Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chapter Seven

Sentinel landed the ship some kilometers south of the medical installation. She landed near a shopping mall, and was ironically almost considering slipping out for a quick little adventure. She had a thing for shoes. But this was neither the time nor the place for a little fun trip, especially with Vader stuck in the medcenter, being put back together.

What fun that must be, being put back together like a vehicle after a wreck, she mused.

Besides, maybe her computer was closer to having results.

She powered down the engine, performed a quick systems check. Hmmm... the electrical short she had detected earlier was gone... Vader must have fixed it, she thought.

She left the cockpit for her quarters. The computer indicated the search was still in progress, with not a single Force-nullifying source found.

It was still going through the local copy of the galactic database. This was understandably a much smaller copy than the full database on Coruscant. With some disgust, she stopped the search, then submitted the search, in an encrypted communication, to Imperial technicians who ran the database on Coruscant. She received confirmation of the receipt of the request by one of the technicians, with the promise that it was being submitted to the database search engine even as the technician was typing his response back to her. How long would the search take, she responded. Since she was asking for all results and not just the first result, it would take several hours... it would after all be an exhaustive search. She responded to please run the full search, but send her back a response when each result was found.

Now what? Take a nap? No... some much needed meditation with the Force. She sensed that, while Vader probably wasn’t going back in there, she would have to. She would need all the strength she could get. Maybe she could some how hang on to the strength she received from the Force, even when the Force was taken away from her. Time to work on that, she decided.

Meanwhile, back in the medcenter, Vader watched as they removed his arms, his legs, and portions of his chest.

Every device was replaced... he had 2 spares for everything he required to be mobile and survive. Such was the life of a person who was now more machine than man.

The parts that were discarded were briefly tested to see if anything could be done to restore them to functionality. He watched the droids discard each part, but tag most as being repairable. He knew the EMP blast had made the electronics useless. But with replaced electronics, his limbs were probably salvageable.

The droids had brought his helmet and saber in. After a quick test, the droids laid the saber laid down on a table next to the back of his helmet. The back of his helmet had no electronic parts, and so was completely useable.

The front of his helmet was stripped of everything electrical, and was having all of it’s parts replaced even as they were replacing his limbs and his chest breathing apparatus.

A few hours later found him standing in front of the table, the front of his mask in place. He reached down, picked up the back of his mask, and installed it. He placed the cape around his shoulders. After proving to himself that his lightsaber was indeed functional, he hooked it to his utility belt.

He faced the door. The door shuddered with the speed it was forced to open with.

Vader was very angry. It had been growing with the increasing discomfort of being so helpless on that table. It had been too close a reminder of the first time he had been on so similar a table, having what felt like his entire body replaced.

He headed straight for the cockpit, and was almost surprised not to find Sentinel there waiting for him. He whirled, and stormed into her quarters.

She was balanced on her forefinger, upside down, eyes closed, and her bag and some other items in the quarters were levitated about 3 feet off the floor.

“We are going back in there!” Vader announced.

The levitated items floated back to the floor, and Sentinel allowed herself to fall over onto her feet, turning to face him.

“No", she said, "WE are not. I am. You are vulnerable to the EMP blast, and you are too important a person to risk in that fashion once more.”

Vader was startled by the boldness of her response, and at first amazed and approving of her new found strength. But having an underling talk back to him annoyed him, and he closed the distance between them to wrap his fingers about her throat.

“Do NOT speak to me with that tone, sithling.”

“M’Lord, I mean no disrespect.” She spoke easily, as if her trachea was not being crushed by his cybernetic hand. He realized she was shielding her throat from his fingers. And he realized that she wasn’t afraid of him.

He applied the Force to her throat as well, but found she was shielding herself from his Force choke too.

“You think I would fall prey to such a feeble trick a second time?” he growled.

He released her throat, but not without giving her a little shove. This she was not expecting, and she had to use a momentum dispersing technique to keep the back of her skull from cracking on the wall.

She took a moment to regain her balance, and said “M’Lord, I think that neither of us have the Force to rely on in this matter, so neither of us can tell when the EMP blast is going to be triggered, or from where. I’m betting they are keeping their EMP device dead center in the middle of their Force nullifying devices.”

He regarded her. She rubbed her throat slightly, and glanced towards her computer.

He noticed her glance. “Have you discovered what is nullifying the Force?” he rumbled. He was finding it hard to stay angry at someone who refused to react with either fear or anger in response.

“A search is in progress for ALL Force nullifiers, with orders to report to me with information upon the finding of each.” she said.

“And if this search proves unsuccessful?” he asked.

She frowned. “I was thinking of requesting access to the Jedi library, and searching that as well. If even it too was unsuccessful, I was thinking of requesting a search of the names of all planets the Jedi were LEAST successful in finding Force sensitives.”

