If there was to be only one thing in the Galaxy that Athara agreed with her Master on, it was that the Death Star was an abomination.
Now, they agreed on many things, so this was a rather unnecessary statement. Nevertheless, neither of them was particularly happy that the Emperor was so enthralled by the project. It was a sentiment shared by a great number of Imperials across the Empire, really. However, the entire Imperial force must show a unified front. Not just because of the Rebels, but also because of the dissention and disruption a disagreement between the most powerful leaders of the Empire would cause.
Darth Vader and the Emperor showed as unified a front as they always had, with Vader the deadly and menacing right hand of the even more terrifying Emperor. Athara knew better. She knew, shared some of the innermost thoughts with and, on the whole, the same opinions as her Master. Vader was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Emperor’s actions and decisions. Oh, the Emperor knew Vader’s feelings and likely by extension her feelings as well, but he did nothing about it and instead let the feelings of discontent fester in his primary agent. To Athara, the truly disturbing part was that she understood why the Emperor did nothing. Her Master was at his most menacing and was deadliest when he was frustrated, and nothing increased his feelings of frustration and helplessness than when he had to go along with the edicts and plans that he did not agree with. Unfortunately, he was more effective as an Imperial Agent when he was in those kinds of moods.
That was exactly the mood he was in when Athara rendezvoused with Vader aboard the Star Destroyer Devastator. The plans to the Death Star had made their way into Rebel hands and Vader had been sent to retrieve them. A seemingly small task that was proving more difficult than it originally appeared, and Vader was loosing face because of it.
Athara had been sent to take care of the leak when it had been discovered that the plans had made their way into Rebel hands. While Vader tailed the plans, Athara had quietly and efficiently dealt with the Rebel Sympathizers, a task she didn’t relish, but didn’t refuse either. When Darth Vader gives an order, it is followed, whether one is his apprentice or one of his Stormtroopers.
Despite her acceptance of the Dark Side of the Force, Athara, otherwise known as the Dark Lady Obscura for her mysterious presence and the way she shadowed Vader, was a far lighter version than her Master. She was much more balanced in the Force than Vader, who was volatile and dangerous on a good day, but in many ways this was a good thing. When she was with her Master, he was much easier to be around, mainly because her presence calmed him. She had never been sure why; perhaps it was just her nature. She had always seemed to calm those close to her, which was decidedly odd in a sith apprentice. The crews of her ships and the squadrons of troopers under her command were more at ease with her than any Vader commanded. That didn’t mean they feared her less, or that there was any sort of dissention or insolence among them. They were professional and efficient, something she was immensely proud of.
She was one of the Sith, albeit unofficially, and all those under her command knew it and paid her the proper difference due her rank as Vader’s right hand. Unlike Vader though, she was generally far more consistent in her dealings, even when deep in the influence of the Dark Side. She had only ever had to make a handful of examples; far fewer than the myriad Vader was known for. Vader possessed the ability and often the desire to be a more generous and just Commander, but the Dark Side was detrimental to his efforts more often than not.
Yet even with his highly unstable moods and sometimes unorthodox dealings, most of the troops were highly devoted to Vader, possibly more so than to the Emperor and subsequently the Empire. Despite the terror he inspired and the iron fist he lead with, when he wasn’t completely immersed in the Dark Side he was a highly capable and venerated leader. Unfortunately, the Dark Side had an unbalancing effect on Vader. The farther away he was from the Emperor and the closer to his apprentice he was, the more stable he was and tended to cultivate more respect than he managed otherwise. So even when at his most unbalanced, there were still those who had seen a side of Vader similar to that of his apprentice. Because of that, many gave the Dark Lord a level of loyalty and respect Vader valued greatly, especially since they retained that respect after seeing the Dark Lord in all his dark, terrible glory.
However, the missing plans were making Vader’s mood darker and darker, and the list of casualties among his troops was growing larger and larger. Though he hadn’t expressly said to, Athara could sense that he wished for her to join him now that her task was completed. As her shuttle came to a rest within one of the smaller landing bays, she felt Vader’s encompassing presence aboard the Star Destroyer. His brief acknowledgement of her arrival allowed her to pinpoint his location through the Force.
The Shuttle’s ramp was barely extended before she stepped onto the landing platform and made her way past the officers there to meet her. Normally she would have politely put up with the often nervous welcome from various officers, but Vader’s obvious foul mood had created an oppressive and uneasy atmosphere on the ship.
