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Title: The Vader Chronicles
Author: Jedi Nemo (jedinemo@earthlink.net)
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Vader, other characters from the EU and canon.
Category: Adventure, Drama, Angst.

Disclaimer: I am not making any money from this.

Summary: Darth Vader's life from the aftermath of the battle on Mustafar onwards.


Chapter 1 : Aftermath

Darth Vader lay motionless on the medical table. Above him, a hovering medical droid removed the previous day's dressings, each piece pulling off dead tissue from the live flesh underneath. If Vader felt the bandages tear at his burned skin, he gave no sign. Too badly burned to yet be submerged in a bacta tank, the daily routine of bandage changes was his new reality.

A week ago, he had told Jedi Master Mace Windu that Chancellor Palpatine was the hidden Sith Lord that the Jedi Council had been seeking. He still had everything then- his wife Padme, his unborn child, his friend Obi-wan, and his strong, healthy body. Now, it was all taken from him. Yoda had advised him not to fear the loss of loved ones, but Vader had not imagined he could lose this much. So great was his fear of losing Padme that he had not forseen even a glimmer of what was to come. For all his prescient visions of the future of others, his own destiny had been completely clouded to him.

How could he have failed to save both the women he loved so much ? His failure to save his mother had been more innocent- he had not yet known the veracity of his visions. But Padme - he had tried with all of his power, pushed aside any other goal or thought or feeling of his conscience, to save her. The thought of his failure took the will to live right out of him. The midichlorians that permeated his cells would not let his body die, though, and so he lay passively, riding the tide of destiny.

At first he thought that Palpatine was wrong. Padme couldn't be dead; there was no reason for her to be dead. He knew without a doubt that she was alive on that landing pad on Mustafar, as he began to battle Obi-wan. His mind could always find hers. He remembered that pivotal day when from the Council Room of the Jedi Temple he reached out to her in her distant apartment, and felt her returning his gaze across the city. The intensity of their connection overwhelmed him, driving his fateful choice to save Palpatine and his Sith knowledge from destruction by Windu.

Yet here he lay, alone. Every probe of his mind to find her returned without an answer. Nothing. Not even the faintest echo. He had tried a hundred times to feel her presence, and could no longer bring himself to try again.

And so it went on, the daily routine to heal his body that went on without involvement from himself. He could see his torso and the stumps of his limbs, the skin hard and crackled, oozing serum from ruptured blisters. Black eschars of dead skin peeled up at the edges, but remained firmly attached in the center. The medics cut back these eschars, stopping only when the blade hit live tissue. The droids gave no expression as they tended his wounds, but he knew he must be a horror to behold. It was if the whole physical being of Anakin Skywalker had been peeled away so that he could be rebuilt as Darth Vader.

This day's dressing changes were now complete. The droids began placing the black life-support suit on his body; it was too painful to dress himself. When the mask and helmet sealed in place, he swung his legs off the table to walk back to his room. The droids would have transported him, of course, but this, at least, he could do for himself. Despite the agony of leather and armor against his body, he willed himself to walk.

He walked awkwardly, but that did not surprise him. He knew from his experience with his prosthetic right arm that there was an adaptation process. It took time for the brain to process the electronic neural feedback as effectively as it had handled the biological information. His usage of his prosthetic right arm was now as swift and sure as before the injury. He was sure that the clumsy delay he felt in sensing and advancing his legs would resolve as well. At least the distance between the treatment room and his room was short.

Inside his room a droid orderly helped him to remove the life-support suit, and redressed him in thin cloth. The medics had cautioned against wearing the armored suit against his traumatized skin, but Palpatine had demanded proof of the suit's ability to sustain him. The suit's ventilator was necessary for nomal activity. He could breathe on his own, but his lungs and chest wall had lost the elasticity necessary to draw in adequate volume. Without the ventilator, he felt weak and out of breath. Within Vader's room Palpatine had installed a hyperbaric chamber, which forced enough oxygen to his lungs and tissues that he felt comfortable. In that chamber, he could remove the suit, and give his tissues a chance to heal.

Vader had just seated himself within the chamber when there a signal at the door to his room. It would only be Palpatine; he had no other visitors. "Enter, my Master," he intoned, opening the door with a wave of a finger.

Palpatine strode into the room, then seated himself opposite Vader in the hyberbaric chamber. A flicker across the wizened face of the Emperor told Vader his appearance was disturbing.

"The medics tell me your wounds are healing well, Lord Vader," the Emperor said with encouragement. "They say they may have you in a bacta tank within a week or two."

To an observer, Palpatine's words might have rung of friendliness and compassion. In truth, none of these soft emotions troubled his mind. Well trained in both Jedi and Sith arts, Palpatine's greatest Force talent lay in knowing what others wanted. He could look inside them to their very soul, and see what quest drove them on. With that knowledge, he dangled their dearest prize just out of their reach, enjoying most his ability to manipulate them. This ability had helped him rise within the structure of the Republic, and eventually seize control of it. Now as Emperor, what excited him most was not the control of planets, or trade routes, or vast fortunes, but the thought of uncountable legions of souls bound to obey his bidding. He was the Force embodied, he liked to think, and the Galactic Empire simply the physical proof of his abilities.

But as Palpatine studied Vader's face, he was troubled by the deep melancholy he sensed within him. Palpatine could feel no quest within the young man; it was as if he had given up. While this reaction might be natural, Palpatine knew he must stop Vader from dwelling in this low place. Vader must be made to feel hate, rage, or even fear, something to awaken the power of the Dark Side. Palpatine had worked ever so carefully to engineer the fall of the Jedi's Chosen One, and he was not about to lose him to simple human emotion.

"Your strength is to be admired. Not many could have survived as you did," Palpatine continued, altering his tactics slightly. "When you are fully healed, you will be an unstoppable force, my young apprentice. I have many important tasks awaiting you."

"Yes, Master. I am grateful for all you have done for me," Vader replied. The words were appropriate, but the tone, hollow.

Palpatine smiled politely and rose to leave. He would figure out a way to invigorate this prize of the Galaxy to its former strength; to do otherwise would be a senseless waste. His attention was required elsewhere by the fledgling Empire, however, and Vader would have to survive on his own for now.

Darth Vader grimaced as he began the process of removing his life support suit by first unfastening the durasteel shin guards . Bending over stretched the skin on his back, where he had sustained the deepest burns. While not as exquisitely painful as the fresh burns had been, this stage of healing left his skin feeling tight and restrictive. He no longer had to endure the accursed dressing changes, but they had been replaced by similarly painful massages designed to free the adhesions of scar from the underlying tissue. The medics were optimistic that continued bacta treatments would restore much of the lost flexibility.

Each day he learned to function better within the black armored suit. He improved the coordination of his mechanical arms through simple, repetitive motions : clenching and unclenching his fists, furling and unfurling his fingers,flexion and circling of his wrists. Over and over he practiced, until organic thought met electronic circuitry with flawless precision. The helmet was not such a simple adjustment. It limited his peripheral vision tremendously, and until he found he could alter the external microphone sensitivity, it relayed every last syncro whine on the whole rehab floor at irritating volume. The digital readout that projected on the lenses held useful information, but more often than not he found it to be a distraction.

