Clarus and friends craft a new look at Return of the Jedi from Darth Vader's P.O.V. Ever wonder what is going on in the story when you don't see Vader on screen? Now you will know. You will never watch Return of the Jedi the same again.
The fear drains from the pores of the pilots and fills the small shuttle. It is appropriate, though disturbing. The fear is of me, and the monster that I am, and the thought that I inspire such abject terror - the terror that makes men lose their bowels at my approach - has always sat skewed on my mind, an angle gone wrong. I cause fear. My men have nightmares about me, and about the mask. The mask is me. In fact, the pilots' fear of me is greater than their awe at the Death Star II, which we are now approaching. The Hangar-Master grants permission to land, though the tone in his voice rankles. It is filled with arrogance, and the darkest voice whispers that I should find him and demonstrate true power. The dark voice is easy to ignore now, but it was not always so.
It began, I think, after the first Death Star was destroyed above Yavin. I watched the holos from the DSI's security cameras - paying particular interest to the one of the detention block where the Princess was held. The pirate and Luke managed to destroy the cameras at the guard's terminal, but they neglected to look for those in the hallway.
"I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you."
And so he did. This child I realized was my child, my son, two seconds after the words had passed his lips. Hate flared at Obi-Wan, hate enough that my Master, sleeping half a world away, dreamed that I had torturously murdered him. I paid for that little vision with the scars I now wear along my back. He hates to fear me. Then there was the obsessive search: any news clipping with his name, all the old holos from his home on Tatooine (and it was impossibly ironic to learn he had grown into manhood on the same barren sand dune I left behind). My informants and spies were paid well, and my collection grew as did his fame.
Finally, I was given permission to hunt him - to chase down my elusive offspring and claim him, as I should have been able to do at the moment of his birth. Admiral Ozzel commanded my ship then, and he was not my choice. He pulled strings and thought that he might do very well under my eye. His intuition was proven wrong, however, above Hoth. He almost cost me my son. I caught him later, but it could have been there! There are no bottomless shafts on Hoth into which he might have jumped! I could have had him! I could have stopped him and reasoned with him and shown him ? ! So, Ozzel's neck collapsing in the Force I held was a satisfying thing. I enjoyed every second.
Captain Needa was a mistake. I admit that freely, and forced a penance upon myself that makes me shudder to remember. It was not his fault that the pirate flew so splendidly - I'd had my eye on the boy once, when he was a boy. I had wanted him as one of my TIE pilots, but that day never came. But as I looked over the asteroid field that had claimed the life of one Destroyer already, all I knew was a deep fear, one that consumed me utterly. I thought that the princess and the pirate, possibly the last links to my wayward son, might be lost or destroyed. I felt time pressing heavily against me and for a long time I considered the fear.
When I realized I had strangled Needa it was too late. Lord Vader must show no mercy, no emotion besides cold rage, so as I stalked past his shuddering form, feeling quite ill, I muttered, "Apology accepted." Later, I forced myself to look up his history. This had been his first command, and he had left behind a wife and three small children to take it - to serve me. I was supposed to bring him home, as I was supposed to bring all of those men home. I failed in that mission. Needa was a mistake. Wherever he is - for I do not know where those who do not touch the Force dwell once their bodies have died - I hope he knows that I suffered more for causing his death than he did in dying. The irony is this, though: his wife's name was Ami.
My fear almost cost me Piett. To my shame, I do not remember what caused it, only that it was long after Bespin. Piett has been a gifted and trustworthy commander; the men love him, and he gets along well enough with me (if it can truly be said that I get on well with anyone). Somehow, he has managed to survive and thrive. He is a good Admiral.
I thank the Force, as well as other less welcome voices in my head, that I realized what was happening before he died. I know only this: he was reporting something, and then he was lying at my feet, gasping and clawing at me. I released the Force ? flung it far from me, actually. I also thank the Force that there was no one else in the chamber with us ? I think we might have been in my conference room, but I am not sure. If anyone else had been watching, I would have had to continue. I cannot appear weak. I think what hurt the most was when he finally looked up, through a veil of tears, and all the respect and faith he had had in me was gone. Instead, there was stark terror, and that hurt me deeply. "You idiot," I muttered as I knelt beside him. I think he was surprised that I healed him, and frankly, I was, too.
And so I have come to DSII, and Jerjerrod awaits me with all the pomp and circumstance warranted the heir of the Empire. Every available man snaps to attention, and another voice, this one light and full of sadness and dim remembered joy, whispers that once men had saluted me because they truly honored and loved me. The dark one is sullenly quiet, for he, too remembers love, though it was bitter and hollow in his mouth. Now, the less disciplined tremble and shake as I walk by them. I do not look at anyone besides Jerjerrod; feces do not have a particularly pleasing smell, and I do not wish to humiliate one of these men before his fellows. I have looked at Jerjerrod's history, too. His son was born three days after he left to come here, and though he has been able to receive holos of the child, he has not been allowed to send any. His son does not know he exists. He is three years old now, and perhaps this business will be over soon enough that the boy does not remember not having a father. The child's name is beautiful: Israel. I linger much on fathers and sons now.
Jerjerrod tries to placate me with pleasantries and platitudes, none of which I have the stomach for just now. I threaten him - vague threats, letting him fill in the blanks with what appears to be quite an imagination. I have no interest in DSII; the game of politics and rebellion wearies me. I just want to find my son.
I stand with my back to Jerjerrod and his officers, inspecting the drive core of DSII. It is offline, and it will take another month, at least, to have it ready. And that is with all the techs and engineers working on this alone. I am disappointed. The drive was supposed to be completed a week ago. Without the drive core, the DSII can only rotate slowly; there will be no locomotion until the fusion inside it begins.
"Explain, Jerjerrod." He hesitates for a moment, thinking of the time when the Grand Moffs had ranked far higher than the Sith Lords. That was in the days of Tarkin, and not so long ago, but since then, Palpatine has become more openly Sith. The beauracrats, like all the Grand Moffs, are losing power, and they do not like it.
"There was a malfunction, milord," he finally stammers. Gods below, how many malfunctions can one construction project have? So far, there have been malfunctions with the Endor generator, the super laser, the small weapons systems on the completed side, and now the drive core. I might have laughed if it were not up to me to form some sort of order from all this madness; Jerjerrod should be weeping.
"W-when the coolant arrived. There was a spill. Many men were injured, three were killed. It set us very far behind -"
I hold up a hand, willing him to be silent. He bites his tongue in his haste to obey. It is a legitimate excuse, but like the rest, I will have to investigate each one. I do not look forward to it, and I regret not taking an aide when I had the chance.
"Very well, Commander. Take me to the communications array, if there is one."