“The Jedi tested for Force Sensitives using a blood test that looked for MidiChlorians...” he said.

“Yes, but in the outlying worlds, where they weren’t setup to screen the entire populace, they typically wouldn’t perform the test unless someone was discovered by a Jedi to have Force sensitivity. And it’s also possible that whatever they are using to nullify the Force may have had a bad effect on the survival of MidiChlorians... so it could still be an indicator in this matter.” She folded her hands in front of her.

“That is rather an extensive search.” he commented.

“I’m under the impression that I am looking for a needle in a livestock feed bin.” She said, taking a deep breath. “Worst case scenario, I will probably end up doing a manual search for their Force nullifier when I go back into the complex, and I hope I’ll know it when I see it.”

“They must be punished for even devising such a trap for the Emperor’s right hand.” he said.

“M’Lord, they may have been targeting ANY Force-user. The Electro-Magnetic-Pulse may have been to take out lightsabers, and not necessarily targeting your person.”

“Are you saying they may be on our side?”

She stood still for a moment, thinking. “Yes, m’Lord, it’s possible.”

“It is not up to them to capture and kill the remaining hiding Jedi. That is MY task.” he growled.

She smiled. “Maybe they want to present the remaining Jedi to you and the Emperor as an offering?”

Vader was not amused. “Using a Force-nullifying weapon is justification enough for wiping them off the face of this planet.”

She sighed, and nodded. “You are right, m’Lord. But if I can’t discover the probable weapon they used from the computer databases, before we wipe them out, I should go in and recover whatever it is they used against us. It will require study so that we can be safe from such a weapon in the future.”

“Which is why we should be going back in there...” he said, clenching his right hand into a fist.

“M’Lord, please, you cannot go back there. Not without the EMP weapon destroyed.” She paused, preparing to be throttled once more... “M’Lord, we got lucky this last time. They were merely testing the EMP. They didn’t realize we were in their trap when they sprang it. We won’t be that lucky a second time. And that’s all we have going for ourselves when we go in there: luck. The Force isn’t going to be with us.”

They stood, regarding each other.

“How much longer until the current search is completed?” Vader asked.

Sentinel let out her breath. She hadn’t realized she’d been holding it. She glanced at the computer. No responses. She walked over, and typed a communication. The response was that the exhaustive search was about 3/4 of the way through, with NO positive results. It had been 3 hours. They thought the search would finish in about another hour.

“We have another hour. No results found so far, m’Lord.”

“There will likely be no results. Your search of the Jedi databases might find a positive result, but we need the answer now.” He paused as if for emphasis... “You WILL go in there, alone, as you insist, and you WILL bring back the source of the Force nullification. Prepare yourself, perform your search of the facility, and do not come back without the device they are using to nullify our abilities.”

She bowed low “Yes, m’Lord.”

He whirled, left her quarters, and headed for the cockpit.

She watched him go. When he was out of sight. She took a deep breath, and let it out in a slow shudder. “I thought I had anger management issues...” she mumbled.

She reorganized her satchel. She left the electronic tools in there... she might still need them, and might get some windows in which to use them when the EMP was not active. But she added to the number of non-electronic tools, as well as bladed weapons. Then she took her satchel to the weapons closet in the ship, and put several projectile weapons in there, as well as spare full clips of projectiles.

She went to the costume section of the ship, changed out of her white dress on the spot, stripping down to nothing.

Vader sat in the cockpit. He sensed her activity. She is very focused, he thought. He was torn between admiring her for her clarity of the situation, and being angered at how quickly she had dismissed him as a liability. Admittedly they had both been caught off guard. And the after effects of being caught off guard had been worse for him than for her. But still...

He would have to remind her of her place, once she returned.

Where was she? he thought.

He felt for her presence, and realized she was in the wardrobe room of the ship. His curiosity got the better of him. He switched the ship’s internal viewer on, and set it to the wardrobe.

She was nude, and flipping through outfits. Vader found himself staring. He was disgusted by his desire to watch her, by his lack of regard for her privacy. But he couldn’t look away... she was so beautiful.

He liked to think of himself as immune to any kind of attraction to the opposite sex. There was no way that attraction could ever, ever be expected to be reciprocated, so there was no reason to entertain that attraction.

He was... too hideous... for anyone to ever be attracted to, he thought. He had come to accept it, but on occasion, it still hurt to acknowledge that he would never be physically intimate with a woman, ever again. He would never even be on the receiving end of a hug, from a man or a woman.

Who would even think that the Dark Lord of the Sith might need a hug that day?

And who would be brave enough to give him one, for that matter, he mused.

