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Title: A Contest of Wills
Author: Maia (maia@bastcastle.org)
Rating: PG
Characters: Vader, OFC, a few other OC’s, and familiar faces.
Category: AU, Adventure, Romance, some Angst.
Disclaimer: I am not making any money from this, and he doesn’t belong to me. Darn.

Summary: Adjustments in any relationship can be difficult.


The Executor, Fondor, Fondor System. Year 0, Month 5

DAY 2

When I wake, I find myself safely wrapped in the Sith Lord’s arms, held tight to his chest. From the sound of his slowed, but still regulated, breathing next to my ear, and the stillness I sense in his mind, he must be deeply asleep. I am careful to lie motionless beside him. Pulling my senses inward, I mull over the events of the previous day. Reluctantly, I admit to myself that most of my troubles were self-inflicted. I would never claim to be qualified to teach a course in molecular biology, an area outside my realm of expertise, so where did I get the stupid idea that I knew how to mess about with the Force? There are threads in my memories related to this, to knowledge I once had, but every one of them leads to a blank spot in my mind. These were some of the things I had deliberately removed, I realize. Curious about what I might have known, I push at the emptiness, but find nothing and eventually give up. Well, I have someone to teach me and I have absolutely no interest in making him angry, so I vow to behave myself, obey him from now on, and do as I am told, stubbornness be damned.

‘It’s about time you acquired some common sense,’ a half-awake baritone voice notes.

‘I didn’t mean to disturb you,’ I softly apologize.

‘No matter,’ he admits, and the hand he has wrapped around my waist caresses me across my stomach. There is that odd sensation of him looking, checking on something within me. His lips brush against my ear as he tells me, ‘I still want you, Maia, and there will be no child to worry about if I take you for my own now.’

I freeze in his arms, but am careful to not let any of my panicked thoughts get out. No way am I going to repeat that horrid scene from last night again.

The Sith Lord, seemingly oblivious to my emotional and physical responses to his words, continues speaking, ‘But I need to be on my feet shortly to sort out the repair schedule and there is no time to indulge myself now. Tonight, perhaps, if all goes well today.’

He shifts me in his arms so that I am facing him, using the one under my head to hold me in place by folding it across my back. I know he is watching me to see how I will react to his next statements.

‘You were right about where the explosions originated,’ the Dark Lord confirms, ‘though the exact memory of how you knew that is gone from your mind, and I did look most carefully for that particular piece of information.’

‘How long... ?’ I begin to ask but he interrupts.

‘To fix your handiwork? About two point four hours. You did a most thorough job on yourself and the memory triggers you attempted to put in made matters worse. Most of my time was spent stripping them out, and I doubt I found all of them. What were you trying to do?’

No, oh no, he didn’t. I shut my eyes tight. This is the one thing I made sure I would remember.

‘Maia?’ the Sith Lord prompts and I know he won’t relent until he gets an answer. He is a most ruthlessly efficient and effective interrogator.

‘I knew when, where, and how you would be killed, who would be involved, all the circumstances surrounding it,’ I reveal, ‘so I tried to key particular events to trigger those memories when I might be able to do something to prevent it from happening.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ he scoffs a little, ‘The future is always in motion. Even I can’t see with that sort of clarity what will happen. No one can.’

‘I didn’t see it in a vision, I knew,’ I try to let him hear from my tone of voice that this was different.

‘What do you mean?’ he snaps impatiently.

Vader lets go of me now, and pushes himself upright to sit with his back leaning against the wall. His arms are across his chest and I can feel his eyes boring into me.

I can tell he is getting annoyed with me, so I give up in frustration, ‘I have no idea how or why, but I had access to accurate information on this, and that’s all I can remember about it.’

‘We will discuss this further, later, and,’ he orders coldly, ‘if you ever recall any of it, you will tell me immediately.’

‘Yes, my Lord,’ I accede in a whisper.

I feel his hand gently run down the side of my face and into my hair.

‘That,’ he states, his tone softening, ‘is not necessary in private.’ His voice becomes cold again as he warns me, ‘In public, yes, you will address me as such, and I will not tolerate any impertinence or indiscretion from you. This is not your homeworld, Maia, where I could let you behave as you pleased. I will not have you undermining my authority with foolish statements or inappropriate actions. You will act appropriately towards me in public. If you cannot or will not do so, I will discipline you and lock you in here until you will. You will not be overly familiar with me. Do you understand this?’

I flinch at his words. This is not going to be easy to abide by and I know that I will slip up sooner or later because of my innate tendency to get myself into trouble.

I promise I will do my best to behave myself, I think at him. Can I talk to you this way if I need to?

If it keeps you out of trouble, then yes, the Sith Lord concedes, but I will not put up with any distracting or unnecessary comments from you.

Relieved that he will let me use telepathy in public, I start to wonder what I am supposed to call him in private. Darth doesn’t sound right, and it’s just the Sith word for Lord anyway.

‘If you don’t want me to use the formal address in private, then what am I supposed to call you?’ I ask.

He is silent for a moment, thinking, then makes a decision, ‘Here, in my private quarters, you may address me as Anakin or Ani, if you prefer, but only here and only when we are alone.’

‘Yes,’ I hesitate, then add, ‘Ani.’

His mood quickly lightens and he drops a short kiss on my lips. When I try to extend it, he pins me to the bed, kisses me hard on the mouth, deepens it for a minute or two, then pulls away from me.

‘Maybe I should stay in bed with you after all,’ he teases, ‘but if I don’t make an appearance at some point, Admiral Griff will contact me over the comm, and I cannot neglect my duties just for personal pleasure.’

Vader runs a finger across my face, over my lips, down my throat, and I shiver at his touch. That feels good. He chuckles as he picks up on my reaction.

‘Tonight, then,’ he promises, ‘and I will ensure that there is no possible way we can be interrupted.’ Shoving himself into a sitting position, he tells me, ‘Stay in bed where it’s warm for a few minutes. Once I have myself sorted out, I can arrange a hot bath for you.’

I hunker down under the covers and listen to the Dark Lord clatter around the pitch-black room. The ‘fresher is off to the left side and he disappears into it for about twenty minutes before returning to put his armor back on. The hiss of seals on his helmet tells me he is completely suited up. He gradually brings up the lights so I am not blinded and leaves them at a low level. A wave of the hand, and the medicinal smell quickly dissipates, the air pressure drops.

‘Out of bed with you, now, lazy,’ he calls to me.

In response I pull the sheets closer around me. I am not getting up without something to cover myself with. He tugs on the blankets from the foot of the bed and when I refuse to let go, comes around to stand, hands on hips, beside where I am laying. I watch his every move, wary of what he is going to do.

‘You’re awfully shy,’ the Sith Lord observes with amusement, ‘for someone who invited me to bed last night and then willing offered herself to me. I know what every bit of your body looks like, so there is no point in hiding it from me.’

When I still refuse to budge, he whips the sheets out of my hands and off of me. While I am still in shock deciding what to do about his actions, he picks me up and carries me into the ‘fresher, setting me on the edge of the bath, letting my feet fall into the hot water. I quickly realize that he must have run the water and heated it with the Force earlier. The warmth feels heavenly against my skin compared to the coolness of the air.

Thank you, Ani, I mentally whisper to him.

You’re welcome, he answers.

With a touch he opens one of the small compartments in the wall.

‘Everything you might need is in here. Help yourself to what you want,’ he tells me, then he turns back to me, and pulls the fabric tie off the end of my braid before loosening my hair. ‘Don’t spend too much time in here soaking. I have much to do today and I need to get your training program set up. Not all of your lessons will be with me and it may take some time to organize your other teachers.’

***

I leave her in the bath, knowing that in my dawdling and playing about with her I am only trying to delay the inevitable.

I don’t have any reason to look forward to what I have to do next.

The entrance to my living quarters slides shut and locks behind me. I don’t want Maia to accidentally overhear this conversation. Stepping onto the Holonet pad, I kneel and wait patiently for the transmission to go through.

‘Rise my friend,’ I hear the Emperor say.

I comply, but keep my helmet tipped down, only looking up with my eyes.

‘I heard you were lost, Lord Vader. Obviously those reports were incorrect,’ he notes.

‘An unexpected detour, nothing more,’ I admit.

‘And a productive one,’ he slyly states.

I freeze. He knows. Despite how careful I was, he already knows about her.

‘It had its rewards,’ I warily venture.

How long will we dance around the issue? Which one of us will broach the topic first? Palpatine is far more adept at games with words than I am.

‘Ah, yes, and I have not yet given you one for disposing of the Dark Woman, have I?’

I hesitate. That was months ago, and I require no compensation for killing one of the few remaining Jedi. It was my duty, nothing more.

‘Your choice?’ he prompts when I remain silent. ‘What do you want me to give you, Lord Vader?’

I tip my head up and look my master’s hologram in the face. He expects I will ask for Maia now. For a moment I debate my options. If I wait, he will decide what to do about her without any input from me. Very well, I will be bold then and play on his fears.

‘There is no one left who would make a worthy heir for either of us,’ I calmly state.

I see my master stiffen at that. Good. I was right, then. He suspects I will ask permission to take Maia as my apprentice and won’t be anticipating what I will say next.

‘I have found a woman who would be a suitable consort for me,’ I say, watching for his reaction. ‘She should give me an appropriate heir. I want her as my reward.’

Silence.

Then mocking laughter.

I start seething. If it were anyone else...

‘A wife?’ he asks, obviously amused by my request. ‘Surely you jest, Lord Vader.’

‘No, my master, this is no joke,’ I admit, gritting my teeth to bite back what I really want to say.

He knows how difficult it is for me to ask for this, so why is he going out of his way to make it that much worse?

‘Tell me, my apprentice, is she beautiful? Accomplished? Brilliant? A daughter from some royal house?’ my master begins to try extracting information from me. ‘Is she as well versed in the arts of the bedroom as my Roganda? Does she scream your name when you make love to her?’

Furious with his prying, I snap, ‘She’s as plain as a moisture farmer’s daughter, stubborn as a bantha, and has the voice of a Toydarian banshee. She refuses to obey me, and all she does is argue and fight with me.’

That should end any interest he has in taking Maia for himself.

He merely chuckles in response.

‘But she is also Force sensitive,’ he shrewdly guesses. ‘You would not have sought my permission if she were not.’

His laughter resumes while I silently fume. She’s mine, I rage to myself. How dare he consider taking her from me.

‘She appears to be an eminently suitable match for you, my equally stubborn apprentice,’ he finally comments.

What?

‘You may have her,’ Palpatine decides, ‘but as a concubine, not as your consort.’

‘She is my wife by tradition and ritual,’ I start to protest. ‘She swore herself to me ...’

‘And she will be your concubine by my decree. Do not defy me in this, my apprentice, or I will take her away from you,’ he warns.

I bow my head in acceptance. There is no point in pressing the issue. Maia is now mine regardless of her title.

‘You may have her as your concubine,’ he repeats, ‘but with one condition. I will have my choice of any children you have with her.’

No, I think, shocked at his words. He can’t know about my son. Not yet.

‘See to it that your heir arrives without delay,’ he orders.

‘Yes, my master,’ I automatically answer.

I don’t let my relief show. He doesn’t know, and I will have some time to plan.

There are no further words from him as the transmission ends.

Maia is mine, but am I really willing to pay the price my master has set for her?

***

I refrain from comment, and once my hair is free, he leaves me to my own devices. Several bottles are on the edge of the bath, and a quick check reveals that they contain different soaps. Selecting the ones I like the smell of best, I give my hair and body a good scrub. I can find no mirror anywhere in the room, but by using one of the polished fixtures, I can see that he has noticeably bruised my lips with his kisses and left several very obvious bite marks on my neck. Damn. Anyone who sees me is going to know exactly what we were up to last night. Those bites are going to take days to fade, and they are in a location where I can’t hide them either.

Annoyed with the Sith Lord, I pull myself out of the water. There are towels at hand so I wrap my hair in one and myself in the other before checking out the drawer he opened earlier. A rummage through the contents produces a toothbrush, toothpaste or its equivalent, a brush and a comb. I look after what needs I can before wandering back into the bedroom. My next concern is clothing. What was given to me by the doctor has either disappeared or been ripped up, but my wants have been anticipated and there are clothes laid out on the bed for me.

Black, I note, why does that not surprise me? Well, at least it isn’t yellow which I look totally hideous in. I give each garment a shake. The fabric is soft and should be warm. The shirt is more like a short tunic, with a high-collar and long-sleeves. It fastens closed on a slight angle with the fabric overlapping across my chest. I slip on the loose pants and pull on the high boots, tucking the spare fabric from the trousers into their tops. He’s given me an Imperial uniform to wear, but in black and with the top slightly longer in length. Wrapping the belt around my waist, I run the leather through the buckle and wonder what I am supposed to do next. My hair will take another hour to dry, so I leave it down and tuck the only hair tie I have in a pocket. I can braid or twist my hair out of the way later.

I notice that the bedroom door is open and my curiosity gets the better of me. Peering around the corner reveals what I guess is a kitchen area with cupboards and counter space. A jug and glass have been left beside the sink so I wander over for a closer look. Judging from the color and smell, it must be the same drink I had the other day. My stomach chooses that instant to growl and I pour myself some; it is just as sweet as I remember. Two doors lead off from the kitchen in addition to the one to the bedroom. One is shut, and the other opens into a den of sorts with a couple of chairs, a low table, and a large screen on one wall. The door opposite the one I am standing in, looking into the den, is also shut. I decide that exploring further might not be prudent and wander back to the bedroom to tidy things up. The papers which are scattered on the floor take a few minutes to gather up, and I stack them back on the table using the datapad as a paperweight. Next is the bed and I just finish making it up when the Sith Lord reappears.

‘Good, you are dressed and have been into the kitchen,’ he observes. Without waiting for my response, he tosses a cloak, which had been draped over his arm, around my shoulders, hooks it in place, and adds, ‘It will be a while before the temperature is back to normal so you need to keep warm.’

The fabric of the cloak falls neatly about me. I pull my hair out from under it and let it ripple down my back. Cool, I think, and give the material a tug.

‘You have a peculiar fascination with cloaks,’ Vader comments, ‘and mine in particular.’

‘I like the way the fabric flows,’ I confess, ‘though, in your case, I think it has more to do with the way you move.’

To cover the embarrassment I feel after admitting this, I turn away and break my hair into three parts to braid it. Before I can start twisting it together, he catches my hand.