His face goes very pale, and the commanders behind him exchange wary looks. They are not used to my sarcasm. Surprisingly, the communications array is in excellent condition and fully operational. I mention this to Jerjerrod, and after he realizes it is a complement, he inclines his head slightly. He thinks, very loudly, Israel, perhaps I will come home to you after all.
I have to leave him. I have been walking a precarious line for a long time, and this has nearly thrown me off of it. I have realized that we two are very similar ? we have never seen our sons.
"That will be all for today," I announce as I walk quickly from the communications bank. I must hurry; I cannot cry in the mask ? it causes all sorts of electrical problems. I enter the quarters that have been prepared for me near the medical bay and slap a button on the wall as I struggle to keep the emotions from leaking out. A soft chime ? the air is appropriately oxygenated ? and I quickly tear mask and helmet from my head, falling to my knees as the first sob wracks through me.
I do not know how long I lay on the floor or how long the weeping lasted, nor do I know why it came. Surely men would think me mad if they knew how good it had felt to cry just then. I must meditate on this, but later. For now, there are reports to read and malfunctions to investigate. I lock the door, and it disturbs me that I had not locked it before. Anyone might have walked in; the air would have escaped, mixing with the bacteria in the corridor, and I would be dead now. The sad voice wonders if that would be such a bad thing.
I am pleasantly surprised when I begin my tour once more. Jerjerrod insisted on returning to the super laser, and I am astonished to find that it has been completed during the night. Jerjerrod stands at stiff attention as I inspect the terminals, and though I am at my most critical, I can find nothing wrong with the construction and function.
"Well done, Commander," I admit finally. I have looked over this unit more thoroughly than I did the medical facilities this morning. I smirk, ignoring the stretching pain of scar tissue. "How many men did you have to assign here to get it done?" He hesitates, and then seems to sense humor in my tone. "Almost two hundred, milord." The vocorder does not allow my quiet chuckle any farther than my lips, and all Jerjerrod hears is a heavy silence. His confidence slowly dissolves into the ever-present fear. Damn it, why can't I laugh?
The light voice in my head is being more and more persistent, and assures me that he will continue to annoy me until I have listened to him. I remind myself firmly that I would be truly insane to do so. As long as I hear the voice, but do not respond, I can maintain my sanity and control. This thought occurs to me as I enjoy what the light voice has called a sumptuous meal of pastes and liquids. Surprisingly, the darker voices agree with him. So I eat, and make use of the facilities, and the colorful descriptions the light voice merrily delivers is below polite society. The dark voices laugh, and I sit quietly and hope they will be silent. Meditation calms them, finally, though when I rise I am more torn than I was before, and all because of the vision.
I am standing in darkness, and around me there are dim forms that represent all the parts of me ? the voices. All of them are looking at me, beckoning me to follow them. One is so dark that to look upon it would drive men mad; the other's light brings joy so consuming I feel lost in it.
"Follow," the darkest one says, and I shudder at the sound. He turns from me and walks in one direction, towards a darkness so deep and incredible that the light around it is swallowed and destroyed. I cannot go there. The others go in turn, saying, "Follow," and beckoning me down their paths. Some are tempting. Finally, the last one, the bright one calls. He is formless, like the others. "Follow," he says, and turns. I cannot go there; I missed that purity long ago. The bright one turns once more, and I have the vision of a sad smile. "It will be alright, Anakin." The usual hate and revulsion do not appear at the mention of that name, but I turn my eyes from him and look down the darker, but not the darkest path.
My legs tense as I prepare to take a step forward, but the vision ends, and I do not know in which direction I turn.
It is a long, long walk from my quarters to the hangar, and I half fear that I have delayed a proper welcome for my Master. The darker voices mutter quietly, maliciously, just beyond my level of hearing ? insects in the small of the back, where you can't quite reach ? and the light voice is conspicuously silent. "You must be strong," it finally whispers, and I find myself agreeing on the point, though not the method. I must be strong; I must follow the course I have chosen. It is too late, far too late, to rethink that. I remind myself of my power, of the dark energies that swarm to me like hungry dragons. I am an extension of the darkness, of what is called evil.
I learned that the Jedi Council had long deceived its scions with that notion. Darkness is not evil; it is order. There is no static, there is change. There is no chaos, there is order. There is no stillness, there is passion. There is no death, there is the Force. I repeat this litany, over and over again, and the light voice wails in my mind as the dark ones cackle. I enter the hangar.
I am conscious, as I kneel to my master, of his thoughts sweeping not-so-gently over my mind. His presence is black and baneful; the light voice seems to have fled entirely and the darker ones reach forward, as would an animal to be petted.
"Rise, my friend," he says, and I cringe. I find this expression terrifically painful, bending scar tissue in new and interesting ways.
"The Death Star will be completed on schedule," I report, and I do not lie. Only a gross mismanagement or accident could deter Jerjerrod now. For all his annoying ways, he truly has proved himself by turning this project around. I will try to have him stationed near his home, near Israel.
"Good, good." He cackles, and I feel my heart freeze. "And now I sense you wish to resume your search for young Skywalker." How is casual he is! Always, Luke is "son of Skywalker" or "young Skywalker" or (when he has destroyed trillion credit construction projects) "that damn Jedi."
"Yes, my Master."
"Patience, my friend. In time he will seek you out. And when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force."
For no apparent reason, pain lances through my entire body, and the respirator falters slightly. My son will try to find me? The euphoria is instantaneous and aborted. He will come to me...
"As you wish," I answer, but what I want to do is leap for joy! My son! My child!
"Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen," he replies, and cackles once more as we leave the hangar.
Your son is coming, the light voice croons softly as I remove the helmet. I pause and stare into the mirror, into eyes that, by some miracle, my son has inherited. My son. Your son, the voice agrees, with a hint of finality, and then he is gone. Moments later, Palpatine's thoughts brush over mine. Remember who your master is, Lord Vader. There is pain, then blackness, and I am dimly aware of hitting my head as I fall. My muscles begin to seize, and I hurt.
An hour later, lunchtime for the crew and paste time for me. My humor has taken a decidedly sarcastic turn, I notice, perhaps to make up for the gnawing silence of the light voice. The dark one scoffs; there is the sense of rolling eyes, and I swallow my "food." What I would not do for a working intestinal tract. I wave a hand absently, then lean my head into my folded arms ? a mistake, for it constricts already damaged breathing passages. The holonet news comes on, and I listen distractedly, until -
"In other news, Jabba the Hutt, notorious gangster and leader of the Tatooine slave ring, along with most of his court, were killed yesterday afternoon in a freak sailbarge accident. The names of the other victims are not yet released, but bystanders claim a local boy-turned rebel, Luke Skywalker, was responsible. Skywalker is also named as the man who destroyed the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin, taking with it the lives of over two million loyal Imperial subjects. More at ten. In other news..."
