@Sara_Kenobi Glad you like the mush. And yes, father and son need some sort of communication. @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha YES! It earned a squee! At least I'm doing something right! @Cowgirl Jedi 1701 Welcome back! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Part Twenty-Eight The passage of time was a rather simple thing to keep track of when one was planetside. Most habitable planets and moons had a daily cycle of sunrise and sunset...or planet-rise, and planet-set, as the case was on the verdant moons of Jovian planets. When one traveled in space it was all but impossible to keep track of without a chronometer. Thus, most ships' schedules were set by the day and night cycle of a particular time. All Imperial vessels used Coruscant Standard time, which was a 24 hour cycle. The Rebels, to avoid confusion, followed the same pattern. According to this schedule, it was 'morning', and breakfast was being served aboard all the ships in the fleet. The Rebellion didn't segregate the enlisted men and officers as the Empire did, and the two groups mingled freely with each other. It provided a closer sense of camaraderie. As always, the Liberty's commissary was very crowded. The din of mealtime conversation, clattering dishes, and occasional laughter provided a lively atmosphere in which to dine. Most enjoyed the setting and would seek out friends to eat and talk with. With the dire news of the second Death Star things were a bit more subdued. Normally Luke would sit with the Rogues, but this morning he had gathered his meal hastily and then gone off by himself. He didn't much feel like talking. His mind was occupied with the matter of his father's surgery that afternoon. The thought of Anakin being free of that mask was heartening and unnerving at the same time; heartening because it meant another part of Vader would be gone, unnerving due to the risk and the horrible injuries the man had sustained. According to Anakin, none of his skin had escaped intact. All of it was scar tissue right down to the inside of his mouth. It was an injury no man should have survived. Luke told himself that he didn't care what his father looked like; nothing would change who he was. But he did care. He was almost afraid to find out. As a fighter in the Rebellion, Luke had seen plenty of terrible injuries. Burns were difficult to treat and even more difficult to heal with minimal scarring. Bacta helped, but it was expensive and the few tanks the Rebels had were reserved for the most critically injured. Third degree burns, even when treated promptly, always left mottled pink scars. Anakin's burns had been worse than that. Most had gone beyond the subcutaneous layer. Palpatine had kept him awake during the operation to put him in the suit and given the burns only enough care to keep them from becoming infected. Otherwise they were left to heal on their own. Luke couldn't begin to imagine the suffering his father had gone through. It was heartbreaking. But he wouldn't want me to feel sorry for him, thought Luke with sigh. I want to see him, but I don't want to hurt his feelings reacting to how he looks. I'll have to look past it. * * * * * “Prisoner coming out!” Announced one of two guards. They stood at attention inside the cell holding the most high-profile prisoner in the Rebellion’s history. Anakin watched as first the door, then the force field opened. He wore a pair of cuffs around his arms and was surrounded by four more guards as he and the other two exited the cell that he had been living in for two weeks. From that point on it was an elaborate dance of guards, closing doors, and security checks before getting to the transfer shuttle. There Lieutenant Sal was waiting to monitor his condition. He was the only one who even tried to hold a conversation with the prisoner...and the only one to notice Anakin’s heart begin to pound. “Hmm. Heart rate’s elevated...you nervous?” asked Sal with knit brows. “In a manner of speaking,” said Anakin even as he tried to calm down. Medical procedures always made him nervous. The nightmare which had trapped him in this suit in the first place kept returning. He had to reach for the Force to fend off the images...the sounds...the smells...the sensation of being rebuilt from a bundle of burnt tissue to the most infamous cyborg in current history...and without anesthetics. Calm down, he reminded himself. They’re releasing you from the helmet, not adding more machinery. That was certainly something to be thankful for. Anakin loathed his appearance and wanted nothing more than to be rid of everything; helmet, armor, and breathing machine. The latter would only be replaced, but at least the helmet and breath mask would be gone. Let’s get this over with. “Well-” Sal paused, unsure of how to ally the nerves of one so imposing. “You’re in good hands. Try and calm down. Things go better if your vitals are steady.” All six guards exchanged looks of disbelief. Darth Vader was nervous? That’s a new one, thought the lead guard, glancing at his charge. While he had yet to see a single bout of aggression, Vader’s reputation couldn’t be ignored. The whole crew kept one hand on their blasters the whole trip and didn’t relax until after he had been released into the custody of the medical crew. Only Sal stayed with him as they entered the surgical theater. “Greetings, Anakin Skywalker,” Too-One-be nodded at the armored man. “And how is our patient this afternoon, Lieutenant Sal?” “A little nervous, but that’s to be expected,” reported Sal with a shrug. “Might want to watch his heart rate if it keeps spiking.” “Remain calm, Skywalker,” said the droid. “There is no need to fear. This procedure is relatively simple and has quite a high success rate. Please remove his shackles.” With a pair of hard swallows, two fleet troopers stepped forward to do as asked. Then they took a handful of steps back. The droid motioned to the lowered table. “Please lie down on the surgical table, Skywalker.” Anakin felt his limbs start trembling as he approached the creepy collection of medical equipment. At least this place was bright and evenly lit. The surgery where he’d received his suit had looked more like a dark torture chamber...which it turned out to be. Continued flashes of that procedure continued to plague his mind, and he paused a long while before sitting on the table. “There will be no pain, and the procedure will be over quickly.” Too-One-be rolled next to the bed. “Please. Lie down.” Anakin did as he was told. Sal’s calm, somewhat encouraging presence was welcome, and he gave a nod to his medic. Still he felt his heart racing. “Skywalker, you must calm yourself,” insisted Too-One-be. “The anesthetic will be administered shortly. Lieutenant Sal, prepare an intravenous solution of sensocaine.” While his medic went about setting