Friday, June 09, 2006

Chapter Six

On the way to the ship’s airlock, Vader stopped and attached an extension to his breath screen. His breathing was immediately much quieter. He extended his cowl out, and his mask was nearly invisible. But how could he see... well, that was his problem, Sentinel supposed.

They exited the ship, and Sentinel pulled out the computerized map. “The Emperor’s intel suggests we should try the medical facility on the North side of the city. It looks like... yes, that’s it right there, m’Lord. I don’t think you could have parked us any closer.”

“Let’s go, then.”

They walked in silence, with only the occasional birdcall from the trees for company.

There was no fence around the perimeter. They simply went from walking on an animal trail to suddenly being out in the open in a park-like grassy valley, with the facility in the middle. Surrounding the facility were landing platforms on the ground, as well as a multi-story docking facility south of the medical complex. People were walking to and from ships, some being dropped off or picked up, some having parked their ships on either the ground landing platforms or in the docking facility. Grass surrounded the ground landing platforms. Some of the people where being pushed to their destinations in hover chairs.

There were obvious traffic patterns imprinted on the grass, and they found themselves following one straight to the complex.

Most of the patrons were human, with some startling, non-bipedal exceptions. But of the bipedal non-human exceptions, most were very tall, and also dressed in robes similar to Vader’s. They also appeared to have breathing grills that, when visible beneath their cowls, matched the shape of the extended grill Vader had attached to his breath screen.

Must take back what I said about Vader and stealth, Sentinel thought to herself.

Entering the complex was not a problem. There was armed security, but they didn’t even blink twice in their direction. She noticed that they were armed with projectile weapons instead of energy weapons... interesting.

No-one tried to stop or question them. They headed for the elevator, taking it down to a deeper level in the complex. Their goal was somewhere on sublevel 5: the primary computer system. A little hacking here and there, and they should be able to get a feel for the likely hiding spot of the small Rebellion contingent that was using this complex as their base of operations.

Why use a medical facility, she thought. What benefit could it have?

They rode the elevator down in silence. She sensed no danger. So far so good.

Matter of fact, she sensed nothing. Not even Vader. Nothing from her surroundings.

“Xam, something isn’t right...”, she said, using his codename for this operation.

“I know...”

The elevator door opened upon subfloor 5. Sentinel hesitantly looked to the left and the right down the corridor, then exited. Vader followed.

They walked about halfway down the empty corridor, stopping when they heard voices up ahead in a room.

“Are we ready to test?”

“Yep. The terminals down here are off, the electronic dummies are in place to show the far ranging effects both inside and outside the field cage, the...” the voice became fainter as the room’s door auto-closed.

The room the conversation came from was up ahead to the right. Instinctively, Vader opened a door on the left side of the corridor, and briefly peered in (and raising his hood in order to do so), then grabbed Sentinel’s arm and dragged her with him.

“Ouch” she whispered.

“Quiet”, he hissed.

Just then, she could hear a funny hum. The hair on the back of her neck stood up straight, and she felt a little dizzy. Vader was obviously concentrating very hard to discern what the noise was, because he had stopped breathing in order to listen.

She turned to look at him. It was like watching a space wreck. One minute, Vader was standing tall. Next minute, it was as if he were a marionette, and his strings had suddenly been cut away. She watched him collapse in a rather startlingly loud thunk upon the floor!

Sentinel rushed to his side. His head was moving. His torso was moving. His shoulder joints and thigh joints were moving. But his knees and below, and his elbows and past, were useless. And he still wasn’t breathing.

“What’s wrong??” She asked.

Or speaking, for that matter.

Sentinel thought she heard noises from the corridor. Quickly she grabbed Vader’s right arm and dragged him into a small closet inside the lab they were in, closing the manual closet door after her.

She heard the two men enter the room. “Don’t know what the heck I thought I heard... maybe we left some ‘Droid on that the EMP just took out.”

“Whatever it was, it’s not in here...”

“Yeah... let’s go check the electronic dummies, see which ones were fried and which...”

The voices faded and she heard the door to the room close.

Sentinel turned to look down at Vader. She couldn’t sense anything from the Force, but she knew somehow he was in pain and in a panic. He obviously couldn’t breathe. She had no idea how long he could survive without the mask on, but he wasn’t going to last at all if kept it on. She felt around the back of the mask, finding the releases, and removed the back half, and then the front half of the mask. As she popped the releases, she heard some gas escape. The mask was pressurized. Uh-oh.

With the mask off, she could see the panic in his eyes. But he was also able to breathe somewhat. He took rapid, short gasping breathes. He was having to work hard for every short breath he took.

“Can’t breathe... “

Yeah, I noticed, she thought.

“Mechanical lungs pressing down...”

She helped him sit upright.

“Is that better?”

“Yes. Need oxygen. I can’t... function... on what’s... left of my... original lungs.”

Oh, frak.

