Tamarisk (PG-13)

By : Arco

Archived on: Monday, October 8, 2001

Vader fights for his life against a strange enemy.

The Coruscant night sky was non-stop ships and activity, a constant movement and flow of an artificial horizon of shimmering light. The vista danced backwards across Vader's tinted lenses. The multicolored lights highlighted his sharp, ebony mask and played upon his triangular mouthpiece, forever frowning. He was a gliding silhouette, shades darker than midnight. He walked to the edge of the landing platform, which floated high above the teeming and pulsing. The breeze whipped his black cape around his legs. The things that were now his legs. He idly wished that he could feel the cool wind pass over his face. Ruined face. He gnashed what teeth he had left and strode towards the ramp of the Imperial shuttle that had been waiting for him. Rather the cramped sterility of the shuttle, the bridge of his Star Destroyer, and half-finished innards of the new battle station than here. Beautiful things, places, pained Vader and made him hate all the more. If more pain and hate were possible. Sometimes there seemed no end of suffering and rage. Embrace it and keep it, he thought, like a dark and sulfurous battery connecting him to the powerful abyss of the dark side of the force.

One of the pilots stood at the top of the ramp to greet him. "Lord Vader, the shuttle is ready for launch. Our course will take-"

"Just take off," Vader said, cutting him off. "Now." With that, the dark lord walked directly back to the passenger compartment, the door sliding closed at his passing. The pilot raised the ramp and stepped into the cockpit. He took his place next to the copilot and initiated the engine start-up sequence.

"Did he say anything to you?" The copilot asked curiously.

"Oh yes," replied the pilot. "We had quite the conversation. Fire thrusters. You know, the weather, current events, and the like."

"Right," smiled the copilot. The sparkling city fell away from the duo's view, replaced by endless space and shining stars.

Vader heard the hum of the hyperdrive as he took a seat in the passenger compartment. There were many hours before the rendezvous with the Executor and until then, nothing. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Eventually, his automated breathing apparatus metronomed him into an uneasy sleep.

He heard screaming as he looked down at his hand. It was flesh and bone. He touched his sweating face and ran his fingers through his wet hair. Tears from his eyes, whole again. He breathed deeply the air that tasted of blood and smelled of burning circuits. He had his lightsaber and someone was behind him. He spun and swung his weapon at that man, that son. Luke caught the red, glowing blade with his right hand and held it fast. He had black holes where his eyes should have been and his hand was melting into bloody slag. Luke smiled.

"Father, this is what you are." Said his son, who then metamorphosed into the screaming form of the Emperor.

"Vader! You did this to me! You have destroyed me!" Palpatine screeched as his face split down the middle. The old body twisted and convulsed with unholy strength. Vader stepped back as the Emperor's head blew apart, spewing arcing founts of near-liquid power. Sickly blue lightning gushed from the open neck, an evil beast of dark electricity leaving its flesh behind. Coming for Vader. Coming to-

The ship came abruptly out of hyperspace and Vader jerked awake. The dream. Again. He pushed it aside, tired of trying to analyze it. As most dreams, it probably meant nothing. He stood up, surprised that he had actually slept the entire way to the command ship. Suddenly, the shuttle jolted, the engines blasting with defiance. Tractor beam.

"Lord Vader, report to the cockpit!" The pilot's voice was slightly panicked.

The Sith Lord reached out with the Force as he made his way quickly to the front of the ship, sensing danger.

"What is it?" Vader asked as he entered the cockpit.

The pilot turned to face him. "Sir," he began, "we have been pulled out of hyperspace and they've locked tractor beams on us. All communications have been jammed. Look." He turned back to the command console. "The ship's registry classifies it as a freighter, but look out the view port. Do you recognize it?"

It was an Imperial Interdictor-class heavy cruiser. The ship was designed to send out energy that disrupted the mass lines in space, simulating the presence of a large stellar body. The apparent mass prevented ships in the immediate area from engaging their hyperdrives. The effect also dropped ships already in hyperspace back into realspace. Their navigational computer had been tricked into thinking the shuttle was going to crash into a planet or an asteroid, so the automatic safeties initiated. The Interdictor's gravity well projector made it the perfect ship for an ambush. Looking at the ship closely, Vader noticed that it was one of the old cruisers. Very old indeed, rusted, burned out, and mostly darkened. As they were brought closer, strange modifications became apparent. There were intricate patches of complex machinery, steeped in shadow and shifting like a mirage. These patches seemed to move, dark masses of apparatus and device, rippling. Definitely not a freighter, Vader thought. The ship was a bastardization of Imperial technology, a monstrous aberration that reeked of peril.

