Chapter Thirty-Four -- Death

"Prince Organa, I am sorry to bring such distressing news..." -- C3PO

It was the shrill cry of Padmeís handmaiden Mischa, which first alerted C3PO out of his standby mode in the darkened outer quarters of his Mistressí residence in the Organa House.

Immediately, the droid rose to his feet and moved as quickly as he could toward Padmeís bedroom, where the light was now coming on and Mischa now emitted a low moan.

C3PO entered the room to see Mischa standing over Mistress Padmeís bed, her hands clutched tightly to her mouth.

"Mistress, Mischa! Whatever is the trouble, is something wrong with Mistress Pad-" C3POís vocorder staggered there, as his photoreceptors processed the scene in front of him.

Padme Amidala lay in her bed, not moving, her chest did not rise, as C3PO watched intently, and as Mischaís hands went to the former Nubian queenís wrist to search for a sign of life, she wailed again. There was none to be found.

C3POís facial expression never changed, it couldnít after all, he was artificial. But he had known the young Nubian Padme Amidala for nearly his entire life, and his central processors did not have to tell him that grief, mourning and regret were in order for proper protocol.

While Mischa continued to sob, C3PO dutifully activated the comlink, rousing Bail Organa from his chambers. Under ordinary circumstances, he would have expected the Alderaanian prince to be asleep this time at night, but Organa looked wide awake in his chair as he answered.

"Prince Organa, I am sorry to bring such distressing news. But Mistress Padme has passed away in her sleep."

Organa remained tight-lipped for a moment, then he nodded. "Thank you, 3P0, Iíll be right there." R2D2 came into the room and stood silently by 3PO, the taller droid put his hand on his counterpartís head and patted it, emulating a human motion he had seen during times of great grief.

C3PO did not find it comforting in the least.

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Barely 12 hours after Padme Amidalaís death, Bail Organa completed his work at the computer terminal at his desk. For all intents and purposes, no one would ever question that Leia was his daughter. She had an Alderaanian birthdate now, and an identification entry in the planetís hall of records. He would protect the young girl as if she were his own daughter, he and his wife would raise her together.

Princess Leia Organa would grow up precocious, strong-willed and defiant to things she believed were wrong. At 14, she gave a speech at a political gathering seen planet-wide on the corruptions inherent in the government being practiced by the Emperor. At 16, she was elected to the Imperial Senate, the youngest Alderaanian ever elected into office by some 12 years.

In the social circles of the Alderaanian aristocracy, she was labeled a firebrand, and at parties and receptions, the comment was often overheard that Leia was nothing like her father or mother in the political arena, the princess was so aggressive, strong-willed and at times bullish in pursuing the things she wanted done.

Bail Organa often had to mask his sad smile or moist eyelids behind his hand or a drinking glass when those comments reached his ears. For at times, Leiaís beauty and boldness reminded him of her mother. And the girlís prodigal abilities were every bit as impressive as her fatherís had been.

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Darth Vader had been living a lie.

He had known it since his rebirth in the bowels of the Imperial Palace. He had spoken the lie aloud, heard it spoken to him and even convinced himself of its validity for hours at a time, but then, usually in the dead of night, it would return to him, glaring like a freighterís search light on the edge of a black hole.

Anakin Skywalker was buried, but he was not dead. Buried deep inside Vaderís black soul, but the man he had once been still clung to life. Clung to the one thin strand of his former self that existed. His love for Padme.

When Palpatine had resumed his public rule of the Empire, Vader had been left alone for longer and longer periods of time as he mastered his teacherís lessons for manipulation and the harnessing of the dark side.

While projecting his presence outward to spy on otherís souls one day, Vader had suddenly remembered his bride and a flood of memories ran through him like electricity. Despite his fear of the Emperorís wrath, should he be caught doing anything but his assigned tasks for the day, Vader stretched out, losing himself in the Force, and finally touching his wifeís familiar presence .. she lived.

What was left of Anakinís heart leapt at the revelation and over the course of the months ahead, in his deepest moments of sleep, he dreamed of reuniting with Padme, of her recognizing that he still lived, and of the two of them somehow finding a way to restore him, to rid him of this suit of blackness and allow him to walk as a free man again. He knew his body was nearly destroyed by the ravages of the melting pit, but perhaps some day he could be reborn yet again.

He kept these thoughts deep inside him, covered by layers of evil and hatred toward the Jedi and those who had helped them betray him. He seldom had time to touch the fantasy, usually only a moment or two in his own private chambers at the Imperial Palace, and only when he knew the Emperor was off-planet and out of the system, to make sure he was a safe distance away from any mindprobing his Master may be doing to check up on his progress..

Now, inside his meditation chamber, he thought of Padme, searching deep within the Force to touch her mind gently. His helmet was off, suspended above his scarred, burnt and hairless skull. He had found he could remove it for a few moments at a time and breathe naturally.

But only for a few minutes, for the oxygen-rich air would quickly burn his fragile lungs. Still, with his helmet off, and thoughts of Padme, he could almost feel human again. It was his greatest secret, and the only one he kept from his Master.

It was with his helmet off, emotions exposed to the air instead of contained in his black death-head mask, that Darth Vader felt Padme Amidala slip into death. His breath, sounding quiet after the many weeks of the maskís machinations, rasped in his throat. Not caring if the Emperor felt his sway in the Force or not, he reached out toward Padmeís presence, desperately searching for her life-force ... and found nothing.

The slave who become a Jedi. The Jedi who become the Sith, sat alone and tears fell down his face. Unimpeded by facial hair or eyelashes, the tears rolled down his face and fell noiselessly into the jawplate of his armor or onto the massive chestplate below it.

When he felt he could no longer breathe, whether from the burning of his tender lungs or from the blackness that now permeated his entire being, Vader called the Force to him, triggering the switch that lowered the helmet back down.

The chamber was silent except for the whirring of the rotor that brought the helmet back to his head, and the hissing noises of the helmetís components connecting back together, entombing him again in the guise of the Lord of the Sith. Vader breathed deeply now, the echoes of labored breathing bouncing off the chamberís concave walls. He reached out to the Force, like a child reaching for his mother, desperate for comfort.

The dark side embraced him, surrounded him, filled him with power unimaginable. He reveled in it, drank deeply of it, and rose to his feet, intent on renewing his exercises here and now, summoning an assassin droid to his chambers to spar with.

Anakin Skywalkerís only link to the world of the living had been his family. His mother had died in front of him on Tatooine and he had been powerless to save her. Now Padme had died across the galaxy somewhere, and again he had failed to do anything to prevent it.

Without his family, Anakin was nothing. He had felt that way when he left Shmi alone on Tatooine. He felt it again here on Coruscant.

Vader strode out of his chambers toward his training room.

Anakin Skywalker was dead.

There was only the dark side.