“Could make it work... with the Force... but that’s... not working either...”

“M’Lord, I’m afraid this was a trap. And we walked right into it.”

“Go... leave me here... no way you... can save me...”

She started to protest, when he proceeded to pass out on her.

Between the time she dragged Vader into the closet, and his passing out, Sentinel's mind had been processing the facts, behind the scenes. She took a millisecond to review them.

She realized that his biological lungs were not large enough or healthy enough to keep him alive for long. And it appeared that his diaphragm was having some difficulty in even moving air into his biological lungs. Either his diaphragm wasn't as strong as a normal diaphragm, or there was some other complication, or both.

Everything electromechanical on his body was now down for the count. His environmental survival suit and his mechanical parts were now a huge dead weight. And he, and Sentinel, were without the Force... unable to defend themselves, unable to even use the Force to assist in moving Vader’s heavy mechanical body.

The light sabers might be working. But she felt at a loss to use her lightsaber to defend herself and him, without the guidance of the Force.

And now Vader had passed out. She realized she had to act fast.

She had to give his diaphragm some time to rest. That meant...

Well, this wasn’t exactly how she had imagined kissing him. But this was probably as close to a romantic kiss as she was going to get.

She gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, giving him small breaths to accommodate what she assumed were biological lungs the size of a small child’s. After a few moments of this, he started to react, coughing. He looked at her with some surprise, realizing what had been going on while he was passed out.

“Stay here... ‘er, be quiet. I’ll be right back...” she slipped outside the closet, and looked around. Nothing here. Damn.

She poked her head out into the hallway, and on a gut instinct, went into the room just opposite it. There were some beds, with oxygen tanks and masks next to them. She grabbed the smallest tank she could find, remembered at the last moment to lift with her knees, since she couldn’t use the Force for this task, and hauled it out of that room and into the room Vader was in, then into the closet.

Vader was starting to wheeze again from the effort of getting enough air. She realized part of the problem must also be that the mechanical lungs probably normally ‘got out of his way’ of breathing in to use his biological lungs to speak. But right now, his mechanical lungs were just sitting there, being more than just a lump in his chest... but being an actual hindrance to breathing.

She set the tank down, and put the oxygen mask on him. His breathing almost immediately became slower, and therefore easier on him. His expression became much more relaxed and less strained.


He nodded, closing his eyes as he did, resting his head against the back wall of the closet.

She stood up over him, studying him quietly. He opened his eyes, and tilted his head slightly.

“Ok, I’ve got some more ‘shopping’ to do. I’ll be right back.”

He watched her leave, just so relieved to be able to breathe that he didn’t think much about what she would return with next.

Several minutes later she returned with a wheelchair, piled high with various items: a huge robe, a scarf, a blanket, and some winches and pulleys.... winches and pulleys? Vader thought. He noticed that the chair had a hover-lift option. She had left it off... probably a good idea in case they decided to EMP this sublevel again. She had also brought some bandages... Bandages? Vader was at a loss to figure out what Sentinel was planning.

Sentinel laid the huge robe onto the wheelchair. Then she took her knife from her bag, and proceeded to cut off his current costume robe. He looked a little alarmed as the knife traveled up towards his neck. She looked up to see his expression, smiled in slight amusement, and put her knife away, ripping the last part of the robe off with her hands. Then she unhooked his cape.

She took the winch and pulley unit and braced it on top of the highest shelves. Then she proceeded to tie ropes below both his armpits, and winch him into a near-standing position. Next she wheeled the wheelchair under him, and lowered him.

She put his arms into the sleeves of the patient’s robe. He was able to help, but just a little... he had no control of his arms from his elbows on down. She tied the robe tight, then put the scarf around his neck, adjusting it to hide his chest armor. She stopped to examine her handiwork, then grabbed his helmet, his cape, and his lightsaber and stashed them into her bag.

He frowned at the loss of his lightsaber, but let it go.

She proceeded to lay the blanket across his lap, ensuring it extended down far enough to cover his conspicuous boots. She braced the oxygen tank in a tray at the back of the chair. Then she started wrapping his head in the bandages.

“Today, you aren’t just Xam. You are now my poor Uncle Xam who is quadriplegic, and a recent burn victim.” She tucked the last of the bandages in place, and then stood back to admire her handiwork.

“And you are my very messy niece.” He nodded towards the huge grease stain across the front of her otherwise pristine white dress.

“Oh, frak. I guess lugging around the oxygen tank and the winch and pulley unit wasn't the cleanest thing for your niece to be doing. Hmph.”

“Another robe?”

“No... I think I need a nurses uniform. Or someone’s jacket. It’s cold enough outside to be wearing one.” She looked around the closet. “Be right back.”

She returned with a beige jacket fastened shut from top to bottom. She plopped her bag onto his lap.

“Ready for this?”

“I’m not sure I have a choice”, Vader responded.

