Lady Obscura: Little More Than a Shadow

Chapter 6

The Emperor smiled smugly as the transmission ended, leaving Vader and Athara in tense silence. As soon as the glow of the hologram faded, Athara let loose an anxious breath, squeezing her eyes shut as fear threatened to flood her senses. She heard Vader stand slowly, his respirator the only remaining sound in the room. Lifting her gaze to her Master, she started at the sudden change in his demeanor. Gone was what she could have only described as resigned helplessness, replaced with anger and determination. For the first time she could remember, she felt a flash of fear as he took a step toward her. Lowering her gaze in shame, she could barely speak.

“I’m sorry, Master, I’ve failed you.”

“Get off this ship.” Her eyes shot up to meet the gaze of her Master, shock rendering her nearly speechless.

“But—but Master—” He reached forward, taking hold of her upper arm and steering her out to the main chamber of the suite.

“I want you off this ship immediately.” He paused, turning to look at her. His respirator hitched, creating a sound reminiscent of a sigh. Resignation was once again visible in his body language. “I will not deliver you to the Emperor. I—I cannot. He means to break me, to punish me for crossing him by training you, of this I am certain, and he means to do it by way of your death.” Athara felt herself go cold, nearly shivering as fear seeped through her. She had always known that the Emperor would likely want to destroy her should he discover her true potential, Vader had alluded to it before, but to hear her Master say it so bluntly made the threat all too real. Especially given the conversation she had just witnessed. This time she was speechless. Vader placed his hands on her shoulders.

“Go, my young apprentice. Take the Consular’s Ship. Make sure you are not found.” Struggling to keep her fears in check, she nodded. “Good. May the Force be with you, Athara.” She looked up, surprised by the tenderness she sensed from him.

“And with you, Master.” Taking a deep, fortifying breath, she pulled away, her mind suddenly whirling as she tried to plan her next move. Years of training meant that she was never without a course of action for long. Nevertheless, she was still deeply shaken, so keeping her thoughts straight was tougher than usually.

Having never had a chance to settle in upon arriving onboard the Devastator, there was no need to pack. She needed only to collect her minimal belongings before making her way to the Tantive IV.

Obviously, so far as the crew of the Devastator was concerned, nothing had changed. Athara was still ‘Milady’ and her every order was to be obeyed. Everything felt surreal, though, knowing that she was now on the run, a fugitive, even though no one else knew it yet. So it was that she met with no resistance when she passed along orders to prepare the Tantive IV for immediate departure. However, the unquestioning compliance did nothing to ease the dread growing in the pit of her stomach.

As soon as she set foot on the Tantive IV, she was met by a pair of R3 Astrodroids and the Officer she had left in charge of preparing the ship.

“The ship is ready, as you requested, Milady.” Nodding her assent she glanced over the droids quickly before sending them to prepare the ship for take off. The Officer beside her shuffled quietly, catching her attention. He hesitated ever so slightly as she turned her gaze to him.

“You have something to say, Captain?” He cleared his throat nervously.

“My Lady, I can put together a crew at your pleasure. Droids alone cannot always—” Athara nearly smirked. She could tell he was trying to be helpful.

“Do you doubt my judgment, Captain?” she said mildly. The words seemed to catch in the man’s throat. Athara had to restrain a chuckle, allowing a small smile to escape instead…then again, he likely wouldn’t have seen it anyway, thanks to the shadow cast by her cowl. “Droids suit my purpose. Thank you, Captain. I will depart immediately.” With a sharp salute, the Captain turned and exited the ship, leaving Athara alone.

A stab of panic shot through her for a split second, but the young sith hastily pushed it aside. She was better than this. She had been taught to think, to act, to react, and to survive. She had been well taught. Turning, she shut the main hatch before following the once pristine corridor to the Cockpit.

The two droids she requested were already hard at work, plugged into different outlets and already starting up the main power and the Stardrives. Settling into the Pilot’s seat, Athara barked orders at the droids, engaging the sublight engines as the shields enclosing the main Hanger Bay were dropped.

