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Saga - OT Vader's Shadow (Luke, Vader; AU of the "Darth Vader" comics)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Saga_Symphony, Feb 3, 2018.

  1. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Aug 27, 2010
    YIPE! That was close! Luke's impulsiveness is proving to be a problem right now, but thanks to the (annoying) Thanoth, they're all still alive. I'm chewing my nails at the tension...cannot WAIT to find out what happens next! [face_nail_biting]
  2. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    Once again (and this is probably getting old coming from me), but thanks, everyone. [face_coffee]

    Here's the next part; back to stormtrooper-Luke...

    Soon the inspection was over and they were dismissed.

    When the stormtroopers began to return to the ship, Luke dragged at the end of the line. He eyed the droid. It was distracted, reading the datapad it held, and wasn't looking his way. Slowly, while still keeping his eyes on the droid, he backed up.

    He eyed the hauling unit that was starting to retreat. He eyed the droid, which was still facing away.

    Deciding to just go for it, he made a blind leap towards the hauling unit. He tumbled onto it, making a soft thud. He settled his boots on the steely surface and then ducked behind the pyramid of crates, trying to position himself at an angle that could best hide him from all sides.

    Luke jerked and fidgeted, trying to huddle in his inflexible armor. He heard nothing from the droid... It must not have noticed anything, he thought. He felt the hauling unit moving, hovering on in its automated route. It was quiet.

    This will never work, Luke thought to himself.

    Then he heard voices; servicemen and droids that were listing names and numbers. They were checking the imports — of course, he had to pass through security...

    He gripped his blaster rifle, tried to mentally prepare himself to fight once he was caught. Beads of sweat ran down his brow, into his eyes.

    "Ninth line of shipments from Vrogas Vas. Retrieval mission. Class-four container transport." The voice of a man stopped for a moment. "Very well. Proceed."

    With that, the automated unit shifted underneath him and he was moving again.

    A charge of relief ran through him, almost dulled by an equally intense feeling of confusion. In a matter of minutes, he had hitched a ride on this hauler and passed through an Imperial security center without a single problem... Was it a fault of the scanning equipment? Had Thanoth done something?... Whatever it was, he was slipping by.

    And they think we Rebels are the ones who are useless, he thought. Perhaps his mission to infiltrate a Super Star Destroyer wasn't as ludicrous as he thought.

    Staying crouched in his position, he overheard the rush of crowds and machinery. The rattling of motors, the vibrations of racks, the traffic of working conveyors. It filled the air around him, but started to fade as he heard the haul pass through a number of doorways. Then it reached an area that the noise seemed to drown out, and sounded large enough to carry far-reaching echoes. The unit came to a stop, settling on the ground, and shut itself off.

    After listening and waiting a moment, Luke loosened himself from his cramped position and carefully brought himself up to stand. He peeked from behind the containers and saw he was in a dark aisle. It had several stock levels and storage areas that led up to the ceiling. The lighting was reduced to the glowing of some fusion furnaces set in the corners.

    He stepped onto the floor and looked around. There was no sign of anyone else, but it was too dark to know for sure. Luke pressed the buttons on his helmet.

    "Come on, come on," he muttered, until a headlight came on. He searched the area over with the scope of light. There was nothing but more aisles filled with more racks.

    He whispered into his comm, "Inspector, do you hear me? We're inside the facility. I don't know where exactly, some kind of storeroom. Your crate's at the bottom of the pile, I'm going to have to get these others off first... It might take a while."

    "Proceed, Luke. But do so quietly."

    Luke was already pushing at one of the stacked containers, which nudged only an inch; it was no wonder it took four stormtroopers to lug them at a time. He checked the doors every so often as he continued, struggling to move the crates and trying to not make any loud sound while doing so.

    Finally, he'd shifted the last one off and rolled it aside. Breathing hard from the exhaustion and the helmet's suffocating heat, he grabbed at the helmet and yanked it off. He inhaled the air, wiping the sweat from his face. Luke slanted on the crate for a brief moment before he stood up straight, then reached out to unlock the lid.

    There came a sound in the distance — the soft hiss of doors opening and closing.

    He turned with a start, heart pounding in his ears, and he shone his headlight toward the entryways. He saw nothing. He looked at the walls, the massive shelves of organized stock, the farthest angles of the room. The darkness yielded nothing.

    Before his brain had comprehended it, he became aware of another presence, one that was close by. He reached for his blaster.

    "Freeze," he heard from behind, followed by the push of something against his neck.

    Luke stood completely still. Then he heard the faint but unmistakable sound of someone laughing.

    "Idiot," the voice said. "You thought you could actually get away with this."

    The voice was a man's, and was somewhat familiar, not only because it carried the usual Coruscanti accent of an Imperial...

    "Captain," Luke confirmed quietly. "You... What are you..."

    "Yes, Rebel, the captain." Luke then felt fingers against his collar that soon snapped away, as if picking something off. "I had that droid put a tracer on you... Did you really, truly think no one would see past that sorry disguise?"

    Luke breathed in, and dread seized him. He began to move his hand to his rifle, but the point of the blaster pressed harder to his neck.

    "I suspected something was off about you... but when I received word from Vrogas Vas that an X-Wing was found abandoned, that a stormtrooper had been reported missing... That, coupled with the ship's surveillance footage... Well, you were practically shouting it for all the universe to hear, weren't you?"

    Luke scrunched up his eyes as if they stung. He stood as still as he could, his heart racing.

    The other man continued. "I let you think you had us fooled. I got you through port security and arranged to have you placed here. I got you here, alone. I wanted this opportunity. No capturing, no questioning, no torture. I wanted to kill you myself."

    There was a long stretch of silence.

    "Rebel scum." His voice was now almost shrill with anger. "You dare to put on that armor? The armor of a soldier, a protector who fights for the Empire and the good of the galaxy? You Rebels, all you do is try to break the peace we bring, you try with all your might. The Death Star wasn't enough for you, was it? You come back for another target, and another, and another..."

    Against his neck, Luke felt the blaster shaking in the man's hands.

    "My brother — he was a stormtrooper, a real stormtrooper. He was defending his outpost, Rebels invaded. He was blasted three times before the Rebels set off a self-destruct. Most of the troops didn't survive, but my brother did. Now he's sitting in a repulsor-chair somewhere, inarticulate and brain damaged, thanks to you Rebels!"

    Staggered and at a loss for words, Luke lowered his head. He was struck by the man's story and he wanted to say something, though knew there was nothing he could say. He remained silent.

    "Thank you for sneaking aboard my ship," the captain's said with a hoarse laugh. "A lowly transport captain like me wouldn't get a chance like this every day... I think a few good shots to the head should do it. A dead Rebel for a debilitated Imperial. That's what I call justice."

    Luke compressed his lips, his chest crammed with panic, his muscles shot.

    "Die, Rebel."

    Luke jutted out his elbow. He hit the man in the stomach, and grabbed at the blaster, trying to wrestle it out of the man's hands. The captain groaned as he struggled to keep hold and fight him off, and in the dark Luke could see he was still trying to aim at him. He shot several times, hitting things on the shelves, metal releasing bits of light on impact. Unknown items clanked and fell.

    Luke finally let go when his shoulder plate took a hit and he stumbled. Another dart of blasterfire missed his ear by an inch. Luke dodged the shots as one of the higher racks was hit and damaged, the suspension broken. The bulk of the shelves started to cave in.

    "Stay still!" For every one of the man's desperate, shrieking words, a blast was shot. "Stay still and die, you — "

    Luke took the barrel of his own rifle and drove it across the man's face. He was knocked to the ground, and Luke hesitated at seeing him on his stomach, scrambling and reaching out. He was trying to grab his gun again.

    Luke hurried and tried to kick it away, but the other man had already snatched it. He slid on his side and aimed the blaster straight up at Luke's face.

    The narrow light of the helmet now cast on the man. Brown bangs clung to his face. He looked at Luke, livid, unblinking, and his bloody lips formed into a smile. He pressed at the trigger.

    A red laser struck him in the neck before he could fire. He dropped, face first, to the floor.


    The crate unlocked.

    Thanoth rose out from his confinement with difficulty. Artoo, upon seeing Luke, lit up and whistled a greeting. It was followed by a series of questioning bleeps and hums, which Luke made no response to.

    "Quite an ordeal," Thanoth said as he stood, shoving off pieces of cracked duracrete from his shoes. He observed the damage and debris on the scorch-marked floor, then looked at the lifeless man lying by the hauling unit. His lidded eyes blinked at the sight and he stepped over the body.

    "Well, we'd best leave this place, Luke. Find a ship in the hangar. Shan't be too difficult, I think. Any light freighter will do."

    Luke remained silent.

    Thanoth studied him for a few seconds, and then added, "Quickly, Luke."

    Luke nodded, but stayed where he was, as if grounded there. He felt withdrawn, left in a daze. He saw the stormtrooper helmet still shining its light over the floor, over the form of the fallen captain.

    Luke leaned down and took the white helmet in his hands, and turned off the light. He looked at the plastoid face for a moment. It glared back at him.

    "Let's... Let's get out of here," he muttered, and he adjusted the helmet back over his head.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
    AzureAngel2 and Ridley Solo like this.
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Superb action! You show the "other side" very sharply: the Imperials also have those they care about that are devastatingly injured or killed in the "line of duty." [face_thinking] =D= And instead of their family/friends concluding that whew, this Empire thing isn't worth it, they go to the extreme of: a martyr for the government that brings "stability" etc.
    AzureAngel2 and Togruta like this.
  4. Ridley Solo

    Ridley Solo Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Aug 27, 2010
    :eek: WOW. More edge-of-your-seat action and tension than you can shake a stick at!

    Both sides have a story. Everyone has someone they've lost to the other side. When you lose a family member, the hatred drives deeper, the fight becomes personal. Luke- bless him for his compassion -has now seen a little of both sides of the story. He lost his family to the Empire...others have lost family to the Rebellion. Just a reminder that there's people in those stark white suits of armor. =D=

    SO GOOD! ^:)^ If this fic isn't up for some kind of award next year (Best drama? Best action?), there's something wrong with the world.
  5. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks again, @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha and @Ridley Solo. That someone thinks this story is award-worthy is super appreciated. [face_coffee]

    Sorry the updates have been less frequent, it's probably going to be once or twice a month. But here's the next part. Hope you like!

    "Okay, okay, we got lightspeed. We've lost them." Luke let out a breath. "We're clear..."

    From the cockpit, Luke lifted his hands off the control sticks, feeling drained. He turned his head and called, "How's everything back there? Any damage?"

    Through the open door that led to the ship's rear compartment, Artoo made an indefinite bleep. The droid was near a large square device fitted onto the engine's center, two of his mechanical hands simultaneously tackling it. Meanwhile Thanoth was hunched into a corner, arms overlapping as he handled some kind of panel switch.

    "Minor exterior damage," came his stiff reply. "But the hyperdrive is overheating at a fast rate. I admit I don't know an awful lot about TIE Defenders, but the droid here says it has a defective motivator and claims it can fix it... I have my doubts."

    The older man made a frown as he turned a dial on the contraption, his elbow hitting the edge of Artoo's dome as he did so. Artoo rumbled.

    "Blast, a tight fit like this after being stuffed in a crate with this astromech!... Still, what with the increased speed, deflector shields and hyperdrive, I suppose we really ought to be thankful we could find a specialized starfighter like this."

    Artoo made a twist with his rounded head, and let out some chortling bleeps. Thanoth sighed.

    "Yes, find and steal... I think you're a bit overenthusiastic about that particular detail, droid."

    "It's thanks to him that we were able to override the defenses," Luke remarked on impulse. "He was the one getting us into the ship while you were lagging behind like a lump."

    Thanoth raised his white eyebrows, still focused on the device, and he lifted a finger and pressed a button. "This lump has just disabled the anti-theft homing beacon so that we shan't be pursued." He lifted his head and regarded the young man with a blatant blink.

    Luke grimly turned back to the controls, mouth compressed.

