Thursday, August 31, 2006

Chapter Four: Dancing on Thin Ice

Sentinel stood at the front of the stage, ready to sing.

Kalira stepped down from the stage for a much needed break, drinking a glass of water as she walked down the steps. She stood at the foot of the stage, watching Sentinel, and glancing warily at the Dark Lord.

Sentinel started to sing a slow, romantic song.

Kalira heard the ominous breathing of Vader’s respirator growing louder, and turned to see him standing only a meter away.

“Would you care to dance?” Vader asked.

Kalira’s eyes got very large. She drank the rest of the water, set the glass down. “Why not?”, she said, smiling.

Kalira took Vader’s arm and was escorted out onto the dance floor. She was trying to treat this as dancing with any other fan of her band. But this wasn’t just any other fan.

Vader watched Sentinel singing. He thought her voice to be very sweet, but that Kalira’s voice was much more polished, much more practiced. He looked down at Kalira, who was studying his chest controls absentmindedly.

“We haven’t been introduced... although I think you already know who I am.” Vader rumbled, breaking Kalira’s train of thought.

“Yes, Lord Vader, I know who you are.” Kalira said, as respectfully and carefully as she could.

“And you might be?” Vader asked.

“Uh, I’m Kalira”, she said, unwilling to give out her last name. She felt like she might need to keep that secret in the event they needed to make a run for it.

“You almost don’t sound certain of that.” Vader mused.

“No, no, I’m sure: my name is Kalira.” she said.

“No last name?” Vader asked.

“It’s... uh... it’s a band thing. A music thing.” she stammered.

Vader grinned behind his mask, amused at her little subterfuge, but unwilling to call her on it.

“How long have you known Sentinel?” Vader asked.

“Sentinel? Oh, you mean Sasha. Uh, 2 years, Lord Vader.” Kalira said. Because of her height, she didn’t have as difficult a time of maintaining eye contact with the Dark Lord as Sentinel did. But Kalira found herself once more studying his chest controls.

“Where did you meet her?” he asked.

“Naboo. We had try out’s at the end of one of our gigs.” Kalira said.

“And, what has she told you about me?” Vader asked.

“Uh... uh, nothing in particular, Lord Vader.” Kalira said, nervously.

“Tell me.” Vader said with the voice of one who is used to having his orders carried out.

“She said... that you were worth saving.” Kalira said. Of all the things she could have said, it seemed the safest one to pick.

“I wasn’t aware I was in need of a rescue.” Vader commented, dryly.

“Well...”, Kalira said. Kalira was wishing desperately that she’d excused herself to the fresher instead of accepting the invitation to dance. Vader was making her increasingly nervous.

“You sing very well.” Vader said.

Kalira looked up at his masked face. “Thank you, m’Lord,” she said.

“How long have you been singing?” he asked.

“Ever since I was a child. When my parents realized I had talent, I was sent to the Hall of Music on Coruscant. I was very young... it was hard. I barely got to see them.” Kalira’s eyes lost their focus as she saw back into her memories. She came back to the present, abruptly. “I don’t think my parents would appreciate my little band. They hoped I’d sing in a famous Opera company.” Kalira smiled wistfully.

“Did your parents give you a choice regarding going to the Hall of Music?” Vader asked.

“No, m’Lord, they didn’t. They thought that it was more important that my ‘talent be given a chance to reach it’s full potential.’”, Kalira said, lowering her voice an octave in order to quote what Vader assumed was her father.

Vader felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the woman. He had had a choice in going to the Jedi Temple, but all the other students had been forced into their life by their midichlorian count.

“You have the right to choose your own future.” Vader rumbled. He almost sounded surprised by what he said, and he realized it was because Sentinel also had that right, whether he liked it or not.

“I think you have that right, as well, m’Lord.” Kalira said.

“What do you mean?” Vader asked.

“I... just mean the Emperor shouldn’t get to rule your life.” she said, carefully.

“He does not rule my life.” Vader growled.

“I’m sorry, m’Lord. I meant no disrespect.” Kalira said.

Vader remained silent. Sentinel finished her song, to some clapping, and started in on the next one.

“What do you and your friends think of Sentinel’s relationship with me?” Vader asked.

“We... we think you’re a very dangerous person, m’Lord.” she said.

“You are worried for her safety?”

“Well, yes, m’Lord. We care a great deal for Sasha.” Kalira said.

“As do I.” Vader stated. “I intend her no harm,” he added.

“I’m glad to hear that, m’Lord.” Kalira said.

“Do you find it strange that she is attracted to me?” Vader asked, curious.

“Well... uh... you are a very sharp dresser.” Kalira said.

Vader let out a loud laugh. His electronic voice enhancer made it almost into an electronic bark, but his body language was obvious, in spite of his environmental suit. Heads turned in his and Kalira’s direction, and Sentinel was looking at them, curiously. Kalira proceeded to turn bright red.

