It wasn’t long before things started to happen. After arriving on the bridge, Athara had ordered all sensors to focus on the Rebel Moon and, more importantly, the Death Star. So when dozens of small, one-man fighters were picked up leaving the atmosphere of Yavin IV, Athara knew the decisive moments were coming. The outcome of this fight would decide a great many thing within the Empire and across the Galaxy. At Athara’s order, a number of technicians had set up a viewscreen that projected the Death Star’s position in relation to the fourth moon and a projection of the time and distance remaining until the moon would be in range of the massive Battlestation. At another station, she had ordered several officers and technicians to scour the Death Star’s schematics and read-outs in an almost desperate attempt to discern the Rebel’s plans.
Athara did not shy away from battle. She never had. It had never caused her a moment of fearful hesitation. This battle was different. Anxiety plagued her as it never had before. The young Sith was hard-pressed to keep her normally well-disciplined feelings in check.
Barely able to keep her familiar, cool façade in place, Athara retreated from the projection, intending to check-in with the technicians on the far side of the bridge.
However, without meaning to do so, she found herself looking out into space, gazing absently at the swirling, undulating patterns that made up the planet Yavin’s atmosphere. For the first time in what felt like days, her mind was filled with a stark emptiness that threatened to put her even more on edge.
On the other side of the planet, she could feel the battle begin, and some of her bridge crew had taken it upon themselves to relate the progress of the Death Star and the resistance against it. However, information was spotty. The atmospheric disturbances created by the gas planet they orbited interfered with the Comm Channels and sensor readings. Athara, though, was not so hindered.
She didn’t know what it was, but in the last few days, her attunement to the Force and to everything around her was sharpened. Even now, as she watched the gaseous planet in front of her, she could feel the battle, able to vaguely sense the movements of those clear across the system. She barely dared to speculate as to why. Perhaps it was her anxiety at the outcome of this battle or the fear of the fallout from her earlier loss of control that sharpened her perception to a staggering degree. Or, she thought, perhaps it was because of the depth of the rage and even grief and fear Alderaan’s destruction caused that increased the range and acuity of her senses. One thing she refused to attribute it to, despite the likelihood, was that the Destruction of Alderaan itself had fed her powers; strengthening and amplifying her abilities through the effect such a devastating event would have on the Dark Side.
One thing she did know for sure was that her eyes had yet to return to their natural dark blue-grey. She had realized that anew every time she had encountered a new face after stepping off her shuttle. The subconscious flinch of anyone who caught her yellowed gaze was unmistakable, and unique to the state of her eye colour. After all, her cowl was almost always up in the presence of others, to the point where very few even knew her features. So it was only when her irises were the vivid, luminous yellow of full Dark Side immersion that her eyes seem to stand out from the shadow of her hood. It made those around her uneasy.
Beyond the planet, the Rebel fighters had engaged the Death Star and, after initially falling prey to the Turbo-laser Towers that dotted the Station’s surface, were being picked off by the TIE-fighters that joined the fray. From what she gathered, both sides were suffering heavy losses, but the Rebels were effectively being slaughtered. They were simply no match for the sheer number of foes brought to bear against them.
Yet they were very obviously driven, and not just by a desperate bid to survive, though that was certainly a part of it. They had a plan; only Athara wasn’t quite sure what it was. It wasn’t until a trio of fighters broke off from the main fray that she began to clue into their strategy, especially when she sensed that her master had joined the battle, trailing after the three rebels.
Her mandatory study of the plans during construction had allowed her a fairly comprehensive understanding of the Battlestation. If she was correct, there were swaths of secondary system accesses, trenches and exhaust ports littering several quadrants of the Death Star’s surface. It was possible that there was a weakness inherent in such an area—no one ever seemed to devote much attention to such tedious necessities beyond the basics of ensuring functionality. Turning briefly, she took little notice of the way the entire bridge seemed to pause at her movement. She fixed her gaze on the trembling technicians hovering around the schematics of the Death Star.