    He studied the cockpit, eyed the overall pod-like design, the many bulky levers and tools. It was certainly no X-Wing. The structure, the build, especially with the non-standard divided three-wings of the TIE Defender, made it less than smooth to control. But the interface didn't look too complicated... At least he had managed to fly them out of the port and escape the Imperial patrol ships without much damage...

    He noticed a flashing indicator: the hyperdrive was indeed overheating, and was on a high-danger level. He released it, sighing at the inconvenience.

    "Dropping back into realspace," he declared, setting the ship into auto-pilot. "We'll just have to drift until Artoo can get the motivator working."

    "We need more than that," he heard Thanoth say. The inspector then walked out of the backroom and stepped into the dark cockpit area. He moved to the side consoles and turned on a computer.

    "Having lightspeed won't do us any good if we can't get to our destination," he said. "I'll have to get into the Imperial Network, find the coordinates... I know Vader and the Devastator are supposed to be at Shu-Torun, but where are we right now?"

    Luke accessed the navigation program and read the stats: "Unknown Regions. Nearest location is the Setera system."

    It was quiet for several minutes, save for Thanoth's fingers drumming away on the keypad. Luke looked at the computer screen and saw the data was processing slowly, likely a sign of the poor signal quality, and it showed a flickering map of systems. Another window had a list of planets with Shu-Torun highlighted.

    "All the way to the Mid Rim," supplied the inspector, pointing at it on the map. "Travel time will be a while, but..." He grimaced as he input some numbers. "It will be about an hour just for the coordinates to fully transfer."

    Luke sighed and made a nod. In the backroom, he heard the clanks of Artoo still at work, and was tempted to offer his help... but with the tight space, he was sure he would just make things more difficult for Artoo, who was the superior technician anyway.

    Still, he didn't want to just sit here, waiting, doing nothing...

    A churning sound distracted him, and his stomach wrenched. He realized he hadn't eaten since before leaving for Vrogas Vas.

    Thanoth suddenly got up and began walking around. He studied the cockpit as if x-raying everything in sight, until his attention fell on the flooring just below the control pedestal. He knelt down with some difficulty, his hand pressed down on his back, and opened a small door of what looked like an extra storage unit.

    "Ah, here we are." He brought out a metal box and opened it. Inside was an assortment of sealed lumps, packets, and a metallic water canteen with disposable cups. "Backup rations. Looks like the owner of this particular vessel has added his own edibles." He picked up a small carton and his eyes brightened. "Splendid."

    He passed the box to Luke, and then looked around the area yet again. Luke watched him, curious, and unwrapped a bean-muffin. In no time at all Thanoth had brought out what looked like a micro-generator. He set it down on the flat surface by the console, along with the metallic lid of the box.

    "Now what are you doing?" Luke asked suspiciously, his cheeks stuffed with food.

    The inspector picked up the canteen. He set it down on the metal lid and proceeded to connect it to the generator. Luke understood now that he was trying to heat the water in it. Thanoth lightly weighed the carton in his palm.

    "Gingerbell tea. Not the best tea there is... but still very pleasant." He took out a teabag and dropped it into one of the cups.

    When the water was boiling hot, Thanoth turned off the generator and got out a handkerchief. With it he carefully grabbed the metal canteen and poured the hot water into his cup.

    When he indicated if Luke wanted some, Luke paused, swallowing another mouthful of muffin before making a loose shrug. Thanoth poured another cup and handed it to him.

    Luke looked down into the golden-colored fluid, a string of steam trailing from it, and reflected on just how crazy this was. An Imperial, offering him a cup of tea... Frowning, he merely blew on it and held it on his knee.

    The tea steaming under his nose, Thanoth took in the smell with savor. He tipped the cup, swallowed, and exhaled.

    "Still distrustful of me, I see."

    Luke looked at him. The older man took a longer sip.

    "Good," Thanoth said with a smile. "I'm actually impressed, you know. I know how careful you are... trying to be, young Luke."

    Trying to be? Luke thought. He narrowed his eyes and shifted in his seat, irritated. Then he looked at the older man, and lifted an eyebrow.

    "Impressed enough to unlock your safe and give me back my lightsaber?"

    Thanoth made a good-natured chuckle and took another sip. He leaned back and rested his head against the wall.

    Sighing, Luke set his tea aside and turned to view the computer screen. He watched as the coordinates' loading bar went from sixteen to seventeen percent. He stared at the screen for several minutes, lost in thought.

    It reached twenty-three. The steam over the tea was gone.

    "Thanoth," Luke said lowly, breaking the lengthy silence. "Tell me something... Why do you serve the Empire?"

    The older man made a wooden smile, the screen's brightness reaching his aged face, making his monocle a circle of white.

    "You are thinking about that transport captain you killed."

    Luke hunched his shoulders. He looked away at the stormtrooper helmet on the control board. In his mind, he could still see the man's pale face. His voice seemed to echo in his ears, his hateful, frantic screams, the sound of the firm thump on the ground as he fell...

    "Come now, Luke," Thanoth said, interrupting his thoughts, his tone urgent, almost impatient. "Surely you don't regret it. The man was clearly deranged. You acted in self-defense."

    "I know," Luke muttered, a stiffness in his throat. "It's just..."

    "He would have killed you, you know — that is, if he wasn't so incompetent." Thanoth's forehead furrowed in repugnance. "Nothing is more intolerable than an incompetent. It all worked in our favor of course, but sneaking a Rebel into an Imperial facility like that, just for his pathetic shot at revenge... He was a disgrace to the Empire. That kind of hot-blooded behavior may be the norm in the Rebellion, but not—"

    Luke narrowed his eyes and gaped, incredulous.

    "You know how ineffective your ragtag group often is," Thanoth said, as if answering him. "I mean no offense to you personally, Luke, but it's only to be expected. A military group with no real military, no real structure or leadership, and no right or means to rule... And such narrow-minded, infantile aims, what with their "us-against-them" mindset and hypocritical freedom-fighter nonsense..."

    Luke blinked, taken aback. He had expected the subject of the Alliance's fight against the Empire to come up at some point, but he didn't feel ready to hear this belittlement from Thanoth.

    "Well, my ragtag group blew up the Death Star with just a few snub fighters," he protested, compelled to defend his side.

    The inspector took another sip of tea. "Your snub fighter, Luke. Which took the lives of millions of Imperials, if I recall."

    "And billions of people died on Alderaan!" Luke blurted out. "You're talking about a superweapon that could wipe out entire planets — there was never going to be a time when the Death Star didn't have people on it. But it had to be destroyed!"

    "Then there is no reason to bemoan the loss of a single Imperial. Much less a homicidal madman."

    "I'm not bemoaning anything!" Luke clenched his fists. "I know what it means to fight the Empire! And what about you, Thanoth? You said you don't want Vader to remain as second-in-command — you want us to get rid of him for you, right? You're here helping me, the pilot who blew up the Death Star, you want to help my father, a Jedi... What makes that captain a disgrace to the Empire, but not you?"

    The older man peered at him and frowned, but said nothing.

    "Right now, you're looking like a traitor to me," Luke continued, his voice cold. "And as for 'incompetence'... it was that captain and Artoo that got us this far, not you."

    Thanoth's eyes flew open and his mouth parted with a twitch. "You... Why you..."

    His voice shook and his posture stiffened. He looked so uncharacteristically angry that Luke was sure he'd have swung his cane at him if he could. But the moment was short-lived. Thanoth huffed out and closed his eyes.

    "...Young man," he rumbled slowly, "if you weren't your father's son..."

    Adamant, Luke met his gaze. "If you weren't my father's friend..."

    Lines crinkled around the inspector's mouth, and he sighed. "Ungratefulness aside... my duty is to the Empire, that is true. That does not mean I think it's perfect. The Empire needs change... and I believe that can only happen from the inside."

    The young man blew out and folded his arms. "If you believe that'll happen, you're as deranged as that captain was."

    The inspector stared at him a moment. He then shrugged and looked into his now-empty cup.

    "We will see... I may have my unorthodox ways of helping the Empire, I may even be 'aiding the enemy' now in the most ludicrous mission ever devised — a mission I was forced to partake in, if you remember — but I never let a petty grudge get in the way of my duty. I never have, and never will. Even when it just so happens that the Empire is why I can never get the best tea in the galaxy ever again." He made a rigid smile, and his eyelids fluttered for a moment. "My homeworld was famous for its tea, you know."

    Baffled at this strange sentiment, Luke opened his mouth to question it, but then clamped it shut. Realization dawned on him.

    "You..." He looked at the old man, scanning him over. He squinted at him. "...You're from Alderaan?"

    Thanoth made a single nod.

    Luke stared at him, his mouth hung open. "You're from Alderaan... and you're with the Empire? How... Why— "

    Suddenly Luke jerked in his seat, and Thanoth almost fell. There was a loud noise and everything around them shook. The ration box crashed and the tea spilled on the floor. Artoo made an electronic shriek.

    "What is this?" exclaimed Thanoth, as he grasped the edge of the doorway, trying to hoist himself up. "What is happen—"

    Luke leaned over to the navigation display and searched the scanners, but stopped as a large shadow cast over the cockpit, covering them in darkness for a moment. Through the viewport Luke saw the reason.

    A giant worm-like creature was drifting past them through space. It curved farther away to reveal its enlarged body, sallow and slinking back to them. Its mouth opened and closed, revealing a set of gigantic teeth.

    "That..." Thanoth said, barely moving his lips, "...would be an exogorth."
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2020
  6. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Fantastic and intense conversation with widely diverging opinions that have no middle ground. What a shocker about Thanoth's origins! I am glad he doesn't think the Empire is perfect and has an idea to change it from the inside. Certain things have to happen first before that's likely. :p
    Whew, an exogorth is an intriguing creature!
    AzureAngel2 and Togruta like this.
  7. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Chosen One star 6

    Jun 14, 2005
    Sorry for not having been around officially, but lurking in my lunch breaks when there were no documentations to write or fellow kindergarten teachers to talk to.

    I love the unique relationship that the old war veteran & Luke have in this story.

    This I wanted to get rid of before vanishing on holidays for a good while.
  8. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks, all.

    And here we go, more Luke, more Thanoth... and stuff happens. (Best summary ever.)

    Hope you enjoy!

    "A what?"

    "A space slug."

    Luke clutched the hyperdrive, but his hand stilled as he caught sight of the indicator again, still flashing in the danger zone. Luke held his teeth together as he saw the slug coming closer. He turned off the auto-pilot.

    "Hold on to something," he told Thanoth, gripping the sticks. He steered the ship and they dove downward, flying out of the creature's path. But it wasn't long before the slug's limbless body came back into view. It swerved, and Luke could see it was redirecting itself. The head appeared again and its gaping mouth opened, awaiting them.

    Chest pounding, Luke turned up the speed, hearing the wail of the ion engines as he turned the ship. They just missed the slug's mouth and were traveling several feet down the whitish skin before he pulled up, splitting away. He heard Thanoth groaning, struggling, and bumping into things.

    The view was clear. The slug had disappeared as they sped into black nothingness... but Luke sensed the creature was right behind them.

    "...This thing's faster than it looks," he said breathlessly, his insides teeming with panic. He accessed the missile launch commands, ready to shoot.

    "Fast and resilient," Thanoth said with difficulty, trying to keep himself from slanting and leaning with the motion of the ship. "I doubt this TIE's weaponry — uhf — will do much to it. Exogorth's have extremely thick mantles and — argh — protective tissue—"

    "It's a slug. There's no way it can be faster than a TIE Defender! This thing's supposed to have advanced speed; if I could just figure out—"

    He was cut off by a violent crash, and both he and Thanoth were thrown sideways.

    "Artoo! Get the motivator working!" Luke shouted, fidgeting back into his seat and grabbing the sticks. He curved his arms and made a narrow turn as Artoo frantically called back.

    "It's trying to devour us," Thanoth voiced, holding on to the back of Luke's chair.

    "I can see that, Thanoth!"

