Chris could hear him
The tell tale sign of his approach was a hoarse, raspy breath, not at all human, amplified by the machinery he now surrounded himself with. Chris sensed that it was more than just armor, it had become the persona behind which he hid himself, the reflection to which he looked when he needed to expunge all memory of the person he had been. Chris supposed that not even the power of the dark side could make a man forget who he had once been, what he had believed in, no matter how far he strayed away from the path. There was no armor that was completely full proof, no mask that would do quite as well when one was trying so hard to keep ahead of the demon that chased him in the night when there was no one to face but himself.
Chris found himself standing at the edge of a great platform, the wind whipping at his hair as he looked up and stared at an amber sky, with twin moon hiding behind the pink clouds. There were no ships in the air or on the platform with him but he was certain that this what the place was meant for, as a landing bay for incoming vessels. The world was none that he recognized and he wondered how he had come to be here. Looking over the edge of the platform, he saw a great drop that ended with the rushing waters of what appeared to be a large river, perhaps the largest he had ever seen. The frothy strength of its currents swept past him, meandering through the landscape into the distance. Even from this height, he could hear the roar of its powerful journey in his ears and imagined that he could feel the spray of droplets from standing so close.
He heard that heavy breathing again and spun around sharply, his lightsabre suddenly in his hand. Chris already knew who was behind him when he turned. The tremor he usually felt in the force was almost a thunderclap in his mind and he knew of only one person who could create such a shudder in the Force.
It was pointless to say Anakin because he was no longer Anakin Skywalker. What was left of Anakin had died in the pit of molten lava he had fallen into when he had fought with Obi-Wan during their last meeting and battle. It had not only burned away much of his skin but it had killed Anakin inside of him and from that day on, what was left in place of the Vergence was Darth Vader, Sith Lord and servant to Emperor Palpatine. Chris could not see his eyes under the polish of black armor he wore around his scarred form but the colour befit him quite well. Vader was a dark pit of anger and hatred, a singularity that drew the Force to himself and annihilated all the good it was meant to possess. Vader's dark cloak billowed in the wind around him and for a moment, there was no sound except that raspy, hoarse breathing.
Crimson energy extended from the hilt of the lightsabre as Vader approached and there was no need for words as he raised the weapon and swung. Energy against energy cracked loudly as Chris blocked the blow, the air vibrating from the sound as their blades met. Vader's saber seemed to bounce off his own and the Dark Lord recouped easily, twirling the saber in his hand and bringing the weapon down at Chris again. Chris stopped the blow from progressing any further and shoved hard, forcing Vader to lose his balance before slamming his foot into the side of the Sith Lord's knee. Vader dropped to the ground on one knee, balancing himself precariously as Chris swung again.
The sky above them started to rumble and those clouds, looking so soft and pink earlier had metamorphosed into starchy tufts of grey. The clap of thunder distracted Chris momentarily and Vader took the opening and leapt up, spinning around mid air in a flurry of movement before landing on his feet to launch a renewed attack with rage and vigor. He was angry, Chris could feel it exuding from him in waves of power. The electronic depiction of his heavy breathing was faster, more paced and with his fury behind him, his blows were more frenzied, more powerful, until Chris was using every ounce of strength to block him, blade for blade. Energy slamming against each other cackled through the air as rain started to spit from the sky.
They were like titans fighting for supremacy, matching each other, using the opposing sides of their belief as their champions. Chris could feel his limbs ache, could feel the inflammation of his muscles continue as he fought Vader to a standstill, inwardly amazed that he had lasted this long. Vader was the Vergence but in straying from the dark side, he had left that which kept him from being as powerful as he ought to be. The Force did not allow for corruption easily and those who strayed down the dark path usually had to pay the price, not only n a personal cost but also in how much power it chose to mete out. If Vader had been a true Jedi, he would have destroyed Chris by now.
"You think it's the dark side?" Vader suddenly spoke.
Chris did not answer but his thoughts spoke clearly enough. What else could it be?
"It's not the dark side that makes me weak Larabee, it's your anger. Your hatred. I feel the rage inside of you; it fuels the dark side inside of you. You are closer to the path than you think and if you walk the way, you can have them back, you know. They can be returned to you."
"NO!" Chris screamed and swung his blade once more, this time the serve was so powerful that the impact drove Vader to his knees again.