“So, you think she’s attracted to me because of my outfit?” Vader asked, thoroughly enjoying himself.

“Well, I mean, we really haven’t discussed it very much.” she said.

“No, no lying. You were doing so well.” Vader said, chuckling.

“Uhm, well, she likes your broad shoulders, your height.” Kalira said. She was dying to ask about his increase in height, but wisely kept that to herself. “She said you’ve got very beautiful eyes.”

“And what did you say to all of this?” Vader asked.

“Uhm... well, I like broad shoulders and tall men, as well, so I guess I can’t say anything bad about her physical attraction to you.” she said.

“Really... so, you are also attracted to me?” Vader asked, grinning broadly behind his mask.

“Uhm, I’m not sure you are my type, m’Lord.” she answered, nervously.

“Not your type? So, what about myself makes me not your type?” Vader teased.

“Uh... uh...” Kalira faltered.

Vader chuckled. Coming through his electronic voice enhancer, it sounded slightly like staticky clicks. “Not into Dark Overlords who rule with an iron hand?” he asked.

“Uh, well...”

Vader just chuckled some more. They danced some more in silence.

“Why are you attracted to Sasha, m’Lord?” she asked.

He gazed up at Sentinel, who was singing her heart out. His heart soared with her song.

“She’s beautiful... inside and out.” he finally answered.

“But you want to bring her back to the Dark Side. Will she still be beautiful inside if you do that?” Kalira asked.

Vader glared down at her, his good mood suddenly gone. “Do not speak about things you don’t understand.” Vader growled.

“I... I apologize, m’Lord.” Kalira said, carefully.

Vader continued to dance with Kalira, but stiffly. Kalira whimpered under her breath as the Dark Lord held her hand a little too tightly. She tried to think of something to bring back his good mood.

“M’Lord, Sasha has been greatly looking forward to seeing you again.” she said.

Vader’s grip on Kalira loosened, much to Kalira’s relief.

“What did she say?” Vader asked.

“She missed you. She says you are inside her soul.” Kalira said.

Vader was silent for a moment. “Thank you.” he said, at last.

Kalira smiled. Vader was very dangerous and volatile. However, in spite of herself, she found herself greatly liking the Dark Lord.

Goto Chapter Five

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chapter Three: Incompatible Expectations

Author's Note: Song lyrics used w/o permission, but with much appreciation. Lyrics are to the song "Holding Out for a Hero", sung by Jennifer Saunders, from the Shrek 2 Soundtrack.

Sentinel had her jet black hair pulled back and up in an elegant hairstyle, exposing her neck. She wore a strapless red dress that showed off her elegant ivory shoulders to perfection, as well as showing more cleavage than she was ordinarily comfortable with. The flowing gown had no place to conceal a weapon. She felt naked without her lightsaber. She was wearing red sling back pumps... at least, if she’d been wearing her red boots, she could have hidden a knife in one.

She stood on the stage, next to her fellow band members. The band members were all dressed up as Storm Troopers, in honor of their audience, with the exception of Kalira and Sentinel. Since their gig was at a military base, it seemed fitting to dress up as clone troopers. The singers, however, usually dressed to stand out from the band.

Kalira was dressed in an elegant off the shoulder black gown. She had short, stylish silver-white hair, which went well with her striking gray-blue eyes. Kalira was young, tall, voluptuous, and strikingly beautiful. Sentinel was tall, but even wearing her red sling back pumps, she still had to look up when talking to Kalira.

A big tan sign with white lettering was on the wall behind the band; it was lit up with blue light and read, in Basic, “Bantha Fodder”. Underneath the sign was a drawing of a steaming pile of, well, bantha fodder. It was inaccurate enough to not make the audience ill, but accurate enough to get the point across.

None of the band members were wearing their trooper helmets. The helmets were hot, they were hard to see through, and, as far as Kip was concerned, were not well made for Gungan heads.

Sentinel was fidgeting with her dress, attempting to ensure it remained securely in place. Never should have worn a strapless... these things never cooperate with me, she thought.

Kalira leaned over. “Stop fidgeting. The dress hasn’t moved a centimeter. It will stay in place.”

“I should have worn my other red dress. It still fits, and I already know he likes it.” Sentinel muttered.

“You know, I was looking through old holonet feeds of your, uhm, boyfriend.” Kalira said, chuckling a little on the last word. “And then looking at current holonet feeds. Is it just me, or is he getting taller?”

“What?!? Wait... I think you’re right!” Sentinel said. In her excitement over seeing him again earlier, she hadn’t noticed that she had to crane her neck a little more than usual in order to talk to him.