    "Exogorths are usually dormant, but they have highly evolved senses, and they don't relent once they've targeted prey in the midst of space. It must be migrating to another asteroid field. This one is only half the size of a full-grown—"

    "Shut up!" Luke steered hard to the left as the enormous tail hovered over them. He dodged it. He took a chance and launched a missile at one of the slug's beady eyes. It resulted in a fiery explosion that gave the ship a beating, but did not slow the beast down in the slightest. He fired the laser cannons at its head: it roared and flinched, but still didn't back off. Its movements became more erratic and its body zigzagged.

    Luke tried to aim the proton torpedo at it, but the shot didn't land. Again the head was nearing them, the maw opening wide.

    As he continued, diving, rolling, somersaulting in space, Luke's mind fizzed with a cauldron of questions that had no answers. The slug could keep up with them, the thruster boost was on low-power and wouldn't last long enough to create enough spatial advantage; the weapons and shields were useless, they didn't have lightspeed ... What could he do?

    "Blast it all, Luke! What are you—"

    They came to a hurtling stop and an ear-splitting screech resounded throughout the ship. Everything trembled as shadows bounced across the cockpit, then everything went dark. With a cringe and a jolt in his heart, Luke realized they had been caught in the creature's jaws.

    Thanoth was making rough hyperventilating breaths, while Luke desperately tried to make out the many glowing commands before him, his hands sweeping over them, trying to find something that could help, something to get them out of this...

    The crunching sound of bent titanium came through the ceiling.

    Luke wracked his brain for a solution. The mouth — maybe this was an opportunity to shoot the monster where it was vulnerable. He took the laser cannons, ready to fire.

    "Don't!" protested Thanoth. "We're right here with it, Luke! Any heavy fire and we'll only blow ourselves up!"

    Scowling, Luke yanked the controls, pressed the thruster power, and tilted the triple wings, folding and unfolding them over and over to try to annoy the slug. The wings grazed its brown gums and the creature let out a deep groan. Its jaws unclenched slightly. The ship began to wrench loose.

    "Come on..." Luke ignored the blinking screens and auditors going off, tried to crank up the thruster more, but it was spent. In seconds the teeth were grinding back down.

    "No, no... Come on!" But the more he tried to move the wings, the more the slug seemed to hold on. Above them, the tips of the giant teeth starting to dent through the ceiling. Saliva was now dripping down the viewport.

    Luke pounded the control panel furiously, horrified, at a loss. "There's nothing we can do!"

    He shut his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the teeth to fully pierce through, for them to be swallowed, while all the bellowing noise of the ship, the creature, Artoo's squeals and Thanoth's wheezes surrounded him. He was too paralyzed to move.

    Then he felt a tug at his shoulder.

    "The Force," he heard Thanoth say to him, nearly in a whisper. "Use the Force, Luke."

    Opening his eyes, Luke turned to him, awestruck. Thanoth's face was lost in the shadows.

    "What..." Luke heaved, then winced as the guttural growl of the slug sounded through his ears, vibrating the ship. "What do you..."

    "Feel the Force. Use it on the beast."

    Cracks appeared on the transparisteel from the outside. Luke gasped, his muscles bracing, his brain benumbed...

    Yet under it all the fire of his instincts was burning, kicking in. His will to survive.

    Luke stood, legs trembling, and he looked upward. He lifted a shaken hand. He tried to focus, tried to find the power within him, that special energy that could connect him to the creature, to influence it...

    "You... don't... want to," he whispered, eyes shut, trying to suppress his trepidation. "You don't... you don't want to, uh... eat us. You don't want to."

    A mild grunt came in reply. The side of the TIE was met with a hard thump of the tongue.

    "Y-You can't!" Luke went on, jumping from the impact. "You don't want it... You want to let it go."

    Seconds passed with no change. Luke tightened his fist, inhaling and exhaling, trying to draw on his instincts, to find that gateway that led to the Force and all its possibilities. Immaterial echoes came to him: he felt the meaning of Ben's teachings... and he felt the creature...

    The Force... it was answering him. More and more he felt it. It was opening to him, widening like a channel he could soar through. And with it, things became clearer...

    He saw into the slug's mind, felt it become transparent. It thrived on its own instincts, its own need to survive; consuming them was a necessity. Luke could feel its dire situation, somehow understood that it was starving and adrift in space after centuries of hiding, its home destroyed. He felt the pang of its suffering, as if his own body carried that same hunger.

    A beeping sound came through, and Luke paused, his concentration breaking as he was brought back to the danger he had been tuning out. The dark cockpit, the sound of the slug's thick breath, its engulfed mouth caving in...

    He closed his eyes and tried again. His will burned, but the creature's will burned also, and pushed at him, its thoughts repeating its need to feed. Luke tried to redirect it, change its motive. His attempt faltered, and he could feel the slug trying to break away from his contact.

    "No." Luke's voice was flat and sharp. "You want to let go."

    He called on the Force more, tried to reconnect. The power returned to him, and he latched onto the creature's consciousness.

    "Let go," he commanded it. His fingers curled as he felt the power course through him, flowing like a wellspring. "Let go now."

    It was quiet for a moment, save for one continuing alert on the control panel. Then there was a sonorous sound, like a moan of pain or confusion. The scrape of shifting metal was heard and the shroud over the ship began to abate. The giant mouth was opening. The jaws were slackening.

    With a sudden movement, the slug let go, and they were tossed into space.

    Luke was sent back and fell into his chair. His eyes shot open, the rush of it all hitting him. He reached for the stabilizer and pulled the lever, and the TIE came to a balanced stop. Checking the flight datascreen to see the state of the wings — and finding they were miraculously still attached — he began veering the ship away.

    Quivering, he let out a long sigh. Relief filled him, even as he felt himself lose command of the Force, he could still feel its power around him, like light from a setting sun. And he still felt the creature out there. He knew it was withdrawing...

    "Well, that... that wasn't... so bad," he found himself saying, and he blew his bangs from his forehead.

    He looked at Thanoth for a second, but then swiftly darted his eyes away. Thanoth's encouraging words seemed to hang in the air... He wasn't sure what to say, or what to think, but he felt a strange awkwardness towards the inspector.

    "Uh... Artoo? Are you all right back there?" He turned his head toward the back room.

    The droid appeared and made a ring, and sent back a couple of befuddled bleeps.

    "I know, Artoo. The ship's worse now," Luke replied back. "But it's still flying at least, so it's not... too bad. Probably."

    He looked over the system's maintenance alerts still going on. The TIE engines howled with depleted noise, and he saw the topmost wing was unresponsive; the wings controlled erratically now, faltering and going a different way every minute or so. He had to keep re-adjusting them to fly normally. He turned off the bleeping life support. The communicator signal was still going on; he wasn't even sure how that had been triggered...

    He looked at the side computer. The coordinates transfer was still loading, only halfway done.

    Luke heard Thanoth clearing his throat. He paused as if stunned, then made a reluctant side glance at him. He met his gaze. The older man looked worse for wear, his uniform ruffled, his temple bruised, and his monocle absent. His expression was solemn.

    Then he slowly cracked a smile. It grew out to his cheeks, and his old eyes gleamed. For a moment Luke couldn't help but think he looked very grandfatherly.

    "I knew you could do it," the inspector said softly.

    Luke didn't know what to say. He could barely believe what had just happened. It was strange enough that a giant slug had attacked them out of nowhere... but that he had successfully used the Force on it... and that Thanoth had been the one to think of it, had encouraged him to use it...

    It was rare that he could tap into the Force that well, and he felt pride glowing in himself, knowing that he had saved them, that he'd managed to do the same Jedi mind trick Ben had once done...

    His warring arguments with the inspector seemed so negligible now. At this moment, Luke couldn't feel anything but appreciation towards him. But all he could manage to say was a quiet, "Thanks."

    The inspector made a nod, then picked at his side pouch. He brought out his monocle, obviously having stowed it away for safety, and began wiping it with the trim of his tunic.

    "Might you want to take a look at that?" He pointed to one still-bleeping alert below, a button that flashed white.

    Luke pressed the button, opening the prompts to turn it off, but he stopped. A visualization presented itself, showing radio-like signals. Luke now saw the program hadn't been randomly triggered as he'd thought. The transceiver itself was active.

    "Thanoth... take a look at this."

    Thanoth held out the eyepiece to survey it before placing it back at his left eye. He looked at the display.

    "...Distress signal," he said. He frowned behind his mustache. "All the way out here? In the Unknown Regions?"

    "Well, we're all the way out here," Luke pointed out. "Do you see anything? Another ship? I'm looking at the scopes... they aren't picking up anything..."

    "I can't see a ship. Of course, there is a film of slime still obscuring the view so — no, don't press that!" He swatted Luke's fingers away from the communicator. "We don't know who or what is out there! We're in no condition to attract unwanted attention, and if you accept the call they could easily track our signal! By stars, am I the only one here who thinks of preventative measures for being traced?"

    Luke felt ready to object, but held it back, knowing Thanoth had a point. He looked at the signal again, and still it continued. An uneasy feeling came over him.

    "We need to know if someone else is out there — whether they need help, or if they're tracking us," he said, and he pressed the receiver button before Thanoth could stop him.

    Another chart appeared, linear and showing spikes darting up and down. They reacted to a voice that came through, that of a man's:

    "Danger... Don't let..." Crackling static broke through the call. "I'm not worth... shouldn't have sent... If you hear me... if you hear me, do not... anyone... endanger themselves... Not try... to rescue me... Thanoth..."

    More distortion fizzed through, until the voice came through again.

    "I'll be dead soon... Vader is too strong..."

    The call ended.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
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  9. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Intense edge of seatness! Luke got them out of a jam for sure, but the distress call...? =D=
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  10. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks again! [face_coffee]

    Now time to check back with Vader...

    Vader stood, lightsaber drawn.

    He walked to the middle-aged man and extended the red blade. The other backed away in awe, his rich woven jacket swaying in the heated breeze, the frills of his collar wrinkled. With him was a lanky young woman in a headdress, his daughter, who cowered behind him as the lightsaber was held an inch from his chest.

    "Open the gates," the man said, his voice grim and forced. "The Rubix Citadel hereby delivers itself into the hands of Queen Trios. I, Baron Rubix, recognize her dominion herein..."

    Vader was still. Around them was a mass of gilded soldiers that was closing in, led by the armored queen. She made her way to them and Vader withdrew when she approached. Trios stood to address Rubix, bearing a resentful frown that he returned.

    He spat, "No matter what punishment you deliver, I—"

    "Enough! Thousands are dead because of your pride," she admonished. "You've surrendered. Enough flowery speeches. Execute him."

    The Shu-Torun soldiers aimed their guns and a flood of blue lasers was delivered. The baron's daughter cried out and reached for him as he fell. Smoke rose from his chest and she knelt on the ground beside him, hanging her head as she wept.

    Vader extinguished his weapon. He watched as Trios and the young woman exchanged words, but his thoughts were already elsewhere.

    At last, the war was won... His master's expectations for him were met. Despite this, he found he took little sensation from the victory. There was still the matter of the failed drill and the trap it had led him into. It had been a minor setback; he had led his troops onward, fighting through the enemy in battle after battle, eventually coming to the aid of Trios and her army. With the Imperial forces gathered, they'd easily broken through the baron's defenses.

    What was more urgent to him was that Cylo and his team were still missing. They had not responded to any calls since the drill dropped off-route. Trios had received no word of them either; none of the fleet or crew had. The Force swirled with dark indications that met with his own qualms, but there had been no time to dwell on this during the invasion. Now however, it pressed on the Dark Lord's mind. As soon as this business with Trios and the ore-barons was taken care of, he would search for answers.

    Coming back to the present, he registered Trios telling Rubix's daughter that she would take her father's place. The girl protested.

    "That is not the line of succession. The eldest brother—"

    "Will be overjoyed by my wisdom," said Trios, turning away, "as he knows that objecting to my decisions carries a certain treasonous air."

    She walked away, the soldiers parting to let her through. Vader joined her as the girl was taken in by the guards.

    "Why?" he asked bluntly, curious about her decision.

