An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
Darth Vader entered sickbay with the idea of retrieving his lightsaber as well as whatever remained of his suit in mind. He had begun to miss his weapon to the point that he felt almost naked without it. A silly notion, true, especially since with his powers he did not really need a weapon, but the fact remained that he missed its comfortable weight dangling from his belt. He had not been without a lightsaber ever since he built his first training saber as a young Padawan. And he needed at least his helmet, armor and respirator unit to complete his spare suit so he could use it as a flightsuit. Of course, he would have to make some modifications - he did not need the respirator to breathe for him anymore - but an inquiry to quartermaster's had confirmed that they indeed had no flightsuits in his size. Being tall wasn't always an advantage.
"Well, look who decided to pay me a visit!" Dr. Hanley's sarcastic voice cut into his thoughts. Vader's eyes narrowed. The man had saved his life, no, had given him his life back, so Vader supposed he should be grateful. But Hanley was also an arrogant, irritating sonofabitch. His voice, his mannerisms, his mere presence grated on Vader's nerves.
"I wonder what brings you here, Lord Vader", Hanley continued. "It cannot be concern for you health, or you wouldn't have left in the first place."
"I have neither the time nor the patience for your games, Doctor", Vader rumbled. "Give me my lightsaber and my suit."
"After I've examined you, Mylord. You may not give a damn about your health, but at least allow me to do my job properly."
Vader's patience was wearing thin. "You will give me my suit and lightsaber", he intoned, using the Force to bend Hanley's will to his own.
Hanley whipped a scanner out and pointed it at Vader. "As I said, after I've examined you. Now take your jacket off, please, and sit down."
Vader heaved a frustrated sigh. I must be out of practice, he mused. He considered his options. He could kill the fool, and waste his time searching sickbay for his lightsaber and suit. Or he could allow the examination, which would probably take less time and get Hanley off his back just as effectively. Or he could try again.
"You will give me my suit and lightsaber", he said once more, adding even more Force.
"I will give you your suit and lightsaber", Hanley repeated after him, "after I've examined you."
Vader rolled his eyes. What was it with this man? Why couldn't he get through to Hanley?
Hanley's lips twitched in amusement. "I should tell you, Mylord, that the Jedi mind trick does not work on me. I've taken certain precautions."
"You..." Vader was speechless, but it lasted only a few seconds. "What precautions?" Removing his uniform jacket, he sat on he examination table Hanley indicated. He knew when he had lost.
"Do you really expect me to tell you? If I did, you might find a way around it, and I have to come up with something new." He ran the medscanner over Vader's upper body. "Your scan looks good. Tell me, did you have any more headaches or dizzy spells?"
"No", Vader answered in a gruff manner. The thought that Hanley, Force- blind as he was, had found a way to counteract the mind trick irritated him to no end.
"Humph. I see no reason to keep you here. You're recuperating nicely, so I'm clearing you for light duty. That means no piloting, no sports, no command decisions, and I want to see you again in a week."
Vader froze. "I do believe you have taken leave of your senses, Doctor Hanley", he declared in a cold voice. How dare Hanley? No piloting hurt, but he understood the reasoning behind that, as well as the "no sports", but taking command of his ship away from him was an unbearable affront!
Hanley put the scanner away and shook his head. "Lord Vader, you had a major change in your life only a few days ago", he began, silently adding 'and a nervous breakdown the crew will be talking about for months'.
"Give yourself time to come to terms with it." He looked straight into Darth Vader's eyes. "If it were anyone else but you, I would keep them here, under observation. But I can't do that, can I? You would simply walk out of here again and do whatever you damn well want to. So I'm asking you to at least take it easy for a while. I'm sure the admiral can muddle through without you. And by the way, I am going to inform him of my decision, and I trust you not to get him into trouble with High Command by ignoring it. When it comes to medical decisions, I am the highest authority on board, Mylord."
Vader glared at him. Hanley was right; once his decision was on record, there was nothing even he, Lord Darth Vader, could do about it. He should have killed the fool when he had the chance. No command decisions for a week, that was humiliating.
"My judgement is not off, Doctor", he growled in a low, menacing tone.