She should write a book: How to Shatter the Balance in a Sith Lord's Mind in Ten Seconds or Less.
I stand, moving away from the tubes ? the tempting remains of my lunch ? and approach the broken mirror. I think I hit my head earlier when I fell, for there is a large bruise forming above my eyebrow. I can see it in a thousand reflections. I am not surprised that, when I try, my powers of healing are completely blocked by Palpatine. It is swelling, and the mask will put painful pressure on it. Damn. But on it must go, for there are things to be done. The galaxy does not stop for one Sith Lord, no matter how depressed or uncomfortable he might be.
I have decided, after lengthy introspection, that a singularity of purpose is a good thing. With the light voice either completely eliminated or temporarily silenced, I feel myself again, coming back to ways of thinking I have avoided since Bespin. That is when the light gained the loudest place in my head, and when my officers began to die. This news, delivered by what can only be called a "chipper" anchor, brought the light voice back with an incredible momentum. I almost expect the annoying creature to sing. I can if you like, he says, and I try not to groan. I believe a headache is developing. Annoyed, I flip the holoviewer off and look for a more comfortable place to sit, only to discover that there is no such thing in my quarters as a cushion. For an utterly insane moment, I am grateful that mine is not a line of work for which retirement and old age are considerations. I will probably be dead within a few years.
My thoughts careen wildly back, many years ago, to a little boy saying with absolute faith that "no one can kill a Jedi." For a moment, Qui-Gon's eyes linger in my mind, the deified man who stares at me not in the anger of betrayal, but in the sadness of loss. The dark voice cackles, the light voice whimpers, but the whimper is quelled when my head begins to throb suddenly. Palpatine has, once again, reasserted his authority.
When I wake, it is not to the 'hiss-shush' of the respirator and the false, filtered light of the mask. Sunlight streams about me, bright and terrific, and I realized that I can breathe. I have never known such sweetness! I fill my lungs with air, but it seems as though they have forgotten quite how to work, for I cough. Finally, though, they remember, and I breathe and breathe and breathe. That's when I see him. Not Luke ? I might have died from pain had it been his spirit come to greet me ? but the being from my first vision, with all the paths and the dark creature. It is the one I know only as the light voice, though now there is more to him than voice. I study him-blonde, of course, though it is hard to tell through the omnipresent glow about him; pale skin; large, vulnerable eyes. It occurs to me that it is my face ? or, what my face used to be ? only I was never that innocent. My eyes were never open quite so wide, and I never looked so . . . virginal. Try as I might, that is the only word I can use to describe this incandescent figure: virginal; completely pure and innocent.
"It was not Luke," he says quietly. I have to lean forward to hear him, for he speaks quietly and a wind has risen from nowhere. "But Anakin, what if it was?"
"That is not my name," I insist, though the proclamation does not have quite the same weight as it once did. He waves his hand, as if to ward off an annoying insect or bat away an invalid argument.
"What if it had been Luke?" he asks again. "What if it were your son that the Force is so joyfully welcoming just now?" Then I feel it: a sense of near-completeness around me, a comforting familiarity that almost reaches out to touch.
"Is this ... the Force?" I ask, and I do not notice that whether it is the Dark or Light Side makes not the slightest difference to me. "Am I dead?"
"I hardly think so, but you might be soon. There are many paths, Anakin, and not all of them end in goodness."
"I am a Sith," I persist. The look he shoots me is annoyed. "Well, I am." Stars, that was just about the weakest thing I've ever said.
"Yeah, and I'm a dancing Twi'lek," he responds, and his legs unfold. He comes to stand very close to me. "Listen to me: Luke is alive. It was another who passed."
"There are no others as powerful as Luke," I say.
"Probe the disturbance," he urges. "If you do, you will see that the soul that left your lane is not nearly so bright as Luke's." Relief fills me, but I am a damned thing indeed, for I cannot rejoice that my son lives still.
"You never answered my question. Is this the Force?" He draws himself up, and for a moment, I am very afraid of the intensity in his gaze.
"This is the Force you abandoned, Anakin Skywalker, though you can see it has not given up hope in you."
The dream ends, and I wake once more, surrounded in the smell I now associate with myself, but once associated with hospitals and places of healing. My respirator wheezes though the mask has been removed. I turn my head slightly, and glimpse the external respirator hooked to the implants protruding from my chest. The bright lights ? perfectly unfiltered ? glare in my sensitive eyes, and I am forced to close them.
"Lord Vader? Do you know where you are?"
"Infirmary," I answer. "I don't know what ship," I add, even as my awareness reaches out and I feel the distinct presence of Piett nearby. Thank the Force, they've moved me to the Executor.
"The medical doctor on the Death Star did not feel skilled enough to help you, Lord Vader, so he had you transferred here immediately." It appears there is one genuinely honest human being in the Empire, after all. Most doctors would have operated on me, or whatever they had to do, rather than admit they need the help of colleagues. Not all doctors are like that, but Imperial physicians are notorious for it.
"What has happened? How long was I unconscious?"
"Four hours, my Lord. We feared your respirator was damaged when you fell, so we attached you to this one instead. You were walking with Grand Moff Jerjerrod on the Death Star, and suddenly collapsed against a bulkhead, hitting the chest plate on a protrusion. You then suffered a series of seizures. We felt the situation warranted full medical attention instead of the usual care of the Two-Onebee droid."
"What is your name?"
"Doctor Harreck, my Lord."
"Thank you, Doctor," I reply. This is not something easy to digest. Seizures? From shock, I wonder? Yet another symptom of my trauma so many years ago, just now coming to the surface when I am under such stress? "When will I be able to return to full duty?"
"Tomorrow morning, at the earliest," he states, and there is no question in his tone. He is not going to allow me to leave this room unless he is satisfied that I am capable of walking on my own. "I'll allow you to rest, then." Then he leaves, and Piett enters.
"My Lord." I remember now that I am unmasked, and hot shame fills me. I allowed him to see me ? once, and it was only a reminder and a way to make him fear. "My Lord, I had feared for you." Yes, he had. Piett does not have it in him to lie to me; he did once, but that was before serving as my admiral for a year or more. There is no hostility between us. I wave a hand, and he takes another step closer. A dark voice wonders if it is because he wants to stare, and the light voice tells the other to shut up. I sigh. They are back.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not enjoy and endure physical exertions. I was a child in the desert racing pods, then a Jedi apprentice, and my body was taxed beyond any limit I had imagined. The wars and what came after...that I choose not to think on too much. So, feeling the stretch and tense of each muscle I still possess ? feeling blood pouring in the veins that are still intact ? this brings me great pleasure indeed. I have destroyed many of the extortionately expensive droids since coming into this gym. The hour is late ? or perhaps early ? but I have locked and sealed the door. I do not wish to be disturbed, and any who dared to disturb me would regret the first kiss their father ever gave their mother.
