As a rule I was not a melancholy person but I lacked the ability to deal with the emotions that had been dumped upon me by Lord Vader. When there were no more tears left to cry and that dull ache of despair had settled itself firmly in my gut, I curled up in a chair and stared mindlessly into space for hours. I don’t know how long I sat there and I didn’t care.
I had ignored all attempts anyone had made to get in touch with me, including answering the door or my personal comm. I just sat. So when the door to my quarters was finally opened from the outside, the lock overridden by a higher command, I probably should have been worried but I wasn’t.
Backlit by the bright hallway, Lord Vader stood in the door way and stared. I glanced up at him from where I sat and then went back to gazing out of the window. I could sense he was angry with me, perhaps angry enough to finally get rid of me. I welcomed the release from this horrible emptiness that the probable death at his hands would bring.
For a moment time stood still, the officers in the corridor behind him all held their breath. The only sounds were the distant hum of the ship and the mechanics of Lord Vader’s breathing.
“Leave!” He commanded and even in my own sorry state I sensed the relief that surged from these men as they hurried away, back to their respective duties and places as far from Vader as they could manage. He walked into the dark room, the door hissing shut behind him and came to stand in front of the window, deliberately blocking my view. I sat there wondering why he just didn’t get my execution over with and be done with it. Instead he simply stood there, still and statue like, hands clasped behind his back, the rhythmic breathing filling the room.
Eventually he spoke. “I have been amiss in your training.” He said. “I underestimated your ability to absorb emotions from others. It is such a rare and unusual force talent that it is easily overlooked. You seem unusually gifted in this area. I should have seen it sooner, as it ties in directly with your ability to sense deception. ”
I stared at his back and said nothing.
“Without the proper tools this ability to empathise and feel the emotions of others will tear you apart. You absorb all that is around you and take it as your own until you no longer know who you are. What you feel now does not belong to you yet it consumes you as though it did. It is of little wonder you resist my teachings and are so difficult to train. Your own talents make you nearly useless as a dark side adept. Still, the Emperor has impressed up on me his wishes that you be taught to control and apply your various talents.” He paused a moment to let his next statement sink in. “He does not feel my instructing you is a waste of my time. He feels you will be of some small value to the Empire, that your unique talent combination makes you useful in areas where brute force does not work.”
I wasn’t certain I liked the sound of that and the not so subtle barb about me wasting Vader’s time had stung, as it was meant to. I sensed disappointment in him that I was turning less and less into the ideal student he had originally foreseen. Yet for all that, whether he or I liked it or not, the bond that had been forged between us was there, stronger than ever. I remained silent. Mulling over what he had said.
I had always been very sensitive to what others where feeling and thinking. For as long as I could recall I could walk into a room and tell who was happy and who was not. I saw emotions the way most people saw colour. I picked up stray thoughts and images from those around me with the same casualness people picked up something they had dropped on the floor. Sometimes, I was even able to get feelings, pictures from objects that I touched. To a certain extent I had learned to block these sensations but it was impossible when the emotions were as overwhelming and as powerful as those Lord Vader had showered me with. I was aware that this gift enabled me to manipulate others but usually I tried to avoid that and I shuddered when I thought about what I had done to Ormante’s men, what I had tried to do to Za’ar.
Lord Vader’s voice broke into my thoughts. “You are useless in this current state so we will begin by teaching you some rudimentary methods of shielding yourself.” He said and before I had time to even consider answering he had turned, grabbed me by the upper arm and hauled me out of the chair to stand. He dragged me out into the hall, the light was so bright it made me squint, and marched down the corridors to one of his training rooms. I had to run to keep up with him and not have my arm torn out of its socket in the process. The pitying glances of the men that we passed did little to make me feel better.
The room was smaller than most and dimly lit. I would have thought that this served the purpose of a meditation chamber but the absence of Lord Vader’s hyperbaric chamber told me this was not the case.
“Sit.” He barked once the door was closed and I was standing almost in the middle of the room. Without thinking I dropped into meditation pose but before I could even get comfortable he had hauled me to my feet once again.
“No,” he said, “desert style.” and proceeded to sit in just that way across from me. His annoyance and impatience filled the room, curling itself around me the way his cloak wrapped about him. I sat down again, this time with my legs crossed and my arms resting in my lap.
“Now, use what you have been taught and find your center.” He instructed and to my surprise he began to do the same. I felt the shift as he began to focus his thoughts and his emotions. I sighed and worked to slow my breathing down. To listen to my own heart beat and find that place within where all energies became one. We sat in stillness.
Only when he had centered himself, focusing his powers, his anger to a single point and when he was certain that I had found a place where I could at least begin to listen and accept what ever training he was about give did he break the silence.
He told me to describe what I had felt when I had picked up the emotions and the images from him that morning.
“It was like the worst ever sandstorm imaginable and I stand in it without out shelter, without any place to hide or go. It is as if the sand and the wind replace all that it is inside of me with emptiness. It is a place without hope or light. Your pain, your sorrow is so vast and so empty… there is no hope.” I choked on the words, the ache of the pain flooding back to me in an unexpected rush
“You leave yourself open and vulnerable. Even now I can see you struggle. You must learn to see without absorbing everything you feel into yourself. You do not have enough Force strength to do that and stay sane.” He said. “What Master Kjestyll teaches you is how to protect yourself from physical attack, use the same technique to block the stream of emotion.”