Usually, a corvette like the Tantive IV needed at least half a dozen people to crew it effectively. But, thus far, Athara was having no trouble piloting the ship with only two droids to assist her. It was slow though. It took the sublight engines far longer than she liked to sufficiently clear the Devastator and longer still for the Nav Computer to calculate a jump to lightspeed. It was only two of several things she was going to have to have upgraded.

After checking and double-checking that all her systems were operational, Athara pulled back on the lever that propelled the ship into hyperspace. As the stars before her blurred into starlines, she leaned back in the pilot’s chair. It was finally starting to sink in.

As the Dark Lady Obscura, Athara had pretty much been an Imperial Agent her whole life. As soon as she had begun her training under Vader, she had been a part of the Empire, had based her goals upon those of her superiors, and followed orders…for the most part, at least. Now, she was on her own, alone, a free agent, as it were. The idea was vaguely terrifying. She had no purpose, no orders, save one; make sure you are not found. That wouldn’t likely be too hard. Athara had a rather varied skill set, most of which was in high demand in the corrupt galaxy she lived in. She would blend in to the shadier parts of civilization easily enough. It didn’t hurt either that next to no one knew what she truly looked like; her features had nearly always been covered by the wide cowl of her cloak.

Still, she really wasn’t sure what to do without any sort of Imperial Mandate to guide her actions. The only thing she could think to do was to return to the only place she could remember being free of obligations to the Empire.

However, first thing’s first, her ship needed a major overhaul. That required credits. Lots of credits. She sighed. It was one more thing that needed to be done.

She was amply reimbursed for her work with Vader, but her funds were all kept within Imperial Banking establishments. That was going to have to change. Thankfully, she did have some experience with more—illicit means of accessing Imperial networks, including those of the financial institutions. She wasn’t a pro-slicer by any means, but so long as she hurried, once the ship dropped out of hyperspace, she would be able to withdraw a good portion from her personal accounts before she was discovered to be on the run. The closest system with direct access to the Imperial Network was the Chandrila system, which thankfully had a relatively small military presence. She was going to need to leave fast once someone realized what she was doing and where she was doing it from.

Rising from her seat, she left the Cockpit. There was nothing left for her to do there. Leaving the Droids to monitor the main systems for any hint of failure, she retreated to the scorched and blaster-marred corridors of the Tantive IV. Most of the damage to the ship was cosmetic, thankfully, but Athara was stuck as to what upgrades in particular she needed to do. CR90 Corvettes were good for just about anything depending on what upgrades the ship was given. The Hyperdrive and Sublight Engines obviously would need to be upgraded, and weapons systems as well. Beyond that, Athara wasn’t sure. Perhaps she would leave it mostly intact. Perhaps swap out some of the diplomat quarters and lounges for some cargo bays. She wasn’t likely going to be dealing with too many passengers…. or too many people in general. She was supposed to lie low, after all.

Finding one of the many Passenger and Crew berths, she eagerly stripped off her cloak and tunic so she was left in only her black breeches and shirt. Replacing her belt, she absently tossed the swath of black fabric onto the bed. It didn’t quite make it far enough, and as she turned to enter the ‘fresher, it slid off the side of the mattress, landing with a resounding thunk on the floor. Turning, she looked back at the little pile, remembering the item stashed in the pocket.

Kneeling beside the bed, she pulled the Jedi’s lightsabre from her discarded tunic. Letting out a deep sigh, she settled on the cool floor, staring into space as the weapon turned over and over in her hands. It had a comforting weight to it. The Jedi was a mystery, one that was gnawing at her. The lightsabre stilled. Dropping her gaze she held it up, activating the blade. The room was instantly filled with a familiar hum as the brilliant blue blade sprang to life. Perhaps while she was gathering her credits she should see about finding anything about Kenobi on the Imperial Database. Deactivating the Lightsabre, she placed it onto one of the bedside cabinets before exiting the chamber.

After wandering about some more, she managed to find the common area. After some minor rearranging, she placed herself in the centre of the wide space she cleared. Pulling out her own lightsabre, she cleared her mind, settling into her stance to begin some basic exercises. Her ruby blade ignited, filling the room with an almost menacing glow.

