It wasn’t long before Athara lost track of time, and it was a while after that that Vader emerged from the cell, his frustration coming off him in waves. Wisely, Athara didn’t say a word and took control of the Droid from her Master, allowing him to storm off to calm himself before relating his findings to Tarkin.
Personally, Athara thought he should go to Tarkin immediately. Then, at least, she’d never have to deal with the slimy Grand Moff again…
Passing the Droid off to one of the Security officers, Athara ducked into the Princess’ cell. Needless to say, Athara was more compassionate than her Master, but then, there were few who weren’t. Still, however slight her ability for compassion sometimes was, she still felt duty-bound to see to the condition of the prisoner under her charge.
The Princess was sprawled across the thin, unforgiving metallic cot, still incapacitated from the numerous serum injections the droid had given her. Giving the young Alderaanian a quick once over, Athara was relieved to see that injections seemed to be the only method Vader had relied on. The Princess would be reeling for a few days, but otherwise she would have no real scars.
Not physically, anyway.
Gently, Athara reached for her to move the Princess into a more comfortable position when she was confronted by a pair of confusion- and pain-fogged brown eyes. The two young women stared at each other for a moment before Leia jerked away, her movements painfully uncoordinated. When she spoke, her speech was slow and slurred.
“What do you want? Haven’t you asked me enough questions?” Impressed at the coherence the Princess retained after the introduction of so many interrogation drugs to her system, Athara held her hands up in a non-threatening gesture, keeping her voice low.
“There are no more questions, Princess. I’m just here to be sure that you have no injuries in need of medical attention.” Leia still fixed Athara with a suspicious look, huddling farther into the corner of her cell. Suddenly feeling the need to escape the cramped cell, Athara turned and left, the Princess’ heaving sobs abruptly cut off as the door whooshed shut.
Athara could only wander once she left the detention area, her thoughts too muddled to consider going anywhere else. Thankfully, while she wandered no one thought to interrupt her musings. Whether that was thanks to her current forbidding appearance and aura, or the recognition as the mysterious figure that usually stood at the Dark Lord’s side, she didn’t know and frankly couldn’t care.
Eventually she wandered toward the dark Force signature that signaled her Master’s location. During her wanderings she had felt the ship’s laborious jump to lightspeed beneath her feet, but ideas as to the Death Star’s destination stayed in the back of her thoughts, and those thoughts were many. She pondered the meaning of her visions, her reaction to the torture of the captive princess and even went so far as to ponder her stance on the Death Star’s purpose and the Emperor’s intentions for the monstrous ship whose halls she now strode.
Eventually she tried to push those thoughts aside, forcing herself to muse for a few moments about what to do with the Tantive IV. She was quite tempted to keep it. It was a spoil of war, after all, and she would be perfectly within her rights to keep it, especially as Vader had all but given it to her. For clarity, of course, she would have to clear it with him, but that wasn’t likely to be an issue. She had already ordered the necessary repairs to ensure basic systems and the primary engines were operational again. It would still have to be repaired further, repainted and renamed obviously. Refurbishing and redecorating it could be an option as well. It was a good ship… Unfortunately, making plans for the Tantive IV didn’t quite banish her previous thoughts as effectively as she hoped.
Before long she was in her Master’s presence and had to push all of her musings aside, purposeful and unwanted thoughts alike. It was then that she noticed the Death Star had dropped from Hyperspace. Her senses and mind sharpening, she focused on her Master.
“I want you to collect the Princess and bring her up to meet me in the Main Control Room.” When he refused to elaborate why the Princess was needed there, Athara risked questioning him. He was still in a highly volatile mood.
“If I may ask, Master, what is going on? Where are we?” Vader looked at her for a moment, as if wondering why she wouldn’t know. His feelings were unusually well shielded.
“We are approaching Alderaan. The Grand Moff has decided on a method to further encourage the Princess to cooperate.” Athara could feel the blood drain from her face at Vader’s implications. The Death Star was created to inspire fear. Tarkin didn’t mean to actually use it, did he? That would mean the most powerful weapon ever created was operational. For the first time in a long while, her master was wary, and Athara couldn’t help but feel afraid.
Athara’s pace was brisk as she made her way once again to the detention level to collect the Princess. It wasn’t long before she stood outside the cell door, but the sith apprentice had to take a moment to collect herself before opening it. This was one of the things her visions had been warning against, that she was certain of. The feeling of foreboding was so strong now.
She had a bad feeling about this.
Her time ran out when the two troopers she had called for arrived. Gesturing slightly toward the control panel, she had a hard time focusing enough to even open the door, but she didn’t dare do it manually; her hands were shaking too much.