His lungs constituted his biggest challenge. He had learned how to synchronize with his ventilator, how to speed up its rate with physical exertion, how to stop it momentarily to create silence. The ventilator had limited usefulness, though, even set to maximum speed. At a certain point his scarred lungs would exchange only so much oxygen and carbon dioxide, no matter how much oxygen the suit delivered to him. His heart, on the other hand, was mightily efficient now that it delivered blood only to a central core, and was not burdened by pumping to distant extremities. He acknowledged his limitations, but promised himself he would learn to compensate. He would hone his dexterity and coordination, he would refine his Force sensitivity, and he would push his body enough that he would never display any sign of weakness.

That no one would ever know the terrible damage concealed by the suit was foremost in his vow to appear invincible. To that end he had worked to be able to dress and undress himself without aid, not even from a droid. Sealing the helmet and mask correctly was difficult, but by using the Force he could accomplish it. He continued removing the suit within the safety of the hyperbaric chamber and prepared for sleep.

Poised on a mechanized platform hovering above a river of lava, Anakin faced Obi-wan, former friend and mentor, now revealed enemy. Obi-wan shouted at him from the safety of the rocky shoreline, " It's over Anakin. I have the high ground."

Over, Anakin thought. I don't think so. The leap would not be that far, especially since he felt the Force running so strongly through him. He had tasted the Dark Side, and the sensation of it amazed him. The Jedi had steered him from the Dark Side only because they knew how powerful it would make him. His rage at and hatred of Obi-wan made the Force pulse through his muscles. One leap, and he would be on the shore to finish off Obi-wan.

This time Darth Vader awoke before Obi-wan's lightsaber slashed through three of his limbs, leaving him crippled on the rocks. Sometimes he had to endure not only that memory, but the lecture that came after, and sometimes even the unbelievable pain of the lava lighting his body on fire. Awake, he could control his mind, and focus forward. But in sleep his mind betrayed him, and brought forth the events of his former life. It always took him awhile to regain his mental equilibrium after one of these dreams.

He was thankful there was no one to see his inner turmoil. The Emperor had been gone many days, leaving him alone in this medical rehabilitation center.At least he assumed he was alone; he had never seen anything but droids here while undergoing treatment. Not that there were many beings left that he knew. Order 66 had been highly successful in decimating the Jedi Order. Obi-wan might still be alive, maybe others, but no matter. He was not one of them anymore.

Now the only person on his side, the only being who appreciated his talent, was the Emperor. Even before his transformation, the Emperor probably understood him best, not his Jedi mentors. Only one path lay before him; he would be right hand to the Emperor. It was a fitting role for the Chosen One.

He gave himself comfort by reasoning that the Jedi prophecy must still hold true. The Jedi had simply interpreted it to suit their needs. Afterall, they had very nearly rejected training him, even though he fit all the qualifications of the prophecy, even though his midichlorian count surpassed all known Jedi. That he was destined for greatness, that he would play a key role in the Galaxy, of that he was certain, and he held that truth close around him like a cloak.

Already he had helped Palpatine to consolidate power in one man, making it simpler to keep peace and order in the Galaxy. Was that not a noble achievement, was that not something of which Padme would be proud ? Her name rolling through his mind stung him fiercely, and he put away her memory, unable to bear looking at it. He would do this for her, though, build a tranquil and harmonious Empire. He would learn all he could from Palpatine, all the Sith teachings hidden from him by the Jedi. He would not limit his actions and emotions as the Jedi had taught him . Passion was not wrong; the Dark Side was not wrong. He would use them all, feel the full power of the Force. There would be a reason why he had suffered such tremendous loss, and he would not shirk from his destiny.


Chapter 2 : Return of the Sith

If he closed his eyes, Darth Vader almost felt whole again. Sucked down in the cockpit of a high performance speeder, piloting by a blend of physical perception and Force sensitivity so harmonious that it felt as if the speeder controls were hardwired to his brain, it could have been any other day on Coruscant. But then, because it was Coruscant, he had to open his eyes, the Force alone being insufficient guidance to negotiate its flyways, which could be like traversing an asteroid field, the actions of some pilots being as random as flying chunks of ice and stone. With his eyes open it was impossible to deny that he was encased in a life support suit, the continual reminder of the devastation in his life.

Still, for a moment, he could ignore the past, and immerse himself in the sensation of flying. Long ago he had decided that flying planetside was better than flying in space. Space, with its remarkable beauty and deafening silence, allowed speeds far greater than what could be achieved within an atmosphere. Appreciation of speed, though, required gravity and context. Planetside, g-forces gave literal impression of the acceleration rate and the hardness of a turn. The eyes judged speed by the closeness and passing of objects, whereas such reference was absent in space. He missed the feeling of the wind on his face, but flying the speeder soothed his soul all the same.

As he merged the M31 speeder into an express lane, he reflected on the ease of his escape from the rehab center.With his recent life consisting only of medical treatments and physical therapy, the days had run together, but he thought it had been several weeks since his catastrophic injuries on Mustafar. The medical droids offered him little information about the outside world, and Palpatine had been conspicuously absent. Never able to sit still for long, and lacking orders from Palpatine, he took matters into his own hands. He had anticipated resistance from the medical droids, or the appearance of the Imperial security force, but neither materialized. The counteroffensive he had rehearsed went untested when, in an anticlimactic moment, he simply walked out. An unmarked door led to a plain corridor, to an elevator that descended only two floors, and exited to a windowed hallway. As he made his way down, it occured to him that he didn't even know what planet he was on, having only vague memories of leaving Mustafar. The window near the elevator showed him the unmistakable total urban landscape that was Coruscant.

The elevator hallway had no obvious exit. If only he had his lightsaber, he could create a passage, be it through the wall or the top of the elevator. He noticed an indented panel at the end of the hallway opposite the window. It lacked a wall control to indicate it was a door, but it was the only non uniform surface in the hall. The panel did not move when he tested it with his hands, but he felt a tingle of the Force, and so he motioned two fingers. The panel slid up, revealing a hangar bay. This certainly was the way Palpatine had been entering; this door only yielded to the Force.

He walked out into the hangar bay, which was remarkably empty for its capacity . Only three vehicles resided in the hangar : A theta class shuttle, a ship that looked like aJedi shuttle, except the emblems were gone, and in the far corner, an M31 speeder. The M31 was not a standard model, not that one would ever call such a high performance luxospeeder "standard".This one wasnot the factory "fire-red", but rather a deeper scarlet that matched the armor of the Emperor's own guards. He doubted if M31s came off the assembly line with side mounted blasters, either. The empty seat in the cockpit called to him, and as he slid behind the yoke, he felt more like himself than he had in a long time. He pushed the ignition, reveling in the glorious sound of its engines echoing through the hangar. He closed the hatch, strapped himself in, and eased the M31 airborne. A touch of the throttle, and he cleared the open hangar doors, and rejoined the world of the living.

At expressway speeds, it did not take long to come up on the governmental hub of buildings. He could navigate this stretch of Coruscant without thinking, so often had he traversed these flyways. He opened up the throttle, just to see what the M31 would do, banking right and left to avoid slower craft. Not the most polite flying, but he didn't endanger anyone. For the first time in his life, no master, be it Watto or the Jedi, or now Palpatine, directed his next move. He could go anywhere, but he had nowhere to go. His new life had no structure, and it disquieted him. A lightsaber on his belt would boost his confidence in greeting the unknown, because Jedi or Sith, what was a warrior without his weapon ? A destination finally in mind, he flipped a vertical "U" and turned back to the government core.