    The queen looked ahead, her young face solemn. "I've found inexperienced youths not expecting power the most easy to manipulate, Lord Vader."

    Words from a youth who now thinks herself wise, thought Vader. So she had followed his example, done to Rubix's daughter what he had done to her, for the sake of her world. It was an obvious show of imitation that bordered on sycophancy, but he felt some satisfaction nonetheless. The decision did make political sense.

    And he felt something else stir within him, inevitable and unbeknownst to the queen. Her words resonated in him, bringing with them a vision: that of his own future, and a son he had yet to find.

    "...You are correct," he said in agreement, after a moment's pause.

    How strange that on Shu-Torun, in the midst of war and rivalry, two youths had shown a willingness to learn from him... but the one who was destined for that role remained out of his reach, sided with the Rebels, their few encounters cut short.

    I must find him, he thought. The Force had brought his son to his attention, and obviously willed for them to meet again. That he had found out about him only weeks ago, and at this time, when he had been demoted, doubted by the Emperor, and he himself repulsed by his master's faith in Cylo's monstrosities... He had even begun building his own private forces in secret before he'd discovered the identity of the boy... A boy who sought to learn the ways of the Force...

    It could not all be for nothing. It was an outright calling of destiny. Yes, he would find him, in time... but that was the future, one that would not come as soon as he wanted, he knew. For now he still had this game with Cylo to finish, Aphra to silence, and his own role in the Empire to restore.

    Without another word, Vader parted from the queen as she entered the delving-citadel of Rubix with her guards. He made his way through the horde of soldiers and smoke, back to the Imperial fleet.


    "The scientist," growled the Dark Lord as he towered over the portly baron who stood before him. "He is missing. You will reveal to me where he is, and what he has done. Now."

    The trembling baron took a step backward, holding on to the end of his jacket and scrunching it into a knot. He looked up at Vader in terror.

    "I don't... d-don't know..."

    Trios and her council were now meeting to discuss the war and its results, while Vader had only briefly taken part, wasting no time in uncovering any information he could about Cylo and the failed drill. Cylo's vessel had remained at the palace landing platform and had already been searched, with no relevant information found. But it wasn't long before information did surface: he'd received word that the technicians had discovered an override in the drill's system, one that had been timed to shut it down.

    As he had suspected, it was all planned. The source was more than obvious, but he nevertheless needed confirmation. He was now holding one of the imprisoned ore-barons for questioning. The chamber was unlit, the Dark Lord standing as if one with the darkness, save for the flashing lights of his abdomen unit. Vader took a step toward the man, whose brow was moist with sweat.

    "You were among Rubix's inner circle," he stated, his voice even as he stared down at him. "Rubix is now dead. Tell me what you know of Doctor Cylo and his hand in all this, and I shall consider not taking your life."

    The baron stood there, white-faced and dumbfounded at the sight of the Dark Lord. He then swallowed.

    "I... must be given assurance. A pardon... from the queen," he stuttered, his eyes squirming with hope. "And to remain in full... possession of my title and my estate. Rubix, he was the ringleader, I am only a financier! Please, I will compensate you — money, slaves, whatever you—"

    Vader closed in and reached out, pushing the man to the wall. The baron raised a hand up in defense, and Vader grabbed it. He tightened his leather-clad hold on it, his metallic grip baring down, crushing the man's fingers. The baron shrieked. He made a flurry of incoherent pleas that went ignored.

    "Reveal the truth," Vader said, his tone deep with calm, "or die."

    The baron made a shaken nod. "Y-Yes! Cy-Cylo, he... he..." He stopped, overwhelmed, his words lost as he wailed from the pain.

    Vader stared him down, a flare of impatience building in him. The dark side was whispering, offering to show him the baron's thoughts and get the answers he needed... He refused it. No tricks. He didn't need the Force to make a weak-willed dignitary talk. He would wait.

    "He con... contacted us!" the baron worked out, his knees buckling underneath him. "Cylo w-wanted you dead and... sabotaged the drill, laid the trap... I don't know where he is now, I d-don't know, you must believe me! Please, I can pay an-anything—"

    Vader relaxed his grip and released him. He watched as the whimpering baron fell to the floor, then he turned away. The door opened and Vader walked through it.

    Outside the entrance stood Triple-Zero, his round red eyes bright in the dim hallway. The droid waddled his way to him.

    "...Still alive I hope?" he said in his out-of-tune voice. "I'll take even barely alive, master, just as long as you've left me someone to torture."

    Vader waved his hand, stepping aside to let the droid pass. "Finish him, Triple-Zero. Take your time."

    The dark-silver droid made a nod and stepped forward. "Hm, to think it's only when the war is over that I get a death to my name... I don't approve of the irony, but you take what you can get." Triple-Zero let loose a jolt of electricity from his silver fingertips as he made his way into the dark chamber. The door slid shut behind him.

    Vader turned and walked down the corridors of the palace, his mind processing what he'd learned... He was relieved that his suspicions about Cylo had been correct. The scientist had interfered with the drill, an ineffective and cowardly attempt to get rid of him. He had conspired with the traitorous ore-barons, and no doubt he had fled the planet. This explained why he had sheparded the twins and Voidgazer to join him before the battle, so they could all flee together. There was nothing else to do but share this news with his master, along with the account of his victory, before he hunted Cylo down himself.

    Vader clenched his fists at the thought... He imagined the anti-Force scientist facing him, knowing he would no longer have the Emperor's rules to protect him... And Voidgazer, with her diseased obsession with science... The twins, who both mocked and mimicked the ways of the Force... There would be nothing holding him back the next time he encountered them. He could kill them finally, openly. It was an understatement to say he looked forward to it.

    Vader reached a chamber that provided a communication terminal. Within minutes, he was kneeling before his master's holographic form, telling him the whole disclosure of what had happened. The Emperor's half-hidden face was impassive as he listened.

    "Quite a turn of events," the Emperor said when he finished. "But Shu-Torun is ours, its minerals ready to be salvaged. You have done well, Vader... And Cylo has revealed himself a traitor, siding with insurrectionists..." The Emperor paused for a moment as if thinking. "And there is no information as to his current whereabouts?"

    "No. Their vessel was searched with nothing found. They must have fled the planet on a stolen ship."

    "And you could not find them yourself? You could not foresee their betrayal?"

    Vader glowered under the mask, feeling a wave of anger at the Emperor's accusatory tone.

    "No, master," he answered.

    "I see... And what of the station where they were positioned? Did you sense nothing there?"

    Vader hesitated for a moment. He had not expected his master to linger on such details. "There is no need. I feel certain they are gone, and we have no time. They are on the run, and they must be found and dealt with. The evidence is—"

    "The evidence is incomplete," the Emperor interrupted, making a hard frown. "I will inform General Tagge of this matter, and see what can be discovered from Cylo's base of operations. Cylo's treachery is clear, but we will need all the information we can gather to find him... and in your impatience, you have neglected the most obvious place to look." The Emperor's tone became scathing. "I am surprised at your mindlessness, Lord Vader. One can only wonder how Cylo managed all his misdeeds right under your nose... You are still a blunted instrument, it seems. Better to be wielded than to wield."

    Vader held back his retort, his lips pressed in, his jaw held tight. He tipped his head in a gesture of submission, feeling numb to the bite of his master's words. It was his way. Their way. He knew this. The Emperor had always had his less-than-subtle insults that he slipped into their conversations, unexpected hardships he threw at him, teaching him, reminding him of his place. And as always Vader remained silent, resisting the urge to defy.

    This was the way of the Sith. The deception, the treachery, the desire for master and apprentice to tear one another down. It had made him stronger and wiser throughout the years. It was why he had survived these past two decades.

    And yet...

    "Go to the station where they were last seen, Vader," ordered the Emperor, watching him with fixed eyes. "Find what you can. Then report to the Executor. No matter what you find, the two of us will have much to discuss." The folded skin of his deformed face now stretched as the Emperor made a smile. "I sense your desire for vengeance, your eagerness to hunt them down and destroy them... All in good time, my apprentice. Tagge requested another task for you, but this shall be your main priority. You may take whatever necessary action you see fit. They are your rivals, after all."

    The black helmet made a slight nod, and bowed. "As you wish."

    The Emperor's pale face remained for a few seconds, still grinning, before the hologram flickered away.

    Vader stayed kneeling there as if rooted to the spot. He rose to his feet. He let himself be immersed in his anger for a minute or so, then breathed, trying to utilize it enough to focus. He spun away and headed down the halls toward the palace docks, silently fuming.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
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  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    A nice balance of progress and frustration in the matter of finishing off Cylo completely & also Vader making inroads on his own personal goals. [face_thinking] The Sithy interplay is well detailed. =D=
    AzureAngel2 and Togruta like this.
  12. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Chosen One star 6

    Jun 14, 2005
    "The Force," he heard Thanoth say to him, nearly in a whisper. "Use the Force, Luke."

    This scene was scary. Really scary.

    The latest update with the queen was a great interlude.

    Can´t wait to see what happens next!
  13. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks, @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha, glad you like the "Sithy interplay". And thanks, @AzureAngel2. I guess giant space slugs got nothing on Thanoth. :b

    Here's another update, sooner than usual, but it does picks up right after the last update, so it kind of makes sense... Anyway, hope you like! [face_coffee]

    His master was not mistaken, of course. Yes, he was eager to find Cylo, to make him pay for his arrogance, his blasphemy, to put an end to this pointless rivalry for good. And though he didn't want to admit it, he was right about going to Cylo's last known location to investigate. He and his team had dwelt there recently, which would make it easier to sense traces of their actions, if the Force was willing. Perhaps in his haste to find Cylo, he had been foolish to ignore that opportunity...

    Vader passed through the lobby of the docking platform, paying no heed to the questions of the attendant droids who flocked to him. Soon he had a shuttle prepared to take him to the upper-eastern region, where Cylo's station was held. He also sent for Triple-Zero and Bee-Tee to join him. The assassin droids could detect traces of an organic lifeform better than any search party could.

    If only they would remain silent...

    "I do wish I had more time with that fellow, but duty calls," Triple-Zero chattered as the vessel flew. "One can only wonder what could have happened... Perhaps Cylo isn't still alive. Perhaps he was shot by one of his own; organics tend to do that. Or perhaps the quake from all the cannonfire made the crags crumble down on him? And let's not forget the perilous boiling lava. Perhaps he fell and was burned alive. What a lovely thought — "

    The black mask slowly set its stark gaze on the droid, the heavy breath razing in and out. The droid was nonvocal for the rest of the trip.

    When they arrived, Vader stepped off, the two droids behind him. He observed the tall rock formation that housed the communications station, two levels of tall but compact quarters with a series of spires at the top, set above a river of lava. He strode along the platform leading to it, crimson light spread across the walkway. He accessed the door with a wave of his hand and stepped inside.

    It was dark, almost indiscernible, with only a few devices glowing on various arrays of equipment. The floor was bare, reflecting the sparse blue light found on the outlines of the machines. The chairs by the transmission stations were empty, the walls and corners black. Toggling one of the tuners on his belt, Vader adjusted his mask's vision to see in the near-darkness. He walked further inside, scrutinizing the room, listening, but he heard nothing but his own mechanical breath and the buzzing of the droids as they moved. Nothing in the station looked out of the ordinary...

    He stood still and focused. He reached into the Force. The power spread through him, through the room, and he searched to find remnants of activity, murmurs of life... He felt a pull to go elsewhere... above. He looked at the stairway.

    "See if you can find any evidence of them. Any indication of what occurred here," Vader commanded the droids. He left them, and made his way up the stairs. He quickly reached the higher level and came to a compartment.

    He opened the door and entered the control room. It was also dark, but held a wide window that showed the volcanic view outside, glowing red over the circular stationary area. The panels and screens were still turned on. At the center of the area was a single chair, its back facing Vader.

    Legs dangled from it, casting a shadow. Vader took a step forth and turned it around in one swift motion.