It didn’t take long to reach the bridge, and Athara was hardly surprised by what she found there. All the officers and technicians were incredibly quiet, their fear and apprehension tangible amid the silence. Vader was a dark shadow among the stars on the other side of the viewscreen. She went to stand beside him as the ship jumped to light speed.
“I take it you have located the plans.” Athara had waited a few moments before speaking and, as she expected, Vader replied only by nodding his head. His formidable temper was barely reined in. Even her presence didn’t seem to be enough to calm him in the slightest.
“Ship or planet?”
“Senator Organa’s Consular Ship.” Vader’s voice was deceptively calm. Then again, the vocorder that regulated his breathing and speech didn’t allow for some of the more subtle nuances of the human voice. She couldn’t claim surprise at the ownership of the ship they were chasing.
Both of the Senator Organas, father and daughter alike, were suspected of Rebel allegiances, though up till now there had been no concrete proof. But then, Bail Organa had been much more subtle in his dealings, and the only shade of suspicion since the first days of the Empire were very recent indeed. Leia Organa on the other hand, walked a very fine line. Athara had only met her once, and had been impressed by her composure and spirit in the presence of not only her Master and herself, but the Emperor as well.
“The young Senator Organa?” Once again, Vader’s only response was a nod. “She will be brought to trial then? Surely this is the proof the Empire needs to convict her of treason?” Vader’s silence spoke volumes. Athara sighed. Young Senator Organa likely wouldn’t make it to trial, one way or another. A swift execution had likely already been ordered, and Athara suspected Tarkin would be behind it.
Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin was cruel, calculating, and had little use for her and Vader, and Vader returned the sentiment. Sure they had their uses for each other and were, at times, begrudging allies, but the two favourites of the Emperor had little to do with each other. There was a certain amount of respect between Vader and Tarkin, mostly for each other’s ability to get things done. But Tarkin was unnecessarily cruel to an even greater extent than Vader was, especially after his apprentice’s influence tempered him. Tarkin was practically jubilant at the prospect of commanding the Death Star; Vader wanted nothing to do with it. Tarkin believed fear, and plenty of it, was a necessity to govern and preached the merits of his methods. Vader, though agreeing fear was a useful tool, did not wholly believe that complete and total fear was the best way to enforce and maintain order. Devotion and discipline were more effective, but it had to be earned, not scared into you. In this, Athara wholeheartedly agreed. She had seen first hand what beings would do when fear was used to control them. Fear was a tenuous leash; it was strong at first, but it soon weakened and eventually snapped, causing devastation for both parties involved. Desperation was, after all, just as powerful as fear.
The Devastator soon came out of hyperspace above the planet Tatooine, dropping back into real-space almost on top of the Tantive IV. Brisk orders were given and the Star Destroyer opened fire on the Corvette. Vader didn’t have to say a word. His men had their orders and knew what was expected.
It was all over in the space of a few moments. Athara stood quietly beside her Master as the Tantive IV was disabled and was guided into the Main Landing Bay by tractor beam. It was then that Vader abruptly turned. Athara followed silently, keeping pace behind her Master as they made their way to the ship awaiting them in the Landing Bay.
Compared to the Devastator, the Alderaanian ship was quite small, but to a single person, she was a fairly substantial vessel. By the time Vader and his apprentice made their way to the only open hatch, which had been blasted open, most of the fighting had subsided. Vader didn’t hesitate striding onto the smoke-clouded corridor of the captured vessel, but then, he had a respirator that filtered out the smoke and fumes left over from the boarding party’s firefight. Athara had to wait a moment, drawing on the Force to protect her lungs from whatever still hung in the air. Vader was already striding purposefully down the corridor flanked by a number of troopers by the time she cleared the smoke. Stepping over the bodies of the Tantive’s Crew and Stormtroopers alike, Athara distantly followed Vader, pausing to take reports from troopers and direct the flow of prisoners.
She finally caught up to her Master to find him holding the Tantive IV’s Captain by the throat. The Alderaanian’s feet hovered a foot off the ground, the man gasping for air. Judging by the change in the Dark Lord’s voice when the Captain denied knowledge of the plans, Vader’s patience was reaching its end. It wasn’t long before Athara heard the faint crunching of the Captain’s vertebrae as Vader crushed the man’s neck in his grip. As Captain Antilles fell limp, Vader threw the body aside, practically roaring at the Stormtrooper Commander at his side.
“Tear this ship apart until you find those plans, and bring me the passengers, I want them alive!” The troopers all but scurried off as Vader abruptly strode past the lifeless body of the Captain. His rage was tangible, but Athara managed to keep her face emotionless and stone-like as Vader came directly toward her. The anger radiated off him in waves, putting her even more on edge; pushing her closer to her own limits.
