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 Post subject: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sun Dec 07, 2014 5:39 am 
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[Reveal] Spoiler:
I don't own Star Wars.

There are many fanfics where Ahsoka meets Darth Vader....But this one's mine :P The end result of channeling a brief bout of depression into something constructive, it's ultimately more emotional than physical...but that will become apparent in a couple weeks.

Speaking of, this may be noteworthy as my first fic with intentionally planned chapters, as opposed to simply grouping scenes together; and as a result I'm faking maintaining a regular chapter schedule by posting a new chapter on Fridays...until the final chapter (that I haven't actually finished yet) on December 26.


Quote:
"Report, commander."

Hearing Darth Vader's voice, even only by eavesdropping through a covert comlink connection, was enough to unsettle her. She reminded herself to be calm, lest she give her location away.

"We've located the spies, sir," the security officer responded. "We're cut off their escape and jammed all long-range transmissions, but we've encountered...the men report a Jedi, sir."

She hadn't expected to go unnoticed, but if all long-range transmissions were jammed, then...Vader would have to be there, at the landing pad. Even more imperative she maintain a sense of tranquility.

"And why was this not in your earlier report, commander?" Vader demanded.

"She wasn't involved then, sir! We've been tracking the five human spies across the city. This sixth one just showed up here. Orange-skinned, with three striped tentacles instead of hair."

"....Togruta," Vader mused.

She did not like his eager undertone.

"I...think that's correct, sir; don't see many of them these days."

"Order your men to eliminate the resistance, commander. I will handle the Jedi, personally."

Oh crap.

"I will begin," Vader continued, "by tracing this comlink she has carelessly left in the open."

Growling, she tossed the listening device to the floor and ran out the storage room door, lightsaber in hand, into the corridor.

Right into a squad of stormtroopers.

She ignited her lightsaber and cut the one to her left down with the green beam before the others had a chance to react. One of them shot his blaster rifle at her; she quickly swung the beam to deflect the shot into another of the troopers, used the momentum of the swing to eliminate the trooper to her right, and took a step towards the last trooper standing. He tried shooting her again, and she simply hit the shot and his neck with the same swift motion of her blade.

Sighing now that her chance of going undetected was gone, she ran down the corridor, in the direction she hoped led away from the landing pad...and Darth Vader.

Rounding a corner, she suspected she'd picked the wrong direction; the blast doors several feet in front of her were closed, and bore the text "Docking Bay 4". She looked around for some kind of vent or maintenance access, but she didn't detect any way out besides the corridor she came from. Checking to the side of the blast doors revealed there was no panel to open it, leaving her with the question of whether cutting through the door with her lightsaber would be a better option than turning back the way she came.

A sense of motion from behind answered the question for her. Before she'd even finished turning around, she felt the presence of Darth Vader. It was a subtly familiar sensation, but revolting because she recognized what it once was; as if it had rotted into a nauseating heap, but retained small traces of what it used to be. Which she realized might not be far from the truth.

Focus.

She quickly interposed her lightsaber between the two of them, as the Sith Lord activated his lightsaber in a similar position. She kept her eye on him as she stepped closer, away from the corner.

"It was a mistake to come here," he declared, with his artificial voice.

"Fair enough," she responded. "Leave now, and I won't tell anyone about your mistake." She realized her trepidation had suddenly vanished, though she had no idea why.

"Such bravado," he answered humorlessly. "You cannot hope to defeat me."

It certainly didn't feel like bravado. She wasn't sure she was feeling much of anything, in fact. "Would it matter? The Empire persecutes Force-users as much as it does non-humans; as both I would be a fool to trust your benevolence."

"So be it."

He reached towards her with his free hand, and she could feel his attempt to pull her closer using the Force. She immediately countered, pushing back through the Force. The walls rattled violently, as the two fonts of willpower clashed. The air felt heavy, and she was almost expecting some kind of tornado to form in the hall.

Despite her effort, the friction under her feet grew intense enough to feel; she was losing this particular battle. Clenching her fist and quickly reversing the direction she was willing, the feeling subsided...as the Sith Lord was lurched in her direction, approaching quickly but retaining his balance. She quickly stepped to the side and lashed at him with her lightsaber, but he simply swung his lightsaber into hers, pushing it back slightly. He'd barely regained his footing before thrusting at her with his weapon, clearly intending to strike while she was off balance.

He had underestimated her agility; she'd already adopted a two-handed grip and pushed against his lightsaber at horizontal angle. The two energy blades only moved an inch towards Darth Vader before he adjusted to a horizontal angle himself; electrical sparks echoed as the two lightsabers were locked in place, each pushing towards the other.

"Impressive," he declared over the noise, "you've become stronger since you left the Jedi Order."

She took a deep breath, fighting the memories threatening to distract her. "It's been quite a decade," she replied flatly, before swiftly kicking him in the chest. He was too heavy to be pushed more than two steps, but it broke the saber lock; she quickly took a step back.

Vader swung his lightsaber at her again; sparks flew off the wall where the red beam intersected it. She swung her own saber against his, blocking his attack and countering with a halfhearted attack of her own, while slowly circling around him; putting him between the wall and herself. He responded to her intentionally weak attack with a fierce strike against her blade, strong enough to knock her lightsaber out of its guard position.

Of course, that had only worked because she'd allowed it; she channeled the momentum applied to her lightsaber into a circling motion, and sparks flew off the floor as the blade aimed squarely for the center of the Sith Lord. He was forced to abort his assault to block hers as the green beam cleared the ground, pushing its arc off to his side.

In response, she thrust her weapon forward during its redirected assent. Vader groaned briefly as she scored a glancing blow on his arm, near his shoulder. Before he could attempt a similar move of his own, she had twisted her lightsaber into a blocking position against Vader's own blade, as she had barely a moment ago.

"Most impressive," he commented. "I would have use for one with your talents."

Focus.

She gently shook her head. "Not interested."

Rather than answer, he shoved her away with the Force, down the hallway. She didn't resist; instead, she deactivated her lightsaber, turned her landing into a somersault, and used the Force to speed her way. If he was going to help her try the other end of the corridor, intentionally or not, who was she to argue?

* * *


So. Ahsoka Tano was alive. And had grown strong in the Force, powerful enough to pose a challenge even to him.

Pride was a feeling he had become unused to over the years, but he still recognized the feeling originating in the recesses of his mind. His erstwhile apprentice excelled where his former contemporaries had failed, and where his supposed superiors had faltered. Surely that was in no small part due to his training.

As he walked down the corridor, slowly retracing the path she had taken, he had time to consider the opportunity she represented. The lesson of the Dark Side was the difference between a powerful threat and a powerful ally was a thin line, and she'd already spent formative years on his side of that line. The Empire's stance against non-human species was obviously at the forefront of her mind, surely it would be easy to convince her to take on the Emperor directly. All he needed was the proper proposal.

"Lord Vader—" started a voice over his comlink. It wasn't any of the local troopers, though, it was one of the captains of the 501st legion. But he hadn't ordered any of his own stormtrooper legion to accompany him here.

"Report, captain," Vader commanded with annoyance, cutting the man off.

"Three squads have disembarked at the spaceport."

Then the long-range jamming was still active. "On whose authority?"

"The...uh...the Emperor's, my lord."

He was silent for a second. It was hardly customary for his master to question his decisions indirectly like this. Unless...."Station your men around—"

"Excuse me," came a female voice over the comlink, "but our orders are to eliminate the Jedi reported here."

Ah. One of the Emperor's Hands. His master had two objectives to accomplish here: stopping the spies and killing Ahsoka...even if calling her a Jedi was technically incorrect. He hadn't been told there was a "Jedi" until he landed, though. But if the jamming was already on...the Emperor must've known, and not told him. Clearly this was a test, but who was his master testing?

Regardless, this was a complication that needed to be dealt with, carefully. "The Emperor sent stormtroopers to deal with Jedi?"

He was pretty sure she was trying to suppress a snort. "With all due respect, Lord Vader, I report directly to the Emperor, just as you do," she declared derisively. "I am in no position to question them, any more than you are in a position to countermand them."

So the stormtroopers' orders came from her, using her privilege as Hand to call on the authority of the Emperor. With which she was interfering with his out of...petty spite, he supposed. She was a jealous and arrogant one. And clearly, he owed Ahsoka an apology for thinking her remark was "bravado".

Which gave him an idea. "The Jedi is aiding the intruders. Find them all, and keep them from escaping, and you shall complete your assignment. Unless of course, you are incapable of dealing with a Jedi on your own."

"Excuse me?" she blustered.

"The Jedi will vanish if the intruders depart. Why would you risk it, unless you need—"

"Follow Lord Vader's orders," she commanded the stormtroopers, "I have a job to take care of."

"Station your men around all hangar doors," he said, repeating his earlier, interrupted, order. "Allow no one to pass. Inform me once the intruders are located."

