AN: Please read For Darkness Restores from the prologue as I have edited and rewritten most of it as Iwas unhappy with it. I have updated all previous parts of Chapter 7.
For long time readers of this story can I apologise for the very long time it has taken me to write and get around to posting this new content (apart from the first scene - it's been slightly rewritten, too). I cannot promise regular updates, but I am determined to finish it - and my other works in progress.
Can I also thank all those wonderful people who have taken time to write me such kind comments over the years. Every single one means a lot to me. I hope I can continue to entertain you despite my clunky, out of practise writing.
Dark Times: Chapter 7
For Darkness Restores
Sometimes he thought he could remember before.
A strange word. One word that said so little, but so much at the same time.
It meant an earlier point in time. It meant previously. It meant formerly. But, to him, it meant the nothing before he opened his eyes. It meant all the seconds, the minutes, the hours, days, weeks and years before…
…before he had started to retain some memory, before he could even recall opening his eyes, before he could remember little snatches of images of seeing her sitting by his bedside, before he could recall that his master had never been far from him, had been with him all along guiding and cajoling him to full wakefulness.
"I am your master!"
He owed the Emperor his life. He owed the Emperor everything because He had raised him from that nothingness, dragged him from the obscure unknown and had given him purpose and focus that the hidden before had taken from him.
There were times that he wasn't even sure there had been a before, sometimes he believed that waking in that bed was his first memory, but then something would spark an image, sound, or smell…
sunlight and sand
flying… soaring… pulling the flight controls… pushing down on the pedals and banking way
the scents of hot metal and oil
…just little snippets, just little insights into his life before.
He couldn't remember the attack that had left him this way. His master had told him that the rebels had attempted to assassinate him. Had deemed the Emperor's protector a worthy target.
How could he have protected his master when he could not even protect himself?
His hands gripped the balustrade of the balcony upon which he stood, knuckles white with the effort of controlling his body, of maintaining his stance. He took in a breath to steady himself, his eyes grazing over the view of the city before him; tall gleaming spires reaching up into the atmosphere, criss-crossing lanes and lines of endless traffic, the shadows of low orbiting Star Destroyers casting sections of Imperial Centre into a night-like darkness.
He shouldn't be doing this; he shouldn't be reflecting on what may have come before. His Master would not approve. His Master would…
cold durasteel beneath his back…. Tight binders on his wrists, across his chest. His head clenched in cold, clawed hands and
He shuddered at the flash of images, and feelings…
…and his fingers gripped the balustrade tighter.
"My Lord Commander?"
He stiffened in surprise at the sound of her voice from the room behind him, the sudden images instantly lost and forgotten to the mists of before as irrational anger stirred in his belly. Anger at being caught in moment of reverie, at being lost and unaware of his immediate environment, of her abrupt intrusion.
He took in a breath, allowed a pause, reached out to the Force using it to hold onto that anger, using it to strengthen himself and to concentrate on the words he needed to say in response. It was still difficult, still a struggle to think of words and then to say them; to shape his lips, to move his tongue and force air through his vocal cords. His speech was slow, sometimes slurred and often monotone. "Wha.. wha...," he winced at the stutter, annoyed with himself for failing the word and bit out. "What… is… it?"
There was a swell of unexpected, momentary panic. A sharp anxiety twisting his belly. Suddenly, he wanted to go back. He wanted to go back to the medical centre where everything was predictable and understandable and small. He had been told that this new place was his home. That he had lived here in the lost before. He had been advised that his continued recovery would be best served by being somewhere familiar. He would continue with his education, his physiotherapy and training within his own Palace apartments and within proximity to his master.
But this… this was too large, too big. A skyline filled with towering buildings that barely reached the balcony upon which he stood. The balcony itself was a mere speck on one side of this massive structure that his master called home. The rooms behind him were vast and various and they were all completely alien to him.
If this had been his home, then he remembered none of it. Not the bland, bleak, but rich furnishings, not the datapad sitting unused on the desk in the office, not the large bed that dominated the main bedroom, nor the dark blue and black clothes, dark red uniforms - one of which he now wore - and scarlet cloaks that hung ready for him in the closets of his dressing room.
"Is everything all right, sir? You… you've been out there for some time."
Again, he had forgotten she was there, her voice dragging him from his thoughts. She must be right. He must have been standing here for a while; his left leg trembled with exertion and he reached out with the Force as his master had taught, using his feelings of embarrassment and anger to overcome the weakness in the limb and to still the tremors of ataxia.
