The four of them were gathered in the lab around the table that the Force nullifying creature was caged upon. Vader was refilling it’s water and food supply, while a droid cleaned out it’s cage. The creature was docilely sitting in the corner of it’s cage, watching everything around it with lazy, sleepy eyes.
Sentinel reached in carefully, and scratched the creature behind the ears. It leaned into her hand, obviously enjoying the attention.
“So, how did you find another one of these things, Lord Vader?” Sentinel asked.
“I contacted Commander Javel. This is but one of hundreds recovered in a raid on that one medical facility at Thaadra. The creatures were all taken to Starbase 12, to join it’s one comrade, the one we recovered.” Vader said. “This may in fact be the one we recovered.” Vader mused. Although he wasn’t sure it was the one they recovered, since he was sure it would have been very leery of him. His treatment of the creature they had recovered had not been gentle.
“Can we trust Javel?” Sentinel asked.
“I sense we can. Or rather, I was able to sense I could, prior to this thing's arrival.” Vader said.
Sentinel continued to pet and scratch the creature. They were all silent for a moment, trying to think of their next move.
Everyone jumped a little at the soft electronic chirp that echoed through the ship. The sound indicated that someone wanted to make contact, that they wanted a communication link established.
Vader had been staring at the creature. He now raised his head to look at his lover and his unlikely new friends. “If I don’t make contact, he will be suspicious. It’s likely he’s already started to send out search parties.” he rumbled.
“Perhaps it’s time for us to go.” Mortis said.
“Is there a locator beacon on this ship?” Sentinel asked.
“No. For stealth purposes, I had it removed at the beginning of our mission.” Vader said. “Now I need to go speak to the Emperor.” Vader turned to leave.
Sentinel put a hand on his arm. “We haven’t talked about our plans yet.” Sentinel said.
“Your plans are simple. Pack your things. Leave this ship. Go with Gilly and Mortis. The three of you find transport off of this planet under assumed names. I think we have enough Imperial Credits on board that you should be able to both purchase new identity cards as well as transport to a far off system. I suggest planet hopping for a while, changing transports often.” Vader said.
“I’m not leaving you.” Sentinel said.
Vader turned to Sentinel, and held her in his arms. “You have to.” he rumbled softly. He looked up at the other two. “You will take care of her, won’t you?” he asked.
“Of course, Lord Vader.” Gilly said.
“I’ll never see you again, will I?” Sentinel asked.
“No, you won’t see me again.” Vader said. “It’s not safe, not while the Emperor lives.”
Vader was resolved now, to losing her. He was also resolved to a whole new set of nightmares in store for him when he went to sleep. The nightmares had stopped on the few nights he had Sentinel sleeping beside him... as if she gave him the peace he had been missing for 5 years.
Sentinel buried her face in Vader’s chest, and he held her for several minutes. He wanted to kiss her so badly. He wanted one more moment alone with her, without the mask he had to hide behind. But time was swiftly running out.
“Go pack. I will be better able to deal with the Emperor if I know you are safe.” Vader said, releasing Sentinel.
Sentinel stood back, looked up at Vader, her face grim. She nodded slowly.
“We will meet you in the cargo hold, Dear.” Gilly said. She turned to face Vader. “May we use the holocraft, Lord Vader?”
“Of course.” Vader said.
Sentinel headed for her quarters. Once there, she packed her things quickly. She didn’t have much to pack: she’d left most of her belongings back at her apartment on Korriban. She would not be able to go back for anything from her apartment. She hoped her friends there would adopt her Carg Dragon, T’Ching.
She finished packing, then followed her gut instincts to the cockpit. Vader was there, alone. She dropped all her bags, and rushed to him.
Vader turned when she entered. He removed his mask quickly, hooking up a breathing hose. The second the hose was connected she was almost smothering his mouth with kisses. She fell into his lap, and he kissed her back, violently. He felt as if he was trying to condense the next 10 years of time into one minute.
They both finally came up for air... well, she came up for air. Thanks to his mechanical lungs, he could have ‘stayed underwater’ indefinitely.
“Go, get out of here.” Vader said, having a hard time maintaining his composure.
Sentinel pulled away, grabbed her bags and left. Vader watched her leave the cockpit, then replaced his mask.
Sentinel met Mortis and Gilly in the cargo hold. Mortis was powering up the hovercraft. The cage containing the Force nullifying creature was in the back of the hovercraft. Next to it was a small bag containing an obscene amount of Imperial credits.
