Chapter Twenty-Four -- Vader

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"Arise, Darth Vader. Lord of the Sith." -- Darth Sidious

Padme Amidala stood in her daughterís nursery, watching Leia sleep soundlessly. Padme herself had rarely slept a full night since her arrival on Alderaan two months ago.

When she did sleep, she was plagued by nightmares. Neither she, Master Windu nor Bail Organa had heard from Yoda or Obi-Wan since their parting near Coruscant shortly after Luke and Leia had been born.

She had no idea if Luke was even still alive, which troubled her the most, while Master Winduís attempts to contact Yoda through their strong mental connection had failed.

All the same, there had been no signs that Count Dooku had successfully located Luke. The Emperor had been quiet lately, letting his lesser government officials address the Senate and making only rare appearances on the Holonet. Padme thought he looked horrible, far older than he should appear, and wondered if Dooku had warped his mind somehow through the dark side of the Force.

She remained frightened, worrying about Luke, who she had no control over, and about Leia, who she checked on at every opportunity, trusting no one past Mischa and Rabeí to spend more than a few moments with her baby girl.

The message light flashed on the control panel to her right and Padme padded softly to the front of her chambers, keying the door to open to find Rabeí standing there.

"Master Windu is here to speak with you, MíLady."

Padmeís heart leapt in her chest evn as she tried not to let her hopes rise at the prospect of news. She moved quickly forward to where Windu stood.

"Luke?"

" -- is safe and well, Padme." Windu put a comforting hand on her shoulder and could feel the burden of worry lift from her body in a rush."I have received an encrypted message from Obi-Wan. He sends his apologies for keeping you uninformed for so long, but he says Luke is fine."

"And what of Master Yoda and Obi-Wan? How did they escape the Sith Lord?"

Winduís brow furrowed and his face grew solemn again.

"They were separated. Apparently they landed on an unknown planet to repair the ship. Yoda and Dooku engaged in a battle, but Obi-Wan did not see its end. He assumes Yoda defeated the Sith, but cannot confirm whether Dooku died or if Yoda still lives."

This time it was Padme putting her hand on the great Masterís arm, trying in some small way to lend comfort to him at the prospect of being the last of his kind, the only remaining Master of what had been a Council of 12 great minds barely three years before.

Windu touched her hand and nodded. "I have instructed Obi-Wan to meet me at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in three days. We fear the Emperor will have it razed to wipe out any remaining knowledge of our kind. We hope to salvage as much information as possible in hopes that some day I might use it to train Leia, and Obi-Wan to train your son as the first of the new Jedi."

Padmeís eyes grew fearful at the prospect of Windu leaving.

"But Master Windu, youíll be seen! The Emperor will have spies everywhere watching for you and Obi-Wan to return! Itís too dangerous to risk yourself!"

Winduís features were solid like stone.

"The Force calls to me, Padme. I have the gift to hear it. I do what I must."

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In his deepest meditation chamber, Darth Sidious sat on a throne, flanked by eight crimson-clad Royal guards, their faces masked by visors and helmets, their bodies hidden under flowing robes and each brandishing a force pike at attention. Sidious sat in silence, feeling the dark side powers flow through him as he watched a monitor showcase the diligent work of medical droids a level below.

The droid who had monitored Anakin Skywalker all these long months was joined by an exact duplicate, and even now the two worked in tandem, unhooking the charred body from its life-support systems. Two more Royal guards stood near a giant black case, in rapt attention, awaiting the droidsí signal to assist them as they removed the broken body from its tubing.

Now the guards removed a locking mechanism and the case eased open with a snap-hiss of released pressure. They moved forward with the body armor, black as night, the antithesis of the pristine white worn by the Empireís troops.

Carefully, the droids attached the artificial legs to the now-unconscious body, weaving tissue with cyborg implant carefully until the neural synaspes and transmitters found an equal plane and the artificial legs were recognized as a part of the whole.

The black boots encased them, and piece by piece the armor snapped shut with ringing finalness around the vastly deteriorated body.

A new hand was attached, much as the legs had been, and sheathed in black gloves and armanments.

The chest piece locked into place, and tubes slid seamlessly into holes in his chest, inflating his lungs with filtered oxygen, and rendering the medical tubes in his airways useless. They were removed.