‘Leave it loose. I prefer it that way,’ he instructs, ‘Now come along with me. I have work to do in my office and you need to learn how to read Aurabesh script.’

The Dark Lord pulls me after him, through the kitchen and den and out into a larger room dominated by a spherical, toothed chamber. Meditation pod my brain prompts from somewhere. We walk around the pod, past a raised circular dais on the floor that I recognize as a Holonet transmission point, and into another room. The furnishings are sparse but functional, a desk with a monitor and data station, several chairs, and shelves with books, paper files, and the odd small box neatly stacked on them. My hand is released once we are standing near the desk. Vader moves to sit behind it, and I am waved into a chair next to him.

‘I know you have some background in linguistics from the lecture you gave those students at the party, so I will rely on your knowledge to help you figure out the best way for you to learn Aurabesh.’

‘Yes,’ I admit, ‘three of my university degrees are in ancient studies, and I became competent in a number of scripts and languages in order to earn them.’

Propping my chin on one hand, I start running the different languages I know through my head. The first step in learning the ones which do not use the Roman alphabet was to memorize the different symbols, their equivalent phonetic values, and English analogs. Grammar and word order came next, then acquiring vocabulary. Well, the grammar and vocabulary will be the same as English, so I will just need to learn the sound values and practice how to read and write. I know the Sith Lord is waiting for me to get started on my studies before tending to his own work, so I had better get going on this.

‘You wouldn’t happen to have some paper or what passes for it and something to write with?’ I ask.

After opening a desk drawer, the Dark Lord puts both in my hands. It takes me a few tries to figure out how to use the stylus, but once I have, I draw three columns down the first page, label the first Aurabesh, the next IPA for International Phonetic Alphabet, and the last English.

‘I think I can pick up the script fairly quickly,’ I tell him, ‘but I will need your help for a few minutes.’ Pushing the stylus and paper I have just written on over to him, I point to the first column and ask, ‘Would you please list all the Aurabesh symbols here? Include everything, even rarely used ones, because I don’t want to find myself in a situation where that information could prove critical and I don’t know it.’

‘And the other columns?’ Vader enquires.

‘I’ll fill those in once you’ve finished.’

I can tell he is wondering what I am up to, but instead of asking, he picks up the stylus and lists the Aurabesh characters as requested. His handwriting is as neat, bold, and rather military in character as I remember. No wasted pen strokes or flourishes here, I note. Once he is finished, I take the paper and stylus from him. Now for step two.

‘I need to know the phonetic values for each symbol so I can work out its equivalent in the Roman alphabet.’ When I sense he is puzzled by my statement, I add, ‘I should have given you a better explanation than that. You will have to read each character to me, and tell me if there are any exceptions to when that pronunciation or value is used. I can then figure out what the equivalent letter is in English.’

There is a flash of understanding from him now, and he quickly complies with my request. I fill the two remaining columns and discover, to my dismay that there are biliteral consonants and vowels to deal with. When I reach the bottom of the page and we have finished with the last Aurabesh symbol, I store the data on the sheet in front of me in my memory and realize that I have a few more critical questions to ask.

‘Is Aurabesh purely phonetic in nature, with a contextual component, or are there systematic variations in spelling?’

Please let it be similar to English in this respect, I hope.

‘Differences in spelling? I don’t know what you mean by this.’

‘It should be simple enough to find out.’ I pull a blank sheet from the stack and hand it and the stylus back to the Sith Lord. ‘If you are willing to write out a few sentences, I should have my answer.’ It takes a few seconds to think up something appropriate. ‘Try this one “They’re taking their son over there.”’

He writes quickly and hands the page back to me. The same word occurs three times in the sentence.

‘It’s phonetic and contextual,’ I announce, ‘this is not going to be as easy or straightforward as I had hoped.’

‘I still don’t understand what the problem is,’ Vader admits.

‘In English,’ I tell him, underlining the three phonetically equivalent words as I do so, ‘each of these has a different spelling to distinguish it from the others.’ To emphasize my point, I write the sentence in English under the Aurabesh. ‘You use context in Aurabesh to determine which of the three meanings is meant, but with written English you never have to do this. The habit of relying on spelling is so ingrained in my mind that it could be a problem.’ I let out a sigh, and confess, ‘I will just have to spend more time on my reading skills than I thought I would.’

‘Is there anything else you would like me to do?’ he offers.

There is nothing in his voice to tell me that he is growing impatient, but I know he has more important things to do than listen to me babble.

‘Something to read, please?’ I quietly request.

‘You are not going on about nothing, and if there is the possibility that you will have problems with Aurabesh, I would prefer to know it now, rather than later, so I can adjust your lesson schedule accordingly.’ The Dark Lord catches me under the chin with his hand and turns my face towards him. ‘Maia, don’t ever try to conceal a weakness from me. I would prefer to spend the extra time correcting it now, rather than have you get injured or killed later because you were afraid to be honest with me.’ Withdrawing his hand, he turns his attention away from me. ‘Now, you wanted something to read.’

He turns on his data station, types quickly for minute or so, and then rapidly flips through a number of what I assume are file directories. Finally he settles on something and hands me a print out of it.

‘This should keep you busy for a while. I plan to ask you some questions about what is in it so make sure you read it carefully.’

I answer with a nod and set to it.

After fifteen or twenty minutes, I realize that I need to take notes to follow the twists and turns in the trade dispute I am reading about. Selecting a sheet of paper, I begin to sketch out lists of the places and people involved. Then the Sith Lord notices what I am up to, and when my attention is back on the text, he picks up the sheet, looks at it briefly and tosses it out of my reach. I glare at him, but he returns to his own work without a word. Annoyed now, I pull out another sheet and pick up the stylus.

This time, he grabs my wrist and chastises me with, ‘If you must take notes, they will be in Aurabesh. Resorting to your own script will only lengthen the time required for you to become competent in it.’

Point made, my arm is released and he again ignores me to concentrate on the screen in front of him. Irked, though I know he is correct, I decide to do the same and set my mind to the text I am working on, shutting him out as much as I can.

We both work on our respective assignments for another two hours. When I finally reach the end of the print out, I rest my chin on my hands and start reviewing what I have read. There is something not right with how the events described in it unfolded, but I can’t put my finger on it. Well, I could set the logical part of my mind to worrying away at it and see what falls out. I shut my eyes, drop all the information I have into the appropriate spots in my brain and set to work. The solution which pops out ten minutes later surprises me, yet somehow I know that it must be the correct one.

‘Your mind looks quite different when you do that,’ Vader comments, ‘a wall of logic and convoluted calculations. So, what can you tell me about the trade dispute?’

‘The planet’s own senator was behind it,’ I conclude, ‘but I don’t have enough information to determine why.’

He is rather surprised that I figured that out, judging from his silence. Or did I miss something and get it wrong?

‘No, you are correct,’ the Sith Lord affirms, ‘and have done very well. It took me several days to determine the same. Now, ask me something, anything you want to know, and if I can give you an answer, I will.’

I wonder where that offer came from? My curiosity is endless, but there is really only one thing which is worrying me at the moment and I suspect that is what he wants me to ask about. So I do.

‘How are you going to explain my presence on your ship?’

‘I’m not,’ he states, ‘the reason why will be obvious to anyone who bothers to look.’

The Dark Lord rises to his feet and walks over to the shelves. It is apparent that he is searching for something, and when he finds it, he returns to his seat behind the desk, setting the small box he has taken from the bookcase in front of him as he does so.

‘Take off your tunic,’ he orders next.

What is he up to? I wonder, but quickly comply, remembering my vow to obey. I wrap my cloak around myself to keep from becoming chilled and he raises no objection when I do so. He opens the box, and takes four gold armbands from it. Each is inscribed with what I know is his personal sigil in the Sith cursive script. The Sith Lord places one band on each of my wrists and the third above the elbow of my right arm; the fourth is returned to the box. When each is closed around my arm, I feel a slight sensation of heat and see the seams seal themselves. An experimental tug on one of the bracelets reveals that I can’t remove it.

‘You can’t take them off, so stop trying,’ Vader warns, ‘I am the only one who is able do so now.’

Permanent jewelry? Why? I can sense that he wants me to sort out what his reasons are. So, I consider the few facts I have and compare them with traditions from Earth. The presence of his sigil implies ownership of some sort, but surely he doesn’t expect me to act like a slave girl?

‘Don’t ever think such a thing again,’ he rebukes me. ‘Slavery is an abomination and while some in the Empire tolerate and even encourage it, I am not one of them.’

I have inadvertently hit a raw nerve without intending to, but I can’t come up with an alternate explanation.

Well, I give up, then, I think at him.

‘Surely you have ranks among the women who are partners of the nobility on your planet?’ When I shake my head no, he explains, ‘By Sith tradition, which some in the Imperial court have adopted, it’s one bracelet for a mistress, two for a concubine, three for the most favored of those, four for the consort. I have just made you the second highest ranked woman, after the Emperor’s current Favorite, in the Empire. Be careful how you use it.’

Too shocked to say anything, I just stare at him, speechless and unthinking.

My reaction must have amused him, because the Sith Lord teases, ‘That is the first time I haven’t had to block your emotions or thoughts out. I should surprise you like that more often.’

My mind finally realizes just what he has done and I start to wonder about it. Does this mean we are married or the equivalent? What exactly am I to him? Is he my Lord, now, or what?

Vader watches me for a moment, then perceives that I don’t understand the situation.

‘Being a concubine is not the same as being a consort,’ he explains, ‘Only my consort, if I had one, would be my wife and titled as Lady Vader. I can have as many concubines as the Emperor will allow, but you will be quite enough for me. Out of courtesy, you will be addressed as “my lady,” and any children you have will be my heirs unless I acquire a wife whose offspring would take precedence. When there are several concubines it is typical for one to be selected and elevated above the rest, hence the title of Favorite. Since I only have you, this designation is yours by my choice.’

His tone becomes more serious as he continues, ‘As my Favorite, no one can question your presence on any ship I am on, but I am not going to flaunt you in front of the officers or crew. You will stay in my quarters unless I take you elsewhere or your lessons require you to be in another part of the ship. No wandering around unescorted. I do not want to lock you in my rooms, but I will if I must. Now, get dressed. I still have work to do and you can spend the next few hours in meditation where I can keep an eye on you.’

I quickly do as I am told and settle myself on the floor beside him. Repeating the process I used the previous day, I find myself again surrounded by the Force in that odd timeless place, but I am not sure what I am allowed to do.

My uncertainty draws Vader’s attention, and he instructs, Try looking around a bit and just sensing the Force. You can also try moving the Force about with your will. Let yourself sense its direction and see if you can change it. I will teach you Control this afternoon, but for now, just use your senses to explore a little. If you do something you shouldn’t I will let you know. Immediately. With that he leaves me to do as I please, and I completely lose track of the passage of time.

The Force swirls around me and I happily snatch at it, pulling different threads together, examining them, and then letting them go. It is easy to send the Force into what are in my mind’s eye, little whirlwinds. Growing tired of this game, I simply look around for a while, watching how the Force moves near me and then comparing that to how it surrounds the Sith Lord. I am perfectly content to stay near his presence.

Deciding to try something different, I wonder how much of the Force I can collect. I reach out and grab onto a bit, then add more to it. With each addition it becomes harder to hang onto what I already have. My stubbornness kicks in and I refuse to let go.

Then I hear Vader’s warning, Maia, don’t, and I instantly release the Force I have been struggling to keep a hold of. Go have a look farther afield, my Lord orders, and no more attempts at manipulation. I want you to just watch and feel. Now off with you. He gives me a firm mental push with the last bit and I don’t resist it.

Where to now? I wander away, noting how the Force moves with my passage. I stay very still now, watching the area around me intently. There are other weak presences here. Curious, I home in on one to have a closer look. My approach produces no reaction, but I am careful not to get too close. Is this what an ordinary person looks like, I ask myself. If so, their Force signature is a match compared to the Dark Lord’s sun. I examine a few others and conclude that each looks and affects the Force around them, differently. Satisfied with what I have determined, I let myself drift farther, still being careful to observe the Force around me because I expect I will be asked about what I find. When nothing else catches my attention, I decide to return to the Sith Lord for more instructions.

As I make my way back, I begin to feel uneasy. Something has changed and I don’t know what it is. I pause, touch the Force around me in an attempt to settle myself and reach out carefully with my senses. A moment later, I yank them back. There is someone out there, a dark presence, and it isn’t Vader. I take a few figurative steps backwards, then flee as fast as I can towards my Sith Lord. Whoever I detected follows in rapid pursuit. In a panic now, but close to my goal, I throw myself at my Lord’s shields.

Maia? he questions, startled, then adds, Ah, I see what the problem is.

He instantly pulls me inside his defenses, wrapping me in a mental and, as I snap out of my meditative trance, I discover, physical embrace. I must have thrown myself bodily at him without knowing what I was doing. Still shaking from my close call, I rest my cheek on his chest and tightly hang on to his robes. Vader says nothing, his mind is occupied elsewhere, but he does hold me in his arms while I try to sort myself out.

A few minutes later, I hear an officer announce over the comm, ‘Lord Vader, High Inquisitor Tremayne has arrived in system and wishes to speak with you in person.’

‘Tell the Inquisitor I will be available in an hour and allow his shuttle to dock,’ he orders in reply. Turning his attention to me, the Sith Lord gently pulls my hair back and brushes his fingers down the side of my face. ‘You have had a rather unfortunate encounter, Maia, one which is entirely my fault. I should have called you back as soon as I sensed Tremayne’s presence. Now, I need you to calm yourself so I can introduce you to him.’

Meet this Inquisitor? I would rather be on the other side of the galaxy from him, but I know that I will be allowed no choice in this. Using an old technique which works well for me, I slow my breathing to quiet my nerves. Once I am sure that I am steady, I let go of the Dark Lord’s tunic, get up off his lap, and step back from him. I sense him studying me with a critical eye.

‘Good, you have managed to bring your fear under control,’ he observes, obviously pleased. ‘You need to wear something more appropriate for a social occasion than what you have on. The storage compartments in the bedroom which are nearest to the kitchen door contain clothes for you. Go put on one of the sleeveless gowns which are there.’