When the door finally flew open, Athara and the two troopers stepped in. Grim-faced, she took stock of the Princess’ condition, momentarily impressed yet again by how well she had recovered so far. The young Senator still sat in the corner, but she was no longer curling in on herself. The troopers moved forward to cuff her and pull her to her feet where she wobbled for a moment before regaining her balance. Athara struggled to maintain her indifferent mask. The Princess was already wearing her mask of defiance.
“So, where is it that I’m being dragged to now?” Athara was almost tempted to smile at her spunk.
“I see you are recovering quickly. The Grand Moff wishes to speak with you.”
“Why am I not surprised.” If Athara didn’t know any better, she would have believed the Princess, but her senses told her that Leia was indeed surprised, even if it only lasted for a second. Then suspicion took over. When the Princess didn’t say anything more, Athara stepped out of the cell followed closely by the Princess and her escort.
It didn’t take long before they reached the main entrance to the Control Room where Vader was waiting for them. Athara could feel Princess Leia recoil slightly behind her as she caught sight of the towering Dark Lord. Without hesitation or conversation, Athara lead the Princess and her escorts into the corridor leading to the Main Control room with a short glance at Vader. Two more Security Officers fell into step just in front of Athara while Vader followed just behind the Princess.
Tarkin stood before the massive viewscreen that framed a very small-looking Alderaan. Athara could once again feel the Princess stiffen before forcing herself to relax and adopt her diplomatic demeanor. Stepping just off to the side, Athara stopped beside her master while Princess Leia strode defiantly up to Tarkin, who was listening to a more subdued Admiral Motti pointedly relay their arrival at Alderaan. She sensed Leia’s surprise at their location, but the princess didn’t hesitate, even when Vader came to a halt so close behind her that she could lean back against him.
“Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.” Athara could feel her Master tense at the implication that Tarkin gave him orders, as well as Tarkin’s flare of irritation at the Princess’ comment. However, the Grand Moff just smiled as sweetly as he could, which wasn’t in the least reassuring.
“Charming to the last.” He reached a gaunt hand to cup the Princess’ chin. “You don't know how hard I found it signing the order to terminate your life.” She pulled away and he dropped his hand as she replied, barely trying to mask her enjoyment at baiting the man from her voice.
“I’m surprised you had the courage to take the responsibility yourself.” Tarkin was not amused. But Athara was, though her enjoyment was far less than it normally would have been thanks to her current level of anxiety.
“Princess Leia, before your execution I would like you to be my guest at a ceremony that will make this battle station operational. No star system will dare oppose the Emperor now.” The Grand Moff placed particular emphasis on the word execution as he stepped away, gesturing grandly at the expansive control room before once again turning to face the Princess and her escorts. Leia boldly scoffed, masking her fear as best she could.
“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” Her tone was obviously patronizing, but Tarkin was enjoying himself far too much to be seriously bothered by it anymore. Athara knew what was coming next, and that was the threat. She found herself wishing the Princess would reveal the information Tarkin craved.
“Not after we demonstrate the power of this station.” Tarkin slowly approached the Princess, his finger held almost threateningly in Leia’s direction. “In a way, you have determined the choice of the planet that'll be destroyed first. Since you are reluctant to provide us with the location of the Rebel base, I have chosen to test this station's destructive power on your home planet of Alderaan.” He turned to stare out the viewport at the tiny blue planet. Leia lunged forward, all diplomatic facades gone.
“No! Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons. You can't possibly—” Tarkin turned, silencing the Princess. Now, here was the ultimatum.
“You would prefer another target? A military target? Then name the system!” The Grand Moff moved one step closer, then another, until Leia was backed up against Vader. When Tarkin spoke again, his voice was low and threatening.
“I grow tired of asking this. So it'll be the last time. Where is the Rebel base?” Leia could only stare over his shoulder at her Homeworld. Athara almost couldn’t breathe in apprehension, silently begging the Force for Leia to give up the Rebels and for Tarkin to spare Alderaan. She didn’t even care anymore if her thoughts were shielded from her Master. She knew he didn’t want Tarkin to give the order anymore than she did just by the way he had tensed when Tarkin gave his ultimatum. However, the Dark Lord remained silent. Athara couldn’t even pick-up a whisper of his thoughts. The silent seconds grew to minutes before Leia spoke. Athara could feel the princess’s mind whirring to come up with a Planet to replace Alderaan. She wasn’t truly going to reveal the location of the Rebel base.
“Dantooine,” she said, struggling to put the pain of surrendering and betraying her cause into her voice as she looked up at Tarkin. She couldn’t afford to show him her hate or her lie. Leia’s head and shoulders drooped in resignation as she repeated the fake location. “They're on Dantooine.”