"It feeds you doesn't it?" Vader sneered. "I can feel it coming from you. You are being seduced as I was Larabee, seduced by the dark side of the Force!"
"I AM NOT!" Chris shouted defiantly and suddenly in his rage, he had paused and when he blinked his anger away, he saw Vader strike and it was not a blow he could stop.
The blade past through him without even pausing at the obstruction of flesh. He looked down and saw it enter his body, felt the bones disintegrate as the light sabre passed through his rib cage. There was pain but it felt very far away at the instant of entry but he knew that soon it would race towards him to make its presence felt. Chris did not scream, he was too mesmerized by his death for that. There was always very little blood for the light sabre cauterized flesh, blood vessels, veins, muscles and bone when it did its grisly work. Chris felt it penetrate through the strip of muscle on his back and leave his insides exposed when Vader retracted the blade.
The pain finally caught up to him but he did not scream, he did not have strength enough for that. He became conscious of falling, of feeling his cheek scrape against the surface of the platform at the same time the teeming rain became a downpour. He saw puddles on the smooth steel floor, turning red by the blood that was weeping out of his mortal wounds. He saw them puddle around Vader's black boots and then decided he did not want to look any more. He turned his gaze upwards to the grey sky and thought he might see Sarah and Adam now.
Vader was right. He had embraced the dark side and thus would get to see Sarah and Adam after all.
Before he died......
"Chris Larabee woke up with a sudden start.
Unlike most people who often remained disorientated by the fact that the nightmares they had experienced a few seconds ago were merely the product on an overactive imagination in the dreamscape, Chris knew instantly that he had been dreaming. As the walls of the dream began to evaporate into the walls of his quarters, he found himself watching the transformation coming into being for the split second that it took for his mind to acquaint himself with being awake. Despite the fact that what he had just experienced was almost certainly his mind's efforts to tell him something, Chris could not deny the physical effects it had upon him. He was breathing hard and in his chest, he could feel his heart pounding. All these were symptoms he knew well of course, the tell tale signs that he was frightened.
It was not often he felt fear. For a Jedi, there was nothing more debilitating to the mind and soul than the sensation of fear. It robbed the Jedi of the inner peace required to be one with the Force and it fed that most terrible of things, the dark side where the Sith Lords often lost their souls. All Jedis were taught from the onset of their training to learn to the control of fear and Chris had thought he had more than mastered the skill by now. However, he knew that he feared for good reason for Jedis did not simply dream. Visions did not appear randomly for them, nor did dreams. The Force allowed the Jedi their prescience and he knew that any dream that came to him, usually had some element of truth behind it. His dreams of Vader had been the portent of something ahead. Something that could be years in the future or take place the moment he stepped out of his quarters.
Chris took a deep breath and steadied himself, deciding that he had enough of sleep or dreams. He pushed himself from the sheets plastered to his skin and padded to the shower cubicle in his room to clean the salt from his skin. The cool water did much to shake the sleep out of his eyes and when he dressed himself to leave his quarters, Chris felt a little better physically. Stepping out of the quarters provided for him since he had joined the Rebel Alliance, Chris marveled at the change in his circumstances. It was only a week ago, he had been languishing on Cordoba, all but prepared to die if anyone would do him the favor, more than content to drink himself to death if even that opportunity did not come along.
Now he was Siraj 2, a small moon orbiting Siraj Prime, a planet that had once been full of life but through poor ecological management had been left a barren wasteland due to the neglect of its inhabitants. The planet had been abandoned centuries ago, its population having fled to seek another world they could similarly ruin the same way they had done their native world. However, the structures they had left behind, particularly what appeared to be a temple of some description had now found new carers as the home of the rebel enclave in the Territory. Other than a note of its existence in some star map, there was little known about the Siraj Star System. What information, they had manage to garner about the system and the civilization here had been discovered when reconnaissance patrols made their visit to the planet surface and found a wealth of literature that had been abandoned by those who had scribed it.
After watching the Jedi being system slaughtered out of existence, Chris did not know whether or not he wanted to support another cause even though as a Jedi he knew he could not walk away from the Rebel Alliance. They were attempting to stem the tide of evil that the Empire was spreading throughout the galaxy. How could he walk away from that when it was so much in keeping with the spirit of what it once meant to be a Jedi? Besides, the truth was not so high minded as all that. He needed to do something to keep his mind and his heart from being reminded that his family was gone. If dedicating himself to the Rebellion would decrease the amount of time he spent aching for Sarah and Adam, then it was well worth it.
