Okay, boys and girls, here it is. For those of you who haven't read my past author's note, to be blunt, I'm re-doing this story as I'm not at all satisfied with how the last draft turned out. I certainly hope you share my opinion when I say that this version is better and more realistic.
He stared out of the large, glass window at the side of the command room. The affinity of stars in the black void of space which had once been among the very few comforts he had left did nothing to mollify his restless mind. Under normal circumstances, he would be pacing back and forth, but a quick glance at the occupant in the chair seated at the main controls was more than enough to reign in the urge. He shifted slightly as he felt a wave of frustration hit him.
It became too much after several more moments. The hum of the monitors on the bridge, but more importantly, the constant sound of small fingers typing grated his nerves mercilessly. The desire to vent his anger on someone was great. Fortunately, he was not alone. Even more fortunately, his only companion was the one person in all the galaxy whom he would take the greatest pleasure in tormenting.
"You have not informed me where our next destination is," he said with harsh irritation.
He waited ten seconds for a reply. When none came, his hands automatically balled themselves into fists.
"Don't you dare ignore me," he hissed. "You will pay if you do. Do not delude yourself into thinking I don't know you have been stripped of all your precious defenses."
"Really?" Harlene replied with a sarcastic drawl. "Good. Its nice to know you're not completely oblivious to the obvious."
Vader clenched his jaw. This was one of the many times he would give anything to be able to use a Force choke on her. He knew the girl was deliberately being insolent to rub in his face that the only reason he was alive right now was because of her and that there was no way he could possibly survive in this twisted game without her.
"Where are we going?" he asked after willing his temper to simmer down not wanting to give her the satisfaction of knowing that she was getting to him.
"We're going to save Luke," she answered calmly.
Hot rage surged through Vader's blood along with faint traces of other emotions, such as sadness, despair and fear. But the anger he felt was so strong the secondary feelings were vaporized until they were barely noticeable.
"I have tolerated your mockery for some time now, Observer," he said in a voice that seemed to make the very air vibrate in terror. "But if you dare to mock me about my son, I forewarn you that I will not be responsible for my actions."
She snorted disdainfully. "Like that would surprise me. Vader, the day you take responsibility for your actions is the day Palpatine turns the Death Star into a daycare center."
Vader's jaw clenched further as his anger boiled even hotter. "For your sake do not push your luck," his tone dripped murder. "Mock me again, and you will die!" The threat was not empty. He would be killed without her, but that didn't really matter to him. There was nothing left for him in this wretched existence. He may not find solace in death, but he could at least scrap one last vestige of it in life knowing that he had accomplished the one thing he had craved to do for three years.
The sound of Harlene's typing ceased for a moment and she turned her head to face Vader. Her expression was so blank it seemed almost corpse-like. The girl had always been good at concealing her emotions. Very good. It was one of the traits she had that still intrigued and unnerved him despite himself.
"I am not mocking you," she said quietly. "Your son is our next destination, pure and simple. He's being held captive by the Virus Mistress, and we're going to go get him." She turned back to the computer screen and continued typing.
Vader snarled and took a step toward her, his right hand gripping his lightsaber, finger hovering over the activation plate. "I warned you, girl…"
"Oh, put it away, Vader," she said sounding so bored he could almost hear her rolling her eyes. "Don't embarrass yourself by threatening something you know you're not going to do."
"You think you know me so well," he sneered. "What makes you so sure I won't do it?"
"Because you need me. You need me to save your son."
With a roar, Vader activated his lightsaber and crossed the distance between them in a blur of speed. He raised the flaring crimson blade over her head and bellowed, "My son-is DEAD!"
A long pause. Then Harlene turned her chair around so she faced Vader. She completely ignored his lightsaber, her dark eyes fixed on the lenses of his mask with blind unconcern.
"If you are so convinced that your son is dead," she said in a low voice. "Then why did you choose to follow me?"
She was going to be disappointed if she expected to catch him off-guard with that question. He had in fact, been expecting it for quite some time. "Because I had no choice. It was either follow you or rot in that dungeon I was in. Or else I would have finished what I started when you freed me." He added maliciously. He hunted frantically in her eyes for a reaction to that and felt a wave of savage joy when he saw a tiny spark of sorrow and pain slip through her emotional barriers.
