The lone shuttle rendezvoused with the Executor, and soon after, an angry Darth Vader stormed down the massive ship's corridors to his personal suite. The door to his quarters hissed open upon his approach, and a pair of crewmen attending to routine maintenance of his chamber looked up as he entered.
"Leave," he ordered as he crossed the room to another interior doorway.
As Vader palmed open the inner door, the crewmen exchanged pointed looks and hurried from the room. Everyone who served on board the ship quickly learned to stay as far away as possible from the inner chamber unless they wanted to suffer the wrath of Lord Vader's fury.
Now alone, Vader stalked across the threshold into the room. It was a bedchamber, one unquestionably furnished with a woman in mind. The large bed in the center of the room was draped in a pale duvet. Gauzy fabric hung in wisps from the frame above the bed, draping it in a protective shell. The walls were a delicate shade of coral, and the many holographs adorning the walls captured the most remarkable sites of Naboo in vivid detail.
A chaise covered with plump pillows was stationed by the room's only viewport, allowing the chamber's lone occupant a comfortable place to rest while watching the stars and planets as the ship traversed through space, the view being her only contact with the galaxy that resided beyond these walls.
Vader's head turned as he quickly scanned the bedchamber. He saw her at last, seated at the carved dressing table, positioned to the right of the viewport. She was wearing a golden gown accented with tiny embroidered flowers of blue and green and was lazily brushing her long, brown hair with the jewel-encrusted brush he had given her as a gift when he returned from his last trip to Maleot.
The woman refused to acknowledge Vader's presence by turning to face him, and this only served to further incense the Dark Lord.
"How could you keep this from me?" he demanded loudly, causing the woman to flinch, the brush slipping from her fingers and falling silently to the lushly carpeted floor. When she had composed herself, the woman slowly turned, her face fixed in a determined stare.
"I am afraid I have no idea what you are talking about, my Lord," she replied coolly, rising to her feet.
"Do not play games with me," he warned as he crossed the short distance to the dressing table. "My son lives!"
Vader's voice thundered throughout the room, and permeated the walls at such a volume that even the men passing along the ship's corridor hurried their step in an effort to distance themselves from the Dark Lord's chambers.
The woman lifted her chin defiantly, but her fear was betrayed in her eyes. Vader's gaze suddenly fell to her bare throat, and behind the mask, his eyes narrowed. "Where is it?" he demanded. At her continued silence, he reached out a gloved hand to encircle her slender throat. "Do not try my patience further," he growled.
The woman slowly reached up her hand, resting it lightly atop his wrist as she slipped easily through his fingers. She backed away from him, turning to the dressing table once again. With a shuddering gasp, she opened a small drawer.
"Allow me," Vader whispered, the sound turning to a low hiss as it passed through the mechanical mask. He moved closer to the dressing table and reached into the drawer, removing a small, hand-carved necklace.
The woman acquiesced, lifting her hair away from her neck. Vader fastened the japor snippet, allowing his hands to then wander slowly along her shoulders. He lifted his gaze to the dressing table mirror, his breath quickening at the sight of the hand-carved memento resting at her throat, framed by the loose curls and tendrils that had fallen from her grasp.
Vader lowered his hands to her small waist as he continued to stare at her image in the small mirror. "You lied to me, Padm?," he accused her.
His tone was one that had brought many a captured enemy conspirator to his knees, begging for mercy, but the woman before him remained silent, the corners of her lips upturned in a serene smile. She once again moved away from him, and Vader allowed it. She walked to the viewport, sighing as she stared longingly at the endless blanket of stars stretched out before her.
"So you have discovered the truth," she said candidly. "How?"
"Obi-Wan," he hissed. "He brought my son to the Death Star before its destruct ?"
"You have seen him?" she interrupted, her voice filled with emotion as she turned from the window, her eyes glistening with tears. "My son?"
Vader, taken aback by her sudden change in demeanor, merely nodded.
Padm? trembled, and she sat down heavily on the dressing table's small bench. "Please, Anakin, tell me?what does he look like? Does he have your eyes? Perhaps my smile?"
"I have told you, Padm?," he warned, "that name no longer holds any meaning for me. Must you continue to anger me so, my love?"
Padm? moved to him, falling to her knees before him, her hands clutched tightly to her chest. "Please," she begged him softly.
Vader gently lifted Padm? to her feet, and led her to the bed. She stretched out wearily atop the bed coverings, her head resting against the mound of silken pillows. Vader sat down on the edge of the bed beside her, his anger beginning to evaporate as he tried to wipe away the tears that were falling down her cheeks.
"I glimpsed him for only a moment," he began, "and it was only later, through my search for the rebels and the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, that I realized the truth of his identity. There is no denying his heritage, both in appearance and abilities. He is my son." Although the boy's actions in destroying the Death Star had sealed his fate as a hunted man, Vader spoke of his son's impressive display of piloting skills during the battle that had destroyed the Empire's elite battle station with something akin to fatherly pride.
A small smile began to tug at the corners of Padm?'s mouth, and a faraway look settled over her eyes, as if she were imagining a boy with his father's roguish grin and piercing gaze. Then the smile melted away, and she stared at Vader in realization.
"Obi-Wan is dead?" she asked slowly, her words more a statement than a query. "You killed him?aboard the Death Star?"
"Of course," he said matter-of-factly. "It was my destiny to strike down the man who took my life, my family, away from me."