He was a heap on the ground; a bundle of loose, trembling muscles. He heaved in a breath, could feel the sweat on the small of his back trickle to the side. His sodden shirt was sticking to him.
He closed his eyes in defeat, in crushing disappointment and embarrassment, feeling hot and worn and frustrated.
"I told you to get up!" His master's voice was as demanding as ever. Each time he failed his exercise, each time his hands slipped on the parallel support bars, each time his legs fold beneath him and he fell to the floor, his master was right there telling him to rise, giving him no recourse, or rest.
"M… Ma…mas..ter… I…"
"Do not lie there and stutter at me," there was disgust and anger in Palpatine's voice, "When you speak to me you do so fluently, without hesitation or impairment. Now… get up!"
There was a flurry of resentment within him, of bitterness and ire at being spoken to in such a manner in front of therapists and medical staff. He could feel his face burn with the humiliation.
"Good," Palpatine praised, his voice had lost its sharpness, had gained the smooth tone of pleasure. "Good… now… use your anger, young one. It gives you strength and focus. Do not forget who did this to you. The Rebellion… the Alliance… They tricked you, did this to you, they robbed you of your health and strength. They have left you broken and worthless… Good…
…reach into the Force, bring to it you, wrap it around your useless limbs and rise."
Listening to his master's voice, hearing the truth in them, he did as commanded. He stretched out into the fire, into the reds and the blacks, into the deep vastness of the Force. He opened himself to the rage and anger he carried at what had been done to him, used his burgeoning hatred for the unknown traitors who had left him in this disabled state, and drew strength. He could feel the tendrils of the Force slither around his body and enclose his limbs within its nurturing warmth.
Beads of sweat popped on his brow and slid down his skin as he concentrated, but gradually he could feel the fatigue leave his body, slowly the trembling of his limbs reduced. He opened his eyes, held a hand up and compelled his fingers to move.
They obeyed and he grinned and closed his fist. Fine motor skills were still beyond him, but it was a start.
"Now, rise, Lord Commander."
He took in a breath and turned onto his belly and, with a grunt of exertion, he pushed up onto his hands and knees. He paused, stretched out with his feelings to steady his exhausted frame, and reached for the nearest support bar. His hand clutched it, held tight. Then, still deeply immersed in the Force, he placed one foot on the floor and used it to push upward while his hand pulled at the same time. He hauled his body upright. Planting both feet firmly on the floor, he curled his other hand around the second support bar and glanced over to his master.
He was thrilled to see the Emperor smiling. He could feel his master's satisfaction and pleasure within the Force.
"You have done well, my child," Palpatine commended. "Now, walk…"
He blinked, realised he had lost his place, that he had been quiet again for some time and fought to remember what she had said.
"I'm… fine," he responded, eyes still looking over the city, voice bland. "…leave… me."
He could hear the shuffle of her feet on the floor, could sense her unease from behind him. "My Lord," her voice was wary, as though able to pick up his emotions, his growing anger and agitation with his new surroundings, "we are keeping the Emperor waiting."
He felt himself colour; he had known that. He remembered being told by his escort from the medical centre that his master would see him once he had settled back into his rooms and that she would come for him.
Using the Force for support, to assist his muscles in moving and letting go of the balcony rail, he turned to her. She was standing just inside the living room, silhouetted against the gloom of the chamber behind her. She was small, almost dainty, hair tied back and dressed in the same black, unadorned uniform that she always wore when she was with him and…
… his boots stepped onto the shuttles ramp. Snow flurries billowed in from behind him and suddenly she was there with gun in hand and…
He winced, a trembling hand going to his brow as a piercing pain lanced through his head.
"My Lord," her voice was sharp, sounding suddenly anxious. "Ion, are you in pain?"
"No," he lied, lowering his hand, and gathering the Force tighter around his body to steady him, using it to secure his stance. It didn't matter what he recalled from the fog of before, for in a short while it would be gone again. "No, it's no… thing."
He could see her doubt, could see her suspicion that he was lying to her. He smiled to disarm her, saw it didn't really work and hoped that she would not tell his master of his lapses. "My a…apologies, Sergeant. I am dis…tracted." He waved a hand at the scene behind him, to the sky lanes and speeders and ships.