“Focus on the exhaust and waste systems on the peripheral polar quadrants on the Northern hemisphere.” Without waiting for acknowledgement, she turned back to her initial position near the Main Viewport. Shortly after relaying her order, the three rebels were gone, victims of Vader’s exceptional aim. It also wasn’t long after that one of the officers tentatively approached the Sith Apprentice.
“One of our technicians believes he has found a weakness in the shielding of the exhaust ports. There is one in particular that has minimal shielding that could lead to a catastrophic chain reaction if it was to be breached. It is in that quadrant where the Rebels seem to be focusing their efforts.” Athara was silent for a moment, her voice more reserved than she anticipated when she finally spoke.
“So there is a danger.”
“Yes, Milady. A very great one.” Her response hadn’t been a question, so the officer’s reply had been unnecessary, but Athara barely noticed. In the midst of the battle, three more of the ever-thinning collection of Rebels had detached, making their way to what Athara now knew was a critical flaw in the Battlestation’s design. As the information sank in, she realized she wasn’t quite sure how she felt about that. True, she feared for her Master; should the Death Star be destroyed he would likely be caught in the blast wave. She also felt a surge of grief at the idea of so many more people losing their lives if the Rebels were to succeed. Sure, the Death Star was not filled to capacity thanks to its newness, but its maiden crew was still huge; quite likely larger than the current crew of the Devastator. She looked to the officer.
“Transmit your findings to the Death Star,” she said quietly. Not waiting for the officer’s response, she turned back to the viewscreen.
One by one, Vader picked off the attacking Rebels, but not before one of them reached their mark. Athara’s breath hitched as a surge of excitement came from the rebels, only to breathe an unconscious sigh of relief as the sensation was followed shortly by disappointment. That had been close. Behind her, her command crew also relaxed a bit as the threat ebbed for the moment.
By this point there were only a handful of Rebel fighters left. Desperation tinged their thoughts to a degree that was almost painful for the sith apprentice to sense. They had only one more chance. Again, three fighters descended to the station, intent and focused. The officer relating the battle from the centre of the bridge was now giving a blow-by-blow account as best he could, muttering angrily when static disrupted the transmissions.
Athara had nearly stopped breathing as Vader and his wingmen caught up to the three Rebels. One Rebel took a hit and peeled off from the run, but her master stayed on the tails of the remaining pair. Moments later, one of the remaining two fighters was blasted into oblivion, leaving one very lonely little ship at Vader’s mercy. The remaining Rebel’s grief at his comrade’s death was quickly overshadowed though as he barreled toward his target and her master crept closer to his. There was something odd about this last pilot. Athara closed her eyes, focusing intently on the deadly chase relayed to her through the Force. The Death Star was finally in range of the Moon.
The moment dragged on for what seemed like a lifetime.
A surge of raw, untrained power rippled through the Force, startling Athara as it flashed across her senses. It jolted her from her single-minded focus on the Rebel pilot long enough for her pick up on the ship that was suddenly barreling toward the Death Star, homing in on the trio of TIE fighters that trailed the last Rebel ship.
But it was too late. A burst of surprise came from her master as one of his flanking fighters exploded. Startled, the remaining TIE pilot panicked, loosing control of his fighter and clipping Vader’s fighter, sending the Sith Lord careening into space.
Athara barely had time to brace herself as the Rebel fighter loosed his payload. Somehow she knew even before he fired that the torpedoes would reach their mark.
The bridge of the Devastator was eerily silent as the Death Star began to power up to fire on the Rebel Moon. In that lingering instant, Athara was the only one who knew what had started as the Rebels abandoned their attack, racing to clear the doomed station.
It was then that the Death Star exploded.
Once again Athara felt as though the air had been crushed from her lungs. This time though, she was better prepared to handle the barrage of thousands of deaths in that single, decisive instant. Behind her the Officer relating the events of the battle cried out in pain as the blast echoed through his headset, the static crackling loud enough that most of the crew on the bridge could hear it clearly. Athara struggled to regain her breath as her Command Crew was thrown into chaos as it became clear what had just happened.
