Sunday, July 02, 2006

Chapter Twenty-Three

“Lord Sentinel is sedated. She will cause you no... difficulty.” Vader said to the droids, once he entered the medcenter.

The droids took the hint and wheeled off, carting equipment and supplies to Sentinel’s quarters.

Vader followed them, watched them work.

The droids finished with Hedra/Sentinel. One of them wheeled up to Vader.

“She should no longer need the restraints, Sir. She will be asleep for at least 40 hours. We will need access to her quarters periodically to see to her needs.” the droid said.

“I will remove her restraints. You have my permission to enter her quarters whenever her needs require it. Have you setup monitors to watch her vital signs?” Vader said.

“Yes, Sir. We will know if she needs us.”

“Then leave us until you are needed once more.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The droids all wheeled out single file. The door auto-closed behind them.

Vader watched them, then turned to look back at Hedra/Sentinel.

Her sleeping form hid the struggling spirit inside her. Or hopefully the struggling spirits. Asleep, she looked like the Sentinel Vader knew.

Vader leaned over her legs, and unlocked the manacles around each ankle. Then he unlocked each wrist, and gently laid her arms at her sides, careful of the IV in her left arm. He pulled a chair over and sat beside her, looking down at her.

“Sentinel... I don’t know if you are still... here.” Vader paused. “I don’t know if you can hear me.”

He leaned in closer, reached over and held her right hand. He felt helpless, and he hated that.

“I will not lose you. But... but if I have to... lose you... I will make sure Hedra loses, too. I will not let her...” Vader stopped, unable to continue. He thought, for a moment, that he felt her squeeze his hand. But who was it, causing her hand to squeeze his?

He sat there, for a long time, just holding her hand. Wondering how he could find someone, 5 years after he had lost everything. And then end up losing that someone... again.

Everything he had done, to keep from losing Padme. And losing her because of it.

His life seemed to be a series of losses.

But he was sure, this time, that he would be able to keep from losing Sentinel. He would make the shamans save her. Or he would somehow even drive Hedra out himself, if it became necessary. Even if it meant he went on the run, and ended up hunting down Dark Side Sith secrets in order to do it.

He sighed. He hoped it didn’t come down to that. Disguising himself for a few missions was one thing; trying to hide while everyone in the galaxy was hunting him down was quite another.

He thought about the past 2 weeks. 2 weeks! It had only been 2 weeks since they had met, if even that. And now she was part of his life, an intrinsic part. But so many events in the past 2 weeks had conspired to take her from him.

He felt confused. How had he become so enamored of Sentinel, so quickly? He was a slow learner, but a fast lover, apparently. It had been that way with Padme. He had fallen in love with her at first sight, at the age of nine! Of course, he couldn’t do anything about it for 10 years.

He groaned at how inexperienced he had been with Padme. His overtures of love to her sounded so awkward to him now. But then, since the Jedi discouraged attachments, he hadn’t exactly had an opportunity to date during his training!

Not that he would have dated anyone... his heart had already chosen, back in Wattoo’s shop. When his 'angel' had walked in.

And now, it appeared his heart had chosen once more.

Why did he have to lose the women he chose?

No, that’s not going to happen with Sentinel. I'm not going to lose her. Vader thought.

Vader berated himself for constantly whining over his losses. This was a sign of weakness, and the Emperor had been quite clear on teaching Vader what self destructive traits Vader had to quell within himself.

Then again, Vader was of the mind right now to toss lessons the Emperor had taught him right out the window. Granted, some of the advice might have actually been good, but right now, anything the old wrinkled untrustworthy prune had said was as good as bantha fodder as far as Vader was concerned.

Vader left Sentinel’s quarters, needing to move around. He didn’t want to leave her side, but he felt so helpless watching her. He needed to think. No, really he needed not to think, but to sleep. He went back to his own quarters, removed his mask, hooked up his air supply, and lay down.

And stared at the ceiling.

He couldn’t help but worry about what his next move should be. Vader had never been very good at waiting. He wanted to meditate, to extend his senses out and search for the solution. But he was completely without access to the Force, to his powers, and this only made him feel more helpless.

After about an hour of staring at the ceiling, unable to ignore his wandering mind any further, Vader left his quarters, and went to the main cargo hold.