For some reason she paled, her body stiffened in response to his words. She licked her lips, her eyes narrowing at him as she reminded him, "My Lord, I am a Lieutenant Commander."
He frowned, confused for a moment, isn't that what he had just said?
"… and the Emperor is still waiting for you."
Yes, of course, his master. It would be good to leave these strange rooms, perhaps his master would deign to return him to the medical centre where everything was small and known to him, where there were routines and structures he understood that kept his life in order. Here was too big. "Why… didn't you… tell me?"
He could feel her sadness in the Force, her grief and…
"That is why I am here, my Lord, to take you to the Emperor."
He chilled, cold running through his veins, realising that he had forgotten when she had arrived… and the cold was quickly followed by the searing heat of anger; at himself, at the injuries he had sustained that had left him an empty shell. He clenched his fists, wanting to hit out, wanting to beat them hard against himself as he had in the medical centre when he couldn't remember, when he couldn't complete a given task, when she would crouch or sit beside him and take his fists in her hands and draw him to her and hold him until he was calm, whispering to him not to take his anger out on himself but to hold it close within for those who had done this too him and…
Her hands slipped around his, her touch calming, soothing. "My Lord, we should go… now."
He licked his lips, taking the time to form his words, feeling his anger disperse with hope as he caught her eyes and asked, "Who am I?"
There was flicker of hurt behind her eyes, a flash of reproach. Then she pulled herself straight as though she were about to salute him. "You are the Lord Commander Racas," she reminded him, wondering how many times it would take for him to hold fast to this knowledge, "the Emperor's Protector."
He considered her words.
They meant nothing to him.
"… and it is for that reason, Excellency," Mas Amedda stated smoothly, "that I would advise against action at this time. Considering the recent uprising against your person in the system, Majesty, the drought in the southern hemisphere of Ralltiir is simply not worth your attention. Let the rebellious population lie in the beds of their own making."
"Excellency… I disagree," Sate Pestage interjected, "If you were to be magnanimous to the population at this time, I believe it would convey to the Empire that you are a forgiving Emperor, and this would rally the Ralltiir population to your side. If we turn our backs…"
"I simply cannot agree. Your Majesty, if you recall…"
Palpatine held up a finger, silencing his advisors as he looked beyond the gathered government officials, as he looked beyond the Privy Council room and into the Force. He grinned, sensing the boy as he approached with the girl. "Gentleman," he said rising from his seat at the head of the cabinet table. "I have asked a guest to join us. Before making a decision on this point I would very much like his input."
He could feel Raca's curiosity as he was escorted through the palace, could feel his growing consternation and agitation, but he could also feel the efforts the boy was making to control his emotions and not give into the anxiety that was chewing in his gut. He could feel the pulling on the Force as his new apprentice dragged on the power to sustain his efforts and to keep his disabilities under control. Disabilities that Palpatine was going to remove from him, one way or another.
Palpatine was both thrilled and disappointed with boy's progress. There was no doubt that Skywalker had come a long way in a short space of time. His physical and mental abilities had developed far beyond what the doctors and medical droids had predicted for him. He was not the drooling fool, or retarded idiot they had warned him the boy would remain.
No… he was becoming so much more.
The boy's mind had not been completely blank. Once he was capable of remaining awake for periods of time it became clear that the youth had some semblance of understanding. He knew simple objects and concepts like bed, blanket, food… He understood simple commands such as sit, lie down, eat…
The Emperor sniggered in private amusement; the boy had not been unlike a household pet in the beginning; a pup needing a master with a firm hand on one side and a pocket of treats on the other.
Speech had come next. Although Skywalker struggled to speak, to form and articulate words, he had retained a vocabulary and recognised objects, even complex ones. He knew a bed, a chair, a human, a Wookiee, a Zabrak, a planet, a building, a Star Destroyer and he had grinned with delight, drool spooling over his lips, eyes flashing with a light they rarely held, when he had identified a T-Sixty-Five X-Wing Class Star Fighter and added with childlike joy…
"I... f… fl… fly… th… is.. this."
That had cost him.
He had been dragged from his room, returned to the chamber where Palpatine had first wakened him and was strapped onto the bench. Of course he didn't understand what he had done wrong, couldn't understand his master's ire and he had lain still, lain in innocence, blue eyes gazing up with fear tainted trust, as Palpatine had gently placed his hands on his head while soothing the boy with false platitudes.
