Lady Obscura: Little More Than a Shadow

Chapter 25

As she inched down the hallway of the Imperial Garrison’s Primary Operations level, she mentally chided herself for what seemed like the thousandth time for not paying closer attention to her bad feelings. Going to Naboo was supposed to be about finding out more about her mother.

Instead she was risking everything to spy on the Imperials trying to catch her.

She had barely stepped off the Transport ship when she realized that perhaps coming to Naboo was a mistake. There were Imperials everywhere, and as she made her way into the capitol city of Theed, she was certain she overheard a couple of Troopers absently discussing why there could possibly be an arrest warrant, or a bounty for that matter, out on the Shadow Woman…meaning her. A handful of Troopers in the ranks of one of Vader’s legions had taken to calling her that instead of Obscura many years ago, and it had evidently spread. That they were talking about her like that meant that they were on the lookout for her. And the fact that they had been marveling over how young she looked meant they knew what she looked like without her trademark cowl.

It had taken some clever Force tricks and a whole lot of luck to get past the Troopers stationed around the Theed Spaceport and into the city proper. She knew she probably should have just turned around and gotten on a ship leaving the little green planet.

But she had been entranced before the Transport ship even broached Naboo’s atmosphere. It gleamed like a vibrant green jewel amid the glimmering darkness of space. It was a beautiful planet, both up close and from afar, and not even the presence of Imperial Troops could diminish that. The Spaceport sat below the capitol city, so Athara’s first glimpse of Theed was looking up to the Palace and the waterfalls that limned the cliffs upon which the city peered down from. The city itself was all gold and green, the warm-hued stone welcoming and homey while still lending the capitol a cultured and stately air. And there was water, wide avenues and green space everywhere she looked.

She knew then that she was being foolish, but she could not help herself. Still, she was cautious in her foolishness. She headed immediately for the outskirts on the opposite side of the City from the Imperial Garrison but still relatively close to the Spaceport. It’s not like she hadn’t evaded Imperials or imminent capture before.

It was there that she managed to find a small golden-stoned Guesthouse where she took out a room. It was a little building surrounded by lovely flower-filled gardens and run by an older woman, Dema, who, after taking Athara’s measure with keen eyes, had welcomed Athara with friendly, though deceptively innocent questions. Athara liked her immediately. She had reminded her of Renate; a gentle heart but with a steel in her spine and a sharp mind that missed little. More than that, there was something familiar about her that was reassuring beyond her similarities to Renate. It had concerned Athara a little the way the older woman seemed, almost imperceptibly, lost. Every now and then a look of confusion and forgetfulness followed by recollection would pass over her face as Athara spoke to her, but the Force did not warn her away from the woman. If anything, it had seemed like it was assuring her that this woman could be trusted. And the former sith apprentice had learned to trust in the Force.

She was the one who pointed Athara to the best places in Theed to access public records and the best ways to go about finding (or finding out about) someone. It was advice that Athara was immensely grateful for, even if she wasn’t sure how she was going to access some of those places without being discovered.

Unfortunately, discovering Dema’s little house and finding help in the older woman proved to be the extent of her good luck. As she made her way through the city to the Public Records building Dema recommended she try first, someone saw her. More accurately, someone recognized her. She had no idea who, possibly some passerby who had recognized her face from the Holonet—she couldn’t quite walk around a city like Theed with her deep-cowled cloak, that would draw more attention that showing her face—and had alerted the Imperials. But next thing she knew there was a shout of ‘hey, you there,’ and she was running from a patrol of Stormtroopers. It had taken a little effort to lose them, especially as they knew the city and she didn’t, but she had finally managed to slip away.

But it meant the city was soon on total lockdown, with Troopers swarming from the Garrison to sweep the city. She’d barely made it back to the outskirts without being spotted again. More than that, as she’d been sneaking back toward the Spaceport, she’d overheard that the Spaceport itself was all but shut down. It was very unlikely that she was going to be able to easily leave the planet. She wasn’t keen on the idea of stealing a ship and fighting her way out, but it had quickly become her best option.

She had been musing over the best way to get down from the city to the Spaceport when a set of small but surprisingly strong hands had pulled her into the shaded alcove of a nearby building. Spinning to fight her way free from her captor she had been bewildered to find herself staring into the dark eyes of her accommodation’s proprietor.

“Dema,” she hissed, “what—” but the woman had clapped a hand over Athara’s mouth, peering sedately around beyond the alcove to see if there was anyone around.