“Find the Consular, now!”
“Yes, Master.” Striding off in the opposite direction, Athara took command of the remaining troopers and began organizing a more rapid search, barking her own orders. One angry Sith and his equally formidable shadow were quite enough to motivate the Stormtroopers further.
Mere moments had passed since the Commanders relayed the new search pattern to their troopers, and the result Athara was anticipating came.
“My Lady Obscura, We have the Consular in custody.” Athara inwardly sighed, letting out a soft breath of relief. She gave a faint grin to the Commander.
“Good. Have her escorted to Lord Vader immediately.” As the Trooper acknowledged her orders, Athara turned and made her way to meet up with Vader. She found him in one of the mid-ship corridors, Princess Leia all but hidden by the mass of Stormtroopers surrounding her. Athara hung back, staying behind the mass of white.
Compared to Vader, Princess Leia was tiny, her petite form dwarfed by Vader’s intimidating armoured height. Her disposition, however, more than made up for her size.
“Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.” Even with the vocorder, Vader’s voice betrayed his irritation, despite his attempts to keep his temper in check. The Princess gazed mildly back at the Sith Lord, a hint of her own irritation on her features.
“I don't know what you're talking about. I'm a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan”
“You're a part of the Rebel Alliance...and a traitor. Take her away!” As the Troopers lead her away, Vader began walking in Athara’s direction, one of his Commanders tagging along. Discreetly, Athara fell into step a polite distance behind them, but not so far that her Force-heightened senses couldn’t hear every word spoken.
“Holding her is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the Rebellion in the senate.” Despite his bold exterior, it was easy to tell that the officer was nervous, more for his position, or his life, than the Imperial cause most likely, but nervous nonetheless. Vader’s ire got the better of him and his temper let out words that sounded almost desperate to the young Sith’s ears.
“I have traced the Rebel spies to her. Now she is my only link to find their secret base!”
“She'll die before she tells you anything.” It was a very bold thing to say to the frustrated Dark Lord. Vader, however, only rebuked him, turning to face the startled officer.
“Leave that to me. Send a distress signal and then inform the senate that all aboard were killed!” Athara couldn’t help but frown at her Master’s order. He was all but covering up this incident! Surely making this incident public—eventually, at least— would have served as an effective warning to others who would cross the Empire. Despite her misgivings, Athara kept her thoughts to herself, especially as a second officer approached ahead of them.
“Lord Vader, the battlestation plans are not aboard this ship, and no transmissions were made. An escape pod was jettisoned during the fighting, but no life forms were aboard.” His report was blessedly succinct and to the point. Athara could all but hear Vader’s conclusion before he spoke, having come to the same one as well.
“She must have hidden the plans in the escape pod. Send a detachment down to retrieve them. See to it personally, Commander. There'll be no one to stop us this time.” Both the Commanders saluted and hurried away. Vader continued walking, now intent on getting off the ship. Athara followed, easily catching up as Vader checked his stride so she could walk comfortably beside him.
“A successful venture, I believe, Master.”
“Do not be so quick to assume success yet, my apprentice. The Plans are not in my hands yet.” Athara ceded him that, but there still seemed little chance for failure at this point. From what she knew of Tatooine, there were few settlements, and there had been no life forms within the escape pod.
“Yes, Master. However, I do not understand why you did not send me. I could have retrieved the plans from the planet in very little time at all. Troopers will take longer.” Vader stopped abruptly, causing Athara to turn and face him. He was much taller than her, but that had never really intimidated her. She learned very early on that his size was the least threatening aspect of Darth Vader.
“No. You will remain here. You will oversee the confinement of the Princess until she is transferred to the Death Star. You will also see to the repair, security and command of the Consular’s ship.” As per usual, Vader all but spat the name of the Empire’s deadliest Battlestation, but there was something else in his orders. Athara had always been good at interpreting things Vader left unsaid, perhaps due to the master/apprentice bond that had grown between them. The Dark Lord either did not want her to leave his side, or he did not want her stepping foot on Tatooine. Her instincts said it was the latter, given that this wasn’t the first time he had prevented her from taking a mission to the isolated sand planet. But as far as Athara knew, Vader hadn’t really been to the desert planet himself beyond the odd visit to pressure Jabba the Hutt to do or not do something. There was no reason why she shouldn’t have been able to retrieve the plans herself. However, one could not simply defy the Dark Lord of the Sith.