Sentinel noted that she liked his real, if hoarse, voice just as much as she liked his foreboding and ‘dark’ voice. She especially enjoyed being able to see the face behind the mask. It wasn't... it wasn't pretty, not after what he must have been through, being burned alive and then having his flesh and skin replaced with synth-flesh. (Sentinel shuddered briefly, remembering tapping into Vader's nightmare the other day.) But it was his face, the face she had been longing to see. She especially liked his eyes. She was very happy to see they weren't like the Emperors: permanently yellow, permanently in the Dark Side of the Force state.

“Here we go.”

She wheeled him out of the closet, and up to the door of the lab. Peering around him into the corridor for a moment, she then quickly wheeled him out, down the hall, and into the elevator. They went up to the ground floor, and through the front lobby without any incident.

No-one noticed. No-one looked in their direction.

Out they rolled until they ran out of pavement. Then she started up the hover module, and the chair easily glided above the grass, under the direction of Sentinel's hands.

Sentinel noticed that Vader’s mechanical breathing had not restarted. She had hoped that, as in ‘Trooper armor, his electronics would be able to recover from the EMP blast and ‘reboot’. She wanted to ask him about that, but they were still in earshot of other patients, visitors and doctors who were walking to and from their vehicles.

She entered the tree-line. They continued on in silence. She realized her Force sensitivity had returned long ago. She could sense Vader as well as see him. She could sense his Force abilities, his innate power. Whew, back to normal, she thought.

Sentinel activated the ship’s ramp with the Force, then glided Vader up the ship’s ramp. She headed straight for the medcenter of the ship, which was fully staffed with ‘Droid doctors, nurses, and technicians.

As she entered the medcenter, the ‘Droids all auto-activated, and immediately came over to see what was wrong. One droid linked up a comlink to Vader’s suit, and squeaked surprise when NOTHING, no information came back. The other droids seemed to move faster after hearing that alarmed squeek.

Large droids lifted Vader out of the chair and onto a table. They carefully brought the oxygen tank along for the ride, but then replaced it with ship oxygen.

“How are you feeling”, Sentinel asked.

“My Force abilities are back, but that’s it.”

“My Force abilities are back as well. Good to know the effect was localized.”

“This...” he indicated, with a turn of his head, the scurried activity of the droids, who were quickly pulling him apart to replace parts. “... is going to take a while.”

“Do you want me to leave?” Dumb question. They were stripping him like a stolen vehicle. This had to be somewhat embarrassing for him.


She realized she had been treating him with too much familiarity... but perhaps due to the situation, he hadn’t been correcting her. Hmmm. Nevertheless, he deserved more respect from her. “Of course, m’Lord.” She bowed on her way out.

She stopped to check the ramp. She had shut it and locked it on the way up, but this whole incident was making her a little... uncertain. Then she headed to her quarters, and started up a computer search for all things that can dampen the Force. While the search was executing, she lay down on her bed, closed her eyes, and tried not to break down.

She had kept her cool throughout the entire situation, and it felt like to her that she had been keeping all her feelings of fear and anxiety bottled up, for the sake of getting them out of there. Normally, she could have channeled those feelings into her Force abilities, using even the fear to heighten her Force senses and skills. But her years of not knowing of her Force abilities had taught her to do the opposite, and she had quickly reverted to her old ways, when she had no good place to channel her toxic emotions.

She considered channeling what was still boiling within her into her Dark Side powers, but suddenly all she really wanted to do was... cry.

She sat up in bed, and buried her face into her hands and started sobbing.

After a few minutes of that, she felt much better. Stupid, female trait, she thought. Oh, well. It had served its purpose. She collected herself, and rose to check the computer. No results yet. Hmmmm....

She looked at the bag she had brought in... oops, it contained Vader’s helmet. Part of this may still be useful to him. And he might like his lightsaber back! She wondered if the EMP had taken out their tools. She fired up her lightsaber, and was grateful to see that their weapons had not been destroyed. She was betting it would have been different if she’d mistakenly turned it on during the EMP blast. Ick.

Collecting Vader’s 2 piece helmet, his lightsaber... oh, yes, and his cape, she went back to the medcenter.

She hit the intercom outside the closed door. “Lord Vader, I forgot to give you back your helmet, lightsaber, and cape. May I enter?”

There was a pause, then “Leave them by the door.” Vader added, “And move the ship along normal travel routes to a position further away from our... friends.”

“Yes, m’Lord”

She carefully placed the folded cloak on the floor, laying the helmet and saber on top. Then she went to the cockpit to carry out Vader’s orders.

Goto Chapter Seven


Blogger Kenya Starflight said...

Oy vey. Was it an accident, or was someone intentionally trying to off Darth Vader? (Considering the Force-dampening thing, my money's on the latter.)

They got out of a tight spot by the skin of their teeth.

Thanks for chapter six so soon! Hope to see chapter seven shortly!

6/10/2006 9:08 AM  

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