After a brief moment she turned sharply, leveling a cutting glance at her officers. Silence descended upon the bridge again, thick with fear and disbelief. Athara herself was still stunned, but she managed to speak. Had it been any other time, she would not have been heard, but the bridge was so quiet that her soft tone carried easily.
“We hold our position.” Not one of her officers quite knew what to do, or even how to respond.
Truth be told, neither did Athara.
Some of her Officers exchanged quick looks, but they soon returned to their positions, a stunned expression on most of their faces. At the very least, staying put would allow them to assess the situation without drawing undo attention to themselves. While she couldn’t be sure, it was unlikely that the Rebels knew of the Devastator’s location. But Vader did.
She couldn’t be sure, especially with the disturbance that the Death Star’s destruction had created, but she was fairly certain that her Master had survived the attack. She hadn’t felt anything to the contrary, and she was sure that if he had been caught in the blast she would know. She would have felt it, wouldn’t she?
Her own impatience getting the best of her, she tried to stretch out through the Force to find out for sure if he was even still alive. She felt strangely calm, despite the easily catastrophic event on the other side of Yavin and the uncertainty of her Master’s survival. Even noticing her odd emotional detachment took some time, for it was several moments before she realized that she was experiencing no strong reaction of any kind to the situation; no fear, no concern, no anger, no grief, no happiness, no relief.
Nothing. She felt nothing.
It was horribly unsettling. She couldn’t even bring herself to feel anxiety over Vader’s lack of communication. Surely he should have made contact by now… she was having difficulty using the Force to reach out to her Master, a stark contrast to the ease with which she was touching the Force before the blast. Frowning, she lowered her gaze from the primary viewport in effort to increase her concentration.
As the durasteel flooring of the bridge came into focus, she caught a glance of movement out of the corner of her eye. Drawn to the movement, she was baffled to notice that the fluttering at the edge of her vision was her own hand, shaking slightly within her robe. Her frown not leaving her features, she realized that she must be in shock. That was baffling in its own right. She held up her hand before her, watching the tremors with a blank expression that precisely matched how she was feeling at the moment. While certainly not a long serving veteran by any means, she was still an experienced leader, commander, agent and even an assassin. Surely it would take more that a single skirmish on the other side of the system to affect her this much. Wouldn’t it?
Her attention was drawn from her musings by an anxious shout from one of the lieutenants that manned the Sensor Relays.
“My Lady, a ship approaching. A fighter, I’m sure of it.” Her hand immediately disappearing behind her cloak, she was at the Lieutenant’s side in an instant. Though still unable to sense the occupant specifically, her instincts told her what she needed to know.
“Inform the Fighter Bays. Lord Vader approaches. Contact me as soon as he docks.” Without waiting for a reply, she turned and strode from the bridge without another word.
She had passed through several corridors and a lift or two before she found herself completely alone in a secluded hallway. Knowing it was probably not the wisest of ideas, she nevertheless allowed herself to slump against the barren wall, letting out a single harsh breath as she leaned her head back against the cold durasteel. Feeling starved for air, she all but tore the hood from her head, closing her eyes as her breathing steadied. Taking a deep breath, and then another, she eventually calmed herself, suddenly finding the task difficult as the emotions that had previously deserted her tried to return in force. She had definitely been in shock. She let herself become encompassed in the Force, not bothering to care if it was Light or Dark. The calming touch through the Force returned, helping a little.
She was becoming frazzled, unbalanced. First Alderaan, then the Death Star… it was becoming too much. It didn’t help, she realized as the first wave of panic arrived several minutes too late, that loosing touch with Vader through the Force, even for a moment, had caused an all encompassing fear to surge through her, paralyzing her senses. A new jolt of fear surged through her as she realized that fear had nearly cut her off from the Force. That made no sense whatsoever. She was a Sith Apprentice; she fed off fear, was strengthened by it. At least, she was supposed to.
Once again, her musing was interrupted as her Comlink beeped. Sighing, she leaned forward, reaching for the offending device. Listening as the officer on the other end filled her in on Vader’s arrival, she absently acknowledged the alert before replacing the Comlink on her belt. As her hand withdrew from the depths of her robe, her hand brushed against the weight of the Jedi’s lightsabre where it rested in her pocket.