The Force flows over me in a fiery storm ? it is burning ice in my mind and my soul. I long sometimes for the smooth, cool flow it had when I was young, but then I remember the weakness of that current. I draw the Darkness deeper. I know its strength. Here, now, holding it like this, I am powerful. The buzzing of the droids has subsided, and I look about me in shock ? they are all destroyed. How long has this exercise lasted, I wonder as I extinguish the harsh glow of my weapon. When the red hue is gone from the light, the gymnasium seems much calmer, and more ordered. There is soreness in my shoulder, and I recognize it as an old wound ? the one inflicted by my son on Bespin. My mind echoes like an empty theatre as the moment plays in my memory. I hear Luke, screaming in denial as I tell him something I should not have had to reveal. I see Luke, grasping the stump of his arm, slinking back over the catwalk and holding desperately to the central vane, and then falling silently to escape the monster I am. And now I feel Luke, dead at the hand of some unknown entity. I imagine that he died well, fighting and on his feet, surrounded by the corpses of enemies before he was finally overwhelmed. I slap the doors shut on that traitorous thought, closing that part of my mind like a trap. It can only lead to madness.
Returning to the Executor is like returning home. She has not been mine for long ? she has not yet developed the squeaks and twitches of an old ship ? yet she is mine. I stare at her as we approach in the shuttle ? just the fearful pilots to bring the craft home, and me. My breathing is loud in my own ears. The shuttle is brought home in a hangar of gleaming white and sterile durasteel. I exit the shuttle and a weight falls off me. This is my realm. I am in control. Palpatine has little power over my crew. Piett finds me in the corridors approaching the bridge, and his expression is surprised.
"My Lord, we were not expecting you to return."
"The Emperor's commands are not often predictable."
"He is a demanding master, my Lord."
"Did anything unusual happen while I was away?"
"No, my Lord. Executor is running smoothly, and the crew does not seem overly taxed by the unusual duration of this mission."
I nod, and we enter the bridge. The crew does not stand ? they tried that the first time, but I would rather they did their job than salute me. A few look up from underneath their caps. There are several women among the crew, something that has earned hard stares from the naval hierarchy. I told my Master when I was given command of the Executor that I would hand pick the bridge crew, and that only the best would be acceptable. He gave me that permission, though I believe he was somewhat amused by the demand, and I chose the best. That the females do not meet the gender standards gives most Admirals an ulcer.
"Admiral Piett, contact the other destroyers. They are to move to the far side of Endor and remain there."
"By order of the Emperor, my Lord?"
"By order of the Emperor."
Piett gives a small bow and moves away to do as I have commanded. I find myself wandering to the view port, my usual position when I am here, and looking out on a field of stars. Slowly, very slowly, the Executor turns, moving to take another position, alongside the DSII. We have a new duty to perform for the glory of the Empire: traffic control.
Piett contacted me an hour ago and informed me of a fight in the mess hall. My boredom is such that I join Piett in the brig to stare at the terrified combatants. Five young men, all in the coveralls of maintenance crew, stare at the deck plates as if some divine truth is to be revealed on the blank surface.
I nod to Piett, and he commences with the questioning. Sometimes, I have learned, it is simply best to stand aside and breath menacingly. According to the story, one had insulted the other, his friend had joined in, and it had escalated into a brawl that disrupted the entire mess hall. I want to sigh ? or scream. I wonder which would make the men jump farther.
Piett dispenses the proper punishment, and makes a very impressive speech. When he is finished, the five combatants are staring at the floor again and blushing to the roots of their hair, shamed to their cores. Piett questions their honor, their loyalty, and their intelligence. He wonders at the negligence of officers, at the forgetfulness of sons for the lessons taught by mothers. Now I want to laugh. This is a dangerous man.
"I have never been so ashamed of my men," he concludes grandly. "We are the best crew in the Empire, selected by Lord Vader himself to man the most important ship in the Fleet. And you fight like boys in the schoolyard. I cannot find words to express my unhappiness at being called into this sad duty." But find words he does ? words and words, then words again. Finally, sensing that the men are quickly losing interest, he steps aside. "I'm finished with you. You are beginning to turn my stomach. Lord Vader, do you have anything to add?"
I find that I do, and I say it very succinctly.
"There is no room for blunders on Executor, gentlemen, nor for personal ego. Find a way to work peacefully, or I shall transfer you all to the Intimidator."
The five blanch, and I suppress the urge to chuckle. A laugh sounds like a growl through the filter, anyway. I turn and leave, Piett trailing behind me.
"They won't so much as sneeze without permission now, my Lord," Piett remarks, and he is almost laughing. "Would you really transfer them, though?" The thought of going from the Lady Ex to another vessel is disgusting, I admit, though I have been forced to do so in the past. No ship is the Executor, no ship carries her reputation for excellence or demands such precision. Most cadets go to sleep dreaming of serving on her.
"If they or anyone is involved in another brawl, they will not serve on my ship a day longer. I'll not have hotheads in my crew."
The ego, the recklessness, of one could destroy this ship, and the hundred thousand lives aboard. My thoughts careen back to that black time between Hoth and Bespin, when I used their lives like fodder to reach my son. My now-dead son. That time fills me with shame. The ego of one could easily kill us all.
"I told you to remain on the command ship."
There it is ? no preamble, no greeting, only a statement that I have defied him. His hands are still on the arms of the throne, but many years ago, I would have been writhing on the floor by now as he threw the lightening at me. I suppress a shudder and speak, wondering, not for the first time, why I have come. I think, perhaps, it is to have my beliefs reaffirmed. My son has come; my Master will confirm it.
"A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor."
"Yes, I know."
How infuriating he is in his superiority; how very like the Jedi Council he is now, complete with the ego of twelve. His mind is warping ? rotting ? as he ages and continues to rely so heavily on the Dark; I can feel my own mind deteriorating slowly. Do the voices (though they have been unusually silent in the past day) not indicate as much?
"My son is with them." He is so aloof when he replies.
"Are you sure?"
Of course I am sure! He glows like a small sun next to the darkness of space, of this station, of ? Of me. I want to rage then, at my own weakness. I want to strangle this withered old man for taking that light out of my life forever; to throw myself into the bowels of this station for being idiot enough to remove myself from it.
"I have felt him, my Master." Master, to remind myself of what he is, and what he is capable of, and that I alone am no match for this hideous wretch.
"Strange, that I have not." How could anyone not feel that? I wonder as I turn my consciousness toward Endor and feel the brightness of my son. "I wonder if your feelings in this matter are clear, Lord Vader."