"All will be well, young one. I am not going to harm you."
The Sith Lord had centred himself, calmly immersed himself into the Force before viciously ripping and tearing into the boy's mind. He shredded the memory of the X-Wing, pared away the memory of flight as the boy had bucked and pulled against his restraints and screamed against the agonising intrusion and assault on his mind.
It had been the first, but not the last, time that he had been returned to that room to have a memory snipped or altered to suit his master's designs. After all, even the most talented of sculptors had to trim away and carve out unnecessary matter from their creations and his was no different.
Once returned to his room and to his bed the boy had been allowed to rest and sleep. When he next awoke, he had no recollection of the room or of what his master had done. Nor did he show any recognition of an X-Wing when shown the image once more and he had to be told what it was.
"A Rebel Craft… They are your enemy. They did this to you…" And Palpatine had placed his hand on the boy's chest, on the mangled scars that remained there.
Yes, the boy thrilled him. The power the boy held, undiluted by his injuries, the burgeoning potency that simmered just below the surface delighted him and yet it was here that his disappointment lay. The youth's physical disabilities hampered his progress and his training, his blunted mental abilities clogged his understanding of the simplest of lessons and it took many repetitions for the memory to be retained; for the lesson to be learned.
Yes… the last few months had been fruitful in some ways, but disappointing in others and that was why he had returned to the palace and brought the boy with him. It was not just to put to rest any rumours about his own health, it was not just to quell any doubt about his ability to rule, or to destroy the hope in those already plotting rebellion in his ranks. No, it was to bring the boy out of seclusion and into the world. It was to hasten his recovery, to test what he was becoming, to mould him and make him into the being his master wanted him to be.
It was to force him to adapt, to survive… or die.
The doors to the chamber slid open and the object of his thoughts stepped through with the girl by his side.
The boy was dressed, as he had requested, in the deep red uniform of the Royal Guard but without the scarlet robes and concealing mask and helmet. Let his face be seen, let his advisors consider who this boy was; this boy who wore the Red but who lacked the required height and physical build. Let them ponder his place in the palace and in the Empire.
Palpatine stood in greeting, his council likewise rising for no-one sat in the Emperor's presence when He stood. All eyes were on the youth. Palpatine could feel his advisors' burning curiosity at this boy so casually brought into the Privy chamber. He saw the minuscule stiffening of the two Red Guards standing either side of the door as they recognised the uniform but not the man. He saw the clenching of jaws from the men on his council when they noticed the boy's rank and he felt the supressed anger and fear from those who immediately recognised the youth as a possible threat to their own positions.
For of course, he was.
Racas lowered himself to the floor, bending his knee to his master as he had been taught. Palpatine could feel the effort it took the boy, the pain in his limbs, the catch in his chest, the bob of his Adam's apple as he swallowed.
"My Emperor," he greeted. His voice was strong, cultured, precise, emotionless and supported by the use of the Force.
He almost did not see the girl likewise kneel behind Racas.
The Emperor grinned and opened his arms in welcome, motioning for Racas to rise. "Come, come, my boy," he greeted with glee, "come, stand by my side. I would be glad to hear your opinion on a matter that troubles my Empire."
The boy's head snapped up and for a split second the youth resembled a Tree-Myre caught in speeder lights, eyes wide with fear and uncertainty. The Force rippled with his unease, but as taught, the boy drew himself up, stood and straightened his shoulders and again drawing upon the Force to give his limbs strength and dampen his tremors, he walked around the table and bowed to his Master. Then he stood at ease beside Palpatine with shoulder's back, hands clasped behind his back and looked straight ahead at the assembled men.
"Gentlemen," Palpatine addressed his advisors. "May I introduce the Lord Commander Ion Racas, of my Royal Guard, newly returned to duty after an unfortunate encounter with a Rebel insurgent." He speared Thecla with a hard stare as he felt the Force flare from beside him. He saw, and felt, the boy stiffen, sensed his impaired memory working, felt the initial surprise at the name and position and then he allowed a trace of a smile to grace his lips as recollection and understanding quelled the boys' confusion.
That was progress. It was small, but progress nonetheless.
Palpatine allowed his smile to grow as the council members nodded to his young creation, but his own gaze was for the girl, now also standing so straight and resolute before her master, her features showing very little of her surprise at Palpatine naming the youth so openly and so soon. "You are dismissed, Commander," he told her coldly.