Pain and sorrow filled Padm?'s eyes, and she sobbed openly, mourning the Jedi Master's death. After awhile, she grew quiet as her tears subsided. "What is to become of him, our son?" she asked in a worried voice.
"He will join me, of course," he answered her.
"The Emperor will not ?" she began.
"The Emperor will be most pleased when I deliver him such a worthy pupil," he assured her. "He will not harm him. I will train him, naturally. Then, when the Force wills it, the apprentice, and his son, will rise against the Master."
"And if he refuses to join you?" she asked mournfully, as if already certain of the answer.
"He will die," Vader answered firmly.
Padm? said nothing, an expression of weariness and defeat settling over her delicate features.
Almost reverently, Vader ran his hand over the brown tresses framing Padm?'s face, his hand coming to rest at the nape of her neck. "You told me my son was dead." His fury returning, Vader shook his head slowly, his voice filled with disappointment. "You hid him from me, my love."
The danger residing within his calm tone was unmistakable, and during their tumultuous years together, Padm? had learned through bitter experience to fear her husband's quiet anger even more than his loud tirades. Terrified, Padm? sat up, shaking her head furiously as she scurried closer to the carved headboard in a vain attempt to escape him.
"No," she cried. "Please, you must believe me, Anak-" Padm? swallowed the name, "my Lord. Obi-Wan took him from me at his birth. I had no knowledge of his location."
"I am afraid I cannot believe you, angel," he said, his voice shaking. He reached up, fingering the japor snippet, the token of love he had carved for her when he was but a mere child. Beneath the mask, he closed his eyes for a moment, injured to his very core by the depth of her deception. He dropped the necklace and loomed down over her, his fingers curling into a tight fist.
Padm? cried out as a searing pain coursed through her, and her fingers scrabbled desperately over his mask and cloak as she struggled against his hold on her, closing her eyes in anguish as the wrath of his anger continued to wash over her. "Please," she gasped weakly, begging for his mercy. "I?would not lie to you. His birth?was difficult. My final memory is?of my son's first cries of life?I lost?consciousness. When I?awoke?you had brought me?to this?this?prison."
Her final words stung him. Vader searched her eyes, stretching out his senses and finding only fear and sadness behind their depths. He knew she spoke the truth. Slowly, he released his grip on her. Padm?'s small frame heaved violently. Vader began to tremble as he realized how he had hurt her.
"Forgive me, my angel," he whispered as he gently settled her back down into the soft mound of pillows. He leaned down over her, supporting the massive weight of his armored body upon his elbows as he cradled her face within his hands. "You still insist on viewing our time together as a prison, a sentence you must endure?" Vader's voice was filled with sadness and hurt. "Even after all I have done for you, angel?" He lifted a hand to gesture at the opulent chamber. "My life without you?I?I could not bear the thought of it. When the Emperor showed me how I could find you?I?You must know how much I love you, Padm??"
"Then why won't you let me see them?" she asked through her tears. "I miss my family so much. Why won't you let me go to them? Please?Anakin," she whispered the name tentatively, as if hoping to appeal to the heart of the man that still resided somewhere deep within the armor. "Show me mercy. My mother and father, my sister and her children?they are all waiting for me. It is within your power to release me."
The door behind them hissed open.
"Forgive me, my Lord," the Imperial officer said, his voice shaking as he took a most reluctant step into the bedchamber.
Vader whirled around, furious at the intrusion. "How dare you enter this chamber!"
"My Lord, we have received a communiqu? from the Emperor. He has requested your presence at the bridge," the officer interjected hurriedly, hoping to stave off the Dark Lord's fury. "I was instructed to come to you immediately."
A low growl escaped Vader's throat. He turned back to his wife. "I am sorry, my love. I must go now, but I will return to you tonight, I promise." He softly traced her lips with his fingers.
The officer held his breath, his eyes wide as he watched the Sith Lord, leaning down over the empty pillows of the bed, his hand poised in mid-air, his fingers moving slowly over the nothingness beneath him.
Vader at last rose to face the officer. "Due to the circumstances, I will allow you this sole lapse in judgment," he warned the intruder. "Rest assured, however, if you dare enter her quarters again, I will not be as forgiving." Vader stormed from the room, his cape billowing behind him.
Relieved, the officer slowly released his breath, shaking his head sadly as his eyes roved across the deserted room. No one was foolish enough to voice what everyone who had served under the Sith's command knew to be true, but the Dark Lord's obsession with his long-dead wife was well known throughout the Empire's ranks. Unable to accept the reports of her demise, Darth Vader had been driven to the brink of insanity and then beyond by his grief.
Believing that she was indeed still with him, Vader had commissioned this room on his newly constructed flagship as her private chamber, and all were forbidden to enter, except under the most grave of circumstances.
The officer's gaze fell upon a carved necklace lying nestled between the pillows. Curious, he took another step, drawing closer to the bed. As he did so, he thought he felt the slight rustle of a breeze pass by in front of him.
Release me, it whispered, sending a chill along his spine.
Unnerved, the officer backed across the threshold, looking around him for the source of the voice, but finding nothing. As he at last stepped into the outer room, the door to the bedchamber swept shut in front of him, and he hurried to the ship's corridor, unable to hear the anguished cry of the imprisoned spirit residing within its lonely chamber, once again denied its journey home.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.