“Why would he make himself taller?” Kalira asked. Kip overheard the exchange and started chuckling hard enough to flop her long ears around.

Sentinel said, “Well, his legs and arms are all half cybernetic, inclusive of his knees and elbows. Uhm, maybe not both of his elbows. Anyway, maybe there was some good reason he needed the extra few centimeters, a matter of balance or something.” Sentinel glared at Kip as she said the last. The Gungan was smirking, and still shaking a little.

“Maybe he is self conscious about his appearance, and needed the height boost,” Kalira said, grinning mischievously.

“I find it hard to believe that he felt the need to make himself taller for a psychological boost,” Sentinel said, indignant. “I doubt he felt the need to make himself more intimidatingly tall than he already is.”

Movement at the far end of the auditorium caught Sentinel’s attention. Commander Javel and his lovely wife, Reah, formerly his assistant, entered the room. Javel was resplendent in his dress uniform, and his wife was stunning in a deep blue gown.

Sentinel watched them walk in. She sighed a little... they looked very happy together. She was torn between feeling happy for them and being terribly jealous.

Sentinel looked back at her band members. Instruments were either tuned up or warmed up. They would be starting soon. Sentinel would be needed for a few of the songs, but for the rest, they had agreed to let her spend time with Lord Vader.

Sentinel turned away from the band, and saw Lord Vader entering the room from the same doorway Javel had used. Sentinel felt a huge lump in her throat, and her pulse quickened. She watched Vader as he scanned the room, and then locked gazes with her.

Every surface of his armor and environmental suit was either buffed to a high sheen or well oiled, as applicable. But otherwise, he had not changed his appearance for this dance. Sentinel wondered if he was under orders by the Emperor to never change his appearance, to always show the same face to the general public.

Kalira leaned in close to Sentinel. “He is rather impressive...” Kalira whispered.

Vader walked across the long room, his great strides covering the distance in very little time. His black cape billowed behind him. Sentinel’s lips parted, then she smiled.

Vader reached the stage, and looked up at Sentinel.

Vader drank in her appearance. He was still irritated at her for insisting on coming to the dance instead of simply going with him to his quarters. But seeing her dressed like this... it was worth the delay.

Commander Javel walked up on stage. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Please welcome the band, ‘Bantha Fodder’”

The audience started clapping, as did Javel. All the band members bowed, including Sentinel. Javel left the stage. The music started, and couples walked onto the dance floor.

Sentinel’s services weren’t required for the first few songs of the set, so she left the stage and stood in front of Vader.

Vader closed the distance, and held her. She pressed her cheek against his chest and sighed contentedly.

Kalira started to sing a very sweet and sentimental love song. People drifted onto the dance floor. Vader danced closely, slowly, with Sentinel.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.” Vader said softly.

“I wasn’t sure I’d be able to see you again.” Sentinel answered.

“Why not?”

“Well, the Emperor, for one thing. Visits have to be carefully engineered.” Sentinel said.

“But... that’s not the only reason.” Vader said.

“No...” Sentinel admitted.

“You’ve met someone.” Vader said, his tone becoming accusatory. He tensed, waiting for her answer, waiting for the name of the man he would soon be killing.

Sentinel looked up, startled. “No! Not at all!”

Vader relaxed somewhat. “Then why?”

Sentinel looked up at him. Wow, he is taller! she thought, fighting an urge to grin. Then she stared at his chest for a moment, letting herself be distracted by the blinking chest console.

Vader released her hand and lifted her chin so she was looking at him again.

Sentinel sighed. “I needed time... time to become stronger. Because I know what’s going to happen.”

“And what’s going to happen?” Vader asked

“You’re going to try to bring me back to the Dark Side.” Sentinel said.

“I am?” Vader asked. Of course I am! Vader thought.

“Aren’t you?” Sentinel asked.

Vader looked up. Kalira had finished singing the first song, and everyone was clapping. Vader’s hands remained around Sentinel. The band started on another song.

Sentinel reached up and pulled down on his mask so he was looking at her again. “Well?” Sentinel asked.

“You are strong enough to use the Dark Side without letting it control you.” Vader said.

“That’s not true. No-one is strong enough to keep the Dark Side from controlling them.” Sentinel said.

“Not even me?” Vader asked, with some hostility.

Sentinel looked away.

They danced in silence for a moment.

“You’ve been engaged in some activities I cannot support, Sentinel.” Vader rumbled gently.

“I know. I couldn’t sit back and watch anymore. The stormtroopers have been getting more and more... abusive,” she said.

“I expected you to remain quietly in hiding, instead of running amok and putting yourself in danger. The Emperor was been trying to locate you, originally in order to possibly bring you back to his cause. Now, after everything you’ve been up to, he merely wants you destroyed.” Vader said.