"Yes, Lord Vader," his captain responded.

The Hand was strong, but was she strong enough to duel his old apprentice? If not, she would pay the price for her lack of vision. Denigrating a Dark Lord of the Sith was foolish, and foolishness was only tolerable when it had talent backing it up.

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 1:45 pm 
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So...chapter 2? :P

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sat Dec 13, 2014 8:14 pm 
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CWS wrote:
So...chapter 2? :P
Sheesh, the first comment I get here isn't even an actual comment.... :P


Quote:
Ahsoka quietly traversed the complex to another blast door, where the infiltrators she'd followed in here were apparently pinned down. As had been the case for many years, following the sound of blaster fire took her exactly where she needed to be.

She peered around the corner just in time to see a new figure. A human woman with brown hair and a red lightsaber, wearing a black jumpsuit, and facing away. She had never gotten the hang of identifying age indicators of species other than her own, but she guessed this woman was twenty-some years old, around her own age.

The woman raised a hand, and Ahsoka heard the slight click of a switch flipping. The blast door in front of the woman started to close, cutting off the stormtroopers Ahsoka had finally spotted on the other side. "I've got it handled," she said in a deep voice. When the doors had completely sealed, she gestured towards the side of the door. A bolt of purple lightning flew from her hand to a panel next to the door. A panel that was now smoking.

"Don't worry," she said menacingly while still facing the now-stuck door. "You're the secondary targets, you're safe until your 'protector' shows up and I kill him." She quickly turned on her heel, facing Ahsoka head on. "Or her, it seems. Hello Jedi; are you ready to die?" She looked healthy, all things considered; only the eerie yellow glow in her eyes and an inky sensation in the Force betrayed the presence of the Dark Side in her.

"Are you expecting it to happen now?" Ahsoka asked calmly as she extended the green beam of her own lightsaber. "Because I'm just not feeling it."

"Oh really?" she countered. "Are you feeling this?" she added, hurling more Force lightning around.

Ahsoka thrust out her empty palm, drawing the purple lightning into it and dissipating it harmlessly. "Yeah, there was a tingle there." She caught the brief lapse of confidence in her adversary's eyes, the self-doubt of someone unused to having their favorite trick utterly disregarded.

With a frustrated yell, the woman charged forward, making an exaggerated overhead swing with her lightsaber. Against such a broadcasted move, Ahsoka calmly walked forward before simply stepping to the side, behind the swing, and gently swinging her own blade in the charge's path.

Her foe was forced to abandon her charge to drop into a crouch, knocking the green beam away with her red blade instead of literally running through it. She then chose to roll forward instead of giving Ahsoka a free shot at her back.

Ahsoka, meanwhile, took a step back and brought her saber back into a defensive position. She took the opportunity to observe the agents in her informal care through her peripheral vision: One appeared to have taken blaster fire, another was messing with a medkit and the other three were watching either her or the hall. They were all behind an overturned bench in the corner, out of the way. Good.

Noticing that she'd more or less swapped positions with her foe, Ahsoka decided she may as well try to talk this situation out. Seemed unlikely to work, but it wasn't going to hurt. "This confrontation seems unwise."

The woman scoffed. "No one's stopping you from tossing aside your saber and accepting the inevitable, Jedi. I'll even make it quick."

"We have different ideas of what 'inevitable' means, I guess."

With another yell, the woman charged towards Ahsoka, making a wide horizontal sweep of her saber with one hand. Rolling her eyes, Ahsoka stepped towards the far edge of her swing, before countering with a fierce two-handed slash against the red blade, forcing it off to the side and almost out of the woman's grasp.

Her opponent gasped as she hurriedly turned the lightsaber around in her hand, barely keeping Ahsoka's green blade from slicing through her shoulder. Ahsoka simply switched back to a one-handed grip and thrust her lightsaber forward slightly, leaving her opponent parrying with an awkward motion.

"You really thought doing the same exact thing would work better the second time?" Ahsoka asked patronizingly as she stepped forward, deftly guiding her blade towards her foe's exposed fingers. Her opponent jumped back, both to avoid the attack and to have time to reestablish a proper grip; Ahsoka simply shoved her with the Force while she was in the air, ramming her against the far wall. The red lightsaber deactivated, presumably because it was no longer held. "I guess imagination isn't one of the Emperor's priorities these days," she remarked as she walked towards that far wall.

As Ahsoka got close, her opponent suddenly jumped to her feet, wordlessly activating her red lightsaber and attacking with a short slash. Ahsoka blocked it with a controlled parry, before countering with a gentle slash of her own. "There ya go," she said with sarcastic encouragement, as her green blade was blocked with excessive force. She took a step back, moving her saber back to a defensive position without having to fight her opponent's strength.

Her foe switched to a two-handed grip and made a quick swing at Ahsoka's neck. She blocked the horizontal swing with a diagonal thrust, and the momentum behind the red blade caused it to roll off the green barrier. Ahsoka took another step back and prepared herself to block again.

The woman made several more heavy slashes, and Ahsoka deflected them with moderate effort, slowly stepping back the whole time as her opponent tried to press forward. With a yell, her foe performed another two-handed swing, which Ahsoka blocked with a two-handed swing of her own; the sparks of the interlocked sabers highlighted the frown lines on the woman's face.

Ahsoka sighed, as the two energy beams threatened to overwhelm each other. "You're certainly strong. It's too bad you're so undisciplined."

She felt the pressure on her lightsaber increase. "You Jedi don't know anything except 'discipline'," the woman said with contempt in her low voice. "What could you possibly know about power?"

Ahsoka tried to restrain her eagerness, as she saw sweat form on her opponent's face, while the red beam quivered subtly. "I know you were swinging at me with all of yours. So much brute force, you overshot on all my parries. And now your muscles are strained from all that exertion. While mine?"

With that, she quickly put her free hand on her lightsaber and shoved her foe back. Switching back to a one-handed grip, she made a controlled stab, which was blocked with a quick sweep of the red blade. Ahsoka simply pulled her own lightsaber out of the block and stepped forward, thrusting towards a different section of her opponent. Her foe responded by stepping back and once again sweeping her lightsaber in a wide arc against Ahsoka's attack.

With both lightsabers almost out of the way, Ahsoka thrust her open hand forward, hurling the other woman across the length of the room with the Force. Unlike the last time, her foe remained on her feet when she hit the wall, and with a yell made a Force-assisted leap across the room, poised to make an overhead slash where Ahsoka was standing.

Groaning in disgust, Ahsoka stepped to the side and made a Force-assisted jump of her own, meeting her opponent during her descent. Gripping her lightsaber tightly with both hands, Ahsoka made a fierce rising slash, knocking the red lightsaber out of the way. She set her joints to hold her green blade horizontal, and let inertia do the rest.

If the scream of agony was any indication, she managed to bisect the woman below her lungs.

Shaking her head sadly, she immediately plunged her lightsaber through the woman's head from behind, putting her out of her misery before she touched the ground. Torment was not something she cared to cause, or prolong.

Focus.

Taking a deep breath, she considered briefly who this was. Stronger in the Force than any Inquisitor she'd come across, so the woman was probably the Emperor's Hand. Apparently he'd found another one. Ahsoka strongly doubted her presence here with Vader was a coincidence, and she didn't like the implication that the Emperor's top two servants were here to deal with her.

Focus.

Quickly shaking her head, she deactivated her lightsaber and looked to her "charges", who were now just staring at her, apparently awestruck. She decided on the nonchalant approach: "Hi," she said, "my name's Ahsoka."

"That was incredible!" a brown-haired man said with excessive enthusiasm. "What do you call that?"

"Sai tok, but that's not important right now. How were you planning to get off this planet?"

"Well...we were planning to fly away in our shuttle...."

Ahsoka rolled her eyes, and started walking toward the center of the room. "That poses a problem, there's a good chance they've figured out how you got here."

"I hope they did," a blond woman with a bandage over her shoulder responded, as all five of them met Ahsoka in the middle of the room. "It isn't the same shuttle we're leaving in."

"OK, that's good....Makes the two turbolaser batteries the biggest threat to our getaway."

"Our...yeah, they're the only things that our ship can't outrun when we break the lockdown."

No objection to her self-invitation. Good. "Do you have a plan for dealing with those?"

"For one, yes." Her gaze shifted to the floor. "I'm afraid half our demolitions experts are no longer with us, and his explosives are why."

"Oh....I guess you found out the hard way the data core security troopers use weapons that only fire for a specific individual, and he improvised so the rest of you could escape?"

She sniffed. "Yes. How did you—"

"I've been trailing you since I heard the explosion. Look, I hate to be so blunt, but we really don't have time for conversation."

Out of the corner of her eye, Ahsoka saw the previously-sealed blast door that had begun to slide open. "For example," she muttered as she reactivated her lightsaber and stepped towards the door, interposing herself between the infiltration team and whatever was on the other side of the door.