I hurry back to the bedroom and open the compartments I have been directed to. The top one contains various underclothes and garments like the ones I have on. Pulling the next one open produces an assortment of accessories, metal belts, scarves and so forth, and half a dozen different dresses, all in black like the clothing in the drawer above. I let out a snort. Basic black is going to become very tedious after a while. Two of the gowns are sleeveless, I discover, so I pick the less revealing of the two and quickly put it on. It is similar in style to those from ancient Greece, pinned at the shoulders, with the fabric falling in graceful folds in front and back, and the skirts brushing the floor. One of the scarves I found goes around my neck to hide the bite marks from last night. I select a belt made of simple gold links, pull on a pair of flat black slippers from the lowest drawer, toss my cloak around my shoulders, and race back to where Vader is waiting for me.

The Sith Lord looks at me carefully, then reaches over and pulls the scarf from my neck. I glare at him and try to snatch it back, but he drops it on the floor.

‘I marked you for a reason, Maia. Don’t defy me by trying to hide it,’ he warns.

I open my mouth to protest, but then think better of it and close it again. After his warnings about proper behavior and the consequences if I misbehave, I see no reason to get him angry over this. Best to simply obey him. A few days of embarrassment is something I will just have to live with.

When he sees that I will comply without a fight, Vader explains, ‘You are mine, Maia, and the sooner my officers and crew learn this, the better. None of them will dare approach you if they know I have been intimate with you.’

After telling me this, he wastes no more time, but heads out of his quarters immediately, with me at his side. Rather than have me run to keep up or trail along behind, he adjusts his pace so that I can match it. I note the various turns that we take, but after a while, I have to admit that it would be difficult to find my way back on my own. My Lord is silent along our journey, so I amuse myself by surreptitiously watching the reactions of the officers and crew members we encounter. The double takes and quick realizations of what I am to the Sith Lord are priceless, but I manage to keep my expression as neutral as I can despite the strong temptation on several occasions to start laughing. The Dark Lord simply ignores them. I now know why he insisted on the sleeveless gown - he wanted to make a point in the most blatant way possible other than announcing it over the ship’s comm-system.

Of course I chose your gown deliberately, just as I marked you on purpose, he sends in a thought, and I can tell he is a bit irked at me. Why would I make a public announcement about my private affairs?

Aren’t you worried, I reply, about what the Emperor might think of my sudden appearance in your life?

I dealt with that issue this morning while you were busy soaking in the bath, my Lord responds, sounding satisfied with himself. I asked for you as my reward for eliminating a fugitive Jedi some time ago. My master was rather surprised by my request, but he is pleased that you are permanently bound to me by oath, and that I will be able to train you somewhat. He would not let me have you as my wife, Maia; instead, he gave me permission to take you as a concubine.

Rather surprised? Somehow I know he is severely understating Palpatine’s reaction. I can just imagine that scene between master and apprentice, but I know that I will not get any further details about it, even if I ask. Instead, I venture, You had this planned all along, didn’t you?

He looks over at me, and I know that I am about to hear more than I want to.

I wanted you from the moment you first fell asleep in my arms; I realized then that you truly did not fear me. That you have a deep emotional attachment to me, are pleasing to look at, and are gifted in so many other ways made it an easy choice. It was just a matter of testing you, repeatedly, to ensure my choice was the correct one. Your acquisition of Force sensitivity was an accident. I did not plan or anticipate that.

Some of your tests were cruel, Ani. I quietly tell him, realizing that some of the apparent crises I had to deal with were nothing more than staged trials for me to pass. That scene when I first met him on the Executor, was that merely another test to him? And last night? I wonder. I have been manipulated by a true master of the art.

Were they? They were necessary. In my position, I cannot afford to make a mistake in the selection of my mate. Do not presume to judge me in this.

There is no way I can respond to him so I continue our journey in silence.

I am curious about where we are going as we have been moving up rather than down towards where, I assume, the docking bays are. Finally, we take a short ride in a turbolift and when we step out, I realize we are in a domed observation room with large transparisteel windows giving a panoramic view from the top of the ship. Wandering over to one of the windows, I watch several supply ships shuttling back and forth between the port and another large vessel.

The Sith Lord joins me and identifies the ship, ‘Tremayne’s personal Star Destroyer, the Interrogator. He is here for emergency repairs and resupply.’

‘And your ship’s repairs?’ I ask, wondering how long the damaged hyperdrives will take to fix.

‘Several days, and that with crews working constantly,’ he reveals. ‘The technician responsible for the installation of the energy dampers has disappeared, but I will find him, sooner or later.’

Part of me feels some sympathy for that faceless tech. Vader’s displeasure tends to be shown in a rather lethal manner. I venture, ‘He must have fled once he knew his mistake caused the damage.’

‘If it was a mistake and not deliberate,’ the Sith Lord counters. ‘Maia, I cannot afford to give anyone the benefit of doubt. This could have been a sabotage attempt by the Rebellion.’

There is nothing I can say to this, so I nod in agreement, and continue to watch the activity in the shipyard. I am quickly becoming chilled due to my bare arms and pull my cloak across my chest to cover them and help conserve body heat. The observation room is colder than the rest of the ship, probably due to the large number of windows in it. My plight has been noticed though, and my Lord steps closer, pulling me into his arms and letting his own cloak fall around me. I give a contented sigh, wrap my arms around his waist, and rest my head on his shoulder, happy to stay exactly where I am for as long as he will permit it.

I can afford to indulge you once in a while, is his amused telepathic comment, and I do not want you to become cold again. That is, unless you want to spend the afternoon in bed with me?

My thoughts screech to a halt. He isn’t serious, is he? What can I say to his offer? I have no idea how to respond to this and my mind is in turmoil.

‘Maia, you must decide what it is you feel and what you want from me,’ he insists. ‘I cannot do that for you. You have no fear of me personally, and even I, a Sith Lord, can feel the depth of your love for me. I know you want me, you have said so yourself, and I can feel your need for me, so what is it that has you so terrified whenever I express my desire for you?’

Why does he ask me this now? I don’t want to deal with this, I want to run away from it.

‘Conflicting emotions are extremely dangerous to one as sensitive to the Force as you are,’ the Sith Lord reveals. ‘Even now, you have the potential to reach almost half my strength and that will grow rapidly with training. I know you do not want to follow the dark path, but your fear will lead you there. You must deal with this, now, not later, and running away from it will only make matters worse. I cannot teach you unless you face your fear.’

I start shaking in his arms and feel him tighten them around me. At this moment I am far too shy, nervous and afraid to tell him what he wants to know.

‘There is nothing you can say which will upset me,’ he reassures me, ‘just be honest.’

I bite my lip. He will persist until he has an answer out of me, sooner or later. So, what is it that has me so frightened? It isn’t the Sith Lord himself. I have never been afraid of him, much to his amazement, and I love him. At this thought I instinctively increase my grip around his waist, and he runs his fingers through my hair in response. Maia, I scold myself, be honest here, you know what the problem is. He will understand so best to be out with it.

Too shy and embarrassed to tell him aloud, I bury my face in his robes and think at him, I have never been in love with anyone but you, so I have no idea what to expect from you. I am afraid of being hurt.

‘I know this,’ he admits, ‘but it was necessary for you to tell me this yourself to help you deal with your fear.’

The Sith Lord is quiet a moment, then pulls me in tighter to his chest and tells me something I would not have expected to hear from him. ‘Giving in to my desires last night, imposing my will on you, and frightening you as a result was a mistake, one I will not repeat. In the future I will be careful to not move our relationship faster than what you are ready for. I will not rush you in this; the choice of when you are ready to give yourself to me will be yours entirely.’

His generosity astounds me.

‘How did you know I needed to hear that?’ I ask.

There is gentle amusement in his answer. ‘Simple. You are afraid of what you have never experienced, and going from your self-imposed isolation to being my Favorite and lover is a large step to take all at once. You just need more time to adjust to your new situation, to know me, to gain some confidence in yourself. Once you do, you will be fine. Just don’t take too long to make your decision. I have waited almost two decades for you already and I am not known for my patience.’

Wisdom and understanding from him, and the last, he had told me this once before. I reach my senses out towards him and find that the Dark Lord has dropped most of his mental defenses. His feelings towards me are complicated, fondness and friendship mixed up with some regret, deep passion and desire, a touch of irritation, intense possessiveness, and, to my astonishment, deeply buried, strongly felt love and the faintest hint of heartbreak.

He has let me see into his soul, showing me a level of trust he would never allow anyone else. I can only respond in kind. Throwing my own mind wide open to him, I wait for his light mental touch and tell him, Hold me, Ani, just hold me. Love me even, if you desire it, for I am yours. I love you and will never, ever leave you.

His response to me is pre-empted by the sound of the turbolift door opening. I feel the Dark Lord’s presence quickly retreat from my mind and his mental shields instantly slam back into place.

‘Inquisitor Tremayne, you are ten minutes early, and your timing, as usual, is appalling,’ Vader states, irritation bordering on cold anger coloring his voice.

The Sith Lord must be addressing whoever just arrived. I turn myself in his arms to have a look at our visitor. Tremayne is tall, slightly built, and wearing a black cloak and robes. A lightsaber hangs from his belt. He has short dark hair and the right side of his face is partially covered by metal, his temple and eye replaced with cybernetic parts, giving him a terrifying countenance. At the moment the Inquisitor is staring at the two of us with a look of astonishment on his face. Well, I guess, it isn’t every day that someone walks in on Darth Vader and finds him with a woman in his arms.

No, Maia, this is the first time it has ever happened, and having him see us like this is dangerous for both of us. You must not say a word to him, stay completely silent unless I tell you otherwise. I was going to put some shields around your mind to protect your thoughts before Tremayne arrived, but there is no time for that now. I have to be in physical contact to keep my own defenses around you, so when I let you out of my embrace, keep a hold of my hand.

I feel his arms loosen, and let go of my grip around his waist, being careful to run my left hand along his right arm until my hand is in his.

Switch hands, he prompts, I want my right free.

You don’t trust him, do you? I ask as I comply with his request and move to stand at his left side.

I have no reason to. He would have persisted in pursuing you this morning, even after I warned him off, if I had not taken swift action against him. To Tremayne you are a valuable prize to hunt down, break to his will, and give to the Emperor.

Our telepathic conversation has taken mere seconds, but in that time the Inquisitor has managed bring his surprise under wraps and acquire a neutral expression. There is a flash of realization on his face when he looks at my arms and I can almost hear his mind counting the three gold bands. He stares at my throat a moment, looking at the bite marks, and an amused smile plays across his lips. I decide then that I don’t like this man one bit.

‘Lord Vader,’ Tremayne begins politely, ‘I see congratulations are in order, but taking a Jedi for your Favorite, is that really wise?’

What? I am no Jedi. Where did he get that idea from?

‘The Emperor himself has sanctioned the match. It is not your place to question it,’ the Sith Lord coldly addresses Tremayne.

Your Force signature is of the light side and comparable to that of an average Jedi. There is no other conclusion he can make.

So that’s what you meant by a “respectable” midichlorian count.

Yes.

‘A rare prize, then, and a beautiful one at that, one you have obviously enjoyed thoroughly. What a pity I didn’t catch her for myself.’

The Inquisitor shows no sign in his calm voice that my Lord’s rebuke has affected him. I don’t like what he is implying, though, and probably thinking. To reassure myself, I tighten my grip on Vader’s hand.

What a total creep.

You do have the most peculiar expressions.

‘MažŠ, this is the High Inquisitor, Lord Tremayne, a former student of mine. His duties tend to keep him in the Outer Rim Territories,’ my Lord formally introduces me, using the Sith version of my name. He deliberately ignores Tremayne’s last verbal foray, though the Inquisitor probably intended it to be a compliment on the Sith Lord’s prowess at capturing Jedi.

He expects you to offer him your hand, Maia.

I acknowledge the Inquisitor with a tip of my head, and extend my free hand to him. He kisses the back of my hand, holds it a lingering moment before releasing it, and sketches a polite bow in response. The man tried to read my thoughts when he had my hand in his, I realize, and couldn’t get through the defenses the Sith Lord had extended around my mind.

Of course he can’t get through. I can flatten him with a thought if I want.

‘A Jedi with the name of a Sith goddess, who is of the light yet shields herself with the dark,’ Tremayne muses aloud. ‘A mystery to unravel.’

Why are you using this version of my name?

Because it is easier than changing it entirely, which is what would normally be done. You may not be a Sith, but you are mine and require an appropriate name.

‘Which is none of your concern, Lord Tremayne,’ the Dark Lord warns. ‘Now, what business do you have with me? I have other pressing matters to deal with.’

‘Your Favorite is not the only strong Force sensitive I have detected lately, Lord Vader,’ the Inquisitor reveals, ‘There is another one out there whose presence I do not recognize. Whoever it is, is with the Rebellion, and was recently at Ord Mantell, if I am not mistaken.’

I knew something about this, knew something critically important, yet I can’t remember it, and have no idea why or how I am aware that I once had this information. Rifling through my memories produces nothing but blanks. In frustration I push at the empty spots, trying to force something, anything to come back to me.

Stop that, Maia, my Lord warns me, it will either come to you naturally or not at all, and I will be angry with you if I have to spend any more time repairing self-inflicted damage.

‘I am well aware of the Rebels’ Jedi. You will turn over any information you have concerning him to me,’ Vader orders, ‘and inform me immediately if you encounter him again. Lord Tremayne, he is mine to deal with, not yours, and I will not tolerate any interference from you in this matter.’ He emphasizes this last command by pointing a finger at the Inquisitor and waving it at him.

‘As you wish, Lord Vader. I have no further business here, so I will bid you good day. My lady, I look forward to meeting you again sometime.’

With a quick tip of his head, Tremayne takes his leave and disappears into the turbolift. Meet him again? I would rather toss him out of the nearest airlock.

‘Tremayne is a useful, if dangerous, tool and he knows the consequences of crossing me. There will be no more trouble from him on your account,’ Vader reassures me.

Once I am sure the Inquisitor is gone, I start to release the Sith Lord’s hand, but he increases his hold and pulls me back into his arms.

‘I believe we were in the middle of something,’ he tells me, ‘before being so rudely interrupted.’ With a nod of his head, I hear the turbolift lock. ‘It is safe now to stay here a few minutes longer, or we could return to my quarters if you prefer.’

I press myself against him and rest my chin on the armor above his breastplate, gazing up towards his mask. Vader meets my eyes and looks down at me. The moment we had been caught in earlier is gone, but I still want to lose myself in his embrace for a little while. He picks up on my wish and I am once again wrapped in his cloak, his arms secure about me.

‘If this is all you want from me,’ he comments, amused, ‘you will prove to be a most undemanding mate.’

‘How about some clothes which aren’t black?’ I venture.

