Friday, June 30, 2006

Chapter Twenty-Two

Vader entered the cockpit. The navputer was still off, and, as far as he could tell, nothing had been tampered with. He booted up the navputer, and set the timer down on the cockpit dashboard in order to be able to watch it more carefully.

He prepared himself to manually disengage lightspeed, without the assistance of the navputer. If his timing was off, he could have several hours trip traveling at sublight, heading for the agreed upon coordinates.

The coordinates where his package was waiting.

As the timer counted down the final seconds, Vader readied himself. He brought the ship out of lightspeed simultaneously with the timer counting down to zero.

There, off the starboard bow, was the ship he was meeting with: the Illusion.

He thought it to be a rather strange name for a Star Destroyer, but appropriate to his personal mission.

He knew that once he brought the package onboard, there would be no going back. He would be committed to bringing Sentinel back. Hedra’s offer would become null and void. And he might also find himself on the run from the Emperor, if he didn’t play this very carefully.

He sat back in his chair. Hedra’s offer was rather... tantalizing. Being able to rule the galaxy, forever? But sharing power with Sidious... Sidious was a sneaky, conniving politician. Sidious had done so much to him, albeit in order to make Vader a Sith lord. But he had caused Vader so much pain and loss in order to achieve those goals. And Vader knew Hedra was probably right: eventually Vader would outlive his purpose in Sidious’s eyes, and Sidious would seek a replacement, unless of course Vader overthrew the man first.

But was Hedra someone he could trust? And if he made that agreement with Hedra, he would effectively be committing himself to never overthrowing Sidious... to simply shifting Master’s, for the promise of being taught how to switch to a newer body upon his own death.

Too many risks. Too many questions. And again, could he even trust Hedra?

He looked out the cockpit, to the left of the ship. A bright green planet slowly spun in it’s orbit, oblivious to the Star Destroyer or Vader’s ship’s presence.

Sentinel was someone he could trust... and he would rather have merely a normal lifespan with her than several without her.

Vader sent out a coded signal to the Illusion. A small box was immediately jettisoned from a port in the Illusion’s side, and the Illusion promptly entered hyperspace. Vader guided the ship towards the box.

As the ship grew closer to the box, Vader immediately sensed his Force abilities start to weaken. Almost reluctantly, he maneuvered a robotic arm on the outside of the ship to attach and pull in the box. Once the box was secured inside one of the cargo holds, and the navputer had performed new calculations for the rest of their journey to Sevast, Vader placed the ship back into lightspeed. This time, he left the navputer running.

Vader noted that the box was in the hold that was furthest from the cockpit.

He reached for an object on the far side of the cockpit.

The object didn’t budge.

He tried to sense something, anything, with his Force sensitivity. It was as if he had suddenly gone deaf.

Perfect, he thought.

He left the cockpit, stopping briefly in the armory, and headed for Sentinel’s quarters.

Thankfully, her door was not locked. Otherwise, he would have had to either break in, or ask her to unlock it. Since she wouldn’t have been able to unlock it with the Force, she would have immediately known something was up. That would have made her... difficult.

The door auto-opened at Vader’s approach. He walked in to her quarters.

Darth Hedra was lounging on the bed, still wearing the white robe. Music was playing. Hedra looked up to see Vader enter, and smiled.

“Have you come to pay the price for eternal life?” she asked.

Vader noticed Sentinel’s lightsaber was sitting on the table furthest from the bed. And that Sentinel’s bag ‘o’ tricks was sitting on a chair also far away from the bed. It was almost as if circumstances were conspiring with him to take care of the detestable woman in front of him.

“Not exactly...” Vader rumbled softly. He pulled out the blaster he had hidden in the folds of his robe, and aimed it at her. Then he unhooked one of four manacles he had hooked to his belt, and threw it at her.

She caught it, and looked at him, perplexed. “What is this?” she asked.

“A restraint. Consider yourself... managed.” He responded.

She laughed. “You really think you can control me with a blaster and manacles?”

“Yes. I can.”

Hedra reached for the lightsaber on the far table. It didn’t budge. She became confused.

“Put the restraint around your left ankle, and then attach the restraint to the foot of your bed. Do it now.” Vader ordered.

Hedra looked up at him in horror, and then rage. “How did you...”

“Do it now!” Vader yelled.

Hedra rose out of the bed, reaching for anything heavy she could find on the bedside table. But she was instantly knocked unconscious by a blast from Vader’s gun, which was set on stun.

“So much for your complete cooperation...” Vader mused, and proceeded to restrain Hedra, with a limb manacled to each bedpost.

Once Vader was sure she was adequately restrained, he checked her vitals. He could see her chest rise and fall. He couldn’t check her pulse: his cybernetic fingers weren’t that sensitive. He ordered a droid into the room, and it confirmed that Hedra was not adversely affected by being stunned. He then ordered the droid back out of the room.

Vader swept through the room, removing all weapons... anything Hedra might be able to use. These he stored in his quarters. Once done with that, and after a final check on Hedra (who was still out cold), he went to the cargo hold where he had stored the box. He had a droid carry the box from the cargo hold to the ship’s lab, and opened the box there.

Inside was a small tank of oxygen that was about 3/4 of the way full, and one sedated Force-nullifying critter.

Vader had never been so happy to see that creature! He actually reached in and gently pet it on the head and neck. It snored and shifted position slightly, in response.

He gently transferred the creature to a cage, and ensured it had adequate food and water at it’s disposal once it woke up.

Vader watched the creature for a moment, and then headed back to the cockpit. He was headed for Sevast, but had neglected to discover where on Sevast he needed to go! He didn’t have a great deal of time for a lengthy search. So it was time to go looking for clues.

He queried the local copy of the galactic database on the ship’s central computer, and was pleased to find that Sevast was a largely uninhabited world, with only 1 major city. That city, ‘Yuthrub’ happened to be the only mining settlement on the planet. The city sat in a plain, with mountains to the East of it.

Now that he had a very good idea of where to start his search, he started to relax somewhat. But it occurred to him that perhaps, before he relaxed too much, he should check on Hedra one more time.

He didn’t want to have to deal with her anymore than was necessary. They had at least another 34 hours of travel time. He would have to ensure her safety, but also keep her under control. Perhaps it would be best to move her to the medcenter and keep her sedated, and provide her with an intravenous drip of sustenance.

Then again, would it be better to ensure she was physically worn out prior to the shamans performing whatever rites they needed to perform in order to drive Hedra out? Maybe he should spend the next 34 hours tormenting her!

The thought brought a smile to his face. The only problem with the idea was that perhaps Sentinel was actually stuck somewhere in that body, and would suffer along with Hedra.

Vader wondered how the Shamans were going to drive Hedra out. Of course, there might not be anything that the shamans could do. Vader might merely be prolonging Hedra’s life until the time at which he would have to take it in order to cover up his plot against her.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair at the thought. All this effort to end up having to kill his lover...

And how ironic, since Hedra might truly have helped Vader to attain more power.

Vader shook that thought out of his mind. Even if rescuing Sentinel was a lost cause, the idea of gaining anything from Sentinel’s predicament was detestable to him.

He hated the idea that Sentinel might be stuck inside that body, watching everything Hedra was doing, and that Vader might have to kill her in killing Hedra. He hoped, if it came to that, that she wasn’t really at all aware of anything that had been going on.

He resolved to be as gentle with Hedra as possible, for Sentinel’s sake.

Which brought him to the realization that he should go check on Hedra.

Vader left the cockpit and entered Sentinel’s quarters. Hedra was awake, and trying desperately to pull her right hand loose from the manacle that held it fast. Blood was dripping from her wrist, where she had rubbed the skin off.

“Do not waste your energy.” Vader said.

Hedra glared at him. “You will pay dearly for this outrage.”

“The outrage is that you took over a body you had no rights to.” Vader rumbled.

“Oh, and you intend to preach to me about what is right and what is wrong? You are Sith, just like me.” Hedra hissed.

“That is true. Let us say, then, that I take great offense at your choice in bodies to usurp.” Vader said.

“There is nothing you can do. I am not leaving this body. The only way you will get me out of here is to kill me, and then your precious Sentinel will die as well.” Hedra said.

“If that is your destiny, then so be it. I am sure that Sentinel would prefer her body destroyed than to allow you to continue to use it.” Vader stated. Before Hedra could respond, he whirled out of Sentinel’s quarters and headed for the medcenter.

The droids woke up as he entered the medcenter.

Vader wasn’t sure if the droids were programmed to deal with one sentient being keeping another one prisoner. They were programmed to obey the captain of the ship, which would be him. They were programmed to obey the conscious sentient beings when it came to the care of the unconscious sentient beings. The only droid he thought could have ever questioned Vader regarding restraining Sentinel would have been R2D2, but that droid had a scary and unusual amount of sentience, way more than any medical droid he had ever dealt with.

If Vader hadn’t known for sure that R2D2 was a droid, he would have thought that perhaps the little droid’s shell actually hid a small, Force sensitive living creature inside.

So, would the medical droids try to save Hedra if Vader had to kill her? He would have to destroy her without the droids being present, if it came to that.

And as far as keeping Hedra prisoner: well, it wouldn’t hurt to feed the droids a little disinformation, to keep them cooperative.

Vader addressed the droids: “Lord Sentinel is very sick, and I am taking her someplace where her particular... disease... can be treated. In the meantime, she is a danger to herself. I need you to prepare sufficient sedative to keep Lord Sentinel asleep for approximately 40 hours. And then I need you to hook her up with an intravenous feeding tube, as well as whatever you would... hook her up to... to allow her to relieve herself.”

One of the droids rolled forwards. “In order to keep her asleep for that long, it would be advisable that her sedative be an intravenous drip as well.” It said.

“She is going to be... difficult... to sedate. Perhaps I should handle the initial sedation, and then you can setup the intravenous drip.” Vader suggested.

The droid rolled over to a table and prepared the syringe, ensuring a cap was in place over the needle. It then handed it to Lord Vader.

Vader took it. “Make your other preparations for Lord Sentinel convalescence. I will be back.”

“Will she be stationed in the medcenter, or will you be continuing to keep her confined in her quarters?” the droid asked.

Right. The droid saw Hedra chained to the bed when I had it check Hedra’s vitals, Vader thought. Must remember to have their memories wiped.

“She will remain in her quarters, for now.” Vader said, then whirled out of the medcenter, syringe in hand, and headed back to Sentinel’s quarters.

“You will never get away with this. Sidious will ensure you die hideously.” Hedra’s anger was almost palpable, even with Vader’s Force sensitivity completely dampened.

Vader noted that there was blood actively dripping from both of Hedra’s wrists now. Sentinel’s wrists, he corrected himself.

“I have already suffered enough for several hideous deaths. What is one more?” Vader said, sarcasm dripping off of every word. He approached the bed, and Hedra looked with alarm at the syringe.

“Wait! What is that?” Hedra asked, shifting in bed nervously, trying to distance herself from Vader and the syringe.

“Something to help you sleep.”

“No, wait! Wait, we can still make some sort of deal. Let me live, and I’ll never tell Lord Sidious! I will make it worth your while to spare me! Wait!” Hedra squirmed, but was unable to evade the needle. Vader injected the syringe's contents into her thigh.

“No....” Hedra moaned.

Vader stood back, waiting for the sedative to take effect.

“At least... tell me... how you have... taken... taken away my power...” Hedra said, starting to become drowsy. She looked up at Vader, eyes pleading.

Vader stood there, still as a statue, unspeaking. He watched Hedra finally fall asleep. Then he turned and left the room, heading for the medcenter.

Goto Chapter Twenty-Three

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Chapter Twenty-One

Vader had been up the entire night. He had considered returning to his quarters, attempting to get some rest, but had not wanted to leave the cockpit in fear that Hedra would return, look at the navputer readouts, and discover their true course. So Vader had kept his vigil, not even taking breaks for biological necessities.

He was exhausted, hungry, and, well, irritable for other reasons.

