The sound of his harsh breathing filled the room.
“Where is he?” The woman he spoke to pressed herself closer to the dusky green wall behind her, practically willing herself to melt into it. He only stepped closer.
“I will not say it again. Where is he?”
“You know very well that I will never tell you.” Though the terror was coursing through her, her voice remained as steady as ever, her extensive political training proving just how deeply it was ingrained into her character. His attempts to probe her mind failed again. Despite not being Force sensitive, she was able to fend the creeping tendrils off, enraging him further. They both knew that if he tried to crash through those barriers, her mind, and the information he needed would be destroyed. Both of them also knew that he didn’t have the patience to try wheedling his way past her defenses. Stepping closer yet again, he was close enough to hear her pounding heart. Strands of her dark brown hair clung to her forehead in stringy curls as her hazel eyes stared defiantly at the hideous mask before her.
Suddenly, a splitting cry came from the next room. He slowly turned to look in that direction. Néva reached to the table beside her, groping for anything to use in her defense. She found only a decorative statuette, though it was fairly substantial. It would only be good for a distraction, but it would work. It would give her a chance to go for her blaster. The mask turned back to her.
“A child? So, you have a child, Néva Adyé. Does she have your name, or his?” Néva panicked, her maternal instincts flaring, and swung the statuette as hard as she could at her captor. He was too fast. His hand reached out and easily caught her wrist before she had even come close to hitting her target. His other hand flashed out, catching her about the throat, driving her into the wall. Her vision wavered as dislodged plaster pattered softly on the tiled floor. The statuette fell from her hand, landing on the floor with a dull thud.
“What will our dear Jedi think when he finds that his only child and his lover both died because the woman refused to tell me where he is? Does he even know the child exists?”
“I would hope you knew me better than that.” She choked out. He just watched her, the expressionless mask hovering frozen in front of her face, the pressure on her neck increasing slightly. He leaned a little closer. He appeared to have an idea.
“Tell me, what would he think if I took her with me? I can sense her potential; it is indeed promising. Or perhaps I should kill her too.” At this her eyes went wide with both fear at his threats and from his ever-tightening grip. Her pale blue slippers hovered above the ground. She gasped for breath.
“Don’t make me kill you both.”
“She’s just a baby.”
“That hasn’t stopped me in the past.” Her horror at the admission was overshadowed as his iron grip tightened. Néva’s hands groped at his leather clad one, attempting, but failing, to loosen the deadly grasp.
“I will not. You can kill me if you must, but spare my child! Please! Don’t hurt Athara, I’m begging you!” The desperation that crept into her voice would have been enough to cause any mortal man to pause, but he was more machine than human; much less compassionate. His mask dipped even closer. Her air supply was nearly extinguished.
“I have never known you to beg. If you won’t divulge this information, you will die.” She gasped out her response.
“I – will – never – tell – you!”
“Wrong answer.” Néva cried out with the last of her air as a searing pain ripped through her chest. The last thing she saw was a vivid red glow and the last thing she heard was the familiar hum of a lightsabre.
As her body hit the ground, he was already moving away. The cry of the infant held his attention. Deviating from his course, he ducked into the nursery. All at once his twisted soul was assailed by memories and dreams of an abandoned and forgotten past.
Painted with warm colours and decorated with soft, plushy furniture, the room was a vision of innocence. The rainbow of pastels circled around an antique cradle hidden by a pale, sheer curtain. Walking up to it, he gazed through the gauzy fabric, his sabre still in hand, his mechanical breathing the only sound other than the tiny whimpering.
Standing beside the crib, the black figure couldn’t stop looking at the tiny being sheltered within. Small and helpless, the little baby lay on her back, tears streaking her delicate face. Looking down at her he felt his heart constrict with a feeling he had not felt in a long time. He had almost had this; he had almost been a father. He immediately felt the anger, the hate and the jealousy for his primary quarry rise up to possess him yet again. How could he have this? How could he have this while it was ripped from my grasp? What did he do to deserve this?