Bowing silently, she made her way off the captured ship, cautiously shielding her rebellious thoughts and wayward theories. Vader was not above skimming through unshielded thoughts, and he was on edge enough as it was. Her rebellious musings, even if kept within her own mind, would be quite enough to set off his substantial temper. At least the not-so-subtle gift of the ship was an unexpected bonus… but it still wasn’t quite enough to make her forget about the underlying issue.
As she felt the Devastator jump to Hyperspace beneath her feet, Athara entered the Detention level aboard the Star Destroyer. It took only a few minutes to make the necessary arrangements and go through proper channels and procedures to transfer the custody of Princess Leia into her charge and begin to organize the fate of the Tantive IV. If she was ordered to take control, Athara liked to be fully in charge. The senator was her responsibility and as such, any developments would be reported directly to her. Once the arrangements for the Princess’ transfer to the Death Star’s facilities had been taken care of, Athara went to make her own assessment of her prisoner.
As the compartment door to the Princess’ cell whooshed open, Athara deftly stepped inside. The Princess was a standing, arms crossed, in almost the centre of the cell. A defiant and annoyed expression quickly disappeared from her face to be replaced with a cool diplomatic mask. Athara grinned inwardly as she felt rudimentary mental shields go up. So, the Princess had done her homework. She knew very well whom she was going to be dealing with.
“Your Highness, I trust the accommodations are to your liking.” The Princess’ façade slipped for a moment to reveal a hint of loathing before snapping into place again. Apparently she didn’t think that Athara’s greeting was very amusing.
“As likable as can be expected, but I suspect you already knew that.”
“Of course. I thought you’d like to know your destination. Once we drop out of Hyperspace you will be escorted, by me, to a detention block on the Death Star. There you will be questioned as to the whereabouts of the plans that were briefly in your possession. You would do well to co-operate. After all, the order for your execution has yet to be given, and intensive interrogation is hardly – comfortable. A willingness to tell us what we want to know can only help you at this point.”
“I highly doubt that. I know very well that, even if I were to possess the information Lord Vader is seeking, a willingness to ‘co-operate’ would not get me anywhere.” Athara cocked her head slightly, considering.
“So, you are resigned to torture and death, then.” Athara was grimly pleased that her nonchalant tone caused the young Senator to pale ever so slightly. Only now did she seem to truly understand the situation she was in.
“I am a Senator in the Imperial Senate who has been wrongfully accused of crimes that are nowhere near heinous enough to merit the use of excessive interrogation techniques. Torture is inexcusable under these circumstances. There is no tangible proof of any of wrong-doing on my part.” Despite her vehemence, the young Sith detected a faint tremor in the Senator’s voice. She was trying to convince herself that her convictions were correct, when they both knew they weren’t. Athara felt a small twinge of pity for the young woman. Princess Leia was, at most, a year or two older than Athara herself, and both of them knew what was waiting for the Senator on board the Death Star. Still, the Senator stood strong where many would have faltered, where many had faltered.
“I highly doubt that,” Athara responded quietly, “Pretty words and legal runaround will do you no good, I’m afraid. We will be coming up on the Death Star’s coordinates shortly. You would do well to prepare yourself, Senator.” Athara turned to leave. Leia made a small sound of incredulity as her gaoler turned.
“How does a young thing like you end up with a tyrant like Vader?” Athara let herself grin slightly within the deep cowl of her hood. As she turned back to the princess, she put her hands on her hips, allowing her cloak to be drawn back to showcase her silver and black lightsabre. The Princess’ eyes widened ever so slightly. Surely she must have suspected. At least now any suspicions, or fears, were confirmed. Athara countered further with a question and a blatantly measuring glance of her own.
“You’re one to talk. How does a young thing like you end up mixing with the Rebellion?” The Princess’ mouth stayed stubbornly shut. Athara almost laughed, a small sound reminiscent of a snort escaping instead. “I thought so.” Athara once again turned towards the door of the cell, pausing before willing the door open.
“Lord Vader is my Master. He found me as an infant, raised me and taught me everything I know. I am his apprentice and he is my master and my teacher. That is how I came to be here.” Leia looked stunned for a moment, though whether it was from the fact that Athara had answered her, or the answer itself, Athara could only guess.
“He raised you?” Athara saw a strange flicker in the eyes of the Alderaanian Princess. It was a puzzling mixture of fear and wonder… and pity? The young Sith considered the Senator for a moment.
“Prepare yourself, Princess.” Her stone mask in place once more, Athara turned and walked out of the cell.