There was a clean air hose he could hook up his breathing apparatus to, in the cockpit. He also had access to water there. So he wasn’t thirsty. But the water had only exacerbated that which was now making him very irritable.

After about 10 hours, he could stand it no longer. He verified, to the second, exactly when he would need to come out of hyperspace. He set a portable timer, which he then attached to his belt. Then he shut down the navputer entirely. Now, their exit from hyperspace in the correct location was completely dependent upon him. And it would also be virtually impossible for Hedra to determine their course without taking the ship out of hyperspace.

He unlocked the cockpit, looked around carefully, then made a beeline for his quarters. Once inside his quarters, he locked the door, and briefly examined his room. Everything looked untouched, and he couldn’t sense any lingering evidence that Hedra had been in there. Relieved, he quickly took care of his most pressing biological needs.

Afterwards, he removed his helmet, hooking up a breathing hose, and ate some food, almost leisurely. Then he entered the fresher, and allowed the droids in there to clean him and his environmental suit thoroughly.

Bathing was no longer a simple matter for Lord Vader, and he had long ago given into the convenience of having the droid’s assistance.

He almost had the droids clean him twice. In the back of his mind, he realized he was trying to remove the spiritual stench of Hedra’s aura.

When he was done, he checked the timer. He had 3 hours before his first stop prior to getting to Sevast. He set an alarm on the timer for 20 minutes prior to when he needed to bring the ship out of hyperspace.

He took a much needed break to sleep.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Vader woke to the touch of lips, gently pressing against his mouth. Hands gently crossing his brow, as if to wipe his cares away.

Vader reached up to put his hands on the back of his lover’s head and back, kissing her passionately in response, pulling her close. He breathed in Sentinel’s scent, feeling arousal take over.

Sentinel moved from his lips and buried her face in his neck, nibbling gently.

Vader moaned softly.

Then his eyes snapped wide open, and he stared at the woman who was partially on top of him.

The stranger in Sentinel’s body. Sentinel’s naked body.

He placed his hands roughly on her shoulders, and shoved her away from him, hard, using his cybernetic strength accompanied by a hard Force push.

Hedra had a hold of his breathing hose. When she was violently shoved away, the hose was also yanked violently out of Vader’s chest.

Hedra landed smartly on her feet, holding the breathing hose, and laughing maniacally.

Vader flipped his chest breathing port closed, reaching for his helmet with the Force. His helmet was nowhere in the room.

Hedra watched him, smiling, holding on to his lifeline possessively.

He looked at her. He felt himself starting to pant, to breath faster, to make up for the fact that the air in his quarters was not the same oxygen enriched air that had been flowing through his breathing hose.

He reached for his lightsaber on his belt, but soon found that his mask wasn’t the only thing missing from his quarters.

He glared at Hedra. She grinned menacingly. She seemed not at all embarrassed by standing in front of him, in the nude. Watching him suffocate.

Vader attempted to rise from bed. If more of his body had been cybernetic, he would have made it. But enough of his body was still biologic, and was not up to the task of operating without enough oxygen. He fell back in the bed, staring up at the ceiling, feeling for a second like he was going to pass out.

He tried to calm down, reduce his need for oxygen. He watched Hedra warily.

She lazily crossed the room, holding on to his hose.

“Are you going to behave?” she asked, calmly.

He frowned, feeling his mechanical lungs straining, and finally nodded, closing his eyes in submission.

Hedra stalked over to him, opened his chest breathing port, and hooked the hose back into place. Vader opened his eyes, felt his heart rate slow down. Hedra then stood next to his bed, looking down at him, laying a hand on his stomach, possessively.

As if he were her personal toy.

He looked up at her warily. His gaze went to the clock on the wall, and he realized they had 30 more minutes before he needed to bring the ship out of hyperspace. 10 more minutes and his timer’s alarm would go off.

He looked back at her.

She was lazily tracing figure eights across his stomach.

Why must my worst enemy keep coming on to me? He asked himself. She’s not attracted to me. Or is she? What is she up to?

Vader sat up carefully. Hedra’s hand slid down his stomach into his lap. She was watching him carefully, hungrily.

“Darth Hedra, I find it hard to believe that you are truly interested in me, in that way.” he said, softly. He watched her keenly, waiting to see what her next move would be.

“I could tell, however, that you are very interested in me,” Hedra said. She grinned at him, lasciviously. Her hand was still suggestively in his lap, although his body armor wasn’t allowing her any undesired access. Thank the Force, Vader thought.

Vader gently moved her right hand out of his lap, trying not to show his revulsion at her physical attention.

“Since you are not truly interested in me, why do you insist on flirting with me?” He looked her in the eyes, making a point of not gazing at the rest of her lovely, borrowed body.

She moved away from the bed, still grinning. She picked up a white robe from a chair, and put it on, tying it at her waist. She walked back to him. As she walked back, Vader swung his legs off the bed, but remained sitting.

Hedra stood in front of him, making a point of standing such that she was in between his legs. “I’ve been dead a long time, Lord Vader.” She rested her hands on each of his arms. “You and Sidious are the most powerful Dark Force users in the galaxy. I don’t count any of the Sith trainers Sidious has employed as being worthy of my attention.” She looked up into Vader’s eyes suggestively. “When you have left me with Darth Sidious, any chance we might have of being together will be gone.”

Vader looked down at her, wearing a vaguely perplexed expression. “You threaten me, you insult me, you come on to me, you try to kill me.” He paused. “Does the phrase ‘mixed signals’ mean anything to you?”

She chuckled, rubbing his forearms playfully. “The fear doesn’t reach you anymore. Or the cold.”

“You were testing me.” Vader said, coldly.

“Of course. Everything is a test, Lord Vader.”

“And this latest test?”

“Latest?” Hedra asked.

“Hiding my helmet? The lightsabers? Yanking out my air supply?”

“Merely verifying what I already knew, that you have your weaknesses. That you can be... managed,” she said.

Vader stood up, forcing her to back up. He looked down at her and growled, “Managed?”

She stood quite close to him, looking up at him, and laughed gently. “You have a great deal of potential. I would like to tap into that, to help you grow. But I need to know that you can’t easily turn on me, and later, that you no longer desire to turn on me.”

“I already have a Master.” Vader said.

“Yes. He is the one who ensured you would be manageable.”

Vader looked stunned. “He saved my life...”

“Come, now Vader. We both know that there were better solutions to your situation than this substandard cybernetic one. I sense you’ve noticed already that your mechanical body is quite vulnerable to electrical shock, to electromagnetic forces. Vulnerable to things that stormtrooper equipment easily recovers from, that most droids can recover from. You will probably never be able to fully repulse Force lightning, nor can you ever safely practice creating Force lightning yourself. You were given these imperfections to ensure you could be subdued, if it ever became necessary.”

Vader looked down at her, in shock. Hearing his worst fears confirmed did nothing good for his emotional state.

Hedra continued. “Now, at some point Sidious is going to want to replace you. He’s going to find some other candidate that he thinks he can also control. Maybe someone younger, with less of your potential, and therefore needing less... management.” She walked away from him, her fingers of her right hand tapping her chin as if to time her thoughts. “I have no viable apprentices right now. Of course, I’ve only been among the living a few hours. But I like to think ahead, have all my options before me. I see you as a very powerful option. I see you eventually becoming my apprentice, and becoming worthy of the secret of immortality, the secret of being able to move from one body to the next.”

Vader stood there, his mouth partially open, still trying to digest how even the Emperor had betrayed him by doing what he could to ensure Vader’s mechanical body was substandard, vulnerable. Although he realized, every betrayal of the Emperor’s should not have been a surprise to him.

Hedra turned to face him again. “I see you becoming possibly more powerful than I am, especially once you have moved from this body into a new, cloned one. The question in that event, of course, is if I can convince you to make the same promise to me that Sidious and I made each other.”

“Even if the Emperor wishes to replace me, what makes you think he’s going to be agreeable with your inheriting me?” Vader asked.

“Oh, I won’t inherit you. The Emperor will have some price I must pay in order to get to have you be my apprentice once he is finished with you. But I’ll figure out some way to pay that price.”

Hedra sat down in the chair next to her, and crossed her legs.

“Other than Sidious, you are the only one who has ever been able to withstand the fear and cold I can project. I have fine tuned the projection of various emotions and sensations over hundreds of years. I would rather rely on that power than my Force lightning, which is second only to Lord Sidious’s Force lightning. Even Sidious is unable to project emotions as well as I can.” She paused, looked down at the floor as if seeing something there. “Even if you will eventually surpass me in power, I intend to ensure you will be able to achieve your full potential. And I believe you may one day surpass both Sidious and myself.”

“Why would you want to help me be more powerful than yourself?” Vader asked.

“Because I believe in ensuring that the Sith will achieve it’s full power. Unlike Sidious, I don’t believe in fearing those who can become more powerful than I can. I do believe in achieving an agreement with anyone who might become more powerful than I am, of course.” She smiled. “But I believe that the galaxy is large enough for a 3rd Master Sith-lord. I believe we three will need each other in order to maintain order and Sith rule in this galaxy.”

“Why should I trust you any more than I should trust my Master?” Vader asked. “And why would the Emperor agree to dividing the galaxy into thirds rather than halves?”

“You will simply have to watch me, and see if my words and my actions agree,” she said. “And as to the latter question, I will have to convince him of the benefits of having 3 Master Sith-lords. It will take some time, but I can be very persuasive.”

Vader suddenly flashed back to one of Sentinel's pro and con Sith/Jedi discussions. Vader wasn’t a stupid person... and he was very experienced. But it seemed to him that events had conspired in his life to ensure that all his experiences came at him fast and hard, and that he never truly had time to evaluate the experiences after the fact.

It was ironic to have been in the Jedi order, being taught how to meditate and calm oneself, and then be thrown into a war, be in a continual state of upheaval, constantly fighting for your life, and never having a moment’s peace to yourself in which to actually practice that meditation.

Since becoming an adult, Vader had only had adequate time to meditate once he had become Sith!

He had become a Sith based upon an emotionally loaded, last-minute decision. He felt very reluctant to make yet another life-changing decision with possibly disastrous consequences.

He felt reluctant to side with this woman when in all likelihood she was just as untrustworthy as the Emperor.

And finally, he felt reluctant to make a decision that would mean Sentinel would never return.

“I will have to think about what you have said.” Vader said.

“Of course, my offer of, in time, taking you on as my apprentice, does have a cost. And the time for payment is dwindling...” she said.


Hedra stood and walked up to Vader, moving very sensuously.

Vader struggled to keep his expression calm, confident. He was no longer unnerved by Hedra anymore. But his revulsion of Hedra was hard to push down. However, it was competing with his attraction to Sentinel’s sexy body.

Hedra reached him, putting both hands on his chest, stood on tiptoe, and kissed him languorously.

It was still Sentinel’s lips against his, and Vader found himself reacting, starting to kiss her back.

Hedra pulled back and looked at him, as if evaluating his reaction. She appeared to like what she saw, because she leaned in to kiss him once more. Almost against his will, Vader found himself wrapping his arms around her and returning the kiss, passionately.

The alarm on the timer on his belt suddenly beeped, startling them both.

Vader released Hedra. She stepped away as Vader glanced at the timer.

“I have to go.” Vader said simply.

Hedra smiled, and sauntered towards the door of his quarters. The door slid open, revealing his helmet and lightsaber on the floor just outside.

Vader called the items to himself, hooking the lightsaber to his belt, and placing his helmet back on his head. He noted that Sentinel’s lightsaber was not on the floor outside his quarters.

Hedra was standing in the doorway. “Don’t forget... time is running out.” she said. Then Hedra walked out, smiling over her shoulder briefly, and disappeared around the corner.

Vader unhooked the breathing hose, watching her leave. When she was out of range of his door’s sensor, it auto-closed.

Vader shuddered at the thought of how close he had come to succumbing to Hedra’s borrowed charms. He took the timer from his belt and stared at it, gratefully. Saved by the beep, he thought.

