In Another's Eyes (PG)

By : Clarus; Dark_Luke_Junkie; Force-Wielder; Jairen

Archived on: Monday, March 3, 2003

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.

There is a mirror in my quarters. How this detail has been overlooked I can logically understand - there are more pressing concerns for the crew than the eccentric specifications of Lord Vader's suite - but emotionally, it infuriates me. It has been literally years since I beheld my own image. I am not sure I have the strength for such an undertaking now. And what would be the point? The last time I looked I was no longer a handsome man, though I am not the inhuman devil some would make me out to be. Nothing will have improved. If anything, I will look even worse.

There is no logical reason for me to walk these few shaky steps to look upon the bright, reflective surface. And yet I do. I stare, absorbing each hideous scar and line. In a moment of twisted fancy, I decide that each wrinkle represents a year's worth of evils I have committed for the sake of the Empire. My face is lined with more wrinkles than I can count. This self-loathing is fascinating, in a morbid sort of way. I think I am the only creature truly capable of sickening me. I am disgusting. It is no wonder my son does not want me. It is no wonder my wife deserted me.

The anger that comes upon me then is almost painful in its intensity. THIS feeling is something I can deal with. This is something I understand. I raise my fist to smash the mirror, as I should have done from the beginning. I could, of course, shatter it with the Force, but my rage will be satisfied with nothing less than a physical outlet. I swing... and let the arm fall, unused, to my side. It is as I expected. I cannot even do this one simple destructive act. I can kill men with a thought but I cannot even throw a proper temper tantrum. I am weak, as well as disgusting. The anger drains from me and I am left feeling empty. Hollow. Without my anger, I am nothing.

I almost turn away. But... what is that? There. Somewhere around the nose... No. The eyes. They are my son's eyes, I realize. Rationally, I have known this. My brain, efficient neural network that it is, properly catalogued the information when it was received:

Luke Skywalker - Eyes: Blue
Parental Unit - Eyes: Also Blue

And yet, until I looked in this mirror, I was unable to picture any sort of physical resemblance between us. The last time I saw my son's eyes, they were filled with... dark things. These eyes likewise scream betrayal and despair. Is this what my son sees when he looks in the mirror? How can he stand it?

It is morning. I gaze out the view-port of my quarters and pretend I can see suns cresting over a horizon, instead of this endless vista of stars. Mornings, at least, are something I am still capable of enjoying. The concerns of the previous day are forgotten and one is free to begin anew. After that strangely satisfying loss of control yesterday, I am able to wipe my slate clean. I must. The line I am walking is far too thin already. I shall not even consider the ramifications that my fall would bring about. There it is again. That feeling that events are spinning beyond my control, or even my understanding is returning. I have never been Palpatine - who assumes that things will turn out simply as he wills them - I have never attained that level of arrogance. Yet, I have taken pride in my position in the universe, in my mastery of the Force. My innate grasping of that knowledge which eludes other men has always afforded me some measure of security. A certainty that whatever might befall the galaxy, I would be there to see it happen, because I was important.

That certainty is gone now. Lost, in the ever-changing vagaries of Fate and the Will of the Force. Things are moving towards... something, some final, culminating event. And I wonder, will I be around to see it? Such thoughts are not befitting a Dark Lord of the Sith. The fact that I am having them should cause me a great deal of concern. As it is, I can only rouse a half-hearted curiosity. Will it be this newfound depression that brings about my destruction? Or will it be the son on which I dwell so heavily? It is a possibility, of course. For all that I would have us happily reunited and sharing the glory of power, the possibility that he could destroy both my Master and myself is still present. It is that possibility that first brought my son to Palpatine's attention. And yet it is the possibility he seems most eager to dismiss. Again his arrogance. I need not foresee the future to know what will bring about Palpatine's destruction.

A chime rings, signaling the end of my sleep cycle. It is time. I must leave this sanctuary. I have never been one to hide in a room, willing the course of the galaxy to pass me by. I have shaped destiny, unafraid. Today will be no exception.

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's strange. I meditate, as I always have since donning this mask that hides my face, my soul, from those around me. Its different now, quieter, the turmoil distant. I see a face there, in the darkness, a face I haven't seen in so many years. Sweet Padme, my angel. I never realized how much our love had sustained me during those early years. As I swept deeper into the darkness, as I moved further from her, she faded, gone like all the other good things in my life. Only the painful memories remained. Now, I see her more, her face restored to my memory by the fearful eyes of our son as I stared down at him on Bespin. It is strange that the Skywalkers should be reunited in the clouds. Appropriate somehow, as if we were home.

The voices are quiet when she appears. I feel joy from the light one, a deep love and responsibility. The dark ones hide, as if her mere presence is enough to cast them from me forever. Sometimes I wish it were so. I know my meditation must end soon, for my Master is coming, to visit his new station, this new symbol of his power in the galaxy. He knows me too well, too deeply for me to hide these thoughts for long. His fear will make him probe, check, dig for my loyalty, as he does each time I return to his side. The pain after Bespin was intense, but I would suffer it again to see my son, to know he will be with me again. Perhaps that is the future he foresaw, his arrogance replaced by fear as he told me that my son would threaten us.

He is coming. I must be ready, I must be strong when I am with him. Weakness is not an option for Lord Vader, it never has been. But for my other self, the boy I left behind so long ago, perhaps weakness would be allowed for him, or release from the burdens, and the comfort of a woman's embrace. No longer do I have that luxury. I push her face away, letting the darkness back, letting the voices in again. My Master is coming and I must be ready.

As I rouse from mediation, my head weighs heavy on my shoulders. Do other men feel this pressure, this great millstone of purpose hanging round their necks - at once both an honor and a burden to carry? And what is this - this creeping animal of doubt that stalks me even in the shadows of my dreams? Perhaps that is a question better left unanswered. Doubt has no place in me, only darkness. 'You have never felt power until you have embraced the darkness of your own soul.' There is truth and certainty in that statement, in which I once took comfort. But there is something missing from me now... Darkness is no longer certain. And I have nowhere else to turn for comfort. I am shaken by my vision, but I must not linger on it. I cannot allow myself this luxury, this wallowing in self-pity. That is one knowledge other men may know, which I may not.

Ah, the afternoon inspection of the troops. Nothing like the aromas of sweat and fear, roasting in a thousand pressure cookers of armor to turn your stomach. These are the fighter pilots. The elite. They are trained to face all Seven Sith Hells without flinching and yet their thoughts, if not their bodies, cringe and tremble at my approach. As I survey the men, my mind is surprisingly quiet. Are the voices gone? Or just more subdued? Without their usual clamoring for attention, my head feels strangely empty. It is just me, an old man in an old suit. Do the men picture my visage stern and disapproving as I walk by? Or do they imagine me mad and crazed - the Emperor's barely restrained pet? Would that they could see the truth. My eyes are elsewhere, my mind following their wanderings. My mask makes all the appropriate movements for me, but I dream as I walk. These men and I share the same dreams: Reunions with family, and a son welcoming his father home with open arms.

After I have allowed for the suitable amount of time to pass, I stop. I believe I utter something along the lines of "I expect better from you men" and "the Emperor will not tolerate such poor showmanship", but it was well scripted and entirely forgettable. What is my son doing now, I wonder? Is he sitting somewhere, pondering the cruel twist of Fate that begot him? Or is he off engaging in the usual heroics, his monster-father all but forgotten?

A noise returns my attention to the barracks and I realize it is Jerjerrod clearing his throat. We are alone, he and I. The men have left, probably off to receive their punishments for my harsh words. I have the sudden urge to ask Jerjerrod how his son is doing, but of course, I cannot. I am a creature without feelings; he expects nothing more.

"Do not waste my time with this again, Commander."

"Of course not, milord." There. Now everything is back to normal, says the dark voice. But for how long asks the light voice. Ah, there they are. I was starting to miss them.

Whatever serenity I might have found this morning is gone now. Shattered is my focus, and bruised is my spirit. How many punches can a Sith Lord take before he falls? The light voice tells me this sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke. The dark voice scowls and tells me I have better things to do with my time than make jokes. In that, at least, the dark voice is correct. The galaxy does not stop for one depressed Sith Lord. There are, as ever, more reports to weed through. The pile of data-cards seems to have magically reproduced itself in my absence. I am starting to believe the old myth that somewhere there is an entire mainframe devoted to the production of such tiresome things. The light voice offers that it wouldn't take long to write such a program:

[SUBMIT bleak assessment here]
[INSERT dire prediction here]
[GENERATE empty platitude here]

The dark voice growls and reminds me of my duty, both to the Empire and my Master. I sigh. Another futile noise that doesn't make it past the vocorder.

I have just received word. The Emperor is on his way. He has left Coruscant and will be arriving within the week. I knew it was coming but all the voices are shouting, Too soon, too soon! The men will have to start pulling double shifts to accomplish all that His Majesty wishes. And somehow they will do it. Somehow Jerjerrod will pull it off, just as he performed that miracle with the super laser. I know this, but the thought does not give me peace. I find myself becoming more and more empathetic with these men and it leaves me vulnerable. Like an open wound, I bleed when I hear their miserable thoughts of "I want to go home" and "I miss you, darling." I reach up to smooth the worry lines from my brow and stop only when my glove encounters plastic. How could I have forgotten? How long has it been since that happened? And why is it happening now? The light voice crows in triumph as if some obscure battle has been won. The dark voice takes an obscene amount of pleasure in quashing the light voice with a reminder-We must prepare. The Emperor is coming.

Once again I find myself in my quarters reviewing the day's events. Jerjerrod continues to infuriate but still surprise me at almost every turn. Knowing Palpatine approaches to claim his prize does nothing but fuel the hatred within me. The hate clashes violently with the thoughts that approach at incredible speed, and my mind continues to reel against the pain as the light voice plays its incessant games with my mind. The past creeps into my memory like a viper and I try to hold on to myself, but I am not sure who I am anymore. The buzz of the visitor at my door wakes me from my visions, and Padme's face once again fades into the light.

"You may enter, Commander." Jerjerrod enters swiftly and snaps to attention. He has his good points as a Commander, but he never once forgets why am I here and what I could do if necessary.

"My Lord," he begins enthusiastically, "my crews have performed admirably as you shall soon see and their work shall only improve. We will be ready."

"Are you so sure of that, Commander?" I ask, baiting him.

"Yes, my Lord," he answers with steadfast confidence. "The Emperor will not find the Death Star in the condition that was reported to him earlier."

I stare at the Commander for a few moments and realize that in this particular silence, the sound of my mechanical breath is frightening him to his core. If he stands still any longer he might snap his spine if he continues to stiffen further.

"At ease, Commander." Jerjerrod relaxes his body and takes perhaps his first breath since entering the room. "You have done well, Commander, in just the short time that I have been on this station. I now sense that you have come to ask me something that is of great importance to you."