Rising broad and square above the city floor, the architecture of the Jedi Temple was unlike anything else on Coruscant. The five spires that rose from the body of the building did nothing to make it blend in to the cityscape. As Vader made his approach, even at a distance he could see that the Temple appeared deserted. No traffic pattern of vehicles swirled above its landing pads; in fact the traffic lanes avoided it altogther. The fire damage had gone unrepaired, its signature spires still blackened. As he flew closer the lack of pedestrian traffic on the walkways became apparent. Squatters had not even taken up residence on its empty terraces.

For a thousand generations the Jedi had been a constant presence in the Galaxy, but now they were no more than a memory. In himself, they had built a foundation as massive as the building before him, filling his mind with precepts and viewpoints that he had accepted without question. Yet all had crumbled within the span of a day, due in no small part to his own actions. Had he really killed all those younglings ? He swallowed hard and pushed back the memory. It was a necessary thing, he repeated to himself. It had to be done, and at least he had done it quickly, so that they did not suffer.

He halted the speeder near the main entrance, seeing no need to use the official landing pads. No guards of any sort appeared to stop his entrance into the building. He entered his old pass code at the door to the interior core ; it admitted him as if nothing had ever happened. Inside, the great hallways were silent and dark, the life drawn out of them. The bodies of the fallen Jedi had been removed, but no other action had been taken to erase the evidence of combat from the interior.

As he walked down the broad corridors, the familarity of the building comforted him, despite the carnage that he had wrought within its walls. The elevators still powered up, and he found himself riding to the top of the spire containing the Jedi Council chambers. He entered the room where he had been judged so many times, from boyhood to manhood.

The windows were darkened by sooty residues, the chairs of the High Council covered in a similar layer of ash and dust. Clone trooper footprints disturbed the ash layer on the floor, evidence of the search that had taken place after the Temple had fallen. Standing in the center of the room, as he had first done nearly 15 years ago, his mind filled with snippets of the discussions that had shaped his life. So often the Jedi had seemed bent on pushing him down, when all he had ever wanted from the Council was recognition of his talents and accomplishments. The flood of memories gave him the uneasy feeling that he was not alone; he calmed himself by reaching out with the Force to confirm that the building was empty. Empty or not, it was time to address the task that had brought him here.

Midlevel in the center core building of the temple complex was the hall dedicated to lightsaber studies. Laboratories for use in construction of lightsabers were here, as well as gymnasiums for lightsaber drills and the practice of combat skills. He ticked off a list in his head of everything he would need to build a new lightsaber. Handles, grips, power cells, superconductors, lens assemblies, even Ilum crystals would be found here. Tradition told that a Jedi, especially a Padawan, was to go on a quest to find a crystal in the wild when constructing a lightsaber, but he knew a reserve of crystals was maintained in the lab.

He remembered the first lightsaber he had constructed. Other Padawans struggled to assemble theirs and focus the crystals, but not him. His mechanical aptitude shown through, and he welcomed its construction as a break from history and philosophy classes. The most recent lightsaber he had built was especially well balanced and rugged, and should have lasted him 20 years, had not Obi-wan perversely taken it at Mustafar.

He quickly gathered the parts he needed, as well as a few tools. It would have been easier to build the saber in the lab, but the feeling of unease had followed him from the Council chambers. His discomfort was augmented by a creeping claustrophobia stemming from the armored suit. He had never worn the suit this long continuously, and certainly not at this exertion level. Not thinking ahead, he had neglected to load any packets of the liquid meals designed to work within the suit. It gave him a glimpse of how truly vulnerable he was physically, despite the strength the Force gave him. Unable to unmask outside of the oxygen enriched and pressurized hyperbaric chamber, he was tied to the chamber until he developed a better long term tolerance of the suit. He exited the Temple at a faster clip than he had entered.

The M31 sat outside, waiting for his return. As he fired it up, he couldn't help but think this whole excursion had gone rather smoothly. Palpatine never did anything without good reason, but Vader still found it odd that the Temple was simply abandoned. He took off from the plaza and joined the traffic lane heading back towards the rehab center. He decided against taking an extended route back, the thrill of flying having been overridden by a growing desire to get out of the armored suit. It began to dawn on him that the ease of his escape was only because Palpatine knew he would be forced to return to the rehab center within a short period. With chagrin, he realized the M31 was probably purchased specifically for his use.

He flew away from the governmental core towards the rehab center. As he neared the center, he adjusted his altitude to meet the height of the rehab center landing pads, far taller than most any other building on Coruscant. His proximity to the center tripped a security field, and a warning came crisply over the speeder comlink. "You have entered restricted airspace of the Emperor Palpatine Surgical Reconstruction Center. Reduce speed and identify yourself."

He flipped a switch to broadcast back, "This is Darth Vader, returning to.." Before he finished his statement a light flickered in the corner of the instrument panel, and he could see a set of hangar doors opening. Apparently , at least here, his name carried some weight.

"Vehicle identity confirmed. Please proceed, Lord Vader," came the voice over the comlink.

Inside the hangar he parked the M31 near its original spot. The lack of guards no longer surprised him, as the idea was growing that the Emperor had arranged for everything to fall into place for him. The Force responsive door opened to him, and he retraced his path back to the rehab center. His droid nurse had apparently not been privy to the expectation that he would escape, and she flew after him, chattering admonitions all the way. He stopped her midflight with a telekinetic stab that rocked her backwards. The droid took the hint and returned to the nurses' station.

The last steps to his room seemed to take forever. Once inside, he went straight to the hyperbaric chamber. He wanted to rip the helmet off of his head, but its construction prevented him from doing so, and he had to carefully unlock the seal instead. He envied the ease with which the clone troopers were able to slip their helmets on and off. When the cooled air of the chamber finally touched his face, he closed his eyes in relief. The suit's temperature control system had performed well, but it was no substitute for the feeling of air directly on his skin.

He had come a long way in the last few weeks, but one afternoon's expedition had left him exhausted. His weakness made him uneasy; he wanted to be self-sufficient again.The only answer was to push himself harder, and as he spread the lightsaber components in front of him, he vowed that when his new lightsaber was finished, he would be combat ready.


Chapter 3 : The Debut

The Emperor Palpatine watched the Surgical Reconstruction Center named for himself grow larger in the window of his shuttle. It felt good to be back on Coruscant, or Imperial Center, as it was now called. One should never underestimate the power of a name, he had found. The less a people had to hold onto from the past, the more willing they were to go into an uncertain future.

He had been away longer than he had wanted, but there had been that messy business on Ghorman to get handled. He was pleased with the performance of his Imperial officer, Willhuf Tarkin, in the matter, so pleased he had promoted him to the rank of Moff, with command of the Seswenna Sector. Pity he didn't have any Force talent; Tarkin's way of thinking ran parallel with the Emperor's. Maybe a little rough around the edges as far as diplomacy went, but one couldn't argue with his results. Now it was the Empire's turn to wait for his attention; the Emperor needed to return to the struggling apprentice he had left behind.

The shuttle landed in the rehab center hangar bay that was reserved for the Emperor's use. He had found that the only true way to keep a secret was to limit access; security measures simply delayed, but did not stop, the spread of information. As he descended the landing ramp, he noticed the M31 was in a slightly different position. He layed a hand on the sleek curve of the cockpit glass; Vader had been here. He felt the inner glow that came to him when he predicted another's action; he knew the speeder would be irresistable to Vader if he made it this far. Perhaps his apprentice was not so struggling afterall.

