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


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