Meditation was usually a peaceful time for Athara, however, as the Devastator hurled through Hyperspace towards the Death Star, she found little peace. A sense of foreboding coloured the visions she saw through the Force. It was a strange feeling but one she recognized immediately. It took her longer to recognize the stirring of hope and promise beneath the oppressive feeling she picked up first. The feelings weren’t the only things she sensed. An elusive presence always accompanied these visions, as though someone wanted her to see them and understand.
True visions were rare for Athara. Her Master was much more prone to experiencing those sorts of visions, both of present and future events. Athara only got this strange montage. Visions flashed before her mind’s eye, images of a young, sandy haired boy, a little older than herself, and an old man. Sometimes they were together, sometimes apart. Other times there were more people and droids with them. The messes of visions were made of flashes only, lasting seconds at most. However, the boy carried a sense of destiny about him, as did a girl close to him, or at least, who would be. Her Master, and even the Emperor appeared sporadically. But it was not the boy, or the girl that truly caught her interest. She could feel the touch of the future and the present on those images. It was the images of the past that kept her riveted. A Master and Apprentice were the focus, both men that were important in her life. She could feel the connection, like a tangible cord that stretched between them. Each and every vision was connected to the others, yet Athara couldn’t figure out why.
She was jolted out of her trance when she felt the ship drop out of hyperspace. The visions fled her mind instantly, as though her mind’s eye had blinked and they vanished. She could never remember faces or even images, only feelings. This irritated her. Athara had been having the same set of visions on and off for years. She knew the visions were important events, both of the past and of events that were even now being put into motion. Everything was starting to come together. Previously, the collection of micro-visions had the touch of the past and the future on them only. Now it had shifted. Many were now touched by the feel of the present. Things were starting to happen, and it made the sith apprentice feel uneasy.
However, the ambiguous presence lingered, something that had never happened before. It was calm and collected and wise, reassuring her restless mind. Reaching out, she tried to touch the presence, curious about the familiarity of it. She wanted to know why the visions she couldn’t remember were so important.
On and off for as long as she could remember, in times of loneliness, doubt and emotional strain, a feeling of comfort and calm had often come over her, as if she was never quite alone. She had never given the feeling much thought before, having always taken it for granted. As she reached for the presence that accompanied the visions, a vague idea that they might be one and the same occurred to her. The presence didn’t retreat from her probing, but it remained elusive, as though shrouded in mist.
The Comm device near the doors to her quarters buzzed quietly, pulling Athara’s attention away from the presence. Standing slowly, she walked over to the station, strapping her utility belt with lightsabre to her waist as she went.
Lightsabre training had always been one of Athara’s favourite parts of her lessons. There was a kind of serenity and clarity of mind that she descended to whenever she danced and moved in complex combat formations, her red blade whirling in intricate patterns as it sliced through the air. The only drawback was that while she was so calm and relaxed with her saber, her ability to tap into the darker side of the Force was somewhat diminished. Personally, Athara didn’t mind. In certain situations, she preferred the lighter side of the Force. Vader was not always pleased. Strength was paramount in the world of the Sith, and the Light Side of the Force was weak. Passion, anger and rage were stronger. They enhanced the Sith’s link to the Force and so, in turn, made them stronger, and in the universe they lived in, Athara would need all the strength she could get.
The Emperor was not forgiving of weakness in his followers, especially in the favourite agent of his Right Hand. Still, Athara was always sure to suppress her mastery of the Force when she was near the Emperor.
When she needed to, she could draw a considerable amount of power to herself. Thankfully she didn’t need to very often. As far as Palpatine was concerned, she was stronger as an agent and a commander than as a Force-user. If he knew the true extent of her strength and knowledge in the Force he would likely have her killed. Even when she was across the galaxy from him she had to keep the extent of her abilities under wraps. With so few Force users in the Galaxy, any major disturbances in the Force were immediately felt by, or came to the attention of the Emperor. He also was closely linked to Vader, and by virtue of her link to her master, Athara. Were she to lose control, or even if she were to draw extensively on the Dark Side without careful mental shielding, the Emperor would know.