As Palpatine approached the Force controlled door, he sensed Vader in the hallway on the other side. Through the door, Palpatine could hear a lightsaber humming in the rhythmic pattern of the classic drills. Then, abruptly, the saber was sheathed, and the hallway fell silent, save for the unmistakable sound of Vader's ventilator. Palpatine motioned the door up, and indeed, found himself facing a fully armored Darth Vader.

Palpatine's first reaction was that perhaps he had reconstructed Vader too well, but then he smirked at his own discomfort. This was the effect he had been seeking, an imposing figure that would instill fear in the Imperial citizenry. Unease was replaced by thrill as Palpatine thought of the challenge of commanding Vader. Always he had sought the strongest Force talents to be his apprentices, both to boost his own power and for the excitement of directing a dangerous being. While some men might fly the fastest speeder, or visit the most hostile planet, or hunt the fiercest prey, Palpatine found pleasure in controlling those who could be his most formidable opponents.

Palpatine's thoughts turned to his past apprentices. Count Dooku had been quite composed and still Jedi-like, but a challenge to read, and a worthy intellectual opponent. Really too passionless to make a good Sith, though, and in the end, far too unsuspecting. Darth Maul, now that had been a tragic loss to the Jedi. Very powerful, both physically and with the Force, so coolly lethal, so passionately hateful of the Jedi, Maul would have had a long and useful career, had not Kenobi cut him down in his prime. Obi-wan Kenobi -- now there was a real irritant. Not particularly gifted in the Force, not prescient or strongly telekinetic, he nonetheless had accomplished great harm. He was the second tier student, who through hard work and application beat out the naturally gifted top tier students. He had killed that great weapon, Darth Maul, and nearly killed the newly minted Darth Vader.

No matter, Palpatine thought, Vader lives. Maul had been so perfect an apprentice because his physical appearance inspired such fear in his opponents. Judging by his own reaction to Vader, the Emperor knew this new Sith Lord would be of similar use. With his two meter height and the impenetrable mask, Vader was an unfathomable mystery in black. The sound of the ventilator left one unsure whether they were facing man or machine. Indeed, Darth Vader would be supremely valuable in keeping the new Empire in line.

"I see you have made great progress in my absence, Lord Vader," Palpatine began. "Where did you get the lightsaber ?"

"I constructed it from parts I retrieved from the Jedi Temple," Vader replied. "It has been a long time since I have been without a weapon."

"Remind me to get you a synth crystal so that you can power your lightsaber appropriately. We wouldn't want anyone thinking you were Jedi, now would we ?" Palpatine chastised. " I trust you found your life support suit satisfactory?"

"I'm becoming more accustomed to it every day, my Master," Vader said. "But, as you know, I do need to return to the hyperbaric chamber periodically."

"Yes, I suppose you do," the Emperor replied thoughtfully. "That would make it difficult for you to go very far from here, now wouldn't it ?"

"It left me unsure whether I am a patient or a prisioner," Vader said, with an edge to his voice. Palpatine might not appreciate his tone, but he needed to know where he stood in the Emperor's New Order. From Palpatine, Vader had wanted the power to stop death, but Palpatine had never been clear about what he wanted in return.

"Oh, my young apprentice, you are no prisioner," Palpatine replied using his purring politician voice. "I only wanted you to have sufficient time to heal. I envision great responsibilities for you, after I have given you more training, of course."

"Am I to assist you with the Senate, then?" inquired Vader .

"That would be a waste of a great warrior, now wouldn't it," the Emperor laughed. "You were made for action, not diplomacy, Lord Vader.You will help me with the military, and the peace-keeping troops. I cannot be all places at once, so you will be my representative out among the star systems. The troops and the peoples should never forget they have an Emperor. You appear ready to assume your duties. Tomorrow you will accompany me to the Imperial Senate, and the galaxy will be introduced to Darth Vader."

-----

The wind rustled through Darth Vader's cloak as he stood on the rehab center landing pad, waiting for the Emperor's shuttle. He had not been outside of the rehab center in two months, save for his solo journey to the Jedi Temple. The galaxy was a different place now, Empire instead of Republic, and minus the Jedi Order. The Senate must be in a bit of an uproar adjusting to all the changes. As a Jedi, he always received respect, and often admiration ; he wondered if today's reaction from the Senate would be the same.

When the shuttle landed, the ramp descended, but no one came from within the ship to greet him. He headed up the ramp, passing the two red cloaked Imperial Guards standing at the entry. The passenger compartment of the shuttle was dimly lit, but at the rear he could see three figures seated in apparent discussion. He recognized the horned head of Mas Amedda, his expression no less stern than when he was guiding a Senate session, as well as the pale apparition that was Sly Moore, seated near Palpatine. He had never before heard Sly Moore speak, but the low female voice he heard must belong to her.

Discussion stopped as he grew closer. In the silence, he became aware of how loud a noise his ventilator made. The Emperor sensed the awkwardness of the moment, and moved to break the tension."Lord Vader, let me introduce you to the Vice Chairman of the Senate, Mas Amedda, and my political aide, Sly Moore." Both figures had met Anakin Skywalker, but the Emperor was determined to start things anew. "As I was explaining," Palpatine continued, "Lord Vader will act as a special military aide to my office."

Unsure of what to say, Vader nodded in acknowledgement. Sly Moore stared at him for a moment, then looked to the Emperor. "Please, speak freely," Palpatine encouraged. "Lord Vader will be involved with this project, so there is no need to keep secrets in this matter."

Sly Moore glanced once more at Vader, her distrust of him not abated by her master's words. Like all of Palpatine's subordinates, though, she submitted to his requests, and so resumed speaking." Can we be certain that the fact that construction has already begun on the Great Weapon be kept from the Senate ? They will be much less likely to support the project if they are aware it has been started independent of them. "

"The framework is all that has been accomplished," the Emperor replied," and that is in a remote location. I forsee no possibility that information will be leaked to them prematurely. I have complete confidence in the commander overseeing the project."

Vader remained silent, having nothing to offer to this conversation. The galaxy had moved on without him as he recovered from his injuries. Palpatine obviously parceled out information as he saw fit, leaving no one person educated in all matters. While he might see his place as the Emperor's right hand, the resentment Vader sensed coming from Sly Moore told him she, too, thought of herself as that privileged second.

------

The Emperor's entourage made its way down the plush carpeted foyer of the Imperial Senate, the height of its ceilings and massiveness of its columns dwarfing all who entered. On this most cosmopolitan of worlds, beings quickly became inured to the sights and sounds of others quite unlike themselves. But always among the many who faded into the background were those few beings that produced discomfort in others by their mere presence. Darth Vader was to be one of those. He noted the Doppler effect of emotions in onlookers, their fear growing loudly with his proximity, and receeding into relief as he passed them without incident.

Like the Jedi Temple, the hallways of the Senate comforted him with their familiarity. He paused for a moment at the outer rim of the great auditorium, having never been permitted farther. A scarlet Imperial Guard hurried him back to rejoin the entourage, all of whom were disappearing into an elevator that would take them to the Emperor's lower level holding office. From this office, the Emperor's podium rose through the floor of the Senate to its formal position within the center of the auditorium.

The view from the podium was nothing short of astounding. More than a thousand saucers, with the representatives from the same number of worlds, surrounded the podium both far above it and far below it. The din of thousands of voices in many different languages filled the auditorium. He realized some of the conversations might be about him, a new mysterious figure standing between the expected faces of Mas Amedda and Sly Moore. It was crowded in the podium, but he had found a neutral spot to stand that did not provoke a snarl from either Amedda or Moore. Palpatine rose to speak, and Amedda silenced the auditorium by calling the session to order.

