That Which RemainsAuthor :
jedinemoRating and disclaimer :
Rated PG-13. The Star Wars Universe belongs to George Lucas and Lucasfilm Ltd, and I have gained nothing but satisfaction from this fanfic.Summary :
A sequel to Come With Me
. It's been two years since Vader destroyed Palpatine at Endor and helped the Alliance reforge the Republic, but swapping allegiences has not made his path any easier. Chapter Seven
Anakin opened the battered hatch that covered the vaporator collection chamber. The chill of night lingered in the morning air, or so he liked to think. The suit insulated him from any sense of warmth or cold, but the stinging bite of a Tatooine dawn was vivid enough in his boyhood memories to let him imagine how it felt. He had plenty of water stored on board the shuttle, but harvesting moisture from the vaporator gave him a job, and a reason to be up at first light every day.
It was a ridiculously minor task for a man who had clutched the reins of the Empire between his fingers. For as long as he could remember, his days and nights had been filled with the manipulation of men and ships and history. It felt comfortable to be immersed in the strategies and adrenalin of battle. But the quiet dissatisfaction in Luke's eyes over the military life had reminded him of a time when he had almost walked away from it all himself. Before everything changed, before the Purge and before Mustafar, he had almost chosen to live simply as a husband and a father.
To imagine a life lived as an ordinary man seemed impossible now, but oddly that path lay before him again. Freed of the shackles of both the Empire and the Republic, he was finally his own master and could do whatever he wished. If only he knew what that was. While the daily chores of restoring the hut had given him unexpected satisfaction, he knew himself well enough to know that it wouldn't last. On whatever planet he might choose, he would eventually look to the horizon and want more.
Inside the vaporator, the collection cup held several hundred milliliters of water distilled from the seemingly dry air. The moisture was almost like the Force, everpresent but invisible until it was focused into a vessel, as the Force was revealed in him. He swirled the water within the container and watched the waves subside. The answer to his dilemna was obvious : he should fulfill Luke's wish and rebuild the Order. While he had never told his son, the fantasy of repairing what he had broken did sometimes play through his mind.
But rebuilding the Order would require him to reveal the enormity of his destruction. What the boy knew already was bad enough. To take Luke through the burned shell of the Temple, to show him how in one day twenty five thousand years of tradition had been reduced to a pile of ash was unthinkable. To describe the scope of knowledge once contained in the Archives, and how it was plundered and lost by Palpatine, was a disgrace. And no two men could ever replace the reach of the hundreds of Jedi who had protected the Galaxy.
He flung the water from the cup and watched it disappear into the sand. Forgiveness was a childish dream. He could never tell Luke the truth. The boy would just have to accept that the Order was no more.
"Sir, the Star Destroyer Gorgon
is making contact again. Their admiral is requesting to speak with the commander of this vessel."
In the viewscreen, Torren turned away to reply. "I'll be right there, Lieutenant."
Dark clouds gathered in the Force, and Luke leaned forward with a sense of urgency. "With all due respect sir, the commander can't be you."
Torren looked sternly into the camera. "Skywalker, you're pushing my limits. What are you talking about?"
"Well, sir, if this was
the Empire, who would this ship belong to?" he said, a plan becoming clear in his mind as he spoke. "Who did
this ship belong to?"
"There's no time to summon your father," the Admiral said, "and we don't need him to make a credible impression of an Imperial vessel."
"As I understand it, sir, this installation was under Tarkin's direct control," he said. "For them to follow anyone else, even Vader, might take some convincing."
"That's possible," Torren said, frowning. "You have an idea?"
"I could pretend to be him, sir, my father I mean," he said.
"I hate to break this to you, but no one is ever going to mistake you for Darth Vader," Torren said. "That plan won't work."
"There's got to be old holos stored in the ship's computer," Luke said. "We can use those. It's not like you can see his lips move."
A small smile escaped the Admiral. "And the voice?"