"Yes, Lord Vader. The men need - a rest, even if it's a short one. They are working themselves to death and -"

His words go on but my mind loses track of what he is saying. Behind the mask my stare strays over to the mirror on the wall. I see myself in the stark black cage I have set for myself, but no one can see the prisoner inside. I look deep into the mirror and begin to leave my armor. I am Darth Vader, I am Anakin Skywalker, I am Darth...

"...Vader, Lord Vader?" Jerjerrod questions bringing me back to my reality. "You haven't answered my question, my Lord. Have the crews not pleased you enough?"

I turn my head from him and begin to walk slowly around the chamber. What is wrong with me? "Your crews have pleased me well, Commander. This station will be operational as planned, as long as we can concentrate on our duties."

"Yes, Lord Vader." Jerjerrod snaps back to attention and then turns on his heel to leave my quarters.

"Commander!" My words stop him dead in his tracks.

"My Lord?"

"Command your men to rest in shifts, so that the work does not suffer." Jerjerrod's face loosens almost to a smile.

"Thank you, Lord Vader, I will inform the men of your approval."

"Everyone must rest at some time, Commander, even myself." My words don't do justice to what my mind is thinking. I need to rest in my chamber. I need to drive the betrayal from my mind. Jerjerrod's face begins to widen as his eyes lighten and his face begins to blush a little. His thoughts of admiration begin to disgust me. "But remember this Commander, everyone must also have someone to answer to." This statement chases away any hint of a smile from Jerjerrod's face. "The Emperor will arrive soon. And no one will be resting that day."

Jerjerrod turns to leave, his pride turning quickly to embarrassment. He exits the door and leaves me once again alone in my cage. For an instant, I am taken back to the vision in the mirror. I am Anakin Skywalker again. Then as abruptly as it came, I am torn from the mirror and I am once again trapped in darkness. My thoughts turn toward the impending arrival of my Master.

He will be here soon. We will turn my son to the Dark Side of the Force, and then...what then? The air in my chamber becomes suitable for me to breathe and I remove my helmet once more. As I stare into the mirror, one thought keeps repeating over and over again. No one understands their role in His Empire as well as I do. No one can. We are all just puppets controlled by Him. I am just a puppet who can see the strings.

He is here. How quickly a week can pass, when the voices whisper to you through the day, and the mind sees ghosts of the past whenever it relaxes in the sanctuary of meditation. My Master, Emperor and Lord, the greatest of the Sith, is here. For days I have been preparing, trying to quell the thoughts in my head, trying to steady my mind for when I would once again be in his presence. He is strong, so much stronger than any of them would have believed, all those years ago before the purge. My mind will be like an open book to him, my thoughts as clear as water. That is why I fear his arrival. I have not feared him in so long, my offer to my son proved that, but now I have doubts, I see possibilities for the future that did not exist only a few years ago.

"Lord Vader, the Emperor's shuttle approaches."

Jerjerrod again. The man is infuriating at the best of times, though he cares for his men. Few have the courage to face me; I have ruled with an iron rod rather than a silk glove.

"Have the honor guard ready, I shall join you shortly." I realize that I am not wearing my mask, wonder if Jerjerrod has noticed, though the comm system would have disguised my voice. I reach to activate the unit that will re-seal the helmet for me, when I see my face in the mirror again. It is strange that I haven't had it removed. Always before I have said no mirrors in my chambers, and on the few occasions I have found one it has been removed and the offending officer disciplined. Now I find myself looking at it more often, tracing the scars on my face, seeing my son's eyes staring back at me, wondering if he could ever see more than the monster when he looks at me. I felt it, on my ship near Bespin. His desire, his desperate need for family. It clamors now, deep in my soul, refreshed and renewed by the light voice that hovers at the back of my mind.

I can wait no longer, my Master approaches, I can feel his presence, like a dark blot on the edge of my mind. I allow the machine to take over again, allow Anakin to be swallowed by Vader, as the mask once again encases my face, my soul. I never realized how much I had come to depend on this mask, how much of who I am is wrapped up in its dreaded appearance.

"Lord Vader, Emperor Palpatine's shuttle is on final approach."

I fasten the ties of my cape, aware that time is short, and listen to the dark voice in my head, whispering to me, showing me the truth of power, the honesty of fear. I hurry from my chambers, ready to greet my Master.

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.

"Anakin Skywalker, if you think you're going to get me in that dress, then you have been sniffing spice!" Mock-outrage, a tone I know well.

"Come on, you'd look beautiful in it." Cajoling, just this side of wheedling. I throw in some puppy-eyes, she can never resist those.

"I'd look like a Huttese slave girl!"

Is she upset? Sometimes it's hard to tell. Best to apologize... "I'm sorry, love. I... I thought it was pretty..."

Tinkling laughter, the sound of chimes blowing in the breeze.

"Oh, Anakin..." A warm embrace. She smells of rain, bread, soap - all things fresh. "What am I going to do with you?"

"Anakin, please wait! I... I have some news for you. News I thought would make you happy." Desperate, almost pleading.

"Whatever you have to say to me can wait, Padme." Impatience to be gone from this place is burning like a fire in my belly.

"Please, love." There are tears in her voice, but I ignore them. "Please, come back to me. You're so far away..."

"Padme, I don't have time for this!" I move away from her; I'm always moving away...

A whisper, "You're going to be a-" The door slams.

"You lied to me, Obi-Wan!" Hot, potent rage - the fire inside me rivals the heat of the lava, churning below us.

"Anakin, you must believe me-" Why do the weak ones always plead?

"There is no 'Anakin' here, Jedi." Scorn and disgust and everything bitter poured into that word.

"No -"

"I am Darth Vader."

"And now, Lord Vader, you are mine." Pain, so much pain, wrapping steel fingers around my mind. Searing me, worse than even the lava. Branding me.

"Yes, my Master." Something small and light died in that moment.

"There is no escape. Don't make me destroy you." That is the Emperor's wish, not mine. "Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You have only begun to discover you power. Join me and I will complete your training. With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the galaxy!" Don't you see, Luke? It's so simple...

"I'll never join you!" So much hate in that one word. So much passion. How long has it been since I have felt passion?

"If you only knew the power of the Dark Side. Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father..." She never told me I was a father, I never gave her the chance.

"He told me enough! He told me you killed him." My son's voice is scarred with pain; a pain I recognize and understand.

"No. I am your father." You are mine! I claim you! I brand you as my flesh, my blood!

"No. No. That's not true! That's impossible!" Desperate, almost pleading.

"Search your feelings. You know it to be true." Don't turn away from me, son.

"Noooo!" Something small and light died in that moment.

"Luke. You can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son. Come with me. It is the only way." Please, son, it is the only way.

Falling, falling, he's falling so far away... Empty reactor shaft. Empty heart. A feeling I know well. Is there no escape?

I come back to myself finally. The respirator wheezes too loudly in my ears and the pain that lingers in my body causes biologic and electronic circuits to overload. When my vision clears, I see that I am lying where the Emperor has left me. That was the cruelest of all punishments he could have dealt. To not only see those moments of my life, but to relive them. Simple physical pain would have been far kinder. But 'kind' is not a word commonly associated with Sith Masters. You deserved it, whispers the dark voice. What? No witty rejoinder from the light voice? Where has that part of me gone? And how can I find it again? Fool! It is because of that sniveling, cowardly little voice that you are in this mess! The dark voice is right - I am right. Me: Darth Vader. There is no 'dark voice' and 'light voice' bickering within me. Anakin Skywalker was eradicated years ago, burned away in the fires of my purification. There is only darkness. I would do well to remember that.

I have barely managed to pull myself upright and reattach my helmet when the entry chime rings. In my weakened state, it is an effort to reach out and ascertain the identity of the presence beyond the door. The timing of this intrusion makes me furious. How dare these petty bureaucrats demand so much of my time!

"Enter," I growl. The vocorder must have been jarred in the fall. My voice is not as commanding as it should be. Jerjerrod enters hesitantly, clearly wishing he had picked another time to visit.

"Milord, forgive me, but there is a small matter that requires your -"

My arm begins to raise, hand begging to clench into a fist, blood pounding, body screaming to give pain - let someone else feel it, for a change! - when I am stopped by something. I look at the man before me, really look at him for the first time in days. I notice the deep grooves of exhaustion etched around his eyes; see the waxy, sunken quality of his skin. He has aged years in a week. My rage withers slightly and my arm lowers. I have been angry with him of late, but it was anger at myself - I see that now. Anger for allowing these treacherous thoughts to overtake me, to steal my focus at this, the most critical juncture of my life. I have been unfair. Lord Vader is not one to accept mistakes, but he is also not one to repeat them. I will show him, I will show them all, that being a servant of the Empire need not be such a cruel burden.

"Commander?" He is still afraid; still waiting for the punishment he could feel coming.

"Yes, milord?"

"How long has it been since you have sent a holo to your family?" I ask, though I know well the answer. Jerjerrod is clearly shocked. Imperial protocol flies out the proverbial window as his mouth falls open and his eyes bulge in surprise. You would think I have just sprouted Toydarian wings and started flitting about the room.

"I... um, that is, I..."

"Would that be never, Commander?"

"Err... yes, milord."

"Have one sent today." The man is finally starting to breathe, drawing great gulps of air through his lips, which flap open helplessly.

"I... I'm afraid the cost is rather err... exorbitant, milord."

"Ah." Yes, of course. The Imperial Doctrine clearly stipulates the requirements for an obedient servant, but it is notoriously vague on the issue of payroll. "Funds will be provided, Commander. I expect the call to be made within the hour." If the man's face grows any paler, I will be able to see through him.

"Y-yes, milord. I will see to it at once." He salutes, a bit weakly, but I suppose such things can be overlooked at the moment. He practically stumbles from the room in his haste and confusion. No doubt he breaks into a run once the doors have closed behind him. Let at least one father be reunited with his son this day. I do not sigh. There will be no more self-pitying sighs from this Dark Lord of the Sith. I turn and my eyes fall, once again, on that damnable mirror. If not for it... I will have it removed immediately, I decide.

The mirror shatters. My fearsome visage is reflected back to me in a multitude of jagged ways. Did I do that? I had no forethought of the action, if I did. I stagger slightly. My master's discipline has exacted a price; my strength is gone. I must rest. It is only once I am trapped within the confines of my healing chamber that I realize I never allowed Jerjerrod to make his report.

I awake in my quarters and notice the glass shards laying in multiple patterns on the floor. Then I look to the wall where the mirror used to be. I destroyed it with but a thought, but are there no thoughts left to help me. Did I destroy the mirror in my sleep? Many times I have awoke to find objects flung across the room and smashed into oblivion due to my Force-nightmares. No, I remember now. The mirror insulted me by showing me my true reflection. It had to die, just like the others. I leave the various pieces of the mirror lying on the floor as a reminder of my broken life.

