Chapter 1 : Aftermath

Darth Vader lay motionless on the medical table. Above him, a hovering medical droid removed the previous day's dressings, each piece pulling off dead tissue from the live flesh underneath. If Vader felt the bandages tear at his burned skin, he gave no sign. Too badly burned to yet be submerged in a bacta tank, the daily routine of bandage changes was his new reality.

A week ago, he had told Jedi Master Mace Windu that Chancellor Palpatine was the hidden Sith Lord that the Jedi Council had been seeking. He still had everything then- his wife Padme', his unborn child, his friend Obi-wan, and his strong, healthy body. Now, it was all taken from him. Yoda had advised him not to fear the loss of loved ones, but Vader had not imagined he could lose this much. So great was his fear of losing Padme' that he had not forseen even a glimmer of what was to come. For all his prescient visions of the future of others, his own destiny had been completely clouded to him.

How could he have failed to save both the women he loved so much ? His failure to save his mother had been more innocent- he had not yet known the veracity of his visions. But Padme' - he had tried with all of his power, pushed aside any other goal or thought or feeling of his conscience, to save her. The thought of his failure took the will to live right out of him. The midi-chlorians that permeated his cells would not let his body die, though, and so he lay passively, riding the tide of destiny.

At first he thought that Palpatine was wrong. Padme' couldn't be dead; there was no reason for her to be dead. He knew without a doubt that she was alive on that landing pad on Mustafar, as he began to battle Obi-wan. His mind could always find hers. He remembered that pivotal day when from the Council Room of the Jedi Temple he reached out to her in her distant apartment , and felt her returning his gaze across the city. The intensity of their connection overwhelmed him, driving his fateful choice to save Palpatine and his Sith knowledge from destruction by Windu.

Yet here he lay, alone. Every probe of his mind to find her returned without an answer. Nothing. Not even the faintest echo. He had tried a hundred times to feel her presence, and could no longer bring himself to try again.

And so it went on, the daily routine to heal his body that went on without involvement from himself. He could see his torso and the stumps of his limbs, the skin hard and crackled, oozing serum from ruptured blisters. Black eschars of dead skin peeled up at the edges, but remained firmly attached in the center. The medics cut back these eschars, stopping only when the blade hit live tissue. The droids gave no expression as they tended his wounds, but he knew he must be a horror to behold. It was if the whole physical being of Anakin Skywalker had been peeled away so that he could be rebuilt as Darth Vader.

This day's dressing changes were now complete. The droids began placing the black life-support suit on his body; it was too painful to dress himself. When the mask and helmet sealed in place, he swung his legs off the table to walk back to his room. The droids would have transported him, of course, but this, at least, he could do for himself. Despite the agony of leather and armor against his body, he willed himself to walk.

He walked awkwardly, but that did not surprise him. He knew from his experience with his prosthetic right arm that there was an adaptation process. It took time for the brain to process the electronic neural feedback as effectively as it had handled the biological information. His usage of his prosthetic right arm was now as swift and sure as before the injury. He was sure that the clumsy delay he felt in sensing and advancing his legs would resolve as well. At least the distance between the treatment room and his room was short.

Inside his room a droid orderly helped him to remove the life-support suit, and redressed him in thin cloth. The medics had cautioned against wearing the armored suit against his traumatized skin, but Palpatine had demanded proof of the suit's ability to sustain him. The suit's ventilator was necessary for nomal activity. He could breathe on his own, but his lungs and chest wall had lost the elasticity necessary to draw in adequate volume. Without the ventilator, he felt weak and out of breath. Within Vader's room Palpatine had installed a hyperbaric chamber, which forced enough oxygen to his lungs and tissues that he felt comfortable. In that chamber, he could remove the suit, and give his tissues a chance to heal.

Vader had just seated himself within the chamber when there a signal at the door to his room. It would only be Palpatine ; he had no other visitors. "Enter, my Master," he intoned, opening the door with a wave of a finger.

Palpatine strode into the room, then seated himself opposite Vader in the hyberbaric chamber. A flicker across the wizened face of the Emperor told Vader his appearance wasdisturbing.

" The medics tell me your wounds are healing well, Lord Vader," the Emperor said with encouragement. " They say they may have you in a bacta tank within a week or two."

To an observer, Palpatine's words might have rung of friendliness and compassion. In truth, none of these soft emotions troubled his mind. Well trained in both Jedi and Sith arts, Palpatine's greatest Force talent lay in knowing what others wanted. He could look inside them to their very soul, and see what quest drove them on. With that knowledge, he dangled their dearest prize just out of their reach, enjoying most his ability to manipulate them. This ability had helped him rise within the structure of the Republic, and eventually seize control of it. Now as Emperor, what excited him most was not the control of planets, or trade routes, or vast fortunes, but the thought of uncountable legions of souls bound to obey his bidding. He was the Force embodied, he liked to think, and the Galactic Empire simply the physical proof of his abilities.

But as Palpatine studied Vader's face , he was troubled by the deep melancholy he sensed within him. Palpatine could feel no quest within the young man; it was as if he had given up. While this reaction might be natural, Palpatine knew he must stop Vader from dwelling in this low place. Vader must be made to feel hate, rage, or even fear, something to awaken the power of the Dark Side. Palpatine had worked ever so carefully to engineer the fall of the Jedi's Chosen One, and he was not about to lose him to simple human emotion.