The shuttle was pulled into one of the large landing bays. It passed through the atmospheric force field and was set down in the middle of the stark white cavernous chamber. The bay was completely empty except for the shuttle and a large Turbolaser that emerged slowly from a hatch in the far wall, directly above the main door. A voice filled Vader's ears, piped through the communicator built into his helmet.

"Exit the shuttle alone, and step to the door." The voice that commanded Vader was calm and had a humming quality that hinted at mechanics.

Considering the improbability of escape and the looming Turbolaser, Vader could see little possibility other than compliance. He commanded the nervous pilots to remain on the shuttle and to be ready for takeoff before leaving the cockpit, lowering the ramp, and setting it to close behind him. As he walked to the door, the laser tracking his path, the sound receptors in his helmet picked up a slight scraping sound, like metal slithering. It was coming from behind the walls. Vader stood then at the door, staring down the gaping muzzle of the giant weapon, when the voice returned.

"Welcome to Tamarisk, Lord Vader," it said, businesslike and tinny.

"Who are you?" Vader demanded.

"Please look to your right," answered the voice.

Vader turned and saw a small panel slide open on the far side of the landing bay. A small metal ball rolled out of the opening onto the deck and immediately exploded. The blast was a perfect little sphere of destruction, a diminutive supernova of heat and light that flashed out quickly and with little noise. A tiny sun, about five yards in diameter, vaporized a round hole in the thick, plate flooring. Vader knew what it was.

"A Thermal Detonator," the voice began. "A simple triggering device attached to a container of the synthetic element, Baradium. Anything trapped inside the detonated element's expanding particle field is subjected to a concentrated explosion of startling intensity. It will vaporize almost anything. You, Lord Vader, are standing inside a Thermal Detonator. The Tamarisk is the fuse, and nearly every room on the ship is filled with Baradium."

"Who are you?" Vader repeated.

"Someone who hates the Empire, and you in particular."

"Release my ship," Vader said simply.

"Don't you want to know what I'm going to do with Tamarisk?" The voice asked. Just then, the huge Turbolaser swiveled up and away from Vader, pointing at the shuttle. "Do play along Vader, or you'll have no ship to be released."

"What are you going to do?" Vader growled. He wasn't used to being on the receiving end of intimidation. His patience was nonexistent.

The Tamarisk's hyperdrive hummed to life as the voice answered calmly. "In one hour, this ship will reach Coruscant, and impact directly into the Imperial Palace. The resulting explosion will obliterate the Emperor and level hundreds of square miles of city, dealing a crushing blow to the Empire. And of course, Lord Vader, you will perish as well."

Vader was momentarily taken aback by the plan, surprised by its simplicity and potential. He probed out with the Force and the waves of foreboding washed over him. The danger, he felt, was laced with truth, but surety eluded him. The future was black. If the plan were true, the outcome would be catastrophic for the Empire. Whoever this man was, whether veracious or not, he was at least of all Vader's captor, and had to be dealt with. "You will be destroyed by Imperial planetary defenses before you reach Coruscant," he said. "An undeclared vessel would not even reach the system."

"Yes," answered the voice. "Quite true. Unfortunately for you, I am expected. In one hour, an automated Imperial freighter called the Redruth is scheduled to arrive at the Mamches shipyards on Coruscant. Tamarisk is registered as a freighter and upon hails, as is standard with automated ships, will give a computerized response. The only way that the Empire will know that this is an Interdictor cruiser will be for someone to look out a window. And if I'm close enough to see, I'm too close to stop in time."

Vader crossed his arms. "Well then, it seems your plan is well conceived, but why bring me here? If you truly hate me so, why then didn't you just destroy my ship after you pulled it from hyperspace? Did you capture me so that you could gloat?"

A vaguely electronic laughter rang in Vader's ears. "Of course I brought you here to gloat, you fool! The temptation to disintegrate you was strong, but I want you to suffer. And also, in the spirit of sportsmanship, I have an offer for you, Lord Vader."

"And what is that?" Vader asked.

"I'm going to give you a chance to stop me from carrying out my plan," the voice answered. "In the interest of fair play."

Vader was silent, tired of the game.