When she was a child Palpatine would’ve taken her in for training as one of his Hands, but she was too old now, and had been trained too extensively by Vader. She would only be a threat. Vader had shielded her Force signature until she had learned enough to do it herself. The Emperor knew that she could use the Force – that was inevitable – but only in a minimal, flashy way. As far as he was concerned, she only knew enough to use it for show and for the most basic of exercises. Even her lightsabre was, from Palpatine’s perspective, just for show; fear by association essentially. She was just another tool of Vader’s, and she was effective. Which is probably why the Emperor allowed her Master to keep her at all. To Vader, she was a powerful apprentice. To Palpatine, she was a useful agent only; a rather good one, but still only an agent. As a result the Emperor tolerated her, but had little use for her. He didn’t think she could command the type of power he was interested in, or the type of power that would be necessary to help Vader overthrow him. Well, she was fine with that. She had little use for the Emperor and his methods. He was all about subtlety and manipulation.
Athara was more like Vader in her approaches, and that was the straightforward one. Manipulation had a tendency to create horribly tangled webs of deceit and misinterpretation, while subtlety generally took too long and often didn’t create precisely the desired outcome. Then again, the Emperor was a master of his craft. After all, he single-handedly brought about the fall of the Republic to create his Empire. Still, while the old-ways had issues, the Empire wasn’t turning out to be much better. At least, from what Athara had been able to piece together, the Republic held a semblance of justice and diplomacy in its system of government. The Empire had no such semblances. The Empire was simply corrupt. It harboured no illusions to the contrary anymore. Perhaps in the beginning it had, but Athara had only been a child then, and now Emperor Palpatine’s power was absolute.
The message waiting for Athara was one informing her of their approach to the Death Star. Fastening her cloak around her and pulling the cowl low over her face, she quickly made her way to the detention block to oversee the transfer of the Princess to the Empire’s newest Space Fortress.
As she stepped out of the turbolift, Athara was pleased to see a selection of her Troopers waiting for her. Leading the way, she stopped in front of the Princess’ cell and opened the door by hand. Using the Force was all well and good, but Athara liked the tactile feeling of doing things by hand. Vader always gave her a strange, considering look when he saw her doing tasks manually that she could quickly and easily accomplish using the Force. She always brushed it off, saying it was more of a ruse that served as proof for the Emperor’s spies that she had limited command of the Force, but Vader still never quite seemed to understand. The way the panel hummed beneath her fingers as she deactivated the locking mechanism was a surprisingly grounding sensation that she lost when she Force-opened the door.
The door softly whooshed open once again and Athara stepped inside, her dark cloak billowing slightly around her.
“Have you prepared, Princess?” The young senator looked up from her perch on the cell’s narrow cot, her face as cool and calculating as Athara’s. Not saying a word, she watched as two Troopers entered the cell behind the sith apprentice and moved to flank her. Athara didn’t shift her gaze from the Princess as she stood and began the walk to her new accommodations. As Leia was escorted from the cell, she pulled back for a moment to face Athara.
“Tell me one thing,” the Princess asked quietly, her voice unnaturally calm, “What drives him? What could possible fuel that much hate?”
Athara had no answer, and so, volunteered none. She knew whom the princess was referring to, and why she asked. If she had had an answer, she might even have given it, but the sith apprentice did not. Then again, the Alderaanian Princess didn’t seem to expect an answer either. Athara gestured to her Troopers.
The transfer of prisoners was a smooth procedure. Within moments of stepping off the shuttle into one of the cavernous bays of the Death Star, Princess Leia was escorted to a new cell and stowed away until she could be dealt with. Once all the procedural aspects were taken care of, Athara was free of her puzzling charge.