Sentinel sighed. “I’d hoped beyond hope that when Gilly and Mortis ran over him, he’d died. That I’d be hearing from you later that it was safe to return.”

“He is much stronger than you realize,” Vader responded. He flashed back onto that moment in time, the last one he’d had in which he could have ended the Emperor’s life. He had had his chance, and he’d blown it. But then, in the past 5 years, he’d learned so much from the Emperor, so much more about the Dark Side of the Force, so perhaps the postponement of the Emperor’s death had been worth it.

“He must be destroyed. Under his leadership, in his name, so many horrific acts have been performed.” she said.

“His fall needs to be well orchestrated so that the transfer of power, to myself, will go as smoothly as possible,” Vader rumbled. “Let me handle the details of that transfer...”

“You still wish to rule the Empire?” Sentinel asked.

“You thought I would change my mind? You will rule alongside me, as my apprentice... assuming you are still amenable to that...” Vader rumbled.

Sentinel pursed her lips. “I’d hoped I could talk you into coming with me. Into returning to the good side.” Sentinel instantly regretted what she’d said. She sensed she’d jumped the gun too quickly.

“You and I know that’s not possible.” Vader said. “You should know by now that I will never turn from the Dark Side.”

Sentinel frowned but kept silent.

Vader held her closer, possessively. He had known she was going to be difficult, had known she had been immersing herself in the good side of the Force, and avoiding the Dark Side. But he would bring her around. He knew he could.

Sentinel held Vader tightly. Somehow, I will bring you back to the good side. I know there is still good in you... Palpatine hasn’t driven it from you fully, Sentinel thought.

The song ended, and they stood apart from each other a little.

“You will return to the Dark Side. You will be my apprentice.” Vader rumbled softly.

“If I return to the Dark Side, something inside me will die. Or worse, someone like Darth Hedra will possess me.” Sentinel said. “But I’ve discovered I can distance myself from the Dark Side, and break free of it’s hold over me. I can help you do that, too. I can...”

“I repeat, I will never turn from the Dark Side. This is my destiny.” Vader growled. “And I’m sure I can help you protect yourself from the likes of Darth Hedra.” Vader paused, then put the Force fully into his next words, attempting to make his desires hers. “The Dark Side is your destiny as well.”

The effect of his will over hers made her melt. She did not want to succumb once more to the Dark Side... but having his power touch hers so intimately and forcefully made it hard for her to think clearly. She shook her head, more in an attempt to clear it than to answer in the negative to his statement.

Sentinel sighed. “Back to square one.” Sentinel said. “I can’t go dark, you can’t go light.” She bit her lip.

A new song started, and they began to dance once more. Vader was very stiff in her arms, very quiet. Sentinel laid her head back against his chest.

Where have all the good men gone,
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules,
To fight the rising odds?

Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and turn and dream of what I need...

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life

Sentinel listened to the song, and smiled, her cheek rubbing against the leather-like material of his environmental suit. I need my black knight to turn into a white knight, she mused.

Vader’s thoughts had been following a different path. “You refuse to see things my way?” Vader growled. Vader’s anger and frustration radiated from him, causing Sentinel to shudder a little in response.

Sentinel pressed her cheek against Vader’s chest. “Please, do we have to have this discussion again? Right now, I just want to be with you, to be close to you.”

Vader sighed inaudibly behind his mask. “All right, we won’t speak of it right now,” he said, then gently rubbed one of his hands upon her back as they moved to the slow music. “But we will speak of it later.”

They danced in silence. The song finished, to much clapping, and Sentinel pulled away. “My turn to sing,” she explained. She reluctantly turned and walked on stage.

Vader watched her, trying to calm his emotions.

Goto Chapter Four

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Chapter Two: New Friends, Old Friends

Author’s note: inspiration for flight scene and landing scene are the songs “Higher” and “Sacrifice” by Creed.

“Youssa be crazy.” Kip said, as she tinkered with the settings of her sophisticated keyboard.

“I believe we’ve already had this conversation.” Sentinel said, with a long sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. She was sitting on a couch in one of the guest quarters of Pitoma base.

Around Sentinel were her fellow band members: Kip Pindy, the keyboardist, who happened to be a female Gungan; Sal Gathan, the guitarist, who was also a native of Naboo, but a human male; Drej Roth, the drummer, a female human from Dantooine; and finally, Kalira Darkstar, a female human from Coruscant, and also the lead singer of the band.

Sentinel had joined the band 2 years ago. They had been playing a gig on Naboo. After their set, they let the public know they were looking for a new backup singer, having just lost their last backup singer when she got married.

It was at that point that Sentinel had found out that she had some singing talent.

“I can’t believe we are here... this is so stupid and dangerous”, Sal growled, as he sat upon a table and tuned his guitar.

“Let it go.” Kalira said, looking up briefly from her song book.

