It wasn’t long before Athara came to, though her head was pounding in the aftermath of Alderaan’s destruction. The comfort of the mysterious presence would certainly be welcome now. As if in response, a fleeting brush of concern touched her mind before vanishing without a trace. Groaning, she pushed all thought of the feeling or presence or whatever it was aside. Carefully she pulled herself to her feet and stumbled the first few steps to the ‘fresher. After splashing cold water in her face several times, trying to clear the feelings and the mental ache lingering from a short time before, she looked up into the mirror above the sink.
She should’ve expected the vivid yellow eyes that stared back at her, but they still startled her nonetheless. She had fully immersed herself in the Dark Side to shield her mind from the shock of feeling an entire planet’s destruction; of course it was going to manifest itself. Then again, she so rarely immersed herself that completely that having her eyes change from a dark grey-blue to a garish yellow was always a bit of a shock. That’s why she usually avoided mirrors when she let the Dark Side have free reign over her mind and senses.
Tugging off her now crumpled cloak, Athara set about at least putting the rest of her appearance to rights since there was little she could do about her eyes. For that, she needed to be patient until the effects of the Dark Side’s use wore off.
She had messed up, big time, and she knew it.
From the instant that the laser beam reached Alderaan’s atmosphere Athara’s memory was blurred. Even after she submerged herself in the Dark Side, her mind hadn’t cleared enough to process exactly what happened next. She vaguely remembered letting loose a wave of rage that damaged consoles and viewscreens. After that, she recalled only that Vader had pulled her away from the Control Room and even carried her part of the way to their quarters. She had been so unprepared for Alderaan’s destruction that she had lost control completely. She had released enough power in her pain and fury that the damage she caused was akin to that a violent outburst from her Master would produce.
Now she was afraid she had ruined everything her Master had worked so hard to do in order to train her, to protect her. There was no doubt the Emperor would have felt something of her outburst. Alderaan’s destruction may have drowned out the extent of it, but he would know. Whether or not her cover was blown was now a lingering concern for Athara, and she couldn’t stop herself from begging the Force that it wasn’t.
Pushing her fears aside as best she could, she quickly brushed out her long, honey-brown hair, braiding bits back to keep most of the persistent strands out of her face before coiling and pinning the rest of it at the base of her skull. She then washed her face, hoping her complexion would once again be clear, and not the blotchy red that high emotions and trauma caused. Her long burgundy tunic was horribly wrinkled but Athara did her best to smooth it out. As much as she wanted to rid herself of the clothes that would now be a constant reminder of what she witnessed, that would betray weakness. Instead, she decided that they would be a reminder, a memorial of sorts. She knew it meant she was being overly sentimental, but every time she donned these clothes from now on, she would feel the residual Force signature of the Destruction of Alderaan; a reminder never to let a tragedy like that occur again.
Throughout her limited lessons on Sith history and theory, the things past Masters of her order had done in the pursuit of power had repulsed her, though she never allowed herself to show it. Anything that created pain, fear and anger was a potential conduit of the Dark Side; a way to channel and gather more power than a single Dark Lord of the Sith could summon on his own. With that kind of massive potential, the Sith Lords of the past had done awesome, terrible things, things that had given Athara nightmares for weeks. She was not like that, and while her Master would use the fear of his opponents against them, he would never use something as abominable as the destruction of an entire planet to fuel his own power. It was unthinkable, even for Vader.
The Emperor on the other hand…
As satisfied with her appearance as she could be, Athara made her way to the main chamber of her and Vader’s large set of rooms. They were in no way opulent and, if anything, were rather bare, even neglected. Vader didn’t need anything to liven up his suite of rooms, and Athara followed his example. Possessions were unnecessary to them. What use did they have of material things beyond necessities? Sure, Athara had the odd little trinket that she carried with her, but while she was aboard ships and Battlestations there was little use. In her suite of apartments on Coruscant, however, she had indulged herself and allowed for some decoration and possessions to personalize her quarters. It was still nothing compared to the opulence of the Emperor’s Palace, though.
As soon as she stepped out of her private quarters, she was greeted by the sight of Vader staring out of the large viewport that dominated one wall of the main room. She could sense an extreme amount of turmoil coming from her Master, and it was making Athara wary. She silently came up to stand beside the stoic Dark Lord.