Goto Chapter Twenty-Two

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chapter Twenty

Vader left his quarters, heading for the medcenter. Halfway there he stopped, and leaned against the wall for support. He really didn’t want to see any more of this Darth Hedra than he had to. He headed instead for the cockpit, locking the cockpit door behind him. He sat down in the captain’s chair.

He should be taking off from the planet. He should be in space right now, plotting a course for home, taking Hedra to see the Emperor. He should be accepting that Sentinel was gone for good, and Hedra was here to stay.

But I’m just not good at accepting the loss of those I love, Vader thought to himself. I love her. I can’t let this happen to her. I’ve got to somehow bring her back, if possible. Kick Hedra out of her body, he thought.

Was Sentinel’s spirit anywhere he could detect? Or had she merged fully with the Force, losing her separate consciousness?

He stretched out his senses. Would her spirit be located, physically, in the ship? Maybe as close to Hedra as possible, waiting for an opportunity to take back what was rightfully hers? Or would it be back at the scene of the crime, perhaps now somehow attached to the obelisk?

He sensed Hedra. Her smell, her signature, was completely different from Sentinel’s. Same body, different spirit. He couldn’t sense Sentinel at all, just Hedra’s spirit.

Hedra’s very evil spirit, he thought. Although he felt rather hypocritical thinking it. But even he, with all that he had done, couldn’t see taking someone’s body away from them.

Someone’s life... sure. But kicking them out of their body and using their body as your own...

Yes, that would be one of those ‘unnatural’ abilities the Emperor had spoken of.

I wonder how many bodies the Emperor has had, Vader thought. Is this current one number 2? Number 3? He seems to have enough experience, and enough deceptive ability, for a Sith Lord who has lived multiple lifetimes.

How to get Hedra out of there.... how to do it. Couldn’t ask any Jedi for help. Or could he? Would they be sympathetic on this issue? He was sure that even if he could communicate the problem to them, in between defending himself from their saber slashes, that they would laugh at the fact that one of his friends had gotten herself into trouble by following the Dark Side.

What about the other Sith? Would Sentinel’s Sith instructor be willing to help her, or would he applaud the Emperor’s move? Or would he be afraid to thwart the Emperor’s plans?

Would it be possible to negotiate with the Emperor, perhaps to find another body for Hedra to occupy, so that she would let Sentinel have her own body back?

There was no-one he could ask for advice on this. There were no other Force sensitives who could help him, or who would choose to help him.

Maybe there was something in the Sith database, or the Jedi database, that could help him. There had to be something. Would the Emperor, upon discovering Vader’s newest database search, think Vader was searching for the methodology in order to upgrade his own body, or would he think that it was in order to get Sentinel back? Could he phrase the database query in such a way as to throw the Emperor off?

Vader closed his hands into fists. He was at a loss. And he wasn’t sure if he was running out of time, or if he had already run out of time to get Sentinel back into her own body.


He turned around, looking around the cockpit. He wasn’t sure if he had thought the word, or heard the word.

Sentinel’s home world. Sevast.

The shamans!

Impulsively, he powered up the engines, and raised the craft into the air, and took off for deep space. Once he was sufficiently clear of the planet’s gravity, he plotted a course.

Sevast was in the opposite direction from Coruscant. He was taking a big risk in defying the Emperor. But he couldn’t lose Sentinel, too.

His Mother. His Wife. His friends in the Jedi Order. No, no one else.

The navputer beeped when it had finished plotting the course. He engaged the hyperdrive. 2 days at lightspeed, and they would arrive at Sevast.

2 days trying to convince Hedra that they were really on their way to Coruscant.

Or... 2 days explaining there was something he needed to pick up at Sevast, before he took her to see the Emperor.

He had to fabricate... something. And he had to keep his mental shields up, keep them strong, and keep her from being suspicious.

His ruminations were interrupted when the locked cockpit door sprang open. There stood Darth Hedra.

She had gotten cleaned up, and was wearing a dark maroon gown that covered her neck, but left her shoulders and arms bare. Her hair was elaborately pinned up, out of the way, in a style Vader hadn’t seen before. It was very classic, from an era long gone. But then she’d been ‘long gone’ herself. She probably would have some catching up to do before she could fully assimilate into today’s society.

Her eyes were back to normal, her jade green irises reflecting the light of the dimly lit cockpit. For a brief moment, Vader thought that maybe Sentinel was back, that she had somehow fought off Darth Hedra. But Vader instantly sensed Hedra’s aura and not Sentinel’s.

Hedra stood in the doorway, looking down her nose at Vader.

“Where are we going?” She asked.

Vader had a sudden inspiration. “Home”, he said. This was, technically, true. It was just a question of whose home.

“When will I see Lord Sidious?”

“Soon, Lord Hedra.” Vader said. When you are both very, very dead, he thought.

“Ah, you’ve spoken to him. Good.” Hedra said.

“He was pleased to know that your transformation had occurred.” Vader said.

She smiled.

“Yes, it did go rather well, don’t you think?”

“I... wouldn’t know, Lord Hedra. I’ve never witnessed anything like that before.” Vader softly said.

“Lord Vader, you should research the transformation. In the future, I’m sure you will be wanting to... upgrade... to a newer shell. I will give you a clue, although it should be obvious. Clone your body. Then you will have the perfect shell to move into.”

“Lord Hedra, if I may ask, why did you choose Lord Sentinel’s body over a clone of your own, then?”

“Someone destroyed the clones I had kept hidden. When I died, I found I had no vessels waiting for me. Then, the fool servant who took care of my corpse neglected to take any biological samples of my body. He had my body cremated and placed the ashes in the obelisk. There wasn’t enough material in my ashes with which to successfully create a new cloned body for me.”

“So, this was the only option?” Vader asked.

“Yes, Lord Vader. My only option. So no, Lord Vader, there is nothing you can say to me that will convince me to... give it back.” she smiled thinly at him.

Vader remained silent.

“You are so frustrated right now.” Hedra said.

Vader glowered at her.

“You aren’t getting Sentinel back.” she said.

Vader clenched his hands into fists, trying to keep his emotions in check.

“You and she... were plotting against the Emperor.” she said. She waved her finger in front of him. “Tssk tssk tssk... Shame on you, Lord Vader.”

Well, thought Vader, that answers the question of just how much dangerous knowledge she has acquired. But did she acquire that from spying on us, or from leafing through Sentinel’s memory, or both?

“I am merely following the Sith creed, Lord Hedra.” Vader stated. “I’m sure you have plotted against your own master. If my Master never allows himself to become less powerful than myself, then he will never have a problem.”

Hedra’s eyes sparkled. “Well spoken, Sith Lord. However, like you and Sentinel, Sidious and I have our own... promise. Our own agreement. And I intend to thwart you, if I must, in order to keep it.”

“Agreement?” Vader asked.

“Yes. Sidious and I promised each other long ago to work together. We recognized that establishing a more permanent and stable alliance between two Sith Lords would be a better way of maintaining our powers, rather than relying on the idea that we would one day usurp the other’s power.” Hedra looked out the cockpit viewscreen, watching the stars blur past. “Essentially, we agreed to divide the galaxy between the two of us. And that if one of us fell, the other would do everything in his or her power to bring the fallen one back.”

Hedra moved forward to place her hands on the back of the co-pilot’s chair, leaning forward as she stared at the stars. “And now I’m back”, she said softly.

Vader stared down at his computer console, wondering if their promise had been based upon affection, or convenience. He shuddered at the thought of the former: would the Emperor want to re-establish a physical relationship with her? To be intimate with Hedra, using Sentinel’s body?

He looked up to find Hedra staring down at him. “You are wondering...” Hedra mused, closing her eyes as she apparently picked through Vader’s mind. “... if the Emperor and I were ever intimate. If we will be intimate again.” Her eyes opened, and she stared at Vader, bemused.

Vader found himself swallowing down bile. “I was wondering what your promise was based upon: affection or convenience?”

“Any mutually beneficial agreement is based upon convenience, Lord Vader. It may be a long-term convenience, as opposed to a short term one. But nevertheless...” she leaned forward, her face close to his.

Vader struggled with himself not to pull back. Having Hedra this close made his skin crawl.

“You are repulsed by me.” She smirked. "You were so worried that Sentinel would be repulsed by you, and here you are...” she casually touched the side of his mask, caressing it with her fingertips of her right hand, while Vader struggled to remain still. “... feeling ill in my presence.”

Vader grabbed her wrist in his left hand, holding it away from his mask.

Her eyes flashed yellow suddenly, and a manic glee came over her face. And just as suddenly, Vader cried out, letting her hand go as if it had burned him, as the fear and the cold washed over him, flooding his senses violently. He leaned far back in his chair, gripping the armrests, his breathing suddenly rapid as his mechanical lungs compensated for the demands of his racing heart.

Hedra leaned further in, obviously enjoying the effect she was having over the Dark Lord, watching him try to sink further into his chair.

Abruptly Hedra stood up and glowered down at him.

“You, Lord Vader. You are too weak to live. I have come back from death, with more and more power at my disposal, each time I awaken in a new body. Sidious is incredibly powerful, but he will also enjoy even more power when he gives up his current frame and takes on that of a newly cloned body.” She leaned in close again, and Vader fought the crazy desire to close his eyes in order to block her out. “You, on the other hand... when you leave this...” -- she gestured disdainfully at his body -- “... shell... that will be that. You will cease to exist. I had thought you might be worthy of being trained in order to exist with us, through the ages.” She stood upright again, staring down at him, shaking her head.

“But your compassion... you hold yourself back from being a true Sith. You are unworthy of the gift of virtual immortality.” Hedra said.

She turned to leave the cockpit.

Vader’s fear quickly transmuted itself into a murderous rage. His eyes, under the cover of his mask, flashed bright yellow. His one and only desire was to crush this abomination that now inhabited his lover’s body. In a fluid movement, he stood, crossed the cockpit, and reached Hedra.

Hedra turned just in time for Vader’s right hand to close about her neck, constricting her airways as he lifted her and shoved her violently against the wall next to the cockpit door.

The door, confused by an object so close to it’s sensors, shifted open, then closed as Vader and Hedra shifted slightly in and out of it’s sensor range.

Hedra’s yellow eyes stared with bright hatred. She had been momentarily surprised, but she quickly recovered. She Force-blocked his choke-hold on her, blocking both his cybernetic hand’s attempt to squeeze out her life, and his Force-choke. And she levitated herself slightly so that her weight was no longer being supported just by his hand on her neck.

She poured wave after wave of fear and cold into Vader, but he held his place, breathing almost normally, and glowering at her, even moving his face closer to hers. In his rage, he had just gained the ability to successfully block her projected fear and cold, and intended to project some fear of his own into her. With his left hand he reached for his lightsaber, but was momentarily confused as he found 2 lightsabers from which to choose from: he had forgotten that Sentinel’s saber was still attached to his belt.

Then sparks arced just in front of his vision, causing him to pull his face back somewhat from Hedra.

Hedra’s hands were raised, held equidistant from his face and hers, about half a meter apart. Small bursts of Force lightning travelled from one hand and back, a small sampling of what was to come if he continued with his intentions.

Vader held his position for a moment, reluctant to back off even in the face of a power he knew he couldn’t block. He finally released his grip, dropped his right hand from her neck, and stood back.

Hedra lowered herself to the floor with the Force, lightning still arcing between her fingertips. She glared at Vader with undisguised malice.

The two Sith Lords regarded each other.

Hedra allowed the lightning to fade and dropped her hands. “You have some spirit, Lord Vader,” she said. “But you forget your place.” She turned to leave, then looked at him. “Don’t make me remind you of it again.” She stormed out of the cockpit, the door sliding shut behind her.

Vader walked backwards until he bumped into the pilot’s chair. He sat down heavily, and stared at the cockpit door.