This was the microcosm in which Padme' had thrived, the institution she had fought for so passionately. He remembered stories she had told him of her Senatorial life, her excitement uncontained. If she were still alive, she would be here now; there was no way she could be kept from this process. He scanned the saucers all around the room, looking for the person he knew was not there. Vader couldn't help but to reach out, to try to sense her presence. Though he could not find her through the Force, he couldn't shake the feeling that some essence of her remained here. So deep in thought was he about Padme', he didn't even hear the Emperor's speech, until the sound of his own name brought him back to the present.

"Darth Vader," the Emperor pronounced, "has fought for the survival of the Senate. He scoured the Jedi Temple of the treasonous Jedi, and saw to the end of the Separatist leaders to ensure the safety and stability of the Empire. Under my orders, he will travel the galaxy as my representative to maintain peace and order throughout its worlds. As a Lord of the Sith, he is also our communication with the Force, now that the Jedi are gone. He is a guardian of the Empire."

The auditorium erupted in applause, rising to a standing ovation. Inside his helmet, Vader was stunned. This was the Palpatine he had known before Mustafar, the one who believed in him and encouraged him. He had been concerned that he would be introduced as a mere aide, another shadowy figure at the Emperor's side, but Palpatine had painted him in heroic terms. This he could do, be a guardian of the Empire. He raised his arms to accept their applause.

------

Giving Darth Vader a hero's welcome had made the Senators no more comfortable with him than before the session. The milling throngs of Senators and staff still gave him wide berth as the great auditorium emptied into the foyer. He strode ahead of the Emperor's party, feeling embarrassed by walking within the protection of the Imperial Guards. As the swarms of senatorial staff crisscrossed in front of him, he noticed one face constant in the crowd, stationary, alternately hidden and revealed by the stream of moving beings exiting the Senate. The figure was unyielding, even when he approached within a few feet. As he stood in front of Senator Bail Organa, Organa looked him square in the helmet with an intensity that gave Vader the unnerving sensation that Bail could see right through the lenses of his mask.

"Senator Organa," Palpatine's voice interrupted from behind, "Did you wish to give Lord Vader a personal word of congratulations ?"

"Actually, your excellency, I came to speak with you directly," Organa said, his tone quiet, but determined.

"If you hadn't noticed, Senator, this session is over. You will have opportunity to speak again in the next session," Palpatine said coolly.

"I couldn't take the chance that you would not recognize me in the official session. You should know that the facts of the Ghorman Massacre have been spread throughout the Senate. We will not allow the deaths of dozens of peaceful demonstrators to go unpunished. I am telling you man to man that we will not allow this misuse of power," Organa stated.

"The event on Ghorman was unfortunate, but common sense should have told those people to move out from under a descending Star Destroyer. I don't know who comprises the 'we' to which you keep referring, but I will tell you, Emperor to Senator, that you are treading on dangerous ground. And, man to man, I would hate to have to tell you the fate of the last man who threatened me." Palpatine's voice had taken on that hard edge that portended violence. "Good day, Senator."

"We know you ordered that ship to land," Organa proclaimed, as the Emperor's party turned away from him. He watched the black form of Darth Vader recede with the group, and played his final card, shouting, "Anakin!".

Vader turned halfway around before he caught himself. He knew there was no more Anakin Skywalker, no place for him to exist in this Galaxy, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break. Bail had been a good friend, and he wanted to answer, but there was no point. He turned away from Bail, and continued on with the Emperor's group.

Palpatine heard Organa's call also, and noted Vader's unconscious response. Most unfortunate, that encounter, he thought. He didn't want anyone or anything pulling Vader back into his old persona. He needed to get him off Coruscant, and away from familiar settings. The time had come to build the reputation of Darth Vader.


Chapter 4 : Beginnings

Moff Willhuff Tarkin watched the Emperor's shuttle rise into the forward docking bay of his mile long, wedge shaped Star Destroyer. Tarkin was really quite pleased with the design of his Star Destroyer, bigger and more powerful than anything else in the Imperial Fleet. He dreamt of still greater things, though, of a battle station the size of a small moon, so powerful that its mere existence would keep Imperial subjects subdued with fear. And so the Emperor was here today, to evaluate his work in developing that station.

The Emperor's theta class shuttle sat between rows of white armored stormtroopers and grey uniformed Imperial officers. Even here, on an Imperial ship, the Emperor was accompanied by his scarlet armored Imperial Guards, who walked at four corners surrounding the Emperor. Following the Emperor was an impressively tall masked and helmeted figure, all in black, that Tarkin had never seen before.

The Emperor greeted Tarkin warmly. "Always good to see you, Moff Tarkin. Let me introduce you to my new aide, Darth Vader, who will be of great benefit in our mutual goal of maintaining order in the galaxy."

The two men nodded at each other from either side of the Emperor. "It's an honor to have you on board, Emperor. I'm sure you will be pleased by our progress, " Tarkin said.

"Moff Tarkin, those fighter ships in the corner of the hangar are of unusual design. Where were they built ?" Vader asked.

"You have an eye for spacecraft. They are prototypes we are testing of a new design put forth by a friend of mine, Raith Sienar. If they perform well you might soon find them throughout the Imperial Fleet, with the Emperor's approval, of course, " Tarkin explained.

"That's a matter for another time," the Emperor said. " Let's proceed to the bridge to discuss your project, Moff Tarkin."

"After you, of course," replied Tarkin, with the slightest of bows.

------

Throughout the command bridge, heads swiveled at the sound of the elevator doors opening. Conversational voices ceased as the line staff saw not only their commanding officer, but the Emperor and his black helmeted associate stepping on to the bridge. As quickly as the conversations stopped, eyes snapped to the viewscreens in front of them, not daring to look at the three men passing on the walkway above them.

The great sphere of metal that hung outside the bridge viewing windows had been visible from the Emperor's shuttle as it crossed from one Star Destroyer to the next. Now as Tarkin's Star Destroyer moved closer to it, the enormity of its scale could be appreciated. The three men staring at its form had galaxy weary eyes, yet they all stood speechless for a moment.

"Quite impressive, wouldn't you say ?" queried Moff Tarkin, a hint of a smile gracing his skeletally lean face for the first time in the Emperor's visit.

"I have studied the plans for this battle station for several months now. I have read the external dimensions numerous times, but its scope is incomprehensible until it is before your eyes," the Emperor said.

"I remember seeing those plans in your apartment, master. Where did they come from ?" Vader interjected.

"They were brought to me after the Battle of Geonosis. The Geonosians designed this battle station, but never started its construction," the Emperor explained. "So, Tarkin, you think you can complete this project and make it an operational weapon ?"

"Absolutely," Tarkin replied."It is actually similar to another of Sienar's designs. My engineers have examined this battle station and compared it to Sienar's plans. They have already suggested some improvements, but we can at least turn this shell into a working prototype. I will need some things from you to make it happen, however." Tarkin glanced suspiciously at Vader, unwilling to say more.

The Emperor sensed Tarkin's unease. "Lord Vader, will you excuse us ?"

Vader was surprised, but compliant."As you wish, my master," he said, before exiting the bridge. So, Tarkin was yet another person who held the privilege of the Emperor's confidence. Palpatine apparently had more right hands than General Grievous.

