When Anakin woke up, he was lying flat on his back, blinking up at the familiar grayish ceiling of a star destroyer cabin. Rex or Obi-Wan must have brought me back to the Resolute, he thought blurrily, raising one hand to rub at his eyes. The movement made him realize that he wasn’t in his rack, but on the floor instead.
“Obi-Wan?” he said out loud, even though he couldn’t sense his former master anywhere nearby. “Snips?”
No, blast it, Ahsoka wouldn’t be here. He kept forgetting.
Groaning, he pushed himself up to a seated position and looked around. He realized almost immediately that he wasn’t on the Resolute, since he had never seen a room like this there. He could sense the ship’s crew moving around outside the cabin, but no familiar presences, no one that he recognized. No Jedi.
No Jedi, he realized as his hand fell to the lightsaber on his hip, but the shadow of the Dark Side hung heavy over the entire ship. Anakin rose to his feet, taking his lightsaber off his belt just to have the reassuring weight of the hilt in his hand. He reached out with his mind, relaxing slightly as he realized that there wasn’t a presence attached to that sense of darkness. It might have been nothing more than the cloud that had swallowed the Force since the war had begun, but somehow Anakin didn’t think that it was. It felt different somehow. Closer. More personal. He had no idea what that meant.
Swallowing back the faint nausea left behind by his sense of the Dark Side, Anakin studied the room. It was about the size of a captain’s cabin, maybe a little larger, but instead of a bunk, he saw what he eventually identified as a round life support pod, meant to provide filtered oxygen and other atmospheric gases to the occupant. Anakin had seen them in medcenters before, where they were used to provide support for those who had suffered severe damage to their lungs and other internal organs, usually due to fire or poison gases. To Anakin’s eyes it seemed obscenely large, used for a very tall, broad human man or a nonhuman like a Houk or a Wookiee. Elsewhere in the cabin he found a holoprojection platform and maintenance tools appropriate for lightsaber repair, but nothing that hinted at the room’s occupant except for that sense of the Dark Side.
A single clear note rang through the cabin, making Anakin stiffen as a voice came over the intercom by the door. “Lord Vader, our sensors picked up a strange energy signature originating from your quarters. Are you well, my lord?”
Something in Anakin recognized the name, even though he couldn’t remember ever hearing it before. He clenched his fist on his lightsaber hilt, so tightly that he heard the leather of his glove creak. It was a Sith moniker if he had ever heard one.
He didn’t dare respond. The last thing he remembered was the assault on Odryn, the old colony world of the Feeorins. He and Rex had launched their attack from the north, while Obi-Wan and Cody took the south, hoping to outflank the Separatist forces that had occupied the planet’s thin habitable zone. The planet wasn’t strategically important, but a rumor had persisted for millennia that a warehouse of Sith relics had been lost there during the Mandalorian Wars. Once word had gotten out that the Separatists had taken the planet, it had been a desperate race between Dooku’s Dark Acolytes and the Jedi to see who could find the relics, if they really existed, first. Anakin had thought that they had managed it. He and Rex had been poking around in one of the burned-out Feeorin villages near the dig site abandoned by University of Alderaan archaeologists when the front had come too close for comfort, waiting for Obi-Wan and his troops to catch up to them. Something in the Force had attracted him, and Anakin had reached for it –
And woken up here. Wherever here was. If a Sith artifact had brought him here, Anakin was certain that it wasn’t a good place to be.
Another chime sounded and the intercom crackled again. “Lord Vader? I don’t wish to disturb you, but –”
Anakin could sense the man just outside the cabin’s door. His fear gnawed at Anakin’s mind, like one of Tatooine’s womprats – fear of what he expected to find inside, fear of what would happen to him if he didn’t persist.
How can the Sith hope to rule if all they create is fear? Anakin thought, disgusted, but he already knew the answer. Fear was power. He had known that all his life.
“My lord, I’m afraid that I must enter in order to determine your well-being. I mean you no disrespect –”
He jumped at the voice, which rang clearly through his head, and looked frantically around. “Master?”
Obi-Wan was nowhere to be seen, but Anakin could feel him as strongly as if Obi-Wan had been standing beside him. Anakin, you must not let them see you, he said. Quickly, into the ventilation shaft.
