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Lord Tesla and the Fan Fic: The Taking of Heads - 6: The Quiet

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It's been a while coming, but here it is, at last. The taking of heads continues in:



The Taking of Heads – 6: The Quiet


by Lord Tesla



They murmured around him. Distant voices. Left behind, long since...

Vader shut them out. There were other voices…

“Father! Please!”

“Now, young Jedi, you will die,” the Emperor said, and cast the lightning again.

Luke writhed under the Emperor’s assault. Vader had not seen its like since his master had killed Mace Windu.

His master had been chancellor then, and he had been—

The past was dead.

Windu had fallen, swept away; but Luke—

Heads. Vader saw heads. His eyes dimmed and he saw them, the heads of his victims, choking the galaxy…

What was left of his own lungs fought for breath, and his respirator wheezed under the demand upon it.

Not now

The murmuring stopped. But the heads whispered, as they always whispered…

Those voices, the vision, were as dead as Windu, as dead as the past.

But the past, his past, wouldn’t stay dead.

His past lived, here, before him, in his son—and in the daughter he had never seen—

I didn’t know.

He knew now.

Luke was alive now. Only, the Emperor was killing him. Luke was dying.

So was Vader. His son was powerful, and their confrontation had cost him more than a prosthetic hand.

Pain shot through his remaining flesh, and what wasn’t metal and circuits shook.

And the voices would not be silent; the vision shivered before his eyes.

Skulls with gaping eye sockets, heads with cloudy vacant eyes, heads in every stage of corruption—they all whispered.

They would be his death.

Stop. Please, stop!

No relief. No blessed silence.

With his stump and remaining hand he clawed at his helmet—

As he struggled, the voices changed. He heard the whispers, as if for the first time.

He let his arms drop, and he listened.

And, for the first time, he understood them.

His eyes cleared. Luke still lay upon the bridge; he had already withstood the Emperor far longer than had Windu.

Neither did his master show any signs of tiring, or relenting. Luke’s death was as certain as—

His own weapon was lost—Luke’s came into his remaining hand. The green blade hissed like a serpent.

“Stop,” he said. The Emperor turned.

Luke’s saber caught the lightning Palaptine now hurled at him.

Vader took a step toward the Emperor, another.

Palpatine—Darth Sidious—looked back to Luke, to Vader.

The lightning stopped, and Vader felt himself borne back upon the Force—only a few paces, but he had not anticipated it. His strength failed him, and his legs gave way. He fell to the deck.

His master turned his back on him, and unleashed lightning such as Vader had never seen before.

Luke convulsed; he howled, until his jaw clamped shut, and his eyes rolled back in his head.

The Force was strong with Luke, but Luke was only flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood had their limits.

Vader could feel Luke’s suffering, as if it were his own.

“No,” Vader said, dragging himself up.

Something keen and blade-like cut through him as he rose. Old bonds parted before it; chains snapped. Strength flowed into him.

“NO!”

Darth Sidious had time to look over his shoulder. He cackled.

The Emperor made no move to avoid or block Vader’s stroke; the green blade swept his head from his neck. Palpatine’s lightning stopped, disappeared, as if it had been absorbed back into his body.

Before Palpatine’s head had struck the bridge, his severed neck vomited forth his last reserves, a storm of dark energy, the old viper’s final deadly stroke.

It poured out in all directions, engulfing the bridge, lighting the throne room, tearing at every cell in Vader’s body.

And Luke’s.

Vader bent the Force to his will, and the Emperor’s body tumbled over the railing, carrying the cascade of dark energy with it into the depths.

Palpatine’s head he kicked over the side after it as he went to Luke.

All the voices had gone silent. There was no sound in the throne room but that of his own erratic breathing.

He scooped Luke up.

“Son? Son?”

His son lived, he could feel it, but Luke was weak.

Awareness of the galaxy around him intruded. The shields were down. Rebel fighters were pressing their attack. Nothing could prevent their victory now.

Into the turbolift Vader carried Luke. It began to descend. Something shook the turbolift car, and Vader leaned against the wall to brace himself and Luke against the violence of it. The light panels blinked, then all motion stopped. Vader reached out, seeking a cause—

The floor of the lift car seemed to drop out from under them. Vader clutched Luke to his chest. The compensators kicked in between heartbeats, and he landed hard. Luke’s head snapped and bounced back, lolling as if it were broken.

But Luke lived. Vader clung to him, and to that thought, as their descent continued.

The lift lurched to a stop. The doors opened onto a hangar bay. Beyond the bay’s barrier field, flashes and swelling clouds of debris marked the clashes between the fleet and the rebels.