What did I do? For another painful moment in his traumatic life, he felt the rents in his torn heart twinge, an agonizing reminder that, despite everything, it still beat. The child before him began to wail again, the pathetic pleas coursing through the room. Something woke within him then. The baby called to him in a way he couldn’t explain. Stepping back, he looked at the sabre in his hand. He activated the blade. Raising it, ready to strike, he stood there for what seemed like and eternity.
The sabre snapped off.
Stepping forward, he brushed aside the breeze-like curtains and reached into the cradle. Picking up the crying infant, he cradled the tiny life in his arms with a tenderness he had thought he’d lost. The baby looked up at him, her tears ceasing; seeming to gaze right past the mask and into his soul. He ignored the prickling sensation behind his eyes, blue once again for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime. The dark blue-gray eyes meeting his made up his mind for him.
Reaching out with the Force, he brushed up against the tiny Force signature, reassuring the infant in his black-clad arms. She didn’t seem frightened of the deep voice that was ushered out of the respirator; perhaps because of the voice the Force gave him.
“I will take care of you now.”
The troopers waiting outside could only wonder why their commander was taking the time he was. They had heard the usual, and some even slightly unusual sounds. A woman’s voice followed by the expected sound of her death, the all too familiar lightsabre, and, oddly, the cry of a baby, accompanied by yet more of the nefarious red blade. The sight that awaited the troopers, now designated storm troopers thanks to the decline of clones, was not unusual in the least, except for that which awaited one of them.
They only had to wait patiently for a few more minutes as their Commander joined them out in the bright sunlight and clear air. The day seemed to completely ignore the events within the columned little house.
The tower of black wrapped his cloak tighter around himself as he strode to his waiting shuttle. As expected, he did not say a word, the troopers didn’t need orders; they knew the Dark Lord’s routine by heart.
As he climbed the ramp, none of the troopers made a move for fear of attracting the Sith’s displeasure. One of the troopers, however, was about to get the surprise of his life; nothing could prepare him for what was about to happen.
Trixton Jengal stood stock still, like the rest of his comrades, and like the rest, he could feel the dark power that emanated from the Dark Lord as he passed. But as the Sith strode by the nervous trooper, his long black cloak shifted, revealing a small yellow bundle. However, that’s not what really startled him. What startled him was the tiny hand that had escaped from the bundle. As the cloak shifted again, the curious bundle the Dark Lord held was hidden from sight.
No doubt feeling his surprise, the Sith stopped, further readjusting his robe. He turned to Jengal. Straightening even further, the trooper awaited what was sure to come; sweat pooling on his forehead. He had most definitely seen too much. This was very bad. The lifeless artificial sockets stared back at him, assessing him. It took all of Trixton’s self control not to start at the reverberating voice that came from the expressionless mask.
“You, Lieutenant, what is your name and operating number.”
“Lieutenant Trixton Jengal, operating number AP-8725, Nubian Battalion, Milord.” It was all Jengal could to doing not to let his voice betray his fear.
The terror emanating from the trooper was intense. Vader nodded as he mulled over the information. The Nubian Battalion was one of the first completely non-clone battalions from the Core Planets, based on the planet Nubia, hence the name. They were a loyal and dependable squadron, and Vader had heard of Jengal. He was a highly devoted trooper. His respirator was the only sound in the morning air. It was all Trixton could do to keep from trembling in fear.
“Do you have a family, Lieutenant?” Trixton’s terror multiplied hundredfold, nearly to the point of passing out. He had heard rumours of entire cities being vaporized on account of this Commander’s displeasure.
“Y-yes, Milord.” Trixton managed to stammer. The Dark Lord was silent for another moment, the sound of his breathing causing Trixton’s own breath to catch in his throat. The Dark Lord finally spoke.
“Come with me.”