Thecla bowed obediently, back a few steps away before turning on her heel and striding from the chamber; the door sliding shut at her back.
I am Racas! Ion Racas…
I am Ion….
The name tumbled through his mind. Repeating over and over and over. Hadn't the girl… Thecla?... said similar. Had she? Was she Thecla?
Ion…. Ion Racas.
More repetition, trying to embed the name that he knew he had been told before and had often forgotten.
"Lord Racas," His Master drew his attention, "we have a dilemma that I would very much like your opinion on."
Quiet panic beat within at the expectation within his master's voice. He had not been given time to get used to his new environment or absorb this new information. Had not been able to consolidate his rank…
The Royal Guard.
Lord Commander. Lord.
What did it mean to be this man?
…and place in the Empire and yet he was being called upon to…
"Lord Racas?" Palpatine's voice was biting, sharp, "I require your answer."
There was quiet in the room, a silence he was expected to fill. He swallowed, looked at the men around the room, saw their amusement at his expense; saw it in their eyes and in the smirks on their faces.
His own face warmed and anger stirred his consternation, his hands trembled behind his back and he had to pull the deepening darkness to him, had to haul it in and net it, use it to hold his body still and his voice firm; his master would not tolerate any stuttering in his presence.
"Forgive me, Master," he said slowly, his voice steady yet dulled, his hands now fisted behind his back, nails digging into his palms, as he admitted. "I did not… follow your question."
Racas had expected Palpatine to be angry, to lash out with venom in his words, but instead Palpatine grinned, pleased. It was confusing, but then he saw the assembled advisors' eyes widen as they looked at him; felt the ripple of astonishment and apprehension in the Force.
He had called the Emperor "master" and had thus announced his true position as Palpatine's… what? What was he to Palpatine? His pupil? His possession?
He didn't know, but these men seemed to know, seemed to understand what he did not. All he knew was that he was to do his master's bidding. That was one lesson he had learned quickly. He had also just learned that these men were now suspicious of him, were afraid of him, and that… pleased him.
When the flames arose…
He blinked away the thought as Palpatine's voice drew his attention, focused him on the here and now. The Emperor's tones were genial, indulgent, but Racas could still feel the severity, the warning, in his master's words. "Given this is your first day back on duty since your unfortunate injury and you have had the courage to admit your error, I shall oblige this once, but never again. I expect you to pay attention to my every word. I will not tolerate having to repeat myself. Am I clear?"
Another swallow, a bow of his head. Behind his back his hands trembled at the threat in Palpatine's words. "Yes, Master."
The Emperor gestured to the council members. "We have been discussing the unfortunate situation on Ralltiir," he explained speaking slowly, emphasising words and Racas knew it was for his benefit, not just to ensure he understood his master's words, but also to humiliate him in front of the council; to teach him a lesson.
I hate you!
Palpatine grinned at the spike of darkness, the loathing that he felt from Racas, allowing himself a brief moment of thrilling pleasure before speaking again, "… there has been a prolonged drought in the southern hemisphere. This region contains much of the planet's agricultural lands, and thus their crops have been blighted. The dirt is dry, like sand. The population have been unable to fulfil their quota to the Empire and are beginning to starve. They have requested aid and assistance from their Emperor."
…sand… there was sand and…
… an image. Sand, a plateau of desert and several structures, metallic limbs reaching skyward, silhouetted against the darkening sky… vaporators…
"Vap…orators," Racas echoed his thought aloud.
"Interesting…." Palpatine mused, eyes narrowed at him and suspicion swelled within the Force. "You believe we should send moisture collectors to assist the Ralltiir population?"
"And if I told you that Ralltiir was the source of an uprising against me, that they sided with the Rebel Alliance and bore arms against me before being quashed by Lord Vader?"
"We will speak at length, young one."
Racas winced, blinked. Opened his eyes to see his Master staring at him intently, barely contained fury simmering behind the red rimmed ochre eyes.
"Do I need to repeat myself again, Lord Racas?"
"Your answer to our dilemma?"
There really was only one answer. Just one that Palpatine would accept and so he said it.
"Let them… starve."
There was a shout from the pits below as one of the Alliance shots penetrated the Executor's forward shields and blasted a hole in the hull. There was a brief flare, a shudder through the ship, and debris and bodies were blown out into space before the inner blast doors shut, sealing off the damaged compartments.
