by Catriona Campbell
With a sigh he lay back onto his bed, drew the ragged blanket across his body and closed his eyes. He was tired, so very tired, worn down by a life time of service, fatigued by the demands made upon his person and his spirit. He was prepared for his final journey, his death, looking forward to the peace, to the consuming calm of the Force. So why then was he so disturbed, why had he lingered in this life, fought these last few months to cling to the shreds of vitality he still possessed when he could so easily have tossed them aside and become part of the power to which he had dedicated his existence.
The answer to his questions was clear and painful. He had failed. He had failed to guide the footsteps of his last pupil, had not realised, or had chosen to ignore, the growing need of the boy to know his background, to be told the truth about his sire, and had thus left the youth vulnerable to the violent assault of the Dark Side.
And now he was lost.
They had begged Luke not to leave, blamed him for being reckless, accused him of acting on impulse, for not thinking events through, for refusing to see the repercussions of his actions. He smiled with self scorn at these thoughts: who should truly be blamed for failure? The child or his teachers? Who truly denied the possible outcomes of their choices?
Now, on his death bed, he saw their faults, saw the pride within themselves and grieved for the youth who had hurried away to save his friends only to suffer in their stead. His act of selflessness, of good, had lead him to darkness because his tutors had not taught him what he truly required.
And so, Yoda, held fast to life and had watched as the boy succumbed to his father, as the manipulations of the Emperor razed Luke's defences, as they had gorged themselves on his innocence and light. That was his punishment for failure, for pride, and it was a painful lesson to realise his own blindness had wiped out the Jedi and doomed the Galaxy.
There is another.
Yes, there was the girl. There was her light, her life which still burned. He could feel her now, could sense her gentle pulse within the Force. But, it was too late. There was no one left to open her, no one strong enough to teach her. She was alone, and it was best she remain hidden and live out her life in ignorance, than face the trials which an awareness of her powers would bring.
Fingers scrap at sand. A small tool pops up a metal plate. Hands reach down and pluck out documents and holographs from a hidden past...
...mother. brother. Luke. no....
...And he opened his eyes, stared at the low roof of his dwelling as unfamiliar fear and panic punched through ages old defences. No! This cannot be! He struggled to sit up, struggled to call out, but he had no strength, that in which he prided himself was gone. She knew! Leia knew! Had somehow stumbled across her tragic background and...
He quelled the feelings, pushed away the mocking laughter of the Dark Side, dismissed the fear back to the shadows and closed his eyes once more. Calmly he sought out her living presence and smiled with contentment and relief. She was sleeping now, her dreams tranquil, peaceful, her thoughts ones of future happiness and love. Her abilities were dormant, hardly realised, briefly considered, barely believed...
Perhaps they would remain so. It was a slim hope, but it gave him some peace of mind, eased his guilt. Perhaps the girl would survive unknown, perhaps some of their choices would prove to be the correct ones, perhaps their failures would be left incomplete and, perhaps, her presence within the Force would keep full darkness at bay and offer the Galaxy some light for future generations.
He relaxed, felt his muscles loosen, heard his own breathing as it grew erratic and shallow. He drew away from the slumbering princess leaving his mind open and empty...
It came upon him slowly, gradually pulling him into its strength, its wholeness. It was an awareness that he had never thought possible, it was a plethora of emotions that no one being could endure - it was life! And in the brief instant of his death, as he passed from mortal to immortal, he brushed one more mind and gasped at what he found there....
He looked up, stared blankly at the view port of his quarters as he tried to grasp the sudden, fleeting sensation which had interrupted his meditation. He chased after it, reached out and was left only with a strand of astonishment, a thread of deep sadness, then nothing. Where there had been something...
...there was emptiness. Where there had been a presence...
... of strength, of knowledge, of security...
...there was a void, and he was left grieving for a loss he did not understand. He frowned with confusion and closed his eyes attempting to draw the Force to him, attempting to return to the sanctuary it offered, attempting to find his answers within its beckoning folds.