Inside it, flight crews and hangar personnel swarmed over the deck. Few ships remained.

No one dared interfere with him as he strode to a shuttle and boarded it.

He strapped Luke to an acceleration couch, and took the pilot’s seat himself.

A few toggles switched brought the shuttle’s panel to life. It was flight ready—his instincts had served him well in his choice—but—

The station was doomed. Distance offered their only hope of survival, and that only if achieved soon.

He reached across the instrument panel to the reactor controls and brought it up. Lights lit in the right sequence; none shone alert-blue: greens and reds told of a live unit and power being released.

Left hand on the control yoke, he caught the sublight engine igniter in the Force and tugged it into the on position. With his stump he shoved the throttle full forward.

Now warning lights lit, yellow and blue: repulsors trying to engage on auto, over-loaded converters, violated control-checks. Claxons sounded, and warnings flashed across the panel displays. He ignored them.

The blast wrecked the hangar aft of the shuttle’s exhaust; the landing pods screamed, dragging on the deck until he retracted them—but the shuttle shot from the station into space.

They were free of the Death Star, leaving it behind… as the Rebels found their mark and the station began to disintegrate

Throttles open, Vader kept the shuttle just ahead of the plasma wave that swept out from the vaporizing Death Star.

Scopes and sensors were useless so close to the blast. He watched space through the viewport, guiding the ship by feel.

He needed a haven, somewhere he could tend to Luke.

The fleet was in disarray; the rebels were inflicting heavy damage. He couldn’t find Executor among the surviving ships.

Not that it mattered: it seemed unlikely either side would welcome him now.

Spread beneath all was Endor…

Endor.

Green, life-giving…

Strong with the Force.

Vader banked the ship away from the battle, and began his descent.
***

Beyond what had been the Empire’s perimeter he found a clearing and set the ship down.

Life thrived here; the Force was strong here.

Vader rose from the pilot’s station, and went aft. Luke was still unconscious, inert, but he lived.

There were things he could do. The shuttle’s medical kit would be equipped for shock and trauma.

But not for saving Jedi.

He pushed the thought away.

A bench stretched along the starboard bulkhead. Vader carried Luke from the seat he occupied to the bench. Above it, the medical kit was stowed in a locker, and when opened its door became the display for its autoscanner. Self-activating, the scanner began to measure and display Luke’s vital signs. From it Vader learned little more than he already knew.

As he had done so many times in the Clone Wars, Vader searched Luke’s body for wounds, for damage from the Emperor’s attack.

He had himself felt the lighting more than once, and lived, without immediate attention. Training and the Force had prepared him for it.

And he had been unusually strong, and his attacker had been Darth Sidious’s apprentice, not Darth Sidious…

After he had been struck, he had risen and continued to fight.

Luke lay unconscious.

There were no wounds, no burns, no swelling. However weak, his pulse was present; his heart continued to pump…

“Luke,” he said, but there was no response. He lifted Luke’s eyelids each in turn. The eyes beneath appeared normal, but there was no reaction, no awareness. The autoscanner showed brain activity but gave no advice: its database contained no analog to this pattern, not sleep, not coma, not disease or injury…as if his brain were…waiting, yes, like a machine in standby.

Waiting for what?

Neither did it offer any estimate of how long this state might last. Luke was strong, that he was still alive proved that much, but strength would fail, even Luke’s, without sustenance. Even a Jedi could starve. Before that he would dehydrate…

That would take time, he told himself, and he would wake his son before that time lapsed.

Vader covered Luke, and took out an IV kit from the locker. It was a standard combat pack, saline and bacta and nutrients—it could do no harm, and it would sustain Luke until he woke and could eat and drink for himself.

The bag he hung from the lower edge of the door-display, and then turned to start the drip. He could do it, even one-handed and left-handed at that; the cannula was preloaded into an introducer; it would do most of the work. Position it and press the button…

He took Luke’s hand, and stopped. How had he missed it? Machinery was visible through a gap in Luke’s wrist.

My doing.

Taking Luke’s left hand in his, relief filled him: this hand still lived, was still Luke’s. He placed the introducer over a vein, and depressed the actuator. He watched Luke’s face.

No reaction registered, not even the flick of an eyelash. Luke’s heart beat, at the threshold of death; his breath was almost imperceptible.
***

After a few hours, the autoscanner began to show progress. Pulse, respiration, blood pressure all rose toward normal, as did other indicators.

Yet Luke would not wake, was unresponsive to any stimulus.

Vader sat staring at Luke.