"We have a hull breach in decks three through six!"
Flashes of fire close by, green and red lasers cutting through the vacuum of space. Torpedoes bounced off the bridge defences and exploded, sapping the strength of the protective shielding.
"It is of no concern!" Vader calmly announced, watching the battle rage beyond the viewing port. This ship could withstand any assault that these Rebels cared to throw at it. He had expected the Alliance to target his ship, had planned for it.
"Direct fighter fire away from the Alliance capital cruisers, target their support ships."
"My.. My Lord, Alliance support ships often contain…"
Vader whirled on Piett, growling, "Do I need to repeat myself, Admiral?"
The man blanched. "Of course not, sir," he turned, immediately barking orders. "Target the support ships. Keep the bombers on the cruisers, have our forward batteries…."
Vader drowned out the noise of the battle and closed his eyes immersing himself in the Force, reaching out into the squall of the conflict, the storm it caused. He savoured the fear, the terror and pain. He drew pleasure from it. He drew strength from it. It sated his hunger, it distracted him from…
A flare, a spike, a flash of hatred.
A presence both familiar and strange.
Curious Vader reached out into the battle, cutting through mental screams and sudden silences, ignoring the lives that suddenly disappeared from the Force. He reached out beyond the fighting, reached into the deepest depths of the Force.
I hate you.
Vader's eyes flew open.
His son! His son echoing his own words from so very long ago!
It had been so long since he had felt anything from the boy, so long since he had turned away from the medical bed, away from the near empty vessel that had once been his child…
but he had sought you out! He had felt you, turned to you and away from Palpatine and you turned away.
You left him
…and returned to what he knew best.
Filling his days with scouring the Rebellion from the Galaxy and returning order to the Empire and purpose to his life. The purpose and order he had found after Mustafar and before his discovery of his living child. The purpose and order that he had been searching for, fighting for, his entire life; first as a Jedi Knight, now as a Sith Lord.
But that spark of hatred within in the Force. That was a life! That was real and it had felt like Luke, it had felt like his son and not like a vacuum looking to be filled… and yet, there was a difference, a subtle shift away from the presence that had been so distinctly Luke's. It was as though there was another with him, within him, as though there were two in one.
Much like yourself, my Lord.
The deck rippled under his feet; an alarm blared. The sensors within his suit detected smoke. Vader's eyes snapped open.
"My Lord!" Piett called, and despite the man's calm expression Vader could sense the Admiral's misgivings, his growing consternation as he quickly walked the length of the bridge toward him. "More Rebel ships have just dropped from hyperspace!"
"Good," Vader rumbled, almost purred with satisfaction despite the blasts that were bombarding his ship. "Admiral Piett, send code Aurek-One-Resh. Change course to two-seven-nine. Bring shields to full power, and all batteries to bare upon the Mon Calamari Cruiser. Full salvos."
Piett turned shouting orders, he strode down the central walkway, almost fell as the ship shuddered under another barrage. He balanced, continued, barking commands even as he received more information from all stations.
"Get some fighters on those bombers," Vader ordered, into the milieu, "keep them busy, we only need a few minutes."
He watched as more fighters, both Imperial and Rebel flew into the battlefield and joined the fray; furious dog fights, crashing ships, floating debris, and frozen dead flesh. An explosion rocked the Mon Cala ship and Vader smiled as a familiar modified freighter flew at dizzying speed passed the view port with guns flashing as it went. It curved around, came blazing back, testing the Executor's shields.
There was flash, a sudden appearance of several more ships.
"Sir! We have reinforcements, in sector four!"
Piett nodded to Vader and gave the Dark Lord a thin smile.
"Admiral, position the interdictor in sector twelve, gravity wells on full power," Vader told him as the Millennium Falcon took another run at the bridge. Vader calmy watched it pass. "And have my fighter prepared."
He may not have his son, but he would have his son's friends.
Piett nodded, knowing the fight had just turned in their favour as planned, that Vader's ruse of using himself as bait had proved as fruitful as Vader had assured him it would. "At once my Lord."
Sweat was beading on Racas' brow by the time Palpatine dismissed his council, the droplets beginning to meander down the side of his face and neck to darkly stain the red of his collar. His legs were trembling with the effort of remaining on his feet, and he was struggling to maintain his grip on the Force to keep himself still and upright. His mouth was dry, his head ached; a quick, punishing, staccato within his skull, and he wish for nothing more but his bed back in the medical centre where everything was familiar and known and predictable.