I find myself in the command center of the Death Star overseeing some last minute modifications. Jerjerrod is moving rapidly amongst his men making sure everything is perfect. Watching Jerjerrod, I remind myself that I never let him finish the important news that he was going to report. I will have to ask him about it later, and about his family. I decide to file this thought away for now and let the Commander do his duty. I have more pressing matters to attend to. I look up and out through the view-port of the Command center and stretch out with the Force. "Luke, where are you?" I move off closer to the view-port window and stare out into the vast sea of stars and systems. I am searching for my son, and my future. Feeling the Force flowing through me brings forth emotions I would rather not have had fill my mind, especially with Palpatine on board. I try to chase away the emotions and my memories to no avail.

I have felt the Force for as long I can remember. Even before I knew what the power was, or what it meant to possess it, I knew that I had it. When I was still a slave, I would dream of using that power to one day free the slaves and bring peace to the Galaxy. I was to bring balance. Then, and almost by accident, I was thrust into the middle of a planetary struggle that I would have had no knowledge of if it hadn't been for the Force. The Force brought him to me, I know that now. It was the will of the Force that I be "chosen", but it was the will of one man that I be trained. He saved me once, and I owe him everything. Whenever I need a dark thought to spark my destruction, I think of his death.

I move from the eastern port to the north port trying to trace his image in my mind. His memory will not die, but it's getting harder to remember what his face looks like. But there have been many faces that have passed in and out of my mind: There is the confident face of Commander Perjured as he leans over one of his officer's shoulders to adjust the long range scanner controls. There is the face of my Master who lies in darkness, grinning with the evil of the ancients as he calls me "friend", but plots the destruction of my future. There is also the scowling face of Obi-Wan as he sternly disciplines my Paean carelessness turning to peaceful serenity, as he disappears under the heat of my blade. The face of my love Padme, smiling the smile that would ignite a Rebellion, floats inside of the light emanating from the Endor moon. And finally Luke's face as he grimaces in pain upon hearing my words. I am the boy's father, but I cannot be his savior. I must obey my Master.

"Milord!" Jerjerrod exclaims breaking my trance. "We have something." I turn from the stars and see the excitement on his face.

"What is it Commander?"

"Our contacts in the Sullust system are reporting Rebel ships entering the system." The time approaches. The Rebellion must be stopped, this much is certain. But I cannot stop the future.

"How many ships Commander?"

"Unknown at this time Lord Vader, but the number of signals is increasing. If enough Rebel starships are grouping together, it could be the signs of an attack. Should we inform the Emperor?"

"No, not yet," I command as Jerjerrod's face turns to horror from the thought of keeping something from the Emperor. "We will make a full report when we know for sure what the Rebels are planning. Continue scanning and give me regular reports. I will inform him in good time Commander."

"Yes Milord!" Jerjerrod agrees as he turns to steady himself and commend his communications officer. I can't confront the Emperor now, not in my present state of mind. I need time to prepare and time to conceal my thoughts.

Jerjerrod's excitement at finding the Rebellion's fleet is infectious. I have walked these corridors for weeks and seen men cower from me, without even having to look at them. Now they walk with their heads high, no longer cowering, though the fear is still there, underlying everything as they pass. They have become brave, a feeling they will need. No matter what my Master has foreseen, the Rebellion has proven both elusive and painful. I have been meditating on his news, preparing myself to face my Master. He waits, in his throne room, his head cowled, the room dark. It is always so. I will take my place beneath him, as I have done so many times before, dropping to one knee to deliver my report. Before I can do that, I must be ready, I must be stable.

The voices are quiet now; the dark voice feels the need to talk less now that the other is gone. The darkness of my Master calls to the darkness in my soul, rejoining me in the invisible bonds between the Sith, the Master and the Apprentice. I am centered, at least more than I have been since I first heard my son's name. Luke. I wonder who gave him that name. It does not strike me as one of Naboo. No. I must focus. These thoughts weaken me, betray who I am, who I have chosen to be. There is that word again, "chosen." I remember the day when Obi-Wan first told me of the prophecy, when I first heard that there was something more to my training, more than I had been led to believe. Perhaps it was then that I first realized this was my true path. It was then that I first took the steps along the dark path.

The turbo-lift comes to a halt. I can sense my Master, he is aware of my approach. I sense others in the room with him, the sycophants, those weak men who cling to the hem of his robes, hoping to gain a little of his power. I hate these men with more passion than I have felt for anyone since Padme. The doors open to the great chamber. I see the two Imperial guards, their crimson cloaks wrapped tight about them. They stand watchful, as they always do, either side of the turbo-lift doors. I stride out, along the walkway that leads to the steps up to his throne. He is facing away from me, as he always is when I arrive. He is arrogant in his power, supremely confident that no one could hurt him in here, where he is in command. My eyes are drawn to the small congregation of men, dressed in their purple and red robes, their strange hats, whispering as I approach the throne. I wonder if they realize that through the force I hear their every word. I sometimes dream of going to them, repeating their speeches word for word, watching the fear replace the arrogance on their faces. But always I am needed elsewhere, another task for my Master.

"You have news, Lord Vader?" His voice is dry and crackles, as it has for so many years. I think of when I first heard him, long ago on Coruscant as I stood staring in wonder at that city planet. He was welcoming us, rather Amidala and her Handmaidens. No one knew then how involved he had been in everything that was happening. Even then he was making the first moves to solidify his power.

"We have located the Rebel fleet, my Master," I say, dropping to a knee as the throne turns.

"They gather in Sullust." The words are not a question, just a simple statement of fact. Again, despite all the years we have been together, he is able to surprise me.

"Yes, my Master."

"Good. Events proceed as I have planned them. Return to the Commander and have him contact the fleet. It is time to prepare the trap."

"At once, my Master."

"One last thing, Lord Vader." I pause, my mind going blank, all thoughts of my son purged, sunk, hidden, ready for the probe I know must come. "How do you feel?" My surprise is the only answer he needs. "As I thought. You are mine, Lord Vader. Never forget that. Soon, your son will join us. Prepare the fleet for the arrival of the Rebels."

"As you command, my Master."

I turn and leave, walking as calmly and slowly as I can along the walkway. I hear the whispers, the covered laughs from the sycophants to the side. Again my Master has put me through public shame to remind me who is in command. As the turbo-lift doors close, I see the throne turn away, my visit already forgotten, my words already a piece of the past.

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.

Duty returns me to the DS2 now. I feel better walking around here than I did in my bed on the Executor, the ship I use to hunt for my son. The seizures have passed now, but I have had Doctor Harreck transferred to the staff. I cannot afford to stumble now, not with the rebellion this close. I sit now in my quarters, though I am not alone. I have never really invited anyone here before. Not like this, for my own purposes, my own reasons. Jerjerrod appears uncomfortable sat in the chair opposite me. I called him here after that feeling ripped through me, that instance when I felt my son die. For too long I have listened to the dark voice within me. It's assurance's that it was my son who died seem stronger to me, stronger than the words of my former self, that part of me that still sees the Force from the haven of light.

I felt the need to talk to someone about it, and Jerjerrod is the closest I have to a friend now. Piett would not do. He serves me well, I would trust him with my burdens, but he has his own. Admiral in the fleet is enough for any man to bear.

"How may I be of service, Lord Vader?" I look into his eyes as he speaks, though he cannot know it, because my eyes are hidden once again behind this mask. I see the fear there, kept under control, suppressed. He has always shown me that strength.

"How are your family?" I gesture to the pot of coffee, using the force to pour a cup. A frivolous use of the power at my disposal, but somehow fitting of the mood I am in. My son is dead, and even with all this power I could not save him. What better use should it have now, than as a simple tool, a circus trick?

"My lord?" I sense the confusion in his mind at my words. He is nervous, his training does not give him the answers he needs for this situation.

"Your wife, and your children?"

"They are well, my Lord. I spoke to them by HoloNet as you ordered. They are looking forward to my next period of leave."

"Good." My mind wanders again, drawn back to that sensation in the Force, the disturbance I know marked my son's death, despite assurances otherwise. My son... the words sound foreign to me again, just when I had accepted them, embraced them as mine.

"You have a son?"

"Yes, my Lord, Davin, a loyal servant of the Empire. He began training only three weeks ago."

"He is your legacy for the future, Commander. Cherish him." I sense the confusion again in Jerjerrod, his mind searching for the correct path through the minefield of this conversation.

"Yes, my Lord." He pauses, and I sense he wishes to ask something. "My Lord...?"

"Speak freely here, Commander. I value your opinions." Fear again, wrapped up tightly with nervousness. What does he wish of me, what will he ask? I admit that I am unsure myself. It has been so long since I simply sat and talked with one of my men. So long since I acted as anything other than the Dark Lord.

"What of yourself, my Lord, do you have family?" I feel the question as a flash of pain on my consciousness. I realize that the entire conversation was leading to this point, where I had wanted it to be, but now we are here and my defenses are down. I am not ready to answer. I see Jerjerrod pale at my reaction, aware that I have not responded. I cannot respond. Something is happening again, deep inside, in those places in my soul I fear to tread, the home of the dark voices. Your son is dead! Your wife is dead! You are ours from now until eternity! Once you have chosen the dark path, forever will you travel it!

The cold descends again, the Vader persona, the monster I have been for so many years, takes control. I look at Jerjerrod, the pain in my heart frozen, my compassion subdued. In the recesses of my mind I hear the struggle as that piece of me in the light struggles against the, oh so many, dark voices that try to drown me.

"Commander, you are dismissed. Do not come near me again unless I call for you."

That was harsh. His head is bowed as he leaves, his presence in the Force blurred and frightened, but it was as much for his safety as my own. Something has changed in me with the loss of my son. The darkness has become stronger, feeding on my pain, my loss. Even after my Master's punishment, when I lost that other part of myself, it was not so strong. Now that the light voice has returned, I hope for balance again, for a chance to build anew, but they are stronger than before. There is something else with them, something that is not me. For the first time since I made my decision, I wonder if I could have been wrong. Was embracing the dark side the true way to achieve balance?

Even though the loss of my son is still biting at my soul, the fast approaching readiness of the Death Star has given me a new resolve. I am able to tuck the sadness away so no one feels my pain, not even the Emperor. Jerjerrod once again accompanies me on some final inspections of the work crews and their stations. I have walked these halls with Jerjerrod countless times now, and each time we walk we would discover new issues that need to be addressed. But we could not find anything this time. Even the Stormtrooper firing range left me with no unpleasant surprises. I listen intently as Jerjerrod commends his men and I casually wave away their salutes. Looking in their eyes, I can tell they can't wait to destroy our enemies. The time is almost at hand.