"Concentrate. Feel the Force flow. Calm, yes."
The words uttered to a boy now dead, returned with clarity, echoed around him with keen comprehension and he hung his head in pain.
"Yoda..." The whispered name was barely audible, an acknowledgment of the Jedi's passing and of his own predicament. He was truly alone now, so terribly alone. And lost, stumbling down a path he never wanted to tread, with no one left to guide him. No one except...
His father's trailing fingers caressed the edge of his emotions, attempted to dig deeper to find some cause within his son for the sudden shift amid the Force. Vader knew something of importance has occurred - Sohn could feel his sire's confusion, could feel his curiosity, his lack of understanding. How pleasing it felt to have something, to know something, his father did not possess. How pleasing was the power, however minute, that knowledge gifted him.
But Vader could penetrate further, could wrench it from him if he so desired and Sohn steeled himself for the battle. However, it did not come, and Vader withdrew allowing Sohn bitter comfort with his prize. And this withdrawal puzzled Sohn, heightened his misapprehension. Lately his father had become preoccupied, was less of a presence, allowed his son more freedom of movement. It wasn't that he had begun to trust Sohn - that would never exist between them - it was as though Sohn had taken second place to something else, and while this brought relief to the Younger Lord, it also brought perplexity and a need to understand why.
It was as though the Dark Lord was anxious, worried. As though some weight rested within his bulk which he could not expel.
There was a muted chime from the com unit behind him.
"Yes?" he hissed, his voice automatically activated the device.
"My Lord Commander, the Lord Vader wishes your presence on the bridge."
Sohn smiled, turned again to the view port and watched as the Star Destroyer
emerged from lightspeed, as the welcome black of space filled the heavens
beyond. Perhaps there would be answers soon.
Darth Vader could sense his son's intrigue long before the boy stepped onto the bridge. He had felt it the moment he had withdrawn without struggle from Sohn's emotions, had felt it heighten when his presence was requested and he coaxed it, teased it, by remaining silent and introspective until Sohn stood quietly behind his back. He waited, staring out at the vacuum for endless moments, making his son more curious, making the tension between them tighter, sweeter.
At last Sohn, as impatient as ever, could stand it no longer. He threw Admiral Piett a frustrated glance as he spoke. "You wished to see me, Father."
Piett swallowed nervously beside the Dark Lord as the boy broke the clinging quiet.
Vader turned around, stepped aside, appearing unperturbed by the Commander's breach of protocol. "No, but I wish you to see something."
Sohn's eyes trailed to the huge viewing window and, for once, he was relieved to be wearing his helmet and mask for it hid the surprise and horror which immediately widened his eyes and drained the blood from his face. He clenched his fists, struggled to control the myriad of feelings which swelled within him, each of which cried out to be recognised and expressed. He held firm, controlled himself, but he could not halt the smile which curled his lips as one voice from his past broke through to echo in his thoughts. It was the only one which seemed to sum up this sight.
"Look at the size of that thing!"
It was the Death Star. Or rather, it was a new Death Star, looking larger, perhaps more powerful, than the first which he had destroyed so many years before...
Me? Was that me?
...and yet it was not complete. He could see its twisting superstructure, could see lights flickering within its cavernous belly as men worked, could see the circular indentation of its weapon, and as he looked Wedge Antilles' gasp ricocheted on. Sohn's smile grew.
"You find something amusing, Commander?" Vader rumbled, unable to keep the choler from his voice. This was not the reaction he had expected.
Sohn turned to regard the Dark Lord, shot another glance to Piett who now stood slightly behind Vader. He almost expected the Admiral to start pulling faces, as Biggs used to do behind his Uncle Owen's back when they were caught coming home late from Tosche Station, and he had to choke back his laughter, his sudden adolescent feelings. It was a ridiculous thought in a ridiculous situation, but how could they make the same mistake twice?