His hands were still clasped behind his back, his stance parade rest, but his knuckles were white with effort and his nails had dented his palms.
He took in a breath of warm air, allowing it to fill his lungs in same way that he allowed the hot wash of anger to ripple through his body. He felt humiliated, he felt punished and could not understand why his master had kept him so long in this place.
"You are my protection, Lord Racas, my Royal Guard," Palpatine stated from the seat beside him, and he gestured to the robed and helmeted soldiers by the door. "These are your men. It is their duty, and yours, to be by my side."
Racas glanced up at the two figures. He could see nothing from them, nothing but blank masks, and red robes, but he could feel them. He could feel their surprise, their disquiet and resentment at his sudden introduction as not just one of them, but their commander. Who was this small man who could barely stand by their Emperor, who had forgotten simple instructions and whose collar was stained with sweat?
If he had been their commander, why did they not seem to know him?
An uneasiness settled in the pit of Racas's gut; he knew his master was lying.
Palpatine laughed and placed his pale, thin hands on the table before him and pushed up to stand. "Oh, my boy, I do not lie. I have never lied to you, child."
Racas rankled at that. He stood taller, rolled his shoulders back and leaned into his anger, gathering strength from it.
That drew another chuckle from the Emperor. "Come, Lord Racas, walk with me."
Racas grasped at the Force as he had been taught, supporting himself, using his power to give stamina to his muscles. His shaking ceased, and his limp lessened as he joined in step with Palpatine. As they passed, the two men by the door fell in behind them and Racas could feel their attention on him rather than on his master.
"They are your men," Palpatine told him, a quiet reminder.
Without looking back Racas barked; "Your focus… is your… Emperor."
Satisfaction slithered home, pleasure warmed him when he felt the two men react to his order, to the warning tone in his voice. Their eyes fell on Palpatine, on the hallway, and on the people who bowed low to the Emperor as they passed, once more alert to any dangers even here in the Palace.
"You will find, Lord Racas, that your position in the Empire and your power in the Force will instil fear in those beneath you. Use it wisely and use it well, for you are a threat to some and they will wish to take it from you."
Racas spared a glance to the soldiers behind him.
"No, my young friend," Palpatine admonished with a smile, "my guards are loyal, and they will obey you because I say they must. I speak of others," he paused, considered and amended, "well, one other."
"Master?" Racas questioned, his curiosity peaked, his concern ignited. He was a threat to someone? Someone in the palace wished him harm. "Who?"
Palpatine smiled. "You knew him before your unfortunate wounding," he hesitated, then he soothed, "but I have concerned you. He is currently off world commanding my fleets, you need not vex yourself, Lord Racas, not yet."
Racas' brow furrowed. He did not feel relieved that whoever considered him a threat was off world, if anything he felt a dull sense of anticipation, a gnawing apprehension. If he was a threat, if his position to the Emperor was coveted by another then what about Palpatine himself? He owed this man everything and he was immediately ashamed of his earlier hostility toward his master to whom he was indebted. Palpatine had saved him, had drawn him back from death, had taught him of the Force and how to tap into its strength and…
He would have to remember this. Would have to repeat this information to embed it in his mind. There was someone who was a threat. Someone off world. Someone…
His left foot spasmed and he missed a step. He stumbled, almost went down, but he caught himself, drew himself straight and caught Palpatine's yellowed eyes on him. He swallowed, waiting for the cruel words of admonishment; the ones that could rip and shred and cause fury to flame within.
He was surprised when The Emperor slipped his arm through his and grasped his elbow to steady him. "I can feel the effort you are making, my young friend," he said kindly, "and you have done well today. Let me help you, Ion. Lean on me for the rest of the way."
Palpatine patted his arm. "Come, I have something I wish to show you. A gift," he placated, "In recognition for the progress you have been making in your recovery and to aid your training further."
Racas allowed Palpatine to lead him through the Palace, through the opulence of the upper chamber floor, to a bank of turbolifts where the Emperor's personal elevator stood ready with open doors. In a curious breach of protocol, he gestured the young man in before him and stepped in beside Racas. The two guards positioned themselves in front of them and the doors silently closed. The elevator dropped.
"Tell me, Ion," Palpatine began, smoothly, "When we spoke of Ralltiir, why did you suggest vaporators?"