“I told you that none of you had to come. I could have simply come alone.” Sentinel said. She stood up from the couch. “Matter of fact, why don’t you guys leave? Please? You still have time. You can claim that you had a family emergency. They can just play prerecorded music at the dance.”

“We don’t back out on a gig.” Kalira said, narrowly eyeing Sentinel.

Sentinel threw up her hands and sighed. “I know you guys don’t understand this. I know you can’t believe that there is anything there left to save. But I know there is still good in him, and I have to try.” Sentinel bowed her head. “Even if I fail, I can’t stop loving him. I know it’s stupid, but he’s inside my soul. I have to see him again.”

“He’s a Sith, and a dangerous, evil person!” Sal yelled.

“So was I! Remember? I told you who I was, I... I told you what I did.” Sentinel growled, starting to pace. “I’m no innocent. I’ve fought off the Dark Side for the past 5 years, and it’s still so hard to resist it’s call.” She put her face in her hands, shuddering. “It still tempts me.”

Kalira and Kip got up and held Sentinel. She returned the embrace for a moment, head bowed, then gently pushed them away.

“I’m ok. I’m ok. I’m sorry, guys. I shouldn’t have gotten you into this.” Sentinel said.

Sal sighed. “No, I’m sorry, Sasha. It was our decision to come with you.” Sal said. “I shouldn’t be complaining. I just... I just really don’t like this.”

“Sasha, we’re a team. We’ve been through sticky situations before. This is just the next... sticky situation. You’ve gone to gigs with us that you didn’t want to go to.” Kalira said, holding Sentinel’s hand.

Drej sat back on her chair in the corner, by the drum set, fingering her drumsticks in one hand and her dreadlocks in the other. “Yeah, like that gig on Coruscant. We’re here for you Sasha. Like you’ve been there for us.” Drej said.

The door to the guest quarters opened, and everyone looked up to see Commander Javel walk in.

“Welcome to Pitoma Base. I am Commander Javel.” Javel said.

“Thank you, Commander.” Sentinel said, regaining her composure. “Let me introduce you to the band.” Sentinel proceeded to introduce everyone to the Commander. Handshakes and pleasantries were exchanged.

“Miss Yod, I would like to talk to you. Do you have a minute?” Commander Javel asked.

“Guys, I’ll be right back.” Sentinel said, then nodded towards Javel as they walked out into the hallway together. The door auto-closed behind them.

The Commander leaned in closely. “Lord Vader has been made aware of your presence. He said you were a wanted criminal, but did not direct me to arrest you. So, the game is on, if you will.” He smiled warmly, but a little nervously.

“Thank you, Commander.” Sentinel said.

“Miss Yod... you are taking a big risk. I understand how you feel, believe me. When I fell for my wife, Reah, I fell very hard. But this...” Javel shook his head.

“Commander, I understand your concerns. Thank you, but I already am well aware... that the object of my affection has sharp teeth and claws.” Sentinel’s voice went up on the last part, and she grinned. Sentinel licked her lips, and dropped her voice. “I have been meaning to ask you to please accept my apology for my behavior the last time we met...”

Javel waved her off. “It is not necessary.”

“Yes it is. I was... very rude. And then, even after how rude I was, you were so kind about my... my brother.” Sentinel said, choking slightly on the last words.

Commander Javel held her hand, brought it up to his lips and kissed the back of it. “My lady, outwardly you were a Sith. But inwardly I knew you were really an Angel.” He smiled at her generously.

Sentinel smiled embarrassedly. “From your mouth to the Force’s, uhm, ears, Commander.” she said, shyly.

The Commander sighed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight, Miss Yod. But assuming things go well between you and Lord Vader, and you are still a free woman, I hope you will still be able to perform that favor...”

“Are the attacks still occurring, Commander?” Sentinel said, looking suddenly all business and very grave with concern.

“I’m afraid they are. My men have not been able to find the source. Or rather, those that have possibly come close to the source haven't lived to tell me what they found. More and more civilians are being brutally murdered. All that’s left are bodies that have been torn to pieces as if by some wild animal... except we have sufficient evidence to know that a weapon was involved. I don’t know what else to throw at this. This person hasn’t left me sufficient clues with which to locate him... or her.”

“I will find this person and take care of it for you, Commander.” Sentinel said.

“Thank you, Miss Yod. I very much appreciate the help.” Commander Javel said, breathing a sigh of relief.

Sentinel smiled reassuringly. “In the meantime, Commander, could I ask you for a small favor?”

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Sentinel had asked Commander Javel if she could borrow one of his fighters for about an hour. And so now she was standing in front of several sleek fighters in the main hanger, walking around them, admiring their lines. She finally picked one, got suited up, and took off in it.