The voice continued. "Just make it to the bridge before we fly into Coruscant and you may be able to thwart my plan. Possibly. If you refuse, then I will simply annihilate you and your ship right now. It makes no difference to me what you choose, but I must admit, I feel just a twinge of excitement at the prospect of a contest. Run the gauntlet to the bridge, or die."

"Very well, I accept your offer," Vader answered without hesitation. There really was no choice in the matter. Vader would not let himself die here, at the whim of a madman. He held his lightsaber at the ready and stepped to the door. " Pray that I do not reach you," The Dark Lord calmly threatened.

Laughter again from the voice as Vader stepped through the doors, which closed behind him.

The corridor outside was in extreme disarray, unlike the pristine landing bay. Deck plates and wall panels were sporadically missing, revealing the cables and conduits beneath. Debris littered the walkway, scrap metal and garbage strewn about underfoot. Light shone from the battered emergency lighting modules lining the hall, casting pale islands of yellow in the sea of shadow. The scraping noises were stronger now, joined by a scurrying, like rodents fleeing Vader's approach. He spotted a lift, and to his surprise, it was operational. He waited for a moment, and then reached around and pushed the button for the bridge level, withdrawing back into the corridor before the doors shut. As the lift activated, Vader stepped back, listening. The explosion he was expecting came suddenly, a fiery backwash buckled the lift doors outward with a gust of concussive force. He turned immediately and started for the deck-to-deck manual access hatch.

"Well done Vader! I would have been so disappointed if you'd been beaten so easily," the voice said. "Well, not too disappointed. Forty-nine minutes to Coruscant. Better pick up the pace!"

Vader opened the hatch on the manual access port and stepped inside the small room. Metal rungs passed through the room, providing travel to the decks below or above. He grabbed the ladder and looked upwards into the gloom. Only three levels to the bridge, minutes in a lift, but considerably longer by climbing. No choice, he knew, and started up as fast as possible, hoping to make it in time. But would it be so horrible if you and the Emperor were killed? What reasons have you to fight this battle, save more pain? Just find a comfortable place to rest and await the inevitable. Do you deserve any more than that? Vader shook those thoughts from his mind, replacing them with more desirable determination. If for no other reason than the principle of the matter or basic self-preservation, he would win this day. His straying thoughts had concerned him of late, intruding in on his mind at the most inopportune times. Ever since Bespin, his focus was not as it should be. He refused to let himself wonder why.

A blaster fired from above, the green bolt just grazing the Plasteel armor covering his left shoulder. He lost his footing and his legs flailed about under him. He held on to a rung with his right hand and ignited his lightsaber just as another blast rained down. He expertly reflected the blast back at its source as he hung from the ladder, dangling precariously. The reflected energy hit a shield, dissipating as the hidden weapon fired again. Vader continued to block the green blasts as he righted himself and started up towards the manual access port on the next deck.

He reached the small room and threw himself in, out of range of the continuously firing blaster. Angrily, he searched for the weapon with his mind and crushed it with the Force. It was replaced immediately with another; a steady stream of bolts blasting down the tube. Deciding to find another port, he made his way out into the next corridor with his lightsaber at the ready. The new hall was much in the same state of disrepair as the last. Vader jogged towards another access port, coming to an abrupt stop as he rounded a corner. A dozen box-like Mse-6 Mouse droids blocked his path. They were equipped with a proton mine each, attached to their flat backs. One of them launched itself at Vader as he backpedaled. The explosion threw him back and he rolled, instantly regaining his footing as the other droids converged. He lashed out with the Force again, propelling the Mouse droids back down the corridor where they detonated simultaneously, collapsing the passage.

"Now look what you've done," the voice began. " Blocked your way to the next ladder. Oh well, why don't you just take the lift from now on. I promise that they're explosive free. My gift to you, Vader. Unfortunately though, I'm afraid I can't just allow you to ride directly up to the bridge. From this point on, the lifts will only traverse one deck at a time. You'll have to stop at each floor and find another one to proceed. My kindness, after all, only goes so far."

"Do not worry, I will express my gratitude in a most novel way when we meet," Vader said as he entered the nearest lift.

The voice laughed again. "Oh no! You're not going to kill me are you?" It asked in mock fright.

"Of course I am," Vader said.

"If, by some small miracle, you reach the bridge," the voice began, turning serious. "I think you'll find it difficult to kill me. Let's just say you might cease my existence. You can't kill the same man twice Vader."

"Alive or dead, at least I'll end your prattling," Vader said as the lift doors opened on the next floor. He idly wondered what the voice had meant by its last statement. To tell the truth, he didn't really care.