He swallowed, tried to wipe the smile from his face, tried to temper the surge of emotions and memories which belonged to another person, a youth they had tried to kill but who refused to lie still. Now was not the time. "Is this wise, Father?" He gestured to the battle station beyond.
"You would question the Emperor's wisdom?" Vader wanted to know, putting the emphasis on "Emperor".
And, again he had to bite back his immediate response, had to fight the thoughts from forming. "Never, my Lord," he lied, and he knew his father heard the falseness of his words. "However, the rebellion..."
"Are already massing their fleet," Vader informed him.
"They have the schematics?"
The word chilled him, caused a moment of panic to beat within him...
...too soon.....too soon...
...but he stilled it, leveled his breathing and stared at the Death Star, at the ships which orbited the moon, as understanding dawned. "It's a trap." He stated coolly.
"Which has yet to be baited."
"With what?" Wasn't the battle station enough? Wouldn't the remembered threat of the first and the remains of Alderaan provide enough of a lure to the Alliance? Wouldn't they rally together, wouldn't they... But the fleet, the entire fleet? What could draw them out so eloquently, what could drive them into such a massed attack?
"The Emperor himself." Vader told him.
And Sohn could here the satisfaction in his father's voice, the respect and fear, and the loathing. But, there was more, there was an edge, an undefinable...something. It was almost like... He looked at Vader, looked up, lowered his guard a little and found...hope?
It was a confusing moment, a moment charged with distorted emotions. That he should feel such a longing from such an unlikely source. That such a feeling could still exist within that dark place. It had been so long since he had felt, had held, such a fragment of light himself. So long since he had hope. "Father?" he questioned, braving a rejection, a scathing reprimand, but he had to know more, he had to find out if...
"Leave us, Admiral," Vader turned his back on Piett, on Sohn, turned his attention to the activity beyond the viewing window.
"Sir," Piett bowed. "Commander."
"Sir," Sohn responded, giving Piett the respect his rank deserved even though the man himself was beneath him.
There was silence between the two, although this time Sohn quelled his impatience and waited for his father to speak.
"Even now, the Emperor fears you." Vader turned from the viewing port to regard his son.
"I know, father," Sohn responded, for of course it was true. He had known, had always known. Even during those months of pain, even when he had reached out in agony toward that ancient, gnarled man and pleaded for the torture to stop, he had felt Palpatine's fear. Felt it tremble beneath the man's malevolence, felt it even as it was guarded protectively within a blackened soul and now, more than ever, its existence pleased him, gave him a foundation on which he could build - had been building.
"You could destroy him."
Destroy? It was a word he had dared not think of, not yet. It was a word which nurtured power. A word, now uttered aloud, which threw open possibilities, conjured up temptations. The thought of destruction, the image of Palpatine's end and the beginning of his freedom made him giddy with desire. His finger tips could almost touch the elusive fantasy, and his palms itched to hold his own fate. It was so clear, it could be done. He was the younger, the stronger, the one who possessed the greater potential. It could be done...
...And yet. What was behind Vader's words, his unspoken suggestions? What was it Sohn could sense within his father? A feeling, a sense, a growing difference within the Dark Lord. His father's words were treason. His father's words, if overheard and reported by a brave soul, would mean death for them both. Was this a trick to test his allegiance at this critical time? Were they sounding him out for latent Alliance loyalty? But, that peculiar shimmer of light he had caught from the elder man, that fleeting flicker of hope had not been for the dream of a triumphant Empire. It had been for...
No! He could not think this way. Could not allow himself the luxury of old dreams, could not bear to experience the innocent beliefs of a lonely youth. His father was the man who stood before him, and not the heroic figure who had spawned past aspirations. His hand was being forced to move quicker, to deal with situations he had not yet foreseen. He could not be hampered by futile hope.