She soared up over the base, then gunned the engines and screamed towards the cliff. The base itself was positioned on the edge of an incredibly deep and steep cliff. Once over the edge, she plunged the ship almost straight down, thrilled at the speed and power, and the onrushing level of clouds a couple of kilometers below her, near the base of the cliff.

Just as she was about to hit the cloud cover, she pulled up and skimmed them, heading straight for the waterfall, laughing as the spray peppered the ship.

She performed several barrel rolls as she arced the ship back up the face of the cliff, then plunged the ship back down again, to follow the cliff from the other direction. She passed the waterfall once more, and saw the base’s cliff viewing platform up ahead in front of her. Someone was standing out there, watching her.

Vader, she thought. She sensed his identity before she had gotten close enough to see the man. Her heart was suddenly in her throat. She felt his mind gently probe hers, identifying her. She heard his voice in her head then, Sentinel, let me see what you see....

His words in her head sent a thrill through her entire body. She swallowed, and carefully dropped her mental shields, keeping just enough shield up over information she was afraid would be harmful towards her friends and/or the Rebellion. Then she poured out what she was experiencing along the mental connection she and Vader had just formed. She felt his heart start to race as he, too, was thrilling at the speed of her travel.

She flew the ship underneath the platform, keeping her flight level, but very tight with the cliff. The sight of the wall of rock on her right moving blindingly fast past her increasing the sensation of speed. She then pulled straight up, and barrel rolled into the sky. Her body was slammed into the back of her seat from the extra gravity, and her face was split with a fierce grin.

Back on solid ground, Vader wore a similar grin, hidden behind his mask. His gloved mechanical hands gripped the railing tightly.

Sentinel stared straight ahead. Eventually, the color faded in front of her, and the stars started to appear. The planet’s horizon fell slowly behind her.

Sentinel cut the engine, and let the craft stall. She let out a cry of elation as the weightlessness hit. The ship leveled out and then proceeded to fall back towards the ground. She let it glide for the longest time before giving in to common sense and restarting the engines.

With Vader sharing the experience, she found herself taking bigger and bigger risks, enjoying greater thrills. She buzzed the edge of the cliff again, almost coming close enough for Vader to have raised his hand and touched the ship as it screamed past. The blast of her passage caused him to be knocked about a little on the platform.

Are you all right? she sent to him, concerned that she had cut that last pass a little too close. She received in response a feeling of pure joy, and a nonverbal request to ‘do it again!’ She laughed, banked, the ship, and buzzed his position again, this time being a little more cautious.

Vader treated her to what he was seeing: the ship heading towards him at breakneck speed, looking like it was going to run him over. She fought with herself not to pull away further, not to make this vision make her be more cautious than was actually necessary. Knowing, with the guidance of the Force, that she had adequate distance for her safety concerns did not stop her from squealing with both fear and delight at the vision Vader provided her, as the ship went screaming over his head and once again buffeted him with the winds of it’s passage.

She banked the ship up over the cliff, and used the air brakes to gently bring it in for a landing back at the base. She powered down the engines, removed her helmet, and did a quick final check of the systems before fully shutting things down. As she was exiting the cockpit, she saw Vader’s ebony clad form walking towards her. As her feet hit the ground, Vader halted about 5 meters from her.

She put her helmet on the wing of the fighter, then leaned on the wing. The wing was between her and Vader.

Vader stood there, motionless. His thoughts were racing. He had a speech all planned out, one where he chewed her out for her activities against the Empire. One where he ironically berated her for coming out of hiding, and yet also told her she should have contacted him a long time ago. But the intimacy of their shared vision of her flight left him feeling unable to hold on to his anger and frustration.

There was that part of him that wanted to accuse her of no longer having any feelings for him. But admitting that her silence where he was concerned had hurt him, deeply, seemed too much an admonition of weakness on his part.

Then she surprised him; she came out from behind the wing, ran up to him, grinning fiercely, and hugged him tightly.

He was momentarily shocked. Any remaining rage, frustration, and loneliness he was holding on to melted away under the outpouring of her unconditional love.

He found himself wrapping his arms around her tightly, crushing her to himself. He felt like a drowning man who had just been thrown a life preserver.

“I missed you so much.” Sentinel sobbed into his chest.

He wanted to say that he’d missed her too. But the words wouldn’t come. Instead he said, “Why didn’t you contact me earlier?”

“It wasn’t safe. And I wasn’t ready.” she said.

He released her enough so that he was still holding her, but she could look up into his face. “Ready?” he asked.

“I’ll explain later.” she said, smiling.

“Come with me, to my quarters. We should talk.” Vader rumbled.

“I can’t, I need to get ready for the dance,” said Sentinel.

“The dance is not important.” Vader said.

“You don’t understand...” Sentinel began.

“The dance is not important.” Vader repeated, an edge of irritation in his voice.