That was a threat more than a question. It would not be easy to replace me ? I am a legend in the Empire for my fanatic loyalty and evil, and for the mask ? but Mara Jade sits ready on Coruscant, does she not ? a powerful receiver without the sense to rely on the Force and raised to adore Emperor Palpatine.
"They are clear, my Master," I reply, adding emphasis on the word Master. My Master... first Watto, then Obi-Wan and now Palpatine, what a succession of characters. I could not have told a more blatant lie had I tried. My feelings are anything but clear, if the truth must be known. Oh, I want to be with my son, of course, but what I am not clear on is if whether I want it to be in this life or the next, or in the Darkness or the Light.
"Then you must go to the Sanctuary Moon and wait for him."
"He will come to me?" Why in the name of the Force would he ever come to me? The last time we were face to face, he tried to kill himself instead of coming to me. How could he have changed that much?
"I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing." Compassion? For me? For this Sith monster that once called himself Anakin? "He will come to you and then you will bring him before me." He says it in a singsong manner, as though to a child who could hardly be trusted with the simplest of tasks.
"As you wish," I reply, sketching a bow. He gives no acknowledgement, only turns his throne to face the blank darkness of space, and to contemplate horrors beyond even my imagining.
I have been dismissed. I turn to leave, and as I near the lift, he calls out. "Lord Vader?" I turn to face him, to see his gnarled visage leering across the darkness, at the glowing, sickly eyes. "If I do not wish to be disturbed, I do not wish to be disturbed. That is why I have guards. If you must indulge your little strangulation fetish, why don't you try it with that troublesome Admiral Piett?"
I want to scream. How dare he threaten my men? The Executor is my territory; he has never given me orders regarding her before, save where to fly her. Why begin now? To pull my leash a bit tighter? To crack the whip?
"Good. We will discuss your punishment when this attack has been dealt with."
I pause. Punishment? I feel a slow, gnawing fear build in my belly and rise through the remains of my lungs. Had I control over them, I would not be able to breathe, but the respirator continues. Hiss-shush, hiss-shush, loud in the darkness.
"Yes, my Master." I bow once more, and hear his cackling hound my retreating footsteps.
Once, when I was younger and still possessed flesh to feel pain, I stood in the same room as a smelting pit. I was warned not to stand too close, but I was entranced by the bright colors. Though I never managed to stand close enough to see what I wanted to see, the heat still burned me, caused me pain. I learned a valuable lesson that day. That is what standing next to Luke is like.
It occurs to me that what the Captain is saying might be important, and I manage to ignore the glaring, burning, wonderful brightness of my son.
"...I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a wider search of the area." With typical precision, the man extends his hand, fist down, and drops Luke's 'saber in my hand. "He was armed only with this."
"Leave us." Leave me alone with my son, let me look at him and learn him... "Conduct your search and bring his companions to me." The Captain and the Stormtroopers return to the Walker and into the darkness of Endor's dawn. And I stare at my son. "So." I pray my voice is more controlled than it sounds to my ears; I pray he senses no weakness in me. "You have come to me." After such a long journey, Luke, you have returned to me, and we will do what we are destined to do.
The Light and Dark voices are silent, but I feel them peering over my shoulder, both staring in the same mute, incredulous wonder they shared on Bespin. Suddenly, the light voice surges forward with desires that I cannot ? must not ? indulge. For the first time, I squash it ruthlessly, but it sits still on my shoulder.
My son speaks. "And you to me."
I was supposed to be the cryptic one, the one to speak in riddles that would leave his mind reeling as he sought the truth in my words. Now, I reel; Light and Dark spin about me in a whirlwind I cannot control, though I know the truth. We have come to each other. Darkness speaks, reminds him of my bonds and my duty, and the path I have chosen.
"The Emperor is expecting you. He believes you will turn to the Dark Side."
"I know, Father."
Father! He called me father! I have the sudden, disturbing image of that iridescent person from my vision dancing in joy behind me. I resist the urge to look. He called me father! I can see that it meant something special to Luke, as well. Once the word is out, his shoulders straighten and he stares into my mask, searching, perhaps, for my eyes. What did this admission cost him, I wonder? My joy diminishes only slightly with this, but the Dark One is whispering like a serpent.
"You have accepted the truth."
"I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father," he replies coolly, and I know that is how he has remained sane. Darth Vader is not Anakin Skywalker; he is the man who came after.
Rage builds, hot, white, and I turn toward him, waving his 'saber beneath his nose. I wonder if he would have irritated me like this had things been different. Would we have fought? Would he have gotten on well with me?
"That name no longer has any meaning for me!" I tell him sharply. Does he not see the anger, the fury, inside me?
"It is the name of your true self; you've only forgotten." There is no doubt in his mind that he speaks the truth. "I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn't driven it from you fully."
I feel myself falling under the spell of his words-mind trick? I want to laugh. I want to place my hands on his shoulders and tell him what a wonderful, ingenious child he is, to try that with me. How can he know that only Palpatine can penetrate my shields, and that rarely?
"That is why you could not destroy me. That's why you won't take me to your Emperor now."
I wish it were true. I want Luke all to myself, to share this brightness with no other. I want him to be mine alone. I stare at my hands, and at what they hold. Luke's lightsaber. My son's lightsaber; the weapon my grown child was taught to use with the motivation to kill me.
"I see you have constructed another lightsaber."
"This one is mine; I no longer use yours." His voice is quiet, and he stares at my hands on this weapon, eyes very blue under his lashes. I break the moment, igniting the 'saber and holding the green blade between us. Death is between us.
"Your skills are complete," I rumble, a sigh that he cannot hear. "Indeed, you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen."
Energy ? basic, vital energy ? swirls between us, and I stare into his eyes, wondering at the combination of Padme and Anakin that I see there.
"Come with me," he says quietly, and I suspect he had meant it to be more commanding than what I heard. Come with me, come with me, come with me . . . So easy to walk away from all that I am, to go with him, to be his father, to watch his light...
"Obi-Wan once thought as you do," I reply, shaking my head. It is more to allow time to think than to make conversation.
"Don't blame Ben for your fall -"
Blame Ben? How can I not! He pushed me over the edge of that pit and watched as I fell! He walked away though he did not know with any certainty that I was dead! Because of him, I cannot breathe! Ben, Obi-Wan ? stole my child!
Thoughts dissolve into dark, angry clouds, and I tell my son that he does not understand the power of the Dark, and of my master. I must obey.
He stares up at me; he is small and slender like Padme was.
"I will not turn ? you will be forced to destroy me." It was a duty I embraced once, and I do not know why it should be so difficult now.
"If that is your destiny." If it is our destiny, that he should die and I should be damned, then so be it.
"Search your feelings, Father. You can't do this. I feel the conflict within you; let go of your hate."
