She could only meet Vader’s gaze, her own eyes widening with disbelief and anguish of her own. She tried to speak, but she couldn’t find the words. The feeling of betrayal hit her like a punch in the gut.
He’d been hunting his own son.
Luke was Vader’s son.
Gasping for air, Athara turned and ran, ignoring the tears of shock that threatened as she bolted for the surface of the city. She needed to escape. She needed to get away from him. In moments she was in the turbolift down to the tunnel, and minutes after that she was in another turbolift, speeding toward the City’s concourse.
It was then that her legs gave way as the feelings that accompanied Vader’s revelation crashed in on her. In an instant Qui-gon was there, comforting her, corporeal as she had only seen him on Dagobah. Looking up, tears streaming down her cheeks, she met his gentle gaze.
“Did you know? Does he know?” She barely managed to choke out the words. She knew he’d know who she meant; her Farmboy. The Jedi’s eyes were the only answer she needed; they met her gaze with nothing but sympathy…and affirmation. Athara could only close her eyes against the renewed wave of grief. She didn’t even know whom it was for, really. Herself, maybe, because things were now irrevocably changed between her and Vader; for Vader, who was hunting his own child, bound by his loyalty to the Emperor to either turn his son or kill him; but most acutely for Luke, who now knew a terrible truth, and had a heartbreaking task ahead of him.
“He’s going to need your help, Athara, just as you are going to need his.” Qui-gon’s voice was quiet, but it cut through the silence of the turbolift like a knife.
Luke. Athara’s eyes shot open. Luke was still alive. She hadn’t even had to reach out to find him, she just knew. It was then, as if prompted by Qui-gon’s reminder, that she heard him in her head, calling out for help, sounding more exhausted than she’d ever heard before. Tamara. Reaching out, she could feel him calling through the Force, not just to her, looking for any sort of help. Reaching out further with her own senses, Athara began searching the underbelly of the city for any hint of her Farmboy through the Force. She needed to find him.
And she did. He was literally dangling from the bottom of the city. She didn’t have time to dwell, though, not even to try brushing against his own thoughts with hers, because at that moment the turbolift doors opened. She knew exactly where she needed to go.
Thankfully she was close to the Platform where Luke’s X-wing was waiting, and in moments she was racing through the doors toward the snub fighter. With an anxious wave she sent the two troopers standing watch back onto the wall behind them. N3 chattered worriedly at her, but without a word she lifted the astro droid up onto the fighter. He took the hint, and within moments was settling himself into the fighter’s droid socket and firing up primary systems.
Then a blaster bolt went sizzling past her ear; evidently she had been too distracted to knock the guards out properly. Another burned past her leg, scorching her pant leg causing a stinging wheal to bloom on her skin. In a flash Luke’s lightsabre was in her hand, its blue blade springing to life under her fingers. The blade spun in a whirling arc, deftly deflecting the incoming bolts back from where they’d come. The two troopers crumpled. But she was already turning back to the fighter, the lightsabre safely clipped to her belt.
It took Athara a moment to find the flight suit, and another to somewhat shrug it on over her tunic and breeches, refastening her utility belt around her waist. She didn’t even bother to remove her cloak, she was in such a hurry. She was briefly interrupted, though, when a glint out of the corner of her eye drew her attention. Immediately her hand fell to the lightsabre at her side. It was an unnecessary gesture, though, as it was a ship off in the distance that had caught her eye. A surge of relief went through her as she recognized the distinctive silhouette racing back toward the City, angling to pass underneath it.
In another moment she was climbing into the fighter, settling herself in as N3 took the liberty of sealing the cockpit. In another moment they were off. On the far side of the City she could see what could only be Vader’s shuttle similarly lifting off, leaving the city behind.
All feelings of relief vanished when, as Vader’s shuttle disappeared up into the clouds, three TIE fighters descended, quickly disappearing beyond the edge of the City. In an instant, Athara was in hot pursuit.
She had been right to follow them, for as she came up under the City she caught sight of them opening fire on the Falcon, which was thankfully already speeding away. A quick check through the Force confirmed that they had retrieved a weak but, thankfully, still alive Luke. This time she was able to brush against his thoughts with the Force, and the relief that trickled back to her was infinitely more reassuring than she could have anticipated.