Human touch, or even alien touch, was denied him. He was a prisoner in his own environmental suit and armor.

Forever the Black Knight.

He thought of his wife. Padme would have still loved him -- even in his scarred, mostly cybernetic state -- had she had the ability to accept his moral choices. But he couldn’t expect anyone else to learn to care about him, much less love him. The walls created by his appearance, and especially by his being Sith, were just too thick.

So... he allowed himself to stare, feeling it was the closest thing to real intimacy he would ever have again.

Sentinel finally chose a holy woman’s outfit, including a robe, and some innocuous brown boots. She dressed fully. She bent over to pick up her satchel, and stopped, stood up, and stared straight at the camera above her.

He felt her staring up at him. She felt him staring down at her.

She nodded with some arrogance, picked up her satchel, and left the wardrobe. She was obviously angry with him, but Vader thought that it was not just for finding her privacy being violated.

Maybe she’s getting tired of being throttled, Vader mused.

He turned off the viewer, and lifted the ship off, moving it quickly back to it’s original hiding place, much closer to the complex. He started to land the ship in the same grove.

Sentinel paused at her quarters, and picked up a crumpled knapsack. This she stuffed into her satchel.

She did not stop at the cockpit. She waited by the ship’s ramp, and once she sensed the ship was coming in for a landing, she Force-actuated the ship’s ramp, and ran down it even as the ship was still landing, and the ramp was still in the process of lowering. She jumped to the ground, hitting it at a full run, heading towards the complex.

He rumbled into the communicator he was holding “I hope you thought to bring a com link with you...”

Without breaking stride, she responded “Wearing an ear bud, m’Lord.”

He watched her through the viewscreen as she ran out of view. He activated the ramp from within the cockpit, saw the light indicating that the ramp was now in the closed position.

He waited.

About ten minutes later, he heard “4th sublevel. Searching floors above and below the target floor first.”

“It could be something biological. Be on the lookout for any caged or otherwise confined creatures.” he said.

“Yes, m’Lord.”

Several minutes later “Found something. It feels... weird being close up to this creature. The thing is vaguely sloth-like, with long, thick hooked claws. Dark fur. Thin, elongated mouth. Long thin tongue... probably an insect eater.”

“Any documentation nearby?” he asked.

“Nothing. But I saw other cages, out of my reach, with what looked like the same creature, all over this floor. All in locked rooms.”

“Your task is almost complete. Get back here, and bring one of those things with you.” Vader said.

“Yes, m’Lord.” Sentinel responded.

He heard some clattering. Then muffled sounds. Then nothing until the background chatter in the main lobby.

In the background... “Hey, you stop.” A man’s voice.

“What’s wrong?” Vader heard Sentinel ask.

“Open your bag, and show me what you have in there.” the man said.

“It’s just my pet, my Carg Dragon. He’s not very friendly with strangers...” she responded.

“Open it now...” sounds of some projectile device being chambered.

“Just a sec...” Sentinel’s voice. Then, *wump*! Scuffle, sounds of violence, shots fired. Fast footfalls, yells of “get her!”

Vader started up the engine, powered the craft in the direction of the facility.

One lone figure was running on the paved area. Several heavily armored figures were just exiting the building, looking to and fro, then chasing after her.

She had her knapsack slung on her right shoulder, and her satchel slung around her left. The knapsack bobbed heavily on her back and her right side.

He brought the ship down on the grass in front of her, hitting the button on the console that lowered the ramp.

He heard shots being fired, heard some rebound off the outside of the ship. Then her voice, “I’m in! Uhh...”

He raised the ramp, and raised the ship in such a way that the ramp would be mostly level, just in case she was still climbing on it as he was rising into the sky.

He powered the ship into space, entered a traffic lane, checked for pursuers. None. And he couldn’t sense any trouble coming... wait, he couldn’t sense anything. Uh-huh. Best not to take chances, he thought.

He put the ships Navputer onto the task of plotting a random course. Once done, he entered hyperspace, and left the ship in autopilot.

“Sentinel, I am highly disappointed in you”, he said into his comlink. “You should have been able to escape without detection. Now we won’t be able to make any future raids for information.”

He rose from the pilot’s seat.

“Sentinel? Sentinel, respond.”

He ran out of the cockpit, down the corridor to see Sentinel face down at the top of ramp. The right hand was on her knapsack, which was in front of her. Her satchel was still over her left shoulder.

A dark stain was spreading across her lower back, from her right side. Blood was dripping into the grates of the floor of the ship.

The comlink he was holding dropped to the floor. He stooped on one knee and gently picked her up. He tried to use the Force while doing so, to make the act as gentle as possible, and cursed under his breath as the Force was completely unresponsive. He noticed that the projectile had gone straight through her, leaving another wound on her right side, about 4 centimeters above her hip.

