The Hand that Guides 2

Why is it that where ever Lord Vader is concerned nothing is straight forward or simple? Most people think it is and that everything with him is black or well…black but that is not really the case. Nothing is ever as it seems in the Empire, nothing.

The Emperor loves games, political intrigue and the manipulation of all of his subjects, pawns and people close to him. He plays one against the other and sits back to see who comes out on top then begins it all over again. I was only just beginning to see all of this. Some of it had been pointed out to me by Thrawn and was most obvious at the great functions everyone attended. Some of it I was seeing on my own from the memos and interoffice letters that flew about fast and furious. People of the Imperial court formed their own alliances and made their own political beds, everyone vying for the Emperor’s favour and good grace. Nothing changed it seemed. I had seen the same things at Jabba’s. Oh, there had been less politeness and the viciousness was more laid out in the open but the intrigue, back stabbing and intricate dance of climbing to the top were all the same. The only difference about what went on at Jabba’s was it was all a little more honest, less veiled in secrecy and etiquette.

I knew from the whispers I heard and the insinuations that flew about the palace that almost everybody thought of Lord Vader as nothing more than the Emperor’s ‘iron fist’. His over-dressed, foul tempered henchman who swept in when all diplomacy failed and slaughtered any and all who would dare oppose the Emperor’s will and partly this was true but there was more there beneath the surface, hidden behind the mask and cloak.

Lord Vader was moody and pensive. He carried his anger and bitterness around with him as though it were the most precious thing in the galaxy. He hungered for something that was more than power, more than the sum of his hatred and rage. I sometimes got the feeling that it was not only the galaxy in general that he hated so much but also himself. I guess it was easier to turn that feeling outward and direct it at everyone and everything that it was to look inward and deal with it. I often wondered what it was that had made him feel this way. It was as if he held some deep and dark secret about himself close to his chest and it ate at him body and soul. I knew that most people never felt or saw or read anything other than fury from him, too afraid to see or sense anything else. This was how the Empire liked it. Rule through Fear. Most people are not force sensitive and never picked up on the more subtle emotions that were present. Most people stayed as far away from Vader as they possibly could. I had neither luxury.

I had gone to the office as requested but Lord Vader was not there. A sulky droid passed along a data pad with an encrypted message to me that I was to meet him at the Retreat landing pad. When I got there I was surprised to see him standing near my ship, talking to one of the Imperial pilots. The pilot stiffened when he saw me and gave me a smart little imperial bow then with a salute to Lord Vader he left the area a little too quickly for my tastes.

“You took your time.” Lord Vader growled.

“Good Morning, my lord.” I answered, “You know, if you had sent me a direct comm message I would have been here sooner.”

“Comm messages can be overheard.” Was all the reply I was given.

I watched and then followed him as he walked around my ship. He was studying her, looking at the lines of the ship, the welds and joins. I knew that by where he looked and where he let his hand trace the lines. I knew because I had done the same thing when I had first seen her.

“Are you satisfied with this ship?” he asked as we stood in front of the gangway. It was closed.

I nodded. “Yes, my lord.” then remembered to add. “Thank you.” Then because I couldn’t help myself, “She's not much to look at on the outside but she’s a treat to fly.”

He gave me a glance that was hidden behind his mask. “I did not have the pleasure of testing her myself. I must go to the Devastator. You will take me and I can see if this ship was worth the credits that were paid for her.”

I opened her up and let him on board first. I did a quick pre flight ground check of the ship and then followed him in. I tried to ignore the fact that he was there and ran through all my usual systems checks. He said nothing but the rhythmic sound of his breathing was enough to put me on edge. This was a huge breech in protocol but no one was going to argue with Darth Vader. If he wanted to be ferried about in a civilian ship by his personal assistant then that was that. I can’t say I was all that happy about it either but I was also not about to argue with him. He didn’t seem to be in a bad mood and I didn’t really want to change that by pointing out protocol to him. It wasn’t among his favourite subjects anyway.