"You must have someone on board who could modify the transmission," he said. "And I've listened to him long enough to know exactly what he'd say."
"We'd be taking a terrible risk," Torren said. "Tell me again why you think this ruse is necessary."
He closed his eyes and reached for the future. "Because if they resist, even though Executor
has them out-powered, with four Star Destroyers they'll have us out-manuevered. Down that path I see the beginning of a long conflict. Significant damage. Heavy casualties. I just want us to all get out of here safely."
Torren's gaze dropped away from the camera, and his jaw clenched. After a long pause, he nodded and looked up."All right. I'll get Information Services to dig through the communications files. And if you come out of wherever you're hiding, you can work with a technician to get the voice right."
Off screen, the lieutenant spoke. "Sir, the Gorgon
is demanding a reply."
Already feeling his father's persona settling around him like a cloak, Luke leaned back in the great chair. "Tell them Lord Vader does not take kindly to demands. He will contact them when he is ready."
Han stepped away from Leia's speeder and glanced uneasily around the broad plaza. "Are you sure we should be here?"
She looked up to the five spires that pierced the Coruscant sky and nodded. "It's okay. Luke comes here all the time."
"I'm sorry I don't have any updates for you on his mission," Han said. "But I'm sure he's fine. We didn't expect we'd hear anything yet."
"I'm not worried," she said. "If anything was really wrong, I'd know it."
"Yeah, I guess you would," he said, reaching down for her hand. "Now what is it that you couldn't tell me from the comfort of your apartment?"
She turned and leaned back against his chest, drawing his arms around her. "What would you think if I wasn't a senator anymore?"
"Did you hear something?" he said, resting his chin on her shoulder. "I thought the recall election wasn't for another week."
"It isn't," she said. "I've decided to resign."
He swung her around so that they were facing. "You, give up? That's hard to believe."
She shook her head. "That's what Mon said. But I'm not giving up. I'm choosing my own path."
"Okay, then," Han said, nodding slowly, "if you're not going to be a senator, do I have to stay a general?"
"What?" she said. That made no sense. "You don't have to resign just because I am."
"Oh, you want me
to be the responsible one now," he said, rolling his eyes.
She hated when he did that. "What are you talking about?"
"If you're going to be without a job, you might need some help. That cush apartment can't be cheap."
"I've got credits!" she said, glaring at him. "I don't need you to take care of me."
"Never said you did," he said softly. He lowered his head and brought her hand up to his lips, kissing it gently. "Just thought that maybe someday you'd let me. I'd like to, you know."
He'd been teasing her again. Most of the time anymore she realized what he was doing, but every once in awhile, he still got her."What did you have in mind?"
"Oh, I always thought you'd make a pretty good smuggler," he said, giving her hand another kiss."Smart, fast talker, handy with a blaster. We could go into business together, you, me, and Chewie."
She wasn't going to fall for that one. "You'd really go back to smuggling after being a general in the Republic?"
"No, but I have to say that this political stuff has always been your party," he said. "Are you sure you want to resign?"
"Being a senator is about serving the people," she said, pulling her hand free and walking towards the edge of the plaza. "It would be wrong to try to stay in power if they don't want me."
He leaned against the speeder and crossed his arms. "All right, so if you're not going to be a senator, and you won't accept my offer, what are
you going to do with yourself?"
"I didn't turn you down," she said. Maybe he had been joking about smuggling, but now she wondered if he wasn't kidding about them being partners. "There's just something I have to do first."
She looked away to the massive stone building at the end of the plaza. The answer lay poised on the tip of her tongue, but it felt silly to say it out loud. It was almost like saying she wanted to be a ballerina or a fireship pilot. Except that this dream couldn't be fullfiled by wishing about it. One had to be born to it, which meant maybe it wasn't silly after all. Maybe it was only natural. "While you were gone, Mon and I had a little excitement. We almost got robbed outside of the Orange District."
"I've asked you not to go down there," he said, frowning. "It's a rough section of town."
