been frozen with his cry of agony unfinished. His son.
He had turned away then, turned away from the sudden rush of emotions which had flooded him. He had denied the guilt, denied the horror of what he had done, denied the doubts. He only relished the sweetness of triumph: he had his son! He had won the boy back from Obi-Wan, retrieved that which had been stolen. His victory over his old master was indeed complete. His foot had kicked against Skywalker’s fallen lightsabre and he bent down to recover it.
It was his sword! The one he had built himself, the one which he had spent many frustrated, exasperated hours to complete. His gloved fingers had brushed against the activation stud and the sabre pulsed forth, its blade glowing blue white, and again he experienced the joy of accomplishment he had felt as a young man. The memories of his training sessions had abruptly come to mind, the warmth of companionship and camaraderie had flooded him, and the ghost of Anakin Skywalker reared from the Vader darkness to taunt him.
No! There was no battle!
It was then he became aware of a curiousness, of a feather-light caress, of a strained hopefulness, of another seeking him. Vader opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on the red gas cloud, on the fighters he knew were hidden inside. He smiled beneath his mask: Sohn had become bold. The boy had returned his father’s probing when he had sensed Vader’s thought drifting, when he had sensed Vader recalling past emotions, emotions of weakness, and was now attempting to search the dark Lord.
Vader gradually opened to his son’s touch, teased him forward when the boy pulled back with surprised hesitation. Sohn tentatively reached forward with that same curiousness, that same hopefulness.
Come, boy. Come and behold power. Come and find strength within Darkness. Come and know the true essence of the Force. Come and learn to cast off light, weakness and constraint. Come and follow the path you were born for. Come…
Sohn retreated and Vader followed sensing his son’s indecision, his son’s sadness and disappointment. The patterns of the Force within Sohn were unsure: a shading between light and dark which fluctuated wildly as the battle raged. His son’s feelings were understandable, he conceded, given the current circumstances. However, Vader knew from experience that victory was assured, the boy had already tread on the path of darkness, and struggle as he might, there was no turning back.
Admiral Piett’s words drew Vader back to the situation at hand. “What is it, Admiral?” he asked, turning away from the view beyond the ship, turning away from his son’s sudden relief at the break in contact.
“The Rebel ships have left the planet’s surface. The will be in range in moments, sir.”
“Only when the fighters have engaged them do we move the ship from the cloud cover,” Vader ordered briefly.
“Yes, My Lord.”
The Dark Lord ignored Piett’s perfunctory bow, his thoughts turning to the Rebel convoy lifting off from Abarim and heading into his trap, heading toward his son’s squadron as they lay waiting within the red cloud which massed at the edge of the system, heading to their deaths. And they would die not knowing it was their friend’s hand which fingered the trigger. Vader smiled humourlessly, it would be interesting to watch his son’s first encounter with his former allies, interesting to see just how many of the Rebel tactics he had passed onto his men.
He stood, observing the battle monitors impassively as alarms klaxoned and as the Rebel ships and their fighter escorts entered the trap. The TIE fighters emerged from the cloud and Sohn’s voice was the first to break the communication silence.
“Break right, Flight. Draw the ‘Wings from the convoy.” His rough tones were measured and unhurried.
“I count twelve Rebel fighters, sir.”
Vader watched as the TIE fighters and Interceptors split. The former headed for the cargo barges the Alliance used to ferry supplies, the latter targeted the squad of X-Wings.
“Cut off their escape route!” Sohn ordered. “Direct them toward the command ship.”
A cargo barge exploded. The stars beyond the Executor shifted and moved as Piett took the Destroyer from behind the cloud and into position. The Rebel ships veered abruptly away at the appearance of the huge vessel which had remained hidden from view and scanners behind the red cloud. Vader could feel the panic of the Rebel personnel, could almost hear them squealing in consternation. They were hopelessly out-numbered.
“Watch it!” Sohn’s voice cut through a burst of static. “One breaking through at twenty degrees!”
“I see him, sir.”
“No, the leader’s mine.”
Vader watched as Sohn’s fighter engaged the Rebel, drew the leader away from his men. His skill as a pilot gave him the immediate advantage; he sighted the X-Wing and missed. His Interceptor veered away and looped around the T-65. He twisted his ship around; spiral dived and came up, once more, behind the Rebel. Again he misfired.
The Rebel pilot peeled away from the fight, circled around his antagonist and was abruptly diverted by one of Sohn’s men who had come to his commander’s aid.
“Leave him!” Sohn snapped, sounding almost desperate. Vader could feel his tension, his turmoil, his sudden doubts, his conflicting loyalties.
The lead X-Wing doubled back and brought his guns to bear on Sohn’s wingman.
More explosions, brief flares of light as both Rebels and Imperials perished. The TIEs destroyed the last transport and the remaining X-Wings broke contact and fled, each heading in different directions, each hoping to elude their pursuers and escape to hyperspace. Only one succeeded.
Vader turned from the monitors. “Have my son brought to me,” he ordered, his words tinged with anger. He strode quickly from the bridge.
* * *
“I would have come without the escort, Father.” Sohn calmly addressed the dark Lord once the door to Vader’s chambers had closed after the storm troopers.
Vader did not immediately respond. He silently observed the young officer who stood before him. Sohn was still dressed in his flight suit, his features covered by the concealing helmet the Emperor ordered him to wear. He stood straight and unflinching under his father’s gaze, his inner feelings hidden and silenced. The boy was indeed strong and Vader was proud at that moment: any lesser a man would have pleaded and grovelled for mercy when brought before his master.