The ISD Devastator was in high orbit above Naboo. The trip there was short, tense and anything but sweet. The landing was fine but he growled anyway. We disembarked with Vader leading the way. He brushed past the pleasantries and swept through the ship with me running behind to keep up. He was starting to annoy me.

In the quarters designated his, where the hyperbaric chamber was, he finally stopped. The door closed and the only sounds were that of his mechanical breathing and the ship it self. I held my breath.

“I understand that your work for Captain Thrawn was satisfactory.” He stated. It was not a question so I didn’t answer. “His report was favourable. It would appear that you are capable of far more than sorting out my calendar and answering mail.” He paused and I stayed silent. “Thrawn believes that I am wasting your talents and the Emperor has also expressed an interest in your duties being expanded.”

I shifted slightly, unable to stop the sudden flash of annoyance I felt and he turned to look at me.

“This does not please you.” Another flat statement but he was right.

“I am not sure how to take all this concern for my career.” I said carefully.

Vader nodded. “Your feelings in this matter are not unknown to me however it is not wise to go against the Emperor’s wishes.” He said.

“Did you bring me all the way out here just to tell me that?” I asked crossly.

“I see your time with Thrawn did not improve your civility any.” Lord Vader said tartly.

I opened my mouth then closed it again. Best not to go there.

He stared at me for a moment and the air filled with that tension one gets right before a storm, this time most of that tension was coming from me, though.

“You are angry.” He said.

I watched him warily. “If I say yes, will you hurt me?”

“Now you fear me?” he asked. He seemed surprise by this.

I lost my temper. “What do you mean by ‘now’? Of course I am afraid of you. Everyone is afraid of you. You’d kill a mouse bot for squeaking the wrong way. I just try not to show it because it doesn’t get me anywhere. I can’t do my job properly if I am so wrapped up in fear I can’t think straight.” I said. “But unlike most people around here I am not absolutely terrified of you. Please don’t ask me why that is because I don’t know the answer to that myself.”

“Why hesitate with your opinions now?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“I don’t like explaining the bruises I end up with from you when you are mad and you take it out on me, even if it is while we are sparring.”

He was silent for a moment. “Perhaps I was wrong about the Captain’s influence.” He paused and then said. “Speak your mind.”

“I feel like I am being manipulated without a say in what or how this all happens. All this secrecy and sneaking around. I have never experienced anything like it before. I mean, I’ve seen it happen but not to me. It is driving me crazy. Everyone is playing games and I feel like a tiny bug caught up in the middle of sandstorm.” I told him.

He was silent for a long time and had moved to stand by the view-port so that he looked out into the space beyond. He had folded his arms across his chest and the air in the room felt weighted and thick. When he finally broke the silence what he said was unexpected to say the least.

“Being manipulated, it is not a pleasant experience I agree.”

“How would you know? No one would dare manipulate you.” I asked in surprise.

Lord Vader swiftly turned around to look at me. “You think I was always this way, as you see now?” he shook his head. “Once I was young and idealistic, much as you are. Unlike you, I did not see what was happening, how I was being used, as you feel you are, and I did not see the lies until it was too late.” He paused and the sound of his breathing filled the room. “Your ability to see through deception, your courage to address it is admirable. Unfortunately these games, as you so eloquently put it, are a part of life in the Imperial court, get used to it.”

“What happened to you then?” I risked asking.

He turned his head back to the window. “I was betrayed by someone I admired and even loved.” There was a moment when utter and raw sadness washed through the room and as quickly as I had felt it so it vanished to be replaced by a bitter anger. “It was a long time ago and I have moved on to greater things. I do not wish to discuss the past. It is your future we are talking about.” He turned away from the window and came to stand in front of me. He towered above me and it was as intimidating as all hell. “Tell me, what do you want?”

“To do the best job I can, what ever that job is.” I said, folding my arms across my chest, mirroring his stance.

He nodded. “Good.” He went to one of the consoles and pulled out a data pad which he then handed to me. “I need information…”

“What do you want to know?” I asked cutting him off when I read the name on the data pad.

“You know who this is?”