------

Vader retraced his steps to the aft hangar of the Star Destroyer. When the elevator opened, two flight technicians rushed to enter, found themselves looking up at Vader's mask, and rethought their haste. As they stepped backwards, he pushed forward out of the elevator. The two crewman found refuge in the elevator, and peered out to watch him walk across the hangar floor.

Throughout the hangar men hurried to their next duty post, their lot determined by the insignia they wore. In the vast military machine, cogs had their places, and those that broke out of line got pounded in a little harder. Such constraint was not for Vader. He was unique in the galaxy, no rank upon his chest, no bureaucracy to hold him back, no council to judge him. He answered to but one man, and could achieve as much as his intelligence, Force talent, and ambition would allow him. He made his way to the experimental fighter ships, certain that he needed no clearance to examine them.

Up close, he saw that the Sienar designed fighters were twin engine powered, but lightly built and likely quite fast.They had flat, vertical wings more than three times the height of the small, round cockpit. He was inspecting the wings, which also functioned as solar panels, when he sensed four men approaching from behind. Apparently, his passage through the hangar had generated some attention. "Move away from the ship !" came the demand.

He turned to look at his confronters. A quartet of lieutenants stood in a semicircle around him. He felt his challenger's bravado wilting, yet the young lieutenant did not yield his ground. Vader realized he had not often faced a mere human as an opponent. Aliens, droids, and Force talented individuals had been his foes ; it was ridiculous how vulnerable the lieutenant was. With ease he summoned the lieutenant's sidearm to his hand a moment before the lieutenant decided that he meant to draw his blaster. Another of the foursome, a swaggering blond, had no hesitation, and pointed his weapon directly at Vader's chest.

"Wait, Motti ," wailed a third officer.

"Who are you, and why are you near these fighters?" challenged Motti, his blaster still aimed unwaveringly at Vader.

"I am Darth Vader, a member of the Emperor's official party," came the answer." You would do well to put down your weapon."

Motti sneered, and decided to ignore the suggestion.

Vader called his lightsaber to his right hand, igniting it midflight, and letting the captured blaster clatter on the floor. If he had faced unForced humans rarely, then his opponents had faced a lightsaber never. Its hum and red glow intimidated them into retreat, except for Motti, who possessed the self-confidence of Mace Windu. Vader spun the lightsaber forward twice, in a maneuver he had unconsciously picked up from Obi-Wan.

"Well, gentlemen," Vader said calmly, "I believe this is what they call a Corellian standoff. I know the Emperor would be displeased with me for killing one of you, as Moff Tarkin would be displeased with you for getting yourself killed." He sheathed his lightsaber. "It's time for me to return to the bridge. I trust next time we meet you will have better manners."

He turned away from the group, sensing their relief that the encounter was over, even from Motti. The lightsaber tapped reassuringly on his thigh in time with his steps. He felt no danger in turning his back on them, certain he could deflect any blaster fire with an over the shoulder parry of the lightsaber, but even more certain they had abandoned their plan to police him.

------

The battalions of Imperial troops had reassembled to mark the Emperor's departure. Halfway down the procession, Vader caught sight of the now familiar Lieutenant Motti. Motti raised his hand to his nose in a gesture considered obscene on many worlds. Vader barely turned his head towards Motti, but in his mind he removed Motti's head with his lightsaber.

In the privacy of the passenger compartment of the Emperor's shuttle, Palpatine turned to Vader. "Why did you want to kill that young lieutenant? What could have happened in such a brief time? And, by the way, you leak out feelings like a sieve."

"Sorry, Master. I will be more conscious of my feelings. But, besides you, there's no one to sense them anyways," Vader replied.

"Ah, my young apprentice, just because the Jedi have been wiped out doesn't mean there aren't any Force talented beings in the Galaxy. The Jedi identification teams did not have 100 accuracy in finding Force sensitive younglings, just look at you and me. Those that remain may be untrained, but they may still pick up enough of your feelings to give them an advantage. It is time to expand your knowledge of the Force.

"By now, Lord Vader, I'm sure you have realized that there is but one Force. Dark Side and Light Side are but mere descriptions of the Force's usage within the practitioner. Dark or Light, the Force feels the same to the user, except that the Dark Side has greater intensity, hence greater power.

"Anger and fear, the classic Dark Side emotions, remove control from the user's mind, letting the Force pour in like a raging tide.The Force takes the path of least resistance through your emotions, fueling the fires already burning within. If you have your wits about you when the Force hits, you can try to control it, much as you might try to ride a galloping beast. If your emotions are not under control, the Force will whip through the canyons of your mind like a flash flood, and you may find at the end of the ride that you have done things you did not intend."

Inside his helmet, Vader thought of his last encounter with Padme', the beginning of the end. He had felt so powerful with the Dark Side, but to his shame, he had been but a novice.

Palpatine continued his discussion of the Force. "That is really the central challenge of the Dark Side. It will use you at least as often as you use it. But as I'm sure you know, the feeling of power it brings is sweeter than anything else in the Galaxy.

"The Jedi were unwilling to deal with this drawback, and so focused on maintaining control at all costs, control of oneself being tantamount to controlling the Force. Resigned to lesser power, but greater control, the Jedi forbade those emotions that could lead to the Dark Side. The Jedi speak of destiny, but the Dark Side is true destiny. The universe runs through you when it is unleashed, and you are but a puppet to its will.

"The Sith were born from the desire to possess both control and intensity. Strong emotions such as anger and fear often come like thunderstorms, rolling in at high velocity, but vanishing just as quickly. The individual is given little chance to become comfortable with them. A Sith learns to live with the Dark emotions, not avoid them. They dwell in the Dark Side, learning to maintain control in the face of its fury.

"This is where you must begin, Lord Vader. With your tremendous Force talent, the Dark Side comes easily to you, with ferocious power. But it is riding you most all of the time. You must practice at controlling the Dark Side, and learn the ways of the Sith."


Chapter 5 : Seeing in the Dark

Zenna Keck was a loyal employee of Kuat Drive Yards, one of the galaxy's largest starship manufacturers. She was proud to be part of a company that for millennia had sent humankind out among the stars. Usually her job consisted of assembling hyperdrive motivators, but recently KDY had assigned her to a new project. On her new team she was required to deconstruct things, which felt terribly odd, but since it was so important to the company, she approached it with the same enthusiasm she had for building. Within a short time she found she actually enjoyed feeding the droids into the conveyor line for disassembly.That was fortunate, since there was somewhere near a quadrillion of these machines, the former Separatist Droid Army, that had to be sorted into piles of reusable circuits and recyclable metals.

Most of the droids were the ordinary battle droid model, which were not intimidating in the least. Mixed among them were more evil looking droids that sometimes gave her a start. If the sunlight hit them just right, their red control eye glowed as if they were activated. The ones that bothered her the most, though, were the ones that came with clothing. Droids shouldn't wear clothing. But there they were, the Magnaguard droids, lean and sinister, with their cloaks flowing around them. She usually pulled the cloaks off first thing, so they wouldn't get caught in the conveyor mechanics.

Today, however, she left them on, as she had received instructions to set aside a pair of Magnaguards, and a pair of super battle droids from the disassembly line. She gave no other thought to the order, especially since with it came an announcement that the line would be shut down early, and the deconstruction team would be released early for the day as well. Just as long as the damn things weren't running around when she came back to work, she didn't care what happened to them.