“What do I do now?” Vader said.

“We will be patient,” he remembered Qui-Gon Jinn telling him once.

Even then, he had known that patience had its limit.

Electronic tones began to sound, and there was a play of telltales flashing in his helmet’s display.

He would not last much longer if he didn’t do what he could to repair his damaged systems.

His own life meant little to him, but Luke—if not he, who would protect Luke?

Who?

Yes.

Now he had a plan, an objective.

Vader began to rifle through the medical kit, looking for the means to tend his own wounds.
***

The princess entered, flanked by two commandos, weapons drawn. A step behind her was Captain Solo, and two more commandos—in addition to the two already stationed within to either side of the door, and the dozen outside.

She marched toward him; Solo held back.

Standing as close to him as she had aboard her ship when he had captured her above Tatooine, she glared up at him.

“Why are you here?”

“Here” was in the forest, near the natives’ tree dwellings, inside a rough stockade, one of several holding such few Imperial troops as had survived.

In this stockade, he was the sole occupant.

The sole prisoner.

“What I want to know is why you surrendered,” Solo said. What Solo wanted to know was why the patrol hadn’t executed him on the spot. Vader ignored him.

“I’ve come to ask your help,” he said.

“Why would I help you?” the princess said. Solo’s eyes darted from her to him. The commandos’ trigger fingers twitched.

“I’ve come to ask your help for Luke.”

Her eyes grew wide at Luke’s name, and she produced a blaster. The muzzle made contact with the lower grille on his breathmask.

“Where is he? What have you done to him?” A sharp thrust of the muzzle punctuated each question.

“I have tended him since the destruction of the station. He defied the Emperor, but the cost was great. He lives, but he will not wake. He is nearby, in a shuttle. I ask that you go to him, or let me bring him to you. I cannot revive him, but it is my hope that you can.”

“Because…”

She bit off her words.

“Princess, you no longer have anything to fear from me. Search your feelings.”

The princess trembled, eyes wider still.

“Luke told you, didn’t he?” she said.

“That you are his sister? No. Luke tried to keep that knowledge from me, to protect you. But, I, too, have feelings.”

He knew the look in Leia’s eyes, focused deep within, far away…

“You are Luke’s father.”

“I was once Anakin Skywalker.”

“And now?” she said.

“I am not the man I was, but I am Luke’s father.”

Leia’s hand tightened on the grip of her blaster.

“That’s very convenient. Answer my question. If you’re no longer Darth Vader, then who are—”

The blaster wavered; she clamped her eyes shut.

“Are you—” Leia turned away, trembling again. She resisted the truth. Vader wished she could reject it.

“Your father? Yes.”

She turned back to face him. Her eyes were unreadable to him, his daughter a stranger. But she had holstered her blaster.

“What do your feelings tell you now?” He watched her.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But if I…if there’s any chance I can save Luke, I have to try.”

Captain Solo stepped forward and took her shoulder.

“Leia, I don’t like this. We can’t trust him. Let me send out a search party, they can find Luke if he’s out there,” he said. Leia ignored him.

“There isn’t time. Will you come with me, or do I bring Luke to you?” Vader said.

“Wait here,” she said to him. To the commandos she said, “Make sure he stays here.”

She hesitated.

At last there was something in her eyes he could read.

“Shoot him if you have to,” she said, and left.

Captain Solo watched her go. He looked at Vader, then looked at the door through which Leia had gone.

“Leia? Your Highness? Wait! Leia!” Captain Solo called out, hurrying after her.

Inside his cordon of commando guards, Vader stood silent.

Waiting.
***

“Why didn’t you just bring the shuttle to our landing zone?” Captain Solo said.

“An Imperial shuttle, in rebel-controlled airspace, piloted by me?”

Solo and the Princess exchanged looks; he frowned, she allowed herself a reserved smile.

The Millennium Falcon slowed as they neared the clearing where Vader had hidden the shuttle.

“There,” Vader said, at the same time Leia did.

Solo’s head swiveled, stopping as he picked up the shuttle. After that, The Millennium Falcon seemed to rotate around the pirate’s head as he tracked the grounded ship during his descent maneuvers.

The Wookiee barked, and the guard unit in the ship’s main hold could be heard rising, checking their weapons.

“Okay,” the Corellian said, “We’re—hey!”

Leia jumped from her chair and pushed past him as the ship touched the forest floor. She was first down the ramp as it lowered. Vader followed her, ducking through the low hatch as he did so.

“Leia!” Captain Solo called from the end of the column of troops as they exited the ship with the Wookiee leading them. “Wait up!”