The inspection continues without any problems and Jerjerrod's men are to be rewarded after the Galactic War is finally over. A War that would have ended if Luke would have joined me at Bespin. Jerjerrod is addressing the Chief Super-Laser Technician when from out of the darkness an unholy but familiar voice enters my thoughts.

"Commander Jerjerrod." I announce cutting him off mid-sentence. "The Emperor is commanding me to meet with him. I am afraid we will have to continue our tour at a later time."

"Yes of course Lord Vader. I will carry on in your absence."

"I will inform the Emperor of your progress Commander. I am sure he will be most pleased. Maybe he will even join us on a tour of the facility."

Upon hearing that news, Jerjerrod smiles widely and commands his crew to snap to attention to salute me. As I turn to address the men and return their salute, Jerjerrod proceeds to straighten his rank insignia by the reflection in my helmet. I turn to face the Commander who should realize I see everything normal people cannot.

"In fact Commander, I can almost guarantee he will be joining us."

And with that, I take my leave of Commander Jerjerrod and his men and make the uncomfortable journey to my Master's chambers. Ever since my return to the Death Star I have avoided confronting him. Its usually a painful experience to begin with, an this time I fear it will be no different.

I reach the entrance to the private elevator leading to my Master's throne room. Two Imperial Crimson Guards are standing their post outside of the entrance to the elevator.

"The Emperor is expecting you, Lord Vader?" the first Guard asks knowingly.

"He has summoned me here, now allow me to pass."

The Guards move from the elevator door and I enter the small tube. I loathe the Crimson Guards for their arrogance. They believe because they are so close to the Emperor that they are above everyone, even a Lord of the Sith. They shouldn't feel so proud to be the Emperor's toys. The elevator closes and I am moving up toward his chamber.

The door opens revealing my Master's chambers. I walk toward Him and kneel as He addresses me.

"Ah, Lord Vader. Arise my friend." His words are as cold as ever. I answer with my standard greeting.

"What is thy bidding, my Master?"

"I was worried about you. I have been meaning to talk to you about your 'incident.' Tell me, Lord Vader, do you know what caused your collapse and your subsequent hospitalization aboard the Command ship?"

All he would have to do is search my mind and he would get his answer. He wants me to say it out loud so the whole universe can hear and so there will be no mistakes spoken or thought.

"I felt a great disturbance in the Force, my Master. It caused pain that triggered a seizure. But now ? I am fully functional again." Answering as if I were a simple droid.

"Well that is indeed good news my friend. What kind of disturbance was this?"

He didn't feel it! How can this be?

"I felt a light source pass over to the Force. I can only assume that it was -"

"Your son?"

"Yes, my Master."

"I have foreseen the destruction of the Alliance and My rule of every system in the known universe. I know this because I have foreseen young Skywalker will help me achieve my goal by becoming one of us."

"Yes, my Master." That is the only thing I can think to reply. I have to hold my tongue or pay the price.

"I do not believe that it was your son who has passed, Lord Vader. But if it was, and young Skywalker has perished, then it is one less thing to worry about."

He waits for a reaction from me. Anyone else would not be able to tell what my expressions were or what I am thinking behind my mask, but a Master always knows. He knows that uncertainty can be very dangerous thing to anyone. It can even turn a young man toward a life of darkness. And now that uncertainty is swimming around in my mind. The light voices say Luke is alive, while the dark voices scream he is not. All the while, my own Master is as ambivalent as ever. I dare not think what I want, not around Him. Meanwhile, He continues to taunt me.

"Perhaps what you felt was actually just the stress from the pressure you are feeling toward the completion of this battle station. I sometimes forget Lord Vader, that you are not as young as you used to be." Any other man would be dead before they hit the floor for a comment like that.

"The Death Star will be operational as you planned. Commander Jerjerrod and his men have performed to my satisfaction. They would not dare defy me."

"Nor would you defy me, old friend. If your son is dead than I will accomplish my goals regardless. But if he lives, then there is a concern. I fear you might feel conflicted on the matter."

"No, my Master."

"Good. Because your feelings for your son are strong. Be sure they don't become your downfall."

"Yes, my Master."

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.

I have retired to my quarters. The training room is being cleaned, readied for further Stormtrooper training. Jerjerrod said nothing as I left, but I could tell he was shocked. Despite my reputation, the fear I generate, some of the troops do not believe I am as potent as I used to be. I am sure Jerjerrod will spread the word of what he has seen, the devastation I caused. I am not sure it is what I want, but it will make them stronger, make them obey without thought in the future. I, no, the Empire, will have need of that soon. Of that I am sure.

Something is coming. Something profound, something galaxy defining. I have been feeling twitches in the force for days now. The words do not sit well with me. Since I was a boy, the Force has spoken to me clearly, even when I knew not what it was. When I stood before Mace Windu those many years ago, when he asked me what was on the pad, I knew what was there. I did not guess, I did not see a vision of the images on his pad, I did not sense from his mind what was before him. I knew within every cell of my body what was there. Now I catch half-glimpses, ghost impressions from what was once the most constant presence in my life. Deep inside the voices are there again. The light voice, which I had once believed to be a single point within me, is now a multitude of voices, speaking as one, unified. In contrast, the dark voices are discordant, separate, fighting between themselves as much as against the light. And behind it all is the new presence, the part that is not from me. I sense it now, stronger than before, I sense its malevolence, its source. My Master has laid claim to me in a way he has never done before. He doubts my loyalty, not only to him, but to the Dark side of the Force as well.

Behind even the darkness of my Master is something else; something I knew was there but have hidden myself away from for so long. It is a face, simple, plain. It is neither the innocent image I saw when my son died, nor the frightening image in the shattered mirror in my apartment. It is simply me, as I was when there was light in my life still. So much has gone in my life, so much has changed in me, or what is left of me, that the face seems strange, foreign. I see laughter in its eyes. In quick succession I see love followed by joy, sorrow, pain. The emotions that I went through as I grew, as I left my childhood behind and embarked on this life. The eyes look back at me, catching me unawares and for a moment I glimpse behind the eyes to the soul. The horror waiting for me there is too painful to describe, though I know it is of my own making.

The thoughts go, and the twitches in the Force subside, the voices go quiet. I am alone again. I feel like I must pant, show some form of stress for the exertion my mind has undertaken, but my suit functions as it should, controlling my breathing, regulating my body and its functions. The room is silent around me apart from the hiss of my respirator. I notice that a light is blinking on my console. Reaching out with the force, I flick the switch.

"What is it?"

"Lord Vader?" It is Jerjerrod. I sense him now, hovering outside my quarters. He is impatient, that much I can tell from a slight brush against him with the Force. At least here, its strength and knowledge have not deserted me. "The Emperor, my Lord. He has requested our presence."

I close my mind like a steel trap as his words rip through me. I should have known, should have sensed my Master's wish to see me. Even now, having been told that my Master wishes my presence, I do not sense it. Something has changed, deep inside. Perhaps the loss of my son, perhaps the war between those parts of me, but he is no longer there, no longer within me. The darkness remains, that part he placed there when he arrived on the station, but he is not. I stand, shakily at first, surprised that simply thinking would have such an effect on me. I move to the door. As it opens Jerjerrod snaps to attention, ready to do my bidding.

"Come, my Master does not suffer those that are late." I feel strange. The pain is still there, the loss of my son that gnaws at my soul, but there is something else now, something that lifts my burden a little. I wonder if it will survive my next meeting with my Master, or will he once again be able to see into my soul, and quench the remaining light.

Jerjerrod and I walk down the Death Star halls towards what awaits us, which is the same thing that has always awaited us with a meeting from the Emperor. My mind is racing as it always does and I am searching for something to stop it. The light and dark voices are still raging a war in my mind and I am not sure which side I want to win anymore.

We turn down the observation deck corridor and the long row of stargazing windows shouts at me to look their way. Often I would come here to search the stars for Luke, but since I have felt his death, I have elected to stay away. As we pass the windows I spy two individuals standing by the windows locked in what seems to be an intimate conversation. I could stretch out with the Force and hear what they speak, but instead the light voice triggers a memory from my fragile mind.

I realize I must be dreaming because the stars seem different and I am not where I should be. My beloved Padme sits across from me and we are looking enjoying a meal together. We are on the star cruiser disguised as refugees, soon after our first meeting in almost 10 years. It is the past. I am escorting her back to Naboo for her protection. She turns to face me and I continue to stare into the darkness of space.

"You are exactly the way I remember you in my dreams." The look on her face tells me that she is embarrassed. She is not used to having young men fawn over her.

"I wasn't sure if we would ever see each other again." She speaks softly and the sound of her voice washes over me like an ocean wave.

"I knew someday we would meet again. I have foreseen it."

"Ah yes, Jedi mind powers. Are you still training to be a hero?"

"I will be a Jedi soon." Then I point toward the view port out into space. "And after that I'm going to explore the entire galaxy." Padme looks down and begins to shuffle her feet.

"You seem to know what you really want in life."

"I always have."

We rise from the table and make our way to the view port looking outward into deep space. Both of us turn to gaze outward all the while feeling the tension. As we both wait for the other to turn and face one another again, we share a most comfortable silence. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice she is smiling and sneaking a glance at me. Both of us turn simultaneously to face each other and it begins.

"It has been a long time, hasn't it?" I nod my head waiting for her to continue.

"I am really happy to see you and, and to have you with me Anakin." I can tell the words are struggling to come out. She has probably never spoken them before.

"Anakin? I said -"

"I know."

"Well? Do you have anything you want to say to me?" I stare at her and squint my eyes as if trying to read something far away and her expression turns sour. "Anakin, what is it?" She looks behind her and then back at me. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong."

"Then what is it?"

"It's ? it's your eyes."

"My eyes?" Her voice softens again and she begins to blush. "What about them?"

"I didn't notice it before, but now that we are here in this moment, it strikes me. I don't think I have ever seen eyes that color before. I don't even think I have ever seen that color before." I wait for her reaction. She lowers her head from embarrassment. She keeps it lowered, but looks up at me with those perfect eyes. "Oh wait. I remember now. I have seen it after all." Having sparked her desire, she is not satisfied with my answer.

"And where would that be?"