up the IV, Anakin closed his eyes and brought his breathing under control. To ward off the pull of the Dark Side, he directed his thoughts to pleasant memories instead. Padme's smile...his mother's gentle but firm nature...Qui-Gon's patient explanations of the Force...the friendly jesting with Obi-Wan...and finally, the look of gratitude on Luke's face upon being pulled to safety. Each of these thoughts brought a pang of regret. All of these people were gone...except Luke. And yet, since being brought to the Rebellion, Anakin had not seen his son, even via video or hologram. The temptation was there to feel slighted. Would it really be so bad to let me see him just once? "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose..." Yoda's final lesson returned as if in an echo, making Anakin sigh. Luke is safe. There's no need to worry about him. The broken man took in another deep breath and let it out slowly, releasing with it all feelings of greed and unfairness. Yes, master. "Very good, sir. Your heart rate has improved." Too-One-Be hovered near, with Sal to his left, holding the IV to administer the anesthetic. "Are you ready?" I've been ready for this for years, thought Anakin as he nodded. He felt the sting of the needle as it was inserted into his bare arm and the slow onset of numbness as the medicine flowed into his bloodstream. As time ticked by, an overwhelming drowsiness overtook him. The words of Sal and Too-One-be became muffled...garbled. Anakin's last thought before slipping into unconsciousness was for Luke. * * * * * He made it...thank the Force, he made it. Luke couldn’t keep still as he walked quickly down the corridor of the Redemption. After four long hours of waiting, he’d finally received word that the tracheotomy had been a complete success. To his utter delight, he heard that the rest of the bio-mechanical suit had also been removed. Even better, full permission had been granted for a visit. At last, he would be able to see and speak with his father...his real father, Anakin Skywalker. Luke wasn't sure why the Alliance had gone the extra step to remove the suit. Leia, after telling him, had shrugged it off as a necessity. They simply didn’t have the facilities for maintenance. Luke preferred to think it was at least partially due to mercy. Admiral Ackbar had, after all, said that if the attack on the second Death Star succeeded, the Rebellion would owe their lives to Anakin Skywalker. There was still some trepidation. While there was synthetic skin available, replacement over such a wide area was not only impractical, but dangerous. After living on medicated food, water, and air for two decades, Anakin’s immune system would likely be compromised for quite some time...perhaps the rest of his life. Without his suit, he was just a frail burn victim. Luke tried to think past the potential problems and focus on the positive. No longer would those who saw him see only Darth Vader. No longer would anyone shudder upon just hearing him breathe. Maybe now even Leia could call him Anakin. Leia...Luke had asked his sister if she wanted to come along, but she had declined. Her excuse was work, but Luke knew that her anger toward their father might never go away. Too-One-Be, who had been leading the way, came to a stop outside a closed door. He turned to Luke. "I must warn you once again, Commander Skywalker, that your father does not look like what most humans would define as normal. You may find his appearance rather disturbing. As his immune system is compromised, you must enter through a decontaminating mist." Luke nodded, trying not to be impatient. "I understand." "Very well. You may come in. He is still unconscious, but should fully awaken soon." Eagerly Luke followed the droid into the recovery room. Already he could sense his father’s presence. It was a relief to sense peace, health, and strength. The decontaminating mist was startling, but over quickly. They turned a corner...and Luke stopped short. His father lay sleeping in a medical cot, completely unrecognizable. No longer clad in black but in a simple medical gown, a thin sheet covered Anakin from mid-chest to mechanical toes. A flexible tube about as thick as Luke's thumb was connected to Anakin's throat, bringing oxygen with a sound no more than a whisper. It took quite a bit of self-discipline not to gasp. His father’s skin was pale with a mottled, ashen tone. Thick ropy scars contrasted sharply with strong but surprisingly thin muscles, while his head was completely bereft of hair save sparse eyelashes. A deep pink scar cut into the top of his scalp, stretching some four inches across his crown in a jagged line. There was little left of Anakin's ears to be seen. A rather crude mechanical arm extended out of the right sleeve, connected at the elbow, while the left sleeve lay half empty. His face was the least startling. While pale from lack of light, the burns evidently hadn’t been as bad between chin and brow. The scars there were minimal. His age could only be guessed at, but the lines around his eyes told of someone at least forty or fifty. Luke wasn't sure how to feel. Conflicting emotions of shock, sympathy, and happiness at seeing his father swam about in his mind. His jaw hung slack for a moment. Then he closed his eyes. "Commander Skywalker, are you well?" Questioned the droid. Luke shook off the heaviness in his heart and nodded. “Yeah...” He took a tentative step toward the bed. "How is he?" Too-One-Be gave the droid equivalent of a shrug. "He is doing quite well. His body is adapting to the tracheotomy, there are no signs of infection, and his vitals are strong. Considering the severity of his previous injuries, he is actually in very good shape." Luke let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding. You can relax now. He's going to be all right. "Can I sit with him?" "Certainly, Commander. He should come out of the anesthesia in no more than fifteen minutes." "Thank you." Luke walked over and settled into a chair next to the bed. He moistened his lips and watched his father sleep. "Father," he breathed, reaching for Anakin's right hand. Too-One-Be turned around. "I am afraid he cannot hear you, sir. His ears are not functioning. The heat he experienced many years ago damaged both eardrums beyond repair." This news took some time to sink in. Luke frowned. "He's deaf? But....how did he...?" "His mask picked up sound waves and translated them into sound via a sensor behind each ear. In time a replacement may be installed, but for the time being, alternate modes of communication will have to be used," explained the droid. Luke's eyes stung. He'd never known how many functions the suit and helmet had taken over. Without them, Anakin was nearly helpless. He's alive, Luke reminded himself. He's going to be all right. That’s all that matters.