"Your strength is to be admired. Not many could have survived as you did," Palpatine continued, altering his tactics slightly. "When you are fully healed, you will be an unstoppable force, my young apprentice. I have many important tasks awaiting you."

" Yes, Master. I am grateful for all you have done for me," Vader replied. The words were appropriate, but the tone, hollow.

Palpatine smiled politely and rose to leave. He would figure out a way to invigorate this prize of the Galaxy to its former strength; to do otherwise would be a senseless waste. His attention was required elsewhere by the fledgling Empire, however, and Vader would have to survive on his own for now.

Darth Vader grimaced as he began the process of removing his life support suit by first unfastening the durasteel shin guards . Bending over stretched the skin on his back, where he had sustained the deepest burns. While not as exquisitely painful as the fresh burns had been, this stage of healing left his skin feeling tight and restrictive. He no longer had to endure the accursed dressing changes, but they had been replaced by similarly painful massages designed to free the adhesions of scar from the underlying tissue. The medics were optimistic that continued bacta treatments would restore much of the lost flexibility.

Each day he learned to function better within the black armored suit. He improved the coordination of his mechanical arms through simple, repetitive motions : clenching and unclenching his fists, furling and unfurling his fingers,flexion and circling of his wrists. Over and over he practiced, until organic thought met electronic circuitry with flawless precision. The helmet was not such a simple adjustment. It limited his peripheral vision tremendously, and until he found he could alter the external microphone sensitivity, it relayed every last syncro whine on the whole rehab floor at irritating volume. The digital readout that projected on the lenses held useful information, but more often than not he found it to be a distraction.

His lungs constituted his biggest challenge. He had learned how to synchronize with his ventilator, how to speed up its rate with physical exertion, how to stop it momentarily to create silence. The ventilator had limited usefulness, though, even set to maximum speed. At a certain point his scarred lungs would exchange only so much oxygen and carbon dioxide, no matter how much oxygen the suit delivered to him. His heart, on the other hand, was mightily efficient now that it delivered blood only to a central core, and was not burdened by pumping to distant extremities. He acknowledged his limitations, but promised himself he would learn to compensate. He would hone his dexterity and coordination, he would refine his Force sensitivity, and he would push his body enough that he would never display any sign of weakness.

That no one would ever know the terrible damage concealed by the suit was foremost in his vow to appear invincible. To that end he had worked to be able to dress and undress himself without aid, not even from a droid. Sealing the helmet and mask correctly was difficult, but by using the Force he could accomplish it. He continued removing the suit within the safety of the hyperbaric chamber and prepared for sleep.

Poised on a mechanized platform hovering above a river of lava, Anakin faced Obi-wan, former friend and mentor, now revealed enemy. Obi-wan shouted at him from the safety of the rocky shoreline, " It's over Anakin. I have the high ground."
Over, Anakin thought. I don't think so. The leap would not be that far, especially since he felt the Force running so strongly through him. He had tasted the Dark Side, and the sensation of it amazed him. The Jedi had steered him from the Dark Side only because they knew how powerful it would make him. His rage at and hatred of Obi-wan made the Force pulse through his muscles. One leap, and he would be on the shore to finish off Obi-wan.

This time Darth Vader awoke before Obi-wan's light-saber slashed through three of his limbs, leaving him crippled on the rocks. Sometimes he had to endure not only that memory, but the lecture that came after, and sometimes even the unbelievable pain of the lava lighting his body on fire. Awake, he could control his mind, and focus forward. But in sleep his mind betrayed him, and brought forth the events of his former life. It always took him awhile to regain his mental equilibrium after one of these dreams.

He was thankful there was no one to see his inner turmoil. The Emperor had been gone many days, leaving him alone in this medical rehabilitation center.At least he assumed he was alone; he had never seen anything but droids here while undergoing treatment. Not that there were many beings left that he knew. Order 66 had been highly successful in decimating the Jedi Order. Obi-wan might still be alive, maybe others, but no matter. He was not one of them anymore.

Now the only person on his side, the only being who appreciated his talent, was the Emperor. Even before his transformation, the Emperor probably understood him best, not his Jedi mentors. Only one path lay before him; he would be right hand to the Emperor. It was a fitting role for the Chosen One.

He gave himself comfort by reasoning that the Jedi prophecy must still hold true. The Jedi had simply interpreted it to suit their needs. Afterall, they had very nearly rejected training him, even though he fit all the qualifications of the prophecy, even though his midi-chlorian count surpassed all known Jedi. That he was destined for greatness, that he would play a key role in the Galaxy, of that he was certain, and he held that truth close around him like a cloak.

Already he had helped Palpatine to consolidate power in one man, making it simpler to keep peace and order in the Galaxy. Was that not a noble achievement, was that not something of which Padme' would be proud ? Her name rolling through his mind stung him fiercely, and he put away her memory, unable to bear looking at it. He would do this for her, though, build a tranquil and harmonious Empire. He would learn all he could from Palpatine, all the Sith teachings hidden from him by the Jedi. He would not limit his actions and emotions as the Jedi had taught him . Passion was not wrong; the Dark Side was not wrong. He would use them all, feel the full power of the Force. There would be a reason why he had suffered such tremendous loss, and he would not shirk from his destiny.