When Darth Vader walked
down the ramp of the shuttle he was still arguing with himself
– this was not a good idea. He just had to compare the
resources required and the benefits of the outcome of this little jaunt
and it was obvious that the latter did not justify the former.
But he had to do something. After such a long time, there had finally been news that Shura wa alive. The eight men and women of the military police marched out the shuttle and formed up in two lines behind him. At least he knew that they would not ask questions.
Darth approached the massive, low door, but was saved the embarrassment of having to knock, when the door was opened from the inside.
The small figure stepping onto the doorstep was Naureska, Shura’s mother.
Darth was for a moment speechless, memories came flooding back with such intensity they made him physically hurt. He had spend some of his happiest days here, with Shura. Her family, this place and the times he had stayed here with Shura, his mind seemed to be overwhelmed with memories of the past. Here they had had peace and quiet, friends and family. The memories of these days were so vivid he could almost smell the scented air, feel the waft of warmth coming from inside.
“Is there a problem?” Naureska asked, looking up at him, unfazed by his no-doubt unwelcome visit.
For a second Darth was surprised that she asked, he was here to find her daughter. Then, he remembered. “We are looking for your daughter, Admiral Talassa,” the rasping sound of his voice sounded unfamiliar to himself. Somehow for a few moments there he had forgotten that he was now somebody else, somebody Naureska did not know.
Naureska raised her eye-brows. “My daughter?” she asked.
“Admiral Shura Talassa, your daughter,” he replied.
“Shura?” Naureska looked genuinely surprised. “I haven’t seen her for more than a year now.”
“Search the house,” Darth told the troops still standing motionless behind him.
Naureska straightened up, “Do you have a warrant?” she asked sharply, and for a moment she looked as if she wanted to try to block the door. Then, she stepped aside, letting the soldiers file into the house past her. “I forgot you don’t need these things anymore.” she said, almost to herself.
She looked old, Darth realised. Older than he remembered her. The events of the last years had taken a heavy toll off her. First her husband and one of her sons had been killed, then her daughter disappeared. – And, Darth realised, his own ‘death’ would have been hard for her too. She had visited him once in hospital, he had been told, when he had been still in the coma after the accident.
“Why do you think she is here?” Naureska asked.
Darth realised that standing here, still outside the house, must give the impression as if he was not sure whether what he was doing was right. Moreover, he did not want to get into a debate with Naureska now. Instead of answering he strode through the entrance hall and into the lower hall. It looked empty without the family that usually assembled here. With an effort he pushed the thoughts of his other visits to this place aside, concentrating on the here and now.
He could hear his troops searching the house, doors opened, steps rang up and down the multitude of staircases. One of the female soldiers was looking through the cabinets in the lower hall.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” a woman shouted.
Darth turned around, to face the person who came running into the room. For a moment he was too shocked to say anything.
It was Shura’s younger sister Kyrela who equally surprised stopped in the door. Her hair was in disarray and she was wearing only a long shirt.
“What the hell is going on?” she demanded to know.
Darth had never realised that Kyrela looked so much like her sister, he had always thought they looked nothing alike, but suddenly he noticed that there was something about her face that was very much like Shura’s. Kyrela’s hair was much lighter and wavy, she was a lot shorter than her sister, her face was rounder, but it was plain to see that they were sisters. Nothing to pinpoint specifically, just the general shape of her features.
Kyrela stared at Darth and then rushed on, grabbing one of the female soldier and pulled her away from the silver cabinet.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Kyrela yelled at the startled woman.
“They are looking for Shura,” Naureska said from behind Darth’s back.
“Shura?” Kyrela let the arm of the woman go.
There was a loud clatter from upstairs, and a male voice, no doubt Kyrela’s husband Mhides, could be heard swearing at the top of his voice.
This was getting out of hand. Darth shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts. If he wouldn’t do something soon somebody would get hurt.
Darth hastened upstairs, as fast as he could. This was definitely not going the way he had wanted. There was a loud thump, and one of the soldiers yelled in pain. Behind him he could hear Naureska ordering her daughter to stay where she was.
Fortunately, Darth thought, he knew his way around. He stormed into the room that he remembered to be Kyrela’s, just in time, the soldier slouching against the wall, was pulling his gun. Darth slapped it out of his hand, before the soldier could fire.