When she was satisfied they were alone for the time being, something Athara had already known given that she’d reached out through the Force to sweep the area around her, the older woman withdrew back into the alcove, tucking a few stray strands of her dark hair back into place. But Athara hadn’t felt anyone approaching…not even Dema. Her eyes widening involuntarily, she stared at the older woman, reaching out to brush against her thoughts. She couldn’t reach them. Athara was certain the woman wasn’t Force-sensitive, but she’d had significant training in how to shield her mind from one, and evidently was able to sneak up on one. Dema noticed her bewilderment and gave her a quick half-smile.

“I have been around enough Jedi in my life to recognize a Force-user when I see one,” she murmured, dropping her hand cautiously from Athara’s mouth. Athara could only stare at her in shock. Dema acted like she didn’t notice, peering out to scan their surroundings again. The bright sunlight streaming through the street and the courtyard beyond glinted on the silvering strands of Dema’s hair. Athara had pressed farther back into the shadows, her hand absently dropping to where she had hidden her lightsabre in a deep interior pocket of her jacket. The feel of the weapon within easy reach unconsciously reassuring. They had been well hidden for the moment, but Athara hadn’t been keen on staying put for long.

“It was reckless coming here, Obscura,” the older woman had continued, still ignoring the way Athara gaped at her. The former sith bristled.

“My name is not Obscura,” she had snapped, barely remembering to keep her voice low. Dema only shot her a mild look that bordered on amusement.

“Tell that to the Imperials that have been waiting here for you.” Athara froze. Waiting for her? Athara’s eyes slid shut as she groaned with aggravation at herself. She had walked right into a trap.

“His foresight…he knew I would come here,” she breathed, her resentment seeping into her voice, “I am such an idiot.” This whole trip had turned into a disaster. Dema’s face held only sympathy. Athara’s mind was already whirring, though. Her eyes turned to meet Dema’s. “Why are you doing this?” Dema smiled sadly, an expression of loss that Athara recognized easily.

“I am no friend to the Empire,” she said softly, though there was a hardness and a strength to her voice that brought a faint frown of consideration to Athara’s face. There was more to Dema than met the eye. But then the faint lost expression passed over the older woman’s features and the power in her expression dimmed. “You need to get off Naboo.”

“I can do that without too much difficulty,” Athara assured her quietly. Dema had shot her another faintly exasperated look. Athara had merely raised her eyebrows at her, practically daring the woman to doubt her abilities. Then another thought hit her.

“You said they were waiting for me.”

“Yes. Imperial troops have been descending on Naboo for weeks and Holos of you are everywhere,” Dema’s soft voice had paused then as the sound of a small patrol came up on the courtyard just beyond their alcove. Both women fell silent until they passed, “I imagine just about every Imperial in the city is on the hunt for you right now.”

“Then the Garrison will be just about deserted,” Athara said, deep in thought. Dema frowned for a moment before a look appeared on her face that said precisely just how foolish she thought Athara was.

“That is a terrible idea.”

“No it isn’t,” the former sith apprentice waved off absently, “Imperial Garrisons are all the same—seen one, you’ve seen them all—I can get some intel, find out what they were ordered to do with me, maybe steal a ship. It’s a better idea than trying to sneak into a Spaceport that is crawling with Imperials. Plus, honestly, who would expect me to break into an Imperial Garrison?” She had glanced over at the older woman then. Her expression hadn’t changed, save that her eyes had narrowed with resolve.

And that was how Athara came to be sneaking through the deserted corridors of the Garrison with a woman old enough to be her mother shadowing her every move. It was exasperating, thinking that this woman didn’t seem to trust Athara’s abilities enough to let her be. No, she had to risk her own neck to keep an eye on the former sith apprentice. Athara had tried to warn her off, but Dema had abjectly ignored every warning the former sith could put to her.

To be fair, she was not slowing Athara down. It was enough to make her wonder just how closely the older woman had worked with Jedi in days long past, and just who she was. She seemed to know just how best to work with Athara and her abilities. She followed close, didn’t look on in bewilderment or impatience when Athara paused to take stock of their surroundings with the Force, and was attentive to every move and instruction Athara made or gave.

The only real objection Dema made was when Athara led them to the Auxiliary Command Station and immediately logged in and began bypassing the security to get at the Imperial dispatches.

“Wouldn’t it be better if you were to keep watch? Your senses are much keener,” Dema said rather diplomatically from where she stood near the entranceway. Athara didn’t even look up from the viewscreen.