"Master Obi-Wan and I were on Kessel a few years ago mediating a dispute with the Spice traders. It was meaningless for us to be there but we had to keep the peace. Master Obi-Wan didn't really need me there either, but it was a part of my training. One day, I became bored and wandered off past the mines and into the desert. Being there, all alone in the desert, it reminded me of my home-world." I pause and I know that she can sense my pain surrounding the word home. She begins to listen more intently and returns my fevered stare. "Later, as the Kessel sun began to go down, the sky became this incredible color. I usually don't bother with things like that, but it was amazing. I sat there in the sand watching the sunset and hoping it would never fully set. I hoped beyond all hope that I could stay in that moment forever." Padme's eyes slowly began to tear up. "After it had completely gone down, I found myself walking around in the sand, unable to quiet my mind. It disturbed me. A Jedi has no time for these things. But I just couldn't accept the fact that something had moved me the way that sunset had. I told myself that I hadn't really seen it, that it couldn't be real, that there was nothing in this galaxy that could be that beautiful. And now that I look into your eyes, I find out that I was wrong."

The tears begin to roll down her cheeks as she is taken aback. She has never heard anyone speak to her that way before.

"Anakin...I think, I think that I should go to my room now."

"I'm sorry Padme, I didn't mean to upset you?"

"I am not upset. I just need ? some time alone now that's all."

She turns to leave and I know that I have touched her deeply. She is not strong enough now to admit it, but the Force tells me that she loves me. She walks a few paces and turns around quickly not wanting to end our encounter this way.

"You have seen my eyes before, remember? All those years ago."

"You said it yourself, its been a long time. Back then you were Queen Amidala, and I was just a freed slave, remember?" She had lied to us all then, but it was for her own protection.

"Lots of things have changed since then Anakin."

"And still lots of other things have not." She pauses for a moment and wipes a tear from her face.

"I have to go."

"As you wish."

The memory is gone as quickly as it came. I am once again aboard my Master's vessel. The two individuals at the window part as abruptly as Padme and I had done then, probably from the sight of Jerjerrod and myself approaching. Any victory the light voice thinks it has won by dredging up my old life is quickly swallowed by darkness as we near my Master's chambers. Fear, anger, aggression: These are the things that lead to the dark side of the Force, and the things that drove her away from me in the end.

The voices have been silent since my vision of the past. I wait now as the lift slows its ascent to the top of my Master's spire. The doors open and I exit, Jerjerrod close behind me. The loss of the voices is strange. My vision was short, though strong with emotion. Surely they would have an opinion.

I step out of the lift, feeling fear curdle in my stomach for the first time in many years. Not the fear of my Master, or any punishment he may deem fitting for my recent lapses under his control. Rather, a fear of the unknown, a distant fear. I question again my decision to choose this path, this direction in my life.

I walk across the pit that descends to the depths of the station. My Master has always been fond of the feel of power. Even at this distance I can sense the giant reactor pulsing in the core of the station, far below. He is ahead, the man, the Master I swore myself to when I was still a young man, the man in the vision. Back then it was his vision that I followed. His view of the future was as potent as it still is now, order is what we sought, what we still seek in our daily lives. Despite the loss of my son, I will continue in my service, I will meet my obligations as I swore to this man.

He stands there, staring out into the depths of space, his presence shining a dark spectrum through the emanations of the force. To one side are the ever present lackeys, those people who attach themselves to those with power in the hope that some of it will rub off on them, stand them above the others. As I reach the platform I bow, not deeply, not with the others there, but enough to display my respect and loyalty to the man standing at the view port. I feel Jerjerrod copy my movement at my shoulder. He stands there, impassive as always, though his feelings are open to me through the force. He is nervous in front of these men, especially my Master.

"What is thy bidding, my Master?" The words are hollow through my visor, as always, but I say them with a hollow feeling inside. My Master is silent for a moment, and I wonder, despite the strangeness of the thought, if he heard me. I reach out with the Force, trying to sense his mood as I have done so often before, but there is nothing there. He is hidden from me, his thoughts closed as they have never been before.

"Send the fleet to the far side of Endor. There it will stay until called for."

He turns and walks towards me as my thoughts dwell on his words. I am unsure, confused. Such a basic task does not require my presence. Any senior officer of the fleet could secure the ships to the far side of the moon. Admiral Veers, a trusted man, would be more than capable. What is my Master hiding from me, what are his thoughts? Why does he seek to move the fleet when the Rebels are so close?

"What of the reports of the Rebel fleet massing near Sullust?"

The question is beneath me, and I regret asking it as soon as the words leave my mouth. His silence in the Force is deafening to me, leaving me bewildered. He has closed himself to me so completely.

"It is of no concern. Soon the Rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us."

Young Skywalker? I feel rage well inside of my instantly. I feel it swelling up and spinning out of control through the Force. Surely my Master can sense this in me, sense the darkness, the anger. Young Skywalker. There is no young Skywalker, my son is dead, I felt him die. My Master, so strong in the Force, so receptive to its tiny whispers, must have felt it. But he wasn't sure it was Luke who had passed. But I am sure. Who else could it have been? So why does he mock me like this? He stands there, perhaps awaiting a response, a reaction, but I cannot give him one. I do not know what it is he seeks. I feel his eyes upon me, boring into me.

"Your work here is finished, my friend. Go out to the command ship and await my orders."

Dismissed. As simply as that, he has dismissed me. He mocks the loss of my son, and then dismisses me. The anger continues to roil inside of me, threatening to break free.

"Yes, my Master."

I bow and turn away. I am desolate inside. Everything is changing. The world, my world that expanded so far when I discovered the name of the boy who destroyed the Death Star, is collapsing, folding in on itself. Even the voices remain silent inside me. What does this mean? I walk without purpose towards the lift shaft and the trip to the command ship. Beyond it all, in the eye of my mind, I sense the feeling of approaching destiny, a fate that beckons me towards it. I do not know whether that fate is one I would choose myself, but I must face it. Why do I feel this way? And what does my Master sense that forces him to hide his will from me?

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.

It looms over the Endor moon like a curse, but despite all its glory I still balk at the Emperor's prize. I prefer the comfort of The Executor over the coldness of the Death Star. I gaze out of the command ship's window into space at the mass of metal and technology and I can't stop thinking of the destruction it can cause and how one day machines like the Death Star could populate the galaxy and rule the universe. The Emperor has told me that some of the Governors would like to fully automate the next Death Star and have it run by droids. There will be no need for Star Destroyers or the crews to run them. There will be no room for men like Jerjerrod or Piett, or even me. Of course the machine I've become has all but replaced the man that I once was.

A vibration begins to stir in my mind and it breaks my concentration on the Death Star. It is a tremor in the Force. I have felt this tremor before, but I never expected to feel it again. The tremor grows stronger and morphs into a bright shining light in my mind. The light becomes brighter, and brighter still as if it were approaching. Encased in my black shell, no one can see my expression or sense my excitement, and I prefer it that way. I turn from the window and walk down the row of controllers to where Admiral Piett is leaning over the screen of a controller tracking an approaching Imperial shuttle. Piett straightens as I arrive.

"Where is that shuttle going?" Piett looks at me and then leans toward the comlink.

"Shuttle Tydirium, what is your cargo and destination?"

Even through the filtered comlink, I recognize the voice that answers and it confirms all that I have felt with the Force.

"Parts and technical crew for the forest moon." It's the Pirate. I last saw him in the hands of the bounty hunter headed for Jabba the Hutt. On Bespin, the Pirate did his part in helping the Empire acquire my son, and now he's doing it again. Piett looks to me for a reaction.

"Do they have a code clearance?" I ask suspiciously, my heart growing despite its black prison.

"It's an older code, sir, but it checks out. I was about to clear them."

I look up stretching out with the Force. I feel him and a plan begins to formulate in my mind. Luke IS alive and he's on that shuttle. I can feel it. This time there is nowhere for him to escape.

"Shall I hold them?"

"No. Leave them to me. I will deal with them myself."

"As you wish, my lord." Piett turns to the controller, "Carry on."

The controller fumbles with the switch. I sense he is relieved that he is not on that shuttle. He opens the channel and instructs the Rebels.

"Shuttle Tydirium, deactivation of the shield will commence immediately. Follow your present course."

The controller looks up to Piett who then looks to me.

"The shuttle has resumed its course, my lord. Will you be following them to Endor?"

"Not yet. I have to inform the Emperor that we have guests. I will be returning to the Death Star immediately, Admiral. Bring my shuttle."

Piett nods and rushes off to begin the preparations for my return trip to the Emperor. I hate going back there because I didn't want to be in his presence again so soon. But Luke being alive and this close to me is the only thing that could tear me away from my ship now. I walk back to window and follow the shuttle down to the surface with my eyes. The pride swells within me as I realize that once again I am a father. Soon, my son. Soon we shall be together again. I will find you down there, its only a matter of time. But what then? My pride gives in to fear as I ponder what will happen next. The Emperor wants my son also. He wants Luke to join us, but there can be only two, a Master and an Apprentice. He will join with me, or die.

I can sense the mag-con field as the shuttle passes through it and out of the primary bay of the Executor. My strength in the force, and my understanding of the universe I live in, were always a source of wonder to the Jedi I studied with in the Jedi Temple when I visited with Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan. I say that name now with no hatred. When I struck him down aboard the original Death Star, before I knew about my son, the anger in me raged. Now, I think of him almost fondly, as fondly as I can, steeped in the Dark Side of the Force. My searches have told me that he was the one who took my son away, took him to live with the Lars. I think that it was for the best. He would never have survived the intrigues of the Imperial court as my son. I never thought to go to the Lars, even when I was chasing the rebels all those years ago. I found out about their deaths through an old Imperial report. I felt a moment of loss when I realized they were gone. Another piece of that old life, sucked away from the machine I have become.

We pass through the shield that envelops the Death Star II, that great sphere of energy that is nothing compared to the infinite Force that binds the universe together. I feel excitement bubble inside of me, as if I was a child again. My master was right. What I had thought were words to mock me, were in fact reassurance, words to comfort me and to let me know my son is truly alive. I reach out again, towards the surface of the planet, towards that bright light in the Force that is my son. He is down there, working with his Rebel comrades, seeking a way to defeat the Empire here as they did above Yavin IV. This time I sense it will be different. I have never been as sure of the future as my Master is. His visions have been proven true so many times.

"We will be docking in a few moments, my Lord."

The words pull me from my thoughts and I glance up at the view port. The docking bay on the station looms huge before me. I sense my Master's presence, ensconced in his tower, that dark parody of the Jedi Council chambers that once inhabited the glorious Imperial City, Coruscant. I wonder if he is aware I am coming. He ordered me away, and my return will surely upset him, but my son's arrival is news he must know, news I must deliver. My thoughts return again to the future. I see my son, standing with me in the presence of my Master. I feel the hope in my chest. There can be only two, a Master and an Apprentice. Perhaps now he will join with us. Should he accept his destiny, Palpatine will fall and we will rule this galaxy together, as we were destined to do: Father and Son, Master and Apprentice. We will at last bring order to the chaos, as I always intended.