“There. You see Lord Vader, she can be reasonable.” Athara knew Vader could feel the Princess’ lie just as easily as she could, but for the moment he was content to let Tarkin think he had succeeded, especially if that feeling of success were to spare Alderaan. They both knew that destroying a planet such as Alderaan would only galvanize the Rebels and push more to their cause. Vader might not be as politically savant as the Emperor or Tarkin, but he was a seasoned leader; she knew he recognized how unwise destroying Alderaan would be from that perspective alone.
Athara’s relief was cut short though, as was her Master’s and the Princess’s. Tarkin immediately turned from smirking at Vader to Admiral Motti, who was standing by for just such an order.
“Continue with the operation. You may fire when ready.” Athara’s eyes widened in a shock and panic that matched that of her Master’s before those final words had left the Grand Moff’s mouth, but their sense of panic and horror were nothing compared to the Princess’.
“What?” The disbelief on Leia’s face was almost painful to witness. Tarkin was enjoying the terror he saw on the Princess’ face far too much.
“You're far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration. But don't worry. We will deal with your Rebel friends soon enough.”
“No…” Leia tried to run forward, but to what end, Athara didn’t know. Vader reached out to pull the Princess back against him, restraining her with a mere touch. It was a testament to the strength of the horror and disbelief the Princess was feeling that she didn’t even try to fight back. Athara knew what was coming, had know instinctively what was coming before the words even left Tarkin’s mouth, but she could do nothing to stop it or even prepare herself. She was frozen with the same horror that diminished the Princess’s will to fight back. Even she, who could feel the deepest, darkest depths of Wilhuff Tarkin’s depravity, could not have predicted this.
With sick anticipation, the Princess and the Sith apprentice could feel the great weapon powering up beneath their feet. Time seemed to stand still as the monstrous space station seemed to hum to life around them. Then Leia, Athara, and even Vader watched in horror as a vivid green bolt of energy shot with terrible accuracy straight into the heart of the peaceful little planet.
It was as though all the breath and the ability to ever breathe again had been crushed out of Athara’s chest. Terrible, deafening screams burst into her head and a fathomless black void flashed before her eyes. She was all alone in a cold, crushing emptiness being battered from all sides by the unimaginable terror of feeling millions of lives being suddenly ended in one fiery, blasting moment. For the briefest instant she was frozen in place, unable to move a muscle.
Then it seemed to strike her physically. Her hands flew to her head and a strangled cry of her own escaped her lips as indescribable fear and horror plowed into her mind. The pain was immense, all but knocking her senseless as the feel of all those terrible final moments were suddenly cut off, as though they had never happened or even existed. She still couldn’t breathe; her lungs had forgotten how to work. She could still hear the now distant screams echoing through her mind even as Leia screamed beside her. She could feel the floor dropping from beneath her feet as an iron grip closed around her arm.
Then the rage began to build, and she used it to force air back into her lungs and to order her vision to clear. Distantly she heard the distinctive cracking of viewscreens and monitors throughout the bridge, and subconsciously she realized that it was because she was beginning to lose control. But she didn’t care in that moment; her thoughts were far too shattered and she was far too angry to keep her power remotely in check. Thankfully everything she saw now had clarity she rarely experienced, save when she was totally immersed in the Dark Side.
The debris field where Alderaan once was was barely visible amid the deep blackness of space. Leia, having collapsed the instant Alderaan had disintegrated under the compulsion of that vicious green bolt, painfully fell upon herself in grief and agony as her screams slowly became wails and eventually sobs. Athara had only remained on her feet because of her Master’s steadying hand, although she could sense he was experiencing the same horrible feelings she was. He was only in better shape physically because of the extent his body had been mechanized. Internally, his mind was just as ravaged and horrified as his apprentice’s. But, like his apprentice, the rage conjured by the annihilation of Alderaan allowed the Dark Side to flood his being, giving him back some semblance of control.
In stark contrast to mere seconds earlier, Athara now felt completely hollow save for the rage that was slowly allowing her to regain control of herself. Around her, Tarkin was already ordering scouts to be sent to Dantooine and for the sobbing Princess to be escorted back to her cell, as well as for a maintenance crew to be brought to the command centre. Vader, having recovered more quickly then his apprentice, began leading the two of them out of the Control Room. Distantly, Athara felt herself being pulled away from the scene that had just unfolded before her eyes, still unable to tear her gaze from where Alderaan had been what already seemed like an eon ago.Uncomprehending, Athara was led back the quarters she and her Master shared, her thoughts still too ravaged to think clearly. The last thing she felt before sinking into a cold oblivion was a blast of rage and helplessness that rocked the deadly Space Station to the core.