For a while they just stared at each other with only the ominous hum of Vader's lightsaber filling up the silence.
"I see," the girl said after an unknown length of time. She turned back to her computer and continued typing. "Vader, I know you don't like me…"
"That would be the understatement of the century," he cut her off with a venomous hiss. "I despise you."
But even that was an understatement. He hated her. Loathed her. His animosity of her exceeded that of the Jedi, Palpatine, the Virus Mistress.
In fact, though it seemed almost impossible, he hated her more than Obi-Wan.
What they all had done to him was to be expected. Even with Padme with all of her meetings with his old master and the senators that began the Rebellion a very small part of him suspected a betrayal of some kind, But what Harlene had done to him… he would never have expected…
That was the most terrible blow of all.
After she had…after she had…
He shook his head, cursing himself for the way his heart clenched rendering him unable to finish the thought, cursing his own weakness. He should be glad he hated her so much. No, he wanted to be glad he hated her so much. He was a Sith Lord. His hatred of her would fuel his power and make him stronger in the dark side.
But he couldn't. He had tried more times that he could count, but to his shame it just wasn't possible.
"I don't suppose you would care to tell me why?" she asked interrupting his thoughts.
He gripped his lightsaber almost to the point of crushing it. "Now you mock me again. You know why."
"Actually, I don't."
"Then you will forever remain in ignorance as punishment for your own stupidity." He spat.
"Very well," Harlene replied. "However, I highly recommend that you don't let your feelings toward me get in the way of your sole priority, which is rescuing Luke. Believe what you want to believe, Vader, but he is alive and we are going to go get him."
"You are LYING!" Vader roared.
Harlene pursed her lips then sighed.
"Apparently, someone needs to be taught a lesson."
Without warning she jumped from her chair, swung her right leg and delivered a walloping kick square in the center of his face. Vader's mask protected him from physical damage, but the force of the blow caused him to stagger back several steps. Before he could recover, Harlene's hand punched a button on the ship's controls. A long pole shot out from the wall opposite of Vader, who reflexively grabbed hold of it to steady himself. It was fortunate that he did so for Harlene punched another button and the floor beneath his feet vanished completely.
Darth Vader was now dangling above a large bottomless-seeming black pit in the center of the ship's command room with only a metal pole sticking from the opposite wall for leverage.
That was another reason to hate her. Being of a different dimension, she was completely void of the Force. Therefore, it was impossible to sense her emotions or her intentions.
And it did not help that though the Virus Mistress had taken all her powers, she was inhumanly strong, fast, and very subtle.
Harlene calmly approached the pit and stopped when the toes of her boots were bare inches from the edge.
"Okay, so while you're hanging out there, listen up because I'm going to say this only once," she snapped. "This whole game that we're playing has absolutely nothing to do with truth and lies. I'm surprised that even someone as pig-headed and stubborn as you can't see that truth and lies are useless here. This game has only two absolute rules: what a person has the ability to do, and what a person refuses to do. You have the ability to believe me when I say that Luke's alive, you just refuse to. The Virus Mistress has the ability to destroy your Universebut she refuses to because if she does, she won't get her psychotic kicks by forcing us to play her sadistic little games. And me, I could use your help, but really don't need it. I have the ability to rescue Luke, kill the Daemon Virus and save the reality all by myself."
Vader knew what she was getting at and glared at her defiantly. He should have known she would eventually pull something like this after all she had done to him. The treacherous little bitch, of course she would…
"But I refuse to let you fall to your death."
She turned back to the ship's controls and pressed a button. The floor returned beneath Vader's feet. She hit the other button and the pole retracted back into the wall before sitting back in her chair at the main computer.
For a while, Vader just stood there staring at Harlene in stunned silence, holding his deactivated lightsaber limply at his side.
"I'm not asking for the affection or respect you once had for me, Vader, because to get either one of them would defy all laws of reason," she said after a while, her voice calm and quiet. "I only ask for cooperation, and for the sake of your only son and reality, I will get it."
The only reply to Harlene's words was the soft echo of her typing, and the mechanical wheeze of Vader's breathing.