The difference between my past arrivals on the Death Star and my current one are like night and day. My prior visits were for duty's sake, and brought with it the ceremony that I deserve as the Lord of the Sith, and the apprentice to my Master. But this time, the trip here is devoid of pompous diplomatic ceremony. This time, the trip is for me, and me alone. I am here to tell the Emperor that his most cleverly laid plans might come to an end at hands of the Rebels. There is no one but Commander Jerjerrod and a handful of Stormtroopers awaiting my descent from the landing platform of my shuttle. He was not expecting me to return, and neither was my Master. I exit my craft and manage to scare the hell out of the Stormtroopers' one-track mind and the minds of the docking bay station crew. Only Jerjerrod's mind is steady. He is used to being in my presence from the time we spent together while we oversaw the completion of the Death Star's systems. He does seem however, a little a bit nervous, perhaps even excited at my sudden return. I read his mind and he continues to surprise me.

"Lord Vader, welcome back. Have you returned to witness the maiden firing of the Death Star's Superlaser?"

"I was not aware you were preparing for its testing?"

"The Emperor feels it is time for the test since the crews and all of the systems are ready. We will make this station fully operational as planned."

I can sense the pride in his statements. We've all done our parts to make this station work the way it is supposed to. Even though Luke destroyed the first Death Star, I will not give him the opportunity to do it again.

"I am pleased Commander, very pleased by this news. But no, I am here to see the Emperor about a different matter."

"I will inform the Emperor of your arrival then, my Lord."

"Don't bother, Commander."


"He IS the Emperor, Commander, and he probably already knows."

I leave the Commander's salute empty as I turn and hurry for my date with destiny. I walk down the halls of the Death Star, noticed by everyone but not speaking to a soul. If only they could see what was coming their way. The beginning of the end has arrived, and everyone involved on either side of the Force is at risk of losing.

I reach the Emperor's Tower and find the corridor leading to the elevator to his new Throne Room. I walk along the row of observatory windows again and a vision of Padme dressed as she was then, and staring into space fills my peripheral vision. I slow my pace to a crawl as I pass this vision, and she turns from the Endor Moon to look at me. Our eyes meet and I am certain that she can see me through my shell. "I'm on my way to collect our son, my love." I say to her with my mind. But as a silent tear skates down the side of her cheek, the vision slowly fades away. My pace picks back up as the glass of the windows gives way to the dark metal of wall of the entrance to the elevator. The two Imperial Crimson guards are standing there, as usual, fulfilling their duty. But duty means nothing to me at this point.

"Halt!" The first guard says taking a step in my direction. "The Emperor does not wish to be disturbed at the moment."

There have only been a handful of creatures in this universe that have survived an encounter with me, and Luke is not going to wait forever. I have precious little time to waste on the likes of them. I raise my gloved hand toward the guards and their lungs begin to tighten. They both clutch at their throats and gasp for the air that won't come. Their bodies begin to writhe violently.

"The Emperor will see me, now!" I command as I slowly release the tightening on their lungs, neck, and throat.

"The Emperor will see you, now."

The first guard says, repeating my command. The Force works well on the feeble-minded, Obi-Wan used to say, and this time was no different. They both fall in either direction around the door, creating a path for me to enter. I step over their still-writhing bodies and decide that I will release them from their pain all in good time. Why shouldn't they suffer? I have suffered all these years and even though I am closer than ever to the light, the constant dark reminder of pain draws a smile behind my mask. The elevator door closes in front of me and I once again await my Master.

"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?

"Yes, Master."

"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.

I can't remember exactly when I began to hate the Death Star, or rather, when I began to hate what it represented. The first Death Star irritated me because its creators challenged the Force with it. I should have been in charge, but Tarkin wouldn't have it. This new Death Star irritates me because I was given command of it. Jerjerrod commanded the men, but I commanded him and I oversaw its completion. I turned this ball of metal and glass into a machine of destruction. I feel how Palpatine must have felt as he was molding Anakin Skywalker into what I have become. Anakin. Just saying that name burns what is left of me.

As the Endor Moon grows wider in the view-screen of my personal shuttle, I stretch out with the Force. I feel him down there somewhere. My Master told me that he would come. Luke would seek me out as I have spent the last few years seeking him. I asked Luke to joined me once, but he preferred the vastness of space as he jumped off that tower on Bespin. I thought I had lost him then. I also thought I'd lost him when I felt that light pass over to the Force. But I was wrong. I feel him down there and I'm not going to lose him this time.

"Lord Vader." The pilot does not like to be in my presence. I can sense this. "We have clearance to land on the shield generator platform. We should touchdown in a few moments."

"Thank you, Captain. I am anxiously awaiting to see what our troops on the Endor Moon have brought for The Emperor."

"The last report I received was negative, sir."

"Trust me Captain. Now land the ship."

"Yes my lord."

I can't carry on a conversation with the pilot and continue to fight off the light voices that have slowly reappeared since I discovered Luke was alive. They tell me things I don't want to hear. But the dark voices are still strong and they fight them back into the corners of my mind. I must be strong when I face him. Only the dark side of the Force can bring him to me freely. And only together can we end the conflict and bring peace. A Master and his Apprentice, ruling the Galaxy as father and son.

We make our final preparations to land at the Imperial Death Star Shield Installation and the light I have been sensing since The Executor grows incandesant. He is here and he is waiting for me just like The Emperor said he would. The Dark side of the Force lets him see this. Why wouldn't it let me see that Luke was still alive? Am I losing touch with it?

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.

Standard Operating Procedure for transport of an Imperial prisoner dictates the prisoner be restrained to prevent escape attempt. Corellian nerve gas is the preferred method, but stunned by an Imperial Stormtrooper's blaster is more commonly used. Choosing to ignore procedure, as is my right, I decide Luke will not succumb to these tortures. I do not want the Emperor's prize damaged. That was the reason the Pirate was frozen first on Bespin. Luke later rescued him from Jabba the Hutt, and then, the Pirate brought Luke back to me.

I also do not want Luke to appear before the Emperor with a disadvantage, the disadvantage of not having a clear mind. He will need all of his defenses when he faces the Emperor. Now that I think back on it, I probably should have at least rendered him unconscious. The ship begins to rock gently and slows down.

"What is the meaning of this? Captain? What is-" The light chases away my words and realization sets in.

"Lord Vader, I can't maintain control of the ship!"

The pilot drones on about buttons being pressed by themselves and courses being altered, but I already know what is happening. From his cell aboard this shuttle, Luke is using the Force to prolong the inevitable. The shuttle begins to slow to a halt, and I believe this has gone on long enough. We will arrive at the Death Star soon, and I cannot have this conflict. I close my eyes and stretch out with the Force ? the disruption ceases. The shuttle is once again flying smoothly and heading toward Luke's destiny.

"Lord Vader, helm control is restored. We will be landing momentarily."

"Of course, Captain. Have the guards double the post on our prisoner." Not that that would do any good really. Luke is using the power that he was born to wield. Should I be proud of his depth of control, or should I be frightened at how powerful he has become?

"We must have passed too close to the tail of a fallen comet back there, or something?"

"Or something."

The Force flows through Luke unfettered by hate. He is one of the most powerful sources I have felt since before the Wars, and before this suit. I can feel the light from him growing stronger as he calms his mind, and meditates the way Obi-Wan undoubtedly taught him. I enter his mind without him noticing. That is the way the Emperor and Dark Side have taught me.

He is thinking hard about me, and how I became his unimaginable parent. If he only knew the hurt I have suffered and the pain that I have risen above. He is also trying to get into my mind. He has learned much about The Force since last we met. I block out his probes, but he can still sense my presence. His thoughts turn dark as I shut him out. He wonders why I have not overthrown the Emperor during my tenure as his apprentice. The Dark Side is too powerful to fully understand, and Palpatine is the only being I had ever encountered who has completely mastered it. If I had crossed the Emperor then, I would have suffered terrors that Luke would not even dared to imagine.

I cannot destroy the Emperor now because of the conflict within me. The battle of the Light and the Dark Side rages on, shouting in my mind with their terrible voices. Some Jedi Knights have passed over completely to the Dark Side, engulfed in its hatred and madness. I was once right there with them. But now, I am torn between the voices in my head, my loyalty to my Master, and the missed years I could have spent with my son.

You cannot destroy a Sith Master, because there can be only two, no more, no less. A Master cannot pick a new apprentice, without first disposing of his present one. And that is what the Emperor intends to do to me. The Emperor has foreseen Luke's destiny. He can kill him. And then I can turn myself away from the treachery of the voices in my head.

The shuttle docks and a squad of Stormtroopers awaits us as we walk down the ramp to the deck. Four guards escort Luke toward the dark grasp of Palpatine. I follow closely behind, and try unsuccessfully to quiet my mind. As we reach the bottom of the ramp, the squad leader checks Luke's mag-binders for security and Jerjerrod leads the way to the Emperor's tower.

The familiarity of the halls of the Death Star fill Luke's mind, and I see it all. The memories come washing back to him and I see how Luke and his comrades raided the first Death Star. The shock of horror at watching me strike down our teacher fills his memory with sadness and anger. No wonder he hated me. He clears away his thoughts and prepares to do battle with evil. I can sense his apprehension and the fear that follows.

As we approach the elevator to the Emperor's throne room, we pass the windows once more. I shut out the recurring image of Padme, standing by the glass. I don not have time for those feelings right now. But she would have been proud of him, of this, I have no doubt. The Stormtroopers stop just in front of the elevator and Luke and I go on alone. There will be only the three of us in that room.

The Crimson Guards move quickly aside, not wanting to incur my wrath again, as we file into the elevator on our way to meet my Master. He is waiting for us as he sits in his black tower conspiring. The Emperor will meet his destiny: My son, my future.

There are moments in your life that seem to last for an eternity. I have been fortunate enough that there have been very few instances for me with the life I have led. One such moment was that fateful day when I followed Qui-Gon into the deserts on the outskirts of Mos Espa. As I walked away from my mother, time slowed, and each stepped seemed to last for hours. Now is another one of those moments.

The journey to my Master's chambers is normally rapid,the lift traveling up to the tower at a speed that would crush a man were it not for the protection systems. Yet now, it seems to travel an inch for every hour I stand here. We are alone, my son and I. The voices in my head are a storm, any meaning lost in the battle that rages there. He is dressed in black, a single glove on his right hand. I cannot help but see the symbolism there. The hand I took, the blow I placed to remove the threat of his attacks. Covered now in black, much like my own. I wonder how he has come to accept the cold, impersonal nature of the replacement. Does he hunger for the feel of flesh against flesh when he uses that hand to touch people, or has he become used to the artificial impression the hand creates in his mind.

"It is not too late, even now."

The words distract me from my thoughts. My eyes rise from his hand to his face, to see him staring into the mask that covers my eyes. Somehow I know he sees me. The Force is raging through him as he speaks, futilely trying to persuade me again from my chosen path.