The growing diamond-shaped aperture in the opening blast door revealed a pattern of white armor on the other side. It wasn't long before Ahsoka counted eight stormtroopers, loosely grouped around the door.

The stormtroopers didn't wait for the door to fully open before they started firing. They seemed to be shooting behind her, intending to prevent her from blocking the shots or reflecting them back. She shattered their hopes handily, dropping two of them with their own shots. Still, it reminded her that she had people to protect, and she changed her tactics as a result.

She bounded forward towards the middle of the blast door, making herself a target that couldn't be ignored. The trooper there got a shot off, but she redirected it towards a stormtrooper standing near the wall to her left. She landed right in front of her target, and wasted no time impaling him with her lightsaber. With a quick set of motions, she withdrew her blade and turned to the right, slashing a trooper. A shot came from behind her, but she whipped her saber behind her without looking, and heard the groan as his shot made contact with his helmet. The last two troopers were in front of her, near the wall; so she reached out with the Force and slammed them into the wall hard enough to knock them out.

Taking a deep breath, she felt through the Force, and the only consciousness she felt nearby was five life forms. She looked back, and sure enough all five of her charges were fine. They were still scattering from the middle of the room, unaccustomed to someone with her degree of alacrity.

But there was another sensation in the Force. An inky, strangling, choking sensation. It was relatively distant, but growing closer.

Focus.

She quickly looked around. The walls on the other side of the blast door didn't look nearly as sterile. And down at her feet, the "discarded" blaster rifles looked standard as far as she could tell. "Nice of the Empire to give you guys weapons," she commented sarcastically. "Now grab one and come on. Should be hangars this way, we can avoid patrols in a maintenance area for a while."

"But—" the blond woman, who Ahsoka now guessed was their leader, started to object.

"Look," Ahsoka said impatiently, "You know Vader's here, don't you?"

"We knew he was coming into the system, but with our timetable–"

"No, I mean that way," she said, indicating the hallway she'd originally come from with a nod of her head.

The eyes on the brown-haired man went wide. "Vader's here?"

"...Yeah, that's what I said," Ahsoka confirmed, restraining her annoyance. "We have to get moving. I have some ideas for securing your shuttle's way out of here, but we've got to find some place relatively safe to come up with a plan."

* * *


Darth Vader walked onto the scene of the battle. The only sound he heard was his own, cybernetically augmented breathing.

He wasn't certain "battle" was a good word to describe the situation, though, as it implied a genuine contest over the outcome. It appeared more as though a duel was staged, followed by a full squad of his stormtroopers failing to do anything useful.

The Emperor's Hand was literally beside herself. And the strength of the echoes in the Force, of her anger and panic, suggested she had been figuratively beside herself, as well. His old apprentice had forcefully removed an irritant from his life, even if that wasn't her intent. Clearly, he was a far superior trainer than his master.

It was unusual how she eliminated the nuisance, though. Cutting someone in half, particularly in a fashion that can't kill them quickly, was a sign of ruthlessness or desperation. And unlike when his old master had cut down Darth Maul all those years ago, there was no sign of desperation here. Not on Ahsoka's part, anyway. Perhaps he could make use of this.

Movement across the room got his attention. She hadn't killed all the troopers? He gently shook his head at the Jedi-inspired sloppiness, as he walked over to the door.

"Report," he sternly commanded, as two of the troopers were picking themselves up off the floor.

"Sorry, sir. We were moving into position, behind the Emperor's agent, when she destroyed the door panel with some sort of electric pulse, saying she was going to handle it personally. With the door closing on us, we held position here, in accordance with your orders. When we heard a scream from the agent that was suddenly cut short, we overrode the door controls, assuming she had failed. I'm not sure exactly what happened next, it all happened so fast, but that Jedi woman appeared in the middle of us with a green blur. The last thing I remember is feeling something slamming me against the wall."

So he successfully manipulated her into facing Ahsoka alone. All too easy. With one of them having been dealt with to his satisfaction, he turned his attention to the other.

He felt through the Force for her. What he found felt like a gentle rain, slowly freshening the air as it fell. What he didn't find, was a direction; it appeared to be all around him. It made sense, he guessed: She'd have to be skilled at hiding in the Force if she went undetected all these years, and his earlier attempt to provoke emotions to trace had stopped working once he actually found her, for whatever reason.

Which left conventional searching. He used his comlink to contact the head of security. "The intruders have broken the perimeter, commander." he said. "I want adequate security inside the hangar bay, and patrols throughout the infrastructure. Report before engaging."

"Understood, sir," the man on the end of the comlink responded, "but we don't have sufficient manpower available for full patrols and the hangar bay. How should we proceed?"

"Two-man patrols."

"Very well, sir. Has the threat diminished that much?"

The lives of the individual troopers did not concern him, as long as they served his purposes. He did need live troopers for those purposes, though. "A Jedi capable of eliminating a full squad in seconds is present, commander; there is no advantage to a larger patrol. Your troops are to report her location so I may handle her." It suddenly occurred to him that the lives of the other intruders concerned his old apprentice, and that meant they could serve his purposes as well. "I want the other intruders alive, terminate them only if necessary."

"Yes, sir. Wait....Primary power to the control tower has just been cut, in sector 23. Secondary power is unaffected."

It felt like a bolt of lightning in the Force, accompanying the rain. That was his clue, and his cue. "You have your orders, commander," he said as began to walk the shortest route to sector 23. "See to it they are carried out."

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Thu Dec 18, 2014 2:51 pm 
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I have a confession to make. When you first told me about the direction you were planning to take this in...I had some doubts about it. I obviously shouldn't have, and it was probably due primarily to my reflexive "CANON OR GTFO" attitude toward fanfiction in general...but I did.

Anyway, I have no problem admitting...actually, strike that; I'm extremely pleased to admit that you've proven me totally and completely wrong.

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Fri Dec 19, 2014 1:07 pm 
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CWS wrote:
I have a confession to make. When you first told me about the direction you were planning to take this in...I had some doubts about it. I obviously shouldn't have, and it was probably due primarily to my reflexive "CANON OR GTFO" attitude toward fanfiction in general...but I did.
Your relative lack of enthusiasm was noted, yes. :P Although I'm curious what part was supposed to be violating canon....



Anyway.

Quote:
Sneaking around an Imperial facility, avoiding stormtroopers and a Sith lord, deactivating power couplings situated precariously over a trench...As Ahsoka carefully manipulated the mechanical innards of the power station, she found herself wondering if Master Kenobi ever had to deal with such a scenario.

As she closed the final panel, she realized that this was a great deal more complicated than most of her "improvised plans". But the situation itself was more complex as well. And foremost among the complications was that this time, the galaxy's leading expert on improvisational planning was her opponent.

Focus.

She exhaled sharply. Despite how disconcerted she felt, every second she let herself be distracted was still a second lost to her; and there were lives other than her own at stake, people she had no right to risk. Time to get moving.

As she crept down the maintenance corridor, she quickly reviewed the plan. It was simple enough: she was to disable one of the turbolaser batteries in a way that drew attention away from the infiltration team. Meanwhile, they would sneak their explosives into place to disable the other battery when it was time for their shuttle to take off. Their leader—Sareena, she said her name was—said that had been their secondary exit strategy, for if their primary "leave casually because no one noticed anything" approach failed. They'd all meet back at the shuttle, enter through the covert hatch on the underside, and take off before anyone knew what was going on. With any luck, they'd be in hyperspace before the interceptors could launch.

Near the end of the maintenance corridor, she heard voices coming from its connection to the main corridor. She moved horizontally, crouching behind one of the structural support ribs lining the edges of corridor, and waited for them to pass.

"Do we really have to check each and every substation?" The slight electronic filtering on the voice told Ahsoka it was a stormtrooper.

"I don't want to explain to Lord Vader why we disobeyed orders," a similar voice said. "Do you?"

"I don't want to explain why we let the Jedi slip behind our backs. Look, we can see straight all the way down to....Do you see that, on the ground?"

Ahsoka instantly looked at the floor...and saw that the tip of one of her head-tails was laying beyond the edge of her cover. Wondering if Twi'leks had this problem, she quickly reached out with the Force and clouded her presence from the minds of the two troopers.

"See what?"

"I...could have sworn there was a small black shape behind one of the support ribs."

"A black shape protruding from a black rib on a dark grey floor? I'd say you're jumpy and chasing shadows."

"But I know it was there! And it just disappeared. Shouldn't we report it, in case it's the Jedi pulling a trick?"

Ahsoka moved all of herself out of sight. When the other trooper hadn't responded after a couple seconds, she decided she'd have to give him an answer. It was risky, trying to maintain two mind tricks concurrently, but it was far better than letting them give her position away.

"You shouldn't report it," she whispered with a gentle wave of her hand.

"We shouldn't report it," the trooper said in near-repetition.

"If it's a trick, it's meant to be reported."

"If it's a trick, it's meant to be reported."