The boy has no inkling what I am capable of. Perhaps his Princess could offer him insight...but of course, it is too late for that bit of elucidation. I am capable, if not willing, and the conflict is only my disgust with myself. Hate is too strong an emotion to be doled out as willingly as he apparently believes I do. I hate Obi-Wan, but that hatred is old and stale now that he is dead.
"Someone has filled your mind with these foolish ideas, young one. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your Master now."
I wave my hand ? with witnesses, he will keep his silence, I hope. The Stormtroopers stand behind him, ready to do my bidding. They know who he is.
I do not know why I speak again, especially with the Stormtroopers standing nearby. The words seem to comfort him and disturb him at once.
"It is too late for me, my son." His eyes fall to the floor, then rise to behold me once more.
"Then my father is truly dead."
He is led away, and I watch him go, as a thousand knives twist in my heart. I turn to stare over Endor once more, my thoughts confused and jumbled, and the voices have begun what sounds like an enthusiastic brawl in the back of my skull.
That is the second time I have been declared dead. I wonder if Luke's statement is more accurate than the one that took him from me in the first place.
Luke is wearing black, and I do not like it. It makes him too old, and it takes the life from his eyes. I cannot tear my eyes away from his face and his hands ? or, rather, hand. He has only one hand; the other is a mechanical construct. The Force in him shudders to a halt at the beginnings of that hand; it is unnatural and ugly, though necessary. I regret now taking a piece of his life, of his body, but the lesson that was learned was too important to completely expunge those moments.
We stand before my Master for an instant before I kneel. I feel Luke's pain scream across the canvas of the Force, and I wince. My eyes move from his eyes, locked on Palpatine, to my Master, who regards him with a malignant glee. My Master spares me a glance, tells me to rise, and I do so. I join him in his study of my son, though I am sure I look for different things than he. He stares at the defined muscles, signs that he is fit and capable, but I look at his eyes (they are clear, if confused and sad), and the set of his shoulders (which are slumped slightly, as though beset with a despair he does not truly believe). I notice a long, brown hair on his collar, and wonder whose it is. Is it a lover, waiting for him on Endor and watching the sky? A friend filled with sadness that he has disappeared? The Pirate perhaps...or the Princess, who stood so bravely and watched one lover sink into the carbonite pit? I hope it is the Princess.
"Welcome, young Skywalker," he says, leering in a way he thinks is cordial. "I have been expecting you."
Everything has been expecting this. The galaxy was born in expectation of this moment. My son's eyes flash with defiance, and I feel sorrow. The dark voice whispers that I, too, exhibited such defiance once, and I stand at my Master's side. The light voice tells it to be quiet. I wish to rub my temples and soothe away the forming headache.
"You'll no longer need those," he adds, and with a gesture, a thread of the Dark Side, the manacles binding Luke's wrists fall to the floor.
Luke stares at his freed hands, as do I, and the moment hums with possibility. If he strikes now, I know I am not fast enough to stop him... I might choose to be too slow. It could be ended right now, and Palpatine's corpse would twitch as I took the throne and accepted Luke as my apprentice, my heir. The moment passes; Luke does nothing.
"Guards, leave us," Palpatine calls, and the crimson guards vanish, bloody shadows in the distance. "I'm looking forward to completing your training." He leans slightly closer to my boy as he speaks, as if sharing a precious secret. "In time, you will call me Master."
Not a precious secret, then, but a hideous truth. He is right, of course. Luke, naive and innocent, has no chance. Luke stands a bit straighter, as if the Emperor has reminded him of something.
"You are gravely mistaken. You won't convert me as you did my father."
Brave words, my boy, brave words. Once, I, too, spoke bravely. But where do brave words leave us? Hanging over the edge of molten pits, with fingers shoved into tiny cracks, bones finally breaking to let us fall? That is where brave words leave us; they are only words, and will not stop the saber; will not stop destiny.
Palpatine steps closer to my son, and allows the hood of his dark cloak to fall back slightly, finally revealing his entire, hideous visage to Luke. Luke does not flinch, and the light voice exults silently. The dark voice replies that Luke is still here, standing before Darth Sidious, as his sire once did.
"Oh, no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken...about a great many things."
"His lightsaber," I say. I suppose I want to stall, to keep this moment when they threaten each other with words and glances and wills, and make it last as long as possible. I drop the 'saber into my Master's hands.
"Ah, yes, a Jedi's weapon. Much like your father's. By now, you must know that your father can never be turned from the Dark Side." The light voice whispers, In life only. "So will it be with you."
Luke smiles ? actually smiles! ? at the old tyrant. Or, rather, at his back, for he has turned to reclaim his throne.
"You're wrong. Soon I'll be dead...and you with me." Light and dark voices cringe at the thought of Luke dying, but for different reasons, and Palpatine laughs. It sends fear into my heart.
"Perhaps you refer to the imminent attack of your Rebel fleet." The face he makes is similar to the one I saw on Bespin. He is not the wailing child now, but his face is naked with despair and terror. Palpatine's tone becomes distinctly more cruel as he twists the knife lodged deep in my son's heart. "Yes...I assure you, we are quite safe from your friends here."
I turn my face to see my son. He has collected himself, smoothed the Force around him. He stares Palpatine down with a new resolve.
"Your overconfidence is your weakness."
"Your faith in your friends is yours!" Palpatine spits.
Oh, Luke, he will break you in the end. There is no hope for you ? for us. There is no need to suffer more than you already will. I try to convey what I have learned from experience with this demon.
"It is pointless to resist, my son." I am reminded of speaking to Obi-Wan, for he does not glance at me, and my words bounce off of his mind.
I am not in the spotlight, here. This is my son's time of destiny, his time to choose. My time came many years ago, and my decision was made.
"Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design." Not true. It was Xizor's idea, but he no longer exists to dispute creative property, does he? "Your friends on the Sanctuary Moon are walking into a trap." He laughs, dark menace filling the empty spaces. "As is your Rebel fleet! It was I who allowed the Alliance to know the location of the shield generator! It is quite safe from your pitiful little band. An entire legion of my best troops awaits them !"
Luke's eyes dart to me, then to Palpatine, and finally to his 'saber. Stars Luke, just take it, take it! Destroy this creature, and I will stop the attack! Join me, and I can deny you nothing!
"Oh..." Palpatine says, mocking sympathy, "I'm afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive."
The battle has begun. Luke has gone to the large, asymmetrical port behind my Master's throne, and he stares at the newly arrived Rebel fleet. Someone is clever, and has discovered that the shield is still operational. The discerning pilot leads the rest away from the Death Star. They fly into the fleet. Not the entire fleet, of course, but enough to bring a stop to their sudden retreat. They are trapped between the shield, which is impenetrable, and the awaiting Star Destroyers. The Executor hulks among them, a mountain among low hills.