‘The color goes with your rank, Maia. As the mate of a Sith Lord, you are stuck with black in public,’ he tells me. ‘The only exceptions are your formal presentation to the Emperor and high court or formal functions if I give you permission to wear something else.’

Well, it was worth a try, I guess.

I wryly grumble a little, ‘At least I will never have to worry about co-ordinating and matching colors or my wardrobe going out of style.’

‘Ever the practical optimist, aren’t you?’ he teases. ‘You will, of course, always have my permission to wear what you want unless I have reasons for you to do otherwise. Maia, we should not linger here too much longer. I still need to teach you Control and sort out your training schedule.’

Ani, I ask, curious, why is it so easy for me to speak with you this way? On my world telepathy is considered a magic trick or hoax.

The Sith Lord is silent, thinking, then replies, My midichlorians, I suspect. They have created a strong permanent bond between us, one that cannot be broken except by death. I will always be able to hear you if called, and I doubt I can ever block you out completely. With training, you will be able to limit what you send out to me, which is why I need to teach you Control. Having a constant sense of your emotions and thoughts in the back of my mind is distracting to say the least.

With his last comment, he releases his hold on me and pulls himself free of my arms. Keeping one hand on my back, he steers me to the turbolift. ‘So, come along now. It is time to get something to eat and you still have a lot to learn.’

Our walk back to his quarters is uneventful. There are no further odd reactions to my presence from the crew, and I assume that word has spread rapidly through the ship. Once we reach our destination, I pick up the discarded scarf and wander into the bedroom, intending to change out of the dress and back into the more practical clothes I had on earlier. Before I can do more than shake out what I have selected to put on, I am joined by my Lord. He is carrying the jug which I had found on the counter earlier and two glasses. Obviously he intends to have ‘lunch’ with me. The door slides closed and locks behind him, and I can hear the room pressurizing. Curious about what he will do next, I sit down at the foot of the bed and watch his every move.

‘Normally I would spend the next hour alone in my meditation pod, but I prefer your company instead,’ he admits. ‘The environmental controls are better in here as well, and we are less likely to be disturbed. Now, come over here, my Favorite. I hope you never need to use this knowledge, but I am going to teach you how to remove my helmet and face mask.’

The Dark Lord seats himself in the chair and sets the jug and glasses on the table. I obey his command without hesitating, and wait, standing in front of him, for further instructions. He pulls off his gauntlets and drops them on the table.

Taking my hands in his, he directs my touch to where the helmet meets the mask, on the sides of his neck, ‘There are two pressure seals here which you need to open.’

I find the spots with my fingers and push down where indicated. Air hisses as the seals break open.

‘Lift the helmet up and back, away from my head.’

I quickly comply, setting it on the table. His bare scalp, marred by a terrible scar, is pale against the black armor.

‘The mask is anchored in several places, but you can slide it out from those if you are careful. Rotate the top slightly, push the bottom back to detach it from the vocoder, and then lift it up. Carefully.’

Taking my time, I study how the mask and vocoder are attached, then gently do as asked. The mask joins the helmet on the table.

When I turn back to him, my eyes are met by his piercing blue ones. Vader watches me carefully, waiting for my reaction to his appearance. I have somehow always known what he looks like under the mask, so there are no surprises for me here. The only emotions he will find are my love and concern for him. An eyebrow is raised now and a small smile appears, and I know he has just realized that how he looks has no effect on what I feel for him.

The soul is what is important to me, my love, I reassure him, and yours is that of a noble warrior.

Understanding flashes across his face, and he swiftly removes the vocoder, setting it down beside the mask. He catches my hands in his and raises one to his lips, kissing me on the wrist before releasing it.

‘You are a rare prize indeed,’ he says to me, possessively, ‘one I intend to keep entirely for myself.’

With a gesture he calls one of the glasses to his hand. Taking the hint, I fill his first then pour one for myself. There is only one chair, so I kneel on the floor beside him, sitting back on my heels, the only position the dress will allow me to get into under these circumstances. I make a mental note to try and swipe another chair for the bedroom from his office.

The drink is a different flavor now, more tart than sweet, but I like it nonetheless. After I have drained my glass, I reach to pour another.

The Sith Lord stops me, noting, ‘One glass of the supplement is enough for your body weight. Once I know what your physical training will require, you can have more. In the meantime I will see that some other plain juices are stored in the kitchen for you since you like it so much.’

He fills his own glass again and sips it slowly.

Content to simply stay where I am, I lean my head against his side and close my eyes. A few seconds later I feel his hand running through my hair. That feels good, I think as I let myself relax. He can do that whenever he wants to.

Vader looks down at me and chuckles. ‘For someone who has spent most of her life deliberately isolated, you certainly like it when I touch you.’

‘It’s not the touch so much as who is doing it,’ I admit, blushing as I do so.

Stop it Maia, I tell myself, you are acting like a silly teenager dealing with her first crush again. You had better be careful what you say and do or he is going to believe Nigel’s stupid comment from the other day.

‘You may say or do what you like in this room. If it is inappropriate, I will let you know,’ the Sith Lord tells me. After a moment’s thought, he admits, ‘Perhaps I over-indulged you with the amount of physical contact I permitted on your homeworld. I can never allow that in public here. No matter, I expect your emotions will settle down and your impulses will be easier to control in a couple weeks. There is no reason for me to be away before then and it will be simple to stay in my quarters most of that time. You can work the silliness out of your system in here.’

Why can’t he just stay out of my head when I have embarrassing thoughts? Hearing that last bit from him was even worse.

If you don’t want a response, then you had best learn Control so you can keep your thoughts from reaching me.

I make no reply to his comment since he has already promised to teach me this today. Curious to see just what he can and can’t pick up from my mind, I carefully start my old stand-by, Fermat’s last theorem, running in the back of my mind. My Lord’s hand stops moving through my hair, and I know he has just realized I am up to something. With a quick yank, I move the calculations to the surface of my mind and wait to see what he does. A moment later, I feel his mental touch running over the outside of the mathematical barrier I have put up. Time now to see if he can pick up my thoughts through it.

How embarrassed do I want to be? Well, I would like to touch his face which is not too scandalous. There was that fantasy I used to have about being stranded somewhere with him, but I have already lived that more or less. The two of us in a place where we might get caught? I roll this idea around. So far, he has given no indication that he can pick up anything from me through my impromptu shield. Emboldened by my success, I start wondering just what it would be like to make love with him in his armor. Awkward, I bet and probably not very comfortable. Plus I wouldn’t be able to touch him. No fun, I decide. Much better here in his quarters where he can take it off.

Looking up at him, I discover that he is obviously trying to keep a smile off of his face. Narrowing my eyes, I decide to see if what I suspect is true. I want you right now, Sith Lord, I think, so out of your armor and into bed with you! Sure enough, he starts laughing at me. Frustrated, I try to get to my feet only to be tripped by the fabric of the gown’s skirt. I end up sprawled across the floor in front of him. That was real talented, Maia, now wasn’t it, throw yourself at his feet. Not sure what to do next, I prop myself up on an elbow, stay where I am, and wait to see what he will do instead.

‘That is a very clever way to keep me out, Maia, but you used it once before so I know how to get around it now,’ he tells me. ‘You can’t block me if I decide I want in anyway, so don’t waste your time trying.’

Rats. That’s not fair. I would like to have a few private thoughts once in a while. Gazing up at the Dark Lord, I decide to try once again to get up. I want to see if what I used to do for my brother will have the same effect on Vader, and he did say I could do what I want in here. This time, I make sure the skirt is out of the way before standing up. The Sith Lord watches me, and I know he has no idea what I am planning to do.

Worried, are you? I tease him. You should be.

An eyebrow goes up at my words, but he makes no other response, just sits patiently waiting for me to make my move. I consider where I should position myself, then step so that I am in front of him and to one side. This should be manageable. I reach over to his face with my fingertips. Keeping my touch feather-light, I trace his eyebrows first, then his cheekbones, his jaw line, back up to his temples. When I run a finger down his nose, he shuts his eyes and I can see that he is beginning to relax.

An odd thought occurs to me. Maybe I should try and see if the empathy I had with Michael works here too. Contentment and relaxation are what I choose to send through my fingers. He responds by relaxing further at my touch. Good. There will be days, I am sure, when he will really appreciate that I can do this for him.

Like that, do you? I ask.

He doesn’t answer, but I do sense that he is perfectly content for the moment. I continue to trace his features with my fingers, easing what little tension remains in his body. Suspecting he is sensitive about the scars on his face and scalp, I am careful to keep my touch as light as possible over them. When I know I can do no more to soothe him, I decide to do something a bit foolhardy. Leaning over, my hands resting on his shoulders, I set my lips on his and kiss him. My intention is to keep it a short, chaste one, but the Sith Lord has other ideas. He is instantly aware again and catches my face in his hands. I am held firmly in place while he tries to get me to open my mouth to him. After I resist for only a few seconds, I yield, not wanting to anger him.

As I part my lips to him, he touches my mind, does something to it, and I can feel how he is affected by our kiss. The passion, desire he feels seeps into my mind, along with an overwhelming need for me. I shiver a bit in response. Having his emotions in my head like this feels good but also quite odd. When I try to send my love to him in answer, his hands leave my face and pull me onto his lap. I slip my arms from his shoulders to around his neck as he does this, keeping my lips hard against his own. This is one kiss I am enjoying thoroughly. Finally the Dark Lord moves his lips from my mouth down my neck and gives another sharp nip to me.

Stop that, I think at him, You’ve made your point with the crew and I don’t like looking like a teenager with a rabid boyfriend.

This has nothing to do with the crew. You are mine and I choose to mark you as such.

He waits for a response and I debate whether or not to put up a fight. Is this worth arguing about? I decide no, but I also know that I have not won a single battle with him. He’s winning the war by inches, how clever. Better watch out Sith Lord, I think to myself, knowing he will probably hear me anyway, you have no idea how stubborn I can be if pushed too hard.

On the contrary, I know exactly how stubborn you can be. Now kiss me again before I replace my helmet. I have an errand to run and when I return you will learn Control.

I set my lips to his again, but he keeps it short and chaste. He must be in a hurry to go. Rats. Deciding to be a bit stubborn, I give him a peck on the forehead, rest my cheek against it and hold him to me. Not so fast, you, I think, I want a proper kiss. My Lord hesitates, and I suspect that he is debating whether to shove me aside or give in to my request. A moment later I am being kissed and he makes no attempt to stop his emotions flooding into my mind. This is just too much to bear, so I pull away from him hoping to try and sort myself out. There is no escape, though, as he continues to let me feel what he chooses to send. Once he decides it has been enough, he stops, and I let my head fall onto his shoulder.

Don’t defy me, Maia. Even in here, I will put up with only so much before I do something about it.

Am I going to say or do anything more? Not a chance. I push myself off his lap and retrieve the garments I had selected earlier. The tunic is a bit wrinkled, so I sit on the bed and smooth it out with my hands, completely ignoring him as I do so. The Sith Lord watches me, and once it is obvious I am not going to show any more defiance or fight, he replaces his helmet and leaves without saying another word to me.

***

I turn my back on Maia and leave her sitting on the bed. She pushed me, tried to see exactly where the boundaries are for what I will put up with. In return, I gave her a mild reprimand, warned her not to defy me, and what did she do? Threw a childish sulk.

I shake my head as I start for the briefing room and my meeting with Griff and Chief Engineer Tosack. There is an investigation into yesterday’s mishaps to deal with.

Maia can stay where she is and think about her situation for a while. She has to learn that I won’t put up with any defiance from her.

While I wait for the turbolift, I consider what to do. Perhaps it is best to get this contest of wills out of the way immediately. If I wait, and have to punish her later, the risk to my son is that much greater.

Very well, concubine, I decide. No more warnings, no more mild reprimands. I will let you be stubborn, let you try to get your own way, and your punishment will be designed to break you.

***

As soon as it is apparent he has left his quarters I change into the tunic and pants, careful to not think of anything at all except what I am doing. I wait ten minutes or so more to make sure he is gone and at some distance, then curl up on the bed and have a good cry. That was mean and cruel of him, I decide. I just wanted a little kiss. It would have done no harm for him to let me have that.

With a start, my stubborn streak kicks in at full power. He’s trying to train me into being a nice, obedient little concubine, I quickly realize. I will not be treated like a child or forced into doing as he wants, no way. If he thinks that being mean and cruel will work, he had better think twice. Years of dealing with that from classmates has given me a very thick hide. There will be no more crying spells from me if he does this again.

Narrowing my eyes, I wonder if I can keep him out of my mind with another tactic. Chaos theory should be much harder for him to get through. No nice repeating patterns like the equations I was using earlier and much more complicated in terms of variables if I set it up right. I carefully partition my mind. This will take some planning. Ten minutes later I am satisfied with what I have. No repetitions at all. Nice and convoluted. Multiple layers. Perfect.

Knowing I need to disguise what I am up to, I walk through his quarters into his office. The stack of paper and stylus are where I left them, so I pick them up and hurry back to the bedroom. I settle myself in the chair, start the first set of calculations in my mind and begin writing out the random solutions as they come to me. Five minutes later there is a nice pile of impressive looking notes on the table. Good. He will think I have been busy with some problem or another to pass the time.

I start the next five layers of equations. Two I set at the surface of my mind, the others at deeper levels. He said he had some way of getting in regardless and I am going to try and block that if I can. The solutions are now multiply embedded six-dimensional matrices, far too complex to write out with standard notation, so I switch to the system my mentor and I developed to work with my mathematical gift. It looks very much like complicated computer code and I wonder what the Sith Lord will make of it. Shortly after I fill the second page with this coding, he reappears.

Staying completely calm, I look up at him a moment before returning my attention to the page. I can’t let myself get too distracted or I will lose track of what I need to write down. His senses run around the outside of my mind, trying to see what I have been up to. Vader is obviously curious about what I have done. He watches me carefully next, then picks up the first set of notes. As he looks through them he runs a finger along, trying to follow what I have done, I guess.

That won’t get you anywhere, I think at him, it works in tandem now with everything else I am doing.

Replacing that stack of paper, he pulls the completed sheets filled with my own notation system from under the one I am writing on. I just ignore him and continue to work. I can sense his puzzlement now. So, you can’t figure it out, can you?

And that won’t help you either, I tease, there’s only one other person who understands how that notation system works.

I feel him push against my mind, looking for a way in. With this I set the stylus down and wait patiently. After a few long minutes, he manages to circumvent the first two layers. When I know that he is about to get in, I yank the next two sets of calculations from where I set them and throw them in his path. He stops, startled, then tries to get through these as well.