"You'd be playing into her hands."

"We'd be playing into her hands."

"...her hands?" the other trooper asked.

Crap.

"Yeah," his partner answered on his own, "didn't you hear the report? A female Togruta Jedi."

Ahsoka quietly exhaled in relief.

"Uh...no, I was kinda—"

"Look, we're going to get reprimanded for chatting instead of patrolling. Let's get back to work before anyone notices."

"Alright. So...we're skipping the substation to catch up, right?"

"No, we'll walk down there so we have an excuse if someone asks why we took so long."

"Good thinking...."

As the sound of footfalls grew louder, Ahsoka put her hand on her lightsaber, just in case her concentration broke without her realizing it.

The two stormtroopers simply walked past her, though, oblivious to her presence. After they passed, she quickly got to her feet, walked out into the main corridor, and headed to the left.

Once there was a wall between herself and the troopers, she stopped to take a deep breath, shaking off the lightheaded feeling as she released her influence on the two of them. It wasn't quite how she had expected it to go, and making someone listen without hearing was not a stunt she'd want to repeat. But at least no one died this time.

Focus.

It was a relatively short distance to the hangar bay, which was why she'd chosen to mess with that particular substation in the first place, so she continued forward. She wanted to leave as soon as she possibly could, there were far too many uncomfortable memories waiting just around the corner.

Literally just around the corner, as it turned out. Rounding the last corner, she found Darth Vader walking towards her. Apparently, while she hadn't lost her concentration before, she had been distracted enough not to notice his presence in the Force. While he hadn't missed hers.

For a brief moment she considered running in the opposite direction. But turning her back on him seemed like a bad idea. She'd done that ten years ago, after all; expecting it to work better the second time was still foolish. Besides which, the connection to the hangar bay behind him was an open space, not a door. All she'd have to do was get past him.

Of course, getting past him would be a challenge in itself.

She continued walking forward, drawing and activating her lightsaber without taking her eyes off of him. He stood his ground, activating the lightsaber that was already in his hand.

The sound of his unnaturally regulated breathing was briefly drowned out by his equally unnatural voice as he spoke. "Shutting down the control tower was a wasted effort."

She stopped walking, and squeezed out a syllable of resolve. "Oh?"

"An original distraction might have been effective. Your attempt to disrupt the air defenses was easily anticipated, and reversed."

A ping of panic flitted across her mind for an instant, before she realized he'd say that even if he didn't know the extent of her modifications. "Oh, is that what that was?"

He paused long enough for her to hear an exhalation. "Attempting to deceive me is futile."

Focus.

True or not, she had neither the desire nor the time for this conversation.

She charged forward, lightsaber at the ready. Vader, in turn, took up a defensive posture. She made a quick horizontal slash at his arm, which he blocked vertically. She took a step back, ready to take advantage of his counterattack to squeeze past him on the other side...but no counterattack was made. His red lightsaber returned to a defensive position.

"You never learned what happened to your old master, did you?" he said.

So much for not thinking about it. Ahsoka took a short breath. "I know enough."

"I...am your master."

Fortunately for her stomach, there was so much wrong with that claim that she found it easy to reject. "No, you're not."

"You cannot deny—"

"I know who you are!" she yelled agitatedly. "You think I don't recognize the presence of my old master? But whatever the Emperor turned you into, you are not Anakin."

"All the Emperor did, was reveal to me the heresy of the Jedi."

Ahsoka blinked a couple times, trying to keep any tears from forming, as her grip on her lightsaber instinctively tightened. "How could you betray everything we believed in?"

"It was the High Council that betrayed all we believed in," he answered without emotion. "You, in particular."

That, she couldn't truly disagree with. But she refused it anyway, ignoring the rock in her stomach and the fire behind her eyes. "That's not true," she managed to say.

"Withhold your lies. You cannot deceive me."

She frowned in response, and focused some attention on the sensation of her creased eyebrows in the hope of keeping the memories at bay. "They thought I was guilty!" she spat, almost surprised with her own bitterness.

"Without an investigation," he countered. "Tarkin requested you be expelled so the Republic could 'try' you, and the Council did not desire the consequences of seeking justice. You know how quickly I proved your innocence. That is how quickly the Council abandoned your philosophy, and your life, to further their ambitions. To them, you were simply a pawn in their corrupt game. As was I."

Rather than give herself time to adequately process the thought that she was raised to be disposable, she grit her teeth and leapt forward with the Force, holding her lightsaber in a two-handed grip. Vader blocked her saber with his own, but making blade contact wasn't her intent. She kicked off of his chest with both feet, channeling her momentum into him. She landed smoothly about a foot back, while Vader stumbled backwards for several feet.

She took a couple steps forward, ready for a counterattack...but again, none came. "I can feel your anger," he declared as he resumed a defensive position.

"Ya think?!" she quickly countered, with all the sarcasm she could muster.

"Good. We acknowledge our feelings, you and I. That is why we live...and why the Jedi fell. In denying the obvious, they doomed themselves to obliviousness, and oblivion. The power of the Dark Side stems from accepting what is."

She creased an eyebrow. This had to be the most unorthodox recruitment effort ever. It made her wish she remembered being taken to the Jedi Temple all those years ago, just so she'd have something to compare it to. "I'll never join the Dark Side, if that's what you're getting at."

"I can think of someone who would have disagreed with your assessment. But silencing her by leaving her in pieces is its own testament."

The pang of self-doubt she'd been ignoring surfaced. "It was an accident!"

"Oh? Did she trip over your lightsaber, perhaps?"

She shook her head, reasonably certain she was the only person alive who could identify the hint of Anakin's sarcasm in Vader's condescending voice. "I don't have to justify myself to you anymore."

"You no longer need to. She lashed out with no control, in vain hope of recognition. Much like someone we once knew, in fact. But she was no threat to you. You were in complete control, with superior skill. And yet, you chose to cut her apart like a sadist."

She charged forward, making a wide two-handed swing towards Vader. For a split second it looked like she'd caught him by surprise, but he stepped back and adjusted the angle of his own saber; her green blade slid over halfway down his red beam before the sabers locked into position.

She tried to push her lightsaber into him, but he gave no ground. Instead, he moved his hand to his other side, leaving the crossed beams between the two of them.

"Yes...." he said, slowly over the crackling of the two lightsabers.

You really suck at focus today.

Ahsoka suddenly became aware of the scowl that had formed on her face, without her noticing. She gasped in alarm. What was she doing? She quickly took two steps back; the saber lock broke, since Vader made no attempt to maintain it.

"As you can see," he continued, "you are closer to the Dark Side than you realize."

It was a disturbing realization. But now that she had a brief moment to reflect, something easier to accept had just come to her mind: Vader had blocked her strong two-handed attack, with only a single hand of his own. Trying to overwhelm his strength directly would be ludicrous...and she had no idea how far she'd underestimated his psychological influence on her. If he'd tried to attack—

Wait.

Thrice now, he stayed on the defensive, without any attempt to press his advantage with a counterstrike. That was horribly out of character for both Anakin and Vader. And he certainly wasn't lacking in confidence in his own abilities, which left....

"Are you toying with me?!"

"Your destruction would be a waste."

While she agreed, she imagined her reasons were wildly different from his. And, while she wasn't sure she wanted to hear what he had to say, it didn't look like she had a choice in the matter. "And what do you suggest instead?" she prompted.

"Join me."

Her eyes went wide. Months of dreams and years of nightmares hit her upside the head. Nightmares that had recently become more confusing than frightening. "What?" she stammered with uncertainty, while still trying to grasp the concept.

"Join me," he repeated. "Your friends may then leave, without further incident."

The reminder about the people she was intending to take care of was enough to thrust some sense back to her. "Why?" she asked.

"The data they have taken pertains to the Emperor's plans. Plans we need not continue."

Oh. Oh wow.

"You are already more powerful than the Emperor could imagine," he continued. "Together, we shall overthrow him, and bring a new order to the galaxy."

She'd spent so much effort trying to get Anakin to acknowledge her talents. To hear him, unbidden, declare her in the same league as the most powerful Force user in the galaxy, was almost unbelievable. "As master and apprentice again?" she asked absentmindedly.

"If that is your wish," he answered. "But you have already proven yourself worthy to be my equal."

As his equal? It really was a dream come true. Other than the whole Dark Side thing.

A great part of her said she should reject his offer outright. But she found an even greater part had her curiosity piqued. "Wouldn't that violate the Rule of Two?"

"Together, we shall be greater than the Sith!" he declared, with more enthusiasm than she would have guessed his cybernetics were capable of conveying. "They who were too weak to act openly. Those who even now rely on enslavement, because of what they dare not accomplish through will alone. The Emperor's prejudice against non-humans stems from that weakness. A prejudice that you, of all people in the galaxy, know I do not share. You and I will free them from his oppressive, foolish grasp."