He spent several hours tinkering with his new fighter.

Then several more hours in the cockpit, looking up any further information that might tell him the most likely location of the shaman's cave in the mountains to the east of Yuthrub.

There was very little information. He sighed in frustration.

He went back to Sentinel’s quarters, feeling very strung out. He had gone without sleep for days at a time on very important missions. But this was somehow very different. Perhaps the fact that he couldn’t lean on the Force at all for an extra infusion of energy was what was causing him this extra exhaustion?

Sentinel/Hedra was still very much asleep. Droids were rolling away from her body, having changed out various bags of I.V. fluids, and otherwise attending to her.

One stopped in front of him to report. “She is doing well under sedation, Lord Vader. She will wake up with some muscular atrophy, but nothing she won’t be able to rebuild fairly quickly. Is her timetable for being allowed to awaken unchanged?”

“For now.”

“Do you need our assistance at this moment?” the droid asked.

“No, you may leave. Good work.” Vader said.

“Thank you, Sir.” the droid responded, then wheeled off after it’s companions.

Vader sat down next to Sentinel. He felt like he was going to collapse.

“Soon, my Love. This will all be over soon.” he said to Sentinel, holding her hand and gently wiping some stray hairs out of her face.

Sentinel/Hedra moaned softly, a little frown crossing her brow, then became quiet.

Vader leaned back in his chair. Suddenly a beeping alerted him that it was time to bring the ship out of lightspeed. He looked up at the clock, sure that he’d had at least 2 more hours. He’d fallen asleep! 2 hours had come and gone.

Vader rushed to the cockpit, and brought the ship out of lightspeed. To be absolutely correct, he adjusted the controls such that the navputer would bring the ship out of lightspeed at the exact second necessary. He no longer had the necessary skill to manipulate the ship with that amount of accuracy.

The planet, Sevast, hung in orbit directly in front of the ship. It was an unremarkable dark brown on the side that was facing the sun. On the opposite side, it appeared black. The computer scanned the planet, and indicated that the city he was searching for was somewhere on the night-side.

He swung the ship around, scanning the terrain until the computer matched up it’s internal map perfectly and was able to pinpoint the city. He wouldn’t have been able to locate it by just visually searching... there was a smokey cloud cover that obscured everything about the planet’s surface. A sickly haze that made one think that the planet itself was deathly ill.

He brought the ship into the atmosphere, and was then able to see the lights of the city of Yuthrub. It was lit up, but just barely. It was as if these people didn’t care for their city to be easily located in the dark. As if they were in hiding.

He brought the ship down low, coasting among the foothills of the mountains east of the city, scanning for any caves. The mining facility was southeast of the city, but was dark except for a few lights on some structures. The scanners located a few caves, but nothing suggestive of a cave large enough to be used for training.

Then he found it. It was huge. He could actually land the ship inside it if he wished.

He chose instead to land the ship about a kilometer north of it. He wasn’t sure what the range of the Force nullifying creature was, and he wanted all his abilities available to him when he went in to speak with the shamans. Once the ship touched down, he checked on Sentinel one last time, then went to the main cargo hold and powered up the rental hovercraft.

He had to open the cargo hold using a remote control. He placed it on his belt, and used it to close the cargo hold once he had cleared the ramp.

The computer had summarized the weather of the planet for him. The air was full of contaminates. The oxygen levels were sufficient for life, but otherwise, it was dusty, dirty, and cold. When the sun came up in a few hours, it wouldn’t be that much lighter, thanks to the perpetual cloud of darkness that hung around the planet. The cloud contained particulate matter, radioactive elements, and gases that were very unhealthy. The only reason the air in this area was breathable was because there was an atmospheric processing plant just north of the city. And the only reason anyone lived here on this Force-forsaken place was because of the valuable minerals under the ground.

The history of the planet showed that it had once been teeming with life. But the sentient beings on the planet had been warlike, and had unleashed a nuclear holocaust on their own world.

This is where Sentinel grew up... this is what she lived with every day of her life, Vader thought. He had thought his home world was lacking.

He directed the hovercraft to the mountains, hoping the answer to his and Sentinel’s problems lay ahead of him.

Goto Chapter Twenty-Four


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