He exited the lift into a large, well-lit room. It was an enormous laboratory, mostly in shambles, full of strange equipment and devices. He noticed the identifying markings of IntOrg Tech division, the scientific branch of the Internal Organization Bureau. The Tamarisk had been under the purview of Imperial Intelligence.

He looked around the room, remembering vague stories and rumors of some of the outlandish and bizarre experiments IntOrg Tech had been doing. Vader had never seen one of their labs in person and, as he passed, things that lent credence to all the innuendo surrounding the division filled his vision. There was a human arm submerged in fluids, cybernetic insect legs attached. A magnetic suspension globe, holding a being of living blue flames prisoner, floated in the middle of the lab. The beings black sunspot eyes watched Vader curiously. There were various living and dead specimens, a sideshow of flawed science that might have shocked the Sith if he were easily affected by such things. One wall was taken up entirely by cloning tubes, technology illegal even in the Empire.

One of the tubes caught his eye. It held the inert form of a tall man with strong features and light brown hair. The identireader on the tube confirmed his suspicion. It was Anakin Skywalker. IntOrg had cloned Vader's previous self. He wasn't really surprised, having learned to put nothing past the Empire. He looked closely at the clone, gazing in a mirror of erased time. The clone was perfect, all limbs intact and no scars or burns. It was how he should have looked. Not should. Could. You could have looked like that if you weren't so weak and foolish. And what's in that perfect head behind the glass? Remembrances of love and family? No, you know what's behind those eyes. The stirrings of a fledgling love of evil and darkness. Rage was boiling back again as Vader realized that the person behind the voice had meant him to find this, to taunt. Vader ran his lightsaber into the cloning tube, searing away his clone's heart as his life had burned away his. He turned and ran to the door, needing to punish the voice, but also needing to escape the clone.

"Thirty-two minutes left," the voice said. "What did you think of the lab? No answer? Well, those experiments are nothing compared to what IntOrg did to me. And all because of you, Lord Vader. After you killed me, the scientists had their way with me. They paid. They died screaming and in pieces. As will you. Thirty-one minutes."

Vader rushed from the lab and into the adjoining hall, considering what the voice had said. He had killed so many. Who could it be, and how could they be dead? Probably some experiment gone wrong. Or perhaps it was all some diverting subterfuge, an attempt at extraneous confusion. He squashed the speculation; it was useless until he had facts. But there was something about that voice that was familiar. He couldn't place it.

The walls of the next corridor were devoid of plating, wires and cabling exposed beneath, all colored strands and junction nodes. Jets of sizzling steam shot from the uncovered areas, coating the passage with oily humidity, a grimy mist. Machinery was working behind the wires, scraping and chattering as if alive. Suddenly, something came straining, pushing through the fibrous walls, out into the corridor, flopping wet with industrial lubricants. Birth after birth of creatures with snapping teeth and burning eyes, pouring from dark smoking wombs of flashing strobes and slick, uncoiling cable. Giant hissing constructs, covered with lengths of filament that resembled animal pelts. One of the beings emitted a trebled, throaty electronic roar. Vader recognized the sound. His eyes went wide and his jaw was set. Between him and the next lift were a score of robotic Wookiees, thunderous and stomping, brandishing scrap metal claws.

Vader growled, and then he was among them, a shining black blur slashing through the shifting, galvanic throng. The lightsaber spun, showering a rain of fiber optic fur and smoking servomotors. Grasping paws ripped at his cape and his arms. One of the Wookiees swung wildly, smashing Vader in the face, knocking him off his feet and cracking his helmet. The Dark Lord came up instantly, cutting his attacker up the middle, reducing it to two twitching halves falling to the floor. Grabbed from behind, he screamed as one of the beasts raked its claws across his chest, damaging the life support control panel there. He shrugged free of the thing and twisted, beheading it in a red streak. He noticed with horror that the birthing chambers were replenishing the Wookiees' numbers as fast as they could be cut down. He gathered his strength and attacked the walls themselves, whirling destruction, Dark Force flowing through him. Vader decimated the wombs, blindly obliterating any enemy that tried to stop him. The berserk dance devastated on until he had laid waste to the entire area with his deadly saber. The corridor was now a hollowed-out, smoking cavity of ruin. The Sith stalked to the lift, invigorated but barely satisfied. He would not be sated until he darkened the bridge with his vengeful presence.