I can keep that up for hours, Sith Lord. You can’t get in now unless I let you.

It’s an empty boast since I have only two more layers in reserve, but he backs off immediately, annoyed at me. A quick minute of work, and I have another batch of calculations going and set in place. Time now to let him have it for his earlier behavior.

I won’t be treated like a child. I won’t be trained into being some compliant little concubine who jumps when you snap your fingers. And I won’t put up with being harshly disciplined when it is uncalled for.

He takes a surprised step backwards. I bet that’s the first time he’s done that in years. Good. Now I hope he is going to react in a reasonable manner. The Dark Lord stares at me without saying a word and I continue to stay in the chair, calmly waiting for his response. I can sense that his mood has shifted from one of annoyance to anger. Finally, he spins and walks from the room, taking the jug and glasses with him. The door slides shut and locks after him.

***

You have been warned, Maia. I will leave you in there until you cease your defiance and childish behavior, and are ready to obey me, I tell her telepathically. When you are willing to apologize, call me and I will let you out.

With a smile, I set the jug and glasses down on the counter. I knew she would do something to provoke me right away. Now, I just have to wait until she realizes it is better to give in, behave in an appropriate manner, and obey me.

I turn and look at the door I just locked. There’s nothing to eat in there that Maia can get at, and if I cut the drinking water supply with something vile tasting, she won’t be able to hold out for more than a few days, at most.

Chuckling to myself at how easy she is to predict and manipulate, I go to my office and switch on the comm. I will listen in on what she is up to while I work.

***

The old isolation tactic. Well, that won’t work on me either. As for apologizing, well he can just forget about that. Leaving the calculations running in my mind, I take stock of the situation. There is nothing to eat in here, but water is available in the ‘fresher. I can manage for a number of days as long as I can get something to drink. Better see what containers I can fill just in case he gets the bright idea to cut that off.

A quick trip to the ‘fresher and rummage through the cabinet produces several bowls which I quickly fill and set aside. I also fill the sink. Time to see what else is in the bedroom’s compartments. There is nothing in the ones with my clothes which might be of use, and I quickly discover that there is some sort of lock on all of the others. Guess he doesn’t want me going through his stuff. No matter, the bowls and sink contain enough water to last several days if I need to use them.

How to spend my time? I will have to leave the chaos equations running to keep him out, but I can do that automatically without having to think about it. He did suggest I practice my singing so why not? Breathing exercises first, I scold, do it properly, then warm-up. Half an hour later, I am ready to try a piece or two. What would be appropriate I wonder? Something that fits with being locked up, I decide. Almirena’s aria, definitely. A long think produces a number of others. Starting with the simplest one first, I spend an hour or so working my way through a dozen songs.

‘Let’s try something harder,’ I decide, aloud. ‘Broschi. Maybe the hardest piece of all, Farinelli’s battle aria? Haven’t tried that in many years so it should be interesting.’

For my first attempt at it, I leave off all the ornaments, runs, and arpeggios. I can just hit the low notes in the baritone range and the soprano ones at the top if I keep the volume low. Second try, I toss in everything I omitted with my first go. I manage reasonably well until the cadenza with those blasted arpeggios. My voice breaks through all of the five top notes but I keep going and finish up anyway.

‘That was horrible,’ I scold myself aloud. ‘Better work on that.’

Until I get sick of it, I work through the cadenza at slow speed, trying to get my voice to do what I want and sing those five pesky notes. No success. It keeps breaking, so I give up. I haven’t been able to hit them in years anyway. Not sure what to do next, I flop down on the bed and let my eyes wander about the room. There’s a light blinking on the control panel and I hadn’t noticed it before now. Curious, I get up and wander over to have a look. Sure enough, my suspicions prove to be correct.

‘You’ve been listening, haven’t you,’ I tell Vader over the comm. ‘Maybe I should sing some truly awful stuff in German for you.’

With a wicked grin, I start on one of Wagner’s lesser known, least popular pieces. The comm is left on, but I can just imagine what he is thinking about it. What next?

‘You liked Handel’s Italian pieces, didn’t you?’ I ask, though I know he won’t answer. Feeling belligerent, I admit, ‘I won’t sing those for you.’ I consider for a moment, then tease, ‘Something else then. How about music closer to what you were complaining about? Verdi should do it, or maybe some of Puccini. Ah, I have it. Mozart and I know just the two pieces too.’

With that I launch into the two arias for the Queen of the Night. Nice, high, showy, and loud. Definitely nowhere near the Baroque style. Somehow my voice doesn’t break on the F’s. Cool. I have never managed to get through both before without that happening. The comm light promptly goes off as I finish, and I start laughing hysterically. That was just too funny.

***

I slam my hand down on the comm panel to close the channel before she can start another piece. A Toydarian banshee? That was a most charitable description.

Didn’t like that at all, did you, she teases in thought. Pity. Both of those are considered virtuoso pieces and very few can sing them properly.

I refrain from responding to that and return to reading the latest batch of intelligence reports. A number of Fleet Admirals have been complaining about my influence with the Emperor. Perhaps it is time for me to do something about them.

***

There is, of course, no reply to my teasing.

It is getting close to the time when I should be eating my evening meal and my stomach growls at me. I am used to skipping meals so I ignore it, and get a drink for myself from the tap in the bath. Instantly I spit it out. So, he decided to do something about the water after all. Rats. Now I will have to ration myself. Good thing I prepared for this. With a sigh, I carefully restrict the number of swallows from one of the bowls. If I am very stringent with myself, I should be able to manage four or five days before I run out and three or four days more after that. Maybe by that time he will relent and let me out. Don’t kid yourself, Maia, I tell myself, he is going to try and break you with this, and he has far more experience in doing that to someone than you do in resisting it. Well, I will just have to find some way to out-stubborn him.

Bored now, I decide to see exactly what clothes he has put in my compartments. The top one contains five tunic and pant sets identical to the one I have on, and various underclothes. I dig about a bit in it and find a box with what I guess are the Empire’s equivalent to pads. My face goes red. Well, at least he thought of that so I don’t have to ask about it when I will need them in a couple of weeks. I freeze at this thought. Didn’t you bleed a bit a few days ago? You should still be having your monthly unless that was some weird anomaly. Must have been just that. No point in worrying about it since it is not a problem now. Moving the tunics reveals a couple plain, long white nightgowns in a soft fabric. Oh. He must have had those made to match what I wore at home. When he is acting reasonably again I will have to thank him for that. The next drawer has the dresses. Curious to see what they might look like, I try them on, not bothering with the one I had already worn. Two of them I won’t wear, I decide. Both are cut too low for my modest tastes. The bottom bin contains an assortment of shoes, boots, and socks.

My explorations finished, I take one of the nightgowns and change into it. The clothes I wore today go back in the top bin and my cloak in the bottom one since I have no idea how laundry is handled. Since I can think of nothing else to do, I climb into bed and curl up under the covers. I guess the Sith Lord is going to stay away and leave me alone in here. He had promised this morning to make love to me tonight, but later on told me it would be my choice for when he would do that. Which statement should I believe? Either, both, none? I wonder.

Well, he can’t get at my mind so now is a good time to think about it. I love him, I think, feeling rather miserable as I do so. I love him and need him, but I am scared of what he wants from me.

‘You are not a child, Maia, but an adult, and you need to get over this fear of yours.’

I give a start. Where did that come from? Looking about in my mind, I can see no evidence that the Sith Lord has got through the barriers I have up. Peering deeper shows nothing out of place either. Weird. Miss one meal and I am already hearing things. Maybe this is my conscience speaking to me.

Feeling a bit silly, I ask whatever or whoever this is, ‘What am I supposed to do to get out of this mess? I am not going to let him manipulate me and I refuse to be some sort of tame pet. There is no way I am going to give in. None. I’ll starve myself first.’

Silence as an answer. Must have been hearing things after all. Time to go to sleep, I decide, and feeling a touch hungry and thoroughly miserable, I do so.

***

Maia’s finally gone to sleep for the night, so I get up and go to my meditation pod. I have spent far more nights in here than in my sleeping quarters. The pod seals over me and I remove my helmet as quickly as I can.

I reach out, touch the life-bond we share to gauge her mood. Even in her sleep she’s lonely, miserable and scared. My giving her a prod in the right direction hasn’t helped at all. With a sigh, I consider what to do.

I took her from her home, from friends, from family, from everything she ever knew.

She’s homesick.

The only thing she has left which is familiar to her is me. Her instincts are to cling onto me as tightly as she can - to try and hang on for dear life in case I disappear on her, too. She wants me to reassure her I won’t leave her alone. Desperately needs me to become the new anchor point in her life.

I won’t ever have to worry about her leaving me.

Small consolation, that.

I brush against her mind again.

How isolated and alone she feels. How very close to despair. I will have to be vigilant, monitor her emotions and mental state closely.

Maia is not as strong as she acts, as she likes to think she is. Without her familiar support network of friends and family around her, she could become unstable if I am not careful.

She has had no choice, no say in anything which has happened to her, so it is understandable that she wants to regain some control over her life. But I can’t let her win this battle. If I do, she will never bend to my will.

The price if she refuses to behave appropriately is one neither of us can afford to pay.

Little goddess, I am sorry. I don’t want to do this to you, but you will just have to give in and yield to me.

***


DAY 3

Morning comes all too soon. I just lay in bed considering what I should do today. Sing some more, I guess. At least it passes the time and there is not much else to do other than sit and brood. Tossing the sheets off myself, I head for the ‘fresher and a bath. Careful to conserve my water supply, I allow only a few sips. Next it’s back in the bedroom and into the practical tunic and pants again. Now what?

Warm-up, I decide, then just practice technique. That should drive the Sith Lord nuts if he chooses to listen in. Hours of various vocal attacks, trills, and slow and fast runs through different types of ornaments later, I realize that he has been occasionally checking to see what I am up to. The comm active light only stays on for a short time with each attempt at eavesdropping though. I was right. He can’t stand listening to the more boring aspects of what is required to really be a good singer.

The next time I see the light flashing, I tease him, ‘Can’t stand to hear me practice the boring technical stuff, can you? Maybe some more Mozart today?’

Off goes the light and I start to laugh. Teasing him this way is great fun. Time to try a proper piece or two. What to do? French composers? No, I decide, not today. German then. Mozart, Strauss, and of course, more Wagner. An hour later I have had enough and the Sith Lord, judging from the blinking light, has had his concert for the day. What to do now?

I could meditate, I suppose. That doesn’t require the Force. Hovering about Vader, though, might make him angry, so I will just stay here in my own body and use it to relax myself. Decision made, I pull myself into a cross-legged position and focus myself inwards. Settled in my mind, I am curious to see just what sorts of memories I ripped out the other day. Anything to do with a specialized knowledge of the Force, I quickly discover, is gone and I must have known quite a bit, too, judging from the large gaps I keep finding.

Looking about very carefully reveals that everything else which is missing is either connected to the Dark Lord’s distant past or to future events. That’s bizarre, I think. How would I know what his history is or what is supposed to happen twenty-five or thirty years from now? It was obviously quite accurate and detailed knowledge, too. Weird.

It must have frustrated him to no end when he realized what I had once known and so effectively removed. No wonder it took so long for him to make the repairs. He must have spent most of that time trying to find any traces of what I had ripped out. Well, like he said, it will either come back naturally some day, or not at all.

Satisfied with my evaluation of my memories, I drop out of the meditative trance. It is now quite late again. I must have been deep in my mind for many hours. Time for bed, I decide. Another trip to the ‘fresher for a drink, a quick change into my nightgown, and I am curled up under the covers.

Too awake to fall asleep right away, I lay there brooding a bit. I still love the man, and I know this will always be true no matter what he does to me. You can do whatever you like to me, I think to myself, it won’t change how I feel about you. Lying there quietly, I just keep my mind empty for a while. Somehow I know the Sith Lord is near, in his office, working. He must be staying awake all night or maybe sleeping in his meditation pod. It can’t be very comfortable in there, I decide, and he needs to recover from the exhaustion of the other day still. My belligerence is making us both miserable. I try to send a quiet thought his way.

***

I hear her mental call and respond to it immediately, ‘Maybe he is just as unhappy about having to punish you, as you are in receiving it.’

There’s that voice in my head again, she thinks. Either stay and talk to me, or go away and leave me alone.

Maia hasn’t realized who she is communicating with. This could be most useful. I might be able to hasten her surrender.

‘If you act like an adult, I will stay,’ I answer back.

Oh. Well, I can be civilized, she replies. It’s just when I am pushed too much that my stubborn streak comes out.

‘You need to control that or abandon it altogether,’ I suggest. ‘He won’t put up with it from you.’

I feel her stubbornness gathering and smile to myself. How predictable she is. Tell her not to do something and that is exactly what she does.

Alright, she admits, yes, I can be stubborn. It was the only way I survived the misery of my high school and university years. And no, I won’t abandon it, not a chance. As for winning, well, I can and have out-stubborned the best.

‘That was on your homeworld, child, not against a Sith. You can’t win here, and you will only harm yourself if you try,’ I warn, hoping she will realize there is no point in continuing to fight and will just give in.

We shall just see about that then, now won’t we? She thinks defiantly back at me.

I don’t answer. More stubbornness on her part, but I have given her something to think about. It is only a matter of time, now. I can wait, she will give in.

Griff’s daily report is waiting. I return my attention to it. They are close to tracking down the technician who supervised the energy damper installation. Major Fervis should have him in custody soon.

***


DAY 4

Morning I guess, as I wake up. I listen to my stomach growl and take the time to convince it to shut-up. There will be no breakfast for me again today. Knowing that I will need to conserve energy, after almost two days without food, I decide to lie in bed and sleep a bit more.

After a few minutes, I give up. The comments from that weird mental voice last night have my mind busy trying to sort things out.

I start to muse. The Sith Lord had told me I could do what I wanted in here and when I did so, punished me for it. No, Maia, I scold myself, that’s not entirely true and you know it. You pushed further than he would tolerate from you. He obviously needed to be elsewhere and you tried his patience one too many times. Be glad he didn’t do any more than flood your mind with his emotions for a few minutes. Throwing a sulk after he did that was stupid.

‘Yes, that was rather childish of you,’ the voice observes, back again. I ignore it. I want to sort myself out without any comments from elsewhere.