As he made his way through the corridors, he was still inundated with curious stares from the rebel personnel that happened by him. He supposed he was still something of a mystery to them and they had only a week to accustom themselves to counting him among their number. Of course he was accepted but the awe in which he was perceived made Chris uncomfortable. Having a Jedi in their ranks did not automatically mean they were invulnerable against their enemies. After the dream Chris had been visited with earlier, even Chris was starting to feel uncertain about his own mortality. However, he refused to start torturing himself with fears of whether or not he was going to die at the next corner. If it was his destiny to die, then so be it.
"I don't care whether or not we have been pushing our staff too hard," Chris heard Mary Travis telling Nathan Jackson as he rounded the corner of the corridor that led towards the operation center of the rebel base. "Until that deflector shield is up, we are wide open. You can tell the department heads that if they had a problem with fatigue, ask them how much of a problem they're going to have when an entire legion of Imperial storm troopers walks right up to the door and knocks. I don't want excuses Nathan, I want it done."
"Yes Sir," Nathan gulped, aware that if he did not put it tactfully to the personnel in question, they would likely to be getting a visit from the Commander of the base and that would not be pretty.
When she was determined, she burned hotter than a supernova, Chris thought to himself and thought it was often dangerous to be in close proximity to such fiery eruptions, Chris found that he could not keep away. He had seen soldiers come and go, very few stuck out in his mind and it was without a sense of bias that he could safely say that she was one of the best. Those under her command respected her and when she spoke, people invariably listened. She was tough but then Chris supposed that one in her position could not be any other way but she was also fair and the loyalty she garnered from those who followed her was a testament to her ability.
"Hello Chris," Nathan said pleasantly even though there was still tension in the air over the exchange.
"Chris," she nodded and then turned back to Nathan. "Now we have a situation brewing with Josiah and he'll need an escort. See if Buck is willing to take a run to Bespin. He'll complain but you are to explain to him most strenuously that he is not going alone, I don't care whether or not it's a personal matter. You will remind him that he is a member of the Rebel Alliance and what he does effect everyone, so I will not have him risking his life unnecessarily, is that clear?'
Nathan let out a deep breath and nodded, perfectly aware that Josiah Sanchez would be complaining about an escort but Nathan was not about to bring that to Mary at this point. The woman was riding on the edge of a filthy mood and Nathan had no wish to provoke it any further. He glanced at Chris who gave him a look of sympathy as well as a silent order to leave this to him.
"What's this situation?" Chris inquired innocently, trying to help if he could, not to mention deflect some of the vitriol Mary was exuding from Nathan."We've had a report from our spies on Coruscant that the Empire may have discovered where Josiah's niece is presently hiding. The standing order for all renegade Senators of the Republic Senate is that they and their families are detained. It's Palpatine's way of keeping his enemies under control, he keeps their loved ones under house arrest. In Josiah's case, they'll just use the girl to draw him out of hiding. She's all the family he has left."
"I see," Chris nodded, appreciating why the senator would be so determined to reach the girl. "I take she is on Bespin."
"Yeah," Nathan nodded. "Cloud City. It's still privately owned and there is no Imperial influence there at all. If you have the money, you can hide there for a very long time and not be noticed."
"Unfortunately, those who are willing to accept a lot of money to hide you are usually happy to accept the same to give you away." Mary frowned, not all happy at the place that Josiah had chosen as a hiding place for his niece but supposed begrudgingly that these days, there was no place really that one could consider truly safe. "Josiah wants to bring her here but I have my doubts that taking his niece is what the Empire wants, I'm sure if they know where she is then the only reason they have not moved in is because they're waiting for him to show up."
What Mary did not say and Chris could tell rather easily without the benefit of using Jedi insight that though she had her reservations about allowing Josiah to go to Bespin, she could not bring herself to deny him the chance even if the possibility of a trap might exist. Josiah and Mary had been friends before the Rebel Alliance, before Palpatine even. Josiah had served with Mary's father as a soldier in the Republic Fleet and had known Mary since she was a girl. However, Mary was too much the professional to allow her personal feelings interfere with what her responsibilities as a rebel leader because too many lives depended on her. If she believed that there was a legitimate risk at work here, then Josiah had better sit and pay attention because Mary did not make such claims lightly.