“Who here was the Imperial Agent? I know what I’m looking for and I know how and where to find it,” Athara responded, her voice just as low as Dema’s, “besides, I just found it.” Dema didn’t say anything in response, prudently allowing Athara quiet to skim over the most recent communications. One section in particular stood out to her, most likely because it was in reference to her. It was older correspondence, a couple weeks old, even. Dema hadn’t been exaggerating; they really had been anticipating her arrival on Naboo for a while now.

{Intelligence procured by his Imperial Highness Emperor Palpatine indicates that the fugitive Dark Lady Obscura is either currently in the Chommell Sector, on the Planet of Naboo, or imminently expected to arrive.. Elevated levels of alacrity and vigilance recommended.. Use extreme caution when confronting and apprehending Target.. Target extremely dangerous and anticipated to put up lethal resistance.. Target is not to be underestimated.. Once captured, Target is to be transferred directly to the Imperial Palace on Coruscant..}

{{Request for additional Troops to assist in search and surveillance..}}

{Reinforcements dispatched.. Target no longer to be transferred to Coruscant.. Send report when sighting is confirmed.. New transfer instructions to follow upon confirmation of Target’s presence on Naboo..}

Athara frowned as she read that. There was little doubt that the Emperor was going to want her brought directly to him. But the order to not bring her to Coruscant was troubling. Was he not on the Capital at the moment? If he wasn’t that was news indeed; it had been years since Palpatine had left the City-planet. She skipped ahead a bit, to the day before, when she had first been sighted. She could feel all the blood leaving her face as she read the most recent dispatches.

{{Lady Obscura sighted in Theed.. Anticipating location and capture of target imminently.. Requesting further instructions..}}

{By order of the Emperor, once apprehended, Lady Obscura is to be brought before his Imperial Highness aboard the Death Star II.. She is to be alive and as undamaged as possible.. REMINDER: Use extreme caution when confronting and apprehending Target.. REMINDER: Target extremely dangerous and anticipated to put up lethal resistance.. DO NOT underestimate Target.. Coordinates to follow upon confirmed capture.. }

He was on the Death Star. The Emperor was on the Death Star II.

If her suspicions were correct, the Alliance Fleet knew the location of the second Death Star, and was on the verge of planning an attack on the Empire’s newest Battlestation. That the Emperor was to be on board…well, it wouldn’t change anything, but might lend an added urgency and determination to the attack. Of course, there was a fair chance the Alliance already knew the Emperor was on board thanks to the Bothans’ spy networks, hence the timing for the possible offensive. Still, it was the kind of intel that Athara couldn’t imagine keeping to herself. She had to get it to the Alliance. She quickly pulled a datachip she kept for just such occasions from one of the pouches on her belt and plugged it into the console and initiated a download of the transmissions.

Besides…it would also serve as added proof that the Imperials were hunting her, something a collection of members in the Alliance—like Leia—still didn’t entirely believe, according to Lando.

Mulling over this newest turn of events, Athara turned to locating anything else of possible use. She was after anything the Alliance could use. She did come across a list of old (and thus likely forgotten, in her experience) active clearance codes and was in the process of copying them to the datachip when Dema made a small noise, ducking back into the room. Immediately Athara was on high alert, her senses stretching out to pinpoint exactly where the approaching officers were. In an instant the data chip was tucked away and Athara was at Dema’s side, peering out into the hallway.

Two officers, talking quietly between themselves, had just turned the corner, obviously making their way to the room Athara and Dema were in. Thinking quickly, Athara reached out with the Force again, searching for something, anything, to distract them so Athara and Dema could make their escape. She found their ticket in the form of a series of pipes just around the corner from where the two Imperials had just appeared. With a sharp yank through the Force, Athara pulled one of them from the wall. A metallic shriek echoed through the hall as one of the pipes tore away from its brethren, sending pressurized gouts of water spraying into the corridor. With a yell, the two officers were turning and dashing back the way they’d come to see what was going on.

Athara and Dema took their chance.

Without even a hushed word, they both slipped quickly out of the Command Station and began making their careful way back out of the Garrison. Athara wished she had gotten more but it was getting too risky to keep poking around for intelligence, and her feelings were urging her to move on. She couldn’t help but feel that they’d been too lucky, though, and absently mused that their good fortune was likely on the verge of running out; the bad feeling she and Luke had both experienced before she had left Tatooine had reemerged in the pit of her stomach.