They were all out of the atmosphere before she managed to catch up. As she did, though, she realized the TIEs were only under orders to harry the Falcon. None of them seemed to be trying with any real effort to stop it, only herd it, or even disable it. Then, as the four small ships and the freighter cleared the atmosphere, they saw her. Even though she had already prepared the fighter for attack, having locked the s-foils and prepped the firing generators shortly after takeoff, she couldn’t help but groan. Sometimes she really hated flying…
Before they quite managed to peel off to engage her, she took one of them out, severing one of the solar arrays with a swath of laser fire. Then the second one was upon her, the third having stayed with the Falcon. She only needed to hold it off long enough for the Falcon to get away, though. That was, if Artoo had gotten the message, or was even on the freighter. It was taking too long. The Falcon should have jumped to lightspeed by now. She pushed that anxiety away rather forcefully. She had more pressing issues at the moment.
They continued on for several long minutes, the four ships dancing around each other in intricate choreography, all the while trying to either get closer to the looming Super Star Destroyer, or stay away from it. Thankfully, as the freighter and its trailing fighters skimmed along the hull of the Executor, Athara managed to knock out the TIE still harassing the Falcon, causing it to careen into the monstrous Star Destroyer with a fiery impact. There was only one left following Athara, though it seemed a little confused for a moment as to whether it should try to finish her or take up pursuit of the Falcon.
At one point, Athara felt Vader brush against her consciousness through the Force, but it was only fleeting; the instant she felt him, she shoved his consciousness away almost violently. She wasn’t interested in confronting all that now.
Then, in an instant, the Falcon was gone, surging forward into Hyperspace. Relief nearly overpowered her then. Luke was safe. As if reading her mind, N3 almost immediately had the navcomputer programmed and ready, and after one final course-correction to avoid a barrage of laser fire from her pursuing TIE she too sent her ship careening into Hyperspace.
The series of Hyperspace jumps to the Rendezvous Point turned out to one of the longest trips she’d ever experienced, or at least, it certainly felt like it. Worry over Luke and the rest of her friends plagued her and, though she was desperately trying not to think about it, Vader’s revelations pressed on her mind.
She should have seen it. Now that she knew the truth, it seemed blatantly obvious that Luke was Vader’s son, that Vader was once Anakin Skywalker. Vader’s hesitance to return to Tatooine; he was from there, and never wanted to return. Luke was from Tatooine, living with his father’s brother. Vader’s obsession with discovering Luke’s identity and finding him; he was the son he hadn’t known he had. The eagerness with which Vader had tried to speak with her about Luke. The clues scattered through the story Luke told her about Kenobi, Vader and his father. It seemed Kenobi had been very cryptic in talking about Luke’s father, and now that made sense. But again, upon knowing the truth, Kenobi hadn’t been lying either. He had obviously been immensely careful in his wording, careful to shield Luke from the heartbreaking truth while not lying to him outright.
Plus there were all her readings about Kenobi. Now that she knew, there were so many parallels in the references to The Hero with No Fear and the Dark Lord of the Sith; the same fearlessness, the astonishing piloting skills, the technologically keen mind. Even when thinking back to the few Holonet recordings N3 had managed to dig up, there had been something about Skywalker’s fighting style that had seemed so familiar; she’d recognized the styles and forms that Vader still used, only she hadn’t made the connection. More than that, now that she thought on it, she realized with a jolt that Skywalker was the only apprentice of Kenobi’s ever mentioned. Had Vader also been an apprentice of Kenobi’s as Luke had believed, surely there would have been some mention of it. Athara had never before felt so blind.
It was the lightsabres, though, that were the greatest giveaway to her. She knew from her own experience that a lightsabre was unique to its owner, and no matter how many a Sith or a Jedi made, each incarnation would look and act like its predecessor. And she had seen a lot of Lightsabres; when she was young, Vader had taken her to see the Emperor’s collection of Jedi Lightsabres, his trophies. Only a few had really looked anything alike, and Vader had explained that that was because apprentices often made lightsabres that resembled that of their Masters’, but even then there were always marked differences that were borne of personal preference. Her lightsabre for instance, though slimmer and lighter to suit her hands, did indeed loosely resemble her Master’s.
Luke’s lightsabre and Vader’s could have been twins.
Still, the Anakin Skywalker she had read about was not quite the same man she had known as her Master. There were similarities, yes, but many differences.