Anakin had spent the past twelve years trusting Obi-Wan to have his back; he wasn’t about to stop now. He took two quick steps sideways, using a trickle of Force energy to push the vent’s grille above him out of place, and leapt straight upwards. He caught himself on the side of the vent and pulled himself up the rest of the way, replacing the grille just in time.
The cabin’s door slid open, producing a trim officer in what looked like a Republic Navy uniform. The man radiated anxiety so strongly that for a moment it actually blanketed the rest of Anakin’s senses. He looked around, saying, “Lord Vader? Are you here?”
The ventilation shaft was a narrow fit for a human of Anakin’s size. He crouched at the edge of the vent, still holding his lightsaber, and watched the man pace nervously around the cabin, repeating, “My lord?” every few minutes. He paused to look at the life support pod, but the console indicated that it was unoccupied and he didn’t seem inclined to investigate further. Eventually he took his comlink from his belt and said, “Lieutenant Zurita to the bridge. Lord Vader is not in his quarters.”
Quickly now, Obi-Wan’s voice whispered. It’s about to get very crowded and I don’t think that you want to linger, my old friend.
“Easy for you to say,” Anakin muttered. “You’re not really here.”
That’s a matter of perspective.
“From my perspective, you’re not the one stuffed in a metal tube,” Anakin replied, the words barely more than a breath, and began to crawl. He didn’t have enough room to clip his lightsaber to his belt and was forced to keep holding it, squirming awkwardly along with his right hand clenched in a fist. Well, at least that was the hand he didn’t have to worry about cramping.
He knew the guts of a star destroyer better than most Jedi, but that didn’t mean much when he wasn’t sure where on the cruiser he actually was – or if he was actually on a star destroyer, for that matter.
The technical designation is super star destroyer, actually, Obi-Wan offered helpfully. It’s been a few years, but the design is essentially unchanged, though it’s a bit larger than what you’re used to.
“A few years?” Anakin hissed. “How many is a ‘few’, exactly?”
He felt Obi-Wan hesitate for an instant before he said, Twenty-two.
Anakin had to stop and put his head down on his hands for a minute. “We’re going to have a serious talk later, okay?”
That seems fair. Keep crawling.
Since there didn’t seem to be any better options, Anakin kept crawling.
It took him about twenty minutes to reach somewhere that looked promising. He’d passed several rooms that just looked like more officers’ quarters, most of them occupied, which didn’t do him any good. He kept expecting to hear a call for this Lord Vader to come over the ship-wide intercom, but so far it had remained quiet. Maybe the ship’s captain didn’t want to worry the crew.
He paused above the grate, reaching out with the Force to make sure that his initial impression was correct and there was no one in the room below him, then eased the grille out of the frame and slid it aside. He dropped lightly down, hanging by one hand from the frame as he pulled the grille back into place before letting go. He landed with a soft thump on the durasteel floor of the locker room, hooking his lightsaber back onto his belt.
Since the war had begun, he had been in dozens of locker rooms like this, stopping in for a few minutes before or after missions to give an encouraging word to the troopers under his command. Twenty years or not, this one was nearly identical to all the others – the slightly stale smell of hundreds of men kept in close confines, blaster oil, mud, and adrenaline. Familiar too were the racks of white clone trooper armor and helmets, though upon picking one up, Anakin saw that the design had changed. The armor was thin and less resistant to blasterfire, without the electronic interface he was accustomed too. Most surprising to him was that the sizes differed, though they were all meant for human males. Clone armor, though it tended to accumulate personal quirks over various campaigns, was functionally identical except among different branches of the GAR.
There are very few clones remaining in the Imperial Army. Out of the corner of his eye, Anakin thought he saw Obi-Wan, but when he turned to look there was no one there. Clones began being phased out of the stormtrooper ranks some years ago.
“Stormtroopers?” Anakin repeated.
The name was changed after the war…ended. By then the Emperor’s intent was clear, though I don’t suppose that many of the clones understood what that really meant.
“Emperor?” Anakin turned the helmet over in his hands. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
It’s a long story, and now isn’t the time, I’m afraid.