    There sat Cylo. His bearded face was listless, his head leaned back, and his one human eye was open. A fresh burnt hole was in his chest.

    Transfixed, Vader stared at the sight.

    "...Lord Vader?"

    Triple-Zero appeared in the entrance behind him.

    "Bee-Tee and I have found no signs of struggle or any sign of surveillance data. But we... oh." The droid's voice lowered upon noticing Cylo. He tilted his head. "Oh, so Cylo is dead... again. Well, it appears you've beaten me to it, master... though I suppose you were due. I did get to torture him to death last time."

    "This was not by my hand," Vader rumbled, still studying the body.

    "One of the others then? That wound does look quite deep, perhaps from a lightsaber. Perhaps one of the twins—"

    "It was not a lightsaber. This was..." Vader peered at the lifeless body, his eyes narrowing behind the dark lenses.

    He looked down on the ground, and spotted a blaster.

    At the sight of it, for a brief moment, he saw a flash through the Force... Cylo holding the blaster. Bringing it to his own chest.

    "Cylo," Vader growled. "You fool."

    "Excuse me, Lord Vader, but I don't quite follow you," Triple-Zero said. "What exactly has happened?"

    Vader didn't answer. Both hands locked at his sides, he backed away and headed out. He proceeded through the lower level, letting his unspoken urgency tell the droids to follow.

    So Cylo had killed himself rather than risk being found. The reason seemed obvious enough: he had been tortured into revealing information before, and he no doubt had used this planet's conflict as an opportunity not only to eliminate Vader, but to break away from the clutch of the Empire. He must have stayed behind to cover for his crew as they left the planet without him. They had likely been gone before the final battle even began. And by now Cylo's new body would be activated in his hidden base, loaded with all his artificial memory and traits. It was a shortsighted scheme that could only work in Vader's favor, for this made Cylo more than his rival now. It made him an enemy of the Empire.

    Without a halt in his step, Vader walked across the platform towards the awaiting shuttle and boarded. Soon Triple-Zero and Bee-Tee came along, and the ship set off again.

    Vader remained still and silent as the minutes passed by, gazing into the distance. The droids were appropriately silent and stayed at the opposite side of the cruiser. When they reached the Shu-Torun landing docks, Vader departed without a word, and headed towards his own TIE fighter.

    Suddenly the sound of an incoming call was heard. Vader stopped in his tracks and regarded his comlink. He accepted the call.

    "Lord Vader," came a brusque, guttural voice, "this is the Grand General."

    Vader frowned in annoyance. "What is it, Tagge?"

    "Grand General Tagge, Vader," Tagge prompted. "The war is over. You were expected to contact me with your report some time ago. How long will you be remaining on-planet? We have received important Rebel information—"

    "Cylo and his crew are unaccounted for," the Dark Lord broke in.

    "Ah, yes. The Emperor told me of it. Yes, we have tried to contact Cylo's flagship numerous times without success. I suspected it was interference, but it seems—"

    "Your suspicions are irrelevant," Vader interrupted. "I have just left the station where they were last positioned. Cylo's body was there. He shot himself with a blaster. There was no one else."

    Tagge's voice lifted with mild interest. "That is... a strange occurrence. And what of the others? We have no records of their vessel leaving Shu-Torun."

    "They would not use their own vessel if they meant to escape undetected."

    "True. But how, may I ask, do you know all this, Vader? If there are holocam recordings, I would be interested in viewing them."

    "There were none," Vader answered. "I have felt it. The Force has shown me."

    Now Tagge made a tiresome sigh, as if the Dark Lord was needlessly taking up his time. Vader resisted the urge to shut off the comm. Tagge, a power-mongering waste of his rank. Vader knew the Emperor could only have promoted the graph-loving upstart to further infuriate him.

    "Well, Lord Vader, I've already gone over the data analyses, and I am aware that there are still matters of process that require Imperial validation on Shu-Torun, but such procedures are standard. It seems to me that your work on Shu-Torun is finished. Administration is still at work on details of the sovereign decree, but—"

    "Continue your attempts to reach communications with Cylo's base," Vader dictated. "Inform me of any results. I must report to the Emperor. He has commanded that I track down the abominations myself. You will find any associates of Cylo in the Empire who may know his location. Hold them for questioning."

    Tagge said nothing for a moment, and Vader was sure he was considering refuting his demands. But Tagge made no effort to argue. "Very well... But when you are done with this... hunt of yours, Lord Vader, you will return here. As I said, we have important Rebel information, and I may have another task for you soon. Interrogations, most likely."

    Another one of Tagge's trivial tasks. Vader was already reaching out to turn off the comm.

    "And it seems there is some... troubling news about your adjutant..."

    Vader's gloved hand withdrew from the device.

    "The inspector," he said slowly. "What of him?"

    "We've received... accounts by Imperial security, as well as reports from Vrogas Vas." Tagge's tone seemed to waver and pause; he was clearly displeased. "They identify Talsar Thanoth as accompanying a wayward Rebel aboard an Imperial transport, as well as in a warehouse facility. The name of this Rebel is not yet known, though we have some very compelling clues that we are looking into. He has been disguising himself as a stormtrooper, and is apparently heading to infiltrate the Devastator. There is irrefutable proof that Thanoth has been aiding him."

    Vader scowled at the news. It had been days since his last word with Thanoth. The old inspector was meddlesome, but hadn't struck him as a traitor.

    "Last estimated trajectory was the Setera system, however pursuit has proven... difficult," Tagge went on. "But the importance of this news is that of an even larger scale: we have reason to believe this disguised Rebel may very well be the pilot responsible for destroying the Death Star."

    Vader froze, his breath gone. He veered slightly where he stood, his balance off as the information hit him.

    Tagge continued. "But of course, I will deal with this matter, Lord Vader. I was responsible for making Thanoth your adjutant, and you have your own investigation to pursue. The workforce's efforts may be... divided, as it is imperative that we track down this Rebel. But rest assured, my men will get to the bottom of this, and I will likely have need of your... assistance, soon, when we've captured them both. I will keep you informed of further developments."

    The call ended.

    The Dark Lord stood there, at a loss.

    The boy... traveling with Thanoth... This, he could not have predicted. Yet he felt the Force glow with truth, telling him it was so. His mind flooded with speculation, trying to understand how the two could have possibly crossed paths, combined by his worries of what it all meant. He felt wakeful and rendered helpless at the same time. Here he had been bent on his mission to defeat Cylo, his path made clear to him, and this twist of his expectations was thrown at him like a challenge. This news that, if true, changed everything...

    "Thanoth..." The name traveled through his damaged lungs like a wisp of steam. Thanoth was with the boy... was aiding him... What could he be planning? Surely he couldn't know the whole truth about him... But if Tagge's resources had their suspicions about this Rebel, his adjutant must have found out just as much if not more. The inspector had proven himself a knowledgeable and detail-focused man the moment they met. What other reason could he have for locating the boy?

    And regardless of how much Thanoth knew, he had not told him about any of this. Him or Tagge.

    And he and the boy were now heading towards Vader's own flagship...

    His contemplation was disrupted by the sound of a deep, grounded bleep. Bee-Tee rolled towards him, his large orange receptor blinking. The astromech was followed by Triple-Zero.

    "Lord Vader, will you be needing us?" he asked in a tired voice. "Bee-Tee and I could use a little time for a recharge if you... eh, master?"

    Vader said nothing. He took a few slow-paced steps, lost in thought. Nearing the edge of the dock, he looked into the far off distance, beyond the palace. He took in the view of the burning sky, the smoldering mountains, the blood-red lava that stretched for miles. His mind was so full that he felt adrift, incapacitated...

    No. This was not the time to be idle, to let himself be disoriented by the unknown. He needed a plan. And he needed to act fast.

    Vader drew himself away and glanced at his starfighter on the landing dock. He brought his gaze on the two droids.

    "...The Emperor is expecting me," he said to them, his tone even deeper than usual. "I must return to my duties and find Cylo. You droids will have another task."

    "Oh, a droid-exclusive mission?" Triple-Zero's voice pitched with interest as he exchanged looks with his smaller companion. "Are we going to track down Mistress Aphra? Cylo's cohorts? Or do we have a new target, sir?"

    "A target of another kind," answered the Dark Lord as he approached his TIE fighter. "Your task is to be kept secret at all costs, as is your destination. Prepare a ship, and set course for the Setera system."
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
    AzureAngel2 likes this.
  14. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderful post! Riveting developments with Cylo and now Vader is heading towards a confrontation with Luke. Eagerly awaiting more. =D=
    AzureAngel2 and Togruta like this.
  15. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Chosen One star 6

    Jun 14, 2005
    The Dark Lord stood there, at a loss.

    The boy... traveling with Thanoth...

    Your Vader is excellently written. The seething anger, moments of thoughtfulness. :D
  16. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    You're right, things are developing with Vader, Cylo, and Luke, @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha. And I'm glad you're liking how I write Vader, @AzureAngel2.

    Thanks again, guys. Here's the next part. Back to our (blissfully unaware) hero...

    "We should be there any minute now," said Luke, his eyes glued to the viewscreen before him. Outside, the ship was absorbed in a tunnel of blue light as it flew through hyperspace. Luke's gaze seemed to look past the bright barrier to search what lay beyond them. He frowned.

    He couldn't help but be distracted by the state of the ship. The slug's saliva had mostly dissolved from the viewport, but the dents from the giant teeth made the whole ship unbalanced, and the cracks in the transparisteel caused it to shake. Luke chewed the insides of his cheek.

    "It'll hold up," he said, wanting to convince himself. He looked at the status readings. The TIE Defender's wings were barely holding on. "It won't be too much longer... right, Thanoth?" He made a side glance at the older man. "You're sure you put in the right coordinates?"

    Thanoth, hunching at the navigation computer only a few feet away, was making a stiff frown as he shook with the ship's vibrations.

    "Yes, Luke. As I said before, the message traces to the Anthan system, specifically Anthan 13, one of its many ice moons." He recited the information slowly, as if he was sparing his voice. He sighed. "And I don't suppose you'll reconsider this course of action? The timing of it is... peculiar, to say the least. We finally get the coordinates to Shu-Torun downloaded, the astromech finally fixes the hyperdrive — and now this. Do you really think it's a good idea to track down this mystery call, Luke?"

    "What kind of question is that?" Luke shot back, balling his fist on the control panel. "My father is in danger! You heard the message, it addressed you specifically, Thanoth! It matches with that first message you told me about. Everything adds up."

    "You clearly have no grasp of how the criminal mind works, Luke... Information can be obtained. An anonymous voice that's been sent to us where no one should be able to reach us... does that not seem more than a little suspicious?" The inspector paused for a moment. "And even if it is your father, he was warning us not to come after him... I suppose the hot-blooded Rebel translates that as get there as fast as I can? "

    Luke's mouth tensed as he bit back a reply.

    "You are rushing into this like a blind loth-bat, Luke. You know very well this could be a trap."

    Behind them near the cockpit's entrance, Artoo turned his rounded top to Thanoth and made a series of beeps.

    Thanoth grumbled and rubbed the bruise on his temple. "No one asked you, blasted machine."

    "You're wrong," Luke interjected quietly. "We lost the Imperials. You said you checked us for tracers with your monocle and didn't find anything. It can't be a trap."

    "But how could your father have contacted us out of nowhere in the middle of the Unknown Regions? If your father is imprisoned on the Devastator, the ship can't be in the Outer Rim now. The travel time doesn't add up."

    "You thought my father was dead until you got that message from 'out of nowhere'," Luke pointed out. "Who knows what... what has happened to him, or where he is now, how he got there." Luke felt his throat become dry, his mouth straining as he spoke. "Maybe he's... been trying to escape all this time. Maybe he's been trying to reach us... until he was captured again by Vader."

    The image of the black skeletal mask rose in his mind. He felt his insides change, as if they were shrinking up. Luke looked at the ceiling, waiting for Thanoth to speak, wanting to get his mind off the grisly possibilities running through his head. His father, a captive for twenty years...