My juvenile need to touch and be in physical contact with him is going to cause me grief, and learning how to deal with my newly awakened emotions is going to be quite a nuisance. Even he knows that. Otherwise, he would not have offered to stay in his quarters with me, for the next two weeks, so that I could work through the giddiness and mood swings that accompany first love.

***

I hear her comment on first love.

Ah, yes.

I remember that.

The mood swings, the light-headedness, the thrill of needing, wanting the other person and knowing your feelings are returned - all the things youngsters deal with which Maia has so carefully avoided - then there were the internal fights both Padme and I waged endlessly with ourselves before finally giving in to the inevitable. But my angel was far more emotionally mature, far more experienced in that respect than Maia is.

My Favorite is like a child, feeling love for the first time.

Her silliness, her need to constantly touch me, while I understand where it comes from, annoys me.

At her age, she should be able to control herself, at least a little bit. She should have behaved herself instead of throwing this sulk. Now, the days I could have stayed in here with her and let her work it from her system are slipping away.

I remind her of that.

***

‘That was rather generous, don’t you think? He doesn’t have to do that for you.’

Another comment from that odd voice. Must be my conscience, I decide, as I continue on my previous train of thought.

Do I really think he wants to punish me if I slip up in public and do something stupid? Darth Vader is the Emperor’s military commander and he can’t afford to have me undermining his authority with any sort of childish nonsense. He spoiled me on Earth, I decide, by being extremely open about his feelings in public, something he can never, will never do here. The sooner I accept that the better.

***

Do I want to punish her publicly?

No.

I don’t want to do anything to hurt her, but I can’t let her behave foolishly or in an inappropriate manner, either.

She needs to learn this, and soon. I make a mental note to arrange a suitable lesson for her in the consequences of public defiance.

As for her homeworld, well, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Nowhere else have I managed to be seen as one of the crowd, just another person out for the evening.

‘That was at a costume ball where no one really knew who he was, and those who did could be trusted completely,’ I admit. ‘How often does he get to be incognito like that? He could afford to relax his guard and maybe he enjoyed that evening as much as you did.’

***

True, I nod mentally at those words. Very true. He did seem to thoroughly enjoy himself at the party and he got along quite well with Rick and Bill, too. Tossing Nigel in the pool amused him as well, even if there was that nasty scene with him earlier in the evening. The Sith Lord must have liked those four days with me, away from the pressures and worries of his position. How often does he get a holiday like that anyway?

***

When was the last time I had a holiday? The last time I did something frivolous to enjoy myself?

So long ago I can’t even remember the circumstances.

‘Almost never,’ I admit to her.

I will be sure to do a few purely recreational things with her.

***

As for being locked in here, I brought that on myself. He wasn’t mad about the mathematical barriers I had put up, he was more curious about that than anything else.

***

Those clever shields she erected. Yes, they had me puzzled for a moment or two, but I can get through them easily with our bond if I need to.

‘It was very clever of you to figure out how to layer mental shields, do you know that?’ I tell her. ‘Only a few Jedi Masters could manage that as well as you did.’

***

It was only when I became defiant, belligerent, and rude, and told him off that he became angry with me.

‘Yes,’ the voice comments, ‘all too true,’ then abruptly falls silent, leaving me alone again, and I wonder where it went to.

***

The comm signals an incoming Holonet transmission.

Damn.

I don’t need this right now. Not when I might be able to persuade her to give in.

I pull my attention away from Maia and answer it.

***

I consider what I had said to the Sith Lord. Has he treated me like a child? Well, no, not really, not unless I said or did something that justified it. And I did deserve the chastisement he gave me two days ago. The remark I made about being a compliant concubine. That was maybe a bit closer to the truth, I suspect. My stubborn temperament probably irritates him since he is used to being obeyed instantly. And he needs to have me obey and be respectful to him in public. Maybe he is just trying to get me used to that in private where my resistance won’t cause a scene and force him to do something about it.

Maia, my girl, I tell myself, you have really done it this time. You acted in haste, spoke without thinking, and now you are paying the price for it.

***

I hear the capitulation in her thought as I head to my shuttle.

So close.

She is almost at the point of giving in.

And now I must go, ordered back to Teyr for the meeting I missed by my master.

‘Yes, child, actions and words have consequences and you had best learn that now, in private, where he can afford to be lenient, rather than in public where he may have to hurt you, perhaps quite badly, to make a point of it,’ I remind her.

Well, she thinks at me, I don’t feel up to dealing with a formal apology to him right at the moment. I will spend the morning sorting myself out, maybe sing a few things for him. He liked that even though he wouldn’t admit it.

Like her singing? Whatever gave her that idea?

I only had the comm on so I could monitor what she was up to, not torture myself.

And it sounds like she will give in this afternoon. Good. My meeting should be finished by then. I will be here to accept her apology and let her out.

I pause as I enter the hangar.

She needs to know why she must behave herself. I will force her to work that out for herself as a lesson. It won’t be as vivid and long-lasting in her mind if I simply tell her.

***

The voice is silent in answer, and I know it is gone again.

I drag myself out of the bed and into the ‘fresher. A few mouthfuls of water and I feel better. Time for a hot bath. Whatever he had added to the water tastes horrid, but it doesn’t smell or affect the soaps I use. Wrapped in towels, I go back to the bedroom and debate what to put on. If I am going to apologize, I want to do it properly. The dress with the neat gold trim on it should do just fine. I pull it out of the compartment. This is the dress I like best of the six. Nice fitted bodice, cool looking flowing, filmy, medieval style sleeves. My bracelets will be visible through them and I can use a gold button on each shoulder to pull them back to make it into a sleeveless gown with sheer drapery instead of sleeves. I especially like the gold edging around the full skirt and round neck. A moment later I have it on me. There is no way to put my hair into ringlets so instead I divide it into a dozen tight braids which will produce waves instead.

Preparations finished, I warm up my voice again, thinking of how to apologize as I do so. Maybe in song? I run through my mind the various pieces that I know. Turandot, Liu’s plea from the first act will be perfect if I change a few of the words in the first part and completely alter the second. This is going to require some work. Sitting down at the table, I select a blank sheet, and write out the Italian first. Signore, ascolta! Ah, signore ascolta! Liu non regge piu, si spezza il cuor! ... Then the English, changing things as I need to, My Lord hear me! Oh hear, my Lord! Maia can bear no more, her heart is breaking! Alas how many miles have I traveled ... and if my fate today be decided ... Maia can bear no more. Rather melodramatic, I think, and alter a few more things.

I set the stylus down and sing the Italian version. Good. I have that correct. Now to check the English phrasings, but how to do it without the Sith Lord hearing? ‘Fresher, I wonder if the comm will pick up in there? Probably not. I start giggling. There’s no way I can see that he would ever let anyone eavesdrop in that room. Ten minutes later, locked in the ‘fresher, I have managed to get the words and music to work together. Now, when to sing it to him? I will need to make sure the comm light is on, and I want to give him a bit of a concert first. A few sips of water, and I go back into the bedroom.

The comm light is on, so I sing Almirena’s aria to him. The light stays on and blinking as I finish up. Good, he’s happy with what I chose to sing to him.

‘Liked that, did you? Should I try the battle aria again? Maybe my voice will behave today,’ I tell him, before launching into the Broschi piece.

To my total shock, I do hit those blasted five notes, and perfectly in tune, too. Haven’t done that since I was an undergrad. Wow. Guess three days with three or four hours work during each does pay off.

What next? More Handel, I decide, since he seems to prefer it.

‘I think you prefer Handel,’ I state, ‘who was a brilliant musician and quite a character. One time he ended up in a duel and the only thing that saved him was when his opponent, his best friend and a musical rival, had his sword break on one of Handel’s metal buttons. He used to get into purely musical contests with some of the other great composers of his time, too.’

With that I start singing Cleopatra’s love song. He should recognize that one since I sang it to him once before. Five other arias from Handel’s Italian operas follow. Maybe I should try the modified piece from Turandot now? Gathering up my nerve, I close my eyes and start into it. Once finished, I see that the comm light is no longer blinking, but glowing solid. When did that happen and what does it mean? Did he hear me or not? Not sure what to do, I take a few steps over and look at the console. No clues there as to what the solid light means. Rats. Now what do I do?

Well, I could just call him mentally and tell him I am ready to apologize.

Ani? I ask. I want out now.

***

I hear her call to let her out, but don’t answer. She doesn’t know about our bond so there is nothing I can do which will convince her that I am the one she is hearing.

And I foolishly left the comm in my quarters running in record mode so I can’t tell her I will be there in a few hours that way either.

All I can do is hasten the end of my meeting with the Sector governor and return to Fondor as quickly as I can.

***

I wait almost an hour with no response at all. He must intend to keep me locked in here a while longer to drive my punishment home. Cruel, I decide, that’s really cruel. Knowing there is nothing I can do about my situation, I take a few steps towards the table, with the aim of sitting in the chair and trying to write a letter in Aurabesh to him. In my usual clumsy fashion, I end up tripping over myself and down on the floor. Typical, how typical of myself, I think. I will just stay here on the floor for a while, then, and unbraid my hair.

Two hours later I am still on the floor, all alone.

‘Alone,’ I say aloud, talking to myself and making no attempt to keep the misery from my voice. ‘I am completely alone. No Rick to run to for a shoulder to cry on, no Bill to tease and chase around the salle, no brother to joke with or anyone else I can go to. The only person I know here is a cranky Sith Lord who obviously wants to drive his point home and make me as miserable as possible. I want to go home. I don’t belong here, I don’t fit in, and I miss my friends and family.’

I start singing Almirena’s aria, but in English this time, not caring what he thinks about it as I do.

Let me weep over my cruel fate and sigh for freedom. May my grief mercifully break these chains of anguish.

No answer or response of any kind, so I give up and just sit on the floor, crying. You’re wasting water with that, I scold myself, and you are going to make yourself sick if you keep up these hysterics for much longer. I decide I don’t care. Eventually I slump to the floor, exhausted and feeling quite ill. No point in moving or doing anything else, so I let myself fall asleep where I am.

When I wake up, I am still on the floor and badly chilled because of it. He’s leaving me locked in here all by myself. Alone. I start shivering. That old claustrophobic nightmare from my childhood begins to haunt my thoughts.

No one to hear or care.

No possible way out.

No way to escape.

Trapped in here.

Locked up.

Alone.

I begin to panic.

Lock it down, I scold myself, get yourself under control. It does no good. I just lay on the floor, shaking like a leaf.

Let me out of here, I plead, terrified, please, please, let me out.

No answer, and with that what little control I still had over myself shatters.

Fear. Terror. Panic.

My mind is held by these three emotions and something inside me snaps. I hear the chair move, hurl across the room to smash against the wall. The table follows. Pieces of paper and broken furniture are tossed about in a wild whirlwind with me at the center. I stay where I am, too exhausted and confused to understand what is happening and with no idea what I should do about it.

***

I bolt from my shuttle, using the Force to fuel my speed.

Her fear and terror have reached her shatterpoint. Maia has just panicked and created a Force storm. If I don’t hurry, she will tear the ship apart without knowing what she is doing.


The door unlocks at my touch, revealing a room in complete chaos, with Maia sprawled across the floor, the center of a cyclone of papers and destroyed furniture. I rip off my cloak and throw it over her, protecting her from the debris which drops to the floor the instant I shove her mind into unconsciousness.

The sudden silence and calm is unnerving.

I look down at my Favorite. She is pale, motionless, her hair a tangled halo spread about her head.

Little goddess, this is my fault. I should have found some way to delay that meeting, some way to put my master’s orders off.

I should have been here, watching over you, protecting you.

She stirs a little, not quite aware of what has happened.

I kneel by her side, touch her forehead. She is disoriented, so I gently center her mind before wrapping my cloak around her. Maia will be in shock. Few recover quickly from an experience like what she just had.

I know. I have been there myself.

Gathering her into my arms, I carry her over to the bed and bundle her up. A touch to her temple and she is asleep. I will get in with her, warm her up, stay with her.

Maia will need all the reassurance I can give her when she wakes.

***

I hear the door open and footsteps running towards me, feel a dark blanket drop over my senses. A touch to my mind and I am, mercifully, rendered unaware.

Dizzy, I think as I come to, I am horribly dizzy. A hand touches my forehead. Balance follows but I won’t open my eyes. I am gathered into someone’s arms and picked up, carried a few steps only to be set down and wrapped in warm cloth. Letting myself fall over sideways, I feel two hands guiding me as I go, keeping me from harm. A pillow is under my head now. Another light touch to my temple and I am asleep.


DAY 5

I wake in darkness and silence. Alone, I think, feeling rather miserable, I am totally alone.

‘But I am here,’ the voice answers.

You are just a voice in my head, my conscience, I think at it. You aren’t real.

‘But I am,’ that baritone voice I know so well tells me.

‘Ani?’ I ask.

What’s he doing in here? I thought he was still mad at me.

His weight shifts beside me and I am quickly wrapped in his arms. A hand brushes the hair from my face. I am held tight to his chest now, and he doesn’t say a word, just continues to stroke my hair.

‘I need to get you out of that gown you have on,’ he finally tells me, ‘and under the covers where I can warm you up.’

I don’t complain when he brings the lights up to a low level, nor put up any resistance when he removes the dress from my body, pulls a nightgown down over my head, and tucks me under the blankets. There is no fight left in me anymore. If his aim had been to break my will, he has succeeded thoroughly. Curling up beside him, I simply let him move me about as he wants to. Even if he decided to make love to me, I would not protest. After a few minutes, I can sense his concern with my lack of life. Well, Sith Lord, I think, not caring if he hears, you wanted a nice, compliant, obedient little concubine and now you have one so you ought to be rather pleased with your handiwork. I feel him draw back from me in response, shocked, but I don’t care any longer. Ignoring him completely, I shut out the world and let myself fall asleep.

***

I have broken her completely, I think as I pull away in shock.

This is not what I wanted.

I wanted her to yield to me, obey me, behave as my wife should.

Not this.

Not this limpness, this hopelessness, this despair.

Where is the fiery determination that I so admired on her homeworld? The keen intellect? The joy I felt from her when she discovered I loved her?

Gone.

It is through my carelessness that this has happened, and I have no idea how I am going to repair the damage I have done to her spirit.

***

When I wake, the Sith Lord is gone from my side. Alone again, I think, sadly, I am all alone. The door is shut and I can see that the smashed furniture has been neatly swept into one corner of the room. He must have done that while I was asleep. I curl up under the covers, too tired and weak to move. No food for almost three days, I realize, and no water since yesterday afternoon. Maybe I should get up and drink something, but I am sure he has left nothing to chance and removed my meager water supply.