I looked up at him. “How in the name of Sarlacc do I do that? The two things are as different as night and day?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No, they are not different. You just perceive them as such. It is all energy. Does master Kjestyll not teach you how to deflect physical energy by absorbing it into your body and then to redirect it?” he asked.
“Then use that.” He said and without warning I found myself suddenly engulfed in a blistering anger. I sucked in my breath and fought the wave of nausea that accompanied it.
“Block it.” Lord Vader said in a low growl.
It hurt, this anger. It was a sickening, mental assault that twisted me from the inside out. I wanted to lash back at him but I did not have the strength. I took a deep shuddering breath and remembered the words from Master Kjestyll. ‘Do not try to find the stillness, become the stillness.’ It was something for me to cling to. I concentrated on the memory of his voice, I remembered the day he had taught me this saying and how it had felt when I had found that quiet place where all energy gathered.
It was a small thing and tenuous at best but it was a start. This anger that Lord Vader lashed out at me was as vicious as a sandstorm but even storms must blow themselves out and winds must eventually die down. So I pictured the great Dune Sea in my mind and imagined the anger as the wind flowing all over this wide vast and empty place. I held the image of the clear night sky in my mind and allowed the energy to flow upwards towards the stars and beyond, the way the heat from the day will vanish in the night. To my surprise it had worked. The anger that had filled me to the point of almost consuming me had gone leaving only quietness in its wake, but it had taken a lot of effort and I was trembling from it.
“Again.” He instructed.
And so we continued over and over again. Each time it became a little easier to deal with and deflect the onslaught of emotions that he assaulted me with.
“I see a small improvement. Now, once more.” He said and again I was assaulted with an emotion, but this time instead of the anger he had been using it was that same bitter sorrow I had felt earlier and along with it came images, perhaps unintentional, of a young woman, beautiful and vivacious, the same woman whose grave I had visited. I heard her laughter in my mind and felt her touch upon my skin as if it were my memory and not one from someone else. There was passionate desire and so much all consuming love I thought I would drown in it. The worst of it was all through these carefully preserved memories lay the anguish of loss. I was suddenly, completely immersed in it all.
“If you cannot learn to control this, you will die, girl.” He hissed.
How could I fight against the almost overwhelming strength of these memories and this terrible pain? I doubled over and fought the scream I wanted to let lose. How could I combat such grief especially since it was also mine? I too, had suffered the loss of someone I dearly loved. This anguish was also in me. I fought to clear my head and find a way to go beyond the suffering.
I turned my thoughts away from what he was showing me and grasped at a memory that was mine and only mine, my mother. At first I pictured my mother’s smile and that was a place to start. Slowly, I found space to think. I envisioned her arms holding me tightly and the sweetness of her comfort. Once I was in a place where I felt safe, I let the visions and emotions Lord Vader was forcing on me come.
I thought about this dead woman’s sister and the gravesite, both of which had been at peace. I let his sorrow wash through me and pour into the water of the lake in my own memory. I let the images of her smile and the sound of her laughter linger so that soon it was all I heard. Then I opened myself up fully as I was able to, allowed the energy that was my center to shine and let the connection I had with Lord Vader act as a conduit. This bond worked two ways. I touched that space we shared, that tenuous thread and I sent these images and these memories back to him. I pushed my own impressions of that place surrounded by the beauty of the lake and the peace of the small garden where this woman had been laid to rest to cascade upon him. I felt his surprise and all that had lain open between us suddenly closed with a swift and violent block. The shock of it made me gasp and open my eyes. The first thing I realised was that I no longer wanted to die, or felt as though I had been wrapped in some terrible never ending fog of grief. I felt normal again.
He was silent for a moment. “You learn fast for one so young, for one so unschooled. Perhaps the Emperor was right. There is more to you than meets the eye.” He said as he got to his feet. “We will practice more at a later time, this was enough for now.” He said abruptly, but without anger.
I stood up slowly, shakily and looked at the chrono on the wall, what had felt like only a few moments had been many hours and it was very late. I also noticed for the first time that Lord Vader’s chest plate looked as though someone had shot at it.
“My lord, you are…hurt…damaged?” I asked resisting the urge to touch the melted, scorched armour.
“It is nothing.” He said brushing my words away with a gesture. “People will never learn that their puny skills are no match for the Dark Side, yet still they insist on attempting to assassinate me.”
“Then your trip to Void City was unproductive?” I asked as we walked to the door of the room.
“Your ability to state the obvious never ceases to amaze me.” He replied tersely.
I took that as a ‘yes’.
He continued. “You will return to Naboo in the morning I have no further use for you here and work to do that requires no distractions.” He stopped, turned and looked at me. “Practice what I taught you here today. You are useless to me otherwise. There will be times when it is necessary for me to communicate with you via the force telepathy. I do not wish a repeat of your inability to cope with the side effects.” He told me, pointing his finger at me.
It was not the first time he had called me a distraction or useless, I was certain it would not be the last. I nodded but before he could open the door and walk away I blurted out the question that had been burning a hole in my mind right from the moment he had handed me that Japor snippet.
“Who was she?” I asked.
He whirled around and for what seemed an age he did nothing but stare at me. Then, much to my shock, he said,
“She was my wife.” And before I could say another word he swept out of the room and left.