They stood in silence for several moments, staring out into space, Vader’s respirator the only sound in the otherwise empty rooms. She could feel nothing within the endless void before her. It was massively unsettling. She should feel something, but then, there was now no life in the Alderaan System save that which was aboard the Death Star. It was a long while before her Master spoke.
“Dantooine was the location of a Rebel Base, only it had been abandoned some time ago.” Athara continued staring out the viewport. That was no surprise. The Princess’s lie had been obvious to the Force-users in the Control Room.
“It is safe to assume then that Tarkin was less than pleased.”
“That is correct. He ordered the Princess to be executed immediately.” Athara’s breath hitched for a moment, but she tried to contain her reaction. It didn’t work. Vader looked down at his apprentice. “You feel it ought to be otherwise?” Athara scrambled for a response.
“I believe that—that she has not yet outlived her usefulness.” The reasoning sounded false, even desperate to the apprentice’s ears, but she could not take it back now. Besides, it was the only acceptable reason she could think of to try and keep the Princess alive. Vader seemed almost amused.
“That is perhaps the only reason she still lives.” This time Athara managed to keep her reaction, a sigh of relief, to herself. She still could not shake the feeling that the Princess was important, and therefore must stay alive. Before Athara could say anything further, the intercom beeped.
“Lord Vader, a small cargo ship has been detected entering the Alderaan system. Grand Moff Tarkin requests your presence in the Primary Officer’s Conference Room.” Vader stood silent for a moment, obviously thinking, before turning and making his way out of the suite. Athara, once again feeling the touch of events being put in motion, had little choice but to follow.
Before long, the pair was standing in the Conference Room again, waiting for word that the ship was secure in one of the landing bays. Almost as soon as it sounded, Tarkin answered the buzzing intercom.
“We've captured a freighter entering the remains of the Alderaan system. Its markings match those of a ship that blasted its way out of Mos Eisley.” Athara glanced over at Vader. She hadn’t been told of that. That could be the explanation she was looking for as to his foul mood earlier. Her suspicions seemed right, as Vader perked up a little at the news. Perhaps now he would be able to retrieve the plans? Athara wasn’t convinced that was the reason. There was something else going on, something elusive. She shook the feeling from her mind; it was too distracting.
“They must be trying to return the stolen plans to the princess. She may yet be of some use to us.” Turning, Vader nodded sharply to his apprentice. Athara understood immediately and left the room, quickly making her way to the landing bay.
The search was already under way by the time Athara reached the small, junky-looking ship, so she didn’t see the need to interfere until something truly needed her attention. So she waited patiently at the bottom of the ramp for the initial search to be completed. It wasn’t long after that Vader himself appeared. Almost instantly an officer appeared to make a report.
“There's no one on board, sir. According to the log, the crew abandoned ship right after takeoff. It must be a decoy, sir. Several of the escape pods have been jettisoned.” Athara wasn’t wholly convinced. This was all too coincidental. This ship was here for a reason. Apparently Vader thought so as well, though his attention seemed to be drawn elsewhere.
“Did you find any droids?”
“No, sir. If there were any on board, they must also have jettisoned.” It was all very puzzling. An empty ship that just happens to appear in the system soon after Alderaan was destroyed; it was hiding something, though just what, Athara wasn’t sure. Curious as to what was diverting the Dark Lord’s attention, she let herself take a quick scan of the ship using the Force. There was something there all right; she just couldn’t put her finger on exactly what, or who, it was. For some inexplicable reason, it seemed familiar…
“Send a scanning crew on board. I want every part of this ship checked.”
“Yes, sir.” The Officer in charge was efficient and, judging by the Scanning Crew on standby just beyond the freighter, he had apparently been considering it himself. He didn’t hold Athara’s attention for long though. The mysterious presence was enough to distract her, but Vader’s reaction was something else.
“I sense something...a presence I haven't felt since...” He said it to himself, almost unaware that he had said anything at all. Then he suddenly turned and strode purposefully out of the Hanger. Athara, her curiosity piqued, could do nothing but follow. The officers in charge of searching the ship could handle it. Besides, she had a feeling that if anything were to happen, it would only do so after Athara and Vader left.
Vader began the trek back to the Conference room, but paused for a moment, turning to his apprentice.