My mind is wide open again, the mathematical shields having shattered during that weird fit I had. I need to put them back in place, and this time I will make sure there are enough layers that there will be no way for him to get in. Starting with the same six sets of equations, I begin creating variations until I am satisfied with what I have.

Before I can begin putting them in place though, Vader returns. He stands in the doorway for a long time simply looking at me. I can sense him debating what to do.

Either go away and leave me alone, I think at him, or come in here and talk to me.

When he takes a step back and disappears, I am sure he is going to stay away. Instead, he reappears a moment later, jug and glass in hand.

‘Drink this,’ he orders, handing the filled glass to me, ‘slowly, now. I don’t want you to get sick.’

I am careful to do exactly as I am told. A second glass follows the first, and I sip at this one, not wanting to shock my deprived system too much. The Sith Lord watches me carefully and when I am finished, takes the glass from my hand. He sets the jug and glass on the floor, then shifts me over on the bed before sitting down beside me. For another minute, he just looks at me.

‘I was ordered away by the Emperor yesterday,’ he reveals, ‘and there was nothing I could do about that except obey him.’

What can I say to this? I know what his master is like. If Vader had defied him, the punishment would be far worse than anything my Lord might inflict on me.

‘You understand, then,’ he notes, picking up on my thought.

My answer is a nod.

‘Maia, I heard your mental call, but could do nothing about it from where I was,’ the Dark Lord admits.

‘Why didn’t you just contact me on the comm and tell me that then?’ I quietly ask.

‘Because I left it recording what you were singing,’ he tells me.

That’s what the solid light meant.

‘You didn’t leave me in here deliberately then,’ I realize, and he had no idea that I would react the way I did.

‘No, I didn’t, and when my shuttle returned, I had just enough time to run from there to here before you could start tearing the ship apart.’

‘Say what?’ I blurt out.

‘You do have odd expressions,’ the Sith Lord comments, amused. In a more serious tone, he explains, ‘When you panicked, you subconsciously tapped into the Force and created a storm in here. Fortunately, I arrived before it could go any farther.’

‘Oh, so that’s what that weird fit was,’ I decide.

‘Yes, and you must learn control today. I don’t want a repetition of that.’

I can tell he is looking at me closely again and I wonder what he is thinking. If he left the comm on the entire time he was gone, then everything I said and did was recorded. He has probably played it back, too, and heard my miserable soliloquy, the song in English, and my hysterical fit after that. How embarrassing.

‘I can’t take you back, Maia, even if I wanted to,’ the Dark Lord admits. ‘After we arrived here, I had Astrogation check the route with a drone and discovered that if we had left even an hour later my TIE would have been destroyed in transit by a star that just went nova. That path is effectively, permanently closed now. There is no way for you to go home.’

I stare at him, horrified, as the implications sink in.

‘No way back home? Not even for a visit? Not ever?’ I question ‘Then I really am stuck here.’

‘Yes, and with a ‘cranky Sith Lord’ as you put it,’ he teases, trying to cheer me up, I guess.

My eyes shut. I am not going to cry, I decide, no way. I will just have to accept the situation and learn to live with it. At least I am with someone who cares about me which is better than nothing at all. His hand touches my face in reaction to my thought, then is withdrawn. When I open my eyes a few seconds later, I can see he is still watching me.

‘Before I let you sleep for a while longer, there is some unfinished business between us,’ my Lord flatly states.

I know exactly what he is talking about and while I want to avoid it, he will insist on dealing with it.

‘You want me to apologize?’ I ask.

‘What you sang was adequate for that,’ he decides, then orders, ‘You will explain to me why I did what I did and why you will not provoke me in the future.’

This is not going to be easy. I stare at him, but know there is no way he will let me escape this. Biting my lip, I run the various arguments I had with myself through my mind.

‘I was disobedient,’ I start, ‘and I defied you when I knew I should do as I was told.’ Silence from him, so I keep going. ‘Instead of accepting what you were willing to allow, I tried to push for more.’ Still no response. ‘You were in a hurry and I was being a problem?’

What does he want to hear from me? Maybe he isn’t referring to the earlier incident at all. I stop and think for a few minutes. Oh, I realize, that’s what he wants to hear.

‘I can’t disobey or disrespect you in public. You can’t afford to have me making scenes by being stubborn, defiant, or indiscrete.’

The slightest of nods from him. Good. I am on the right track here.

Another think later and I tell him, ‘You don’t want to hurt me in public, do you? And you would have no choice but to do that if I did something to deserve it, and you can’t show any favoritism in how you treat me.’ Well, that was an odd way to put it, given my title of Favorite, I decide. ‘If you let me misbehave in private,’ I conclude, ‘then there is a much greater possibility I will do it in public. You want to make sure that it doesn’t happen.’

Not a word from him in reply. I guess I missed something, so I reconsider my answers, then add, ‘I was rude, spoke in haste, and questioned what you had already decided was an appropriate punishment for my earlier behavior when I should have simply accepted your decision in the matter.’

Another hard think with my logic circuits. Inappropriate behavior in public, in particular anything giving any indication of personal attachment, he was extremely concerned about that, and it was the one thing he emphasized back home. Then there was his reaction when the Inquisitor walked in on us. I give a start and look at him.

‘It has everything to do with behavior that reveals some sort of attachment, doesn’t it? You are afraid that if anyone realizes what you really feel for me and I for you, it will make me even more of a target for someone trying to get at you, and it will undermine your authority and reputation, too. If there is no hint of that, it will be safer for both of us.’

I run some of his comments through my brain. Oh. That’s part of it, too, perhaps the only reason even.

‘You told me love was forbidden to you. If the Emperor ever found out ...’

I must have hit the bull’s eye dead on from the break in his breathing pattern, so I shut up instantly and shiver a bit. My mind keeps working away at this. Sith Lords aren’t supposed to feel love or affection of any kind. His feelings for me are a weakness, a vulnerability he can’t afford to have, and they probably affect his connection to the dark side, too. If his master were to ever realize what his apprentice really felt for me, he would do something about it and it would probably be nasty and painful to him, to me, or both of us. At the very least I would be taken away from the man I love.

‘True,’ the voice quietly admits, ‘all too true.’

I continue to think carefully. While he might be able to hide his emotions from the Emperor, I probably couldn’t do the same with mine. Not yet anyway, and maybe it doesn’t matter that I love him.

‘True again,’ the voice answers, ‘you can love him as much as you like, and even very discretely show it in certain situations, but he can never do that in return.’

I know that the risk of my slipping up and letting the Dark Lord’s feelings become known is much, much greater than that of him doing so. This must be what he is so worried about, why he is so determined to get me to behave properly and obey him, even in private. The price if I don’t in public is just too high.

‘Ani,’ I quietly tell him, ‘I promise I won’t misbehave ever again.’

No way. Not if he could be hurt just because of me. I won’t let that happen. Myself, I don’t care about, but the man I love, I could never harm. Never. If giving up my stubborn streak and being obedient and well-behaved is the only price I have to pay, then I will do it gladly.

Sensing my complete surrender in this, the Sith Lord beckons me over and I happily curl up next to him, arms about his waist. He’s forgiven me, I think, as I feel his hand in my hair, and I won’t be alone anymore.

‘No, you won’t be,’ that voice chimes in.

My Lord’s hand rests on my temple now, and I feel him slip into my mind. I don’t resist, just wait to see what he is going to do. There is a feeling of disorientation and something hidden away is revealed. Another odd wrench and he has partially removed a barrier. Then he withdraws his presence, easing me into sleep as he goes.

***

I ease her into sleep and hold her close to my chest, relieved that her spirit is unbroken. My little goddess, I won’t make that mistake again.

With a finger, I trace her cheekbones. Maia is still stubborn, still full of fire. But she now knows what the price could be for her inappropriate behavior and won’t challenge or defy me a second time.

It is a start.

Now if she will only face that foolish fear of hers.

I let out a sigh.

Her resistance to my advances is my own fault. I should have been more careful and never scared her the way I did. By being aggressive, I only made her fear stronger.

There is no choice for me now.

I will have take on the role of a suitor and woo her.

‘Little goddess,’ I tell her, ‘I am too old and set in my ways for such games, but I will play them if I must.’

She stirs in my arms so I settle her back under the sheets.

Our bond will eventually pull her to me, regardless of her resistance, just like it did with Padme. No one can fight a life-bond once it is acknowledged. Not even a Sith Lord.

I will tell her about our bond when she wakes. Maia won’t be alone ever again.

And neither will I.

***

When I wake, I find that he has tucked me in again. He is still there, to my surprise, sitting beside me on the bed. Did he watch me sleeping, I wonder, or has he come back from wherever because he knew I was going to wake up?

‘No,’ the voice tells me, ‘I stayed.’

Ani? I ask. You were that voice? How did you do that through my shields?

Life-bond, he admits, Can’t be blocked or eavesdropped on, and is completely unaffected by distance, so it could be very useful to us. I can talk to and hear you from my end, but I had to hide it from you until the pathways in your mind could better tolerate my presence there.

I blink at him in surprise.

‘Didn’t you tell me that’s the sort of connection I had with Michael? So, when and how did you end up bonded to me? And why didn’t I notice it happening?’ I start babbling at him.

‘You ask too many questions,’ he scolds, ‘but you will need some answers in order to deal with this, so I will tell you what is necessary, no more.’

Settling myself into a more comfortable sitting position, I make sure I am paying close attention to him. This is important, I tell myself, no daydreaming.

Once he sees I am ready to listen, my Lord explains the situation to me. ‘During the party, when you had your first dizzy spell, you lost your mental focus completely. I could not touch your mind with the Force to help you and I did try to. There were two choices; let your awareness drift until I could get you back here where I might be able to do something for you, or anchor it back in place immediately. The first would have been far too dangerous. Your friend would have had to help get us back to my ship, and leaving things as they were for more than two days might have resulted in irreparable harm.’

I nod at this. This makes sense to me.

Seeing that I have understood thus far, he continues, ‘I had to get access to your mind somehow, and I knew that you had been bonded to your brother. When a bond like that is suddenly severed, the paths often stay intact rather than closing naturally. They are also easy to find when one knows what to look for, so I used them as a means of entry. What I didn’t anticipate was your mind refusing to let me go when I tried to exit. You are a stubborn person, Maia, even subconsciously, and you didn’t want me to leave. To rip my presence out would probably have killed you. I had no choice then but to reciprocate, so I pulled part of your self into my own mind and permanently anchored it in place.’

I stay silent for a minute, thinking about what the Sith Lord has just told me. Very quietly, I tell him, ‘I love you, and if I knew you were in my mind, I wouldn’t have wanted you to leave.’

‘Yes, I know that, o stubborn one,’ he teases.

An impulse to hug him hits me, but I restrain myself. Need to behave, I remind myself, best start practicing that now. He tips his head and laughs.

‘Come over here,’ he orders, ‘I can be indulgent in here now that you understand and will behave yourself. There is nothing to call me away for the rest of the day. I saw to that earlier.’

No need for a second invitation. A moment later I am once again curled up next to him, ready to hear some more about this weird link we have.

‘Ready to hear more?’ he asks, repeating my thought aloud.

I nod my head against his shoulder.

‘Judging from what I found in your mind, your brother had a very strong light-side presence,’ my Lord reveals. ‘I am certain that if he had been born here, he would have been an extremely powerful Force-sensitive, close to myself in strength in fact, and perhaps a very great Jedi given his expertise with a foil. The paths in your mind were formed, shaped by his potential. When I pushed my way in, they had to cope with the same strength but from me, a Sith Lord, instead. I knew this would be a problem so I hid the life-bond from you until your mind could adjust itself without you disturbing the healing process.’

‘Michael would have been a Jedi?’ I ask, totally surprised. My brother would have liked that idea, I sadly admit to myself.

The Sith Lord is silent, and after a minute, I realize that if Michael was alive, here, he would be one of those the man I love would be forced to pursue. Not a happy situation at all. Perhaps it’s for the best then, that my brother is not here, but somewhere else, maybe part of the Force now? I like that thought, so I am careful to file it away.

To let him know I want to hear more, I snuggle closer. His hand touches my temple again, and I know he is looking at the spot where part of himself is permanently set in my mind.

‘The pathways in your mind still need time to heal,’ he warns me, ‘and you must leave the bond alone, Maia, not touch it unless absolutely necessary. If you are in danger, you can call me with it and I will hear you, no matter the distance between us. That is the only thing you may do until I tell you otherwise. In several months, if all is well, I can start to teach you how to use our bond, but I am no expert in this. We will have to learn what is possible, together.’

He calls the jug and glass to his hands, fills the glass, and hands it to me. ‘You need to rehydrate yourself and get your strength back. Finish this, then another. Once you are dressed, I will teach you Control.’

With that he is gone again, on a short errand probably. I am careful not to drink too fast from the glass, remembering his warning about getting sick if I do. Setting jug and glass aside when I am done, I head to the ‘fresher. After a quick bath, I am dressed and waiting for the Sith Lord’s return. When he doesn’t show up in a few minutes, I realize that something must have delayed him. No matter, I will just settle myself with meditation until he gets back. I plunk myself cross-legged on the bed and drop into a light trance.

A bit later my Lord returns, and when he does, I open my eyes and move to get up from where I have been sitting.

‘Stay where you are,’ he tells me, ‘I will join you in a minute or two.’

His hand waves at the door and the control panel. As soon as the environment has been adjusted, and his helmet and mask removed, he seats himself, in the same position as I am, facing me on the bed.

‘You already have a fair amount of natural control, Maia,’ he comments. ‘I suspect that is a result of your experiences when you were bullied as a child. It is also apparent that you know how to deal with negative emotions with breath control and relaxation techniques. What you need to learn is how to use these abilities in tandem with the Force to filter what you are feeling, decide what is useful or not, and control your reactions. ‘

I can’t help smiling at some of his observations. Not letting my childhood tormentors know what I was feeling was something I learned early and well. The ways of dealing with stress, nervousness and panic, I picked up when I had to start lecturing and get up in front of large groups. Now, I wonder how the Force ties in with this?

‘First, you need to learn how to shield your mind,’ the Sith Lord tells me, ‘and I don’t mean with one of your mathematical constructs, clever as they are. You can’t change one of those as you need to, and if I can figure out how to get around them, others can as well. I could spend hours discussing theory with you, but it is simpler to demonstrate the technique and then have you learn by repeating it. The theory we can cover later. It’s far more important that you learn the practical applications right now.’