------

Darth Vader never liked being a Padawan. He hated restrictions, he hated evaluation, he hated supervision, and being a Padawan involved all of those. He never thought he would be back in that role, but then nothing much had gone the way he thought it would in the last six months. Besides, it was a little difficult to say 'no' to the Emperor. After their inspection of the KDY shipyards to evaluate the progress in construction of the newest class Star Destroyers, Palpatine had informed him they would be going planetside for a training exercise. What other response was there, but "Yes, Master"?

Now as he stood in the cavernous Kuati warehouse that contained the deactivated legions of the Droid Army, he tried to convince himself that it wouldn't be so bad. It might even be enjoyable to put his lightsaber to actual use again. He peered into the dark recesses of the warehouse, hearing the servomechanical sound of approaching droids, but unable to see anything of the droids but their glowing red signal receptors. When they finally entered the lighted zone of the warehouse, he was not impressed. Two super battle droids would hardly be difficult to dispatch. He powered up his lightsaber, and awaited their attack.

The battle droids unfolded their right arms, firing their built-in weapons, but he deflected their blaster fire easily. He let the Force guide his parries, and the droids retreated to avoid being hit by ricochets.Vader advanced towards the droids, meaning to end this round, and drove them back against the racks of deactivated droids. In the background, Palpatine began to speak, with his soft voice, the one as smooth as melted butter.

"Lord Vader, did you ever wonder what happened to your mother while she was held captive by the Sand People?"

In his surprise, Vader whirled to face the Emperor. That tactical error resulted in blaster fire finding its mark on his leg armor. He cursed, and turned his focus back to the droids, who had used his inattention as an opportunity to press forward. With renewed effort, Vader pushed them back to their previous position, his mind still filled with indignation at Palpatine's affront.

The Emperor was just beginning this lesson. His voice still soft, even, he continued. "Really, they had her for, what, a month? Plenty of time for them to get what they wanted ."

Vader remained facing the droids, but the fast, clipped sounds coming from his ventilator revealed that Palpatine's words had hit their mark. Before his injuries, it would have been a simple matter to use the Force to somersault himself close to the droids, and take them out with a few well aimed strikes of his lightsaber. Now, the same maneuver required him to use telekinesis to throw the prosthetic portion of his legs upward, while simultaneously using the Force to power the organic upper portion of his legs.Practicing this move when he was still in the rehab center had taken intense concentration, but now, infused with the Dark Side, the effort seemed minor.

He completed his somersault, and plunged his lightsaber into the chest level control eye of the super battle droid, as into the heart of a man. For the remaining droid, he backhanded the lightsaber through its waist, the narrowest part of the bulky machine. Having rid himself of the two irritants, he turned to face his tormentor.

Palpatine was smiling in that self-satisfied way that he had perfected. "You would like to come after me as well, wouldn't you, Lord Vader? You are filled with the Dark Side, but can you use it, or will it use you? Only now do you understand this exercise."

Inside his helmet, Vader struggled to control his rage. A low growl rumbled in his throat, and became amplified by the voice modulator. He fell back upon his Jedi training to calm himself.

With exquisite Force sensitivity, Palpatine continued his analysis of Vader. "You have gained control, but lost power - the Jedi way. You must learn to savor the intensity of feeling, the bloodlust of anger, the cold desperation of fear. You must hold them in your mind to allow the Force to express its full might."

Vader listened to the Emperor with cool regard. He understood Palpatine meant to strengthen his Dark Side skills, but he could also see that Palpatine meant to demonstrate his power over Vader. As a mentor, he knew Vader's inner demons, and did not hesitate to conjure them. There would be no graduation from Padawan status with this Master.

The Emperor was ready to start the next round. "Shall we try it again, Lord Vader? This time we shall test your telekinetic abilities. Give me your lightsaber. "

With suspicion, Vader did as the Emperor requested. When he saw that his opponents were Magnaguard droids, he regreted his decision; these bodyguard droids were significantly more dangerous than super battle droids. With high functioning artificial intelligence, the ability to fight even if their heads were removed, and high current electrostaffs for weapons, these bodyguard droids were formidable opponents when one was armed with a lightsaber, let alone without. He reached out with his mind for his lightsaber, caressing the handle mentally. He was not going to die over some fool exercise of Palpatine's; if things got too ugly, he would pull the lightsaber in.

As before, Palpatine began to speak in the background. "Have you ever wondered what happened to Obi-Wan Kenobi? His body has never been identified among all the Jedi killed after Order 66."

The reference to Obi-Wan caught Vader's attention, but did not draw his focus from the approaching Magnaguards.

"Do you think he was the last person to be with Padme? Do you think he told her the outcome of your battle?"

Vader's inner fury rose to match that which had come forth when his mother's end had been mentioned. Conscious of his task, he channeled Dark hate and set about using the Force to dismember the droids.He acknowledged the strength of the welds on the Magnaguards as he noted the effort required to pull the head off the first bodyguard droid. He motioned a row of folded battle droids on top of the still functioning body, making sure to pull the electrostaff to him as the torso hit the floor. He circled the remaining droid cautiously, knowing his life support suit was especially vulnerable to electrical disruption. He dodged two strikes of the droid's staff, before finding an opening to impale the droid through its vulnerable midsection. With not a droid standing, Vader turned to face Palpatine, summoning his lightsaber as he did so. Once it was in his hand, he ignited it, and moved close to the Emperor.

With a pleased grin, Palpatine complimented Vader. "Excellent, Lord Vader. Much better use of the Dark Side, this time. You must be able to feel the difference."

Vader said nothing, but did not silence his lightsaber.

"Surely you understand the tools I must use to bring you to the proper frame of mind. This is how you learn to work with the Dark Side."

As he had done all his life, Vader pondered the advice of a mentor, and in the end, chose the correct action. With difficulty, he shut down the lightsaber. This was not the first time he had thought of Obi-Wan being with Padme at the end. Did he tell her the outcome of their grievous duel ? Did she die hating him? His rage gave way to sorrow, and he hung his head.

"Ah, my young apprentice, melancholy is a Dark emotion, but it has no power. A Padawan could destroy you now, so weak has your sadness made you." There was no hiding from the Emperor's perception. " The next lesson I must teach you is deception, how to mask your thoughts and feelings from other Force users."

"Yes, I know, my Master," Vader said. "If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times, my thoughts betray me."

"And again, you rely on your Jedi training to solve this problem, " Palpatine chastised. "What did the Jedi teach you to keep from broadcasting your emotions to others ?"

"We were to avoid thinking about subjects that caused a strong reaction within. We were to bury our feelings deep inside to avoid detection by others."

"Ah, yes, a typical Jedi solution. With a decrease in emotional intensity comes a weakening of the ability to make use of the Force. Do you think a Sith could bury his hate and anger, and still maintain power? Of course not. A thousand years of suppression by the Jedi made it necessary to develop the skill of cloaking one's emotions. A Sith can feel total rage while standing undetected next to a Jedi. This masking effect even clouds a Jedi's ability to forsee the future through the Force. A most useful skill."

Vader was always in awe of the Emperor's vast knowledge of the Force. While Palpatine could easily incite him to anger, in the end he felt grateful to have such a powerful mentor. If only they had been able to reach Padme in time, if only Obi-Wan had not prevented him from being at her side when the baby came. He knew she was alive when he last saw her on Mustafar. If she had died from his attack, as Palpatine had said, then it must have been later. Maybe he could have still saved her, if not for Obi-Wan.