“I want you to go to the detention level and check on the Princess, then meet me in the main hanger when the scans are completed.”
“Master, what is going on?”
“I’m not entirely certain, but one thing is clear. That ship was not empty.”
“I understand that, but why didn’t we search it instead of letting the scanning crews do it?”
“That is my concern. You have your instructions, my apprentice.” Athara was slightly stunned by the slight. Vader was usually quite open with her in matters like this. He was hiding something, and it had something to do with that mysterious presence onboard the freighter.
“Yes, Master, but—” Vader silenced her with a glance before marching away. Frustrated, Athara stormed off, reaching the detention level much quicker than any previous occasion. Snapping at the Officers on duty, she received a short, detailed report as to the Princess’ security and left detailed instructions should anything out of the ordinary happen. With nothing more to be done, Athara wasted no time leaving the detention area. Having little else to do, she quietly made her way towards the Conference Room where Vader was no doubt bringing Tarkin up to date. Shielding her presence, since she was sure she wasn’t invited into the debriefing, she stationed herself outside the door, just within earshot. The voices, though muffled, were audible when she used the Force to heighten her senses. Vader was pacing, his Force signature betraying his obvious agitation.
“He is here.” Tarkin didn’t sound wholly convinced by Vader’s statement.
“Obi-Wan Kenobi! What makes you think so?” The name was familiar to Athara, though she couldn’t quite place it, and so filed the tidbit of information away for later.
“A tremor in the Force. The last time I felt it was in the presence of my old master.” Vader’s old master? It wasn’t the first time Athara had heard her master mention a master that predated the Emperor, but it was the first time she’d heard a name to go with it.
“Surely he must be dead by now.”
“Don't underestimate the power of the Force.”
“The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion.” A Jedi? Here? Perhaps that was why the presence seemed so familiar? Essentially, Jedi were similar to the Sith, though with a much narrower interpretation of the Force and how to control it. Still, that wasn’t what nagged at Athara about the presence. There was something else, but she still couldn’t place it.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a nearly silent buzz from the intercom, which Tarkin promptly answered, his voice betraying that his thoughts were still on the possible re-appearance of a supposedly dead Jedi. The voice from the intercom was almost too quiet to hear, and what Athara heard was enough to spark her temper and start her on a series of silent self-reprimands.
“Governor Tarkin, we have an emergency alert in detention block AA-twenty-three.” Athara thought ‘the Princess’ at almost the same time as Tarkin said it. Without waiting to hear another word, Athara was already heading down toward the detention area. Apparently it had been a mistake to leave the detention block.
The sight that met her was one of chaos. What remained of a squad of Stormtroopers was firing into the row of cells that held the princess. Billowing white smoke from damaged consoles and security features filled the room, and sparks flew all over the place. Over the noise filling the detention block, Athara could hear the signal being given for the whole station to be put on alert. Not pausing to join the fray, Athara ducked behind the remaining troopers to one of the few remaining consoles. Quickly pulling up their location on the screen, Athara examined the layout of the cellblock. The only entrance was blocked, but there were a couple of garbage chutes. Since the only blaster fire now was coming from the Troopers, the Princess and her rescue party were either dead, dying, hiding in one of the many cells down that corridor, or had possibly (though unlikely) escaped down a garbage chute. Strengthening her voice with the Force to carry over the din created by the blasters and ricochets, Athara swiftly took control of the situation.
“Troopers, stand down.” As the blaster fire ceased, the sith apprentice started giving orders to secure the area, starting with the control room before investigating the virtually trashed corridor and all the adjoining cells. Striding easily over the debris, Athara personally made sure every cell passed was cleared of the Rebels. It was as though they disappeared into thin air. As she passed one of the garbage chutes, she made a point to check it. The primary hatch was blown away, but the secondary hatch was closed, indicating the garbage bay was in the middle of its compacting cycle. If the Rebels had escaped down there, they would soon be dead. Still, Athara made a mental note to have that particular garbage bay searched and cleared of the rebel’s remains should the rest of the search turn up empty.