"Come, boy. See for yourself." Palpatine baits Luke as he stares in horror at the numerous explosions that have suddenly begun to flash in some bizarre unison. "From here you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance, and the end of your insignificant Rebellion."
The horror turns to hate as it slowly rises to the front of Luke's mind. He glances at his lightsaber sitting on the armrest of the throne.
"You want this, don't you? The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant."
Luke turns sharply from the window to give my Master a look that could kill a normal man. But Palpatine is far from normal.
"No." Luke manages to say through clenched hatred and sorrow.
"It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine!"
Luke's anger turns sour as he looks at me by my Master's side. How could any man, let alone a Jedi, serve this hideous creature. If only Luke knew the power of the Dark Side. Then he would understand. He turns again from the blackness of his enemies to watch destruction taking place around the orbit of Endor.
"As you can see, my young apprentice, your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station!" He clicks a button on his throne to notify Jerjerrod. "Fire at will, commander!"
Luke's eyes widen in horror and understanding, and his world crashes about his shoulders as the first shot whips out of the Death Star and caresses one of the rebel ships. The explosion, and the subsequent loss of life sends agony and terror raging across the fabric of the Force. Shock comes off Luke in waves, taking his mind from the Force. Foolish boy, he must keep his center if he is to survive this.
More rebel ships are destroyed. Luke turns his eyes toward me, as if begging for mercy, for a boon, but it is one I am incapable of giving. He does not see my weariness, my constant pain, the duality, in my eyes; he turns his attention to the battle. I suppose things have never looked more bleak for the Rebel alliance. We watch, my boy and I, as chaos spreads across in the Rebel fleet. One or two of them may realize what has happened, perhaps. Then, someone does something very intelligent. A command is given, and the Rebels disperse towards the formation of Star Destroyers. Excellent plan. Perhaps it was Ackbar? I do not believe Palpatine will risk one of our capital ships to destroy the rebels. The only purpose the laser served was to unsettle Luke. It has.
"Your fleet has lost. And your friends on the Endor moon will not survive." Palpatine does not know how that thought hurts Luke; he never had a heart to bruise. "There is no escape my young apprentice. The Alliance will die...as will your friends."
Victory is so close for him now, and he can hardly sense it. The Darkness sings in this room, in this space, its voice loud and discordant; it vibrates.
"Good." Palpatine sighs. He is almost at the point of ecstasy, his breath short and excited. His own power trembles in the moment. He does not understand how powerful he is sometimes. "I can feel your anger. I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down, and your journey toward the Dark Side will be complete!"
Luke does it. The Gods help us all. His 'saber flies from the throne and into his outstretched hand. There, he has activated it and the green glow illuminates his thin, pale face in the darkness. My golden, delicate son. There, he swings, and it will be finished, there will be no more Emperor, and no more need for Vader.
His blade is intercepted by mine, even though I do not remember drawing. Palpatine laughs under the heat of our crossed weapons, and in the confusion of adrenaline and despair, the darkness consumes me, and I fight my son.
I stare, and my son blocks Palpatine from my sight. I wonder if it is symbolic. He stands there, shoulders straight, though he is tired, and stares defiantly into the mouth of darkness. Pain rips across my consciousness once again. It would be such a simple thing to close my eyes, to sleep, to wait for death, damnation, or Palpatine to claim me. I am very, very weary in this moment, but the galaxy does not stand still for one Sith Lord who has decided that he is no longer interested in the title.
"If you will not be turned," Palpatine says, his voice so low and so dark, "you will be destroyed."
That is when the lightening starts. It shoots from my Master's hands, a dozen tiny, poison-toothed vipers straining for flesh to bite, to tear. It strikes my son, and for a single, blessed instant, he is able to deflect the worst of it. Still, he is untrained, untried in this, and the energy strikes him. Luke is not the first Skywalker to sink to his knees in pain at this onslaught, before this man. He allows himself to fall, slowly, as I rise.
Dark voices whisper and shush against my mind, and I watch, clinically, detached. Luke falls finally, and my breath catches as he nearly tumbles over the railing, down the shaft. He grasps one of the many canisters, though, and pulls himself back to the dubious safety of the walkway, to the unrelenting assault of my Master's wrath.
"Young fool," Palpatine laments. He is thinking of power that might have been his, "...only now, at the end, do you understand."
This peculiar detachment intensifies. It is another man's son who writhes on the floor, his bones alive beneath the flesh. Another man's son cries weakly through clenched teeth, unwilling or unable to scream as I (his father) did so very long ago.
"Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side," Palpatine snarls beside me. A particularly vicious bolt snaps into the boy's body, and he does cry out, this time. "You have paid the price for your lack of vision!"
This does not bode well for that other man's son, who reaches a hand toward me. But why does he do that? Doesn't he know that I don't know him? That he is helpless? How many have died of this, in this same way, felt the same pain the boy feels now? What does it matter? He is not my son.
"Father, please. Help me!" he cries, and I remember.
The woman was small and thin, and I loved her. I loved her that last time, and gave her a baby. I never knew it, though. I left and found a new Master, and knelt at his feet, and when I misbehaved, I felt the lightening strike me again and again. Then I felt flame, and I died in every way imaginable. I walked in Darkness. Suddenly, light came to me, saying, "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you." And damn it all, that's just what he's done.
"And now, young Skywalker...you will die."
There is no question in his tone, only a dark lust. He would kill my son, right now, as I stand here, watching! I understand the detachment, now; it was the Dark Voices, standing in my mind, influencing me, manipulating me. I would hate them, but I do not think I am capable of that just now.
The energy comes faster; Dark Voices scream denial and light voices howl in triumph. They know what I plan. The know, they understand, and I glance once more at my son's writhing, pained body before I move on my Master. He is not heavy. I lift him over my head and walk quickly to the pit, preparing -
Aaaaaaah! His energy assaults me now, burning across my mind, piercing my flesh, and I almost stumble, almost drop him ? too soon! ? he would kill my son then kill me, maybe burn us both alive, and I will not let that happen! There! The edge! Just throw and watch him; watch him spin as he falls, still shooting that lightening from his fingertips, still trying to hurt. The Dark voices plummet down, down, down with him, and the Light voices spin a great song that echoes across the galaxy. O Sithgods, please just let him die! And he does. He must have hit an outcropping and broken his thin little neck; maybe he was impaled on one of the many thin antennae. Maybe he fell into space and was frozen instantly. However he died, the backlash, his energy, careens up and over, and a new pain, one I remember from before the Burning, comes. It is the raw, naked pain of a torn bond, one ripped from the mind, leaving a great, gaping, bleeding wound in its place.
Despair and self-loathing overwhelm me. I am weeping behind the mask, and something is going to short-circuit, probably. Damn it all.