“Let’s go.” Sentinel said. She activated the ramp, then jumped in. They sped down the ramp and headed for Gilly and Mortis’s home.
It was daylight on this side of Sevast. But with the perpetual haze of contaminants in the sky, it was hard to tell. The locals never got to see any stars at night, and during the day, the sun merely lit up the haze, and was otherwise invisible. It gave everything a slight orange tinge.
Sentinel watched the retreating form of the ship. She had this nagging feeling that she shouldn’t be leaving Vader alone. She couldn’t push it away from her. They were about half a kilometer from the ship when she said “Stop! I have to go back.”
“What?” Mortis said.
“Stop the hovercraft!” Sentinel repeated.
Mortis pulled the hovercraft to a stop. Sentinel hopped out. “I’ll meet you in the city, at the transport center. If I’m not there in 5 hours, leave without me!” she said.
“What are you doing?” Gilly asked.
“I know I’m supposed to be there when he talks to the Emperor. He’s going to need me.” Sentinel answered.
“How can you sense anything with our new 'pet' in the back seat?” Mortis asked.
“I don’t know, but I can! I have to go.” Sentinel said, then turned and started running.
The further she got away from the ‘pet’, the faster she was able to run, as her Force abilities started to come back to her. To back up that nagging feeling, as her Force sensitivity returned, so did the guidance by the Force that indeed, her place during that conversation with the Emperor was by Vader’s side.
The cargo ramp was still lowered. Sentinel ran straight up into the ship, not bothering to close it. She paused to catch her breath just outside the cargo hold. She was tired from the run. But she should have been completely wiped out, considering she had once again been asleep for a couple of days. The energy the Force was providing her was more than she was used to.
She thought about how she now shared some memories with Darth Hedra. Some of Hedra’s secrets. What else did she now share?
Cautiously, remembering how Hedra had threatened Vader in the cockpit that one time, she held her hands out in front of her. Blue arcs of Force lightning began to spark between her hands.
“Bantha fodder!” Sentinel exclaimed.
She let the lightning die down, then aimed her hand cautiously at an empty box inside the cargo hold. She sent Force lightning into it, trying to get a feel for her newfound power. The box jumped about 3 meters further into the cargo hold, with little arcs of lightning jumping off of it and onto the hold’s walls.
Sentinel stared at her hands, as if expecting something else to start jumping out of them. She shook her head, and headed for the cockpit.
The cockpit door was unlocked, she sensed. She stayed back from it, to keep it from auto-opening. Then she used the Force to hold it steady as she came close, and allowed it to auto-open just a bare crack. She had to be careful, in case Vader was already speaking to the Emperor.
While Sentinel had been running back for the ship, Vader had been sitting in the cockpit, feeling his Force abilities return. He waited until he was sure his abilities were fully back, and put in a request to establish a communication link with the Emperor.
As his Force senses returned, he started to have a nagging feeling that he really needed Sentinel here for this talk with the Emperor. He couldn’t imagine why she was needed... he was ready to discuss how Hedra had taken over control of the ship from him, and had brought them to this world. And that Hedra had then run off. He wasn’t sure how well all of this would go down with the Emperor, however. But nevertheless, how would Sentinel being there improve the situation?
Vader shook his head. He realized that he did need a better story. Perhaps if Sentinel had stayed, she could maybe have pretended to be Hedra. But he was sure the Emperor would have sensed if he was talking to Hedra or to Sentinel.
The ship’s main computer beeped. His communication link had been established. Time to wing it
, Vader thought.
Vader activated the communication link, and knelt on one knee on the cockpit floor. The hologram of the Emperor appeared before him. Behind him, a second after the hologram appeared, the cockpit door opened just slightly, but went unnoticed by him.
“Lord Vader.” the Emperor said.
“Yes, my Master.” Vader said, reverently.
“Why aren’t you and Lord Hedra on Coruscant? What is delaying your arrival?” the Emperor asked.
“Lord Hedra demanded a detour at the last minute. She was very... insistent.” Vader said.
“Why didn’t you communicate with me concerning this detour?” the Emperor asked.
“She was... insistent about that, as well.” Vader said.
“Where is Lord Hedra? I wish to speak with her.” the Emperor said.
“I don’t know, my Master. She has left the ship.” Vader said.