Cradling her in his arms, he rushed to the medcenter. The droids sprang to life, gently taking her from his arms, and laying her face down on the table. A droid put a U-shaped pillow under her face. A different droid started cutting her robe from her back, gently moving it off the entrance and exit wounds.

He stood and watched for several minutes. A droid came up to him to report.

“She has suffered injuries to her internal organs, but she will live. Had she lost any more blood, we might not have been able to repair her.”

“When will she be well?”

“We will need to work on her for about another hour, during which time she will remain sedated. Afterwards, she should remain sedated for another 3 hours to ensure our repairs are not... jostled.” The droid paused... “It’s hard to predict human recovery times, but I would estimate that she will need at least a week of rest to make a full recovery.”

“Report to me once she is out of surgery.”

“Yes Sir.”

Vader turned and headed for the ramp. The knapsack had squirmed it’s way up against a wall, and was being very quiet. Sentinel's satchel, however, had not moved. The amount of blood glistening on the floor grating, and from the subfloor underneath, was rather impressive.

He snatched up the knapsack, and headed for the lab.

The bag started squirming, violently.

He sensed... nothing. But the ‘nothing’ was indeed weirder than it had been when he hadn’t been so close to the creature.

He opened the knapsack and dumped it’s contents, one sloth-like critter, into a cage on the center of a table in the lab. Instruments whirred to life, probes popping out of hidden orifices in the table. The critter didn’t look very happy. Good.

Mechanical restraints popped out, and held the creature in place in it’s cage. Blood was drawn. X-Rays and other pictures taken. Orifices probed.

Vader watched with a certain, evil glee. The creature was making some whimpering sounds. Very good.

He went back to the cockpit, and brought the ship out of hyperspace. He noted that, having gone from the lab to the cockpit, he had covered the full length of the ship. And his Force abilities were still nonexistent. Interesting and annoying, he thought.

He went back into the lab. He sent the Emperor’s finest scientists the information acquired from the poor sloth. Then, still in the lab, he opened a communication link with the Emperor.

“Lord Vader. Report.”

“My Master, we encountered a trap. We both went into it when they were testing it... they never realized they’d actually caught something. They have a creature that is capable of dampening the Force. And they have an EMP device. Sentinel and I barely made it out the first time. I was completely incapacitated, and she single-handedly got us both out of that situation. She went back in, alone, a 2nd time, and acquired one of the creatures. I have sent your scientific team the lab results from various tests.”

“This explains why I can’t sense you, Lord Vader. How far reaching is this dampening effect...”

“I have not tested that, my Master... but this lab is at the furthest point from the ship’s cockpit, and at that distance, my abilities were still nullified.”


“Completely, my Master.”

The Emperor’s image appeared to be in deep reflection.

“Have you matched this creature to anything in the Imperial database?”

“We have not attempted a match yet.”

“Where is Sentinel, Lord Vader?”

“She has been injured, and is currently in surgery, my Master.”

“I will have my scientists find the origin planet of this creature, Lord Vader. I have been informed that Sentinel has already attempted a search of the Imperial databases for any creatures with known Force dampening effects...”

“Were there any positive results, my Master?”

“None. It may be that this creature’s effect was never known... until now.”

“Sentinel thought at first this trap was designed specifically for myself, but now thinks it might have been directed at any Force using, saber wielding person. It is possible they are working, if covertly, for the benefit of the Empire.”

The Emperor considered this. “This is possible, but they should have consulted us if that were the case. And my intel that this is a Rebellion contingent is quite good. Either way, they have discovered a weapon that no-one should be permitted to use. It is too likely it would be used against the Sith.”

The two Sith Lords were quiet for a moment.

“I will send a delegation to this planet to... discuss the matter. And a contingent of clone forces to ensure they fully cooperate with us.” the Emperor said.

“Unfortunately, my Master, they were alerted to our presence by the 2nd infiltration attempt. They will be expecting company.” Vader warned.

“That is unfortunate... but was worth the acquisition of this creature.”

“My Master, what is our next move?”

“When will Sentinel be able to perform her duties?”

“The droids say she needs at least a week of rest.”

“Lord Vader, I suggest you drop off this creature at the nearest Imperial base, including any blood or tissue samples, and then head straight for the next nearest Imperial base, on another planet. And rest.”


“Sentinel needs to heal, and I suspect you do too.”

“Yes, m’Lord.”

“Oh, and good work, Lord Vader. I am pleased. Convey my pleasure to our young Sith, will you?”

And then communication cut out.

Vader gave the cowering creature on the table a final, withering glance, then went back to the cockpit.

Goto Chapter Eight


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