She made it to the Main Landing Bay in time to greet her Master as he disembarked from his own shuttle. She easily fell into step beside him as they strode down the corridor of Stormtroopers.
“Custody of Senator Organa has been transferred successfully, Master. She is available for interrogation at your discretion.”
“As I expected. You have done well, my apprentice.”
“Thank you, Master.” Athara usually basked in any praise she received from Vader, for he only gave it when it was truly deserved. This time, there was no need. She had taken care of dozens of prisoner transfers in the past and he had never said a word. Something was off, and Athara suspected it had something to do with the situation on Tatooine. The Plans still hadn’t been recovered, and something else was bothering Vader. The temptation to ask what was going on was cut short when the pair met up with Grand Moff Tarkin outside of one of the Death Star’s many conference rooms. As the Grand Moff and the Sith Lord exchanged silent greetings, Athara was hard pressed to keep her feelings in check. Tarkin ignored her, of course.
There were very few beings that could inspire the incredible depth of hate within her that Tarkin could. A brief but cutting sidelong glance from Vader told her that her efforts weren’t as effective as they should have been, although, there was a brief flash of something bordering on amusement from her Master. Then again, Vader’s feelings for the Grand Moff were similar to her own.
Inside the Conference Room, a collection of Imperial officers were in heated debate about the effectiveness, and even the purpose, of the Death Star. Commander Tagge and Admiral Motti lead the argument, the conversation moving closer and closer to the realms of the viability of the Rebel Alliance. One thought they were a threat, one did not.
“They're more dangerous than you realize,” Tagge growled quietly, exercising his limited flair for the dramatic and showcasing his tendency toward paranoia. Admiral Motti was much more optimistic than his colleague.
“Dangerous to your Starfleet, Commander, not to this battlestation!”
“The Rebellion will continue to gain support in the Imperial Senate as long as–”
“The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us.” Tarkin leveled the officers with a cool, cutting glance as he strode into the room, followed by Vader and Athara. Tarkin certainly knew when to make the best entrance. He continued speaking, the officers’ attention fixed unwaveringly upon him. “I've just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.” The men around him stared in shock. Even Athara was slightly surprised, though she hid her reaction much better. She had known of the Emperor’s plan to dismantle what remained of the old system, but she had expected the act to be a few years or, at the very least, months, away.
“That's impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?” Tagge was the first to regain his voice after Tarkin’s pronouncement, and to vocalize what the rest of his colleagues were thinking. Tarkin was ready with an answer.
“The regional governors now have direct control over territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station.” Admiral Motti looked smug. Tagge, of course wasn’t done. Athara was nearly tempted to roll her eyes; he was never satisfied.
“And what of the Rebellion? If the Rebels have obtained a complete technical readout of this station, it is possible, however unlikely, that they might find a weakness and exploit it.”
“The plans you refer to will soon be back in our hands.” Vader’s statement was short and to the point and, under usual circumstances, usually enough to staunch any debate. Of course, Motti had to elaborate.
“Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it.”
“Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” Athara could read the warning signs, and they all warned Motti to keep the thoughts going through his head in his head. However, that was too much to ask. Motti was a skeptic, but then, he had had little reason to have anything to do with Vader in the past. Well, he was about to be educated. Fatally so, most like.
“Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fort-” and then his windpipe was closed off. It seemed he had been the only one not expecting Vader’s reaction. The other men surrounding the table were not so oblivious, and had been silently urging the ill-educated Admiral to stop while he was ahead, and still had his life. Vader was a silent, menacing column as Motti began to fight against the invisible hand cutting off his air supply.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing,” the Sith said softly. Athara watched grimly. She may not whole-heartedly approve of all her Master’s methods, but she could live with Motti being turned into an example for other foolish Admirals. Tarkin, however, was not amused.
“Enough of this! Vader, release him!”