Mhides had obviously been asleep when the solder had come into his room, the dishevelled bed was proof of that. He leaned against the wall from which the heavy tapestry had fallen off and stared wide-eyed at Darth. Mhides seemed to be too terrified to notice that he was completely naked.
“We are here to apprehend a fugitive, not to shoot civilians.” Darth told the soldier, who looked almost as surprised as Mhides.
“But, he…” the soldier started, pointing at Mhides like a pouting child.
Just at this point, a baby started to wail in the next room.
“If they are hurting my babies, I’m going to kill them!” Mhides shouted, and started towards the door, as if he wanted to run through Darth and the solder.
This could not possibly get any worse.
It had to be stopped now. Darth grabbed Mhides by the throat adding some mental force to make the man stand still before he got himself shot.
Darth turned to the soldier. “You are going to remind your colleagues that we are here to search the house, not to kill anybody or ransack the property – is that understood.”
“Yes, sir,” the soldier replied and ran off.
“You,” Darth turned to Mhides, “are coming with me.”
Darth let go of Mhides, both physically and mentally, and immediately had to grab hold of him again, as the other man was about to collapse.
“My babies,” Mhides whispered with an effort.
“Stay here.” Darth said, sitting Mhides on the bed “Nobody is going to hurt your babies.”
Darth rushed up the stairs to the upper hall where the babies must be.
This operation certainly was turning into a complete catastrophe. He had come here to look for Shura, thought, hoped that she might be here, or that her family might at least know where she was, but instead, he had to run around like a lunatic to stop his soldiers from killing his wife’s family.
On top of that he had nearly killed her brother-in-law himself.
There were two soldiers in the hall. One of them had a wailing baby on his arm, trying frantically to calm it down, the other soldier was leaning over the cot where the other baby was crying.
“I don’t know what to do!” the second soldier complained in despair.
Now both soldiers jumped with surprise when they noticed Darth’s presence.
Well, Darth thought, at least they are not trying to shoot the babies. It was easy to calm the babies down – he had had plenty of opportunity to practice this trick with his other nephews and nieces after all.
There were still five soldiers on the lose somewhere in the house, he had to make sure that none of them killed anybody. Shura’s younger brother must be somewhere…
“You,” Darth addressed the soldier who had no idea how to handle babies, wishing uselessly he knew these people, “are going upstairs and make sure that the others know this is a search and arrest operation, not a pillage and murder spree.”
The soldier looked somewhat startled but disappeared without comment.
The other soldier was still holding the baby, it was quiet now, and stared with round eyes at Darth.
The two babies seemed to be the same age, seven or eight months, Darth thought. They must have been born around the same time as his new personality. An odd thought that.
Mhides had hopefully recovered by now, he would be coming to look after his children.
No, he would not, Darth realised. He had told him to stay in his room, and Mhides would do exactly that. This meant that the babies would have to be brought to him.
The soldier was still standing on the other side of the cot, rocking the baby gently. He must have children of his own, Darth thought in a random fashion. The soldier looked a bit startled, uncertain of what to do know. Darth heaved a sigh, if his new persona would not survive being seen carrying a baby, it would not last anyway. Standing around doing nothing was not particularly good for his image either, now was it?
Carefully he picked the baby up, which immediately tried to paw his mask.
“Come,” he ordered the other solider, who now had an expression on his face, as he was not sure whether he should start screaming or laughing and tried hard not to do either.
It was too late now to worry to much about appearances. Darth just hope that somehow he would get away from this place without turning himself into a complete joke.
Mhides was indeed still sitting on the bed, he had not stirred since Darth had left. Now he slowly and still a bit uncertain got to his feet.
Darth handed the baby he was holding to him and told the soldier that he should help Mhides and when they were all ready come downstairs.
Perhaps he could somehow get himself out of here without further complications. The idea of just simply gathering his troops and depart was very tempting.
Darth stopped in the middle of the short steps leading down to the lower hall. He wished he could somehow vent his frustration. But banging his head against the wall would completely ruin his image as the mysterious, superior creature he and his accomplices had worked so hard to create. – It would probably do no good anyway, except perhaps dent his helmet.
What had he thought when he decided to come here? Of course, he knew, he had thought nothing, he had just been desperate to do something. He set this ludicrous operation in motion, because he wanted to find out what happened to his wife, because he was worried for her, because he still missed her awfully.