“Chalk it on the list of other things you’re going to explain when we have time,” Anakin said. There was another flicker at the corner of his vision and for an instant he thought he saw Obi-Wan as he had been ten years ago, clean-shaven and short-haired and terribly intense. “Starting with how in blazes you’re speaking to me. Neither of us is telepathic.”
To answer your first question, I’m not a hallucination, Obi-Wan said, sounding rather prim. Not technically.
“I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a non-technical hallucination,” Anakin said. He started to replace the helmet on the shelf, then stopped, his attention caught by the neatly-lettered label on the inside. “The Five-Oh-First? My Five-Oh-First?”
Not Anakin Skywalker’s command, Obi-Wan corrected him. Darth Vader’s command. I believe they call themselves Vader’s Fist.
The betrayal stung at Anakin as he set the helmet down. “Well, that’s just rude.”
‘Rude’ isn’t exactly the word that I’d use. Was it Anakin’s imagination, or was he talking around some kind of unpleasant truth? Anakin frowned in the direction that he lost thought he’d last seen Obi-Wan’s image, though he doubted that it really mattered.
There’s a general access terminal over there. It should have a map of the ship.
“Don’t try and distract me, Obi-Wan,” Anakin muttered. He didn’t know how he knew which direction to look in, but he found the terminal easily enough and bent over it to poke around until he found a map of the super star destroyer. It didn’t include a handy “you are here” tab, but after a few minutes of puzzling out the route he had taken from Vader’s quarters, he located the locker room and the nearest hangar bay.
He felt Obi-Wan’s presence in the Force shiver and vanish for an instant, then his former master returned. There are several empty shuttles there, he reported. Normally these have a crew of six, but in a pinch one skilled pilot will do.
“Well, lucky for you,” Anakin said, “they don’t come much more skilled than me.”
In my present condition I have little need of a shuttle, Obi-Wan said, with gentle patience.
“Don’t be stupid,” Anakin said, straightening up from the terminal once he was certain that he’d memorized the map. Obi-Wan was right; the super star destroyer wasn’t much different from a regular star destroyer, just grossly oversized. “If you’re talking to me, you have to be around here somewhere. Neither of us is powerful enough to accomplish this kind of Force-projection over more than a few kilometers. Are you in the detention block? I’ll come and get you and then we can both get off this tin can.” He touched his lightsaber. “I don’t care how long it’s been for you. No one gets left behind, remember? It won’t be the first time I’ve rescued you, Master.”
Anakin. He felt Obi-Wan sigh. I’m not on this vessel. Get to a shuttle now before an alarm is raised. It’s only a matter of time.
Still Anakin hesitated. “Where are you, then?”
I’ll explain later. Please, Anakin, don’t linger.
It was the “please” that got him. Obi-Wan spent plenty of time telling him what to do, but he seldom asked politely. If the trickle of fear that accompanied the words hadn’t already been enough – Anakin could count on one hand the number of times that he had felt Obi-Wan well and truly afraid – that would have done it.
“Okay, Obi-Wan,” he said, turning towards the door. “If you’re sure.”
I am. More than you can possibly imagine.
Well, that wasn’t terrifying at all. Anakin was reaching for the button to open the door when it slid open in front of him, revealing half a dozen troopers in the process of removing their helmets. The two in the lead froze when they saw him.
“Hey!” said one. “You can’t be in here!”
“Sorry,” Anakin said, and slammed a kick into his jaw. His friend was swinging his blaster up when Anakin kicked that out of his hands, pulling his lightsaber off his belt and igniting it.
He didn’t expect the reaction that that prompted.
“Jedi!” someone yelled, sounding completely terrified, and a second later Anakin found himself the target of several dozen blaster bolts. He deflected them easily into walls and floor and ceiling, his lightsaber moving in a blinding blue blur only a little hampered by the narrow space he found himself in. His lightsaber struck sparks off the doorway as he fought his way into the hallway, a little reluctant to strike the killing blows that came so easily to him these days. They might be shooting to kill, but they were still the 501st, his 501st, and they were wearing the same armor that the men he trusted his life to every day wore.
Yes, well, they are shooting to kill, Anakin, so you had best respond in kind!
“Okay, Obi-Wan,” Anakin muttered, his lightsaber sweeping out to cleave one trooper from hip to shoulder, taking another’s head in the same movement. He deflected a blast back into the unprotected neck of a third, grabbing the last man with the Force and slamming him into the wall.