He took some time to regain his composure. Then he turned towards the computer console, and keyed in an encrypted message to Commander Javel, at Pitoma base.

Goto Chapter Twenty-One

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Chapter Nineteen

“What?” Vader asked.

“Sentinel isn’t here anymore.” She repeated. “But you may still call me that, if you like.”

Vader sat back a little from her. “And who... are you?”

“I don’t think you need to know that right now.” She smiled up at him, her grin almost fiendish.

Vader was silent for a moment. “Where is Sentinel?”

“You know, it’s really ironic. The Emperor told you and Sentinel to not make this complex, not get too close to each other. Did you listen to him? Of course not. And now you get to experience love lost, all... over... again. Isn’t that ironic?”

Vader clenched his fists.

“First, as a child, you lose your home. What were you thinking, following an idiotic Jedi such as Qui-Gon Jinn? Did you think you’d found a long-lost father figure? Was it worth it, following him on his mission, only to lose him so soon after finding him? Right after you’d left your mother and your home? And only a few years later, after arriving too, too late to save your mother, you get to watch her die in your arms.”

How does she know this? Vader thought. I never told her this...

“I’ve been following you, watching you for a long time. I watched you kill Padme. You know, you did more damage to her when you broke her heart than when you strangled her.” The woman who was not Sentinel chuckled.

Vader rose, looming over her, holding himself back with difficulty.

“Oh, you want to hurt me... so badly... but then you’d be hurting the body of your lover. You can’t hurt me without hurting her. And it’s driving you crazy.”

He stood there, fuming.

“You know, I might let you touch this body, one last time. I just might. I could overlook your appearance just for that moment when, in our intimacy, you realize there’s nothing left of her in here.” She actually giggled.

“Who are you!?!” He roared.

“Someone you should speak to with more respect.” She said soberly. Her voice seemed to echo in the medcenter, reverberating. And he felt it then, this cold emanating from her.

He was suddenly freezing. His hands and feet were ice cold. It took him a moment to remember his mechanical hands and feet couldn’t sense temperature. But still, the sensation stayed with him.

And the fear.

She was projecting intense fear into him. It cut into him like a knife.

The Emperor had taught him how to project fear into his enemies. It had become his favorite tool of late, really his favorite toy. To stand over his men, and see them trembling ever so slightly... yes. This was power.

And the Emperor had also taught him how to block projected fear.

But he couldn’t block this... not this. It was like trying to block a tidal wave. It washed over him, through him, leaving him feeling weak and defenseless.

He backed away, turned around, and walked out of the medcenter, her laughter chasing him out of the room.

He didn’t know who else to turn to. He went to his quarters and started up a communication link with the Emperor. He knelt on the dais as soon as the communication link was established.

The Emperor’s holographic form appeared before him, and he bowed low.

“Lord Vader. What progress do you have to report?” There was an amused quality to the Emperor’s voice.

“My Master, the Jedi are destroyed. They tried to lay a trap for us, claiming that they had an informant who told them I was coming. In spite of this, Sentinel and I were able to destroy them. But... but there is something terribly wrong with Lord Sentinel.”

Vader raised his face to look at his Master, and was stunned to see him smiling.

“There is nothing wrong with Lord Sentinel, my apprentice. Her transformation is merely complete”, the Emperor said.


“Sentinel was substandard material for a Sith Lord. But I instantly recognized in her a more valuable asset. Her powers, combined with her psychic vulnerabilities, made her a perfect vessel for a former... associate... of mine. A friend who has long been deceased”, the Emperor said.

“I... don’t understand”, Vader said.

“I needed you to help bring out her full Sith abilities, her full allegiance to the Dark Side. I needed a possible confrontation, where she would go too far into the Dark Side to be able to maintain full control over herself. And I needed her to lose that control when she was near the obelisk my friend’s body was entombed inside", the Emperor explained.

“This was all staged... to get her ready to ...”

“To house my friend, so to speak. Yes. You did very well, Lord Vader. I was honestly concerned that you might not survive her... transformation process.”

Vader was silent for a moment.

“What is it, my apprentice?” the Emperor finally asked.

“What about... Lord Sentinel?” Vader asked.

“She was useless to us as a Sith. Yes, she showed some promise, some definite power, but she wouldn’t have ever been able to overcome her own self-imposed limitations. I sensed immediately that her moral convictions would be her own downfall. She would never be able to move past those convictions.”

Vader let his gaze fall, his forehead lowered.

“You grew very attached to her, didn’t you? I warned you, Lord Vader.”

Vader tried to collect himself. “Yes, my Master. But why didn’t you tell me? Why keep me in the dark?”

“I told you all I needed you to know in order to complete the true mission. Anything more, and it might not have gone as perfectly. You will have to accept that I cannot always divulge every detail of my plans to you.” The Emperor sounded a little impatient.

“Yes, my Master.”

“Now. Bring her to me, Lord Vader. Bring her to Coruscant.”

“Yes, my Master.”

“And Lord Vader, be careful not to upset her. She is very dangerous.”

“What... what is her name, my Master?”

“She wouldn’t tell you?” the Emperor chuckled. “Her name, Lord Vader, is Darth Hedra.”

The Emperor’s holographic, smiling image disappeared and the link ended with an audible beep.

Lord Vader remained staring at the hologram’s former location for a long time.

Goto Chapter Twenty

Monday, June 26, 2006

Chapter Eighteen

Somehow, Vader got himself and Sentinel, and their lightsabers, her satchel, and his right hand, back to the hover craft.

Somehow, he flew one handed, using the Force to activate anything he truly needed a right hand to do.

Somehow, he was able to focus on just getting back to the ship, while Sentinel murmured and moaned in the passenger seat. He had put the passenger seat in it’s most reclined position, and laid her there. When he glanced over, he noted that her forehead was covered in perspiration, and her hair was becoming soaked from it.

The sun had set. But Vader had no problem finding Shareed on the horizon, at the far end of the dune sea. It was lit up with bright golden light, which he found rather ironic considering during the day it was a silver city.

He flew the hovercraft directly to the ship. The area was devoid of activity. He could hear the noise of festivities going on in the heart of the city. He recalled reading that there was some sort of carnival going on this week, with a party every evening. Good. No one here to witness a rather conspicuous Dark Lord entering his ship.

He had left his visor and their robes and other parts of their costumes back at the ancient temple, as well as the holographic recording equipment. On his last trip carting their stuff from the temple to the hovercraft, he had stopped to destroy the holo-recordings with several swipes of his lightsaber.

So now the hovercraft was sitting in front of their ship. Before exiting the hovercraft, he thought better of it, and instead Force activated one of the ship's cargo-hold ramps. Once lowered, he pulled the hovercraft right into the ship, alongside his fighter, and then raised the ramp.

He left everything except his hand and Sentinel in the hovercraft, carefully carrying her to the medcenter, with his amputated right hand laying on her stomach. Their lightsabers were both attached to his belt. He lay her down on one of the beds, and the droids flocked over to evaluate her condition.

He retrieved his hand from on top of her stomach, and collapsed in a chair next to the bed.

A droid approached him questioningly, and he handed the hand to it, and extended his right arm for it to work on. The droid took the hint, and immediately started work on re-attaching his right hand.

The other droids were performing body scans on Sentinel.

One rolled over to him. “She is running a high fever, and is delirious.”

“Check her eyes.” Vader said. He was exhausted to the core of his being. Had this day really happened?

The droid that had been speaking to him rolled back from having checked Sentinel’s vision. “Her eyes appear to be, possibly, covered by a thick red glowing field of flesh. Do you wish me to try to remove it and restore her vision?”

“No. Leave it alone.” Vader leaned back in his chair, causing the droid restoring his right hand to him to have to roll forward.

He watched the droids fuss over Sentinel. There was nothing really they could do other than give her medication to reduce her fever, which they did. Their scans showed that nothing was wrong. The blood-work showed that nothing was wrong. The only physical evidence of something dreadfully wrong was her eyes and her fever.

Vader was gravely worried about her.

The droid finished on his hand. There was some exposed metal visible through his damaged glove... but the droid replaced his sliced up glove with a spare.

He was the walking, talking spare-parts man. No original upholstery on this frame, he thought.

He stood up over Sentinel. Her fever was responding a little, but she wasn’t waking up.

From the sounds she was making, her dreams were very unpleasant.

He tried to connect to her, gently probing her shields. Oh, yes, her mental shields were up... which was amazing considering how sick she obviously was.

He pushed very lightly on them, gently trying to get them to let him in. The shields seemed almost to recognize him, and lowered just enough for his access to her very troubled mind.

He caught her dream. She was reliving his nearly killing her, but from the perspective of a third person. He saw his red aura, her mixed aura, and the child’s blue aura. He saw himself move to strike, and found himself wanting to pull back from reliving that moment. But he saw how his aura had flashed bright blue, and he had stopped.

Very strange. He had seen Force aura’s before, but never in such distinct colors, never with the Light and Dark side separated out like that. She was perceiving the Light side and the Dark side, in herself and in him... and not just the general strengths of their Force abilities.

He felt ambivalent about the fact that he had any light side left in him. Of course, this was her impression, her vision, and might not have anything to do with reality.

Her vision continued, showing him killing the child. And her reaction.

All evidence of blue aura had been destroyed. Her aura had gone an intense bright red, inside and out. And it had a shape to it. It reminded him of something... reptilian.

Her vision’s perspective moved to include the obelisk. It was glowing bright red, as well! And the red was leaking, then pouring, straight into her, until it had left the obelisk and was entirely surrounding and permeating her.

And then she attacked!

Vader found himself sitting on the floor of the medcenter, trying to figure out why he was no longer standing over Sentinel. He realized the last part of the vision had knocked him back -- literally knocked him off his feet.

What is INSIDE her? Vader thought.

He stood back up, stood over her.

“Sentinel...” he said, gently. She was writhing in the bed, as if in pain or distress.

“Sentinel.” he said more forcefully. No response.

He sat beside her bed, and took her right hand in his newly restored right hand.

“Sasha...” he said, thinking maybe using her real name would help.

Her eyes popped open. Those red, glowing, pupil-less eyes. All the writhing stopped.

“Sentinel?” he tried again.

She sat up in the bed, pulled her hand from his and shoved her sweat-soaked hair away from her face. And turned to face him, her lips parted as if confused.

“Sentinel, how are you feeling?” Vader asked.

She looked at him. Her mouth closed, and she smiled.

“Sentinel isn’t here anymore.” she said.

Goto Chapter Nineteen

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Chapter Seventeen

They were riding in a small hovercraft with a large hemispherical cover. They had rented it in Shareed, and to cover their story that they were tourists, they had also rented some holographic recording equipment. They also had shopping bags in the hovercraft, filled with clothing Sentinel had picked up in a bazaar near the hovercraft rental place.

So now, they were officially on their way to check out the ruins to the South of town. This was also remarkably near the location the Jedi were rumored to have set up their encampment.

They crossed a huge ocean of sand dunes. It felt exactly like that... a sand ocean... because they had gone from the city, with it’s silver spires, and were headed towards the mountains on the far side of this dune sea.

Vader asked her to pilot the hovercraft. He seemed to be trying to keep himself in an alert, but relaxed state. She couldn’t get any real reading on him or his mental state as he was doing his best to cloak his own Force abilities from other Force sensitives.

She was cloaking her own Force abilities, as well. She hoped she was doing a good enough job of it. She was pretty sure Vader would have let her know if she wasn’t.

She watched the mountains growing in front of her. The sand/dust storm had thankfully calmed down, and the sky was actually a clear, deep blue. The sun was starting to set, and the mountains surrounding the dune sea left long shadows.

They arrived at the foot of the mountains, near the ruin of a temple. The temple was carved out of the mountain itself. The artwork at the entrance was breathtaking. In the artwork were representations of bipedal creatures, with muzzles, all bowing in worship. At the top of the entrance to the temple was the object of their worship, which looked very much like an image of the sun.