Greater than one of the longest-lasting Force traditions in existence? He certainly hadn't forgotten how to dream big. And she found herself liking the sound of it, almost in spite of herself. It didn't feel especially right, but ten years of the alternative hadn't felt any better.

She was certain the Emperor had been living like...well, an emperor. Whereas she'd experienced such highlights as stowing away inside fetid cargo containers, scavenging for food in garbage, hunting what crawled out of garbage as food, and sleeping between pallets in cramped warehouses. And that was just her; what about all the other non-humans in the galaxy, few of whom could use the Force to avoid the worst of it? Would throwing the Emperor out his own window to his doom, and taking his place alongside her old master, really be worse than all that?

Continuing to uphold Jedi ideals to the best of her ability, even after being ejected from the Jedi themselves, had seemed like a good idea at the time. But could she be certain it wasn't simply because they'd been beaten into her head since before her first coherent memory? Or maybe she wanted to prove she was a better Jedi than the Jedi Council was. By maintaining her beliefs, even when the Council themselves had chosen to set them aside.

As Anakin had chosen.

As Anakin wanted her to choose....

She realized she was still shocked that Anakin could have turned into Darth Vader. Even now that she could see where he was coming from, it was still startling to consider that his outlook could change so completely. Would it be any less shocking if she did the same thing? If she compromised everything that made her her, would she still be Ahsoka Tano? Maybe that was why the Sith gave their apprentices new names.

She exhaled. "I don't think I can do it, Anakin."

"The Emperor was manipulating the galaxy before either of us were born," Vader stated. "Our past, the universe we thought we lived in, was a lie. The only choices we have are the Emperor's present...and our future. Can you truly choose not to join me, knowing that you will be prolonging the Emperor's reign?"

Those were good points, and she found herself wanting to believe it. But the pounding in her heart, along with the burning alertness just inside her forehead, felt almost exactly like another life-changing decision of hers, made a decade ago at the Jedi Temple.

And then, as now, she found herself more important than the expectations that had been thrust upon her. "We've been surrounded by deceit for most of our lives, yes. But we weren't lies. I am real. But not if I turn away from all I believe in. I'd be little more than a tool of the Dark Side, if I did that."

"Is that what you think of me? Am I a mere tool to you?"

She blinked away the guilt he was trying to evoke. Until this conversation, she had viewed Vader that way. But now, she felt the sadness he was trying to disguise. He couldn't fool her, any better than she could fool him. "Not anymore. You may have been convinced that you are, but I know Anakin Skywalker is still somewhere in there."

"That name...has no meaning for me."

"I know," she said sadly. "He would do the right thing. But how do I know you aren't just going to make the Empire your own?"

"That you ask the question shows you do not understand the situation," he replied. "The Republic was doomed to collapse, the military discipline of the Clone Wars was merely enough to delay it. If the Empire were to fall, the Republic would not return. Anarchy would prevail until the strongest groups seized power, before turning on each other. Those groups being crime syndicates such as the Hutts. Gangsters are not known for their precision, many innocent lives would be lost in the crossfire. And when the dust finally settled, the galaxy would be under the rule of an empire again. A criminal empire. Could you call that 'the right thing'?"

She listened to the hum of her lightsaber as she thought that through. It was an interesting concept, one she hadn't considered before. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she had figured that getting rid of the Empire, or the Emperor, would be enough to set everything on the right track. But in retrospect, it should have been obvious that existing power structures have a definite advantage. That was why the myriad systems discontent with the Republic remained a part of it, until Dooku established the Confederacy for them to flock to.

It also meant that taking over the Empire, without clinging to most of its methods, would cause the same kind of violent upheaval, as the galaxy adjusted to its new order. Which gave her an idea...."Come with me, then. We'll...I don't know, build an organization strong enough to claim all the pieces when we defeat the Emperor."

"Oh?" he replied incredulously. "You expect me to believe you're unwilling to face the Emperor now, but will do so when he's had time to prepare for our move?"

It was a long shot. Still, she looked at him sadly. "I expect that the Emperor's clouded your mind so thoroughly that you're convinced you need to replace him, and leave his Empire intact."

"You don't yet know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master."

He had stopped trying to dispute her. Her pulse kicked into overdrive, and she instinctively tightened her grip on her lightsaber. This was not going to conclude peacefully. "The same master you wanted us to overthrow?"

"There is triumph, and there is servitude. Nothing else exists."

She felt...something from him. Regret, maybe? "There's still a chance to make this right, somehow."

He paused, long enough for her to hear one of his inhalations over the ringing in her ears.

"It is too late for me, Ahsoka. The Emperor is after you now, and he will not underestimate you again. Whether you stand by my side, or lay dead at my feet, I will not allow you to suffer at his hands."

Self-loathing. It was self-loathing.

She shook her head slowly, as tears formed in her eyes. "I'm sorry, Anakin. Do what you must."

He swung his lightsaber at her diagonally, with what seemed to be mechanical precision. She quickly swung her own saber against his horizontally, intending to deflect his momentum rather than halt it directly. It worked, and the beams stopped at shoulder level between the two of them, but she was unpleasantly surprised by the strain she felt on her wrist. Apparently he'd been holding back before, too.

She stepped forward diagonally, aiming to push her saber through him underneath his own. He wasn't even thrown off balance as he leveled his blade into a vertical position, holding hers away from him, but she anticipated that. She combined another step with a two-handed roundhouse slash, and sparks flew off the wall as her saber briefly intersected it on its way to attack Vader from behind.

Again, he wasn't surprised, and had already positioned his lightsaber to block hers before he'd even finished turning. Her quick swing almost bounced off the relatively immovable barrier, and she took a step back as she assumed a defensive position.

"Clever," he said. "But you will find no solace in the hangars."

Simply getting to the other side of the corridor had been her goal, which she'd now accomplished. Whether or not Vader noticed was immaterial, which was just as well since it'd be hard to miss.

Now she needed to find the shuttle. Which she realized meant the shuttle would have to launch where she could notice it, which in turn required the infiltration team to not have been captured. So she had to hold off Vader, either until her way out became apparent...or until she dissolved into an emotional wreck and Vader put her out of the misery she was refusing to contemplate.

At least it was straightforward.

He jabbed forward with his lightsaber, a move she blocked by pushing his lightsaber partly to the side. He tried to push his lightsaber against hers, but he made little progress in movement; he tried to move forward to press the advantage, but she'd moved back before his foot hit the ground. While he was midstep, she quickly deactivated and reactivated her lightsaber; Vader's lightsaber plunged a short way through the air, and she decided to move back further to see how long he was offbalance.

He didn't lose his balance for even an instant. He quickly moved his lightsaber into a horizontal blocking position from the side, and followed with a quick slash at the air in front of him, all without any observable change in his footwork. If she'd tried to attack, he'd have halted her attack and possibly sliced her open.

"You cannot hope to defeat me," he declared.

She sniffed, taking a moment for analysis. "For wanting us to take down the Emperor," she answered emotionlessly, "you seem to be underestimating my power."

"If only you knew the irony of those words. I taught you everything you know."

"We wouldn't be fighting, if you still knew everything you taught me."

Her reflexes were superior to his, she was sure of that. All those cybernetic additions hadn't done him any favors, while she was still a child with a partially-developed body the last time they'd seen each other. He was quite a bit stronger, but his mechanical joints seemed better at locking into position than exerting force. Defending against him would be easier than attacking him, at least.

He stretched his free hand open towards her. Ahsoka abruptly starting coughing, or at least attempting to cough, as a crushing pressure surrounded her neck. She realized she'd forgotten to account for something, as she was slowly lifted into the air.

Focus!

Realizing that flailing her limbs or trying to physically loosen the intangible Force around her neck would be a waste of time and oxygen, she forced herself to relax. The whole episode had her too unsettled to properly will tranquility into the Force surrounding her, but the pressure on her neck reduced from a crushing grip to a constant pressure. She still couldn't breathe, but she didn't feel like she was going to be punctured any time soon.

Disturbingly, she realized this was actually an improvement. Floating off the ground was much less strenuous than resisting heavy lightsaber blows. Vader would've at least raised his saber if he had any concentration to spare, and he was too far away to attack her unless he threw his saber anyway. And waiting out the clock was already her chosen tactic, so as long as her breath held out....

She leveled a cold stare at Vader, and took up an aggressive stance with her lightsaber. Or as close to an aggressive stance as she could manage without her feet touching the ground.

"Fearless as ever," he commented. "But you cannot endure forever."

Suddenly, the sound of an explosion roared far behind her, while the room shook violently and the lighting flickered. She was still held off the ground, so she had no need to balance. On seeing one of Vader's joints shift, though, she wasted no time thrusting her free hand at his feet. Vader started to fall forwards as his feet slid behind him, and he caught himself with his free hand. Almost as an afterthought, Ahsoka dropped unceremoniously to the floor, and the pressure around her neck simply ceased.