More blasterfire came from both ends of the hallway. Anakin swore, his lightsaber flashing back and forth, in front and behind himself as he deflected the bolts. He retreated back into the locker room, shutting the door with a wave of his hand and sliding his lightsaber into the control pad to destroy it. Deactivating his lightsaber and clipping it to his belt, he leapt straight up, shoving the grate out of the way as he hauled himself back up into the ventilation shaft. He pushed it back into place, calling up a mental image of the holomap – which hadn’t covered the ventilation shafts, of course – and started to crawl.
He hadn’t gone more than five meters before an alarm started blaring through the ship, the sound slightly dulled by the walls of the ventilation shaft. Anakin crawled a little faster, cursing under his breath. It wouldn’t take them long to get in through the door. Once they found the room empty, it wouldn’t take a genius to work out that the only place he could have gone was into the ventilation shafts. If the super star destroyer’s crew was directly proportional to its size, then there could be as many as three hundred thousand beings looking for him.
“You can’t cause a distraction on the other side of the ship, can you?” he muttered.
Afraid not, Obi-Wan said apologetically.
“Too bad.” Anakin paused before the next grate, peering cautiously down into the room below. It looked like a refresher – an empty refresher, which was more important. He lifted the grille out of place, set it aside, and dropped lightly to the floor, pulling his lightsaber off his belt. He rested his free hand lightly against the door before he opened it, reaching out with the Force. He didn’t think there was anyone in the corridor; he got the sense that most of the troopers who had responded to the alarm were gathered in the next corridor over, still trying to get into the locker room. It probably gave him a few minutes.
Anakin hit the control for the door and stepped out into the hallway, his grip tight on his lightsaber hilt. There was no one in sight; Anakin took a breath and reached out to draw the Force around him, using a Jedi trick meant to make anyone who saw him believe that he was just out of sight, that he had turned a corner or gone into another room. It hurt his head – it took a lot of energy to affect other beings that way – but it was preferable to getting caught. He used a little more of the Force to give him speed, moving so quickly that to human eyes he would appear as little more than a blur. Between the two, it would take well-tuned sensors, a strong-minded and sharp-eyed non-human, or a Force-user to find him.
He dashed down the corridor in the direction of the hangar, taking a turn so sharply that he nearly overbalanced and fell over. Above him, the alarm was still blaring, but Anakin was sunk so deeply that in his trance that he was aware of it only very distantly. He ran past a group of troopers headed in the direction that he had just left, barely noticing when one or two of them stopped to look after him in surprise. By then Anakin was already out of sight, racing down corridors filled with troopers, crewmen, and droids. Their unease at the sound of the alarm sank deep into the Force, making Anakin’s control shiver for a second before he got control of himself.
He could sense the hangar in front of him and dragged himself to a stop, catching himself one-handed on a corner before he ran into the wall. Anakin was breathing hard, not so much from the run as from the extended Force use; he kept the Don’t See Me in place, though he could feel the edges of his mind start to fray from concentration. Carefully, he peered around the corner, spotting the hangar doors and the troopers standing in front of them. Even with the Don’t See Me, if he walked out into plain sight he would be fully visible to them. And then he would have to kill them.
They served the Sith. Anakin shouldn’t have hesitated on that point alone, but they were still living beings, and in their familiar armor and helmets they could easily have been a half-dozen of his own troops. Besides, if he attacked them, then the rest of the super star destroyer’s complement would be on him within seconds.
Anakin looked around quickly, the Force pointing out – aw, really? – another air vent a few meters away. He stepped over to stand directly beneath it, dropped the Don’t See Me, and launched himself upwards, knocking the grate out of the way as he scrambled into the shaft.
“This is really more your forte than mine,” he whispered to Obi-Wan as he replaced the grate, and felt Obi-Wan’s laughter curl warm and familiar through his head.
Hardly a specialty, I think. After a moment, he added, his mental voice very soft, I have missed you, Anakin.
Anakin swallowed. He loved Obi-Wan, loved him more than he would ever admit and in ways that he wouldn’t dream of vocalizing, and knew through the Force that Obi-Wan probably felt similarly. I missed you from him was the equivalent of a declaration broadcast from the tallest tower on Coruscant.