The Emperor regarded Vader very carefully. “You had deep feelings for Darth Sentinel, Lord Vader. How do I know that you didn’t kill Lord Hedra in revenge for losing Sentinel?” the Emperor asked.
“That would be going against your wishes, my Master. That I would not do.” Vader said, very solemnly.
“If you cannot produce Lord Hedra, my Apprentice, I will have to assume that you have in fact gone against my wishes. And that I will not tolerate.” the Emperor said.
Sentinel had heard enough. Before Vader said anything else, she shot lightning at the cockpit door while simultaneously allowing it to auto-open. Once open, her lightning came very close to hitting Vader, but luckily he jumped out of the way even as she reigned in her new power.
Sentinel stormed into the cockpit, trying to look furious.
“Did I or did I not command you, Lord Vader, to not make any communications?” Sentinel yelled at him. Then she turned toward the Emperor’s hologram. “Ah, Lord Sidious. What an unexpected surprise.”
Vader was crouching off to the side, where he had landed when he’d had to jump out of the way of the Force lightning. The emotions coming off of him were a combination of surprise and anger, and a sudden suspicion regarding Sentinel’s true identity! Sentinel couldn’t fix that right then, however, and hoped Vader would follow her lead.
“Lord Hedra, why have you detoured from coming to meet me?” the Emperor asked.
“I had other things I needed to take care of first, Lord Sidious.” Sentinel said.
“I do not appreciate the mistreatment of my Apprentice, Lord Hedra.” the Emperor said.
“He has not been permanently damaged, Lord Sidious. I respect your rights as Master over your Apprentice.” she said.
Vader rose to his feet, staring at Sentinel. There was a rage coming off of Vader that made the very air temperature in the cockpit increase by several degrees.
The Emperor stared at her for a moment. “There is something strange about you, Lord Hedra. Something about you doesn’t feel right.” he said.
“Perhaps you sense the combined signature of my aura with that of Lord Sentinel’s.” she said.
“Perhaps...” the Emperor said. He tilted his head slightly, thinking. “Lord Hedra, when we were on Gattaws 3, what did I tell you about my old master?”
“Is this a test?” she asked.
“Yes. It is.” the Emperor said.
“You really want me to speak of it in front of your Apprentice?” Sentinel said, hoping she was guessing that whatever it was was of a personal nature.
“Yes, yes, you may speak of it freely in front of Lord Vader.” the Emperor impatiently said.
Sentinel regarded the Emperor for a moment, then decided to opt for a lie that was closer to the truth.
“You have me, Lord Sidious. I am Darth Sentinel. But I’m not the Sentinel you remember.” she said.
“Lord Vader helped you escape Lord Hedra’s control?” the Emperor raised his voice.
“No, your Apprentice did nothing to assist me. Friendship means nothing to him!” she glared at Vader as she hissed the last part. “He fully went along with Hedra taking over my body. But I have reserves of power that Hedra wasn’t aware of, and I managed to push the woman out. But once she was out, I retained many of her memories and knowledge...” and here Sentinel raised her hands to allow the Force lightning to arc between them. “And much of her skill.” She allowed the Force lightning to dissipate.
Sentinel turned to look at Vader, drawing upon times she had been hurt and angry in order to project what she needed at that moment. “Your Apprentice thought I was still Darth Hedra! So I have treated him as if I were. After all, he did nothing to help me!” she practically screamed at Vader. She turned back towards the Emperor.
“You betrayed me too, my Master. What am I to think of that?” she said darkly, to the Emperor.
“Lord Sentinel, you were inadequate as a Sith Lord, but very adequate as a Sith host. I would prefer that Darth Hedra had retained your body. But now that your powers have grown from this experience, perhaps you are worthy of a second chance.” the Emperor mused, unapologetic.
“My Master, I’m glad that you are willing to give me a second chance. But in all honesty, why should I trust you a second time?” Sentinel asked, arching an eyebrow.
The Emperor regarded her, frowning malevolently at her. “You have no choice in the matter, Lord Sentinel. Either you bow down before me as your Master, or you shall be... taken care of.” he said, ominously.
“By Lord Vader?” Sentinel asked.
“By me.” the Emperor said. “It is your choice. Re-affirm your pledge to me, Lord Sentinel, or die.”
This wasn’t quite what Sentinel had expected to happen. But if the Emperor was being honest in his offer, it allowed her to remain somewhat close to Vader. Except, to support the web of lies she and Vader had just strung up together, she would never be able to openly show affection to her Dark Lord.