"An impressive show, Lord Vader," the voice said. "Twenty-two minutes left and here you've already made it to the bridge level. I have to say that I'm getting nervous."

Vader stepped into the lift and pushed the button for the bridge. "You will not stop me," he said plainly.

"It is beginning to look that way," the voice said. "But I have one or two more little surprises left in my gauntlet. You know, I wish that could see the Tamarisk slam into the Imperial Palace, instead of being a participant in the affair. All this Baradium exploding at once will be a grand spectacle. The Empire will be thrown into chaos without their precious Emperor."

Vader suddenly remembered the dream, the Emperor screaming, accusing him. Could that be what the dream meant? Would Vader fail and bring about the death of his master? Would that be so bad? He grew angry again at his traitorous thoughts. He vowed to himself that he would succeed as the lift doors slid open on the bridge level.

As he stepped into the large, straight corridor that led to the bridge, Vader was taken aback by what he saw. The long hall was a veritable jungle of squirming, slithering cables. Walls and ceiling were completely covered with pulsating metal tentacles. Imbedded in the web-like maze of throbbing coils were desiccated pieces of what had to have been the crew of the Tamarisk. It was hideous wallpaper of mummified limbs and heads, given ghastly movement by the undulating mass of machinery. The Dark Lord had never seen technology of that type before.

"Technomorphic Matrix," the voice said. "In their unethical scientific zeal, the doctors allowed me access to the technology. I used it on them in quite unpleasant ways. It is a means of controlling and pushing the boundaries of the technological by making full use of the adaptations and properties of organics. Thanks to the Matrix, Tamarisk is almost a living entity, only lacking a brain. Which is where I make my contribution. That is what made the Baradium synthesis possible. I simply constructed a factory and began filling the ship. Incredible, isn't it?"

Vader didn't answer, opting to run towards the bridge, past the cables. Some of the tentacles made weak attempts to trip him or grab him, but it seemed they weren't meant as weapons. As he closed in on the door, a roiling mass in the ceiling parted, dropping a huge pile of dark scrap metal in his path. Blinding fast, something shot from the heap, hitting Vader in the chest. The force of the blow propelled him violently back, a shadow sliding across the floor plates. The pile stood. It was an enormous jigsaw puzzle of spare parts. A droid made to look like a monstrous warping of the Sith himself. It had a skin of ill-fitting piecemeal blastplate. As the conglomeration moved forward, hydraulic piston muscles pumping, the grinding dermis screamed with defiant friction, spitting sparks. The sharp Durasteel hide of the creature could easily rip through most armor, including Vader's.

Vader regained his footing as the hulking droid advanced, its huge square feet pounding the floor. The behemoth snorted a punctuated gust of steam as it mimicked Vader's life support system. Its thick helmet held a facsimile face with lifeless macrobinocular eyes. The triangulated mouth twisted into a grillwork smile, salivating dripping tendrils of hot oil. Small iris valves opened on the palms and a green lightsaber ignited from each. The monster charged with a speed that belied its bulk. Vader flipped forward, somersaulting over the droid as he lashed out with his lightsaber, leaving a smoking gash in the creature's shoulder. He landed and spun, throwing his weight into the thing's back, hoping to throw it off balance. It was like trying to knock over a permacrete wall.

The droid twisted, its two blades narrowly missing Vader, who had already hopped back out of range. He parried a lightning fast barrage of emerald saber thrusts and the clashing blades filled the air with electric acridity. Vader faked a high stab and suddenly his weapon arced downwards, a red slash that cleaved the droid's right hand free from its arm. At the same time, the monster pivoted with the left and sliced Vader across his midsection. A shallow, burning gouge that enraged the Sith all the more. He attacked the droid again, going low and nearly severing the thing's legs at its knees. He dashed to the side and cut the other green weapon away, leaving the monster defenseless. Vader quickly ran it through, forcing his lightsaber upwards; splitting the grinning face with sparks and fire. Before the conglomeration droid fell to the floor, the Dark Lord had turned and was walking to the bridge doors.

The bridge was deserted and spotless, no damage was evident and nothing was out of place. The blurring of hyperspace rushed past the bridge view ports.

"Over here, Lord Vader," said the voice.

Vader turned and finally saw his enemy. On a pedestal in the corner, a Transparisteel container held a human brain, jacked into the main computer by one thin cable.

"You made it here with ten minutes to spare," The voice said. "Excellent show. It made my final hour of consciousness very enjoyable."