Slowly she began to cycle through her exercises, her speed and intensity growing with each lunge and parry. Before long, the blade was dancing in complex movements around her, creating an intense display of deadly but beautiful light.

It was a means to let off the frustration and anger that had been simmering since she first climbed aboard the Death Star. With each step and turn, she could feel her mind clear of turmoil. This was something Vader had never been able to do anything about. Athara found she was calmer, more at peace when she lost herself in her exercises. She could draw from the Dark Side to bolster her strength, but she didn’t do so unless absolutely necessary. That, apparently, wasn’t done if you were to be a Sith. Frankly, she didn’t care. It felt good—better even than the addictive rush of full Dark Side immersion. Most of the time, at least. This time, though still soothing to her frayed nerves, Athara was not finding the practice quite so cathartic as usual. There was simply too much on her mind and too much still to do.

Eventually, her muscles couldn’t take much more. Winding down, she let the sabre still, coming to rest loosely in front of her. The gentle hum of the blade was the only other sound in the quiet room besides her heavy breathing. She hadn’t put quite so much into her exercises in a long time. Still, as a familiar ache began to seep into her limbs, her mind felt clearer than it had been in days.

It wasn’t long until she was sitting back in the cockpit, feeling refreshed and rested after a quick bout in the ‘fresher and a change into a new jumpsuit and a long, deep-hooded jacket to replace her tunic and cloak. Not a moment too soon, either. Soon after she took her seat, the warning from the NavComputer sounded, alerting the sith apprentice that they were coming up on Chandrila. Taking a deep breath, she reviewed the ship’s systems before relaying orders to her two Astro Droids.

“R3-N4, I want you to take control of the ship when we drop out of hyperspace. Keep us going, but slowly. I want to be able to make a quick away once we’re finished here. Have the next hyperspace jump ready. R3-N3, I need you to connect to the Imperial Network remotely. Get me access to the Banking network. I can take it from there. Then I want you to pull everything you can from the Imperial Databases and Holonet archives about a Jedi named Obi-Wan Kenobi, going back from the present to before the Clone Wars. Pull everything you can find; I want to know who he is.” The last bit she said mostly to herself as the two droids whistled and chirped merrily, indicating they understood her orders. Beside her, the Hyperdrive indicator began to flash.

“Prepare to drop out of Hyperspeed.” Easing back on the control, The Tantive IV shuddered slightly as they returned to real-space. Sounding far happier than they should, Athara’s droid companions immediately went to work, carrying out their orders amid a chorus of more beeps and whistles as Athara switched consoles, settling down to complete her current ‘mission’. Within moments, N3 had connected her to the Banking network, something Athara took full advantage of. Within seconds she had initiated a transfer of credits onto a datachip she had at the ready.

Things were going remarkably well, but Athara knew very well it wouldn’t last. The simple fact that she was transferring so many credits at once would be enough to raise flags, but compiled with an unauthorized and even illegal connection… alarm bells had to be going off somewhere.

No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than N3 began to whistle and squeal from the other side of the cockpit. Their time was up. Severing the connection, Athara was back in the pilot’s seat in an instant, firing up the main engines as she finished angling the ship toward the nearest hyperspace lanes. Behind her, N4 whirred anxiously as the hyperdrive powered up. Another moment and they had made the jump.

As starlines once again appeared outside the cockpit, Athara leaned back with a sigh. That had gone smoothly. The two astro droids with her were exchanging relieved sentiments of their own, drawing a small smile from the young sith. There wasn’t much time to rest on their laurels, though. At anytime now, her flight would come to the attention of the Emperor, and a call for her arrest or capture would likely be sent out. Before anything else, she needed to deal with her ship. The Tantive IV was a little conspicuous; the galaxy either thought it was destroyed or in the hands of Vader…neither particularly helpful for its current owner.