The body seized up, unable to breathe, but quickly the mouth and nose were coverd with a faceplate, then a helmet which formed together into a black death mask, fearsome even to the guards who had been integral in creating the armored suit.

The wheezing continued for another painful moment, then the breathing became regulated by the suitís devices, and it turned into a deep, labored rasp.

Slowly, aided by the two guards, the armored figure rose to its feet, towering over the crimson-clad warriors and the droids alike.

The figure stood there, breathing deep, the labored mechanism echoing deep in the chamber. One of the guards pulled a lever on the console behind him, and the armored figure began to rise on a platform beneath his boots.

_______________________

He felt his body rise slowly into the chamber. He was still so weak, so exhausted from the process, but he felt the Force coursing through him, making him stronger as he thought about how he would use this body to exact his revenge.

When the platform came to a halt he saw the Emperor, sitting above him on a throne, flanked by more of the guards. Remembering his silent vow, the armored figure dropped to a knee.

"What is thy bidding, my Master?"

The voice rumbled out of him through processors in the bottom of the helmet. It was far different from the voice he remembered using in his other life, and it pleased him to hear the depth and intimidation in it.

"You have been re-made, my servant," the Emperor intoned, his own voice not nearly as deep, but filled with darkness nonetheless. "The Jedi Anakin Skywalker is dead. You are his sucessor, his better. In you, the Force flows without limit, without boundary. You will use it to serve me, and to revenge those who have wronged you."

"You will be my apprentice, but first you must prove yourself worthy of the call of the Sith."

The Emperor patted the arm rest of his throne, and the armored one noticed a short cylinder resting there. It too, he remembered from another time.

"It will be yours, my friend, call it to you."

He extended one great black arm and stretched out in the Force. The lightsaber sprung from the throne and flew to his hand. He turned it over in his hand twice, it was much like his last.

"Very good, my apprentice. Now for your true test ... Guards, destroy him."

As the armored figure looked up in surprise from his saber, the Royal guards activated their pikes and assumed combat stances in a circle around him.

They were the best of the best, hybrid clones with military training that allowed them to serve their Master in several capacties, most notably as bodyguards capable of killing in a heartbeat, operating any weapon known in the Empire like easoned professionals and overwhelming tremendous odds, be they in situation or size.

The armored figure ignited the lightsaber, the crimson blade extending to match the color of the guardsí armor and robes.

As they moved in on them, he called the Force to his side, seizing hold of its dark side and lashing out at those who again sought to destroy him.

The first guard to attack swung his pike and had it lopped in half by the saber, which continued through his armored chest, dropping him instantly.

The great black warrior, spun to avoid the coordinated attack of two more, dicing one through the neck with his blade while seizing the otherís windpipe through the Force and shattering it.

Turning again, he faced the remaining five, now all wary of this deadly giant.

Seizing the opportunity, he threw the blade, controlling its flight through the Force as it shredded through the visor of one man and pierced a second in the chest.

Thinking the warrior defenseless without his blade, another guard charged him, pike in front of him to penetarte the black armor.

A gloved hand shot out and caught the pike by the top of its thin-rodded body, shattering it in the vise-like grip The giant picked the guard up, and slammed him head first into the metal walls of the antechamber, dropping his limp body to the ground.

Of the two remaining guards, one advanced cautiously now, keeping his distance from the monster in black when the crimson blade stabbed him from behind, exiting out the front of his chest in an explosion of blood as it returned to its new Masterís grip.

One guardsman stood alone now. He had sworn to die protecting the Emperor. Now he fell to his knees in front of the armored giant, his pike clattering to the ground.

Anakin Skywalker might have shown such an opponent mercy. The armored giant took two great strides to where the guard knelt and brought the saber down into his skull.

The black warrior extinguished his blade and turned to face his Master again.

"Kneel, my apprentice."

Instantly he was down on a knee again, this time reveling in the power he felt, the strength of the dark side had made him invulnerable, had allowed him to crush eight trained fighters in a matter of seconds.

He heard the Emperor rise from his throne and descend the stairs to stand over him. His Master took the lightsaber from his hand and touched him on both shoulers with the hilt.

"Arise, Darth Vader. Lord of the Sith."