It was a short fall, and stability had already returned to the ground, so remaining standing when her feet hit the floor was trivial. Taking a single deep breath, she quickly turned and ran into the relatively open area that dominated the hangar bay. It was extremely unlikely that there were two groups planning detonations inside the spaceport; and if her allies were going to make a getaway, immediately after throwing things into disarray would be the time to do it.

And Ahsoka really wanted to leave this place behind, immediately.

Amidst the alarm klaxons, the hissing steam, and the sound of her own footfalls; she made out the distant whine of a repulsorlift engine. Which wouldn't be unusual inside a hangar, except for the intensity required for it to be audible over the cacophony. She'd already turned in its general direction when the fiery roar of thrusters started, confirming it was a takeoff. If it wasn't the vehicle she was expecting it to be, well, she'd just have to make it work.

A small group of stormtroopers started firing on her, from a rather long distance. As Ahsoka slowed down to a fast walk to better deal with them, she decided that in retrospect, leaving her lightsaber active may not have been the brightest idea. It didn't make much difference, though; as far away as they were, they had difficulty aiming at her. Much more difficulty than she had sending their shots back; three seconds and six blaster bolts later, all four troopers were down.

She deactivated her lightsaber before resuming her run, using the Force to accelerate for a split second in case those troopers' friends had already started looking for them. With any luck, they'd be forced to investigate where she just left, without a green glow showing them where she was.

Off in the distance, she saw the source of the roaring thrusters. Its wide cockpit window suggested it wasn't a starfighter, and it bore the white color used in many of the Empire's non-military craft; it was too far away to make out any other details. It was clear, however, that the vehicle was in the lane to her right, and was going to pass by her in a few seconds. She'd have to cross two lines of grounded vehicles to get across, and in short order.

Snapping her lightsaber onto the bracer concealed in her sleeve, she leapt high into the air with the aid of the Force. She landed on what she recognized as the chassis of a LAAT gunship, a relic from the Clone Wars, just long enough to pounce towards her intended target.

The two seconds of air time felt like a brief eternity. Not that she hadn't done things like this before, but she hadn't tried intercepting a fast moving vehicle from a different direction that often; there was a significantly wider margin of error boarding a vehicle moving in the same direction. Plus, if she missed she'd have plenty of time to consider if intentionally letting herself get crushed against the ground would be less horrifying than whatever Vader or the Emperor would do with her if she actually landed.

She grunted as she tripped on the shuttle's roof. A soft landing on such a small surface guaranteed she'd fall off the other side, which is why she allowed herself to fall on the shuttle, but it still hurt. Nevertheless, keeping her balance wasn't an issue in the prone position; and her grip on the surface of the roof held her in place.

The air howling past her ears, and her head-tails flailing in the wind-equivalent, made it ridiculously easy to figure out which direction the front of the craft was in. She pulled herself forward to the front edge and peered through the transparisteel window.

She quickly recognized three of her allies in the cockpit. The pilot and copilot abruptly leaned against the backs of their seats in surprise, while Sareena jerked her head up from where she'd been looking at something over the shoulder of who she assumed was the copilot. Sareena stared for only a second before she mouthed...something. Ahsoka exaggerated the confusion on her face, and hoped the expression was still readable upside-down.

The copilot showed an uncertain smile, then turned his head to look at Sareena; apparently whatever she said was directed at him. She responded by snapping her head towards him, leaning forward and shouting something. Ahsoka was quite familiar with that particular facial expression, although Sareena's assertion of dominance lacked the same degree of fury as Anakin's. The copilot almost jumped out of his seat, before he focused his gaze on the controls in front of them and started operating them.

Sareena looked right in Ahsoka's eyes, then nodded towards the back of the ship. Ahsoka was still trying to figure out what she meant, when Sareena turned around and walked that way herself. When the cockpit door opened, she saw the corridor beyond stretched to the back of the ship, and there was motion back there. Motion Ahsoka quickly realized that it was the activation of a rear loading ramp, opening to the hangar air from the top.

Moving back along the roof was pitifully easy: She lifted a hand from the roof and inertia did the rest. Finding a spot to reestablish her grip before releasing her other hand wasn't as easy, but still trivial. It only took a few seconds to work her way to the back edge of the shuttle, directly over the now-open ramp.

Flying in the "wind" like some sort of signaling flag, Ahsoka realized she hadn't quite thought this through. She had expected to be swinging forward into the cargo hold from here, using her hands as a fulcrum. But she was clearly not doing anything of the sort while dangling behind. If the shuttle slowed it'd work, at least until the Imperials got their act together and shot the whole thing down for target practice.

She could land on the ramp itself easily enough, but it was a ramp, and angled downwards. Her estimated chance of catching herself before she slid off was not thrilling. She looked at the upper edge of the cargo hold opening. It looked within reach....She grasped tightly onto the roof with one hand, while she slowly slid the other hand against the back side of the shuttle and the edge of the opening. The framing of the ramp was thick enough to grab firmly.

Shaking her head at the sheer insanity of it all, she grabbed onto the framing and released her grip on the roof; she almost wasn't fast enough to plant her other hand on the frame.

Focus.

Decreeing it too late to worry about whether this was a good idea, she closed her eyes and slowly bent her elbows, vocally straining. In a feat of apparent strength that would be impossible without the Force, she pulled herself forward in spite of momentum. When she ducked her head below the edge, indicating the limit of her forward motion, she opened her eyes. She recognized the high-traction coating on the cargo hold floor, presumably to prevent excessive jostling of any cargo containers.

Doubting she could hold on much longer even if she wanted to, she released her grip.

Landing on the shuttle, half on the interior floor and half on the exterior ramp, could not be described as comfortable; but compared to her landing on the roof she didn't think it was worth mentioning. Not wasting any time, she pulled her legs up to her arms and used the momentum to roll forward, standing up far enough inside the shuttle to not be at risk of falling out.

Sareena was crouched at the back of the hold, staring at her with an obvious expression of surprise in her eyes. The haphazard chaining of restraint cables suggested she'd been planning on reeling Ahsoka in.

Ahsoka calmly turned her head to look at her, masking her deep breathing behind a slow, deliberate pace. "Didn't want you slowing down on my account," she said.

"We weren't sure you were going to make it," Sareena said as she stood up.

"I almost didn't make it. We should really get away from the Imperial entanglement now, though."

"Right. Come on!" she said as she started at a run down the corridor that connected the cargo hold with the cockpit.

On Ahsoka's second step following her, she was suddenly hit with a wave of nausea, and almost lost her balance as mental images of Anakin and Darth Vader, both real and imagined, flew behind her suddenly burning eyes. She violently shook the agony to the sides of her head, forcibly reminding herself that while she may seem physically safe for the moment, the shuttle could have an Imperial issue any time in the near future, and she had to be ready for a fight at any moment.

She hoped she could actually hold out longer than the shuttle could.

As she caught up with Sareena, she discovered that the "corridor" was more of a passenger area, with four seats and restraining harnesses on either side. It was tolerably spacious, especially with only a single person seated while the rest of the infiltration team was in or headed to the cockpit. She was too busy focusing her attention elsewhere to actively notice much more about him.

She almost missed a sudden sense of danger from behind her. She quickly used the Force to pull her lightsaber back into her hand, and activated it at an instinctively chosen angle behind her back. The blaster bolt didn't disappoint, and ricocheted off the blade; she couldn't discern any impact sound in the shuttle.

She quickly turned on her heel to face whatever might be there, but the path was clear all the way out the back. She didn't see any sort of movement out the open bay indicating a vehicular pursuer, either; the security troops must be better or luckier than she thought.

"REALLY good time for closing the DOOR!" she yelled.

The hatch wasted no time in slowly closing around its aperture. She held her gaze and her lightsaber at the ready for the several seconds it took to fully close, then deactivated the saber. She snapped it back into her concealed bracer as she darted into the cockpit.

"No shields?" she asked no one in particular.

"Not while the door's open," the man in the pilot's chair answered. "Have a seat, we're about to reach the sky."

"And where to then?" she asked as she quietly took her place in the one unoccupied seat in the cockpit.

"I was thinking Anywhere the Heck Else, personally."

"I love that place," she commented. It recently became her favorite region of the galaxy, after all.

The copilot cleared his throat. "We're sure we don't have to worry about hangar doors being closed?" he asked nervously. Ahsoka recognized his voice, he was the man who was impressed when she'd defeated the Emperor's Hand, and horrified when she mentioned Vader was here. She blinked any thoughts about either of the two, telling herself she couldn't afford to be as emotional as the co-pilot seemed to be.

"There's no hangar doors," the pilot replied, "it's a one-way ray shield, blocking only inbound traffic."

"One way? Why?"

Ahsoka rolled her eyes. "So a thermal bomb inside the hangar will vent into the atmosphere, and not the rest of the hangar."

He looked at her over his shoulder. "That can happen?"