“Remove your helmet.” The Dark Lord wanted him unmasked, wanted to strip him of the façade he was attempting to construct, wanted to see the real reactions on his face.
Sohn complied, slowly lifting both helmet and mask away from his face. He held them under his arm, then turned his naked eyes to his father.
Vader studied him for several silent moments. He noticed the cropped blonde hair, the pale skin of his face, the jaw set square and determined, the eyes which held that same resolve and he was reminded of a young Rebel who had approached him on Bespin, who dared to challenge him to a duel, who had attacked first and had thus set his feet unwittingly on the first steps to darkness. He had admired the youth’s courage.
“You know the penalties for failure,” the Dark Lord told him, watching a muscle pulse in Sohn’s cheek. Vader smiled at the tiny reaction.
“I did not fail you, My Lord,” Sohn stated, sounding sure, his voice scraping through torn vocal cords. “My task was to stop the relief supplies getting through. I achieved that.”
“You also allowed one to escape. Your wingman died because of your hesitation.”
“My wingman died because he disobeyed me,” Sohn responded tightly, injecting annoyance into his voice, unable to subdue his growing anger, his unease.
“Who was the pilot?” Vader demanded and Sohn’s eyes skirted away, his defences dropped momentarily and he shifted restlessly. “A friend?” The Dark Lord suggested when Sohn remained silent.
Sohn closed his eyes against the memories which surged forward, the pain which closed over him. It had been Wedge. He had recognised Antilles’ fuselage markings immediately, after all hadn’t he helped place them there? He opened his eyes, aware of his father’s attention, aware of the Dark Lord once more scrutinizing his thoughts and feelings. He hesitated for a moment, pushed down his emotions, locked them back in place then straightened his back. “Yes,” he answered, knowing to lie would be pointless.
Vader had watched the struggle, had seen the Skywalker traits emerging, had seen the remorse and regret, had watched as Sohn rose above the weakness. “You have no friends. Not here and not within the Alliance.”
Vader caught the abrupt recollections which spilled unwanted into Sohn’s mind: the embrace from a dark-haired girl, the lopsided grin from a laughing spacer, the brilliant sunlight of a Tatooine noon…
“It’s… difficult,” Sohn confessed. Difficult to turn your back on those you cared about, difficult to accept that this was nothing more than a distressing nightmare, difficult to accept that this dark beast towering over him was the father he had admired for so many innocent years.
Yes, Vader acknowledged to himself, it was difficult. It was difficult to distance yourself, but it could be done. He drew himself back from his son, seeing the boy before him only as an officer who had failed to please him. “You must ask yourself, Commander, what you want.”
For Sohn there was a moment of stillness, of quiet, and then the darkness exploded upon him. The power thrilled through his body and he cried out with sudden agony. He could not stop the surging sensations and he sank to his knees, his helmet clattering to the floor as his fingers lost their grips. Images ripped into his mind: the twisted corpse of the man he had killed, the burned bones of his guardians, the smiling white-bearded face of a liar, a helmet cracking open on a dirt floor to reveal his own face, carrion birds winging down upon a defenceless infant and a voice echoed:
Stay and be safe. Stay and find strength.
“What do you want?” Vader repeated, watching Sohn grimace, feeling him futilely attempt to push back his father’s powers, his father’s strength of evil.
And Sohn repeated the words he had learned in the past, repeated the words which had caused the Emperor to cackle in triumph when first he heard them, the words which had deeply wounded and humbled a proud young Jedi. “To serve the Empire.”
And the Dark Lord gloried in the hatred and anger he felt in those words. He turned from his son. “You may go.”
Sohn gasped in relief and heaved in a breath to steady himself, to cool his growing fury at this new humiliation. He pushed himself to his feet with trembling hands and donned his helmet. “My Lord,” he acknowledged with a bow of his head. He turned and departed his father’s company.
Vader remained quiet, feeling the Force calm and subside after the brief rush. He had corrected the boy, had reminded him the youth of his oath to the Empire. Why then, did he feel so disturbed, why did his senses heave with apprehension, why did his son’s presence cause such a storm within him? He closed his eyes, stifling his feelings, silencing his perplexing thoughts and reached out for the darkness around him, drawing it in, drawing it down, searching for his answers within the solace of its folds.
* * *
In the security of his own quarters, Sohn once more removed his helmet. He held it in his hands and stared with loathing at the contours of the mask. He hated this costume, hated those who bid him wear it. More than anything, he was angry with himself, annoyed that had allowed his feelings to become confused and unfocused. Antilles’ presence had unsettled him, had presented him with a problem he had previously chosen to ignore: the possibility of a friend getting in the way of his plans, his destiny’s true path. He would not be caught so unaware again. He could not give his father another chance to question his loyalties - he required his father’s trust.
And yet… had he not sensed an uncertainty from the Dark Lord before the battle? Had he not felt a shadow emerge from the blackness which surrounded the man? Had his father not experienced guilt and regret? Sohn glanced down at the mask and dismissed his thoughts derisively, his anger simmering once more in the wake of his weakening feelings. His father felt nothing, he was an empty shell which existed only to house the power of darkness, and Sohn was merely a means to enhance that power.
What do you want? His father’s voice echoed at him, and his hatred died, his anger stilled with sorrow. What do I want? He questioned himself. I want what I’ve lost…
…my friends. Han and Leia. Warmth, for I am so very cold. I want…
…And he fought the thought, struggled to keep it hidden for he felt Vader’s touch descend once more. But, the quiet angry whisper of deep sadness broke through…
…to become a Jedi like my father.
To be continued....
Return to story index