"You shouldn't be worried about me. You should be worried for the robber."
"I saw him in the Force and caught him off-guard," she said. "And then I was so mad, I went after him. The angrier I was, the stronger I could feel the Force. I could have really hurt him."
He shrugged. "Would have served him right."
"You're not getting it. It made me realize I'm like a blaster with the safety off."
"But, sweetheart," he said with a grin, "that's what I like best about you."
She smiled even as she shook her head. "I can't just dabble in using the Force the way I have been. I need to commit to serious training, like Luke did."
He looked over towards the Temple."Last time I checked, this place was closed."
"I know, but coming here inspires me," she said. "I've been going over all the exercises Luke taught me. I was hoping he might loan me that old book of Ben's when he gets back."
"I'm sure he will," Han said. "And I know you won't like this, but I'd say Anakin's got a lot of free time on his hands."
She didn't want to tell him that thought had already crossed her mind. It was hard enough admitting it to herself. "Well, since no one knows where he is, I can't ask him, can I?"
Anakin stared at the nutrient container and wondered how was it possible that he had ended up with only sweetberry flavored drinks left. He hated sweetberry. The first thing he was going to do when he was back in civilization was eat a good, hot meal. No, that was second, because first, he was going to take a shower, and relieve the blasted itching of his skin. If there had been a way to cut the arms and legs from the padded suit, he would have done it already. But the material was capable of resisting almost every assault except a lightsaber blow, and he was not desperate enough to try altering the suit while he was still in it.
He had dispensed with wearing the armored cloak however, having grown weary of brushing it out of his way every time he leaned over to work. The durasteel shinguards lay discarded in the bedroom as well, his boots being more than enough protection against the natural environment. He longed to be free of the restrictions of the armored breastplate, but removing that would require him to take off his helmet, a dangerous proposition outside a hyperbaric chamber.
He sighed. There was nothing to do but wait. His years with Palpatine had taught him that public had a short memory, and that once a new crisis filled the headlines, the worry over his location would evaporate. But it was too soon for the Republic leaders to have forgotten about him yet.
Protected from the midday heat by the thick walls of the hut, he gazed out a window in the back of the dwelling towards the Dune Sea. In the ravine below the hut, something flashed in the sunlight, something that had not been there yesterday. Instantly, his mind thought of probe droids and remotes dropped from the sky in search of him. Perhaps he had underestimated the Republic's interest.
Moving cautiously down the slope of loose sand behind the dwelling, he worked his way towards the bright object. It would have been simple enough to call it to his hand, but a remote sensor might also have a self-destruct mechanism. He ignited his lightsaber and angled it in a defensive position, only to see that the flash came from an empty bottle. The burrow of a profogg opened nearby, and he realized the bottle must have been pushed to the surface during the rodent's excavations. After shutting down his lightsaber, he used the Force to retrieve the bottle, turning it face up to read the label. Johrian Whiskey
. Obi-Wan's drink of choice; he had noticed an unopened bottle in the cellar earlier. He was preparing to toss it back into the sand when he noticed the Galactic Standard Date printed on the side.
It was the last year of the Old Republic, before Palpatine restarted the calendar to commemorate the creation of the Empire. This bottle was old, then, and must have been buried deep beneath the surface. He reactivated his lightsaber, and slashed it through the sand. Part of the hillside slid away, exposing discarded containers of all sorts, and he decided the ravine must have been Obi-Wan's garbage dump. More bottles poked through the surface, and he pulled them out one at a time. Almost all of them were marked with that same fateful year.
He nodded to himself. So, Obi-Wan had done a bit of drinking in his first year of exile. He knew his old master enjoyed the occasional intoxicant, but he remembered only one other time when Obi-Wan's consumption might have been considered unseemly for a Jedi. It had been his first year in the Order, and at the time Obi-Wan's solitary and nightly habit had seemed quite ordinary to him. Many beings in Mos Espa had been drunk every night, and so he thought nothing of it. It was only several months later, when Obi-Wan stopped his customary indulgence, that he realized his master's behavior might have been unusual. It was only many years later that he realized that Obi-Wan had been grieving for Qui-Gon.