"It was always too late. My Master will teach you that."

The words are cold, and harsh, but I am sure they are the right ones. The Dark Side is powerful, and my son must come to understand that, to accept his destiny alongside me. My Master will teach him that I am the right choice. That he must join with me.

"I sense conflict in you, Father. Why do you fight me? I know you can change. Embrace the good that lives within you."

"What good existed has long since been destroyed, my son. Accept your destiny."

He goes silent again, that brooding look upon his face. I see the damage on his skin, and I wonder what caused it. The scar is old, perhaps a year, maybe longer. I try to slip into his thoughts, to see for myself, but he has learned that already from our trip in the shuttle. There are blocks there, shields within the Force that are stronger than I imagined. For an instant I am proud, the pride that comes from knowing your child will one day exceed your own accomplishments. Suddenly, the moment is over as the lift comes to a gentle stop at the top of the tower. I sense the guards standing just on the other side of the doors come to attention.

"We are here, my son. Now, you will understand the true nature of the Force."

The doors open and I step forward with my son to face what destiny has chosen for us.

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 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.

Pride wars with humiliation in my soul as I fight my son. His skills have improved vastly since the last time we fought on Bespin. Then he was raw, unsure of himself and his abilities. Now, he is focused. The surge of anger I felt from him when he struck at my Master, when I responded without thought, has slipped away. It still hovers below the surface, a stream that he could tap if only he would let himself.

His blade moves through the forms smoothly, pushing me, testing my own skills, my own limits. I realize I am rusty, I have not fought against an opponent so skilled in a long time. I killed the last of the Jedi so many years ago now. His blade comes close again, forcing me backwards, towards the steps that lead to the lift shaft we arrived in. I block his next strike, an overhead blow that forces me a step back. The strike blinds me to his second attack, the rising boot that catches me on my chest, knocking me down the stairs. In that moment, the fight has changed. For the first time in years, an involuntary noise escapes my mouth as I tumble head over heels towards the bottom of the stairs, desperate not to catch myself with my blade.

Above me, Luke stands ready, his saber in a guard position, it's vibrant green glow piercing my eyes even through the filtered lenses. Behind him I see my Master, his mouth drawn back in an evil smile, his cackle echoing through the air.

"Good. Use your aggressive feelings, boy! Let the hate flow through you."

I struggle back to my feet as Luke looks between my Master and me. I sense a new calm in him, a strength beneath his visage. He stands up from the guard position, de-activating his lightsaber. I am surprised that he can be so calm, so sure of himself after such a short period of time since our last meeting.

"Obi-Wan has taught you well."

I sense something from my son, something I am unsure of. My words to him were wrong somehow. I am not sure why. Whatever else, Obi-Wan showed him the truth of the light side of the Force, succeeded where he failed with me. Keeping my blade ready, I approach my son a step at a time. For the first time I consider the possibility that he cannot be turned, that he will not give in to the Dark Side as I did. For the first time, I realize that he may not join with me in destroying my Master and ruling the galaxy.

"I will not fight you, father."

Every time he uses that word it sends a shock through me. As I come closer he backs away, towards the upper platform where my Master sits. I sense the danger in the moment. My Master's anger is growing as this fight does not progress to his design. Luke is resisting the darkness in the room better than either of us had thought. I know I must do something to stall my Master's reaction that must surely come.

"You are unwise to lower your defenses."

I swing, knowing as the blade moves that Luke will be ready. His blade appears in an instant, rising to block my attack. Several swift moves pass between us before we pause again, our blades interlocked, sizzling along their lengths where they touch. I know I cannot wait for him to attack; it is not in his nature. I strike again, testing his defenses. Each swing is blocked easily. I wonder again how Obi-Wan could have taught him so much before he died.

Our blades lock again, and I feel the Force flowing through Luke, augmenting his strength. I find it impossible to move his blade as I struggle against him. I sense the surge of the Force through him as he forces my blade aside, stepping past me to somersault onto one of the control console stations. I turn to pursue, but he uses the Force to propel himself to one of the overhead walkways that litter this chamber, de-activating his lightsaber as he lands. Despite everything that is happening I am impressed.

"Your thoughts betray you, father. I feel the good in you...the conflict."

"There is no conflict."

I do not wish to lie to my son but my Master is close, and his will strong. My son is wary; I can sense that as he crosses the platform. He believes what he says, that much I can tell, but there is something else beneath that. I sense a little of his fear, running below the surface, hidden but there.

"You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before, and I don't believe you'll destroy me now."

Behind me I sense my Master rising from his chair, his anger palpable in the air. Again, he is forcing me to take the path I do not wish to follow.

"You underestimate the power of the dark side. If you will not fight, you will meet your destiny."

I know my Master is close, using his considerable mastery of the dark side of the Force to try and influence this fight. I need time, time to give Luke a chance to see the truth of what I am offering him. Using the Force to maintain the pressure on the power switch of my lightsaber, I throw it, intent on collapsing the walkway he stands on. Sparks fly as the support beam is cut through, and the walkway falls sending Luke flying off the end into the darkness below the stairs. My Master laughs behind me as he comes closer to my position.

Calling my lightsaber back to my hand, I walk down the stairs, my heart heavy. Neither my son nor I are ready yet for this fight. My Master knew this, I understand that as I hear him following behind me. He must have known of my plans all along. He does not take chances. He knew that if Luke had been given more time, then he, my Master, would have been the true casualty of this fight.

I activate my lightsaber as I descend into the darkness, my Master following close behind me.

"Good, good."

His words echo through my mind as I reach out in the Force, attempting to find my son and continue a fight I do not wish to continue.

The darkness in the depths under my Master's chamber echoes the darkness in my heart as I search for my son. Nothing has gone as I hoped in this meeting. My only consolation is that my Master's plans are not going exactly as he had foreseen.

"You cannot hide forever Luke." The words are meaningless, a way to connect, a path to Luke that the Force can follow.

"I will not fight you." His response is strong, but a mistake. The words do not let me know where he is, but they open the path I needed. I can feel him again, his brightness glowing, his feelings open.

"Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends."

My thoughts have force this time. It was to save those that I loved that I went over to the Dark Side. Perhaps my son would follow the same path. I can feel his love pulsing through the Force. The Pirate, the Wookiee, the Princess.

"Yes. Your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong." I can sense his need to push those feelings away, but they are focused instead on the Princess. His mind is centered on her. "Especially for..."

Something changes in his presence, an additional light in the force that echoes him. My heart soars as I make the connection. I have a daughter as well. As the realization dawns in me, my thoughts are dragged back four years to that day on the original Death Star. I see the cowering Princess before me in the holding cell. My mind shies away from what I did to her. I am a monster that I could perform those acts on my own child, knowingly or not.

Above me I sense my Master. He feels my hesitation, my confusion. I know he will intervene soon. I know of only one path available to me now. It was my love for my wife that drove me to the Dark side. Perhaps Luke's love for his sister will drive him to me. I must push him beyond his limits or lose him.

"Sister! have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete."

I can feel him trembling on the edge. I hate to twist the knife with mention of Obi-Wan, but I am desperate for him to turn. The fear and hate is flowing through him. I need only unleash his anger and he will be mine.

"If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will."


Luke's presence in the Force is suddenly blinding as he attacks, his emerald blade crashing at me out of control. He has let his anger escape, rage at me. I feel fear, fear for my life. He is so much stronger than I could have ever believed. The Dark side is flowing through him, lifting him, enveloping him. The light voice in my mind cries out in despair at the sight as the dark ones crow in triumph, but I cannot listen. My concentration is on the fight as he forces me back further and further.

We approach the lift shaft, his blade battering against my defenses, his mind battering my will. I lose my balance, slip, catching myself on the rail. He does not hesitate, and suddenly pain rips through me as the fake nerves in my robotic arm register the loss of my hand. I scream in pain, the damage affecting my respirator as my breath comes in short gasps. My son stands over me, bathed in darkness, as my Master approaches, laughing.


My son turns to face him, and I sense the darkness ebb a little, as if he has seen something he does not like in himself.

"Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!"

I sense the waves of power coming from the Emperor. Strange, that is the first time I have called him that in the privacy of my mind. Always he has been my Master. Luke wavers before him, turning back to look at me. He sees my hand where he has cut it away and looks back at his own. I know he is remembering the fight on Bespin, when I took his away. I feel the darkness fade from him, replaced by an even stronger light than before. I know in that instance that he will never be turned. He de-activates his lightsaber and throws it away from him, turning to face the Emperor. I can feel nothing but pride as he stands there strong and straight.

"Never!" That word rings in my ears, and I wish I had been strong enough to utter them when I had faced my own choice between the light and the dark. "I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me."

My heart soars at his words. Despite the darkness, despite my acts of cruelty and evil, he sees only his father, the Jedi. My attention is drawn to the Emperor in that moment. I can feel the waves of anger and hatred roiling about him. I know what is to come for my son. I have felt it before.

"So be it...Jedi."

The venom in those words sends a chill down my spine, as fear rears within me again, this time for the life of 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 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.

I am in the one place I have longed to be for a long time: In Luke's arms. He is holding me with all of his might, and his love for me is certainly the only thing keeping me alive at this point. My mechanical parts are damaged beyond repair, and what is left of my flesh is giving out by the second. Keep holding me son, keep me here in this moment.

The dark voices in my head in silent mourning, while the light voices rejoice in the glory of The Force. They repeat the passages of my life to me and I realize that this can only mean the inevitable has arrived. The past rushes by me like the sandstorms of Tatooine heading toward the light denied, but have always clung to.

"Are you an angel?"


"An angel. They live on moons of Iego, I think. They are the most beautiful creatures in the universe. They are good and kind, and so pretty they make even the most hardened space pirates cry like small children."

"I've never heard of angels."

"You must be one of them. Maybe you just don't know it."

"You're a funny little boy. How do you know so much?"

The scenes of my life play by and I struggle to hold on. I was an innocent once, like Luke is now. I met the woman of my dreams and she bore me children; A son who has risked everything for me and a daughter I only knew when she was in agony. The steps I have taken in my life should have been different.

"What will happen to me now?"

"Council has given me permission to train you. You will be a Jedi, I promise."

Did the Jedi take me away from her? I had to become one and when I did ? our lives drove us apart. The space station begins to rock with violent explosions. The Rebels have been successful in their attempt to destroy the world-hating Death Star. Luke senses the victory also, and he stands up pulling me to him. The armor makes me heavier than even he imagined. But once I shed this cage, I shall be free. Why didn't I stay with her?

"You've seen my eyes before, do you remember?"

"You said it yourself, Padme, its been a long time. Back then you were Queen Amidala, and I was just a freed slave, remember?"

"Lots of things have changed since then Anakin."

