Sunday, June 25, 2006

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


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