He nudged a bottle with his boot, and wondered what Obi-Wan had mourned then. The loss of his beloved Order? The fall of the Republic? Or perhaps he had just felt sorry for himself being stranded in this isolated location. Whatever it had been, it had brought his old master a torment beyond the reach of meditation.
Luke noticed there was something about the repeating whoosh of air that was not quite right. To anyone who hadn't listened to the ventilator at close range, though, the simulation would sound authentic. And even for himself, hearing the familiar pattern gave him the eerie feeling that his father was in the meditation pod with him. It was even stranger to hear his own words converted into the deep mechanical voice. He pulled the audio receiver out of his ear. Listening to the modified transmission was fine for practice, but it would be far too distracting once this exercise went live.
The viewscreen displayed the four Star Destroyers in formation facing Executor
, waiting on his, or rather Lord Vader's, next command. While he had confidently presented his idea to Admiral Torren, now that the plan was about to be enacted, he found worry creeping in. What if he didn't really sound like his father? What if he said something that made them realize an imposter sat at Executor's
helm? He shook his head to dispell his fears. Darth Vader would never feel any self-doubt, so neither could he.
He signaled the bridge to intiate contact with the Gorgon
. The broadcast of the archived hologram must have been successful, because within a few moments the holoprojector within the pod activated and a slender figure resolved in blue.
"Lord Vader, your visit is a great honor," the figure said. "Although we were expecting Governor Tarkin."
The high pitch of the voice made him stare at the hologram. Now that he really looked, it was quite obvious the figure was a woman. A female Admiral? A female officer of any
rank had been rare in the Imperial Navy. But Vader would have known about her, so he couldn't allow his surprise to show.
"The Governor is indisposed," he said. Remember, no contractions, sound formal, and slow down.
"And the Emperor requires an update on your progress, Admiral."
"I'm sorry, Lord Vader, Governor Tarkin was quite adamant that I communicate with no one but him," she said, her head bowed.
He raised an eyebrow. Someone would dare defy his father? "Are you refusing to give the Emperor the information he needs?"
"Of course not," she said. " I am only following the orders of my commander."
He shouldn't have worried about impersonating his father, because that was apparently going over well. The hard part was bluffing his way through a situation that he knew little about. He wondered if his father would have simply demanded her compliance, but it appeared that she wouldn't fold easily. He would have to try a more subtle approach. "The fact that we are here at all demonstrates the Governor's approval. How else would we know this installation existed?"
She paused, apparently thinking. "Then you have brought a message from Governor Tarkin?"
Loyalty was one thing, but her preoccupation with Tarkin bordered on devotion. What was it his father had said? Just like he thought the mistress he kept there was secret
. Luke had joked with his father about the type of woman who would be attracted to Tarkin, and the answer was staring him in the face.Though the hologram was small, he could still make out that she had a lean, drawn look similar to the Governor's. As Luke, he felt the pain she would know upon learning Tarkin's fate, but as Vader, he recognized a weakness to exploit. Creating a fear of what might happen is the most powerful weapon you hold.
"No," he said, trying to think of what she would find most concerning. "The Rebellion has strengthened considerably. Every commander is now personally involved in the war."
"We've heard nothing of this," she said, frustration evident in her voice. "I regret to tell you that the Suncrusher
His ears pricked at the slip of information. "The Emperor will not be pleased to hear that."
"We just need more time. You must remember how long it took to build the Death Star."
"I remember all too well. Unfortunately, that is time we do not have."
She grew animated. "I'll push the crews harder. Now that we know the war is not going well, every man will work twice as hard. I promise you."
"That is not a satisfactory solution," he said, sensing that the seed of fear he had planted was growing.