“Learn to lead from the front, General Solo,” she said to him.

“Is he in there?” she said motioning toward the shuttle with her head.

“Yes,” Vader said.

She sped up, and disappeared inside the ship.

“Leia!” Solo called out, and broke into a run. Vader lengthened his stride, and reached the ship before the pirate.

Vader found her kneeling beside Luke. She held her hand to his chest, watching the autoscanner display his vital signs.

She took his hand, the prosthetic hand, and held it.

“Luke,” she said. There was no change.

“Luke,” she said again, stroking his forehead with her free hand. “It’s Leia. Luke…you have to wake up…”

Captain Solo now stood at Vader’s side. He shifted his weight, squared his shoulders, and squared them again. Solo watched Leia. There was no mistaking what the Corellian felt for…

My daughter.

The smuggler seemed to realize whom he was standing next to. His hand strayed toward his blaster, but veered, tightening on his gunbelt.

“Luke…?” Leia called to her brother once more.

A tone sounded from the autoscanner, announcing a change. Vader watched the displays. They showed a rapid increase in pulse and respiration. Luke gasped…

Then he seemed to relax. His eyelids fluttered and opened.

“Leia?”

His sister nodded, then took his face in her hands and kissed him. When she let go, he took one of her hands and squeezed it; she swept a tear from her own cheek with the other.

She moved aside when Luke tried to raise his head. Luke looked up at the others around him.

“Han.”

“Who else, kid?” Captain Solo said and moved to stand beside Leia. His Wookiee shadow was at his heels, loosing a growl.

“Chewie,” Luke said, and the Wookiee let off another.

Luke looked at each one, studied them; then, Luke looked at him.

“Father.”

Leia showed no reaction. Solo shuddered; the Wookiee’s head shot round, teeth bared, a rumbling in his throat. “Not now, Chewie,” the pirate said, throwing up his hand. The Wookiee quieted, but his eyes remained fierce.

“I am here, my son,” Vader said.

“When you left, I was afraid,” Luke said.

“It had been three days since you faced the Emperor, and I couldn’t wake you. I went for help. I thought your sister…Son, I’m…”

“I knew why you went, Father. I was afraid you wouldn’t come back.”

Vader dropped to his knees at Luke’s side.

The Wookiee roared. Solo took a step forward, hand closing on his blaster.

“Han,” the princess said, and moved further back. The pirate and the Wookiee froze.

His helmet hampered him, but he lowered his head. He gripped Luke’s shoulder with his remaining hand.

“No, Luke. I will never abandon you again, not while there’s life in this body,” he said.

Vader sensed more than felt his son’s arm resting on him; then, another, his daughter’s, arm, joined Luke’s.

Beyond hope, he felt the same fierce need in each of them that he felt in himself, and the same gift.

Forgiveness.

And love.
***

When Luke slept, truly slept, Vader left him in the care of sister and their friends. Luke was safe with them, and he would understand his absence now.

Vader passed between the guards flanking the ramp; they made no effort to hinder him. Neither did those on the perimeter, when he passed through their line.

Just inside the trees, opposite where he had set the shuttle down, he stopped.
The sky was dark. Endor proper was on the moon’s far side, and only the stars lit the clearing.

The Sanctuary Moon: so the Emperor himself had named this world. It teemed with life. The stones and the air seemed to be…

Alive.

Both his children were here with him; both of them, alive…

How much different would the galaxy be, if he’d known before…

Before he’d fought Obi-Wan, before…

Old memories lurked in the wood-shadows around him…Mace Windu’s cries as he fell, his own pledge to Palpatine, the assault on the Temple, Mustafar—

Padmé.

When he turned on Padmé. That was when his turn became complete.

He had thought Padmé and their child would survive then. But it had made no difference, because he believed he had been betrayed, by Padmé, and by—

“Obi-Wan?”

His former master emerged from forest shadows, a luminous figure, translucent, but his feet marked the ground, and his robes disturbed the lower plants as he picked his way among them.

He looked no different than he had on the Death Star.

If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine--so Obi-Wan had said at their last meeting.

Awareness of his missing hand fled through Vader’s thoughts.

And the only lightsaber in parsecs is on the Shuttle, with Luke.

But Obi-Wan was unarmed.

“Anakin,” Obi-Wan said.

“Do you think that’s who I really am?”

“You have always been Anakin Skywalker.”

“That’s not what you told Luke. You sent him to kill Darth Vader. You sent him to kill me. Did you lie to him?”

“I was wrong, Anakin. I was blinded by my hatred.”

“Of me.”