Initially Ion was at a loss, he grasped for the memory, for the previous mention of the planet. "I…" He floundered.
"I am not going to ask again," Palpatine warned, his voice had lost its pleasantness, its gentle, grandfatherly, tones now replaced with cold stone, "we have already learned this lesson, Racas."
Hot air, and sunslight. Tan sand, golden dunes, and red rocks.
Sinking suns casting red and orange light across the horizon.
A horizon marked by still, dark, silhouettes of…
A woman dressed in simple clothing calling him home…
The words, his name, was a growl and he started in horror at his lapse. "I….," he began, "Master, I…" He could feel Palpatine's fury, knew that his master would brook no further delay in his answer. Refusing to look to the man by his side, or at the soldiers in the elevator with them, he quickly composed himself, he pushed away his fear and nurtured the anger. Anger at himself, at his master and at the Rebellion who had injured him and left him a shell of who he once was.
Who was I?
Who am I?
What am I?
"I'm sorry, master," he bowed his head to Palpatine, considered dropping to his knees, but dismissed the thought. He would not show any more weaknesses to the guards accompanying them. He was their Commander, and he would behave appropriately. He cleared his mind, allowed tendrils of the Force to weave around him, used them to calm himself.
It came to him, and so did relief. The meeting. The council. The planet suffering a drought. The people who revolted against their Emperor.
"You… had mentioned a drought," he said with some confidence, but his words were slow and monotone. "I thought that a solution would be to harvest the water, as they do on Tatooine."
"Why Tatooine, Lord Racas?" Palpatine's words were curious, unthreatening.
The crunch of sand and rock beneath his feet. The warm breezes tugging at his hair and clothing. His hands tanned, nails dirty, as he worked on…
"I… b..believe I may have visited, Master," he said simply, "the… name seems familiar; I feel I know… it."
"I have never been to Tatooine," Palpatine stated, coldly, and frankly, "and, given that you are my protection, neither have you."
The lift slowed and drew to a halt and it was with some trepidation that Luke stepped out of the car at Palpatine's side, guards waiting to fall in beside them. He had a feeling that his master was displeased with him.
"Come, Lord Racas," Palpatine beckoned, "do you know this place?"
Racas smiled, for he did. This was the corridor the woman…
Thecla. She was Thecla and she was a sergeant.
No, that wasn't it. She was a commander.
...had brought him along.
"Of course, Master," he said with a smile. "My room… is on this level."
Again, Palpatine chuckled. "My dear Ion, this is your level." He lifted his hands and gestured around them at the polished marble floor of the hallway, the ornate pillars and closed doors that hid the rooms beyond. "Come, my boy," he said with a crooked smile, and he pointed at a door. "I have had the training room updated and restocked. It is time to continue your instruction in the more physical aspects of your duties. The medics have suggested that familiar places and familiar routines may benefit your recovery."
Racas stepped forward and the door swept open. The room beyond was huge, cavernous. Bland grey walls broken into panelled sections, the ceiling was at least 10 metres high, and it looked to be at least the length of a nuna-ball court…
How did he know what that was?
Doesn't Hobbie owe me money after a bet?
He stopped, chilled.
Who was Hobbie?
"Is something wrong, Lord Racas?" Palpatine asked.
Ion placed a hand to his temple, wincing. "I re… remembered a… name." He looked around at the arena in wonder. "I remembered Hobbie."
Palpatine's mouth turned down, but Racas did not notice. "Who is Hobbie?"
"A pilot," Racas said, almost without a thought, "he's in my…"
And he stopped as he realised, he was going to say "flight squad," but how could that be? He was not a pilot. He was of the Royal Guard, a soldier.
He turned to Palpatine, confused, fearful. His hands trembled, his body shivered and jerked as he lost his grasp on the Force and the ataxia returned. His voice shook and speaking was difficult. He stammered, "M..m…ma…master…."
Palpatine stood, hands clasped over dark robes. "Hm," he mused. His ochre eyes dark. "my apologies, my boy," his voice dripped with rage despite the words he used. "I am afraid that I may have overindulged you too soon. This must be difficult for you to process this early in your recovery. We will return to training when you are rested." He smiled, reassuringly and then he nodded to the guards. "Help your commander to his medical suite, have his medics prepare him."
I need to pare away more of Skywalker's memories.
To be Continued….