"What else can we do?"
"Since you have failed to complete your project, the entire installation must be evacuated. These Star Destroyers are needed to fight the Rebels."
She sagged visibly."I can't abandon this project. Governor Tarkin entrusted me with its success."
He knew he had only to twist the blade a little more, and she would fall. He hated lying to her, but hundreds of thousands of lives were at stake. "Governor Tarkin no longer holds the Emperor's favor. His future will darken further if you do not cooperate."
She lowered her head. "Then I'll give the order to begin the evacuation."
There, it was done. Conflict averted. Lives saved. So why did he feel sick inside? All he had done was trade on his father's reputation and tell a few half-truths, nothing worse. A small price for the benefit that had been reaped. He knew his father would heap hearty approval on his actions, because his father always believed in the philosophy of by any means necessary
. And he had to admit that in the arena of war, that outlook did make sense. But while his father thrived in this environment, it was slowly killing him. No matter what his father wished for him, this had to be his last mission as a soldier.
As Anakin settled into his makeshift bed, he put a finger to the small, square window cut into the bedroom wall. It had drawn his attention since the first night he had slept in here, mainly because it was so different from all the other windows in the home. It was almost too small to be functional, and it was only when he was lying down that it was at eye level. And whereas the sills of the other windows retained the rough texture of the synstone, this opening, which was about the length of his hand, had the smooth, glazed edges that characterized the work of a lightsaber.
He laid his head down on the stack of cushions which he had pilfered from the shuttle, and dimmed the ceiling lights with a wave of his hand. As the helmet display adjusted to the darkened room, he was able to make out stars in the night sky peeking through the little window. Once the stars brightened in the display, he recognized the pattern as the constellation the Krayt Dragon
. Any child in the northern hemisphere of Tatooine could point it out, so familiar was it in local culture. While doubtless Obi-Wan had picked up bits of Tatooine lore, he couldn't imagine the constellation becoming so important to Obi-Wan that he needed it to be the last thing he saw every night.
Curious, he got back out of bed and wandered outside the dwelling to identify what the window was really intended to highlight. In the dark, he could see nothing out of the ordinary. Around him the stars were blazing, and he tilted his head back to take in the view. On the core worlds, stars glowed bright and dense in the night sky, but on Tatooine as on all the Rim worlds, the Galaxy itself bisected the heavens. He smiled as he remembered laying on a rooftop in Mos Espa, the evening air just pleasantly warm, with his mother teaching him the names of the stars.
The air was probably like that now : the perfect midpoint between the searing heat of day and the icy cold of deep night. It probably smelled crisp and clean, with maybe a hint of night blooming cereus. Suddenly, he wanted to know for sure, and to feel the light breeze that usually swept over the desert at night. Just for a moment, to crack the helmet open and breathe unrecirculated air.
He shook his head. If anything went wrong he would be unable to save himself. But the memory beckoned to him, and he found himself pushing the button on his belt to stop the ventilator. A minute or two was all he had before the light-headedness would start, and his ruined lungs demanded pressurized air. He removed the outer helmet and set it on a nearby boulder, then used both hands to fold the mask forward, being careful to keep it hinged in the lower section.
Though the air carried only the scent of dirt and rocks, it was rich beyond belief after the sterility of the ventilator. A warm breeze caressed his bare skin, as luxurious as the softest velvet in one of Padme's gowns. It was life, it was freedom. It was wonderful. Already he was short of breath, but he wasn't ready to leave the embrace of the Tatooine night. Only the thought of Luke finding his skeletal remains, the mask still clutched in his hands, convinced him to fold the mask back in place. He retrieved the outer helmet and locked it down, tapping the belt control to restart the ventilator. His lungs rejoiced, but sadness filled him as he resigned himself once more to the reality of his prison.
Tomorrow he would take the coordinates outside the window, and follow them to their conclusion. Whatever it was that Obi-Wan had held so dear would soon be revealed.