Before long, it became evident that the search of the detention level wasn’t going to reveal the Rebels. Her anger beginning to get the best of her, Athara ordered half the troopers to remain behind, and for another squad to head for the pressure maintenance hatch of the Detention level’s primary garbage-masher. The other remaining half of the first squad was to begin searching the rest of the detention level, with two more squads on the way to assist. Satisfied that the search was well on the way, Athara started down to the garbage-masher’s only other access point. When she was about half way there, alarms began sounding and one of her Stormtrooper commanders approached her.
“Ma’am, the Rebels have been engaged, but they have split up, they may be on both levels five and six now.”
“Alert your men, and get two more squads to head them off in the Hanger Bay. They’ll want to reach their ship. They must not be allowed to escape.” I need to see this Obi-wan Kenobi, she added silently to herself as the Commander hurried off to obey her orders. She was about to follow when a disturbance in the Force snatched her attention. Without hesitation, she began running towards it, sensing the elusive Obi-wan was in the presence of her Master. She didn’t even care when her cowl was swept from her face, she was so anxious to reach them. For the moment she had time. While she sensed that her Master meant to kill the Jedi, for the moment they seemed to be toying with each other. Vader seemed to be disappointed and annoyed, while it felt like the Jedi was…stalling?
As she circled the Hanger bay to reach Vader and Kenobi, she noticed, briefly that the Troopers were moving away from the captured ship. It was then that she heard the distinctive sound of lightsabres. She came up behind Vader, stopped in her tracks at the sight of the clashing blades.
Right away, she could tell the duel wasn’t serious, as both assailants were only using the most basic of thrusts, slashes and parries. Even so, the sense of déjà vu was overwhelming, as was the sense of foreboding. This battle was an echo of one even more vicious, one that Athara could almost see as it played to its conclusion out of the corner of her eye; a battle in the midst of fire and ash. The comforting presence had returned, though it was wary, something that heightened Athara’s unease.
She wasn’t the only one watching the Dark Lord in his duel with the aging Jedi; something caught the Jedi’s attention. Looking over his shoulder, he noticed something. Turning his gaze back to Vader, he smiled a slow, knowing smile.
It was as though the following moment played out in slow motion. The Jedi, who looked and felt so familiar to the sith apprentice, took a deliberate step back and deactivated his saber, the knowing smile leaving his features to be replace with one of resignation. Once again, Athara knew exactly what was going to happen the instant before it did, and was powerless to stop it. In one sweeping arc, Vader brought the blade of his glowing ruby lightsabre to meet the body of his rival. It was then that the old Jedi’s eyes met hers. In that split second, the surprise and shock in Kenobi’s eyes froze Athara in her tracks before Vader’s red blade reached its target.
“No!” Athara cried out in the same moment as an equally disbelieving voice screamed from the hanger bay. Blaster fire erupted as the Troopers realized the Rebels were behind them, and shouts echoed through the hanger. Vader silently walked forward to the now empty robes that lay on the cold durasteel floor. Athara was still too stunned to care that she should even now be trying to stop the Rebels’ escape. He was gone, vanished into thin air, and she didn’t even know why this was affecting her so. It was as though she was suddenly overcome with grief for a man she’d never met. A connection she’d never known existed was suddenly severed with the gleaming flash of her Master’s lightsabre.
She stared at her Master incredulously as he turned from where the Jedi’s body should have been laying. However, as he was about to step towards the hanger bay, he stopped in his tracks, his Force signature betraying a curious blend of curiousity and shock. But Athara didn’t care; she didn’t even truly register the shift in her Master, she was so affected by the Jedi’s death. Slowly, she edged forward to the brown pile of tattered, old robes. They were obviously in the style Jedi had been know to wear, and the way the old man had been in tune with the Force confirmed in her mind that he was indeed a Jedi. His presence still seemed to linger as Athara knelt beside the pile.
After a moment she reached out a shaky hand to pick up the lightsabre that still lay in among the robes. It was old and had obviously been its wielder’s companion for many long, hard years. It had been well cared for, and still in good working order. The hilt gleamed a little in the artificial light, and it had a blue blade, she recalled. Still holding the old lightsabre, Athara stood and faced her Master. Vader was staring down at her, his black mask unreadable and his respirator working steadily. Behind the blast doors, now closed, she could faintly hear the sound of the freighter taking off. The master and apprentice stared at each other for one very long moment before Athara held the lightsabre out in front of her.