"Really? Then please tell me why you left sickbay. Or why you worked all day yesterday without eating anything before late afternoon. Physical work, I might add, for which you are not fit yet", Hanley retaliated.
"I had my reasons", Vader snapped back.
"And I have mine. My decision is final, Lord Vader, whether you like it or not."
With that, Hanley turned and left Vader to retrieve his things from where he had stored them. Vader had barely closed his jacket again when Hanley returned and handed him the weapon and the sorry remains of his life support suit. The Sithlord took them and left without a further word.
As soon as he was gone, Hanley took the small noise generator out of his ear and shut it off; he would pay for using it for the next couple of days, but the high-pitched wail it emitted had been just irritating enough to cut through Vader's attempt at clogging his mind. The trickiest part had been to find a setting that was loud enough to keep him alert, but not so loud that Vader would hear it. That would have spoiled the effect immensely.
Vader stalked into his new quarters, seething. He would have slammed the door shut behind him, even if it was a childish, immature thing to do, but unfortunately, the automatic door closed behind him with barely a whisper. The Sithlord dropped his burden onto the sofa and went on to the viewport. Frustrated, he slammed his fist into the transparisteel. Out of the command structure for a week, maybe longer. It was... debasing. Insulting. Vader pounded the viewport again. And again. His cybernetic hand did not make a dent in the surface. Neither did the artificial skin that covered the hand sustain any damage. Frustrated, Vader leaned his forehead against the cold, smooth surface of the viewport. Even the beauty of the stars did nothing to soothe the rage he felt.
Calm, he told himself. Get yourself under control. There is nothing you can do about it, and taking out your frustration on a window will only prove Hanley right.
Taking deep breaths, Darth was finally able to calm himself enough to sit down at his desk and call the bridge.
Piett appeared on the screen almost immediately, bowing respectfully to him.
"I believe Dr. Hanley has already informed you, Admiral?" Vader inquired. The look on Piett's face gave him the answer; to his credit, the admiral managed to look uncomfortable, and to keep any pity out of his features.
"Yes, Mylord. Although I must confess I have no idea what light duty means in your case, Sir."
Vader leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. "Probably reading up on reports and technical journals." He shrugged. "I shall be in my quarters, Piett. Vader out." He leaned forward to cut the connection.
A crew member in gray coveralls hurriedly walked the length of the Executor's bridge toward the large front viewport where Admiral Piett stood, patiently regarding the unmoving stars.
"Admiral, you wished to be notified of all outgoing transmissions", he whispered urgently.
Piett turned around to face him.
"You picked something up, Stevens?"
"Yes, Admiral. An encrypted message."
"Were you able to decode it?"
Stevens shook his head. "Not yet, Sir", he replied. "It's not a code the Fleet uses. It's no Alliance code, either." Stevens fidgeted. It did not escape Piett's notice.
"There is something else, Stevens?"
"Yes, Sir. Although the transmission was short, we were able to track its origin."
"And?" Piett arched his eyebrows.
"It came from Lord Vader's quarters, Sir."
The admiral's eyes narrowed. Who would Lord Vader contact in a code unknown to the Fleet? It could not be the Rebel Alliance, unless Lord Vader had knowledge of a code that the Imperial Fleet had not been able to identify yet. Highly unlikely. His transmissions to the Emperor were not encrypted. And why should he contact his Majesty now, of all times? Something wasn't right here. Unless...
"His old or his new quarters, Stevens?" Piett asked.
"His old quarters, Admiral."
Piett strode over to the communications console and quickly dialed Lord Vader's new quarters. The Sith Lord answered almost immediately; he apparently had not left his desk since his call a few minutes earlier.
"Yes, Piett, what is it?"
"Mylord, I have been monitoring outgoing communications during the past days." He did not have to add 'since your accident'. "An encrypted signal was sent just now from your old quarters."
"But there is no-one..." Vader paused. Piett could almost see the thoughts form behind his forehead. "The 2-1B. I should have expected something like it", he muttered, almost to himself. Hanley was correct - his judgment was off, or he would have seen it immediately. The droid had to have a special programming. It had been with him ever since he sustained the injuries in the duel with Obi-Wan, and in all those years, had never found the true reason for his respiratory problems. Because it already knew. Because it was programmed to keep him like that - helpless, and dependent on machinery to keep him alive. Vader slammed his fist on the desk, hard. He had been such a fool! Then he addressed Piett again.