“I’ve made a commitment. I have to be there,” Sentinel said.

Vader stared at her a moment. “Why?”

“I’m in the band.” Sentinel said, grinning sheepishly.

Goto Chapter Three

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chapter One: Mystery Sith

Darth Vader walked through the halls of the Exactor, on his way to his personal quarters. The men who passed him in the hallways gave him a wide berth and a respectful glance... just enough of a glance to not incur his wrath, and not enough to make him notice them and direct his anger at them.

Vader had gotten reports of yet another Rebellion attack upon an Imperial installation. They had come close to finding out the existence of the hidden Death Star, still under construction. The Death Star had about another 10 years of work needed before it would be fully operational. It was crucial it continued to remain safely secret, that it’s construction site remain unknown. Every time it had to be moved, every time it had to be transported to a new construction site, valuable time and money was wasted.

Vader was not happy that it’s existence had almost been found out. He was very disturbed by it.

Add the fact that the “Mystery Sith” had been at it again...

Also known as the “Black Knight”.

Also known as the “Dark Avenger”.

The Holonet had ironically not been able to find a good name for this person with Force abilities, a red lightsaber, and a tendency to come to the rescue of anyone who was being treated harshly by the Imperial authorities. This person seemed to avoid actually killing anyone, but in some skirmishes, this person had killed some troopers, albeit in semi-obvious self defense.

One Holonet reporter had tried to call this person the “Dark Sentinel”, but his name for this person was mysteriously squashed. Actually, most of the Holonet stories about the Mystery Sith had been squashed, but a few had still escaped.

This Mystery Sith had remained a mystery for several reasons. First, this person always wore a different costume, and always concealed his or her face, and never spoke. The one common thing about the costume was it was usually black. Second, this person somehow always knew how to evade capture... even when the stormtroopers purposefully tried to set a trap for this person. Third, this person seemed unpredictable. This person never seemed to appear twice on the same planet. This person never sat still.

Vader knew, the moment he saw the first Holonet feed, that the Mystery Sith was in fact Sentinel. Unfortunately, the Emperor had also recognized that the Mystery Sith must be Darth Sentinel.

Vader had already been under standing orders to find and destroy Sentinel. The moment the Emperor had recovered from his injuries on Sentinel’s homeworld, the order had gone out.

The Emperor had occasionally reconsidered the order. He still wanted Sentinel found, but he thought that Sentinel could successfully be convinced to become his apprentice. He had made it clear to Vader that he did not intend for Sentinel to replace Vader... had never intended for that. That he merely wanted to fully test Sentinel. That he never intended for Sentinel to kill Vader or Vader to kill Sentinel.

Vader opted to pretend he believed every word the out of the Emperor’s mouth. It was safer that way.

But with the whole “Mystery Sith” thing, the order had once again been upgraded to destroying Sentinel.

Lord Vader took great pains to keep his Master up to date on the search, especially once the Mystery Sith had appeared about 3 years ago... 2 years after Sentinel had escaped. But Vader did his best to ensure the search results were only given to him, so he could then tell the Emperor what he pleased about the search.

Vader silently cursed Sentinel for deciding to no longer remain in hiding. He understood that she must be growing impatient for the Emperor’s rule to end and Vader’s joint rule of the Galaxy, with Sentinel, to begin. But her undermining the authority of the Empire was not helping. He knew she was having one of her bouts of moral conscience, not enjoying seeing personal liberties of the civilian populace being trampled. But she had to be made to understood -- if he could make contact with her -- that these were necessary steps in the continuing effort to bring peace to the Galaxy.

Now if I can just find her and pound that message into her thick skull! Vader thought.

While Vader was dealing with the search for Sentinel, and with stomping out the Rebellion, he had periodically also been investigating Sentinel’s brother’s death. Or trying to. Either her brother Tarnis Yod had really committed suicide 5 years ago, or the coverup of his death was nearly perfect. No-one would admit to foul play, or to knowing that any foul play had occurred... even when he impressed upon them the... importance... of their cooperation.

Vader had to give up the search for more information regarding Sentinel’s brother. It was proving fruitless, and was likely to attract unwanted attention.

He stalked through the hallways, turning corners sharply, clenching his fists, and basically making his men very nervous. Or rather, making them more nervous than he normally made them.

He was walking through the area of the ship devoted to the stormtroopers quarters. A trooper left his shared room, just in front of Vader, and hurried off on some duty. The door hadn’t quite auto-closed behind him, and Vader stopped in front of the open door, hearing something familiar. Music. And a trooper humming along to the music as he polished his white boots. The trooper did not look up, so intent was he on both the music and the polishing.

If you need a lover, I’d do anything you ask me to...