“Yes, I’ve met him several times. He worked for Jabba as a smuggler, had a good reputation until he messed it up. I know him enough to talk to on a casual basis. He and his co pilot, a Wookie, used to hang out in the Palace sometimes. They used our Docking bay a couple of times as well. He’s okay, a bit cocky though, smart mouthed.”

“You are full of surprises, girl.”

I looked up at him. “I worked for Jabba the Hutt, my father runs a docking bay in Mos Eisley, this stuff is common knowledge for people like me and you know that.”

He did not disagree with me. “What did you mean by ‘messed it up’?” he asked.

“Word was Solo got stopped and had to dump contraband cargo worth an awful lot of money. Jabba wasn’t too pleased about it, put a black mark against Solo’s name. The Hutts don’t like to lose.” I said.

Vader nodded as though he knew more about that than he was willing to say.

“Why do you want to know about Solo?” I asked. “He’s a smuggler, small time.” I wondered if this had any connection to Thrawn asking me about smugglers and bounty hunters. I would not put it past them. Despite their differences the Captain and Lord Vader seemed to work closely together, completely opposite from one another but working towards a common goal. That thought was very unnerving.

“His ship was involved in an incident I am investigating.” Vader said.

“It was the Falcon that blasted its way out of Bay 94?” I asked surprised.

There was a moment’s silence. “What do you know about that?”

I shrugged. "Just what my father told me. Not that much, there was some sort of fight and the Millennium Falcon blasted its way out of the bay 94. The docking bay was then closed for investigations. He said there had been trouble in the cantina too, rumours about a Jedi Knight waving a light saber around protecting some farmer’s kid from one of the local thugs.”

Vader had gone very still. “The name of this ‘farmer’s kid’?”

I shook my head. “No idea, we don’t have a lot of contact with the moisture farmers directly.” I said. “But, you know, papa mentioned that there had also been a series of killings out of town, a Jawa transport got hit and a moisture farm owned by a guy named Lars. He and his wife were killed. The Tuskens were blamed for it but word on the street was it was the Empire. Maybe these incidents are related.”

“Lars? Owen Lars?” Vader asked. Suddenly there was a tension in the room that was making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

“Maybe. Not too many people live out that way, near Anchorhead but I’d have to ask my father. He hears stuff all the time. Docking bay is a great place to be if you want the latest news and gossip.” I looked at him, wishing I could see past the mask. “You sound like you knew this farmer.”

“No.” he said but I tasted the lie behind that word. I did not press the issue. There was a new and sudden anger within Lord Vader that I didn’t understand. I was just glad it was not directed at me. He held out his hand and I gave him the data pad back.

“I will be away for a few days attending to business. I suggest you use the time to catch up on things.” He said. “I believe you were wishing to visit Theed?”

I nodded. “I have not been able to get there yet, so yes.” Letting him know I still had not done what he had asked with the Japor Snippet. He turned away from me, back to the window and the sorrow that I had tasted earlier came flooding back.

“See that you go. Theed is …a beautiful city. It has an impressive library” He said almost quietly. Then the mood shifted once again and he was all business like and cold.

“Yes, my lord.”

“You may leave now. I trust you will continue your training with Master Kjestyll, I expect you to do well in these endevours. It would displease me greatly should I hear you have not lived up to your full potential. We will have time to discuss your force training when I return. You may submit your daily reports via the usual channels, anything that is pressing can wait unless it is from the Emperor himself.” He said as he turned about, picked a different data pad from the consol near by. “This has information you will need and a list of things I require done before I return.” He said handing it to me.

“Yes, my lord.” I said as I took the data pad from his hand and watched as he turned away from me again. I stared at his back for longer than I should have and then left. I had no idea what to think of his moods and these strange conversations. I walked in silence, making my way back to the landing bay. The flight back to Naboo was a lot less stressful. By the time a got back to the office Master Kjestyll had replied that lessons would start immediately. He had set up a time and a place. All I had to do was show up. This meant I had a few hours to finish up, get some food and try to unwind a bit. The first two things would be easy to do, but unwinding after being in the presence of Lord Vader was a damn near impossible task.


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