Reminded of yet another incident that was messing with her state of mind, she groaned, resting her aching head against her knees for a moment before pulling herself reluctantly to her feet.
It took her a moment to find her bearings, since she hadn’t been paying that much attention earlier, but once she had, she easily began to make her way to the hanger she’d been told Vader had chosen. Having calmed herself enough to regain her focus, she was able to pinpoint her Master’s Force signature with ease.
He was far from pleased.
He was also confused and agitated, she noted with confusion of her own. His thoughts were dwelling on something, but he was carefully guarding those thoughts from her. Pulling her hood back into place, she rejoined the flow of personnel that populated the Devastator.
Her timing turned out to be perfect, for as she stepped over the bulkhead into the Hangar Bay, Vader was disembarking from his modified TIE. Athara grimaced as she caught sight of the damage to the craft, but managed to wipe the expression from her face as her Master strode towards her, his pace distinctively slower that usual. The young sith couldn’t help but let loose a sigh of relief when she saw him approach.
“I must admit, I am glad you are safe, Master. I was—worried for your well being.” That was putting it mildly. The Sith Lord paused for a moment when she hesitated, looking down at his apprentice in silence. When he didn’t speak, Athara couldn’t help but frown. Had she done something wrong? She pressed on, falling easily into step beside him.
“The Devastator is awaiting your command, Master,” she prompted, hoping for some sort of response, even if it was admonishment. Vader still didn’t respond, only nodding stiffly. It was several more moments before she tried again. “Your orders?” His silence was making her uneasy. She was expecting rage, anger, even irritation. But she was getting nothing. Not a word, not a thought; no reaction whatsoever. This was becoming a pattern, and Athara didn’t like it.
Soon, it became clear that Vader was heading toward his quarters. It was at that point that a particular idea struck her, and she snuck a quick glance at the read-outs on the regulators on his belt and chestplate. Several of the small lights were blinking rapidly, indicating his respirator was under some strain. The TIE fighter must have been more damaged than she thought. Though ashamed at not noticing sooner, the feeling was quickly swept aside with worry. Easily sensing her concern, Vader shot her a quick glance, silencing her before she even thought of speaking.
Moments later, they were within the confines of Vader’s quarters. Athara kept her mouth shut as Vader sank laboriously into the chair within his Medical Unit. In the silence of the Chamber, it was increasingly obvious that his suit was straining to recover from the demands Vader’s flight to the Devastator had caused. After pressing a few control mechanisms and initiating some of the main programs within the Chamber, Athara was about to step out when Vader’s voice halted her.
“Alert the Fleet. Inform them of the Location of the Rebel Base and—” he paused for a moment, though whether to think or to catch his breath Athara wasn’t certain, “of the Destruction of the Death Star.” Athara only stared at her Master when he finished. She still couldn’t quite get a read on him. He simply stared back at her until she finally spoke.
“And what of the Devastator?” Like his apprentice, Vader took his time answering.
“Once the transmissions to the fleet have been sent, and confirmation has been received, set a course for Coruscant.” Athara frowned, though her breath hitched for a moment.
“Coruscant?” Her voice was little more than a whisper. Vader nodded slowly.
“Once I have made the necessary repairs to my suit, I will contact the Emperor. I am sure he is likely to request my presence to discuss the situation.” It took all her will to keep from nervously clearing her throat.
“What of the Rebels? Surely they will evacuate the system as soon as possible. Should we not stay until the fleet arrives?” Force, even alone the Star Destroyer could do some serious damage to the base, possibly even destroy it without any assistance. To just leave the system after what had just happened made little sense to Athara. And that was without even allowing herself to dwell on why she feared returning to Coruscant. Vader was still for a moment, considering. Just what he was considering…
“It will take some time until I am ready to contact the Emperor. I need to meditate.” Athara couldn’t help but feel skeptical at the statement. Vader hated meditation. She felt a faint flicker of amusement from her Master as the thought crossed her mind. She was sure if he were capable he would’ve sighed. “Hold our position and monitor the situation on the Fourth Moon until I make contact with my Master.” Nodding her understanding, Athara stepped out of the Chamber, turning to look on as it sealed itself before heading once again to the Bridge.