    "Well," the inspector sighed again. "I suppose theorizing will get us nowhere... and I cannot argue that Anthan 13 is... an intriguing lead, at the very least. It is a place your father visited before, I know that much. Remote, uninhabited... Yes, how overly-convenient. And I will remain skeptical of all this until we see for ourselves. Someone here must deal with the facts."

    "Then deal with this fact: we're going, and there's nothing you can do about it."

    "Oh, quite the contrary, Luke." Thanoth leaned over and pointed at the viewport. "We're not going. We're there."

    A brief bleep was sounding on the navicomputer, and Luke saw they were returning to normal speed. The torrent of hyperspace was scattering into light beams, and soon they dissipated into stars and darkness. The silvery moon of Anthan 13 was before them.

    Luke let out a breath.

    I'm coming, father. Just hold on... Hold on, and I promise you Vader won't win this time.

    The landing was rough. On top of the damage already inflicted on the ship, the stabilizers also proved almost useless, and Luke had found it hard to balance the sporadic drag and thrust upon descent. All three of them were thrown hard to the left as the pod ended up positioned on its side, nearly tumbling over. The TIE powered down and was still, leaving a faint whiff of smoke in the cockpit.

    Waving it off, Luke quickly recovered and got up. He managed to prop open the hatch door and leapt down from the elevated pod, jumping over the stacked wings. The cold air touched his face as his boots hit the ground.

    He walked a few feet to observe his surroundings: it wasn't freezing, but it was a dry, cold environment. He saw paths of rock leading to dark mountains in the distance, capped with slush-like snow.

    He heard Thanoth's footsteps crunching on the icy mounds behind him. He heard the older man grunting.

    "Well... any landing you can 'walk away from', as they say," he said, sounding only half-assured. He noisily cleared his throat. "And no need to fret, young Luke. I'm not injured. No assistance required, thanks."

    Luke rolled his eyes and turned to him, about to apologize, but Artoo suddenly appeared between them. He sank from midair with his rocket boosters and settled on the ground. Thanoth frowned accusingly down at the droid.

    "I'm... sure Artoo won't mind if you want to lean on him as you walk," Luke said, and held back a grin as Thanoth grimaced and Artoo rolled away, clearly miffed.

    Luke looked around again. The region was more or less empty. The sky had a faint violet afterglow of a dawn or evening. He looked anxiously at Thanoth, who stared back with a solid gaze. Luke took a step towards him.

    "Well, inspector... I think we can both agree that there's something you owe me."

    Thanoth nodded, almost hanging his head. "Indeed."

    Artoo, rolling steadily away, brought out his radar. It spiraled out of his dome for a few seconds, until he made an electric squeal. He turned to the humans, bobbed back and forth to get their attention.

    "What is it?" said Luke, jogging towards him. He listened to the droid, then looked to the north-west, where there was a formation of crystalline caves. "That way? The signal's coming from there?"

    The droid bleeped lightly.

    "Good job," said Luke, his eyes now set in that direction, as if refusing to look at anything else. His black-gloved fingers pointed at the droid.

    "Thanoth," he said, still not averting his gaze.

    He heard the inspector make a harsh sound, like a scolding sigh, but he walked towards the droid, his legs staggering slightly. Artoo, comprehending, opened his chest compartment, revealing the grey, encased safe inside.

    Thanoth hunched down to it. "Deactivate advanced setting, ultra."

    The small lights on the container died out, and the motor-like hum stopped. Thanoth reached out and opened the door-lock. He soon stood up and held out Luke's lightsaber. The young man accepted the weapon, wrapped it in his hand, a bloom of comfort warming inside him as he once again held the weapon. He met the gaze of the inspector for a moment. Thanoth watched him, calm and discerning, without emotion. Luke nodded a silent thanks to him. He attached the hilt to his belt.

    Then without a word, he dashed back to the ship. When he returned, he was carrying the stormtrooper helmet.

    "For protection," he said hastily as Thanoth gave him a shrewd look. Luke fit it over his head and spoke through the vocoder. "Stay here. This is something I have to do alone."

    Thanoth furrowed his eyebrows, his lips pressed in. "Are you... certain about that? I admit I'm rather useless with a blaster, but to go in there alone—"

    Artoo made a braying noise, his colored lights flickering. Luke patted the droid's head.

    "I've put you through enough, both of you... Just stay here, stay low, and keep an eye on things. And... maybe see if you can fix up the ship." Seeing the unconvinced, eyebrow-knitting look on Thanoth's face, he added, "I still have my comm if I need you."

    But the little droid continued to object.

    "I said no, Artoo. It's my father, I should be the one to go. And if Vader's in there too... someone... has to fight him." Luke clenched his teeth, a lump in his throat, and he eyed his lightsaber.

    Artoo let out a depleted groan as Luke walked past him. The young man looked back at the droid and the inspector for a moment. Artoo let out a loud whistle, wishing him good luck. Thanoth looked back at him, his aged face somber as ever, though Luke thought he saw a trace of uncertainty in his lidded brown eyes.

    Luke waved at them, his chest whirling with a mix of dread and resolve, and he was glad the helmet concealed his face; his jaw was trembling. He turned his back to Thanoth and Artoo and walked on, toward the direction of the cave.

    The glacier formations shimmered, engulfing Luke in a mist of blue. Looking from the stretching gap of the cave's entrance, he saw it was deep black inside. Luke adjusted his helmet's vision enhancer, the screen showing the path ahead. There were sleek eroded curves along the walls and rock patches across the hollow structure. Ice needles hung overhead. He tried to move slow and not cause any vibrations, quietly migrating in the darkness.

    Luke grasped his lightsaber in his hand, ready to press the ignition button. In this quiet confinement, he found his thoughts wandering. The danger, the anticipation of what awaited him, the thought of what could happen...

    If he succeeded, he'd finally find his father...

    His father. Who had been imprisoned by Darth Vader...

    He had heard of the kinds of torture done to prisoners of the Empire, tales of even the most loyal Rebels cracking, and the slim chances of anyone resisting or surviving if they were in Vader's grasp. He still remembered when Leia had briefly mentioned her own imprisonment by Vader; her face had been calm and her voice even as she spoke, the same as it was whenever she recounted any report, but the chilling wave he'd picked up from her had spread over him, into him, sinking into his bones.

    Could he even imagine what his father had suffered in two decades?... He couldn't fathom why Vader would keep him prisoner for so long, much less what kind of state his father could be in...

    And the thought occurred to him: What if he couldn't save him? What if he had come too late?

    These thoughts circulated within him like a sickness. He remembered the desperate voice in the distress call. He tried to picture the man who spoke them, his father, the image he'd carried since meeting Obi-Wan: a fearless man, a Jedi Knight bearing a bright grin, wielding a blue blade, ready for any adventure that might await him... that was the Anakin Skywalker that Ben described.

    His father would not be broken. His father could not be dead. He had survived this long, and would remain strong. After all, his father was a Jedi.

    But I'm not, Luke thought. And if I didn't stand a chance against Vader before...

    Memories resurfaced in his mind: that corridor on Cymoon 1, where he'd been drawn to that sinister presence in the factory, and then suddenly he'd found himself face-to-face with him. He had been more than ready to fight that day, his lightsaber alight in his hands.

    You hold that weapon like an untrained child. You have no right to it. You, boy, are no Jedi.

    He had been so certain that he could kill him, finally end this evil. Avenge Ben. Avenge...

    I've killed very many fathers... You'll have to be more specific.

    And when he'd charged at Vader in fury, aiming to cut the black-armored man in half, he was swatted to the ground with the slightest motion of Vader's hand. Humiliated, defeated. A joke.

    Vader's words had stalked him since that meeting, repeating in his head whenever he fought with the Jedi weapon. He knew he had only survived that encounter because of his friends' interference, just as he had only escaped Vrogas Vos with their help... Just as he had only managed to destroy the Death Star with Ben's guidance...

    Luke jumped; there was a sharp, metallic clang. It sent out a ringing echo. He swept his gaze to look around, seeing nothing but a collection of pools and drops falling into them. The sound came again, but now repeated — like metal being dragged across the floor. Luke darted after the noise, climbed through a narrow passage.

    Ahead he saw a faint glow of light. Luke hesitated a moment, then neared closer, and ducked behind a formation of stalagmites. He peeked past them... and could not believe what he saw.

    Sitting in the light was a person in a robe. His face was covered by a tattered hood. His breathing was hoarse and frail. The chains that bound his wrists rattled as he tried in vain to move.

    Thunder pounding in his chest, Luke leapt out. He bounded towards him, tripping on the stone floor he did so. He crept on his hands and knees and pushed off his helmet. The hooded head turned at him and let out a gasp.

    "Father—" Luke said breathlessly, his heart stricken. Luke reached out to touch his shoulder. "I... It... It's me, it's Luke! I'm here, I'll help you—"

    He fumbled, his hands shaking as he grasped the lightsaber, ready to cut through the chains.

    There was a motion, and Luke stopped. One of the shackled hands gripped his wrist. Bewildered, Luke jerked his head and stared. From under the hood, he saw a lightly-whiskered chin below a scowling mouth.

    "Much appreciated," said the man.

    Luke stared, wide-eyed. A cold, sullen dread pulsed through him.

    He quickly tried to turn on his lightsaber. It was smacked out of his hand. The hooded man rose, and the shackles fell loose from him with ease. He pushed Luke back, and Luke found himself being slammed against the cave wall. His face stung against the cold stone. Then he was being pulled away, his arms grasped tight behind him.

    There was a sudden burst: the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber. The man held a fiery orange blade close to Luke's neck as he held him. Luke staggered, tasting a trace of blood in his mouth and feeling the hint of the lightsaber's intense heat on his skin.

    "A Jedi," he gasped in dismay. "You're... You're a Jedi! Why—"

    "Move and you die," the man growled from behind him. "You were stupid enough to come here alone, so you'd more than deserve it."

    Luke gritted his teeth. He tried to wrench himself free, kicking and struggling to move. He swung one of his arms loose.

    "You idiot," the other man hissed as he kept hold of him, holding out the lightsaber as it wavered from Luke's movements. "Stop it or I'll cut your head off—"

    Another blade shot from out of the shadows. Luke stopped. Green light was blazing inches away from his face, and he saw a blonde girl in a robe standing before him, holding out the lightsaber. Her eyes seemed inhumanly bright in the dark.

    A sharp pain was delivered to the back of his head, and Luke felt himself blacking out. Before he had completely drifted out of consciousness, he could hear the girl's voice:

    "Cylo, we have him. We have Skywalker."
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
  17. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    =D= and [face_nail_biting] Brilliant edge of seatness and very much in character for Luke, dashing off because he wants to connect with his father. @};-
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2018
    Togruta likes this.
  18. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Chosen One star 6

    Jun 14, 2005
    A sharp pain was delivered to the back of his head, and Luke felt himself blacking out. Before he had completely drifted out of consciousness, he could hear the girl's voice softly speaking.

    "Cylo, this is Aiolin and Morit. We have him. We have Skywalker."

    Perhaps if General Ackbar would have told him that this is a trap, he would have believed it. But be sure that a Skywalker never pays heed to a warning.
  19. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Yeah, those Skywalkers and traps, like moths to the flame. :b

    Thanks again to all for reading and following this fic, both users and any lurkers out there. [face_coffee]

    Here's another update. Hope it's not too choppy...

    Luke opened his eyes.

    Bumps rose on his skin and he inhaled the cold air. He was facing a blinding light, and blinked several times as it pierced through his eyelids.

    He bent his neck and saw he was lying down on a table, his arms, legs, and midsection strapped down under integrated manacles. He tried to move, to wriggle his limbs, but it was no use.

    What had happened?...

    His thoughts were scattered, his brain stirring with white noise, and Luke felt his head throb. He let out a groan.

    Looking around, he could see he was in some kind of medical center, one that looked very state-of-the-art. The room was broad and well-lit, with different kinds of equipment around him, including a capsule of bacta and, in a corner, a console on a stand. There were two monitors to the side, one that was displaying wave-like patterns, and one that showed a wire-frame display of a human body.