Hence their current course. There were several potential destinations where she could commission the upgrades to the Tantive IV. She had briefly considered Nar Shadda, as well as Duro and Sullust, before settling on Corellia. As a relatively neutral planet, there was a good chance Athara could keep under the radar simply because most Corellians didn’t really want to get involved. Besides, Tantive IV was a Corellian-made ship; if she could get it overhauled anywhere, Corellia would be as good a place as any. The shipyards were huge and, as just about every imaginable illicit ship-related activity was participated in by Corellians, finding someone to refit the Tantive IV shouldn’t be too hard.

By the time they reached Corellia, Athara was once again feeling antsy. She had been tempted to pass the time looking over the information N3 had pulled on the Jedi Kenobi, especially since he managed to find more than she had anticipated. The most she had hoped for were maybe a few old holonet stories from the Clone Wars and some anti-Republic/anti-Jedi propoganda, but from what little she had looked at so far, the information seemed more comprehensive than that. However, she couldn’t manage to calm her mind enough to focus, eventually deciding to review the material during her ship’s upgrade.

As a rather shadowy agent of the Empire with the variety of orders she had been given over the years, Athara had been forced to learn more subtle and less mainstream ways of obtaining her prerogatives. Thanks to the lessons she had learned ages ago, she had a vague idea of the most appropriate places to get her ship retrofitted.

Immediately heading to the seedier districts, she proceeded unmolested to one of the larger landing bays. During the hyperspace jump, she and N4 had managed to reset some of the Tantive IV’s transponder systems and identification modules so that they could bypass any Planetary Security Stations or, if challenged, could theoretically pass through unrecognized and, more importantly, undetected.

It proved to be a wise move, for as she approached the planet, she was challenged not once, but twice. Thankfully, she had done this before, and N4 was surprisingly adept at reprogramming the ship’s ID transponder. Faking the ship’s identity was tricky, but the Planetary Defense Network and the Spaceport Authority accepted the Tantive IV’s fake information, and before too long Athara was wandering about the planet’s surface. The first thing she decided was that she needed a drink.

The first three cantinas she passed by, but the fourth caught her interest. There was nothing special about it; it was of an average size and obviously catered to the usual clientele that frequented the area. But she had a feeling about it and, good or bad, that feeling made her curious. Usually she only really paid attention to her bad feelings, but this one had her intrigued.

Once inside, she settled at the bar and discretely surveyed the other patrons. Once again relying on her feelings, she waited. Eventually she lost track of the time she spent sitting in the dim cantina, but there was little choice at the moment. She needed to lay low, and she was generally overly cautious in situations like this. Thankfully, her immersion in the Dark Side was an asset in a place like this. It gave her an aura that even hardened low-lifes tended to shy away from; it was easy to sense that she was dangerous when one actually paid attention to her. Still, she managed to remain as unthreatening as possible in case anyone was searching for a confrontation. Yet again, the Force was an indispensible ally as she used it to keep herself from becoming too interesting to the other patrons. Plus it allowed her to blend into the background and remain largely unnoticed. She was good at being little more than a shadow, after all.

So she waited, listening to the happenings around her to try and get a bearing on the current state of affairs. She didn’t really learn all that much. The destruction of the Death Star, it seemed, was being kept quiet, as there were only hushed murmurs here and there. The prevailing thought was that the Rebellion was responsible, which Athara knew was true, but there had been no confirmation by anyone. There was considerably more talk about the destruction of Alderaan, and a great deal of nervousness accompanied the topic. She had been right in thinking that Tarkin’s move to destroy the peaceful planet would be anything but beneficial to the Empire; if the angry reactions to Alderaan’s destruction on Corellia were anything to go by, she hated to think how the rest of the Galaxy was reacting…especially the Core worlds. The general consensus seemed to be that the Death Star blowing up could only be a good thing in the long run, but any time the thought was spoken aloud, it was responded to with hisses, wary glances and silence. Average Corellians may have little love for the Rebellion and even less for the Empire, but that didn’t mean they broadcasted it.

Eventually a Gran came to sit near her, taking a deep swig of his ale the moment the barkeep set it before him. He was obviously wary, his three eyes surreptitiously scanning the cantina in the same way Athara had earlier. She had a good feeling about this particular bar patron. She continued to watch him, though rather more openly than before. After a few moments he noticed, and after a few more started to look annoyed.

