"Your fighter is ready, Lord Vader," the trooper said, saluting smartly.
The Sith Lord gave him the barest nod of acknowledgement, stalking past him with long, heavy strides. The sound of his boot heels rang out in the open space of the hangar, reminding him yet again of the cybernetic limbs that propelled him so laboriously as he carried out his Emperor's orders.
He had become accustomed to the cumbersome armor and the inelegant limbs, but the memory of being whole was still too fresh, too painful, to say that he had made peace with his state.
Acceptance was coming slowly, for many things.
Today, however, he could not deny that there was a thrill of anticipation deep within him. It was a feeling that had become foreign to him. It had been a long time since he had felt that tingle of eagerness to do anything. If the days seemed long and repetitive, however, they were preferable to his nights.
Pushing aside such unpleasant memories, he stood back and admired the sleek little fighter. It had been designed for his use alone, and every elegant line evoked his deepest admiration. He had had a hand in improving its design, and his care and attention were evident. It would be a vessel worthy of his talents.
Climbing into the fighter was more difficult than in the days when he had simply leapt into the cockpit, ready and willing to do battle. He was clumsy now, every limb stiffer, his movements less graceful and more cumbersome than he expected. Once settled in, though, he felt the anticipation return. Out there, he would not be bound by his broken body. There, he would be free, if only for a space of time.
Vader fired up the engines, letting the familiar thrum fill his consciousness. Reaching out with the Force, he took a moment to appreciate the changes that had been made according to his specifications. Under his helmet, he allowed himself a small smile, stretching still healing flesh. It was painful, but this joy demanded a sacrifice of pain, and he did not begrudge it.
There were times when Vader mused that he was nothing more than his scars?-a collection of pain given physical form.
He closed his eyes and became one with the fighter, as he had in the old days, and the familiarity of it made his blood pulse quickly in his veins, defiant of the technology that kept him alive. Quickly, he moved the nimble little craft out of the hangar and into the quiet darkness of open space.
Distant stars shimmered in every direction. So many possibilities, so many worlds.
I'm going to be the first one to see them all. A confident voice echoed in his head.
He ignored that ghostly voice.
Out of habit, he looked to his wing, half-expecting to see a Jedi fighter there, its wings giving a jaunty salute of camaraderie and danger willingly shared. In spite of himself, he experienced a moment of surprise when he realized it was not there.
The Jedi were dead, he reminded himself. Even Obi-Wan was dead, or soon would be. It would not take long to find a light such as Obi-Wan in the darkness that had descended upon the galaxy. Kenobi could not hide his brilliance in the Force forever.
Lord Vader would find him and he would erase Skywalker's Master from the galaxy.
With a determined growl, he dragged his thoughts back to this flight, this fighter. He was done with the past; he wished fervently that it were done with him.
Vader put the ship through basic maneuvers, almost unwilling to try some of the tricks that had once made a certain Jedi wince. What if the old magic was not there? What if he was as ponderous in flight as he was in everything else now?
Heaving a sigh of resignation and anxiety, he threw the craft into a tight corkscrew and immediately felt the surge of adrenalin that he had always felt. The old thrill was there, the hands just as quick, the mind anticipating every tiny movement of the ship. He and the ship were one, inseparable, in harmony.
What a strange word to use for the relationship between a man and a machine!
Then he realized that it was not so strange, for he was as much a mechanical construct as the ship he flew. Machine and machine, twins created for each other and this moment. They would take each other's measure; bring out the best in each other. Machines were predictable, they did not betray or die. They were constant.
It was time to find out what the fighter was capable of, and the pilot as well, he thought grimly.
"R2--" He spoke out of habit. The faithful little astromech droid was not there-?would never be there again. For just a moment, he wondered what had become of the droid.
Artoo had accompanied him on so many treacherous missions. Vader had last seen the droid on Mustafar, his birthplace. For just a moment, he pictured the squat little droid trundling faithfully after Obi-Wan, who carried the limp form of the woman whose belly had been rounded--
Such thoughts were not safe.
Artoo was of no importance; the droid belonged to the past as much as the Jedi did. It was useless to wonder what had become of his companion, useless and dangerous.
Lord Vader turned his attention to the moment, the present, the now?
For now, he was back behind the controls of a fighter. He was graceful again, the chains loosened, for he was not bound by ruined lungs or clumsy limbs.
In space, in flight, there was freedom at last.
He flew, leaving the past behind.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.