    A floating object suddenly appeared from behind the console. Luke winced. It was a droid of some kind, grey-plated, with a large blue receptor. It was soundless, not humming or making any noise as it hovered over to him. Luke held his breath as it flew steadily closer and closer.

    From behind the console, a woman appeared. She stood up and stepped away from it, and from his horizontal position Luke saw her approach. She seemed to be wearing eye-gear that beamed the same blue as the droid's. She had orange hair held back and, to Luke's dismay, he saw she wore an Imperial uniform. She kept her hands behind her back as she made her way towards him.

    "Drone four: to me," she said, her voice carried in a high-pitched monotone.

    The machine obeyed. It went to the woman and stayed near her, trailing behind as she moved.

    She came closer, and pressed some buttons. Luke found the table was tilting, bringing him up until he was able to look at her face-to-face. Upon closer inspection, he couldn't help but screw his face at the sight of her. Her eye-gear wasn't being worn; it was implanted in her eye sockets, the skin around the lenses scarred and wrinkled as if cracked. The sides of her skull bore mechanical bulks. Her face, what was shown of it, was devoid of emotion as she looked at him.

    "So then... you are conscious," she said matter-of-factly. "Circulation and heart rate appear normal. With the dosage you were given... A quick recovery. But of course it would be."

    The bite of sarcasm sounded strange in her hollow voice. Luke felt incredibly uneasy as her beaming blue eye-caps set on him.

    "Who... are you?" he rasped, his own voice sounding so weak he didn't recognize it. "You're... You work for... the Empire?"

    She said nothing. She brought out her gloved hands and crossed her arms.

    Luke narrowed his eyes. "Where am I? What is all this?" "

    There was no response, just the sound of the synth-leather fingers writhing as she tapped her arm.

    "My father..." Luke heaved, his voice making a slight quiver. "Anakin... Skywalker... Where is he?"

    She turned away from him and went to a table. She pressed more buttons, opened a compartment. Luke's eyes enlarged when she came back: she was holding a needle. Without a word, she jabbed it into his arm. Luke cringed, unable to resist. He felt fluid being injected into him as the plunger was pressed down. She took the needle out and observed the sprinkled fluid still left in the tube.

    "I am Tulon Voidgazer," she said offhandedly. "And you... you are an utter waste of a life-form."

    He made a questioning grunt, and squeezed his watering eyes; his body was already becoming affected with a burning limpness.

    "Molecular garbage." She pursed her lips, and her shoulders seemed to tense up. A shudder seemed to run through her, as if she was suppressing herself from doing something more, something violent.

    Luke was perplexed, but determined to show he wasn't intimidated. "I can tell you right now... if you're with the Empire... I'm not going to talk. If you think you can drug me, or torture anything out of me... you're wrong."

    "I am never wrong," she dismissed. She checked on the functioning monitors. "I am a chemist with knowledge of thousands of narcotics and toxins in this galaxy. Any secret you ever kept would be mine if I wanted you to reveal it. Choice would not be a factor."

    "I'm not going to tell you anything. Believe it or not... I've survived worse things than a lab lady holding a syringe."

    Voidgazer's hand thumped down on the table, shaking the utensils. She took a step towards him, the drone floating after her, its bright orb watching him.

    "At the moment..." she said, the words dragging out as if she was forcing them. "I am only weakening you. You are to be kept alive. For now. But when the time comes..." She inhaled. She then rose a gloved hand and reached out. Luke felt a rising panic as her rubber fingers sprawled out and hovered towards his neck.

    "When you do die, I will be there," Voidgazer seethed out. "And your powers... your mighty Force... it will not help you. No cosmic spell or stroke of luck will lend a hand. Not this time."

    Luke could only stare at her, numbly shake his head.

    "You thought it would lead you to greatness, this so-called 'power of the Force'. So special, so beyond the depths of any man-made phenomenon. But now look at you; helpless, held here at my mercy. Now you are only a means to an end. You are nothing. Nothing."

    Luke felt a rush of helplessness; pointlessly, he pushed his head against the table. The corners of Voidgazer's mouth spanned out, her face contorting, the scars on her face deepening.

    "You have no idea what you've done, do you?" she whispered. "All that's been lost. The deaths of so many bright, brilliant minds... at the hands of a boy. A stupid, superstitious—"

    "Voidgazer," another voice broke in, "back away from him."

    Luke lifted his head. At the door stood a man. Voidgazer paused at his presence. She looked back at Luke, then let out a tight scoff and clenched her gloved hand. She withdrew from Luke, but kept her gaze on him.

    The man made his way towards them. He had a stout face, greying beard, and gave off an air of wealth, wearing a blue coat with a decorative collar and a neckerchief tucked into it. As he man came closer, Luke noticed he, too, had an optic oddity: a large black alien eye on the right side of his face, with green-scaled skin attached. It blended with his pale flesh as if it had grown there.

    Luke felt himself recoil. He had come across many strange, abnormal beings in his time, both on his missions with the Rebellion and his life on Tatooine, but this man gave him a different kind of anxiety, something that was beyond the surface. There was a strange feeling coming off him. A cold, thirsty static.

    The alien-eyed man scanned Luke over, his mouth an impassive line, his middle-aged face seeming all but inflexible.

    "So," he said, his accent sharp and sibilant. "This is him, then."

    "Who are you people?" Luke spat out, too angry to care about this stranger's eerie vibe. "Where am I? Tell me what is going on!"

    "Yes, I'm sure you must be confused." The man smirked. "I am Doctor Cylo. And you... well, you are many things, aren't you? Rebel hero, pilot, would-be Jedi—"

    "Murderer," Voidgazer commented loudly.

    Cylo regarded her with a bored blink, then returned his attention to Luke, who swallowed uneasily.

    "Obviously," Cylo said, keeping his tone light, "you can guess what Voidgazer here thinks of you. Many of her friends worked on the Death Star, and were killed along with it... I thought the least I could do is allow her the chance to face the person responsible. Conduct her own experiments. A specimen, so strong in the Force, is a worthy subject."

    Horror-struck, Luke looked at him, at Voidgazer, at the medical equipment. "Experiment?"

    "What else? Nature makes all kinds of mysteries, and a scientist seeks to unravel and utilize them. You wouldn't understand, of course. You're too ignorant, too brainwashed with the Force mysticism... but you can still add something to the cause. You can still be of some value to this galaxy's evolution."

    "What are you talking about? What is all this? Those Jedi, in the cave — what happened to them?"

    "Not Jedi," Cylo pointed out, as if taking offense to Luke's remark. "Definitely not Jedi. Cyber-enhanced beings, of my making. Superior fighters in every way, certainly better than Force-worshipping wizards. I'm sorry to break it to you, but the era of the Jedi passed a long time ago. They're dead, and destined to be forgotten forever."

    "No, he's — the Jedi are not dead! There's still—"

    Luke stopped, suddenly silenced. A knot seemed to build in him, entwining, carrying a vague comprehension that seemed to spread through him, yet he couldn't quite untangle it, couldn't understand what it meant.

    Voidgazer made a distasteful sigh. She turned and walked back to the console. Cylo remained, looking at Luke with a strange mix of keen interest and indifference, as if he was watching a mildly entertaining holovid.

    "Nothing like naivete to bring a plan fully together," he remarked slowly. He strolled to one of the machines and observed a processing screen. "Having a nano droid tail Vader's adjutant... who'd have thought it would yield such results? Why, we had to drop everything, even leave a war, once we got word about you. The opportunity was just too absurdedly good. Granted the technology isn't perfect, we lost you at some points; nano droids can only withstand so much. So it was necessary to send that probe droid to the Setera system with that 'distress call' to steer you in the right direction. Yes, trust me... we learned enough about you, Luke Skywalker."

    Luke ground his teeth as the words settled over him. He pressed in his eyes, his insides roiling, his stomach turning. The knot inside him tightened.

    "It just shows what baseless beliefs can get you, when you are blinded by them," Cylo persisted. "You thought there was one Jedi left, you believed it, just like you believed the claim that your father was alive. You believed the inspector, you believed the message we sent you. You fell for it all, because you wanted it to be true."

    Luke froze up. Now the knot uncoiled and understanding spread through him, seized him like he was an insect in a giant's grip.

    "Thanoth..." he whispered. He pressed his eyes shut, dug his teeth into his lip. "He lied... He lied about... It was all just..."

    "Not quite."

    Luke lifted his head. Cylo stood there across him, his palm on the steely top of a device, as if it were a pet lingering at his side. A smile began to grow on his face as he watched Luke, clearly savoring as he simmered in confusion.

    "Your father was a Jedi," Cylo said, as if explaining something to a child. "And he is still alive."

    Luke gaped at him. His heart brightened.

    "That is, if you could call it that." The scientist held his thin-bearded chin between his fingers. "Hard to tell these things, you know. Even a genius can have trouble determining something that should be so clear-cut, in certain cases... The boundary between life and death. The line between technology and nature. Creation and destruction. Man and machine."

    He set his mismatched gaze on Luke, who stared at him, nonplussed, incredulous.

    "But that distinction shall not matter for much longer," the scientist went on. "You won't live long enough to see the future, but your father... he will understand that it is inevitable, if only just seconds before his death."

    "No!" Luke roared. He struggled again under the tight manacles. "You can't! You... can't..."

    Cylo ignored him and headed toward the door. Luke scowled. He pressed against the tight-fitting restraints, pressed with all his remaining strength, ignoring the pain, the exhaustion, the numbness...

    This... couldn't be happening...

    Cylo waved a finger, signaling for Voidgazer to follow. The white doors parted, and with one last piercing glare at Luke, Voidgazer proceeded through them. Cylo turned to follow her.

    "Traps upon traps upon traps," he murmured, his back facing Luke as he remained there for a moment. "Even if he doesn't come, you're a valuable prisoner to me, and to the Empire. But he'll come for you, I'm sure, just as you came for him. Whatever his intentions, he won't be able to resist the bait. If anything, he won't want to let me win, especially in something he failed to do."

    He stepped forth to pass through the doors.

    "And how fitting would it all be... You meet your end trying to save your father. Vader meets his end trying to save his son. Obtuse irony at its best."

    With that, the doors slid shut and Cylo was gone.

    And so was Luke's reality as he knew it.
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
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  20. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Chilling update, with Cylo and Voidgazer trying to quench Luke's hopes. =D=
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  21. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Nothing like a spiteful cyborg to ruin your day.

    Thanks again. [face_coffee]
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  22. AzureAngel2

    AzureAngel2 Chosen One star 6

    Jun 14, 2005
    The truth about his father unravelled by somebody else.

    And the huge shock behind that!

    Plus I need to show my husband @DarthUncle this piece of text here:

    "I am never wrong," she said dismissively, checking on the functioning monitors. The drone floated by her head, its beaming blue orb watching Luke. "I am a chemist with a knowledge of thousands of narcotics and toxins known in this galaxy. Any secret you ever kept would be mine if I wanted you to reveal it. Choice would not be a factor."

    Then I need to ask him if he will poison our lunch. ;)
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  23. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks again, AzureAngel (I think?)

    Well, it's been over a month, but here's another update. I had some difficulty writing this, and honestly I'm not 100-percent sure about it, so... hope it's OK.

    "I have waited long enough. Show me the recordings."

    The bridge of the Devastator was busy, teeming with attendants and officers, active on the decks or huddled in their compact pit stations below. Some of the navigation officers glanced at each other nervously, trying to not be distracted from their work as the Dark Lord and the Grand General spoke above them.

    Tagge looked up at the Dark Lord indiscriminately, his arms folded. He turned away, observing a nearby holomap that showcased the surrounding starfleet.

    "As I told you, Lord Vader, the footage is being detained. It is evidence. The ISB has been reviewing it to collect any further material that may be of use with the investigation. Surely you see the prudence in this."

    Vader stepped forward. As if sensing his aggravation, Tagge hastily added, "Although it isn't proficient... I shall have the workforce copy the data and send it to you, since you obviously cannot wait."