“Got a problem?” he finally growled in her direction.

“Actually yes. Perhaps you can.” The annoyed expression didn’t leave his face, but Athara could sense his hesitation and even a trace of curiosity at her response as he gave her a probing once over. She didn’t continue right away, leaving the choice to accept her bid for conversation up to him. Eventually, after weighing any possible threats, he spoke.

“Looking for someone?” She held back a grin when he finally spoke, though her hood would’ve easily hid the expression.

“In a manner of speaking,” he nodded slowly, indicating he was interested enough for her to continue. “I have a ship in need of some—repair. ” He easily caught her meaning, though it hadn’t really been that veiled. He thought for a moment, considering her.

“What kind of ship?”

“Corellian; Blockade Runner.” Another moment passed. The Gran rubbed his chin, his three eyes fixed on her, trying to discern something beneath her hood. It was obvious that he had someone in mind already. He was almost as wary as she was. Finally, after draining his glass, he spoke.

“I think I might know of someone; A Duro, name of Geeno Madal. He runs a fairly big private operation, takes care of a whole lot of different jobs.” Athara frowned.

“Discrete?” The Gran chuckled.

“‘Course. He’d have very little business otherwise.” Athara pulled a couple credits from beneath her robe, setting them on the bar beside the Gran’s drink.

“Thank you, my friend.” She caught the bartender’s eye, gesturing for a refill of the Gran’s drink. “Have another on me.” A fresh glass in his hand, he held it up to her.

“Bek Reem, at your service.”

“I will remember. My thanks.” Without another word she turned and left the cantina. She had a Duro to find.

As it turned out, Geeno Madal was not all that difficult to track down, especially when one had two very reliable R3 units and a great deal of experience finding all manner of beings. He had a small storefront for his business not terribly far from the Cantina where she encountered the Gran. His private shipyard was in orbit. He did not run a small operation.

The instant she entered the sparsely furnished store, she drew the attention of those inside. On the far side of the room, next to a series of desks and consoles, were two Duros, with a third on the other end of the store speaking quietly to a pair of Aqualish. One of the pair of Duro stepped forward, coming around the counter to stand before the young sith.

“Do you have business with Master Madal?” Athara nodded.

“I mean to. I have a ship in need of repair.” The Duro nodded, excusing himself before disappearing into a back quarter of the store. After a few moments, he returned with another, older Duro who sized Athara up the instant he caught sight of her.

“I am Geeno Madal. I was told you seek to do business with me.” Though he spoke basic like the Duro who had greeted her, Madal had a heavier Durese accent. Athara was all right with that. She could understand Durese well enough, but it wasn’t her best language.

“I do.” Gesturing toward the doorway he just appeared from, he led her to a smaller office behind the main storefront. It was a simple but sparsely decorated room, small, with all the affects needed for business and little else. As soon as the door closed behind her and Madal had taken a seat behind his desk, Athara spoke.

“I have a CR90 Corvette in need of some repair and – refitting. More importantly, I seek discretion.” The Duro looked at her critically for a moment, his large red eyes trying to peer beneath her hood as Bek Reem had. The silence stretched on before Madal leaned back in his chair, clasping his long-fingered hands before him.

“You have credits?” Athara grinned.

“I have enough.”

“What manner of repairs do you need done?” She could tell from his voice alone that he had some idea of her situation. It was not an uncommon situation to be in.

“Upgrades mostly. Hyperdrive and sublight engines, sensors, shields, weapons, repairing some of the other major systems, retrofitting for cargo from passenger, paint job,” she hesitated for a moment, taking stock of him thus far before continuing, “complete computer overhaul, including a memory wipe, and it needs to be renamed.” To his credit, the Duro didn’t bat an eye. He merely absorbed the information, processing it and considering options.

“A commission like that will not come cheap. Especially if you wish to keep this—arrangement discrete.”