Sun worshipers. So the original inhabitants of this world were sun worshipers, Sentinel thought.

She brought the hovercraft to a halt, and with a push of the button, the hemisphere started to slide open at the sides, leaving the top of the craft still covered with the transparent material.

They both jumped out of the ship. Sentinel reached back in to grab her bag of tricks, and the holo-recording equipment. Best to keep up appearances until they needed to show their true colors.

“Xam, get in front of this entrance! I’ve got to get a shot of you with the artwork!” she called.

Vader seemed to slump his shoulders. In order to maintain appearances, he was going to have to go along with her request, or have some sortof ‘friends-on-vacation’ argument regarding it. It was easier to just go along with her idea. But he wasn’t exactly feeling photogenic just then.

He stood in the massive entranceway, the top of the entrance easily twice his height. “How’s this, Venga?”

“Fine!” Sentinel said, taking the shot, while muttering to herself under her breath, “’Vessa’, you idiot... how hard is it to remember a common name like Vessa?”

Then Sentinel turned on the light she’d brought, shone it inside the temple, and said, “Let’s check it out!”

Vader turned on his light, and they entered the temple.

The walls were covered in similar carvings, more bipedal forms with long muzzles, bowing or somehow showing subservience to something very sun-like. Sentinel got shots of everything as they walked deeper into the temple passageway.

About 40 meters in the passageway suddenly widened into a huge square room, at least 100 meters on a side. The ceiling was out of sight from the light. Every footfall caused an echo.

In the center of the room stood an obelisk, of solid black. It gleamed in the light. It was amazingly shiny and clean considering how dusty this part of the planet happened to be.

Vader approached the obelisk, and caressed it as he walked by. He felt strangely drawn to it.

But Sentinel felt the pull much more strongly than Vader, and found herself just standing in front of it, somewhat dumbstruck.

It took her a moment to realize that it looked out of place here. Why that was, she couldn’t quite say. But it felt like it was an after-thought, something brought in, something alien to the original culture that had lived on this planet.

She walked up to it, reached out to touch it, when someone shouted.

“Sith!” a man yelled, from the far side of the temple.

“So, our intelligence was correct.” A woman said, off to their right.

“And we finally have our chance to strike back.” another man said, on her left.

“You will find, Lord Vader, that we are much harder to kill than Jedi younglings.” This was a man standing behind them both.

They whirled at each new voice. Sentinel set down her light, her holo-recorder, her satchel, and almost joyfully removed her pastel trappings to display just her black jumpsuit. She saw, out of the corner of her eye, Vader placing his light on the ground, and then removing his visor and his ridiculous baby-blue robe, revealing the more dignified and impressive outfit he lived in day and night.

“So, we were expected.” Vader rumbled. “Good. That will only make this all the more... interesting.”

The man behind them, who was blocking their exit, walked closer to them. “You were expected. And alone, of all things. So who is this person?” he gestured in Sentinel's direction.

Vader nodded at her, giving her permission to handle her own introduction.

“Darth Sentinel, at your service.” Sentinel bowed elaborately, grinning. This was going to be fun. As long as there weren’t too many of them.

4 more Jedi came out of various side chambers, helping to complete the circle.

Uh-oh. Ok, it would be a fun, but very challenging, fight, Sentinel thought.

“And you are?” Vader asked the man closest to them.

“I am Jedi Master Wimble. One of the many survivors of order 66. That’s all you need to know, and all you get to know.”

“How rude.” Sentinel commented.

“Rude is destroying our temple, killing our younglings. Attempting to exterminate the rest of us.”

“The younglings would have become a threat to the Emperor, and therefore the Empire. Your paltry attempt at a coup meant your entire organization was suspect.” Vader spoke coldly, but Sentinel thought she detected a speck of doubt in him.

And she found herself struck by a fact she hadn’t known. Vader had killed Jedi younglings in carrying out order 66.

She looked at Vader. “You killed younglings?” she asked.

“Yes, he killed younglings. When the temple was attacked by the Stormtroopers, Vader was at the head of the offensive. With the exception of 5 adults, the only ones left in the Temple were younglings” Master Wimble said. “My informant was very specific about Vader’s role during the initial execution of order 66.”

“You killed younglings?” Sentinel asked again.

“Sentinel, you don’t know who you are working with, do you? Judging from the tone in your voice, maybe there’s still hope for you...” Wimble stated.

Sentinel stared at Vader, mouth slightly open, brow furrowed.

“Sentinel, now is not the time to have these doubts. Now is the time to trust me, and remember your loyalties.” Vader softly rumbled, disconcerted by how easily she was swayed by the Jedi Master.

“Now is the exact time for these doubts, Sentinel! This is your chance to choose to follow the right path, to turn away from the Dark Side, to keep from living a life of evil and regret!” Wimble exclaimed.

Sentinel turned to look at Wimble, anxiety and doubt clearly expressed upon her face.

“But... you Jedi want to overthrow the Empire.” She said, meekly. “You want to continue this dissension, this war.”

“We tried to end the war. We wanted peace for the galaxy. I have sources that state that the Emperor staged the war, that he was actually secretly behind the Separatist movement, using that as an excuse to increase his hold over the Senate and eventually be able to take full control, and become the Emperor. We want what’s best for the Empire: for the Emperor to be overthrown, for worlds to be allowed to govern themselves once more, and for a return to the galaxy being governed by the Senate. We want democracy back. We want personal freedoms back.” Wimble looked at her, earnestly, trying to break through her confusion.

“No, no, you want to take over the Empire for yourselves, you want to take control of it from the Emperor.” she said, shaking her head.

A girl from another side of the room said “We don’t want to rule the Empire. We just want the Republic back; we just want the Republic’s people to be free once more.”

“Sentinel!” Vader roared. “Don’t listen to them! They will cloud your mind with their talk. Their way failed to earn peace for the galaxy. Our way will complete that task. Their way was and is doomed to failure.”

“But... but...” Sentinel faltered.

“Look at me!” Vader yelled. “Trust. Me.” He used every last ounce of his feelings for her in those 2 words.

Vader said trust me.

Sentinel heard love me.

Sentinel turned from Vader, to stare at the Jedi, her eyes suddenly blazingly yellow. “Do not mistake where my loyalties lie, Jedi.” She growled. “They are most certainly not with you.”

Wimble sighed. “Then we must kill you as well. It’s a pity. It sounded like there might have still been hope for you.”

“You can certainly TRY to kill me, Jedi. But I assure you, you will fail.” Sentinel snarled.

Lightsabers ignited all over the room. 2 of them were red, of course, the rest where greens and blues, and one purple lightsaber.

And the battle was joined.

Vader and Sentinel initially took a defensive stance, keeping the obelisk on one side, and their backs to each other.

The Jedi attacked, two tackling a Sith Lord at a time, the rest standing back, waiting for an opening where they could attack without endangering their fellows. When a Jedi started to tire, he would fall back, and a rested Jedi would take his place.

It was starting to wear Sentinel and Vader down. But it was also angering them, both, and thus giving them the Dark Side energy they needed to maintain their defense.

Sentinel sensed a nudge in her mind from Vader, heard him tell her it was time to change tactics. In unison, the both feinted, then pulled back and jumped over their attackers heads, each beheading one of their attackers before landing on the other side.

Two down. Six to go.

This enraged some of the remaining Jedi. But they had no practice with the Dark Side, and the anger merely made them sloppy. A few more coordinated feints, and another 3 Jedi were slain.

Vader relished the power, the fluid motion of the battle itself. He felt Sentinel also glorifying in her skill over the other Jedi, as she allowed herself to become more and more enmeshed in her Dark Side powers.

The remaining 3 Jedi did their best, valiantly fighting. Then there were two. One of them broke off, trying to run for one of the side corridors. He was screaming something... Sentinel thought it was “Evacuate!”, but she couldn’t be sure. He never made it to the corridor... her well tossed lightsaber split him into two pieces.

Running away from the fight... coward, Sentinel thought. Then she called her lightsaber back to her.

She turned to see the final Jedi’s body relieved of the weight of it’s head. The body fell forward, almost as if it were bowing low to the ground to Lord Vader.

And it was done.

They turned to each other. Sentinel was torn between the desire to be with Vader, here, now, in this place, with the dead bodies of the Jedi scattered around them... and the desire to duel Vader and prove for once and for all who the more powerful Sith Lord was.

Promise... she thought.

She took several deep breaths, and disengaged her lightsaber, smoothly hooking it onto her belt. On the last of her deep breaths, as she opened her eyes, the yellow fully dissipated, and her jade green eyes returned.

Vader watched her, head tilted. He sensed her arousal, and shared it. But he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of either of them being... vulnerable... right now. He sensed something was very wrong with this place.

And the fact that the Jedi had been told to expect him was not giving Vader any warm fuzzies.

Sentinel started to walk towards him, and was about to ask him why he still had his lightsaber ignited. Before she could get the words out, 3 children ran out of one of the side corridors, yelling, short lightsabers ignited.

Sentinel turned, instantly igniting her lightsaber, and easily defended herself against the younglings. They concentrated their attack on her. She could sense their palpable fear of Vader. In comparison, she seemed easy pickings.

She blocked every thrust, and was able to knock the lightsaber out of one child’s hands. She took the blade, using the Force to snatch it out of the air, and while still fighting, hooked the blade to her belt.

The weaponless child backed away, frightened. And Vader strode forward and quickly beheaded him.

Sentinel turned towards Vader, as did the remaining two children. “No! They’re just children!” she yelled.

The two younglings, a little boy and girl who couldn’t have been more than 11 standard years of age, quit fighting Sentinel, and attacked Vader. He cut the girl down almost an instant later. The boy dropped his lightsaber, and ran, but tripped on a rock and went right down with his face in the sand, yelping.

Vader walked quickly towards the boy, but was surprised when Sentinel got to the child first, and covered him with her body, looking up at Vader with tears in her eyes.

“Get out of my way, Sentinel!” Vader ordered.

She shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks, unhindered.

“Move!” Vader yelled.

“No! We can’t kill them!” She sobbed. “They’re just children!”

“Do as I command!”

She shook her head, defiantly, sadly. Vader raised his saber for the killing blow.

Sentinel lowered her head, exposing her neck. Her body would not be a sufficient shield, she thought. But she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t try to stop him from this terrible act.

And she couldn’t bring herself to instead fight him. She couldn’t. Her lightsaber was still in her hand, but she had turned it off. She sensed that fighting him over this would bring about the end of everything. It would be worse than losing her life.

Suddenly, Sentinel sensed everything as if it were happening in slow motion. Her eyes were closed, but she saw with her inner eye what was happening around her. Her perspective in her inner vision was such that she could see herself, covering the child. And Vader, to her inner-eye’s right, poised to attack.

She had seen it before, but never this clearly: Force aura’s. The boy’s aura was a bright, shining blue around his small frame, with a hot spark of blue light from his solar plexus that was so bright it was almost white.

Her’s... was confused. It seemed to be trying to be both blue and red, with the colors crawling over her frame and sometimes forming a bright purple light. Inside of her, her bright spark was also alternating between blue, red and purple.

To her right was Vader, and his aura. It was a deep, dark pulsating red, both externally and also the inner, almost blindingly bright pinpoint of light.

But also inside him, she caught the barest hint of a bright, blue spark.

She knew the aura’s were perceptions, and that someone else would see other colors, depending upon their perspective. But what her perception told her was that blue was the Good Side, and Red was the Dark Side.

And so she was surprised to see that small, bright blue spark deep within Vader’s form.

She watched, in slow motion, as the lightsaber came crashing down to cleave her head from her body. She knew she would barely have time to register pain. The sorrow at having things end this way, though, was painful enough.

As the lightsaber descended, it seemed her aura changed colors. It went pure blue, inside and out. And she thought, ah, yes, a pure sacrificial act in respect of what is good and right.

But she didn’t fully register the meaning behind that thought.

Also as the lightsaber got closer, moving absurdly slow to her perception, the small, bright blue spark inside Vader pulsated brighter and brighter.