But it was better than spending the rest of her life on the run.
She bowed down on one knee before the Emperor’s hologram. “I pledge myself in service to you, Lord Sidious, and to the Dark Side.” she said, bowing low.
The Emperor smiled gleefully, baring his teeth. Sentinel remained in her subservient position, feeling as if that malevolent smile were showering her with evil. She sighed a little inside.
“Good. Good. You have made the right choice, Lord Sentinel. This experience has indeed made you more powerful.” the Emperor said, looking down at her appraisingly. “I will be meeting with you in 3 hours. Prepare to demonstrate to me what Lord Hedra has inadvertently taught you.”
Sentinel looked up sharply. “Master? You followed us here?”
“I am careful to keep tabs on the location of my... assets.” the Emperor said, smiling thinly. “I will be landing in your location... shortly.”
The hologram disappeared.
Sentinel sighed, then turned to look at Vader. “Are you alright?”
Vader lunged at her, grabbing her by the neck, and forcing her backwards against the wall. He started to choke her, to lift her up.
“Who are you!” Vader yelled.Oh, great. I’m being throttled again
, Sentinel thought. She used her powers to deflect his choking her, and to support her weight. She wrapped her hands over his arm. “I’m Sentinel! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I sensed you needed help, so I had to come back.”
Vader didn’t release her, but pushed his face forwards, as if he was trying to frighten her. “When did you learn how to use Force lightning?” he growled.
“I realized I had the ability once I got back on board the ship. The minute I got away from the Force nullifying creature -- we really need to give that thing a shorter name, by the way -- I realized my Force powers were greater than what they were before. And I figured I could use them to bluff the Emperor.”
Vader released her. “Are you insane? You could have escaped, free and clear! You should have let me handle this! You were supposed to let me handle this!” he bellowed at her.
“I sensed you needed my help! And I was right! If I hadn’t walked in just then, the Emperor would have decided that you were involved in my escaping from Hedra!” Sentinel turned away to stand behind the co-pilot’s chair, rubbing her neck. “You know, throttling me every time you get upset is getting really, really old!” she said, turning back to face him.
“You could have been free of his influence.” Vader rumbled. “Now you are recommitted to that warped old man.”
“I thought you wanted me to be a Sith Lord.” she said.
Vader turned away from her. “I’m not sure what I want.” he said.
“You want us to be together.” Sentinel walked up behind him, resting her hand on his back. The muscles there were incredibly tense. She gently rubbed his back.
“With the web of lies we have just spun, will we be able to?” he asked.
“Only in secret, but that was probably going to be the case, anyway. At least, I won’t have to be on the run, now, with us never being able to see each other.” Sentinel said.
Sentinel continued to rub his back.
“How did he track us here? I thought you removed the locator beacon?” she asked.
Vader turned back to her. “The Emperor obviously didn’t think our mission needed to be quite that stealthy.”
“Well, considering our idea of the mission and his idea were quite different...” Sentinel mused.
Vader grunted in agreement.
She turned and looked out the cockpit viewscreen. “Oh, frak. I need to tell Gilly and Mortis to get out of here. Just in case the Emperor is still planning something...”
“I loaned them a commlink.” Vader said, handing her his commlink, so she could communicate with them.
After a short exchange, she explained the situation to Gilly and Mortis. They were packing their things in their home. They were reluctant to leave without her, but she finally convinced them it was for the best. They said they would drop her things off at the ship in under 20 minutes... and give her a second chance to change her mind. They were almost ready to leave their home.
Sentinel switched off the commlink.
“I cannot believe we have truly gotten away with this.” Vader rumbled.
“Nor can I. I sense we’re not out of the woods yet. At least he no longer thinks you were involved in driving Hedra out.” Sentinel said.
“You need to get out of here. You’ve done what you could to protect me. When Gilly and Mortis return to drop off your stuff, you will leave with them!” Vader rumbled.
Sentinel glared at him. “We can make this work!” she said.
“No, we can’t! I sense that the Emperor is going to take revenge upon you. I was willing to kill you if Hedra retained control of your body. He’s willing to kill you now that Hedra has lost control.” Vader said.
Sentinel shook her head, holding her fingers to her temples, eyes closed, trying to think. The commlink Vader had handed her chirruped. She switched it on.
Mortis hissed urgently into the commlink: “Get out of there! There’s an Imperial shuttle coming in for a landing near your ship!”
Goto Chapter Twenty-Seven