He touches my mind after he says this, does something, then pulls the Force inside, wraps it around my thoughts in what feels and looks like, to my mind’s eye, a perfect, unbroken sphere. I watch everything he does, curious, and sure I will be told to do the same for myself next. Sure enough, he takes down the shield and reestablishes it a few times before leaving my mind and waiting for me to copy what he had just done.

I reach for the Force, feel it move around me, and pull on it, dragging it into my mind, just as my Lord had done. A few careful touches later and I have a rather thin shield in place. Well, at least it didn’t collapse on me at my first attempt, I think happily. I sense Vader’s presence checking on what I had done. With a sharp rap from him, my shield buckles, then fails.

‘Again,’ he orders, ‘you will repeat that until I am satisfied you can create a proper shield.’

Two hours later, I am tired, frustrated, and wishing that I had never acquired Force-sensitivity in the first place. I reach once again for the Force, and spin it into a shield, this time ensuring that I am mentally centered as I do so. For once, it doesn’t fold under the pressure the Sith Lord exerts on it. Surprised, I carefully consider what I did different. Oh. So that’s what the problem was with the other ones. I won’t make that mistake again.

‘Good,’ he praises, ‘very good. I was beginning to wonder if you would ever figure out what you were doing wrong.’

‘You could have just told me,’ I grumble.

‘And you would not have learned the lesson as well as you need to then,’ he replies, amused. ‘Now demonstrate that you can control the thickness of the shield you have.’

This is much easier. By adding and removing the amount of Force in the shield I can change it. Curious if my layering technique will work, I try setting up a second shield outside the first, and receive a sharp mental rap for my disobedience.

‘Do only what you are instructed to,’ my Lord scolds. ‘You can experiment later, once you have learned the basics to my satisfaction.’

‘Yes, Ani, I will behave myself,’ I respond, knowing I will obey so I don’t get scolded again.

‘You won’t be able to eliminate your emotions entirely or completely control your thoughts - that is not what you want or need to do,’ he starts lecturing me again. ‘What is important is that you filter out what you don’t want to reveal or set aside feelings to deal with later. In a situation where you have to be focused, removing potential distractions can be critical. It can take a lifetime to become truly proficient at control, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to become competent at it.’

He looks at me critically for a moment, then adds, ‘What I want you to do is quickly analyze what your emotions are, then decide what to show or set aside. Your ability to control your physical reactions is tied into this since you will use that knowledge to help mask what you don’t want to show or settle yourself as needed. It also works in tandem with what you will be doing behind the shield you now have. Remember, control is not the same as just suppressing what you are feeling.’

The Sith Lord gets up off the bed and I watch him, curious as to what he is up to.

‘Control, Maia,’ he reminds me.

Oh. I am not supposed to let on what I am feeling or thinking. I can do this. Tucked behind my shield, I consider what to do, then set my curiosity aside for later, keeping the look on my face neutral as I do so. What is he up to? He walks over to one of the storage compartments and opens it. I know he is keeping an eye on what my reactions are so I am careful not to let anything show. A moment later he has pulled my poetry book, photo album, folders with music cd’s, and case with the small cd player in it out of the bin. It is all I can do to rein in and control my surprise. The Sith Lord must have gone back to my apartment specifically to get those for me. That, I think, has to be one of the most generous and caring things anyone has ever done for me. He brings these treasures over to me and sets them down beside me before resuming his seat.

I pick up the photo album and hold it to my chest.

Thank you, Ani, I tell him in a thought, this will make it easier to remember home.

You’re welcome, he replies in kind. I knew you would want to have a few things to remind you. If I had known there was no way back, I would have taken more.

There is a touch of regret in the last part of his thought, and I know without being told that at some point in his past he must have left his own home behind, like me, never to return.

‘Lesson’s done for today. You just need to practice now. Tomorrow I will let you try to layer your shields.’ He gives me a serious look, then adds, ‘There are two things you may do without my supervision. The first is to practice control and shield your mind, and you must learn how to do this automatically and well. I cannot take you to Imperial Center until there is no possible chance you will let something slip. The other is to meditate. If you want, you may come looking for me, but you may not use the Force when you do so. Do you understand, Maia?’

‘Yes, I understand,’ I reply.

Practice Control. That sounds simple enough, and I like the idea that I can go find him if I want to. I wouldn’t have panicked yesterday if I could have done that.

The Sith Lord reaches down and fills the glass for himself, and once finished, offers another to me. After his third, the jug is empty. Time to go do something else, I guess, but it is getting into the evening part of our day and I have no idea what he does for entertainment or to fill idle hours. There is no response from him to my speculation and it takes me a moment to realize that my new mental shield must have kept it from him. Cool. I can have a few private thoughts now.

‘What would you like to do now, Maia?’ he asks me.

Do? He wants me to decide what we are going to do? I carefully think of what I might suggest. Curling up with him would be fun, but I can do that later. Maybe go to the observation room and watch what is happening in the shipyard? Nope, I decide, not right now. I would like to see the command deck, yet he might refuse to take me there. Watch him practice ‘saber forms? That idea I do like.

‘Could we go to the salle for a few minutes?’ I ask. ‘I like watching you practice.’

He chuckles in response and I see a small smile which is quickly hidden. While he replaces his helmet, I store the treasures he took from my home in the compartment with my dresses. I will have to get the music copied from the cd’s into another format since I only have a limited number of batteries to run the player with. Something to ask about another day, I decide.

The trip to the salle the Sith Lord practices in is a much shorter journey than the one to the observation room. I am careful to behave myself as I walk beside him, giving him no reason to worry or reprimand me. Once at the salle, he keys the door to open for me in the future and then ushers me in. There are a number of dueling ‘droids stored at one end of the large room, I note, as I eye them suspiciously. No way am I going anywhere near those things. We stay in this room only long enough to enter another, smaller, mirrored one. This is better, I think, no ‘droids to worry about and I can watch how he moves from several angles at the same time.

I settle myself on the floor well out of the way and watch carefully as he runs through several different forms. With proper access to the Force, he can move much quicker than he did on my homeworld. He’s also moving considerably faster than what I remember from those few times I saw him duel against Jedi, too. I give a small start. Where did that thought come from? A quick prod at my memory reveals nothing more than that. Weird. No matter, I think happily, I could just stay here for hours, watching, but he will probably get tired of entertaining me sooner or later. When he finishes the next form, I clap to let him know it has been enough. As at home, he gives a graceful bow, then offers a hand to pull me to my feet.

‘Tomorrow you will be spending some time in here with me,’ he tells me. ‘I want to see just what you can do with that rapier of yours before deciding what I will need to teach you. A lightsaber is not the same as your chosen weapon, Maia, and it may be weeks before I let you work with one.’

My Lord goes over to the wall next and opens a compartment. A moment later he has pulled from it the bag that Rick had given me the night we left.

‘I have no idea what that friend of yours put in here, other than four of the type of blade you prefer,’ the Sith Lord admits. ‘I have had too many other things to do to bother checking into it. Why don’t you have a look and see for yourself?’

I happily take the bag from him, sit on the floor and open it. He watches me intently as I start taking things out of it. Right on top is a letter from Bill and Rick which I set aside to read once I see what they have put in here. Next is the light wood box I keep my special statue in. Oh. They must have gone into my office to get that from my desk. I won’t open that box here, no way. Later, in private maybe. One of the photos from my office wall with my grandfather, Michael, Rick, and I practicing in it is also in the bag. A copy of Shakespeare’s plays? That must be from Bill, the Tolkien is definitely from Rick. What else is in here? A bundle of old letters from my family which was in the same drawer I kept my statue in, the prop lightsaber that Jamie gave me, and a small package of pictures from the party. Rick or Bill must have got the memory stick from someone with a digital camera and printed those off before we left. The only other things in the bag are a few pennies and safety pins, three dueling blades and my heirloom rapier.

‘The rapiers can stay here,’ I suggest, ‘but everything else should go back to your quarters with us.’

I hand the bag back to the Dark Lord, put the pennies and safety pins in my pocket, and gather up the presents from Rick and Bill before standing up. It’s so little, I can’t help thinking, and it is all I will ever have from home. Thank you dear friends, I send in a thought, hoping they might somehow hear it.

The walk back to Vader’s rooms seems to take much longer, but I know that’s just because I want to read the letter from Bill and Rick. Once back, I hurry into the bedroom and set my load down on the bed. The Sith Lord follows me in, and I can sense that he is both amused at my reaction to what was in the bag, and curious about what my two friends had put in it. Since the broken chair and table haven’t been replaced yet, I sit on the bed and my Lord joins me. He picks up the books, and flips through them for a moment before setting them down again.

‘They gave me copies of what is considered to be some of my world’s finest literature,’ I explain. ‘The one is a complete set of plays by one of our greatest writers, the other is an adventure story by a historian and expert in languages. Maybe I should read it to you. You might like it.’ And, I think to myself, his reactions to it could be very interesting.

I pick up the stack of photos. The top one is the two of us on the dance floor. Cool. I was right that it would look neat with his cloak and my dress swirling around us. I hand this one to him and wait for a response. He looks over at me, and I can feel his surprise.

‘Someone had a digital camera, and either Bill or Rick managed to get copies of the pictures,’ I admit. ‘Hopefully there aren’t photos of anything too incriminating back home.’

A quick look through the rest of the pictures reveals nothing to worry about. I like the ones of Rick and the Sith Lord dueling, and there is a nice one of me seated in my chair with the Sith Lord standing beside me. This one I also hand over to him.

‘An official portrait of the two of us will be required at some point,’ he comments, ‘COMPNOR and other such groups tend to use them for propaganda and publicity purposes.’

I give him a worried look, then ask, ‘Don’t you think people will considered it odd that, after all this time, you have finally decided to take a concubine? Given who you are, and your reputation, I am sure that many will wonder what is going on.’

‘Most who know are already assuming it is a match I have arranged purely to ensure I have an heir or two,’ the Sith Lord calmly admits. ‘This is what I told the Emperor and what I will encourage everyone else to think as well.’

I wonder, ‘Just how are you going to do that?’

He answers, ‘It’s quite simple actually. Have you sign a lifelong, binding contract with a very specific set of terms and see that it is leaked to the news media. The uproar will settle down in a few weeks and by the end of the year it won’t be commented on by anyone. The press and population at large will only take notice again when our children’s birth announcements are released.’

My mouth drops open, then snaps shut.

‘You’re already planning for when we have kids?’

‘You did make it rather obvious that you wanted children, Maia, and I have no objections. I want an heir from you, and I know I will have one, in time, when you are ready to give him to me. There is no need to rush this,’ my Lord tells me, amused by my reaction, no doubt.

I pick up the letter from my friends while I try to figure out how to respond to his last comments. Obviously he still intends to let me chose when I will be his. Using my newly learned Control, I keep my relief from showing. No need to prompt a lecture or upset him about this. Control, I must admit, is a very useful thing.

‘Let’s see what my two mischievous friends wrote to me,’ I decide.

I carefully open the envelope and pull out the piece of paper in it. They wrote in English, of course, to keep anyone else from finding out what was in it.

I read the short letter aloud to the Dark Lord beside me once I have looked through it quickly myself.

‘Old Friend,’ Rick had started. ‘By the time you are reading this you should be on his flagship and happily married to that Lord you love so much. Bill and I will look after everything for you here, so don’t worry about anything. His Lordship left me with a few things to do, too, including dealing with your family. You can just imagine their reaction and so can I. Bill is going with me in a few days to give them the news. Good thing your grandfather and brother are no longer with us or it might be a rather dangerous experience. Your folks will not be happy you didn’t bring your new husband over to meet them, but I can explain things to them and smooth that over for you. If you ever get back here, dear friend, you must visit, and be sure you bring your kids with you. We want to see what sort of brilliant and talented offspring you two will have. Rick and Bill. P.S. We won’t tell you to think of us often because we know you will without the reminder. P.P.S. Remember, old friend. He is going to need your help in about three and a half years. Make sure you are where you have to be in order to do so.’

I don’t read him the last postscript since I am not sure what it means.

Do I ever miss those two. If I could only talk to them once more, I think sadly to myself, I would let them know just how much they mean to me. I carefully refold the paper and put it back in the envelope. Tears are threatening so I remind myself, control, Maia, control, you don’t want to cry here. Good practice for you.

‘Sometimes,’ the Sith Lord tells me as he pulls me over into his arms, ‘it’s best to ignore Control and just let things run their course.’

I bury my face in his robes and let myself cry a bit, thankful that he understands, and knowing that he will always be there if I need him.

I miss home and my friends, I send in a thought, but I love you too and I can’t have both. If I still had a choice, I would stay here with you.

He rests his hand against my hair and doesn’t say a word, just sends soothing thoughts to me, something he hasn’t done before now. I stay where I am, content to let him hold me. Sleepy, I think, I am getting tired so it must be very late in our day. The Sith Lord must be exhausted, too, since he hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in days, mostly due to me.

‘We should get some rest,’ I suggest. ‘You must still be exhausted.’

His answer is to close the door and start the environment cycle. I busy myself with putting away Rick and Bill’s gifts. Too shy to watch him taking his armor off, I duck into the ‘fresher to wash my face and put on a nightgown. A few minutes later, I am curled up under the covers while the Sith Lord has taken my place in the other room. He’s having a shower, I guess, from the sound of the water. Ten minutes later, I am happily wrapped in his arms, tracing his features with my fingertips to relax him. There is a roughness, scratchiness, to his scalp, and I discover that he has let his hair grow out a bit over the last few days. Cool. Maybe I will get to see what color it is.

‘Blondish-brown with touches of silver in it,’ he tells me, amused, ‘and I have to keep it either this short or remove it completely. It gets too hot and uncomfortable in my helmet otherwise. If you like, I will let it grow a few more days so you can see, but when it starts to bother me, off it will come.’

He gives me a slight mental tap and I discover that my new shield has thinned considerably. Oops. No wonder he picked up on my thought. I start to reinforce it, but then decide it can wait until morning.

‘I will let it go for now,’ he scolds, ‘since you are so tired, but you will need to maintain it at all times.’

Chastised, I shore up my shield then continue to run my fingertips over his face. Sleep and contentment I send through them. I can feel his body relax completely and know he is close to falling asleep. A quick kiss to his forehead and I decide it is a good time to curl up with him. As I shift myself around, I feel his arms settle into place about me. A moment later, he pulls me tight against his chest, kisses my neck and we are both asleep.



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