"What if I go with him?" Chris offered, thinking that this was the best way to bring the situation to a compromise. Josiah certainly would not feel as if the Alliance were interfering in his private business if Chris accompanied him to Bespin.
"That would work." Nathan quickly caught on to the gesture Chris was making because Josiah would take offense at a squad of soldiers following him about and playing bodyguard since the man felt that this situation with his niece was his own responsibility and not that of the Alliance. Josiah considered Chris a friend and would not be so inclined to refuse a Jedis' help in this matter.
And besides, nobody told a Jedi to do anything he did not wish. "I'll come with you," he volunteered.
"This does not make me feel better," Mary frowned. "So from having one senator going rogue on me, I'm going to have two of my best people wandering into a trap as well." She stared at Chris and Nathan with an expression on her face that told her they were fooling no one with this attempt.
"We going somewhere?" Vin Tanner's voice entered the mix. The bounty hunter approached them just in time to see Mary throwing her hands up in resignation.
"Sure you are," she spun around and glared at Vin whose gaze shifted to his two companions while he attempted to work out what he had walked into. "You're going to Bespin. Hurry along and pack, it's warm there this time of year!" With that, she turned back to Chris and said very firmly. "I want this to go down very smoothly, you go there, get the girl and you get your asses right back here. I will not have all six of you become some sector chief's ticket to Coruscant if he captures you, am I clear?" Mary spoke in the superlative but Chris could tell she was speaking to him directly.
"We'll be careful," he said coolly, aware that she was worried about all of them and perhaps a little weighted down be the disappointment of having to remain behind and having to ensure that thing were running smoothly here instead of making the trip herself.
If Mary had known what Chris was thinking, she would have been added that she considered him and the five men in question to be her friends and was not all that eager to put them in the face of danger. However, she soon admonished herself for that thought because rightly, she should not be making any sort of distinction.
The fact that they had a Jedi among them boosted morale like nothing else among the rebel personnel. It was reassuring to have that remnant of the Republic in their midst and her personal feelings aside, she did not want Chris hurt. The same went for Vin Tanner who seemed to have more information about the galactic underbelly than most of the intelligence operatives out in the field. He knew the underworld intimately, not to mention the people who were useful to the Alliance since they operated in a sphere of influence beyond the Empire's controls. Aside from that, the man was the best damn marksman she had ever seen and a natural leader, though he tried very hard to hide it. Buck Wilmington's skill, as a pilot needed no description. Since joining the rebellion on a full time basis, he had been putting the X-wing pilots through their paces and the youth he had brought within him appeared to have the makings of great aviator as well.
"Alright," Mary took a deep breath, aware that she was over reacting and the truth was, she had no choice in the matter. Knowing Chris, if she refused, he would go anyway. "Please be careful. This may not be a trap but this comes to us too conveniently and I'm sure someone could be waiting for you in Bespin"
"We're going to Bespin?" Vin looked blankly at Chris.
Mary rolled her eyes and strode away, shaking her head in disbelief at what she was allowing these men to get away with.
"What's eating her?" Vin asked as Mary rounded the corner and was out of earshot.
"She's just feeling the pressure a little," Nathan replied, knowing the truth a little better than both of them. "We've had everything that could possibly go wrong today, go wrong. The deflector shield isn't working yet, there's some strange interference in the local atmosphere that's creating a ghosting on our sensors, very bad when you consider we need constant and up to date information over the entire system."
"True," Vin agreed. "I know I don't want a whole bunch of Star Destroyers coming out of hyperspace right on top of us."
"And she's worried about Josiah," Chris added and then remembered something else. "And now us.""She is in the top seat," Nathan reminded. "It comes with the territory."
Vin looked down the corridor where Mary had departed and had to feel some sympathy for the lady. It could not be easy being responsible for all this. He certainly would not like to be in her place. "So we're going to Bespin?" He looked at his soon to be travelling companions.
"Josiah's niece is in trouble," Chris explained as they started walking towards the mess where the Jedi planned on getting some breakfast. "The Empire may know where she is so we're going to Bespin to bring her back here before they get their hands on her."