"Assemble a team, Admiral. I want that droid captured. It is not to be destroyed."
"Yes, Mylord. Shall I have its memory and programming downloaded and analyzed, Sir?"
Vader allowed himself a thin smile. "You are reading my mind again, Piett. Vader out." With that, he cut the connection.
On the bridge, Piett turned to Stevens. "You heard him, Stevens."
"Yes, Sir." Stevens saluted smartly and hurried away.
Luke Skywalker landed his X-Wing next to the narrow path that led to Obi-Wan Kenobi's house on Tattooine. The Millenium Falcon was already there, disguised under a camouflage tarp. The twin suns had risen only a few hours ago, but already the air over the desert was hot enough to waver and produce mirages. And it would get hotter still. Luke climbed out of the cockpit and helped R2-D2 to disembark; the little droid twittered his excitement.
Leia came running down the path, calling his name, with Chewbacca following close. The Wookiee roared his own greeting, and Luke waved to him.
"Luke, I thought you would never come", Leia greeted him and pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I told you I would, Leia", Luke replied calmly, returning her embrace. What was frightening her so? It could not be the rescue mission; Leia had been through worse, and it had never fazed her. Luke always thought of her as the strongest of their group, never afraid to do what needed to be done. "Is Lando in Jabba's palace already?"
"Yes. He's got work as a guard."
Luke placed his hands on her shoulders, trying to reassure her.
"What is it, Leia?" he murmured.
"I... it's nothing", she mumbled. "Just nervous." She could not talk about this, not to Luke. She still had the strange feeling that somehow, Luke was going to betray her trust.
Luke pulled her closer again, stroking her long tresses. "It's going to be alright, Leia. We're going to get Han out of there, you'll see", he whispered into her hair. "In a few days, we can start phase two of the plan, and then it won't be long, I promise."
"I know. I just wish it were over. I can't shake the feeling that something is going to happen."
Stevens led a group of four Stormtroopers into Lord Vader's old quarters. The 2-1B unit looked up and stared at them out of cold optical sensors, assessing the situation with impeccable logic.
"You are too late. Lord Vader's treason has been reported", it declared, and activated its self-destruct mechanism. It exploded seconds later, the power of the blast knocking the men off their feet.
Piett straightened his uniform jacket before entering Lord Vader's apartment. It was a nervous gesture; he had failed his superior, and he would have to bear the consequences.
Vader was pacing the room, hands clasped, behind his back, when Piett entered.
"Your report, Admiral?" he questioned sharply.
"Mylord, the droid self-destructed when my men entered. I failed you. I wish to apologize."
Damn, Vader thought. I should have known. Loud, he said: "It was not your fault, Piett. I should have anticipated this."
"Mylord...", Piett began, but Vader cut him short: "No, Admiral. Don't try to take the blame." He picked up his pacing again. "You know, I believe Hanley is right. My judgment is off, or I would have seen this. That droid was with me for many years. It must have been programmed to... overlook certain things."
"Lord Vader, nobody can expect you to..."
"... be thinking straight? I did, Piett, and that was my first error. My second was to let things slide. If it was not for your initiative, I would not even know about the current situation." Piett blushed slightly at the unexpected praise.
"I... uh... thank you, Mylord."
Vader dismissed his gratitude with a wave of his hand.
"Sir, if I may...", Piett began and cleared his throat. Vader looked at him and nodded; what other surprised did the Admiral have in store for him?
"The droid did say something before it self-destructed. Its exact words were 'you are too late. Lord Vader's treason has been reported'."
"I see", Vader replied and turned to look at the stars visible through the viewport. 'So I am a traitor now?' he thought. 'We shall see about that, my Master. We shall see about that.'
"Thank you, Admiral. That will be all", he said softly. Piett bowed in acknowledgment and left the Dark Lord to his musings.
"We shall see", Vader whispered.
|Previous chapter||Next chapter|