“I am aware of that. Interested?” She could easily sense that he was. This Duro liked a challenge, and some of the repairs she suggested could be interesting to accomplish without drawing undue attention. Besides, he was curious.

“I may be. Might I see your ship? I shall need to take a look to ascertain just what needs to be done to see what I can do.” After a moment of thought Athara nodded in agreement. Of course there was some risk in inviting him onboard, but nothing she wouldn’t be able to handle.

“Of course.”

Not long afterward, the young sith and the Duro were onboard the Tantive IV, surveying the damage to the ship and discussing the upgrades Athara wished to have done. After a long inspection of the main reactor, Madal turned to his potential client, a shrewd expression on his face. Athara had noticed the look building as they had toured the ship.

“If I might be permitted to ask,” he started slowly, cautious of her reaction, “how did you come by such an—interesting ship?” He continued when she didn’t answer.

“I couldn’t help but notice a certain Alderaaninan flavour to the décor…” Athara turned to face him, leveling him with a stare that he could feel rather than see.

“Oh? Is that so.” He stayed silent, watching her warily. “Well, where do you think this ship is from?” He stood a little straighter, a certain boldness visible in his posture. It still took a moment before he gained the conviction to speak, weighing the risks of the gamble he was obviously considering.

“If I didn’t know any better, I would say this ship is one and the same with a certain consular ship that was supposed to have been destroyed. However,” she couldn’t help but smile when he carefully continued, “it is a good thing I know better.”

“That it is.” She took a step toward him, impressed when he stood his ground. Not many could do that when she approached in such a manner; her presence was too forbidding for that. “We have an understanding, Master Madal? I would hate to have to quell any rumours circulated about my ship.” The threat was evident in her voice. The Duro nodded slowly, caution warring with an eagerness that was becoming evident. This was indeed going to be a fun challenge for him.

The Duro held out his hand. Athara took it, sealing the deal.

“We do indeed.”

When the Gran, Bek Reem, said Geeno Madal was successful for a reason, he was certainly right. Athara was hard pressed to find anything wrong with his work. He was quick, efficient and, above all, discrete. She was fairly certain he had a less than spotless past, which would certainly explain his adeptness at acquiring parts and materials that would’ve otherwise raised questions Athara wished to avoid. It did result in a slightly inflated cost, but Athara wasn’t terribly concerned. She would have enough, though it would nearly deplete her remaining funds.

It did not take nearly the time she had expected for the Tantive IV to be nearly reinvented into the Amaran Flame. She was especially pleased with what she was able to salvage from the former Alderaanian Ship. Surprisingly, Madal was quite agreeable when she insisted that the furnishings and other Alderaanian vestiges be kept despite being replaced. She had also taken the liberty of downloading the memory systems of the ship before Madal’s crew completely wiped the system. After that had been taken care of, work progressed quickly. The engines and all other major systems were repaired or upgraded, while the ship was further outfitted with several new weapons systems, many of questionable legality. Athara wasn’t concerned though. She was underground anyway.

In the meantime, she did all the reading she could on Obi-Wan Kenobi. There was a lot to go through as N3 had been incredibly proficient at digging up old files given the limited time and makeshift connection. She certainly learned a lot.

He had been a hero of the Clone Wars, ‘The Negotiator’ as he was often referred, and there was file upon file of his missions and battles. Beyond that, though, she was able to learn very little. Obviously, most of the Jedi Order’s Records were either destroyed or under the tight control of the Imperial Information Restriction and Censor Committee, so there was almost nothing of his own, personal history. What she did learn was that he was influential in several important events in Galactic history, from the Trade Federation Blockade of the planet Naboo, which coincided with Palpatine’s election to Supreme Chancellor, to the death of General Grievous, which was a decisive moment in ending the Clone Wars. After that the records went dark. There was no mention of him in the Purges, not that there were ever many names mentioned there anyway, and nothing about him in the literature condemning the Jedi after the formation of the Empire.

Even after devouring everything N3 had dug up, Athara found she still knew almost nothing of the Jedi whose lightsabre she was now caretaker to.

And it frustrated her to no end.

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