“Who was he?” Her voice was quiet, almost desperate, and rose as she continued. She needed to know. “Why do I know him?” She could feel frustrated tears prickling in the corners of her eyes, and her head was beginning to pound from residual stress and yet more frustration. Her Master said nothing, and just continued to watch her, giving no hint to his feelings.
Her temper straining to break free, Athara turned on her heel, stalking away with Kenobi’s lightsabre still clenched in her fist as she absently jerked her hood forward to once again cover her face. It took a lot to get her to lose her temper, and she was getting dangerously close for the second time in as many days. Around her she could hear orders being called over the intercom and all stations being told to stand down. She knew by now that the freighter would be engaged with the patrolling TIE fighters, but she really couldn’t care. Once Vader had realized the ship wasn’t empty he would’ve had a tracking device planted somewhere on the hull on the off chance they would ‘escape’.
Eventually she found herself back in her quarters, sitting on her military issue bed. She held the now master-less lightsabre in her lap, her eyes staring past it as she turned it over and over again in her hands. There were too many questions left unanswered, too many mysteries that gnawed at her. The most pressing on her mind was that of Obi-wan Kenobi. In her reckless state of mind, she was almost tempted to access the Imperial Database and find any information she could on the old Jedi. Her more logical side almost immediately discarded the idea though. He had been a Jedi, after all. As such, any access to records on the man would be flagged. She didn’t particularly wish for the Emperor to know that this man had her so worked up that she would blindly venture into whatever holofiles she could get her hands on.
So she sat, sometimes sinking into an answerless meditation, sometimes just staring blankly at nothing. At some point, she felt the dark presence of her Master enter the rooms, but he didn’t make any effort to talk to her. It was not his way. The comforting presence was noticeably absent.
Eventually, Athara pulled herself from her stupor. This was pointless. She wasn’t getting the answers she craved anytime soon, and as much as the prospect of the Death Star’s destruction pleased her, it was her duty to protect her Master and his Master’s interests. The Rebels no doubt had the Death Star plans in their possession now, or soon would, and were likely planning their attack as she sat here trying to answer unanswerable questions. Changing her rumpled clothes for a new, clean black tunic to go over her breeches and shirt, she pulled on her utility belt, complete with saber, and her cloak as she left the apartment. Kenobi’s lightsabre was slid into a deep pocket of her tunic, safely out of sight.
The Death Star was preparing for a jump to hyperspace, and the many corridors were teeming with activity. They were preparing for a battle. It wasn’t long before she met up with her Master in the conference room.
“Master,” Vader nodded his head in acknowledgement of his apprentice’s curt greeting, but kept his attention focused on the briefing taking place before him. Once again the table held several Admirals and Commanders. Tarkin was taking his time relating how the Death Star would drop from Hyperspace before the planet Yavin. As of yet, the Rebel freighter still had to land, but its trajectory did indicate the Fourth Moon was its destination.
For the moment, the Battlestation would orbit the planet upon arrival, waiting for the Rebels to lead them to their hidden base and allowing the station to recover from the enormous power-drain the trip through hyperspace would inevitably cause. Then, once the location was confirmed, the Death Star would allow the gas planet’s gravitational pull to bring the station within firing distance (eventually, Athara sardonically added to herself) and destroy the Rebels once and for all. It was rather inconvenient, Athara mused, that the massive station had such ridiculous power requirements and limited maneuvering capabilities this close to the planet. The Death Star’s firepower was really its only redeemable quality, and even that was debatable. Thankfully, Tarkin wasn’t considering just blowing up the Gas Giant, at least, so Athara hoped. There would be no point anyway, and it would take too long to recharge the superlaser’s fuelcells in order to destroy the rebel’s base if he were to do any such thing.
Soon after, as the various officers began to file out of the room after Tarkin, Vader finally turned his apprentice.
“I wish for you to contact the Devastator and order the Admiral to rendezvous with us in the Yavin System. You will then take command and remain out of sensor range on the far side of the planet.”
“Those are my orders, my apprentice. Do not disobey me.” Athara couldn’t believe what her instructions were. It seemed Vader was anticipating a substantial Rebel resistance. Why else would he want the Devastator on stand-by but to lend support, and even to finish what the Battlestation had started? Unless he wanted her away from the battle…but why would he want that? She was a fair pilot and a good tactician and commander; she would be useful if it came down to a battle. A niggling thought that he might be punishing her surfaced, but she quickly pushed that aside. Vader was many things, but not petty. If he thought she would be an asset, he wouldn’t keep her from contributing because he was angry with her. She hastened to follow him, trailing him through the corridors before finally managing to catch up with him.