    Vader stared down at the pouch-faced man for a moment.

    "Have the copied recordings forwarded to my quarters when ready. Inform me immediately if anything is found regarding Cylo or the Rebel."

    With slow grinding steps, Vader turned and headed out the exit. He walked down the halls, aiming to reach his private chamber. Some meditation might prove useful in clearing his head, in finding answers...

    Before meeting with Tagge, he had met with his master. It had been pointless indolence as expected, Sidious speaking to him about the history of the Sith, the stability of the Empire... among other things. He'd given Vader his meager excuse for having favored Cylo all this time — apparently the scientist was too influential and could cause a schism of the scientific minds in the Empire otherwise...

    To add to this, his master also casually revealed that Cylo was among the scientists who had helped to rebuild his body, all those years ago...

    Vader had not known that any livings beings had been involved in that... process. He had remembered only droids, only machines — and Sidious. Any personnel had to have been merely observant, hands-off scientists, designers, technicians, all kept in the dark or terminated to avoid any sensitive information from leaking.

    Or so he would've presumed. Now Vader had to consider that Cylo could possibly know of him. His past. Who he used to be. Cylo, with his resources, their rivalry, and now in light of this... The connections certainly made sense, with Cylo's obsession with cybernetics, with surpassing Vader by building these newer "models"...

    It brought something to Vader's mind, something the Rodian-eyed man had once told him when Vader had discovered him and his creations:

    In many ways, these are your children.

    As if he needed more reasons to want Cylo dead.

    The Emperor had then concluded with how much he valued Vader as his "true apprentice", never mind that he'd given Cylo and his creations free reign to eliminate him, to replace him, had withheld so much vital information from him throughout the years...

    If any of Cylo's toys had succeeded... you would be making this speech to them.

    So he had said to his master. The old man had stared back, not angrily, not coldly. Not uttering any word. For truly, what could he have said?

    Sidious had finally let him go, and Vader had returned to his Star Destroyer. Tagge's specialists were trying to weed out any of Cylo's associates within the Empire, as well as trying to reach Cylo's base. Meanwhile the navigation crew was on the lookout for any special sightings of suspicious vessels approaching the Devastator.

    Tagge had objected to not taking greater action, claiming that more effort should be spent on locating Thanoth and the disguised Rebel — Tagge had supported Cylo in the Shu-Torun war, and no doubt his treason reflected poorly on him; he wanted to pretend it was less important. But he had complied when Vader told him it was the Emperor's will, that they needed leads on the enemy who was actively trying to escape them, not the one heading their way.

    Thankfully, there was no news about the Rebel and Thanoth. Tagge had informed him that the ISB found that certain security units had been tampered with, resulting in visuals and auditory footage that wasn't the best quality. Vader had insisted on viewing the recordings, but even this was met with delays. Tagge had the authority to refuse him any data he saw fit, and as usual the bureaucratic man was keen on keeping whatever clout he could over the Dark Lord.

    So Vader had no choice but to wait for results, boil in his frustration, meditate on things and hope the Force showed him something. He despised the waiting, but at the very least it gave him time to center himself, to dwell on things...

    He accessed the door of his quarters and strode inside. With a wave of his hand, the dark room brightened as the giant dome of his meditation chamber powered on. The square hatches unsealed and opened. He proceeded into the white encasement and seated himself. The orthogonal interlocks shut the outside air out. The chair whirled around with the press of a button and he leaned his head back. The familiar devices turned on, pincer-like mechanisms extending out to grasp his helmet and mask.

    He closed his eyes as the weight lifted. The magnetized seal of the helmet depressurized, releasing the neurological needles from his scalp. The mask lifted away with an emitting hiss, and his deep, artificial breath was gone.

    Vader inhaled, hearing the weak rasp that came from what remained of his natural throat. Removing his mask often helped with meditation, in clearing his thoughts and seeing things clearly for what they were.

    He had to deal with Cylo's treachery. He should have been trying to discover any of Cylo's locations himself, thinking of strategies to deal with the scientist and his followers. There was so much he could be doing...

    Yet in these past few hours... he was left with questions about the boy, too many questions. His mind was swollen with them, rummaging with one possibility after another... And he wondered about the two droids he'd sent. They must have been nearing the Setera system by now... He'd given them specific directions, still had secret means to communicate with them if need be, but he knew the risk he would be taking in doing so.

    And the risk in sending them in the first place. He had had no other choice for the position he was in, but to think that so much depended on these two homicidal machines with questionable obedience... They had to find the boy and Thanoth before the Imperial forces did. If Tagge caught them first, there was no telling what could happen. He knew Tagge's orders were to have the Rebel pilot captured dead or alive...

    It was out of his hands, he told himself. He'd done what he could. There was no time to waste worrying about what could happen. He had to find Cylo now, that was his mission.

    He opened his eyes, diverted by the sudden sound of a signal coming from his built-in console — the recordings. Tagge had transferred them quicker than he thought. His datascreen flashed, and he quickly received the upload. Within seconds, it began to play.

    Uncolored images appeared, that from a security cam. It indeed showed Thanoth, limping alongside an alleged stormtrooper, who looked slightly shorter than most. An astromech droid followed them. Cuts of the video showed the so-called trooper blasting through doors, the droid deactivating locks and barriers, all three of them running from patrolmen. Thermionic footage showed what looked like a TIE Defender taking off and being pursued.

    The footage cut to the dark environment of a storage room. There was no sound, but Vader could discern movement: a storm of lasers sped past, shot by a man in an Imperial uniform. His target was a young man in trooper armor sans the helmet, and Vader instantly recognized the face of his son. He watched closely as the uniformed man aimed at him, his shots frantic, the boy dodging, wrestling with him, getting pushed back. The boy finally shot back at the last moment, forced to choose between killing or being killed.

    Interesting, Vader thought, if predictable.

    The screen then showed the boy unsealing the lid of a crate. Thanoth and the droid emerged from it. The three of them left.

    Vader scrolled to the rest of the data; there were a few sound recordings available. Information tapped in, notes by the ISB team: Suspect is human. Male. Young adult. Outer Rim accent.

    Two voices came through. Thanoth and the boy were conversing.

    "Soon as we get to the spaceport, we find an Imperial craft that can get us into that Star Destroyer. If you're really Vader's adjutant, you should be able to get us aboard his flagship no problem... right?"

    Vader frowned. So the boy knew of Thanoth's connection to him... There was no sign of him being threatened or coerced in any way by Thanoth, or vice versa. They were clearly working together.

    Why? What could be the reason behind their alliance? What did the boy hope to achieve by cooperating with his adjutant, by planning this ludicrous attempt to infiltrate his flagship? For a moment he considered that the boy meant to assassinate him. Vader bitterly remembered the boy's delusional belief that he had murdered his father, a lie planted by Kenobi no doubt... He could still distinctly remember the hate radiating from the youth when they met on Cymoon 1...

    Still, to go to such lengths to enact revenge... surely the boy would not be that foolish...

    And then there was Thanoth's motivation. Why did he help the boy? How much did he know? If he knew the boy was his son... had he actually dared to tell him? Vader had gone to great measures to keep his son's identity a secret, it was vital to his plans. Thanoth had been made his adjutant by Tagge; if he knew, why then had he not informed Tagge of all this?

    The idea of someone knowing, the thought of the young one finding out through someone other than him... it was... disconcerting. No one could know about the boy.

    The inspector was out of line regardless, he decided. Traitor or not. Whatever his reasoning, whatever he knew, he would pay for all of this.

    Glowering, Vader paused the screen with the lift of a finger, and an image of Thanoth froze. He was standing in a dim hall not far behind the boy, looking calm but alert.

    "You thought... you could interfere..." The words left his mouth with only a hint of sound. "Your inquisitiveness will be your undoing... I will make sure of it."

    Vader let out a steep breath, his leather-clad fingers scraping the arm of the chair. The boy was out there, coming to him. Coming to him, without any battles, without any Imperial business or interference from his Rebel companions. As much as he wanted to destroy Cylo, as much as he hated answering to Tagge, they were only obstructions in his path, ones that were not meant to last for long. Finding his son was the most important goal. For his plans, for himself.

    And despite this, he could do nothing but sit here, powerless to grasp such an opportunity.

    Vader played the footage again, reevaluating it, trying to find anything else worth noting. Any telling details. Every word and movement factored nothing. Nothing helped to answer the many questions crowding his mind.

    Sinking into the Force, he let his thoughts unravel. His frustration was far from spent, but he let it feed his effort to concentrate. To look beyond, to peer into the Force, see the possibilities... They were infinite, ever distant. There were only faint hints, murky visions of a shimmering presence and a snarl of events unfolding around it. Nothing else appeared to him. Vader kept searching, pushing through the vagueness to see more clearly... But it all remained unclear, incoherent, like underground whispers. As if the answers he sought were prone to remain hidden to him.

    Anger stirred in his chest, a flare of desperation needling its way through — he barred himself from feeling it. Instead he sought elsewhere, to be in that place he knew and imagined, apart and within himself. Where he saw himself in the future of the Force.

    And as if fulfilling his wishes, it poured itself upon him: he saw red. A whole galaxy of red. His galaxy.

    He saw himself, Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader, black-cloaked, black-masked, standing amongst it all, the stars blinking in the distance. Fleets, warships, and Death Stars aplenty, all tools for his use, mere symbols of his power. Worlds, all worlds, were specks cast in his shadow. Destruction, creation, and power beyond measure. At last, his... The galaxy was his to rule.

    And in the distance below was the young one, standing as if at the foot of invisible stairs. His presence was vivid and golden in the Force. His face held no emotion, but confusion emanated from his being. He looked around, aimless and lost in the crimson chaos.

    Vader stood still. He reached out to him.

    Come with me.

    The young gaze met his, a familiar set of sea-blue eyes that were piercing among the blood-scarlet around them. There was understanding in those eyes. Acceptance.

    The boy extended his arm, trying to reach him. Effortlessly they drew closer and closer, the Force bridging them, and Vader's hand was inches from his.

    This will be our future. Our galaxy.

    Vader's leather fingers could almost touch the boy's—

    Then it all stopped; there was a high-pitched sound, and the boy, the power, the galaxy awash in red, it fell away.

    Vader opened his eyes, inhaling, causing his throat to throb with pain. The vision vanished, swallowed up like a vortex back into the darkness. Loathing filled him, and he looked at his gloved hand. It was shaking. The aggregation of metal and wires was as cold and unfeeling as ever, but the artificial joints twitched convulsively.

    The noise continued in its irritating cycle, and Vader smashed his fist on the panel to make it stop. He let himself adjust back to reality, and instinctively he drew upon the dark side to do so, to channel his anger. Like air, a burning air into his being.

    The sound was coming from the transmission's display of his console. He eyed it, and saw a holographic call was on hold... one through the Imperial Network, directed to his private reception. Curious...

    Annoyed but intrigued, he called the automatic devices once again, holding still as they returned his mask and helmet to him. When he was fully donned, he pushed the button and accepted the message.

    From the holo-projector, a specter-like image appeared.

    "Inspector Thanoth here. Calling from Anthan 13."

    Taken aback, Vader saw the image of the old, monocled inspector, who looked back at him anxiously, his form bent and hunched.

    "You..." Vader hissed, loud and scathing, and he leaned forward, clenching his fists down on the console. "Thanoth... You dare to—"

    "Lord Vader — I'm sure we have much to discuss, but now is not the time." Thanoth's tone was rushed and impatient, a hard frown forming behind his mustache. "I am communicating through this ship's system, and the Astarte twins are out searching for me at this very moment. There is very little time — Cylo is here, Vader. Cylo has the boy."
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2020
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  24. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Compelling vision and roiling emotions of frustration and determination! Aha! Now Thanoth has made contact with a very troubling message. [face_worried] =D=
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  25. Saga_Symphony

    Saga_Symphony Force Ghost star 4

    Oct 30, 2010
    ^Thanks, WarmNyota. You always take the time to read and comment this story. I really appreciate it. [face_coffee]