"And still lots of other things have not."

And even after I found her again, our bonds were broken by honor and duty.

"Anakin, please wait! I... I have some news for you. News I thought would make you happy."

"Whatever you have to say to me can wait, Padme."

"Please, love. Please, come back to me. You're so far away..."

"Padme, I don't have time for this!"

"You're going to be a -"

She never had a chance to tell me. Actually, I never gave her the chance because of my duty. Duty always came first in the beginning. I eventually slammed the door on Padme and our love because of my so-called duty. My duty to the Force, my duty to the Jedi, and my duty to my Masters.

"If you strike me down, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

I have killed many people during the course of my lifetime, each one easier to forget than the last, but Obi-Wan's memory will always haunt me. I killed all of those people because of another duty: Duty to the Dark Side and to the Emperor. I have been performing my duties all my life. First to Watto, then to Obi-Wan, and finally for Palpatine. Now all of them are gone, and its just me and Luke. His voice echoes in my memory.

"I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you."

"No! That's not true! That's impossible!"

"You failed your Highness. I am a Jedi. Like my father before me."

Parts of the station are beginning to catch fire and explode as Luke carries me out of my Master's ? out of the Emperor's ? chambers. He is no longer my Master. I am finally free.

Luke, I am fading fast. I can no longer tighten my grasp on the physical world. I don't know how much longer I can hold out, Luke. Help me! He answers my mental pleas as we approach my shuttle. Luke lies me on my back, and the remainder of my internal mechanisms fail. I am slipping away, but I can't go without one final request from my son.

"Luke. Help me take this mask off." I manage to say. Speaking is next to impossible in my present condition. He looks at me with his perfect circles of blue. I was an innocent once.

"But you'll die." His voice is rich with fear. He doesn't want me to go, but I know we can no longer be together in this life.

"Nothing...can stop that now. Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes."

He understands my need. He wants to see my face almost as much as I want him to see it. I can't go before seeing him unaided by technology and evil. He reaches to my helmet and carefully lifts it from my faceplate. A loud hiss escapes from my sealed cage and I breathe in the untreated air of the landing bay. Explosions shake the space station further to its core, but thanks to Luke, I am unaffected and finally locked in this moment.

I have done unspeakable things to people over the years, including my own family. I have been an agent of evil for so long, I have forgotten what it was like to be anything else. Luke's reaction to my true form gives me the last comfort I will enjoy. Even after everything I have done, he still feels proud to be my son. I realize something in that moment. It wasn't the Jedi that drove me away from everything after all. I was just not ready for the burden of being who I was supposed to be.

"Now...go my son. Leave me." I am journeying farther into the abyss.

"No. You're coming with me. I can't leave you here. I've got to save you."

"You already have, Luke." A thousand times over, son. I am free of my Master, free of the Dark Side, and free from the life of corruption I have lead. "You were right about me. Tell your sister you were right."

It takes the last of my strength to hold myself in the moment. I can't sustain myself any longer. The dark voices scream in anguish as my eyes stop focusing and my lungs shut down. They push the light aside and race from the corners of my mind in a vain attempt to converge on my spirit. They surround my soul and cling for dear life as I pass from this one. The black coverings of the dark voices shatter as the Darkness gives way to the Light and I pass into the Force.

"Father...I won't leave you." Luke pleads as my body laxes from his grip and rests gently on the ramp of the shuttle. His spirit is crushed, but mine is finally released.

I pass into the light and the Force embraces me once more with a warmth I haven't felt since I was a young man. I feel Luke crying as he watches his father die. I can't think of how much of a waste death is. And how much more we could have accomplished together if he would have joined me. But he was always pure. Palpatine was wrong. Lukes destiny wasn't the same as mine as the Emperor had foretold. Luke was destined to live. I love you, son. I might have lived my life as Darth Vader, but thanks to you, I died as Anakin Skywalker.

Obi-Wan, if you are out there I just wanted to say I am sorry for everything I've done. I know that no apology can wipe away the magnitude of terror I have unleashed on this galaxy, but I am sorry nonetheless. I ask only for the judgment of the Force. I can't stop thinking of my wasted life. I could have been a father, but instead I was a puppet. But now, I am free and The Evil is banished. The Prophecy has come true at last, and The Chosen One is coming home.

I have passed. I know this. How? The cessation of pain, fear, anger, and heartache are gone, as are the electronic nerves that have supplied me with my feelings for so long. In its place is darkness that blots out the light.

I am here, unrecognizable, a being of light as the Jedi were once described to me. I can sense the Force, running like a river through the darkness, but I cannot see it, I cannot approach it. No one will never know the peace of that embrace. I would shiver if I still had a body. I recognize that voice, that hiss in the darkness. I feel the shadow in the Force, it's shape and form so well remembered.

"You are mine, Skywalker, now and forever."


The word has no sound, but my will gives it strength. My light flares a little brighter, illuminating the edges of the shadow. No more. I am free, my son has saved me. Has he? You are a fool, Skywalker. Once you have trodden the dark path, forever will it dominate you. You cannot go back. That hissing voice echoes through my spirit, dimming my light again, forcing me further from that flow I feel in the distance.

"Kneel to me, my apprentice. We are not done with this galaxy yet. We shall return."

I feel the need to go to that shadow, to kneel before it as I have so many times before. My light dims further and I feel myself falling, much as I did on the edge of the molten pit so many years ago. I reach out, trying to feel for my son. Yes, he is there. He stands alone, on the forest moon, his hair whipped by wind as he watches a great fire. I realize then that it is my pyre, my funeral, my release. He seems lost, alone, tired.


My denial is weaker now, my realization of the loss he is feeling dragging me further down towards the darkness. I see the shadow looming larger before me, towering above me.

"You must forgive yourself, Ani."

The darkness is gone. Instead I stand in a room, a funeral pyre much like the one my son holds for me burning. I see the little boy I was, standing between the Jedi, looking up at Obi-Wan. I see Palpatine, before he seized power, before he trapped me, standing, watching.

"It was my fault, Ani. I should never have left you."

I turn, towards the voice, towards the glowing image that stands before me. He has not changed from the man I remember. The rugged, bearded face; the long, tied back hair; the roguish smile that tempts the corners of his mouth, even when he is serious.

"Master Qui-Gon." The phrase is familiar, and trips naturally from my tongue.

"No, Ani, I am not your Master. I wished to be your friend, to guide you in understanding the burden the Force chose to push on you, but I was not strong enough for the task. I underestimated the power of the Dark Side and the Sith. We had not faced them for so long."

"I have missed you."

Qui-Gon steps closer to me, his hand reaching out to rest on my shoulder, and suddenly I am the little boy again.

"Come, Ani, you must forgive yourself. You must accept the guilt and move past it, only then can you come home."

Home. The word echoes through my spirit, and this time I have a body, or the image of a body, to shiver in. My mind turns to my mother. I feel the old pain again. Even I cannot visit those memories. Instead, I force my mind down another path, to the days in Mos Espa, before Padme, before Qui-Gon. I remember stories in the night, the worried look on her face as I drove the pod-racers, the quirky smile as she told me she loved me.

"Let it go, Ani."

My mind races forward again, each Jedi I faced, each one I killed flashing before me, not judging, not in agony, just an image, a reminder. Soon I reach the Death Star, the detention cell. I see again the young girl, dressed in white, rearing back from the hovering interrogation droid I chose that day. My daughter, my own flesh and blood.

"Forgive, Ani."

Further forward, the duel in the corridor leading to the bay where the Millennium Falcon sat, alone. Obi-Wan, my teacher, my confidant, my friend. I struck him down, without pause. I took his life without a moments regret.

"He chose to die, Ani. He knew what had to be done."

"How can I let go of the guilt?"

Qui-Gon kneels in front of me, his eyes staring into mine.

"Let me show you something."

I see my son, Luke, standing, proud, strong. He is older than when I last saw him. His face is harder, but the love and care are still in his eyes. My daughter, Leia. I have never called her that, always the Princess, the Rebel. She is with the Pirate, Han Solo. They have children.

"See the youngest?"

My eyes are drawn to a little boy, about nine, much as I was when Qui-Gon found me. He is staring wide-eyed at a droid, the Force flowing about him, and through the robot.

"My grandson?"

"Your namesake, Anakin. Anakin Solo."

"She forgave me?"

I am stunned, my mind reeling from the implications. Even my daughter forgives me. I feel a great burden lift from me, a weight of darkness that no longer belongs as part of me. I hear Palpatine scream in the distance, an echo that fades as the world around me does. I am light again, floating in the void. Only now it is different. I see the river of light flowing through the void. I recognize it for the truth, the Light Side of the Force. I float towards it, to the welcoming embrace.

"Welcome home."

I feel them now, those friends, family that I loved so long ago. Obi-Wan is there, Master Yoda, and of course, Qui-Gon. I feel the joy in them at my arrival. Even those I killed have forgiven me.

"Welcome home, son."

My spirit soars, and I rush into the light to embrace the spirit that looms before me.

"My sweet, Ani, I am so happy to see you."


"You are the Chosen One," my mother declares, just as Qui-Gon had when he first found me," and you have done what was asked of you and you have been rewarded. She ? is here."

She? I sense the other now, the one I had thought gone forever. Joy cannot express my feelings at this moment. I feel a new sensation, one that has not been in me for so long. I feel love, coursing through every fiber of my spirit, electrifying me.

"Sweet, sweet, Padme."

"Welcome home, my love."

I slip into the embrace of her light. It feels like nothing before, our love in the corporeal world a shadow compared to the depth of our feelings here in this river of light. I want to drown in her presence.

"Our son, it was our son!"

I feel the need to say the words, to tell her about him, to show her him.

"I know. I have watched him grow, become the man he is today. I am so proud of him, of them both."

I want to stay here, wrapped inside her, smothered in her love, but something else calls me. Another presence. Obi-Wan.


"Not now, Anakin. We will have time later. For now, we must say goodbye to someone. He needs to move on with his life now."

My son. He is on the forest moon. I can sense him, detached, not ready to join his friends in celebrating their freedom. I know what must be done. Master Yoda and Obi-Wan approach.

"Padme, Mom, Qui-Gon, come with us."

"No, Anakin." Qui-Gon begins, putting his arm on my shoulder, "We cannot tread this path. You must go with Obi-Wan and Master Yoda. They knew Luke where we did not and they must be there to help him reach the closure he seeks. We would raise more questions than answers."

"Yes, Father."

The word fits oddly enough, but it never should. The Force may have chosen me, but it is Qui-Gon who I chose. We new each other only for days, but he feels like a father to me, now. I turn back to Yoda and Obi-Wan. I am ready to say goodbye to my son. He needs to move on with his life, as I will move on with mine, one with the Force.

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.

The End


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