Just as the lightsaber was barely a centimeter from her neck, the bright blue light in Vader outshone the red of his aura. She felt overwhelmed, blinded, even though it was not her real vision that was being affected, but her inner eye’s vision.

The lightsaber had stopped, and was quivering above her neck. She could sense it there, and dared not move, else she might behead herself by accident.

Vader roared something incoherent, lifted the lightsaber from her neck, turned away from her, and swung his saber around in a fury at the air, swearing profusely.

The promise, she thought.

That blasted promise! Vader thought.

She rose up, forgetting the child for the moment, and started to walk around the child to go to Vader, talk to him.

Vader stopped, as if he sensed something in the circumstances had changed. He suddenly turned and threw his lightsaber directly at the now sitting child.

The blade split the child’s head open before it auto-disengaged, and fell with an audible thunk onto the sandy floor. The next thunk was the boy’s opened skull hitting the same floor.

Sentinel stood, staring at the boy in horror.

Vader gestured in the direction of the boy, and his lightsaber flew back into his grasp.

Sentinel's eyes tracked the lightsaber's course from the boy back to Vader. She stared at Vader.

Vader watched her expression turn slowly from horror to something... inhuman. Her eyes skipped turning yellow, and went straight to red irises. Then they did something that made Vader flash back to the Emperor’s speech... on how the Jedi considered some of the Sith abilities to be... unnatural.

Her eyes became completely red. No whites, no black center of the pupil. No distinguishing the iris from any of the rest of her eyes. And they glowed.

The sensation of having Sentinel stare at him, while this strange affectation of the Dark Side was taking her over, made him feel something he hadn’t felt in a long time.


And then she was attacking him, a lightsaber in each hand, using the child’s lightsaber she had picked up earlier. Blue and red blades flashing so fast...

Vader held his own, utilizing his fear, using it to help power the Dark Side. His anger instantly welled up, anger at feeling fear, anger at her attacking him, and anger at how circumstances seemed determined to undermine her trust in him. And this too fueled his Dark Side powers.

He kept her at bay, but she wasn’t Sentinel anymore. She was something else. She was the Dark Side personified, and he was having a very hard time keeping up. She just seemed to move faster. She was beating him down with every hate-filled stroke.

He tried to distract her by Force choking, but she blocked that with ease, and in retribution, pushed him powerfully with the Force, sending him flying until he hit the wall of the huge chamber.

He hadn’t been able to block her Force shove. What was going on here? He was the Chosen One! Vader knew he should be able to fight her off more easily! It was as if she was tapped into something, some power source he couldn’t even imagine. It was as if her abilities only partly had to do with her Midichlorian rating... as if there was something else about her entirely that helped her channel the Force.

She came at him, quickly covering the distance that he had been flung. And attacked.

He was suddenly very tired, and disheartened. But he did his best to defend himself.

Then she got past his defenses and sliced his right hand off, sending his lightsaber tumbling.

He didn’t know what else to do. She was out of control, like a raging storm. He lifted his left hand up, palm facing her, and pleaded with her to “Stop! No! Stop!”

She raised her lightsabers to strike, began to bring them down, then stopped. And stood there. Panting, trying to catch her breath.

She blinked rapidly, looking down at him. Looking confused.

Staring out of eyes with no pupils.

And then, with a barely audible whimper, she dropped both lightsabers, and collapsed into a dead heap on the floor.

Goto Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Sixteen

Sentinel got dressed up, put her hair back up in the elaborate fashion she’d had it in for the dance, and put on some makeup. She reached for her perfume, and was disconcerted when she realized she’d broken the bottle.

Hmmm... it does rather reek in here, Sentinel thought. The ship’s air conditioning was doing an incredibly good job of filtering the scent, but there was only so much it could do.

Well, no matter.

She stopped to look at her palms. Her hands had gotten dirty. The small cuts she had caused herself when she had punctured her skin with her fingernails had attracted much of that dirt. She cleaned her hands, being careful to thoroughly clean the small puncture wounds, then dabbed on some synth-skin liquid, watching it as it dried over her wounds, covering them.

She went to leave her room, but stopped just in front of her door, weighed down suddenly by her emotions.

Her only brother.

She swallowed the grief. Not now. Later. She couldn’t bring him back by grieving. She would honor him and grieve for him more appropriately when she no longer had time with Lord Vader. But right now she had to appreciate the time she still had with the living.

She headed for Lord Vader’s quarters. Before she could hit the intercom to request entry, the door slid open. Vader was inside, helmet removed, with a table setup with cheese, crackers, sliced fruit, and wine.

She smiled.

“Cheerier than a sparring match?” he asked.

“Much.” she replied.

She walked in. Vader Force activated a music player she then noticed, sitting in one corner of his chambers. He walked up to her and offered her his hand. She tilted her head a little in question, and he responded “we never really spent that much time at the dance actually dancing.”

She took his hand, and they started dancing. She lay her head against his shoulder armor, being careful not to jostle his breathing hose. He nuzzled her hair, kissing the top of her head, and held her close.

Lady in Red.... is dancing with me.... cheek to cheek.
There’s nobody here... it’s just you and me... it’s where I want to be
I hardly know.... this beauty by my side.
I’ll never forget.... the way you look tonight.

Sentinel blushed. Vader wrapped his arms tighter around her, protectively, gently. She looked up at him, and they kissed.

Vader lay her down on the bed, and held himself above her.

This time it was different, gentle. Soft, slow, and tender. They seemed to savor every moment, and each motion was long and drawn out, languorous. He used every movement to show her, in no uncertain terms, just how much he loved her. She used every response to acknowledge that love, and give back her love in return.

When they were done, he lay back, peacefully exhausted, she once more by his side, her head on his left shoulder. Her dress was somewhere on the floor, along with her boots. Although this time had been slow and gentle, Sentinel couldn’t remember when her clothes had come off. This made her smile.

She rose, and brought them back two glasses of wine, and a plate full of food, which she placed on a tray. She lay the tray down between them, and they both started snacking.

In between bites of cheese and fruit, she asked “What were you like before you became a Sith Lord?”

“I prefer not to remember.” Vader said.

“Well, at least tell me what your name was. I know you weren’t born with the name ‘Vader’. The Emperor gave you your name, right? He gave me mine, as well.”

“The person I was no longer exists.” Vader said, closing his eyes.

She sighed. “Ok, I’ll tell you mine. You don’t have to tell me yours. My name was Sasha Yod. I was named after my Grandmother on my Mother’s side.”

Vader opened his eyes and looked at her. “You are comfortable remembering your life before becoming Sith?” he asked.

“The only thing that’s changed is my name. I was already on my way to becoming Sith when I was training on my own, before meeting the Emperor. Or at least, already on my way to becoming some sort of Force user...”

He watched her. “What was it like for you, growing up? Training in secret?” he asked.

She stared off into space, seeing things from a long time ago.

“I spent my time either in school, or at odd jobs to make more money for the family, or sneaking into the mountains to the caves where the shamans trained. Or I hung out in the library, downloading every publicly available writings I could find about the Jedi and the Force. Often, my brother went with me. He was fascinated by my research, but when it came time for training, he preferred to watch. He had some minor Force sensitivity, but he wasn’t as strong as I am. Nor was he truly interested in developing his own Force abilities, although he did train a little with the shamans, to learn how to defend himself. But he would have none of the meditation training, none of the actual training that would enhance his Force skills.”

She took a sip of wine before continuing. “We also hung out with our friends, of course. And we would often take advantage of my new skills to play tricks on our friends, or tricks on strangers.”

She sighed, picked up a piece of fruit, and levitated it in front of her, studying it. “My brother would start a game of dice. Then I’d stroll in, and start playing. Or I’d just stand to the side. I’d let the dice get our ‘mark’ feeling comfortable, and betting way too many credits. Then suddenly...” -- she grabbed the fruit out of the air -- “... our mark’s luck would mysteriously run out. And we’d be coming home with enough money to feed the family for a week. My parents didn’t like it... they knew we were performing some kind of scam, but they didn’t know I was using the Force. But eating, having money, took priority in their books. They just worried one day we’d trick the wrong person.”

“And did you?”

“A few times, yes. There were black marketeers who would occasionally try their luck. One got so angry, he changed out the dice when he thought we weren’t looking. His new pair was meant to favor certain rolls. I ensured it favored the worst combinations of those rolls, and the guy kept losing. He didn’t handle that very well... he shoved my brother, saying somehow he was being cheated. He had him up against a wall. I came over, just in time to see the guy’s knife come out. I grabbed his hand, which was holding the knife, before he could do anything with it, and punched him hard in the throat with my other hand. He wasn’t expecting to be attacked by a girl. He fell -- I had temporarily collapsed his trachea -- and my brother and I took off. I still have the knife. I don’t know what happened to the fellow... I think he was just passing through town, because he wasn’t there when we came back a week later.”

Vader was sitting up in bed. He took a sip of wine.

“What did your parents do?” Vader asked. “For a living, I mean.”

“My Mother was a waitress. And my Father worked in the mines. The odd jobs that my brother and I often took usually involved working in a restaurant or also working in the mines. Neither one of those career choices appealed to me very much.” she mused. “My parents worked very hard, and always managed to put food on the table.”

She turned towards him. “And... what were your parents like?” she asked, softly, knowing she was treading on thin ice.

He sighed, with some exasperation. She wasn’t letting his past drop.

“They obviously allowed the Jedi to take you to train. You said you were a Jedi, once...” she said, carefully.

He glared at her, and she noticed he was tapping his fingers on his wine glass.

“Ok, ok.” she said. She drank the rest of her wine and set the glass on the bedside table.

“There’s nothing from my past, prior to becoming Vader, that I want to remember. Just a long list of things I lost.” Vader said.

“No happy memories...?”

“Happy memories? Yes, but of things I can’t have back.”

She frowned. “With that attitude, I wouldn’t be able to remember the fun times I had with my brother. I wouldn’t even be able to speak about...” She choked up.

He reached over and gently caressed her cheek.

“For a moment, I forgot he was gone. For a moment, he was alive again.” She sighed.

Vader took her hands in his. “You have to concentrate on the living. On what you still have.”

“You’re talking mostly to yourself again.” She chuckled.

He looked at the wall behind her, and found himself nodding.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

They spent the rest of the day together. They talked, they ate, they laughed. They napped, lazily. They made love. They avoided talking about the Emperor, the mission, or the thing they really feared: losing each other.

There was this feeling they both unknowingly shared: that somehow, the completion of the mission would mean everything would change. Whether it was because they wouldn't have a chance to see each other again for a long time, or because of something else, they weren't sure.

They fell asleep late into the virtual night of the ship, holding each other tight, trying to protect each other from the future, and from their own dark Sith natures.

The next day they rose, and both were of the mind to get the deed done. They meditated apart from each other, and studied the mission plans.

About an hour prior to their needing to leave hyperspace, they both met in the cockpit, to discuss the plans.

The Jedi had a stronghold somewhere near the large city of Shareed, on planet Latern, the 4th planet in the star system. Latern was especially lush, but with a large dessert covering the equator. All of its land was interconnected, so its oceans where landlocked. Shareed was on the edge of a very rocky section of the desert. Sentinel found it odd that there would be such a huge city right there, and not in one of the lush parts of the planet, but apparently many of the people who lived there were once living on a huge desert world, and apparently missed it so much they continued to live on the desert on this, their new homeworld.

Latern had 2 moons. The 2nd moon was called Saddath, which in the native tongue meant “Paradise”. Thankfully, along with speaking their native tongue, the natives also spoke Basic.

The Jedi were rumored to have established a kind of commune on the outskirts of the city of Shareed, in the foothills of the mountains. Nothing more was known.