“As you wish.” As Admiral Motti slumped to the table, gasping for air, Athara was hard-pressed to hide her surprise at Vader’s willingness to co-operate. Usually he didn’t hesitate to make examples of who doubted him, especially when they were as annoying as Motti... And he rarely did anything with an order from Tarkin but take offence. Tarkin didn’t waste any time moving on.
“This bickering is pointless. Lord Vader will provide us with the location of the Rebel fortress by the time this station is operational. We will then crush the Rebellion with one swift stroke.” Satisfied that his point had been made, Tarkin stood and left the room, leaving behind several stunned and shaken officers in the room with the Sith Lord and his apprentice.
Vader didn’t linger long, and neither did Athara, who followed closely, pausing only to give Admiral Motti one pointed look. It was actually satisfying to see the way he hesitated. Perhaps my Master should leave the doubters alive more often, she thought, Motti’ll certainly remove doubt as far as the truth of the Force and Vader’s reputation are concerned…not that he should have doubted it the first place. Vader’s conquests, campaigns and military capabilities were undoubtedly well known, as were his Force abilities and his temper.
Vader soon turned to Athara as they approached the quarters assigned to the Dark Lord.
“See to it that all is ready for my interrogation of the Princess.”
“Of course, Master,” she hesitated for a moment, “do you wish the droid to be prepared?” Vader continued to gaze at her, his silence telling her exactly what she had been hoping not to hear. Yes, she had implied to the Princess that she would be tortured, but she’d been hoping it would not be necessary. Now all she could hope for was that the droid was only to intimidate, although her feelings told her otherwise. She stepped closer to the towering Dark Lord, minimizing the already low chance of being overheard.
“Master, if I may object, I do not think that is wise. Even though the Senate has been dismantled and, by extension, she is no longer an Imperial Senator, she is still an Alderaanian Princess and their Ambassador. Torturing her goes against every-”
“Watch your tone, my young apprentice.” Athara clenched her jaw to prevent any more of her arguments from spilling out. Vader was already displeased enough.
“Yes, Master,” she confirmed, her voice scarcely above a whisper. Vader held a finger up between them, illustrating his sincerity.
“The Stolen Plans are to be recovered by any means necessary. Is that understood?” Athara mutely nodded her head before turning to begin preparations for the interrogation, still smarting from her Master’s reprimand. She hated torture. She found it ill conceived and largely ineffective. Under torture, a subject would say anything. Stories and intelligence distorted or fabricated by pain and desperation were not reliable sources of information.
It did not take long to prepare one of the Interrogation Droids for the Princess’ session. By the time Vader appeared, Athara was sitting in one of the Cell Block terminal chairs, staring blankly down the aisle of detention cells. Sensing her Master as he ducked into the Detention Area, she stood, turning toward him. Since her features were hidden within the confines of her wide black cowl, she didn’t bother to hide the frustrated look on her face, nor shield her thoughts very well. Vader stared at her for a moment, his displeasure briefly washing over her. For once, Athara didn’t care. Her feelings told her this was wrong, and right now it didn’t matter where those feelings came from.
Flanked by two black-garbed Security Officers, Vader made his way to the princess’ cell. Athara followed close behind, guiding the Interrogation Droid. The door to the young Senator’s compartment whooshed open and two of the guards stepped inside followed by Vader himself. Athara was tempted to smile at the defiant expression on the Princess’ face. That temptation was quashed when Vader took control of the Droid and maneuvered it into the cell after him. The rage Athara felt as the Leia’s expression turned from defiance to fear was bewildering, but she had her orders. She was to stay outside the cell. Vader could not afford another outburst like the one she had earlier. As the door whooshed shut and the Patrolling Officer marched by, Athara could only lean against the bulkhead as she let the rage wash through her.
As if on cue, the soothing feeling emerged through the Force, helping her to control her anger so she could think clearly without the veil of her ire clouding her judgment. There was nothing she could do about Vader’s methods. She was only an apprentice after all, and she deferred to her Master’s judgment.