Well, he continued his way down, this ought to be a lesson to him. In future, he should let other people handle the search for Shura. At least he should not get personally involved.
“Sir,” the sergeant stood to attention as he entered the room. She looked worried, probably she was wondering to which bleak, minuscule outpost she would find herself posted to tomorrow.
Darth nodded at her, after all, it was his fault, he had not given specific enough instructions before he sent her troops in.
The inhabitants of the house, where sitting nervously on the sofa, all staring at him. The youngest sibling Solan sat close to his sister Kyrela, holding her hand. Naureska had her hands folded in her lap and a curious expression on her face. A middle-aged man sat on another chair, who must be a guest or one of the people the family employed to help with the farm. They all looked unharmed.
“Sir,” the sergeant said again, trying to get his attention.
“Yes, sergeant?” he turned to her.
For a moment a spark of hope rose in him, they might have found some information about Shura after all but the blank expression on the sergeant’s face quashed this hope at once.
“We have ascertained the identity of all the people here,” the sergeant reported, “Naureska Eris, born…”
“Sergeant,” Darth interrupted her, “I don’t need their biographies, I need their names and whether they know anything of the whereabouts of Shura Talassa.”
“Sir,” Naureska stood up and took a few steps towards Darth. “We have not heard or seen anything of Shura since just after her husband’s death.” She made a small pause, then she continued. “We would very much like to know where she is too. Why are you coming here? Now? Have you heard anything from her?”
“She has been identified as one of the terrorist who attacked the Falisa Nebula trading post,” Darth answered, before he realised what he was doing.
Naureska was now standing so close in front of him, she was almost standing on his toes.
“Why do you think, she would come here?” she asked.
Darth had forgotten what a cunning woman his mother-in-law was. He had the distinct impression she knew…
“You are her mother,” he replied curtly, “and now sit down, woman.”
Naureska hesitated but returned to the sofa and sat down obediently.
The questioning of Shura’s family was a boring, tedious and futile business. Darth started to pace up and down in frustration. He knew that they were telling the truth, but now that he started this business he could not just simply break it off. His mood was not improved by the fact that Naureska continued to watch him with a strange, almost amused look on her face.
What the hell had he been thinking about when he decided to come here? These people had all known him when he was still Anakin Skywalker, would they not have to realise that this strange creature who seemed so keen on finding Anakin Skywalker’s wife was indeed him?
But he was dead, Darth told himself, Anakin Skywalker was dead and buried.
Sergeant Reeth had four of her people search the house again, this time she specifically instructing them not to cause any damage to the property. They downloaded the information on the memory-chips of their communication units and two and a half hours after they had arrived, they left, empty-handed.
* * *
Darth went to his quarter
as soon as the shuttle had returned to the star destroyer. He had to
think about this little escapade of his. Though he really wished he
just could push the entire event into a dark corner of his mind and
never think about it again.
He did not feel well either. Worse than usual, to be precise. He never felt ‘well’ in the first place. Now, he felt slightly dizzy and his legs were aching as if he had been on a long run.
When he returned to Coruscant he had to explain this episode to Diam. That would certainly not be a pleasant chat.
When he entered his quarters, Qar scrambled to her feet and switched the holo-pad off. She had been lying on the sofa, watching some soap with an expression of deadly boredom. Her position as his personal physician must be mortally dull for much of the time, now that he did not need her constant attention any more. Perhaps he should ask her to stay behind on Coruscant in the future.
“I thought you might need me,” she said, as if an explanation for her presence was necessary.
“I do,” Darth said.
Of course, he still needed her, and perhaps not only as a physician. She was the only person next to Diam who would dare to appear in his quarters unannounced, and perhaps she was now the only person including Diam he could talk to.
“Ok,” Qar said simply.
Darth sat down on his medi-chair. Qar had already started the computer and machines up. Sometimes he wondered how she so often knew in advance how he was feeling.
“What’s the problem,” she asked, as she removed his helmet.
Darth told her his immediate problems, but also that they still had to work on this construct that kept him alive and mobile. He did not intend to run about the start destroyer to keep fit – even if that were an option – but he had to be able to move fast if he needed to and as he had noticed down on Tressilia this was a problem.
