Disclaimer: Everything owned by George Lucas.
Thanks to: HonorH, for beta-reading.
Timeline: Post-Revenge of the Sith, obviously.
Author's Note: It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge one particular notion in "Sound" was inspired by Fernwithy's excellent story "Isolation".
Now that he has no fingers made of flesh left and what remains of his skin will never feel anything but the metal of medical droids and the suit they keep him in, he seems to remember every single thing he ever touched. All the repair tools at Watto's shop. His mother's face, saying goodbye to her twice, the second time feeling the dried blood, sweat and tears under his fingertips, which nourished the murderous fury in his heart. Obi-Wan's hesitant fingers, cutting his hair after Qui-Gon's funeral, brushing the bare skin at his neck. Her hands, covering him with a blanket; the stretched skin of her belly, and the movement of the child; her mouth, making sense of his life after all.
He had not touched any of his victims. If you kill with a lightsaber, it cauterizes the wound at once. There is not even blood. If you kill through the Force, no physical weapon is necessary at all. He dimly recalls some of his victims touching him, though. One of the Tusken women, grabbing at his cloak. And Gunray, desperate Gunray, trying to find a way, any way to stop him, clutching one of his wrists. He does not wish to recall these touches, but the body is stubborn. It provides physical memory even beyond physical existence. He does not have human legs any more, but he still can feel one of the younglings, trying to catch his ankle to stop him from moving on.
The last touch he remembers, though, the last contact with living flesh, did not come from a victim, or from a friend. He has no words any more for what the Emperor is to him. In fact, when he noticed Palpatine bending over him, he had assumed that the man would complete what Obi-Wan had not. Not out of mercy, of course, and not for punishment; but simply because a dying cripple was of no more use, and in all his incarnations – Chancellor, Sith Lord, and Emperor – Palpatine had above all been pragmatic. There was no practical reason to touch the burned skin of his head, and yet that was what Palpatine had done.
His mind, busy rearranging and fixing things in the way his fingers used to do with every malfunctioning instrument in the universe, tries to change this particular memory. He first wants her to have been the last person, embracing him when she left her ship, but rejects the pretty and prettifying lie. What he did to her does not allow for such a rearrangement. Then he considers Obi-Wan, and rejects the idea even more firmly. So it is fitting, after all; he had watched Palpatine's flesh burn away and reform at the moment when his old self broke apart, and there was a justness in Palpatine presiding over the physical demise of what used to be Anakin Skywalker as well.
Hearing everything through sensors now, including the voice that is not his own but the product of a modulator, he occasionally wonders whether these versions of sound are more or less accurate than what he recalls. He had never thought the sounds of machines to be inferior. Working with them from his childhood onwards, he could discern individual R-units from each other, could diagnose what was wrong with an engine by just listening. Sometimes, he had wondered what human voices truly sounded like for droids whose receptors were far more sensitive than the organic ear. Well, now he knows.
Because all voices, all noises and even the stillness reach him filtered through data these days, he knows quite well when he is hallucinating or falling into memory again. It is useful, being able to differentiate. He does not sleep anymore, after all. The suit, which regulates his body, cannot risk that. Why, his unconscious mind might use the Force to damage it beyond repair before anyone could interfere. And machines do not need to sleep; given the percentage of his body that is machine now, the conclusion is obvious.
The psyche needs periods of relaxation, though; that was why he meditates. During meditation, strange things can happen. One could, for example, imagine one heard the voice of a long-dead man, unfiltered, sounding exactly as it had done when there were ears to hear it. Calling a name that is as dead as the speaker.
Anakin. Anakin, I know you can hear me.
But he can't. Qui-Gon Jinn is gone, and while a human listener might have let himself persuaded that he hears Qui-Gon's voice nonetheless, the Emperor's new creation knows better. After all, he is blessed with receptors which tell him that he does not hear a thing.
Growing up on a desert planet, the first thing he had noticed about Naboo had been the overabundance of smells. Which hadn't been true for Coruscant; brief and bewildering as his first time there had been, spent mostly in floors and waiting rooms with the Gungan while the adults made up their minds about him; there had only been the sterile, filtered air and the dust of official robes.
Naboo, though. Naboo and the forests. There was an explosion of smells, sweet, spicy, mouldering, blooming, and above all drenched in humidity. It had been intoxicating. Even if she had not called the planet her home, he would have loved it for this revelation alone.