The locals wore tunics and robes. Even the women. But unlike other desert planets Sentinel had been to, the clothing was all very bright... bright greens, bright blues, bright oranges. They seemed to have adopted a rather pastel and neon lifestyle. It was so extreme Sentinel felt like she would gag if she looked at herself in the mirror again. She was already dressed for the mission. Pink tunic, bright green robe. At least the robe matched her eyes.

She missed her black robes. She secretly wore a black jumpsuit underneath all the glow-in-the-dark layers.

The locals all wore scarfs around their necks, which they could place over their mouths and noses, presumably to filter out the dust storms that were prevalent near the desert. Sentinel had chosen a bright red scarf for that purpose. She was determined to have some red or black visible in her ensemble.

She found it strange that they had dust storms in the desert. Sand storms she could understand, but she thought that this type of area wouldn’t get strictly dust storms. She realized her education on her backwater homeworld had probably been lacking in the area of such planetary conditions.

Maybe the kind of sand they have in this desert is particularly fine... she thought.

Vader wore another huge hooded robe. There was thankfully a very tall race, called the Inglaans, that often traded with the Laternians. This very tall race couldn’t breath the atmosphere without a filter. Vader wouldn’t even need to wear anything to change the sound of his breathing... he would blend in, just another Inglaan, with ancient artifacts or illegal spices to trade.

Rather than have to keep the hood pulled down low all the time, he also wore a large mirrored visor that attached to his mask and covered the front of his mask’s ‘face’ entirely, but was a few centimeters out from his actual mask. It sat in front of his mask’s filters, blocking them from view without actually covering them.

Vader brought them out of lightspeed, but unlike their stealthy entrance to Thaadra, he simply got in line with a bunch of other small cruisers in line to land at the spaceport at Shareed. Half the traffic to and from this planet was due to tourism. Near Shareed, there were numerous ruins from a prior race that had gone extinct, or chosen for whatever reason to leave that planet, a long time ago. The ruins were a famous place to visit. And if one tired of seeing the ruins, the water in most of the oceans was deliciously warm, and other than the hot desert, the planet was temperate and idyllic. There were numerous vacation spots where activities were centered around all that warm water.

This seemed to be one of the few worlds that had been left mostly unaffected by the clone wars, or by the more recent uprising of the Rebellion.

Sentinel had amusedly studied a brochure about the various activities available in the towns much further north of Shareed. As they were entering planetfall, she asked Vader, “After the mission is over, what do you say to a quick vacation here?” She grinned at him mischievously. In spite of everything bad that had happened yesterday, she was in a very good mood.

“Too much sand.” Vader responded.

“Only in the desert region. We don’t have to stay in the desert, we could stay in one of their oceanside resorts.”

“Concentrate on the mission.” Vader rumbled. He wasn’t willing to be distracted right now.

Sentinel sat back and sighed. She consoled herself over his seriousness with the fact that Vader’s robe was a bright baby blue... it was absurd on him. She turned to look at him and had a terrible time trying to suppress an attack of the giggles.

She concentrated, therefore, on the terrain below them. Tall, barren mountain ranges that encircled the globe, like a strange ring around the planet, with greener mountain ranges to the North of their position. Sand dunes, blowing sand... she thought there was smoke in the air, obscuring their view, but she soon realized they were coming in for a landing through a bit of a sand storm. Or dust storm, really. It made the sky a hazy, golden color that was actually rather pretty.

Shareed was laid out before them, all silver towers, and silver hemispheres. She wasn’t sure what the deal was with the hemispheres, until she realized they were actually glassed in living areas. The glass had a strange, silvery color. She realized then that the towers also had glass exteriors... the entire city was glass buildings and domes, with the domes protecting open areas for the pedestrians to walk through.

The domes and the towers were all interconnected, making it possible to never have to be truly outside once you were inside the city.

Perhaps the locals had decided that it was good enough to live near that dusty desert, without actually having to deal directly with it. So much for their nostalgia with their former desert homeworld.

Vader guided the ship in for a landing, coming in smoothly to the their assigned platform. He shut down the engines. He sat back for a moment, then stood, and turned to face Sentinel.

“Time to go.”

Sentinel nodded. Vader walked towards the cockpit door, and Sentinel rose to follow.

She picked up her bag of tricks. She wasn’t taking any further chances... she had powered weapons and unpowered weapons, including her “lucky” knife, the one originally owned by the black marketeer.

They walked through the ship to the ship’s ramp. Vader Force activated the ramp, and it lowered, exposing the ship’s interior to a sudden gust of dusty wind.

Yuck. Sentinel remembered her scarf, and attached it firmly around her mouth and nose. She hoped that Vader’s mask filters were strong enough to deal with this fine stuff.

She stopped, fished through her bag and pulled out a pair of goggles, and put them on. She had tossed them in her bag the minute she read the words “dust storms” under the description of “weather problems in Shareed”.

Ah, much better. Now she could see. Although she felt like she already had half the desert stuck in her eyes.

They strode down the ramp. Once off the ramp, Vader Force activated the ramp to close.

Here we go, Sentinel thought.

Author's Note:
The lyrics from Lady in Red, by Chris de Burgh, used without permission, but with much admiration. :)

Goto Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Fifteen

The fighter had been loaded up. The bullet holes had been checked, and verified patched. And the ship’s system checks had all passed. The Commander’s team had made sure that everything was refilled, refueled, cleaned up, and ready to go. Vader and Sentinel verified the work of the Commander’s team, ensured the fighter was locked down in the cargo hold, and were soon on their way.

On their way to Latern, about 1.5 days in hyperspace.

Once they were in hyperspace, Vader ordered Sentinel to follow him. They went into an unused cargo hold of the ship. Vader entered first, and once Sentinel was inside, Vader Force-activated the door and locked them inside.

Sentinel numbly looked up at him, questioning him with her glance.

Vader ignited his lightsaber, and commanded “Defend yourself!”

Sentinel barely avoided his lunge. She had to dive and roll out of the way. She rolled back upright, her lightsaber ignited, and held herself in a slight crouch in front of Vader, ready to spring.

Vader held his lightsaber easily with one hand, almost lazily. Then he lunged again.

Sentinel actually did spring. She jumped up into his lightsaber thrust, deflecting it, and then swung around to quickly put him on the defensive, swiping at him.

He easily blocked her swipe with his lightsaber, and then shoved her away entirely with the Force.

She landed badly on the floor, not expecting his Force push.

“You aren’t fully using your power. Now. This is the time to tap into that anger over your brother’s death. Focus it. Attack me.” Vader said.

She stood back up, holding the lightsaber in front of her. “You’re not the one I want to attack.” she said.

“Who do you want to attack? Imagine that person. Imagine I am he, and attack me!” Vader commanded.

“The person I want to attack is inside my own skin! How do I use self-loathing as a weapon, Lord Vader? I don’t understand!” She stalked away to stand by one of the walls in the cargo hold.

Vader watched her walk away. “Then imagine I am you, and take out all your self loathing on me.”

“No!” she yelled.

“Do it! What, are you afraid of me? You’re weak! You’re a weak creature incapable of surviving in this universe!”

“You’re just trying to piss me off!” she yelled.

“Are you sure? Or perhaps I’m expressing my contempt and disgust at how easily someone else’s stupid actions have propelled you into a chasm of guilt! How easily you allow your brother’s ultimate revenge -- by his act of suicide -- to affect you! Your brother was being stupid and petty! Your brother was using the act of revenge, if he was using it at all, as an excuse to kill himself! Your brother was, in all reality, too weak to live! Too weak to do his duty, his job!”

Sentinel yelled something unintelligible, her eyes instantly bright yellow, and lunged at him.

For several moments, they danced the dance of light, their saber’s clashing, sparking, their bodies moving more elegantly than any couple could move across a dance floor.

Vader made certain that each time she defended herself, she would have to twist, to spin, to put her feet down uncertainly. He tried to wear her down with the little pains of overextended muscles. It was working: she was getting angrier. But then it was working too well, she was using the Dark Side of the Force to anticipate his plan, and now, no matter how difficult he made it for her to defend herself, she was doing so quite adequately, with no over extensions, and she was now causing him some difficulty.

Then, it seemed she was exultant in her defiance, in her ability to fight him. And her eyes were no longer bright yellow, but once again red. Almost the color of her lightsaber. A hot, glowing pair of red embers, burning their gaze into his skull. He could almost feel the line of heat coming from them, as she parried, and swiped, and lunged, and ducked, and jumped... meeting every attack, and giving as good as she got.

He was admittedly very proud of her, proud that his lover and friend was also a formidable opponent. He felt as if he were a party to her creation as a fully fledged Sith, even though he was still just getting to know her, just getting to be involved in her training.

He also felt he had found a worthy ally for future battles. And the idea of having someone, Force sensitive, that he could fight side-by-side with... he hadn’t had that kind of camaraderie, that friendship, in 5 long years.

There’s a glory to defeating enemies single-handedly. But for a worthy apprentice, especially for her, he was willing to make... accommodations. He was willing to share at least some of that glory with her, as long as she always knew her place.

But while he was proud of her, he was also angry with her... angry at her defiance, at the arrogant way she was fighting with him. Arrogant at the way, in her fighting, that she appeared not to acknowledge that she was fighting her better, her superior. That this was about training her, improving her, and not trying to show him up!

Being Sith was all about ambivalence. About longing to face your equals, yet hating the competition they represented. Seeking out those who are powerful, in order to learn from them. Then trying to overthrow them, once you believe they have weakened sufficiently, and/or that you have become stronger than they are. Seeking out those less powerful to train them, keep them under your wing, and then using them to assist you in overthrowing those above you. Always ensuring you never train those below you too well, so they are never powerful enough to replace you, and so they know they need you in order to better themselves. Always ensuring those below you know their place, and those above you think you aren’t ready to overthrow them, that there is still more you need to learn from them. Ensuring those above you know that you are an adequate apprentice, one who does not need replacing! And being leery of anyone who was neither below nor above you, as at some point the pecking order would have to be re-established.

And re-establishing pecking order usually meant someone would have to die.

The Master always had to ensure the Apprentice knew there was more to be gained by keeping the Master alive rather than overthrowing them. The Apprentice then became an adequate guardian of the Master, always ready to destroy those pesky persons who were a little early in thinking it was time to take out the Master.

It was very much a love-hate relationship, with uneasy truces between allies who were only allied as long as it suited their goals for more power. It was very much a survival of the fittest.

Basically, it was like doing business with the Hutts.

So... while Vader was glad Sentinel would obviously be an adequate apprentice for him, he was unnerved that perhaps she might be too adequate.

But Vader knew the solution for having an underling who thought they were as powerful as he was. He merely needed to make it clear, perhaps painfully, that he was her better, and that she would be wise never to forget that.

So... he would put his apprentice in her place! And... once she knew her place... once he knew she fully accepted his leadership... together, they would defeat the Emperor, and rule the Galaxy together! His lover, his apprentice... forever. They would learn the Sith’s secret of cheating death. And then their rule of the Galaxy would have no end.

This vision of his future was so real to Vader, he could almost taste it. The Dark Side of the Force actualized it in his mind, made it real.

He fought with Sentinel, showing his mastery of every technique he used on her, showing her how she must defer to him as her better. But she also showed how quickly she could keep up, how quickly she could learn every technique he used upon her. This irritated him, which increased his anger, and increased his power. But it also changed his vision of the future.

Perhaps her goal is not to be my apprentice, but in fact to take my place! Who is she to think she can defeat me! I was... I am... the ‘Chosen One’, after all! he thought. But she kept up with him, even when this new feeling of outrage gave his anger, and the Dark Side, even more fuel.

There finally came a moment when they both just stopped, stood several feet apart from one another, and regarded each other. They were both physically very tired, but still pumped up on the seemingly endless energy the Dark Side was supporting them with.

With a moment to catch their breaths, Vader stood observing his possible future apprentice. Could he truly trust her to hold to that promise they’d made each other? Maybe he was being foolish to think that he could somehow make a relationship with a fellow Sith work, especially one who had just demonstrated to him that her powers were closer to his own level than he had at first thought.