I step closer to the edge, and I have never wanted anything more than I want to die at this moment. I want to kill myself and not think or feel or hurt anymore, and I do not want to look at my son and answer the questions I know will be in his blue, blue eyes. Goodbye, my son, luminous beings are we -
Strong hands, smaller than my own, grasp my shoulders and pull me back. I want to rail against them, throw them off, but moving is too much an effort. My son. My beautiful, golden son. He cradles my broken, heavy form against his own, young and scarred, and holds one of my hands in his own. My son holds my hand. That is a miracle all of its own.
I cannot breathe. The respirator is making the noises, in a gasping way, and I realize I will die here, in my son's arms, and that I will watch his emotions play across his vulnerable, perfect features. Something clicks, then; a wire shifts or a circuit depolarizes, and I can breathe again, shallowly. I might have time to tell my son that I love him.
There are new emotions in me now. Pride, I recognize easily. Joy is harder to acknowledge. Love, I vaguely remember, and it shines bright for my son and a bit dimmer for the daughter I knew as an enemy. There is another, though. I am content; there is no rage inside me, no pain or hate. The envy has burned away. It takes many, many moments to define this peculiar combination of non-feeling, but finally I do. I now have the candor to admit that it is something I have sought my entire life, in some form or another.
I am in my son's arms, and he is holding my hand. The last of the Sith is dead, his apprentice to follow very soon, and all I feel is a deep, blue peace.
Beside me, Master Yoda appears perched on a log, and farther away, Obi-Wan's smile is enigmatic. It is a fulfilled, self-satisfied smile; it appears things have arranged themselves as they were supposed to. But I have all of eternity to ponder such things. I turn my attention to my son.
He stands a little distance away, separate from the celebrants in the firelight. His eyes are tired, and he is hurt; he should be in an infirmary. But he smiles as he sees us, glowing pale blue in the moonlight. The moment stretches on, though I know it has been mere seconds.
Then Leia ? my daughter! ? steps to his side and wraps an arm about his shoulders, affectionate and smiling. Luke turns to meet her gaze, and then glances over his shoulder, toward the dancing, singing Alliance. His eyes turn back to us, shining bright, and I remember times very much like this one. When the last of the clone armies had been destroyed, we, too, held bonfires and danced and sang; our young voices had lifted with joy and sorrow and regret. For no reason, I laugh; there is no vocorder to stop it from coming to life this time, and I see my son blink and smile brightly as he feels my joy ripple across the Force. Luke turns, swings his own arm over Leia's, and they go to celebrate with their friends.
"Come the time has," Yoda says quietly, "for old ghosts to return home. Come."
He flickers and vanishes, and Obi-Wan meets my eyes across the empty space.
"We will talk," he says and I feel he wants to lay a hand on my arm, perhaps to hug me, but there is still too much between us. Qui-Gon and Padm? forgave me without reservation, but Obi-Wan and I know the wounds between us are deep, and became infected over time. Even for the dead ? or perhaps especially for the dead ? it takes time to heal scars. After a long silence, in which neither of us move or speak, he adds, "Padawan."
I do not wish for him to see the confused joy and pain that title brings, so I will myself away from him. I find myself on a plateau overlooking the dawn. I do not believe it is Endor's dawn, however. I am quickly discovering that the power of my soul is limited only by my creativity. Still, I am surprised that he does not appear at my side instantly. So, I watch the dawn. The horizon changes gradually, the black of night fading to navy, fading to azure, and then to all the myriad colors of daybreak.
Beneath my plateau, birds burst into song in a great, wide swamp, a place full of life and growth. In the distance, I can see an ocean and a small town. In that town, men and women are opening their eyes to freedom, real freedom. Today, the Empire is dead. Which brings my thoughts back to me. What becomes of this tired, blemished soul now? My form makes the motions of sigh, though I no longer have lungs to inhale. For an instant, I am angry, infuriated, but it is a formless rage and fades quickly into nothingness. This time, I do not try to sigh. I simply watch as the sun rises on a planet I do not recognize.
Another warmth strikes me, at my back, and I turn this "body" to face Qui-Gon Jinn. His own energy is gathered neatly about himself, but he strokes my cheek with it, and I am nine years old once more, wanting nothing so badly as I wanted his approval and his trust.
"It's very symbolic, Anakin," he says. It takes me a moment, and then I realize he is talking about the dawn. He comes closer and stands very near to me. We watch the sun for another long time. Finally, he continues. "The night on this planet ends even as the night in your own soul. With the coming of this planet's freedom from darkness, so does light come to the galaxy and everyone in it. The sun rises."
"But it also sets," I counter, feeling a quiet, bitter melancholy in my soul.
"Yes. And darkness will come again to the galaxy, one day. But that day is not today. For now, the Skywalkers have done their duty to the galaxy."
"My sins are not so easily abolished," I reply. He inclines his head in agreement.
"To the galaxy, no. The death of one very evil man does not negate the deaths and sufferings on your hands. Darth Vader will always be known as an evil man. Many will not believe Luke's telling of what happened there, above Endor. To the living galaxy, Anakin, you are a demon."
"Better than I deserve," I whisper. A flight of birds emerges from the swamp and sweeps past us, beneath us.
"The Force does not pay much attention to the opinions of the living, Anakin. It has been, and always will be, a tool for their use. But a hammer does not care for the disposition of the one wielding it, does it? In the eyes of the Force, your great sin was turning, and betraying the trust of the Chosen One. And how it cried when you embraced the Dark Side, Anakin."
I hear it now as though I had twenty years ago, when I first kneeled to Sidious: a soul-deep keening rises around me, fills my mind with a dark, painful longing and sorrow. I caused that sorrow. Qui-Gonn continues, oblivious to my burgeoning misery.
"In the Force's eyes, what happened in those years did not matter. You were only being a Sith ? if a somewhat enthusiastic one ? and it does not see that as something extraordinary. In the eyes of the Force, all of your sins were cancelled out the minute you rose and lifted Palpatine up. And what a song rose then, Ani, what an incredible song."
And that swells then, flinging my grief far away. It is a new song, one of fulfillment and joy, and I recognize it. Had I a heart, it would stop; had I knees, they would collapse. This rejoicing song ? it is the light voices! The voices in my mind that argued constantly with the darkness, with the Dark Side. Epiphany strikes. The light voices were the Force, the dark voices the Dark Side, and I had been their battlefield for years. It is good to know this, unbelievably good.
I sense the conflict within you.
Yes, he must have. He sensed the battle that was being fought over my soul, and I thought it was mere insanity. I laugh suddenly, long and loud, and around us, the grass grows a bit higher and flowers bloom. Light fills me, fulfills me, and I glory in it. Qui-Gon leads me away, perhaps forever, but I smile as I go, leaving the galaxy in the care of my children.