"Oh yeah, can take out a lot of fighters that way, especially in a tightly packed hangar. And if there's doors to melt into the wall, the whole place can be taken down. Shouldn't you be flying?"

As he hurriedly turned back to the window, the pilot spoke up. "Not to question the abilities of the Jedi, but are we really going to get away in one piece?"

"Only one way to find out," she replied flatly.

"You're not exactly overflowing with confidence, you know."

She glared at the back of his head, hoping her anger evaporated any tears before they could form. "No, I'm not. Keeping Vader busy for you guys is not something I can do again, so we are going to leave, one way or another."

For the next couple seconds, the only sound in the cockpit was the muffled whine of the engine's workload. Ahsoka didn't like the awkward silence, but she wasn't in the mood for conversation. And she guessed from the ambiance of dread that none of them would willingly draw Vader's personal attention, and wouldn't fault her unwillingness to do so a second time.

Sareena broke the silence. "We sliced their comms," she said quietly. "They already restored power to your turbolaser battery."

Answering implied questions was different than conversation. "Then my diversion diverted them," she said, turning to look at Sareena.

The pilot interrupted. "I hope you're right, 'cause we're about to find out real soon."

Sareena leaned out of her seat towards Ahsoka's, with a sympathetic look in her eyes. "Facing Vader couldn't have been easy," she said so softly that it was barely above a whisper.

Ahsoka imagined herself looking only a tenth as miserable as she felt. Which was appropriate, since Sareena could only guess at a tenth of the situation. "Not even remotely," she answered softly.

"Everyone," the pilot said loudly, "return your seats to the full upright position; it's gonna be a fun couple minutes!"

Her seat and posture were already secure, so she simply looked out the cockpit window, while Sareena returned to a fully seated position. She saw the rapidly approaching aperture separating the spaceport from the surface, and sun-bathed rocky mountains far off in the distance behind it. Soon they'd be out, and in range of the exterior defenses. And she'd find out if Vader had really reversed all her sabotage, as he had claimed.

She found the anxiety palatable, as short-lived as she knew it'd be. If her plan worked, she'd have a concrete victory over Vader. If it didn't, well, she wasn't going to have to worry about any other anxiety. She clinched her eyes shut for a split second, disturbed by how that could feel appealing in any degree.

"We're through!" the copilot exclaimed.

"Yes," the pilot responded. "Now comes the hard part. Turbolaser battery is tracking us...."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the co-pilot and Sareena turn to look at her. "Patience," she said emotionlessly, without taking her eyes off the barren view out the window.

"Locked onto us, going to fire any—WHOA!"

Ahsoka couldn't help but smirk. "Problem?"

"...definitely, but not for us. What did you do?"

She faked a contented sigh. "Weakened the insulation on the firing chamber and energy cell power relays. Trying to fire fused them all together, flooding the entire array with its own backup power. And power couplings don't accept surges that big back into the grid—"

"—so the firing chambers explode from the overload. But shouldn't the power monitors have picked that up?"

"They'd pick up the modulation variance on the current while I did it. You know, if there was any current because the main power hadn't been shut off."

"Impressive."

She didn't acknowledge the compliment. She didn't feel deserving of any compliments. "Any signs of pursuit?"

"Nothing that'll get in range before we jump to hyperspace. I hereby declare us all clear, the actual getaway is just a formality at this point."

She winced. Anakin had declared her "trial" at the hands of the Jedi Order "just a formality", all those years ago. Not a memory she really wanted to recall. "So what next?" she asked, pitting her curiosity against her recollection.

"First we get to the fabled Anywhere the Heck Else, of course," the pilot commented as the blue sky outside the cockpit faded to the black starscape of space. "Then—"

"Then," Sareena cut him off, "we'll contact our patron, and see what kind of assistance he can offer you."

"Assistance?" Ahsoka repeated. "What kind of assistance?"

"Umm...I'm not sure what the full range of his support is, to be honest. I know he's provided relocation and false identities for a few Jedi over the years, but...frankly, you don't strike me as the type who's into hiding."

Ahsoka snorted. "Certainly not."

"Now entering hyperspace," the pilot said, in a rote tone. She guessed he had been professionally trained to pilot large passenger transports.

The dots of stars out the window turned into white lines, before the view changed into the mottled blue tunnel effect of hyperspace travel.

"Formally all clear," he declared.

Ahsoka rose from her seat. "Now if you'll excuse me," she said as she started walking out into the passenger area, noting to herself that the cockpit door had never closed.

Sareena looked at her for a second, before turning her attention out the cockpit door herself. "Hey Jeffrey!" she called out. "Get up here."

He was too busy complying to give Ahsoka any attention as they passed each other. She didn't spare any focus on him, either, so she imagined it was a mutual understanding between them.

As she walked slowly towards a seat farthest from the cockpit, she heard Sareena's voice.

"First things first. Close the door."

Ahsoka began to sit down, as the pneumatic hiss of the cockpit door drowned out whatever she might have heard before it closed. She suddenly lost the strength in her legs, and fell into her seat. She had to balance herself with her hand to keep from falling over sideways, as a sob came to her unbidden. After a few quivering deep breaths, she pushed herself back into an upright sitting position to contemplate events. Her autonomous responses to them weren't remotely to her liking.

She'd finally observed with her own senses that Anakin Skywalker had become Darth Vader. Maybe now the nightmares would stop. She didn't really believe it, though. The recurring dream, where she ran into Anakin and they took down the Empire together, started about the same time as the Empire itself. Learning that the Emperor's right-hand cyborg was her old master didn't stop the dream, it only...transmogrified it.

Then she was obediently following him, committing whatever atrocity he had in mind with a smile on her face. It never felt real after she woke up, and she never wanted to believe she'd willingly consider the Dark Side. But she could never tell if it was just psychological, or if it was a vision from the Force. She still couldn't, if she was being honest with herself.

Even then, she had convinced herself that Darth Vader wasn't really Anakin. That somewhere between the Dark Side of the Force and all the cybernetics, he had been wiped out, leaving an empty vessel with only knowledge and skills, ready for the Emperor to fill. She just knew he would be incapable of all the things she knew he had done, if even a shred of himself had survived whatever was done to him.

But she knew now, she was wrong. Anakin was in there. He'd truly done all those horrible things of his own volition. He even tried to kill her, all because she had—

Her teary eyes shot wide open as the pieces fell into place. Joining the Dark Side had seemed like an awkward job offer because there wasn't a job offer. Anakin didn't want a partner. He wanted a savior. Someone to free him from what he'd become, because he couldn't find the strength to free himself.

And she couldn't do it.

And even then, his corrupted view told him that she deserved far better than what the Emperor would do when he got his hands on her. Unless he killed her before the Emperor had any opportunity.

She clenched her eyes shut, and tried with all her might to stop the stream of tears from that most depressing thought: That the greatest man in the galaxy had been reduced to a hapless slave to the very thing he hated the most, and she was powerless to help him.

It wasn't working.

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Fri Feb 06, 2015 3:15 pm 
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And, the conclusion!

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"Do your 'employers' meet everyone in a setting like this?" Ahsoka asked.

"Only the important ones," Sareena answered from the adjacent seat.

Ahsoka had already figured that out, of course. Even if she hadn't overheard the communications before their shuttle changed course to a backwater spaceport, the simple fact that Sareena took her on another transport there while the rest of her team dispersed was an obvious sign; even without considering that the transport had docked midcourse with the Consular-class cruiser they were in now.

It still didn't feel real, though. She'd been aboard more than a few ships of this class during the Clone Wars, and while those had all been retrofitted as military vessels, she knew about their civilian counterparts. And this one bore red stripes, indicating it was in diplomatic service. Which almost certainly meant this part of the ship was the detachable pod, sealed against eavesdropping, where representatives of planetary authorities would meet for negotiations that could impact the populations of entire worlds.

She'd been in similar scenarios before, but always off to the sides, serving an ambassador. Sitting behind the big table herself, though? Even though she knew it was all for the security, since no one wanted the Empire to know they were harboring Jedi, she felt extremely uncomfortable in the exceptionally soft chair. Her ego wasn't quite big enough to fill her seat.

The gray door to the chamber slowly opened, and Ahsoka caught the look of recognition in Sareena's eye; clearly this was her patron, as she had said. Ahsoka smiled softly, recognizing the man herself.

"Senator Bail Organa. It's been a long time."

"Indeed it has, Ahsoka," he agreed as he walked towards the chair opposite her own.

"Wait," Sareena said quizzically, "you already know each other? From before the Clone Wars?"

"During the Clone Wars, actually," Ahsoka answered. "Almost half a lifetime ago, it feels like."

"Or even longer," Bail agreed as he took his seat. "Thank you Sareena, you're excused."

Sareena gave an annoyed sigh as she stood up, soft enough that Ahsoka wasn't sure Bail heard it.

"Why?" Ahsoka asked earnestly.