"That is not my place," he coldly informed Vader. He looked back towards the Death Star, looked back at the reaching superstructure. There was too much happening here, too much to comprehend just yet, too many fibres of his painfully crafted rope were unraveling, and too much was being revealed. He had to be sure of himself, only himself. He would not be pulled again into another's designs, he would not be guilelessly lead by the hand to accept someone else's ambitions. He had his own.
"Indeed," Vader assented, his voice appeared to hold an edge of pleasure. He turned from Sohn, a movement his son recognised. It was the end of a lesson, of a test. And he was about to be dismissed. "Your squad is being transferred to the battle station. You are to join them."
"As you wish, my Lord," Sohn bowed, smothered his relief at the dismissal, at the opportunity to put some distance between himself and his father and the confusion their exchange had caused. He turned on his heels and left the bridge.
With his back to the activity on the bridge, Darth Vader's attention
appeared focused on the Death Star the destroyer was gradually approaching.
He appeared calm, appeared as self assured as always, comfortable with
the control and power he possessed. There was no outward sign or hint of
the doubts and conflicts which flared within him as soon as his son exited
the bridge, and withdrew his probing curiosity.
The battle stations' dimensions rapidly grew to fill the canopy of the TIE fighter, blocking out the stars and the empty darkness of space. Sohn ran his eyes over the readouts of the instruments before him. Then he turned his eyes back to the metallic lines of the Death Star.
"Lock S-foils in attack positions."
Sohn grimaced as the voice of the dead man - Red leader, Dave....something - entered his mind unexpectedly and unwanted. He shrugged it off, forced his attention forward.
"Pull in! Luke...pull in!"
"Hurry, Luke, they're coming in much faster this time. I can't hold them!"
Biggs. His friend.
"Hurry up, Luke!.........Wait!"
His dead friend.
The Death Star hanger bays were discernible now. Slits of light cut in the greyness of the hull. "Control, Executor First Squad on approach."
"We have you, first squad," the controller's voice filtered over the com. "Bay twelve has been designated for you, sir."
Nearer still. The man made landscape of the station was visible; ridges and trenches, open superstructure in the process of being welded closed, gun turrets and towers.
"What about that tower?"
Antilles again. Wedge, whose life he had recently spared in battle. A battle which earned him a commendation despite his failure to fulfil his orders. A failure for which he was privately punished even as he was publicly acclaimed. The award ceremony was for the benefit of propaganda. Staged. Acted. Faked. The same as Skywalker's execution.
The two words were thrown up from deep within, like a hand of a drowning victim reaching up to grasp at empty air in the hope of finding a firm hold. He was tempted to offer that hold, tempted to stretch into the depths and haul the words back. But he stilled himself and let them sink. Silencing the meaning behind them, silencing the thoughts and feelings which had risen with them. Pushing down the urgency, the panic, the idea that everything was being wrenched from his control, that fate was a more powerful agent than he had anticipated.
"You're all clear, kid..."
"...Now lets blow this thing and go home!"
The Death Star. It had been a surprise. A horrific reminder of the past for which he had been unprepared. And it was a reminder for others. Others, who even now, would come to fight this monstrosity. And, they would come. Of all the people in the Alliance, it would be them: the ones who had faced this terror before, and won.
A thrill of anticipation shivered through him, his powers surged forward and he caressed, coaxed the tremor as the wave reached its climax. They would come, the last bastions of his past, the ones he loved and whose memories he cherished still - though he would refute it, renounce them as he had his identity. Perhaps this was his test after all, perhaps this was to be his confrontation and final battle. Then, perhaps, instead of being his enemy, fate was being his ally and had merely opened his eyes to future possibilities. If he used this unexpected situation he could turn it to his advantage. If he remained calm, and allowed nothing more to disconcert him he could...
The rush ebbed, waned. The Force was quiet, its currents hidden beneath a placid surface.
Sohn Vader guided his craft into the fighter docking bay. Manoeuvred
it into position and set it down. His fingers ran over the console and
the engine whined and died. Silence within the cockpit. He slumped back,
gazing unseeing at the activity in the hanger.
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