They discussed the details of this difficulty, possible solutions and some improvements Qar had been working on for a while now, while she was measuring, scanning and analysing his body and administered some drugs. Darth was happy for this safe topic to come up, he had still to calm down from the awful mess he had gotten himself into.
“The dizziness was a result of the respirator not adapting sufficiently to the stress you were under,” Qar explained after a while, “I have to look into that again.”
She handed a print-out with several rows of numbers on it to Darth. “It didn’t go well, did it?” she asked then, looking him straight in the eye.
Darth stared down at the paper for a moment, wondering whether she could see this from the numbers or whether it was just intuition. No, if he had found anything they would be on their way to catch Shura now or had even brought her with them.
“No,” he admitted. “It was a complete disaster. – Next time I am about to do something that stupid, please stop me.”
“The last time I tried to stop you from doing something silly, you broke my arm,” Qar replied with a genuinely affectionate smile. She was an odd person.
“That was an accident,” Darth said
. “I wouldn’t want to be killed by accident either,” Qar countered. “It’s enough if one of us was.”
“Oh, great lord,” Darth exclaimed, startling Qar who took a step backward, “this was such a enormous, complete cock-up. What the fuck did I think of when I decided to go there?”
“You were trying to find your wife,” Qar replied.
“Exactly!” Darth yelled, or tried to, the respirator made a funny noise and stopped for a split-second, before starting back up.
“Hang on,” Qar said and hastily twiddled with the machine. “Now you can shout, if you want to.”
Darth stared at his physician and for a moment wanted nothing so badly as burst into tears, how could anybody live like he had to? But almost as strong was his urge to laugh, and so he laughed. It was definitely a case of it would be funny if it were not so sad.
Qar watched him with the smile that he knew so well, affectionate and almost possessive. He was her master-piece after all.
“That is the point,” Darth said, “I went there to look for my wife. I seem to have forgotten that Shura Talassa’s husband is dead an buried, I have nothing to do with her, except that she suddenly decided to be a serious embarrassment to Palpatine. And being there, it brought it all back.” He paused for a moment, to let Qar understand. “I was that close, to ask my mother-in law where my wife was. My wife! In one moment I could have ruined the entire work we have been doing for the last year and more.”
“But you did not,” Qar tried to reassure him.
“No, but I am sure, my mother-in-law knows damned well who I am.” Darth thought back to Naureska’s knowing eyes following him as he had paced the lower hall. “I did not tell her, but I did about everything else wrong that I could possible do wrong. I ended up having to run about to stop my troops killing these people and I had to carry a baby.”
“Well, I guess we could always blow the place to bits, and have the soldiers who witnessed your embarrassment shot,” Qar suggested.
Darth looked at her, and she seemed to be absolutely serious.
“No,” he replied, “that wont be necessary. – I have learned a lesson today, a very important lesson. Anakin Skywalker may be dead but his spirit does not rest yet.”
Qar hesitated a moment but then asked what seemed to weigh heavily on her mind. “Darth, why is it so important to you that you keep up this fiction that you and Anakin Skywalker are two different people even to yourself? I thought at first it was just until you and everybody else got used to Darth Vader, but …”
“Because it is the only way I can bear this,” Darth interrupted her. “The only way I can stand to have to live this life. If I pretend it has always been like this, that there was no alternative, that I had a normal life, a wonderful wife and lost it all.”
“Why don’t you go and kill the bastard then?” Qar asked, as if she did not know.
“Because, destroying all he believes in, is going to be a much sweater revenge than just killing him.” Darth explained even though he had told her that a dozen times at least. “Then I might kill him.”
“And Shura?” Qar wanted to know.
Darth sighed, “I have to learn to ignore her.”
“That wont be easy,” Qar said, as she started to put his suit back together. “I think she has no intention to just go away.”
“No,” Darth had to agree, “That is not her style.”
“No,” Qar said. For a while she kept silent to her work, then she asked, “you would still not want her dead?”
Darth shook his head. Anakin’s restless spirit was still in love with her.
“I guess this would not be the appropriate time to mention how much I admired her?” Qar wanted to know as she placed the helmet on his head.
“No,” Darth said and got up, “but you have told me before. You also told me that you admired her husband, that pilot who got himself killed after the war.”
“Yes,” Qar agreed, “what a tragedy.”