“Well, I saw you this morning,” he made himself say instead. “Guess what? I beat you to the dig site. Much good that did either of us.”
What dig site? No, don’t answer that, now isn’t the time.
“Add it to the list,” Anakin muttered. The list in question was starting to get worryingly long, as far as he was concerned. Considering that he had picked up what was probably a Sith artifact, promptly passed out in the middle of a war zone, and apparently woken up twenty years in the future with Obi-Wan having taken up residence in his head, he thought he was entitled to have a few questions.
He kept crawling, pausing at an intersection to reach out with the Force. He was relieved to find that this ventilation shaft connected with the hangar, which wasn’t always a given in starships. Direction fixed in his mind, he crawled determinedly towards his new destination, ignoring the ache that was starting to develop in his back, not to mention his knees and his remaining elbow. Humankind had not been meant to crawl through small, tight spaces for extended periods of time.
It took him almost another ten minutes, but eventually he reached a vent that looked out over the hangar. Peering down through the grille, Anakin was relieved to see that there were, as promised, several shuttles sitting on the hangar floor. The design was vaguely familiar to him from the latest Sienar Fleet specs, which he had been studying on the way from Coruscant to Odryn, but these were far more advanced.
“Are those fast?” he asked. The delta-shaped starships – the wings must fold down in flight mode – didn’t look either fast or maneuverable.
Not remotely. But they do have hyperdrive and they’re well-armed. I believe they’re primarily used as troop transports.
“Not my favorite bird to fly.” He squirmed around until he could remove the grate, setting it aside before bracing himself for the long drop to the floor beneath him. He landed in a three-point crouch, the durasteel floor cool against his left palm.
A blaster barrel settled against the back of his neck. “Don’t move, Jedi. Put your hands up.”
“How can I put my hands up if you don’t want me to move?” Anakin asked.
“Shut up and show me your hands, traitor.”
Shifting his balance a little so that he didn’t fall over, Anakin raised his hands. At the trooper’s instruction, he put them on the back of his head and straightened up, letting his mouth compress into a frown. The shuttles were so close, the familiar vastness of space visible through the magnetic shield across from him.
Several other troopers moved carefully into position to surround him. He felt the pressure on his neck vanish as the trooper with the blaster stepped back, removing his lightsaber from his belt as he did so.
“Get the binders and contact the bridge.” It was the same man who had spoken before. Anakin turned his head to see him – a young officer maybe his own age or a few years older. He looked entirely too pleased with himself, as far as Anakin was concerned. “Tell them that we have the Jedi in custody. Should we terminate him immediately?”
“That’s really not a good idea,” Anakin said.
“Shut up,” said the officer. “You’re a rebel and a traitor. Death is the least that you deserve, like the rest of your friends.”
Anakin blinked. “You know,” he said, “this isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, but usually it’s from people who’ve known me for more than a few minutes.”
Anakin, you can’t permit them to take you alive! The alarm in Obi-Wan’s voice was unmistakable.
“Oh, stop with the dramatics!” Anakin hissed.
“What did you say?” the officer demanded.
Anakin tipped his head back, giving the man his best sneer. “I wasn’t talking to you,” he said, and leapt straight up, kicking out with both legs at the two troopers on either side of him. An instant later his lightsaber thumped solidly into his palm, leaving the officer staring in astonishment at his empty palm. The blade flicked out as Anakin ignited it, tossing himself up into a backflip. His blade sliced cleanly through the belly of the man behind him; his heel snapped off the jaw of the officer, and a push of the Force flung the last troopers backwards into the side of a nearby shuttle as Anakin landed on his feet again.
He deactivated his lightsaber as he ran for the nearest shuttle, hitting the button to close the ramp behind him. It was bigger than he had expected – twenty or thirty passengers plus crew, easy – but Obi-Wan had been right, he found as he slid into the pilot’s seat. It could be flown by a single skilled pilot. He started the preflight sequence, pulling a headset on. It was already tuned to the super star destroyer’s emergency frequency, so that all he could hear were clipped exclamations of alarm and orders to detain any strangers on sight.