But now that she thought about it, she was beginning to wonder at who it was that actually raised her. The more she thought about it, the more she could see that the side of Vader that had cared for and protected her was almost a different person from the Vader that was feared throughout the Galaxy. Her Vader had a measure of compassion, kindness and, well, humanity in him that Lord Vader lacked. He had still been a hard, even ruthless teacher at times, but that understanding side was what had made him a surprisingly good mentor.
She also remembered the way Vader’s hand had closed around her tiny one the day he had taken her away from the Jengals, and the almost gentle way he had instructed her to hold a lightsabre for the first time, or the way he would lay a hand on her head before leaving on a mission when she was still small. The way he had sounded when he told her to run rather than take her to the Emperor. Could that have been a bit of Anakin breaking through the darkness that was Vader?
Before Bespin, she had come to believe that, like her, he was just lost, and that there was a side of him that was struggling to break free from the Dark Side. All the turmoil that she felt in him, like he was fighting himself? It made sense now. It was the good in him, his memories and his instincts, fighting the draw of the Dark Side. The more she thought on it, the more and more certain she was that Anakin was trapped somewhere inside Vader, and that that small glimmer of Light in her Master is what she had come to love and respect.
But, upon coming out of Hyperspace, there was no more time to think on it. A sigh of relief escaped her when she caught sight of the Falcon docked with the Medical Frigate, Redemption. But Athara was wary of rejoining the fleet. She had no way of knowing just what Leia had passed on to the rest of the Rebel High Command. She could be walking into a trap laid specially for her. Or, if Leia were too focused on Luke and Han, it would be as if nothing had changed. As she approached the Medical Frigate, she took a moment to clear her mind, trying to find the sense of calm that eluded her.
Honestly, though, she didn’t really care anymore if she was captured. It was inevitable. Even if Leia hadn’t relayed the truth of her identity yet, there was no way that the princess would keep the information to herself when Athara showed up. And better a prisoner of the Alliance than the Empire; at least the Alliance wasn’t trying to kill her...
Athara only needed to see Luke. She needed to know that he was all right.
As she approached the Redemption she transmitted her code clearance, and after a moment her Comm briefly erupted in static before the connection stabilized and the voice on the other end was audible.
“X-wing fighter, identify yourself.” She didn’t recognize the voice. Now was the moment of truth.
“This is Captain Tamara, requesting permission to dock.”
“Forgive me, Captain, but the transponder on your ship is a match for Commander Skywalker’s fighter.”
“I am aware. I was with him, Captain Solo and Princess Leia on Bespin. My fighter was destroyed, so I took Commander Skywalker’s ship when he was brought onboard the Falcon.” The Comm was silent for a few moments. After taking a steadying breath, she pressed on. “Please. Skywalker was injured, I need to see that he’s alright.” Still the Comm was silent, but after a moment, the voice returned.
“Permission to dock granted. Please proceed to the Landing Bay.” Again, she couldn’t hold back her sigh of relief. She was still wary, though. She had no idea what was waiting for her in the Redemption’s lone landing bay. Even so, she didn’t hesitate to land, and neither did she hesitate to leave the fighter the instant it came to a stop.
In moments she had shrugged out of the bright orange flightsuit and was racing from the bay. She didn’t even stop to ask for directions, allowing the Force to guide her towards Luke’s unmistakable presence. Once again, she felt Qui-gon’s presence arrive, silently urging caution. She didn’t care in that moment. She would use caution after she found Luke.
As the door to Luke’s room whirred open, the former sith realized why Qui-gon had been urging caution. Standing silhouetted against the broad viewscreen were Luke and Leia, her Farmboy’s arm around the Princess’ shoulders, Threepio and Artoo standing just off to the side as they looked out on the baby star that dominated the system. Beyond the transparesteel viewport, Athara could just make out the Falcon soaring away from the Frigate. She could feel the uncertainty and heartache coming from the both of them, as well as the comfort they were providing for each other. It was such a tranquil scene, that Athara was almost loath the disturb it.
But the moment ended when Luke sensed her presence. In an instant, he had turned, his blue eyes lighting up with relief at the sight of her. Athara could barely restrain herself. She completely ignored the fury that appeared in the Princess’ eyes, instead focusing wholly on Luke. He was all right and he was alive.
That was all that mattered.