Her strength unnerved him. He didn’t think she could ever surpass his abilities. If it came down to a true duel to the death between the two of them, he would win, but would possibly come out of it with yet more damaging battle wounds, yet more debilitating physical problems to carry around with him.

There was something else to consider. As he stared at her, red glowing eyes, fierce and wicked grin plastered across her face, he realized that this fully Dark Side Sentinel wasn’t the girl he was attracted to. He was instead attracted to the girl who was trying to be the “best of both worlds”, half Sith, half Jedi. Really, considering her distaste for her dark deeds, more ‘reluctant Sith, half Jedi’, he thought. But anyway...

As she stared at him, it seemed she grew conscious of what had just happened. He watched her remember something, whether it be that she had promised to never betray him (and here she was, tempted so obviously by her power just now that he knew betrayal was in her heart), or whether it was having killed her parents, or feeling responsible for her own brother’s death. But whatever it was, her smile had suddenly vanished, and a lost, hopeless look had replaced it. Her eyes faded suddenly from that burning red, back to their normal jade green.

She closed her eyes, and twin tears rolled down her cheeks. She deactivated her lightsaber, and hooked it to her belt, and stood there, with her eyes closed.

Vader watched her, feeling his own darker emotions start to fade, suddenly wishing he hadn’t pushed her. And not feeling so certain of any workable vision of the future.

He didn’t want her to succeed in becoming a true Sith. Not if it meant losing the woman he loved.

Was that it? Vader suddenly thought. Did Padme reject what I'd become instead of actually rejecting me? He pushed that thought aside irritatedly. He switched off his lightsaber and hooked it back onto his belt in a smooth motion.

He decided, firmly, that Sentinel would become a true Sith. If she didn’t become a full Sith, the Emperor would see to it she was destroyed. And then Vader truly would lose her.

Somehow, we will make this work, Vader assured himself.

Sentinel was still standing with her eyes closed. She was shaking her head, engaged in some internal dialogue that Vader couldn’t discern, but wasn’t ready to interrupt.

Then, Sentinel tilted her head. “We’ve received a communication request”, she said.

He looked at her, at first not understanding.

She opened her eyes. “We should probably go see who it’s from”, she said.

He understood, suddenly, and sensed she was right. He felt slightly annoyed that she had picked up on the incoming communication before he had.

He recovered his composure, and walked to the door of the cargo bay, unlocking and opening it with the Force.

With her head down, Sentinel followed.

Once in the cockpit, Vader determined the communication request was from Commander Javel. He brought the ship out of hyperspace, and opened a line of communication. As he was establishing the connection, he said “I asked Commander Javel for further information regarding your brother’s death. I sense there may have been foul play.”

She looked at him sharply. “That’s not what you said earlier, when you said my brother was too weak to live.” she hissed.

Vader was almost surprised. She had taken that seriously? Yes, of course she had... her nerves were raw from grief, Vader realized. “I only said that to enrage you. Apparently it worked too well.” he said.

Sentinel growled, “If you wanted less rage, you should have stuck to something other than my family. I’m sure I could send you over the edge just talking about your deceased wife.”

Vader said, “You are angry with me... that was...”

The hologram buzzed to life, and there stood before them Commander Javel.

“Lord Vader, Lord Sentinel.”

“Commander Javel.” Vader rumbled, with some irritation that the Commander’s prompt appearance had cut Vader off in mid-sentence.

“I have the information you requested, Lord Vader. Should I send that to you privately, or...” Javel glanced nervously between them.

“You may speak freely, Commander.”

“Yes, Lord Vader. The autopsy report is being sent to you now, along with Lieutenant Yod’s service records. The summary of both is that he did indeed commit suicide, and his service records are exemplary. Also, there was no suicide note.”

“I see.” Vader rumbled, glancing between the Commander, and the display indicating the files he had just received.

“Another thing I thought you might like to know”, Javel said. “The Trooper who was sent here, to watch the two of you... he has been re-assigned. To the Hunter.”

Sentinel looked up sharply from the same display Vader had been glancing at. “What?!?” she exclaimed.

Javel said, “I don’t have any more details. The reasons for his assignation to the Hunter were not given.”

“This cannot be a coincidence.” Vader rumbled softly.

Sentinel looked like she wanted to speak, but didn’t feel at liberty to, with Javel listening in.

“Good work, Commander. You have greatly pleased me. If you happen to hear any more information...” Vader trailed off.

“I will alert you of anything else I happen to find out that might prove useful.” the Commander said.

“Thank you, Commander.” Vader said.

“There was one other thing, Lord Vader.” Here the Commander looked a little embarrassed.

“Yes, Commander?”

“I promised my men... to pass on the following. They wanted to thank you personally for your... motivational speech... during the dance.

Sentinel couldn’t see Vader’s face, but she could almost sense his embarrassment. In spite of her emotional state, she grinned.

“I take it the dance was a success?” Vader asked.

“Uh, yes, Lord Vader. Oh, and my men also wanted to thank Lord Sentinel for her... similar... motivational speech with the young women from the nearby college.”

Now it was Sentinel’s turn to be embarrassed. But she couldn’t feel it. Being embarrassed required caring about her own personal welfare, and right now she didn’t care if she lived or died.

“Commander, please tell your men that they are most welcome.” Sentinel said, with a small sigh. She smiled while she said it, but the smile couldn’t reach her sad, lost eyes.

“Please tell your men the same thing from me, Commander,” Vader said.

“I will do that. Lord Vader, Lord Sentinel.” With a small nod, the Commander ended the communication, and his hologram disappeared.

Sentinel turned towards Vader. “Why is the Emperor sending that spy to my brother’s ship?”

Vader responded, “He is either being sent to retrieve personal information, perhaps in the form of personal belongings, or he is being sent to help cover up the murder of your brother -- if it was in fact a murder -- or both.”

“But the autopsy... you think there’s a conspiracy surrounding my brother’s death? Who could gain from his death? If the Emperor is involved, why? What does the Emperor gain by putting me through the experience of the death of my brother?” she asked, exasperated.

“Maybe the Emperor uses loss, or the fear of loss, as a means to progress his pupils in the Dark Side.” Vader said. This hadn’t been the first time Vader had thought that the Emperor knew his relationship with Padme would be doomed by his conversion to the Dark Side. Or that a doomed relationship might make him progress more quickly to the Dark Side, ironically.

“If the Emperor is truly behind this... if he killed my brother...” Sentinel started to clench her fist, but stopped with a wince as her nails encountered the fingernail holes she had already put in her palms earlier. She rubbed the wounds in both palms, gently.

“What could you do against the Emperor?” Vader asked.

She studied her palms. “Spend my life plotting his death. That’s something to live for, certainly...”

“And now you’ve lost the will to live?” Vader said, rather reproachfully.

She looked up at him. “Are you goading me again?” The anger was there, ready, lurking just under the surface. It wouldn’t take much to cause it to flare up. It was what was keeping her from breaking down and crying again.

He watched her carefully. “No. This is not a training session.”

“You stirred up something that I’m having a very hard time putting away.” she said, her voice a little shaky.

“It was necessary... you were eating yourself alive with your guilt and despair.” Vader responded.

She looked back down, at the display in front of Vader. “I haven’t felt the Dark Side that powerfully with me, before. It scared me. It... it went too far. It made me want to do things that... I would regret later. It made me hungry for more power.”

“If you are to become a true Sith, it will have to go as far as it needs to go.” He said softly.

She looked back up at Vader. “I’ve told you that I want to have the best of both worlds. What happened today... that was the worst of the Sith world. I wanted to kill you. I wanted to kill you and take your place, then kill the Emperor and take his place. It was like... our relationship... had never existed. Like I never made that promise to you...”

Vader looked down at the display, glancing at the autopsy, feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

She reached over, gently touching the chin of his mask, directing his gaze back up at her.

“What is more important. Us being together? Or my becoming a Sith?” she asked.

He reached for her hand, which was still on his mask’s chin. He held her hand.

“Answer me honestly.” she said.

“Are you trying to say that ... if you finish your Sith training... we will no longer be able to have a relationship?” he carefully asked.

“I think that it’s impossible for 2 people who are fully committed to the Sith... theology... to be able to trust each other. By definition, at least the definition of the current Sith creed, we are destined to try to kill each other. You are already Sith. Or at least, much further committed to the creed than I am. It is unlikely that you will ever want or ever choose to back off on that commitment.” She took a deep breath. “For us to be together, I must back off on that commitment. I was already of the opinion that my destiny would be somewhere in between, anyway.”

“You are fooling yourself in imagining that there is an ‘in between’.” Vader rumbled.

“So, if I’m not Sith, does that make me Jedi?” Sentinel asked.

“And my enemy.” Vader softly said.

“You are so willing to commit to that statement? I can’t be in a third corner, that is neither Sith nor Jedi, but one that means we can be together?” she asked.

“You ... “ Vader paused and collected his thoughts. “I didn’t say anything before about your intentions when you first expressed them, but it is unlikely that you will succeed in keeping one foot in each camp... in learning Sith abilities from the Emperor without truly becoming Sith. He will know what you are doing. He will not approve.” Vader paused, looking directly into her eyes. “If you do not toe the line, he will kill you.”

“I could run. I could hide. We could still...” she said.

“Where are you going to hide from the Emperor, and still be able to see me?” Vader asked.

“But if I keep going with the Sith training, I’m afraid...”

Vader held his hand up. “The only way I see this working out, as a long term relationship, is if you commit to becoming a Sith, and to being my apprentice. We will hold to what we promised each other. When the time is right, we overthrow the Emperor, and rule together. In the meantime, we will meet whenever we are able, and train together, sharing as much of our Dark Side knowledge as we have learned.”

“I don’t know if I can hold to our promise if the Dark Side is given that much control over my life.” she said, shuddering.

Vader said, “You will be able to. We will help each other to hold to our promise.”

“You don’t think you’ll end up seeing me as too much of a threat, and feeling the need to destroy me?” she asked.

Vader struggled not to show that that very thought had already occurred to him. “As I said, we will help each other to hold to our promise.” Vader said.

She looked down at the floor.

“So... I believe the only way this will work is if I’m not Sith. And you believe the only way this will work is if I am Sith. I believe we will kill each other if I’m Sith, and you will see me as an enemy if I’m not Sith. And if I’m not Sith, I gain the Emperor as a more dangerous enemy... when ironically, if I am Sith, it’s your intention that we both take out the Emperor together and rule in his place.”

Vader chuckled. “It’s a conundrum. But I’m not backing down on this. If we are to have any chance together, it is only going to happen if you unreservedly choose to become Sith.”

She sighed, closed her eyes, and rubbed her temples with her fingers.

“This is not necessarily a decision you have to make right now.” Vader rumbled softly.

She looked up. “I’m wasting time. We probably won’t see each other for a very long time after this mission, if at all. I will have to make my decision about this after the mission is over. And I will have to put off my grieving until then, as well. And my hunt for the truth behind my brother’s death. I don’t want to lose this time with you, especially when it may be all we have for a very long time.”

Vader took both her hands in his. “This is a very rough time for you right now. I understand that. I’m... sorry I pushed you earlier. I thought it would help you to focus, to use the pain to your advantage.” He sighed. “I guess it was my way of ‘cheering you up’.”

She smiled weakly, squeezed his hands. “Yeah, well you’re just a very cheerful person, you know.” she teased.

Vader looked back at the controls, released her hands, and got the navputer back up and plotting their course back into hyperspace. The computer finished the calculations quickly, and he engaged lightspeed. Once that was done, he stood up.

“Lord Sentinel, go to your room, and change back into that red dress and boots. And meet me in my quarters.” Vader commanded.

She stood up slowly... she was so very tired. But she smiled. “Yes, m’Lord.” Then she left the cockpit, with Vader following her until she turned to go to her quarters and he turned to go to his.

On the way to his quarters, Vader stopped at the ship’s small kitchen.

Goto Chapter Sixteen