“Master, I would be of more use at your side. I will of course send word to the Devastator, but I see no reason why I should take command at this time.”
“You will be of no use to me if this Battlestation falls.” Vader’s voice was as sharp as the vocorder would allow, but that didn’t keep Athara from feeling exactly what Vader feared. He sensed the Death Star would be threatened, and he wanted her safe. Her initial suspicions had been right after all. It was the closest thing to one of the softer emotions that Athara had felt from Vader in a long time, perhaps ever. All she had ever really felt from him before was frustration, rage, and any other namable hate or anger-centered emotion. Periodically she felt pride or amusement, but it was always fleeting. In a single moment of insight beyond his substantial mental defenses, Athara could sense he was afraid of the fall-out from her loss of control and what would happen if the Emperor knew of her potential. But his most immediate concern for the moment was for her safety, and he feared to lose her. That was what was at the heart of his order. Chastened, Vader’s apprentice nodded her head before slowly backing away from the volatile Dark Lord.
“It will be done, my Master.” With one last critical look, Vader stormed away, leaving a trail of shell-shocked officers and troopers in his wake. Realizing full well that their argument would have been better kept private, Athara didn’t linger, wasting no time in sending Vader’s orders to the Devastator.
Within moments of her transmission to Vader’s Primary Star Destroyer, she felt the Death Star jump to hyperspace.
Athara soon made her way to the Conference Room after quickly gathering what little in the way of possessions she had in preparation for transfer to the Devastator. She didn’t allow herself the chance to dwell on any of the chaotic and even fearful thoughts rushing through her brain. There would be time enough for that later. For the moment, she pushed every last one of them aside, prepared to focus on what lay ahead. Once again, as she entered the Conference Room to see Vader and Tarkin standing at the table, she was met with the same sense of foreboding that had accompanied every major event in the last few days.
Only Vader’s respirator broke the tense silence as the three Imperial agents waited for the report that they had arrived in the system where the Rebel Base was hidden. Irritation once again pricked at Athara — the Death Star was painfully slow.
Eventually a faint buzzer informed them that the waiting was over.
“We are approaching the planet Yavin. The Rebel base is on a moon on the far side. We are preparing to orbit the planet.” The Comm light blinked out as the connection was cut. Within seconds Athara’s personal Comlink buzzed. Her gaze switching from Vader to Tarkin and back again, she quietly answered the Commander on the other end.
“My Lady Obscura, contact has been made with the Devastator and they are awaiting your arrival. Your personal shuttle is on stand-by.”
“Very good, Commander. Tell my shuttle to prepare for immediate departure.” Stowing the metallic device back on her belt, she fixed her Master with one final look before turning to the Grand Moff.
“Master, Governor Tarkin. It has been a pleasure.” For once, she didn’t bother to hide the hint of sarcasm from her voice. The way Tarkin’s gaunt face tightened did improve her spirits, but it didn’t lessen the oppressive feeling of foreboding in the slightest.
Before long, Athara was sitting silently in her private shuttle, feeling the taint of the Death Star slowly ebb away from the reach of her senses. She was immensely relieved to be away from that horrible monstrosity. Yet, as she sat wrapped in her deep black cloak, Kenobi’s battered lightsabre in hand, she couldn’t shake the sense of apprehension. Whatever spawned the feeling was not going away simply because she no longer walked the durasteel corridors of the Death Star.
As the shuttle groaned and shuddered upon touching down in one of the Devastator’s landing bays, Athara took her time disembarking. Just as she anticipated, as soon as the soles of her boots touched the landing bay floor, Athara was immediately accosted by one of the many secondary commanders aboard the Star Destroyer. Suppressing a frustrated and wearied sigh, Athara’s command instincts took over. Within moments officers were scurrying about seeing to her commands while she ordered the ship to be set in a low orbit around the planet Yavin on the opposite side of the planet from the moon Yavin IV, where the Rebel Base was hidden. Then, after taking up her position on the bridge, she waited.