She didn’t even realize she was walking toward him until she felt his arms close around her, her own arms snaking around his shoulders, not quite believing he was alright.
“I was so worried, Tamara. When I didn’t see you in Cloud City, I began fearing the worst. And then when I felt you through the Force—” he trailed off, not quite able to put his relief into words. A small stab of pain went through her when he spoke. He still didn’t know her real name. But before she could say anything, Leia made her angry presence known.
“You!” There was so much anger in her voice that Luke and Athara all but jerked apart, both stunned at the fury pouring off the diminutive princess. Confusion sprang to Luke’s face when he saw the expression on his friend’s. In a heartbeat the Princess had strode past the two of them to sound the alarm. A red light began flashing overhead. Athara felt her own anger beginning to rise, but she hurriedly tried to stamp it down. Luke, meanwhile, was utterly bewildered. Athara felt his arm tighten around her waist, pulling her a little closer. She fought the urge to tighten her own grip on his arm.
“Leia, what are you—” But the Princess didn’t give him a chance to finish, rounding on the pair of Force-sensitives. Her dark eyes flashed when they locked on Athara.
“How dare you show your face here! After everything you’ve done!”
“Leia! What has gotten into you?!” The bewilderment on Luke’s face was darkening to frustration. Athara, though, barely heard him.
“I’m here because of him, Princess. That’s all.” Leia scowled at the bite in Athara’s tone, answering with an equally scathing retort.
“That’s all? Why? So you can try to kill him too? Or are you here to take his other hand?” Athara couldn’t help but blanche, the echo of her earlier fear once jolting her out of the dark spiral she had begun descending into.
“I had nothing to do with that.” No one missed how hollowed out the former sith’s voice sounded, or the threads of guilt that wove through it. Leia only raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Really. And I suppose you had nothing to do with our capture or Han being frozen, either.” Athara nearly growled at that, her anger sparking again.
“I told you. Fett is the one who brought Vader to Bespin. Not me.”
“But you just stood by.” By now, Luke was looking at her in bewilderment, not the Princess. Athara jerked away from Luke when the Princess said that, turning her back on her Farmboy. She couldn’t face the pained and confused look growing on Luke’s face. It was true. She had just stood by. Now the anger rising in her wasn’t just aimed at the Princess, but at herself. Behind them, a handful of guards entered the room, blasters cautiously at the ready. The Princess pressed on, encouraged by the effect she was having on the sith apprentice.
“You let him torment us, torture us! You just watched when he had Han frozen in carbonite!”
“You think I had a choice?” Athara snapped out, beginning to lose control of her anger. She could feel her eyes beginning to burn again, the yellow she had tried so hard to banish on her way to the fleet returning. Qui-gon chose that moment to try and reach out to her, but Athara pushed him away. Leia let out a bitter laugh.
“No. I suppose you didn’t,” the Princess turned to the guards, “take her into custody.” Athara closed her eyes, fighting her growing anger. They hesitated for a moment—she made them uneasy—but two of them did cautiously approach her, one fastening a set of binders around her wrists, while the remaining two reluctantly trained their blasters on the sith apprentice. Luke all but rounded on Leia.
“Leia, what is the meaning of this? What is going on! Tamara is one of us!”
“No Luke, she isn’t,” Leia’s voice was firm, but there was a hint of gentleness to it. She sounded genuinely pained at having to tell him this. “She never has been.”
“I can’t believe that, Leia. She’s our ally. Look at everything she’s done for the Alliance.” Luke’s voice was full of conviction, something that pained Athara to no end. Even with everything the Princess had just accused her of and all the unanswered questions he had, he still believed in her. He still trusted her. Leia shook her head sadly.
“Tamara is Vader’s apprentice, Luke. She is the Dark Lady Obscura.” Athara bristled at that, her anger nearly snapping free at everything that name represented.
“My name is not Obscura.” It came out sharper than she intended, but she was too busy fighting to keep her emotions in check to care. Behind them a viewscreen cracked. Luke looked on in shock a flicker of hurt an betrayal in his eyes, while Leia almost looked satisfied. It didn’t last, though, as Athara swung around to capture the Princess’ gaze with her own yellow one. “I never wanted to be that. I never chose to be that, but being Athara was never an option for me.” A flicker of fear appeared in the Princess’ eyes. Athara, however, was too upset and too furious to care, a floodgate deep down inside her bursting open as a tiny, flickering need to have someone understand urged her on. Without so much as a gesture, she released the mechanism of the binders through the Force, flinging them mentally across the room before taking a step forward. Somewhere, another viewscreen cracked.