"Master," he said, "there is one thing I must know. What happened to my baby?"

Palpatine's voice took yet another form, subdued and, to Vader's ear, most sincere. "I'm afraid the child died with Padme. At her funeral, they were buried together, as the child was still within her." He layed a hand on Vader's shoulder.

"I thought as much," Vader said quietly.

------

The Emperor's shuttle left Kuat enroute home to Imperial Center. Inside, Darth Vader was as far from Palpatine as the seating configuration would allow. This day had taxed him mentally, bringing all of his most tortured thoughts to the forefront. Maybe when he got home, he would take his speeder on a flight, and clear his mind. If he was lucky, Palpatine would work on Senatorial business during the trip back.

"Lord Vader, how was it that you were able to asphyxiate Padme without touching her?" Palpatine asked.

Darth Vader blinked rapidly within his helmet, and coughed in astonishment. Continued association with the Emperor was going to give him the hide of a bantha. This was a subject he did not think about. If he could erase it from his memory, he would, but with Palpatine for a mentor that seemed highly unlikely.

"I asked you a question, Lord Vader. I am quite curious, because that is a rather unusual use of the Force. I'm not sure I've really seen anything like it, not even in ancient Sith writings."

"I...I don't really remember, Master. I was very angry at the time, and not thinking clearly."

"Come now, surely you can describe it. The closest thing it reminds me of is a Force push, but it's not really that."

"No, in a Force push you concentrate the energy at your hand, and propel it against your opponent. You hit their body from the outside."

"And for the Sith, the next skill level beyond that is to deliver Force lightning. Unfortunately, because you have no organic tissue left in your hands, you will never be able to generate Force lightning. So, if you know it wasn't a Force push, then tell me what it felt like."

Vader sighed. As usual, there would be no winning this contest. He chewed his lip for a minute, then let the memory come forth. "I didn't really think about the technique. I was just so angry. I think that I focused on her throat the way I would focus on myself when performing a Force leap. I felt her tissues under my control just like I would feel my leg muscles when using the Force to somersault. Then I just tightened my grip."

For once, the Emperor was silent. When he did speak, his voice had a odd tone that carried an undercurrent of fear. "So you were able to place the Force within her body. That must be like what Darth Plagueis did when he influenced the midichlorians, when he was able to stop death in others."

Darth Vader was not sure he had heard that right. " 'Like' what Plagueis did? Don't you know what he did? Didn't you tell me you could teach me this power?"

Palpatine was exhilarated by the danger present in Vader's rising anger. "Ah, my young apprentice, that is not exactly what I said. Only one person - Plagueis- has achieved that skill, but I though we could discover the secret, if we worked together. I had no idea you would need it so soon. I thought we would have time to work on it."

Vader felt sickened. He had sacrificed everything to obtain that power, and Palpatine had no clue how to accomplish it. Bastard , he thought, without even trying to cloak his feelings. Anger, revulsion, and grief mixed together in his mind, and he trembled with hate, not knowing where to direct it. Then he drew the curtain across his mind, the new skill Palpatine had taught him.

"You are disappointed in me," Palpatine said, "but I have kept my side of the bargain. We will work together to develop that power. I'm sure your use of the Force on Padme' is the key to discovering this power. You must agree, it would be a most valuable power."

Vader decided there was only one way to salvage this situation. He would learn everything there was to know from Palpatine. The cloaking of emotions was a remarkable skill, so surely there would be other skills equally as useful that the Jedi never taught him. Yes, he would learn everything Palpatine had to offer, and then he would kill him. Wasn't that the way of the Sith ?

His voice was flat when he answered, "Yes, my Master, it would be extraordinary to have this power."

------

Emperor Palpatine's private residence on Imperial Center was uniformly decorated in a spare style that contrasted sharply with the baroque style customary on his home planet of Naboo. Some might call its simplicity elegant, while others might label it stark, but all would agree that small furry animals were out of place within its walls. Yet that very thing was to be found in a transparent cage sitting center stage on a very expensive table in a small study that adjoined the Emperor's main workroom. The cage held a choony, a soft brown and white creature small enough to lay in the palm of a man's hand. A social creature of moderate intelligence, its docile nature had made it a popular pet on Imperial Center. This one was bottle-fed, and completely unafraid. Like most nonsentient beings, it was host to a smattering of midi-chlorians.

"Now Lord Vader, we will start with this primitive being, and work towards the complex. Go ahead, use the Dark Side within this creature," the Emperor ordered.

Vader closed his eyes, focused his mind, and imagined the choony dead. The choony, for its part, sniffed at the air vents of its cage and then returned to eating.

"If I may comment, I believe you are approaching this from a Jedi perspective. The ability to cause life and death in another is a Dark skill, " Palpatine said.

"How do you know I'm not cloaking my feelings, Master ?" Vader said dryly.

"Because you're not very good at it yet. Or more specifically, not very consistent with it. I still pick up leaks of your emotional state."

Good information to know, thought Vader. A little frustrated, he used telekinesis to first elevate the choony's cage, and then the choony itself within the cage. It was not as if he was having difficulty using the Force, but it was true that he felt not much at all, let alone anger or aggression, towards the choony. He was certainly not drawing from the Dark Side.

"It's a good thing we aren't trying to save Padme' today, because, frankly, I don't think we would be very successful," Palpatine commented.

Vader was incredulous. Was there no limit to the wounds he must endure from Palpatine ? Master, or not, enough was enough. His resentment boiled to rage.

Vader stared at the choony. He gathered the Force within him, sent probing energy fingers into the creature's chest, and wrapped the Force around its heart. He felt the muscle fibers within the beating organ, felt it like he used to feel the muscles of his calves, when he had them. Then he tightened his grip, and stopped the choony's heart. He felt the blood demanding to be let in, but he would not let it.

The choony fell over. The pupils of its eyes went from small to saucers. Its tongue lolled out, turning first dark pink, then grey, then bluish purple. Its mouth gasped the awkward agonal breaths of impending death.

Vader released his grip on the choony's heart, and blood poured into the empty chambers. He could feel the heart start to beat again, feebly at first, but with increasing momentum. Its chest heaved with vigorous breaths. Its tongue bloomed to bright pink, and it licked its lips, sitting up in a daze. It got up drunkenly, ran into the side of the cage, then stood there, still recovering from its oxygen deprivation.

He turned to face the Emperor. "OK, Master - your turn," injecting as much challenge into his voice as he thought was safe.

A political smile turned up the ends of the Emperor's lips. "I think, my young apprentice, that you have just learned a great deal about the Dark Side. That is enough for today."

He could see that the Emperor would maintain the distance between their positions at all costs.The Emperor could not afford to lose face when his attempts at controlling life and death were not as successful. And he sensed that the Emperor truly did not know how to use the Force in this way. Palpatine seemed fascinated by Vader's ability to use the Force within the body of another, apparently unable to discover this secret on his own. In this matter Palpatine needed Vader as much as Vader had thought he needed Palpatine.

So, yes, he had learned some important things about the Dark Side today. He finally understood how it was to use the Dark Side, how it was possible to summon its strength without being consumed by it. Strong emotion, such as anger, was necessary to unlock its potential, but the emotion need not arise from one's opponent. He had only to gather the feeling in his mind to open the door to the Force, and when he was done with it, he closed that door. More importantly, though, a defect had been revealed in the Emperor's seemingly impenetrable armor, and he now knew that not even Palpatine was all powerful.


Part 2


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