“Yes, and of myself. Living with what I did to you was not easy, foolish as that may sound. I failed you many times over, and I betrayed you in your darkest hour. It was easier to tell myself that you no longer existed, and that Darth Vader was my enemy, than to face up to that.

“I put Luke in danger with my lies. In the attempt to destroy you, I nearly destroyed him. For that, I am truly sorry.

“You were right to doubt me, Anakin. There is none of us free of guilt in this tragedy.”

“That past cannot be altered, Obi-Wan, and we must all obey the will of the Force. We are not untrained. If we are to be true to that training, there is no place for blame in this.” Qui-Gon said

“Qui-Gon,” Vader said, and saw the Jedi Master approaching from the clearing, a striding light.

“The truth, Master Qui-Gon speaks. Driven to this point we have been.”

Another luminosity lit the forest floor at Obi-Wan’s side, and within it, a spectral Master Yoda formed.

There were things Vader remembered now, about the whispers, and things they said.

“Your voice, it was your voice,” he said.

“Mine was one, yes. There were others,” Qui-Gon said.

They had called to him from beyond the vision, called him to leave that path, to take the shorter path to his destiny, away from…

All the death and all the destruction, all his crimes—their weight fell upon him, fresh, cutting and crushing him, like lighsabers and the weight of worlds.

Thinking himself alone, afraid, he had heard only the voices of his victims…

“I didn’t understand. In my anger, I ignored them; in my fear, I fled from them…”

Vader fell to the forest floor. There he lay. He had come to the end of his will, the end of his reason. What he had done he knew; how he could go on, he did not know.

There were hands upon him, or what hands were when they weren’t entangled in flesh. They raised him to his feet.

I’m sorry, he thought to say, but the words died on his lips, and he felt his shame renewed.

“My masters,” he said.

“What did your son ask you to do?” Qui-Gon said.

“Luke…asked me to let go of my hatred.”

“And to come with him,” Obi-Wan said.

“And here you are,” Yoda said, emphasizing each word with a cane thrust.

“Now, let go of your fear,” Qui-Gon said. “Embrace the future, Anakin; embrace the days to come.”

He looked from face to face, saw what he felt. And he had promised Luke.

“Will I see you again?” he said.

Qui-Gon smiled. His hand rested on Anakin’s shoulder.

“What do your feelings tell you?” Obi-Wan said.

Yoda nodded.

“Soon,” Qui-Gon said, and the three of them faded into the night.

For a time, he watched the spaces where the three had appeared. He felt…strange.

The distance between the trees and the ship seemed no greater now than it had. The guards were nearby, near enough to have seen the three themselves. Yet they showed no sign of having noticed anything, not even his collapse.

Would they aid him now, if he asked?

He looked up again, at the stars. If he looked at them just right, they could almost be the stars over Mos Espa. If he could clear his mind…

Awareness flooded him then, up from the forest shadows, down from the skies, the stars—it was a presence, all-pervading, and the presence was the Force itself.

The Force was in balance. He had brought that balance: he had fulfilled the Prophecy. And his destiny now was to be of his own making.

A long time he looked up at the stars, watching them cross the sky, each upon its appointed path. When he was sure of his legs again, Anakin Skywalker began walking toward ship.


***

Okay, there it is. It's about 4,200 words, the longest in the series I think (so far): It was to have been the final story, and it could be left at that, but...as someone once said, "There is another."

For reading this one, I thank you. I hope you found it to your liking. I continue to work on what could be called Part 7 or the Epilog to "The Taking of Heads," which, as I mentioned yesterday, has the working title, "Mechanisms." When I have finished this entry, it is to that I shall turn. Updates to follow on that.

Now, since posting of this series has stretched on rather longer than I had anticipated, and because there are all those other parts still flopping around in the back entries of this blog, links to all the previous stories:

Read Part I: Like Grains of Sand

Read Part II: The Stakes

Read Part III: The Whispering

Read Part IV: The Hasty Stroke

Read Part V: The Trophy

Thanks for your attention. Questions and Comments welcome as always, of course. This entry ends...now.

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Updated 01-24-2013 at 08:41 PM by Lord Tesla

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  1. bango31's Avatar
    Very well done! Absolutely love your alternate version of things.
  2. Lord Tesla's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by bango31
    Very well done! Absolutely love your alternate version of things.
    Thanks for reading it, Bango! Glad you liked it. There's an epilog of sorts banging around my machine, if I can ever get settled down to writing again. Not to mention a half-dozen or so other projects in various states of chaotic incompletion. So...watch this space, as the saying goes.