"Sounds like a plan," Vin shrugged, not afraid to admit that he was up for some action. A week being cloistered here was starting to take its toll on him, he wanted to get out of this place for awhile, even if it was to go rescue a child. "As long as I don't have to do no babysitting," he joked.
"You don't have to worry," Nathan chuckled. "Josiah's niece isn't that young. She's at least sixteen years old I think."
"A teenager," Vin frowned. "Oh joy. I knew my skills as a bounty hunter was going to come in handy," he retorted sarcastically. "So what's the precious little dear's name?"
Nathan had to think a minute about what Josiah had told him about the girl. "Casey," he answered after a moment. "Casey Wells."
Bail tried not to be afraid when he was told that a transmission had come from a ship in orbit around Alderaan. He would have been something of a fool if he had not expected its arrival. Trying to remember everything Rayne had told him prior to her departure, the only thing that gave the ruler of Alderaan comfort was the fact that his daughter Leia was already out of the system and beyond the reach of the Emperor. Whatever happened now, at least she would be safe even if he were to never see her again. He sat at his desk and waited for the holo-transmitter to connect him to the large Super Star Destroyer poised over his world, like some dark cloud that was ready to storm. He had not seen the vessel for himself but the officers at Planetary Defense had stated it was the largest ship they had ever seen, almost a dreadnought.
Somehow it was a vessel befitting Lord Darth Vader.
The air cackled slightly on the transmission panel and Bail found himself sitting back in his chair as if the holographic image had the power to do him harm. He knew better of course, he was not a superstitious man or an ignorant one for that matter but even being in close proximity to Vader made Bail anxious and why not? If Vader suspected that Bail had sent Leia away in anticipation of his own agenda then Vader would have confirmation that there were spies in the Emperor's court and that Bail must have access to them, making him just as guilty. Bail did not care if anything happened to him but he cared what happened to Leia. As it was, the communications networks across the galaxy had been told that the Princess Royal of Alderaan, had been kidnapped. Bail had ensured that Rayne and Leia were off the planet before the story had leaked and by the time planetary defense and internal security had swooped in on the palace, the kidnapping had become the media circus that he had hoped it would b e.
Bail felt his stomach clench as the image of Darth Vader appeared before him. Through the crackle of static and once the signal was cleared, he felt his skin chill at the sound of that mechanical breathing that could be from no one else but Vader.
"Lord Vader," Bail Organa recouped his fears and launched into the act he had been rehearsing since he and Rayne had hatched this plan for his daughter's abduction. "How good of you to come to Alderaan at this troubling time." It was impossible to tell whether or not his performance as the wounded father was doing anything to convince the Sith Lord of his sincerity. The armor that made him more machine than man ensured that Bail be kept in a state of unknowing fear.
"The Emperor was most disturbed to hear about the news of the young Princess. Do you have any idea who might have taken her?" Vader asked.
Vader's tone was more than a little skeptical but for this to work, Bail had to ensure that he did not waver in the least. Any hesitation and Vader would spot it immediately, underestimating a Jedi, even a dark one was a fatal mistake. "No," Bail shook his head mournfully. "They were privy to an old passageway that we had sealed off within the palace and made their entry that way. Some of our staff were wounded in the attempt and Leia's body guard is missing, presumably dead. We are searching every ship leaving our space but so far, no information regarding her whereabouts have been discovered."
"You must allow me to aid you in your efforts," Vader responded, his voice smooth as always and deeply resonating. It moved through Bail's skin almost like a tangible force. "The Emperor would be most unforgiving if I were to sit by and allow the child of one our most prominent senators languish in the hands of abductors."
"Yes," Bail said feigning gratitude. " I was hoping you would say that. Your abilities are highly regarded Lord Vader. Any help you could provide me would earn my deepest gratitude."
"Of course, I am at your service," the dark lord seemed almost pleased by the aspect of playing hero and had Bail not known what he and his Emperor had originally planned for Leia, he would have been inclined to believe that the man was genuine in his efforts to help retrieve his poor, kidnapped daughter. "The Empire will put all its resources in retrieving your child. I myself will search all vessels leaving Alderaan space for a closer inspection."
Bail shuddered at what that might entail but for held his tongue on that point. The Imperial Senate did not convene for another week, if this facade could be maintained for that long, then Bail could block Palpatine's segregation policy and Leia could resurface under the guise of being found by Alderaanian security forces.
Bail only prayed that Vader did not find her first.
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