This is all academic now. The last thing he had ever smelled had been his own burning flesh. It should not have been so unfamiliar. After all, it was only a matter of degree. He should have recognised the smell of burning flesh. That is how a lightsaber cauterizes a wound, after all; through burning it. The Council Chamber had held no other smell when he had left it. After.
And yet. Even the smell of burning flesh had degrees, it appears. Or perhaps genuine fire burns differently. Lying on the black earth of Mufastar, the smell chocked him and forced him to cry out, but the words didn't pierce it, they just fell back on him. The stench was all that was left.
He still smells it. There is no physical cause; during his periodic examinations, the medical droids told him that the skin that covered his torso and face now had shed all of the old cells. They even showed him, in a mirror. It is stark white, but certainly unburned. They had to replace the droids after that particular examination. Not the mirror; there is no more need for one in any case.
The new droids cannot rid him of the smell, either, and his sensors keep confirming their analysis: there is no stench of burning flesh.
It is all he smells nonetheless.
During the Clone War, he and Obi-Wan had often be forced to live from field rations for weeks. They were perfectly sufficient in terms of nutrients, but swallowing pills was a poor replacement for a real meal nonetheless, though it was still closer to eating than the injections that kept his organic body functioning these days. They had a game going, Obi-Wan and he, throughout the war; each time one of them saved the other's life, the rescued one owed a dinner at Dexter's. When they would return to Coruscant. After the war, when everything was over. It had been hard to keep score of who owed the most dinners, though.
"Doesn't matter," Obi-Wan had declared, "we'll keep him in business for weeks."
There is no more Dexter on Coruscant. Some survival instinct must have told him to leave when the treachery of the Jedi was revealed. His restaurant isn't there any more, either. Lord Vader has indulged himself by destroying it singlehandedly, supposedly while looking for clues for the whereabouts of what Jedi were still at large and unaccounted for. If the troops assigned to him found this eccentric or surplus to requirements, they did not comment. They are quickly learning it is wiser not to.
No more Dexter or Dexter's restaurant, then. In a little while, even the name will be forgotten. By everyone except himself, as his mind refuses to wipe out even the most insignificant of data, such as the taste of the meal Dexter had served the first time Obi-Wan had taken him there. The food at the temple had seemed so bland in comparison; this had been real, the way things had tasted in Mos Espa. Salty bread, rich meat, and the sweetness of berries.
In a true show of superfluousness, his mouth still produces saliva, and his teeth are still intact. Trying to consume anything other than fluids would kill him, of course. He doubts that anyone will try this particular method of assassination, though. Sometimes he wonders whether he shouldn't ask the droids to replace throat, mouth and tongue anyway. It isn't as if he needs them.
Somehow, he never gets around to giving the command. Given that having artificial legs and arms did not remove the memory of touch, either, it probably would not change anything anyway.
Once he has constructed a sterile chamber which makes it safe to do so, at least for an hour, he has the helmet removed once a day, if possible. He doesn't quite know why his eyes have not been blinded or at least damaged by the flames together with the rest of his body, but in fact, he can see quite clearly. In theory, he could demand a new construction that would allow him to use his own eyes permanently, instead of viewing the world through redscreened computer data.
He has not considered this for longer than a few moments. Only a fool would abandon a superior instrument for an inferior one, and he is quite aware that the fact no one can see his eyes contributes to the aura of intimidation and fear around him. Yes, the mask has to be uncompromised by human allowances. His master had been wise to choose it.
It is a sign of his own weakness that the sight of the mask descending on his face still provides him with an echo of what he had felt the first time this had happened. Perhaps this is why he goes through the ritual day by day; because he is sure that sooner or later, it will stop having any significance at all. He will see nothing but a useful precaution about to engulf him.
There is nothing else his eyes will ever see. The meditation chamber with its safe, flawless walls, and the mask. He cannot imagine there is a sight left worth seeing without the mask in any case. He will not have to look at her through it, after all, and if fate ever provides him with Obi-Wan again, if that circle will finally be completed, the memory of staring at him through the flames will be quite sufficient.
Lack of natural sleep means lack of dreams, too, and so he is finally spared of any more glimpses to the future. One might say that he has become blind, fully functioning eyes in an antiseptic environment notwithstanding.
Blindness is a blessing, he decides, staring up once more to the mask descending, and cursing his treacherous instincts for continuing to provide unwanted reactions. Of all the senses, he would be most glad to lose this one.
There is nothing he wishes to see with his own eyes ever again.