If it hadn’t been for the caution that had been intensifying since she and Dema vacated the Command Station, Athara might not have noticed the Troopers making their way back to the Garrison when she had, and she certainly wouldn’t have registered the surprise of one of them through the Force when he caught a glimpse of her, catching sight of her reflection in one of the chromed walls that most Imperial compounds seemed to possess.

At first he was only suspicious, something Athara picked up on. In that instant, she made a split-second decision. It gave her enough time to unceremoniously shove Dema back down the Hall they had come from, pulling the older woman into a supply closet they had passed only a moment before.

Easing the door shut behind her, she yanked the datachip from its pouch and pressed it into Dema’s hands. Athara almost didn’t realize she had reached for her lightsabre until it was firmly in her hand. Dema’s eyes dropped to the weapon, her memory-fogged eyes glancing over the faintly gleaming hilt. Athara grabbed Dema’s shoulder, squeezing gently to ensure the older woman was paying attention to what she was saying.

“You say you are no friend of the Empire? Prove it now; I need you to get this to the Alliance. Contact Bek Reem on Corellia; you should be able to find him through Geeno Madal of Madal Shipyards. Transmit the information here to him. Tell him it’s from me and he needs to get it to Alliance High Command as soon as possible; if he can’t get it directly to them, at least get it to Commander Adyé or General Madine.” She knew those two would take what she sent them seriously. Dema stared at Athara in shocked silence as a flash of understanding surfaced in her eyes, though there was no trace of surprise on her face. She saw in an instant what Athara was planning. But before she could protest, Athara had a hand over her mouth.

“You need to do this. They know I’m here; I’m not getting out of here except with them; I can feel it. You say you knew Jedi? You understand what I mean.” Dema’s eyes clouded with the now familiar bewilderment Athara had seen before, though there was now a pain that cut through it like a blade. She nodded slowly, her expression grave as she toyed anxiously with the pendant on her necklace.

Then Athara outlined the best way for Dema to get out of the Garrison quickly, without being spotted, while Athara distracted the rest of the Base. As she turned about to leave, Dema reached over, laying a gentle hand on Athara’s shoulder.

“You came here looking for answers for yourself, didn’t you,” she said quietly. Athara couldn’t help but shoot her a ‘you’re really doing this now?’ look that the older woman again ignored. But she continued without pausing, “If you are who I think you are, come find me when this is all over…you look like her, you know.” Athara gaped. This woman had the uncanny ability to keep surprising her.

“Who?” Athara already knew.

“Your mother, Neva.” Dema watched her with her knowing dark eyes, her expression more focused and aware than Athara had yet seen; the lost sensation Athara had felt in her before was diminishing. “Now go!” Physically turning the former sith apprentice, the older woman urged her back toward the door, the tightness around her eyes and mouth the only indication she hated this idea of Athara’s. Shaking her confusion and sudden crushing curiosity away, Athara turned her thoughts ahead to what she needed to do.

She needed to distract the Troopers long enough that Dema could sneak out of the Garrison by way of the often-ignored back quarter. Slipping out of the door, she edged along the way she and Dema had been headed before Athara had been spotted.

She got farther through the Garrison toward the Landing Platform than she anticipated but not quite as far as she hoped when she was spotted again…not that she was trying terribly hard to avoid being seen.

Evidently one of them panicked, because they had barely caught sight of her before one of them opened fire, and not with the intention of stunning her. In an instant her lightsabre was lit and cutting vibrant blue arcs through the air as the blaster fire ricocheted off her blade without ever coming close to reaching her.

It felt good. She hadn’t really used her lightsabre in what felt like forever. Sparring with Luke and running through her exercises were all well and good, but this was different. The blade felt alive in her hand, an extension of her own limbs as it dipped, slashed and whirled around her. It felt like dancing. As she relaxed, letting the Force flow through her, she felt calm, collected…powerful and capable. There was not trace of anger within herself and in that moment she felt as though she was truly free of the Dark Side. Troopers ahead of her scattered, some falling as she easily deflected their deadly red bolts back at them.

But more kept coming. It seemed the Troopers who had engaged her had called for reinforcements. Athara could feel great waves of Imperials rushing back toward the Garrison. Soon she was going to be overwhelmed with little choice but to capitulate if she wanted to survive to leave Naboo. She only hoped Dema had gotten away from the Garrison without any problems.

It seemed she was going to see the Emperor…

If by some miracle she survived this, Luke was going to kill her…

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