“Here goes nothing,” he said, settling his hands on the shuttle’s controls. It lifted easily up off the floor, its wings beginning to unfold when Anakin got it far enough up.
Have you noticed that your shields aren’t up? Obi-Wan inquired anxiously, then, They’re going to close the blast doors!
“Keep your shirt on, old man,” Anakin said, glancing up at the observation platform, where he saw an officer waving wildly at him. Behind him, though he couldn’t see it, he had the vague sense in the Force of the hangar bay doors opening, several squads of troopers rushing in. “Shields, shields – there we go!”
He hit the button just in time, the blaster bolts bouncing harmlessly off the shuttle. In front of him, the blast doors were starting to slide closed. “This is going to be tight!” he warned, adrenaline flushing through him as he increased the speed.
For a second he felt a hand on his shoulder, a familiar breath on his ear, as though Obi-Wan was leaning over him. Anakin didn’t look – couldn’t have even if he hadn’t been afraid Obi-Wan would vanish if he did. “Hold on!” he said needlessly, and just barely missed clipping the shuttle’s wings between the blast doors as he brought the starship screaming out into open space.
Over the headset, he could hear the super star destroyer’s bridge order TIE fighters – whatever those were – to launch. Anakin hissed a curse through his teeth; the shuttle might have been armed, but most of its guns were meant to be operated by a copilot or gunner, not the pilot.
They’re powering up their tractor beam!
“I know! Computer, calculate a hyperspace jump to –” He considered and discarded half a dozen planets in the space of a few seconds, then gave up and said the first system that came into his head. “Naboo.”
CALCULATING blinked across the navicomputer’s screen.
The shuttle handled like a brick, but it wasn’t the worst thing that Anakin had ever flown. He saw the swarm of gray starfighters emerge from the sides of the super star destroyer, all of them flying straight at him. He actually spared a moment to admire them, since he couldn’t remember having seen similar fighters before. They looked like nothing so much as giant eyeballs with a pair of vertical wings slapped onto either side. They seemed fast enough, but they offended Anakin’s personal sense of aesthetics.
Anakin dodged the first flurry of shots, cursing at how slow the shuttle was compared to his starfighter. Fortunately at least one gun had been designed to be fired by the pilot, rather than by the shuttle’s missing crew, and Anakin got one of the lead TIEs in his sights. The starfighter exploded in a rain of overheated metal; the pilot blinking out of the Force in a heartbeat.
ROUTE CALCULATED scrolled across the navicomputer screen.
“About time,” Anakin said, firing another burst of shots and sending the shuttle into a barrel roll to avoid the incoming missiles. He grabbed the hyperdrive lever and pulled.
And the world dissolved into stars.
Admiral Firmus Piett, the captain of the Executor, was as rigid as a statue as he spoke. He kept his hands clasped behind his back, his gaze directed forward. His voice was even and apparently calm, and yet his fear was sunk so deeply into the Force that Sidious could taste it from halfway across the galaxy.
“We’ll continue to search the ship for Lord Vader, of course,” he concluded. “And all our shuttles are equipped with tracking devices. When the shuttle Adamas comes out of hyperspace we will be able to locate this Jedi and terminate him.”
Piett had transmitted a copy of the security cam holos at Sidious’s order. Now he studied the hologram, which was running a loop of the Jedi’s initial arrest and escape in miniature across the surface of Sidious’s desk. He stretched a finger out and paused it, catching the Jedi in mid-air freeze frame, lithe and flexible as only the young could be, his lightsaber stretched out in one hand and his handsome face fixed in concentration. The wash of color in Sidious’s holoprojector showed that his lightsaber blade was, without question, a brilliant blue.
Even without the famous scar clearly displayed by the angle of the frozen holo, Sidious would have recognized the young Jedi. He had, after all, been the man who destroyed Anakin Skywalker more than twenty years earlier. There was no question that this was the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker rather than the Sith Lord Darth Vader; he could feel the difference in the Force, as though a sun had abruptly come blazing into existence where before there had only been darkness. It should have been impossible.
Should have been, and yet here he was, a fruit ripe for the plucking. And this time there was no need to worry about that meddling fool Kenobi getting in the way again.
“This Jedi is not to be terminated, Admiral Piett,” Sidious said. “You are to bring him to me alive and unharmed.”