Alerting the Fleet did not take long at all, especially since Athara was in no mood to draw out the process. In addition to the text transmissions she ordered sent to every ship in the fleet, she also had the Fleet Commanders contacted simultaneously, telling all their holographic doubles the news at once.
To say they were shocked was an understatement. At least two of them began to shout in outrage, while another one had to sit down. The rest just stood there in stunned silence. Her patience quickly wearing thin, she silenced them all with a gesture, relaying Vader’s orders before indicating to the Communications Officer to transmit the location of the Rebel Base. Once she had confirmation the transmissions were successful, she cut the connection, not bothering with closing pleasantries. She wasn’t interested in platitudes at the moment, and considering the eagerness of the Fleet Commanders to receive Vader’s orders, they weren’t interested either.
Feeling there was little else to do with Vader’s standing orders in effect, she left instructions on the Bridge to maintain their position and to keep her updated on any Rebel movements within the system before retreating back to her Master’s quarters. There she waited.
Sure enough, Vader hadn’t been joking when he said recuperating would take time. It was several hours before he emerged from his Isolation Chamber. Hearing the hiss of the hydraulics as the Unit opened, Athara stood, turning to face Vader as he came into view.
“The Fleet has been contacted?” he asked. Athara nodded.
“They are en route as we speak. Sensors have also picked up activity from the Moon where the Rebel Base is located, but the Gas Giant is interfering with our sensors. We continue to hold our position, as I did not want to risk alerting the Rebels to our presence. However, I do not believe any ships have yet left the system.” Vader nodded, standing.
“Good. How are our long-range communications?”
“There was no trouble contacting the Fleet. There should be no problems contacting the Emperor.” Striding out of the confines of the Medical Unit and down the steps, Vader made his way to the Communication Pad in the chamber below. With a sharp gesture, he began to initiate the transmission to Coruscant as Athara came to stand beside him. As the transmission initialized, Vader turned to his apprentice, the strength of his gaze almost tangible to the young sith.
“You will shield your presence, and stay out of sight.” Athara reflexively swallowed as a slight shiver of fear coursed through her. Unable to respond properly, she merely nodded, stepping back to stand in one shadowed corner of the chamber. His gaze lingered on her for a moment in what could only be described as concern. Vader then stepped onto the Pad, kneeling as the transmission stabilized and activated.
In seconds the Emperor’s hooded form appeared in front of Vader. The glowing figure of Palpatine was many times larger than life, and it stared down at Vader in disappointment and even disdain. It was several moments before either spoke.
“I have grave news, My Master,” Vader finally intoned, sounding about as meek as his stature and his vocorder would allow.
“I am perfectly aware of that, Lord Vader.” The Emperor sneered, displeasure clear on his twisted features. “You have failed me.” Vader was about to reply when Palpatine raised his hand, silencing the Sith before him. Athara grimaced, double-checking that her mental shields were in place and her presence concealed.
“The destruction of the Death Star is intolerable; Grand Moff Tarkin has proven himself unworthy of the honour and responsibility I bestowed on him, and he has paid for it with his life. You, my apprentice, have failed me by another means.” Athara grew cold at the words, and felt Vader tense as the Emperor spoke. “I desire that you and your pet apprentice come before me immediately. You have not been entirely honest with me, Lord Vader. Nor, I suspect, has she.” His voice was too smooth, sending a chill down Athara’s spine. Vader almost visibly struggled to find an appropriate response, but the Emperor did not seem to care what Vader had to say anyway.
“I sense she is far stronger than has been let on, and I wish to speak with you both.” He smiled, the expression not at all comforting.
“The Fleet will take care of the Rebels. I trust they are competent enough to do that. But you will depart immediately. I expect your arrival shortly.” Vader’s shoulders slumped ever so slightly, resignation obvious in his voice.“Yes, My Master.”