"Who are you?" Vader demanded.

"Does this sound familiar?" the voice began. "Right away Lord Vader! Yes, my Lord! Oh, please stop choking me to death, Lord Vader!"

Vader suddenly recognized the voice. "Admiral Ozzel."

"Yes, once. But you put and end to him. Now all I am is Tamarisk. IntOrg used my corpse as a plaything, much to their regret, and now I get to put an end to you and your foul Emperor." The brain laughed. "Do you actually think I will let you stop the ship? Don't be an idiot! This is a suicide run for you and I, Vader!"

The hyperdrive engines cut off as Vader approached Ozzel's brain. He curled his fingers around the cable that connected the vengeful organ to the ship.

"Seven minutes. And disconnecting me won't help you," the voice said. "Nothing can help you. You'll never-"

Vader tossed the cable aside, and suddenly everything on the bridge went dead except emergency lighting. There was no guidance, no communications, no control over anything. He looked out the large view port at the front of the bridge. Coruscant loomed ahead, a sparkling orb, hanging in space. There was no time left. He couldn't even make it to the shuttle to escape. Out of the blue, a solution came. He couldn't stop the ship, but perhaps the Force could alter the ship's trajectory. Then there would be plenty of time to get to the shuttle. But using the Force on an Interdictor class cruiser? He wasn't sure he could do it, but he had no choice but to try. It was the only option.

Vader dropped to one knee and placed his hands on the deck plates, delving into the hateful darkness, summoning all the power possible. He could feel the Tamarisk speeding through space as he tried to move the massive ship.

More power! Focus your hate! The ship went on, nearing Coruscant.

Hate the beautiful....not enough!

The rebellion....more!

Kenobi! Dark power coursed through his body. The Tamarisk stayed on its path of doom.

Hate....hate the Emperor? Yes! You hate your evil master for what he's made you! Vader's mechanical joints creaked and strained and the deck plate warped from the onrush of black energy. Black tendrils of the Force gathered around him as howling smoke. The Tamarisk began to shift trajectory, but not enough.

You hate yourself too. Don't you? Hate your weakness. Hate your twisted heart. Hate what you've let yourself become. An abomination. Yes, you hate yourself most of all! Vader's head jerked back with a modulated scream of fury at the confession. Hate engulfed every bolt and screw as he filled the ship with his pain and pulled. Torment and desperation rolled in waves across the bulkheads and pushed at the rattling hull. Power lanced throughout the Tamarisk, changing its course just enough to skip it off Coruscant's atmosphere like a stone off water. The ship drifted out into space as Vader jerked to his feet. He stumbled against a view screen and shattered it. He shook from the exertion of, and abrupt disconnection from, such immense power.

Good. You'll live to see Luke again. You'll be able to-NO! Vader killed his errant thoughts again. His son would be turned or he would die. That was all there was to it.

"I can only guess that you have somehow succeeded in stopping the Tamarisk, Lord Vader." It was the voice, an automated signal, since Ozzel's brain was disconnected." The self-destruct sequence has been activated. The Tamarisk will detonate in five minutes. I'll see you in hell."

Vader roared and hurled his lightsaber at the container. The weapon passed through the Transparisteel and skewered Ozzel's brain, immediately returning to Vader's hand. He tapped his headcomm.

"Vader to shuttle. Take off now! Home in on my headcomm signal and pick me up."

He cast a bolt of Dark Force and shattered the main bridge window. He was blown out into the vacuum, with only a few minutes of air stored in his armor. It would be enough. He tumbled aimlessly, using the Force one last time to quell his inertia, separating him from the hurtling Tamarisk. The shuttle left the landing bay and headed right for him. The pilot pulled next to him and opened the depressurized airlock beneath the ship. Vader climbed inside and oxygen filled the secured airlock. He reached the cockpit just in time to see the Tamarisk vaporize. The Baradium reaction created a new star in the heavens for a moment and then was gone. Ozzel wasn't lying. His ship could have destroyed almost an entire hemisphere of Coruscant.

He ordered the pilot to return to the planet. His armor would require repairs before his mission to the new battle station. Palpatine would also demand explanations. Vader would have to leave out that it was hatred for the Emperor and himself that enabled him to utilize the force in that magnitude. No matter, he had lied to his master before.

Darth Vader stood in the cockpit as the shuttle swooped down towards Coruscant. The twinkling beauty of the planet caused no ill feeling, no pain in his heart.

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