“Yes, I am Vader’s apprentice, but I also owe him my life. If he hadn’t found me, if he hadn’t protected me, I wouldn’t be alive now. The Emperor kills Force-sensitives like me, but Vader convinced him that I wasn’t strong enough to be a threat. He shielded my strength from Palpatine and he trained me. Taught me how to take care of myself. In return I served him as his right hand, gave him my loyalty. But that all ended the instant Tarkin blew up Alderaan.” Leia went as white as the gown she wore when the name of her doomed Homeplanet was mentioned. Athara nodded bitterly.
“Yes, Princess. You were too caught up in mourning your Planet to notice that others were affected too. You have no idea what its like, to feel the deaths of that many people inside your head. It nearly ripped me apart, just as I nearly ripped that Command Centre apart in my pain and my rage. I couldn’t even walk out of there on my own. My life ended that day, Princess. The Emperor knows how strong I am now, and he wants me dead because of it. He wants to kill me himself, a lesson for my Master. I have as much of a price on my head as any of you.
“So I made a new life for myself. Vader let me go, disobeying the Emperor to do so. He let me take the Tantive IV and run. And I remade myself as Tamara. I had no intention of ever joining the Rebellion. But—” her gaze involuntarily shifted to Luke, meeting his gaze. Her anger deflated when all she saw in his vivid eyes was sympathy and astonishment, “—then things changed.”
“Your family?” Luke’s voice was as full of compassion as his eyes. But Athara had to shake her head even as the grief at the Jengal’s fate coursed through her.
“You.” Luke started a bit, but Athara continued. “I knew from the moment I met you that you are the Galaxy’s best hope at defeating the Emperor. You’re the only one strong enough.” His shoulders slumped a little with humiliation and regret at her certainty, his gaze dropping to his new hand.
“I couldn’t even defeat Vader. How am I supposed to defeat the Emperor?” The doubt in his voice nearly brought tears to Athara’s eyes.
“Because you aren’t ready yet. That’s why I insisted on going to Bespin instead of you. I knew Vader wanted you, and I wasn’t about to let him have you.” Leia looked on in bewilderment, though the anger never quite left her eyes.
“And I followed you anyway. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad was happening to you, to Leia and Han. I made a mess of things.” Guilt bloomed on his face as he spoke, his mechanical hand clenching. Athara instinctively stepped forward, laying a hand over his new one, loosening the fist he had made. Then, unhooking his lightsabre from her belt, she placed it in his hand.
“Vader took mine when I arrived in Cloud City. When he took your hand—” she nearly choked, her voice thick with guilt and grief, “—I needed a lightsabre. In that moment I wanted to kill him. I wanted to kill my Master, Luke, the man who taught me everything, who protected me.” Then she stepped back, distancing herself from her Farmboy. With a brush of the Force, she called the binders back, handing them to the guard standing nearby. She then held her hands out, silently gesturing for him to carry out the Princess’ orders. The Guard nervously complied, refastening them around her wrists. She turned back to Luke, fighting back the tears that were suddenly threatening to fall.
“I’m not a good person, Luke. I’m sorry.” He all but leapt forward, his hands gripping her shoulders as he turned her to face him.
“No. I can’t believe that. I’ve seen the good in you.” Athara managed a sad, wondering smile, astonished that he could still think so highly of her. She reached up to gently touch his cheek in gratitude for that. But she had nothing to say, and instead stepped back, struggling not to flinch when two of the guards took hold of each of her arms. With one last look at her Farmboy, the guards began to lead her away.
But before they reached the door, Athara hesitated, turning to face the Princess, grimly aware that their roles were reversed from years before.
“Despair,” Athara said quietly, the single word out of her mouth before she could stop it. Leia looked confused for a moment.
“Despair, not hate, is what drives him. In many ways, it is much more powerful.” Slowly, understanding lit upon the Princess’ face as she realized who the sith apprentice was talking about. Then it was only bewilderment; the Princess had no idea what to make of Athara’s admission.And with that, Athara allowed herself to be led away.