The trooper was suddenly startled by his music player emitting several sparks and catching fire! He dropped his boot in order to extinguish the flames, and looked over to the doorway. The door was auto-closing, and he couldn’t see anyone in the doorway. But he could just barely hear the sound of Vader’s breathing as the Dark Lord strode away.

That song. He had to be listening to that song, Vader thought.

Vader entered his quarters, his thoughts tormented by a fear he didn’t want to deal with. With the continued defiance of Sentinel, and her silence, i.e., her lack of trying to contact him, he had decided that perhaps she no longer had any feelings for him. Perhaps she had fully gone over to the good side of the Force, and in so doing, had rejected him, forever. He didn’t know how to handle that fear. He knew he shouldn’t automatically assume the worst. But to him, it was the only explanation that made sense.

Admittedly, he wasn’t sure how she could safely arrange to contact him. But still... she should have tried some way of contacting him by now.

She had betrayed him. But instead of trying to kill him, or trying to become his Master, she had done something worse: she had stopped loving him. She simply must have, after all this time.

Vader shook his head, trying to shake off these thoughts of self pity. They did him no good. He was a Dark Lord of the Sith, and the Dark Side was his very jealous mistress. He did not need Sentinel... not her love, nor her help in ruling the Galaxy. He was invincible, and needed no-one.

His anger replaced his loneliness, making the dark cloud of emotion surrounding him darker still.

Vader opened his hyperbaric chamber and entered it. He sat down roughly, flicked a finger in the direction of a control on his chamber’s 360 degree ‘desk’, and the chamber closed. He removed his helmet, and breathed a sigh of relief to be free of it.

He toggled through his communications, looking at further reports of what was going on within the Empire. Then he went through his personal communications, which were few.

Darth Vader stared at the screen of his console. He wasn’t sure if he was reading the display correctly.

It seemed that Commander Javel, of Pitoma Base, had invited him to another dinner/dance. They even had a new band coming to play.

He had been invited, once before, to a similar event by Commander Javel, 5 years earlier, when he and Darth Sentinel had been staying at Pitoma, waiting for Sentinel to recover from injuries sustained on one of their missions.

Why would Commander Javel choose to invite him now, of all times, back to his base?

And also, why was Commander Javel still just a lowly commander? It had been 5 years! Who had the Commander perhaps upset? Who was keeping the Commander from being promoted?

Perhaps that was why Vader was being invited to this event. Perhaps Javel needed his assistance in acquiring a promotion. Vader sat back in his chair, musing over things. He supposed he did owe the man, after all. Javel had helped him out in the past, and had kept quiet about it. Without Javel’s assistance, Vader would probably not have been able to rescue Sentinel when the evil spirit of Darth Hedra had taken over her body.

And Vader was in need of a pleasant distraction. The Emperor did not seem to understand the concept of Vacation. Neither had the Jedi. Perhaps this would give Vader some peace, some time to relax and not think about Sentinel, the Emperor, and the war in general. Pitoma Base was a huge reminder of Sentinel, but still, it would be a change of pace.

Vader accepted Javel’s invitation, and made his plans to travel to Pitoma Base.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Several weeks later, Vader’s shuttle took him in to land at Pitoma. Once there, the shuttle crew transported his effects to his guest lodging, and Vader strode directly to Commander Javel’s office.

Javel’s office door slid open at Vader’s approach. Javel stood up and bowed slightly as Vader walked in.

“Lord Vader, I am glad that you were able to come visit us.” Javel said.

Vader noted new wrinkles on the man’s face. The past 5 years appeared to have been rough for Javel.

“Commander Javel, I find it hard to believe that you asked me here simply to attend a party.” Vader said, intending to get directly to the point.

“Lord Vader”, Javel said, a little nervously, “I confess I have an ulterior motive.”

“And that would be?” Vader asked.

“A... mutual friend asked me to invite you.” Javel said, carefully.

Vader stared at Javel, disliking the air of mystery Javel was trying to maintain.

“And this friend is?” Vader asked, impatiently.

“Sasha Yod, m’Lord.” Javel said.

Vader remained silent, inscrutable behind his mask. But his thoughts were racing, and in spite of his attempt at control, his heart was beating faster, and his breathing quickened just a bit.

“You know, Commander Javel, that Sasha Yod is a wanted criminal,” Vader rumbled gently.

Javel pursed his lips. “I know, m’Lord. But I wasn’t sure what your opinion on... the matter was.” He paused, took a breath. “Shall I have her arrested, m’Lord?”

Vader stared at the wall behind Javel. He sent his senses out, scanning the base, and found the spark that was Sentinel. She was already here, and she wasn’t hiding herself from him.

“No, Commander Javel. Leave her to me. I will deal with her myself.” Vader answered.

“As you wish, m’Lord.” Javel said.

Vader whirled and left Javel’s office.

Goto Chapter Two