"I wasn't sure you'd want anyone else here for this," he answered, before Sareena even stopped moving.

"She can stay." Ahsoka appreciated the anticipated caution, but that seemed like unhealthy paranoia. Besides, if her fellow escapee truly had any intention of turning on her, someone would've at least mentioned relieving her of her lightsaber.

"In that case...." He turned his head towards Sareena. "I apologize; have a seat."

"Thank you," Sareena replied flatly as she took her seat again, shooting Ahsoka an appreciative glance. Between her sarcasm and Bail using her first name, there was clearly something other than professionalism between the two of them, though Ahsoka had no idea what.

"So before we go on," Ahsoka said, "what data did you find? Something worth it, I hope."

"Design notes," Bail answered. "For what seems to be a moon-scaled turbolaser."

She paused, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't...."That's it? We all almost died for notes?" She certainly hadn't forgotten that one of them had died.

"Technically, but what concerns me is the detail on the focusing lens. There's a summary of machining feedback."

She frowned in confusion. Machining feedback? From what machines? Machines aren't responsible for initial designs, they don't come in until—

"They're building it?" she audibly concluded. "How big are we talking?"

"Big enough that we can't figure out where it'd end up. It's too big for any space station, much less any starship."

"But not too big for the Emperor to hide," she said sarcastically.

"We're working on it. It's a big galaxy, and he controls most of it, but it has to be somewhere. Which, incidentally, is why we're both here. We've secreted more than a few Jedi away from the Empire's prying eyes, whether hiding in plain sight or off the grid entirely."

Ahsoka sighed sadly and shook her head. As much as she might want to curl up and hide from everything..."Even if I believed you could hide me from Darth Vader and the Emperor so well, I couldn't forgive myself if I just let the galaxy rot into refuse. My master taught me better than that."

Bail cocked his head slightly, and his face took on an expression somewhere between confusion and disbelief; she couldn't quite place it. "Your master? You mean...Anakin?"

She looked him in the eye. "Yes."

He frowned. "Anakin Skywalker, now known as Darth Vader? That Anakin?"

Ahsoka noticed Sareena's wide-eyed stare in her peripheral vision. She closed her eyes, and took a deep breath through her nose as she processed the utterly surreal feeling. She knew Anakin had to account for his padawan's actions many times. She would never have expected to come up with anything resembling justification for his.

But she knew the answer...however much it sickened her. She opened her eyes. "Yes," she answered coldly. "He compromised his own beliefs. Look where that got us. I will not do that to myself, or anyone else." Not even him. She blinked a couple times. "Can we please talk about anything else?" she asked, in a tone too close to pleading for her own tastes.

"Fair enough," he answered neutrally, as his expression relaxed. Sareena had stopped staring, but she looked downcast. "In that case," he continued, "I could really use your help."

Of course he could use the help of a Jedi. "I'm listening," she prompted.

"The Empire has been...unkind to many worlds, especially those without a significant human population. It's not uncommon for these worlds to have shortages of food or medicine, as the whims behind Imperial tariffs cripple the trade they relied on during the days of the Republic. Many of the people of Alderaan—"

"I'm sorry," Ahsoka interrupted, "but what do you need me for?"

"Setting up staging grounds for aid distribution in the Outer Rim can be difficult."

She sighed in exasperation. "I have no doubt it is, but it still sounds like you need an administrator, not a Jedi."

"Not a Jedi, so much as you, personally."

She tilted her head. As much as she appreciated being viewed as a person instead of a representative of the Force, a real rarity these days, it still wasn't making any sense to her. "You're not trying to convince me to accept solely through my own curiosity, are you?"

"Of course not, but I want you to know what you'd be getting into before you agree to anything."

That sounded a lot like trying to convince her solely through her own curiosity. She sighed, figuring she could give him the benefit of the doubt for a while longer. "Go on then, why is it so difficult?"

"Imperial presence is too prolific on human worlds, and too draconian on distinctly non-human worlds."

"Leaving the so-called 'near-human' worlds," she concluded with disdain. The idea that how biologically "close" someone was to a human could qualify as a classification had always seemed like an awkward academic concept, at best. The Emperor using it as a measure of who the Empire would lift a finger for was hardly an improvement.

"I don't like it either, but those are the worlds where we're least likely to suffer from Imperial scrutiny."

She was starting to see what he was getting at. "I take it you're distributing more than just necessities."

"We are distributing food, medicine and other basic need items to oppressed worlds. Which gives us the perfect cover for contacting resistance groups on those worlds. Material support, coordination, personnel exchange—"

"Wait, coordination?" she repeated, puzzled. "For...what? Some sort of...alliance of rebels?"

"Eventually, perhaps. Right now, giving all these people the chance to live through the Empire is the goal."

She exhaled in annoyance. "This is all interesting, really. But I'm afraid I've always had problems with patience. Why. Me?"

"The world I have in mind would be a perfect hub for helping numerous worlds...but the planetary government has concerns about authorizing our presence. And you're....Well, the legislature is suspicious of human representatives. Anyway, I have an influential connection, but I haven't had the means to seal the deal...which is where you come in."

Ahsoka groaned over how widespread xenophobia had gotten in just a few years. To say nothing about how roundabout he was about this whole thing; that was one thing she didn't miss about diplomats. "So what world, and who's your 'connection'?"

"Pantora, and I do believe you already know her quite well."

So that was it, he wanted her to take advantage of an old friend? She quickly stood up and scowled. "I am not strongarming Chuchi for you!"

"Good," Bail responded neutrally. "I don't want her coerced against her will, nor do I want to coerce you against yours. Could you please sit down so Sareena doesn't have a heart attack?"

She looked to her right, and saw Sareena half-standing, eyes wide and muscles tensed in conflicting directions. Like she couldn't decide whether she needed to protect Bail, or protect herself.

"Sorry," Ahsoka apologized as she slowly sat back down, while Sareena did the same.

Bail, who hadn't so much as looked alarmed, stroked his chin. "Frankly, it's good to see that some veterans of the Clone Wars haven't been changed beyond recognition by the Empire. Don't you agree?"

"I...wish more of the survivors kept sight of who they are." she agreed. "And 'veteran' makes me sound old," she added for distraction.

He smiled. "It's either that," he said playfully, "or I have to say you were a little girl during the Clone Wars."

She sighed. "Fine," she responded with mock annoyance, "if it keeps you from saying I'm 'all grown up', I'll go along with the 'old' thing." Then she shook her head, and took on a more serious tone. "So if I were to go along with your operation....What's in it for me, other than the chance to alienate one of my few friends who's still alive?"

"Wait," Sareena cut in, "aren't Jedi forbidden from seeking wealth?"

"Not quite," Ahsoka explained. "Jedi aren't supposed to put wealth above the Force, and it was rare for a Jedi to own more than she can carry. Still is, if only because I don't own more than I can carry. But Jedi are not required to be ascetic, and the Republic and Jedi Order are too dead to requisition from these days. And in any case, I'm not that interested in money; big spending attracts attention, which is the last thing I want."

Bail paused for only half a second. "I'm listening," he prompted, mimicking Ahsoka's own tone.

Ahsoka was quiet for a few seconds. She didn't have anything specific in mind, and though she was sure she could come up with something, the silence was starting to bother her. Ultimately, she decided to buy herself some more time by asking for a token concession. "For starters, tell me what really happened ten years ago, when the Clone Wars ended and the Empire began. Especially with regards to the Order." She'd heard and read the propaganda numerous times, and someone who was actually on Coruscant when it happened might know the real story.

She wasn't entirely sure she'd want to hear the answer. But, well, she'd heard plenty of things she deeply wished she hadn't in the past day, how much harm could adding another horrific revelation to the pile really do?

Bail sat quietly for a couple seconds. "Sareena, could you excuse us for a few moments?"

"This again?" Sareena protested.

"I'm sorry, Sareena."

The room was quiet just long enough for Ahsoka to realize she might find out exactly how much harm another revelation could do.

Sareena sighed as she stood up. "Yes, Uncle Bail," she said with resignation as she walked around the table and out the door.

A familial connection would certainly explain the informality she'd noticed between Bail and Sareena. She had enough time to remember the term for the inverse of "uncle" before the door fully closed.

"Your niece keeps her heart close to her sleeve, doesn't she?"

"Often. She doesn't always show it the way you'd expect, though. Sort of like you, if I recall correctly."

A lot like her, actually. And a lot like Anakin, too, even now. Rather than let herself ponder that..."Should I be worried that you know offhand what I asked?"

"Probably."

Ahsoka shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I guess there's no sense changing my mind."

"Well then. The first part you might know, a Confederate fleet attacked Coruscant, and General Grievous took the Supreme Chancellor hostage; Master Kenobi and Skywalker were dispatched to rescue him, and it ended with the death of Dooku and the escape of Grievous."

"Yes," she confirmed.

"Palpatine appointed Skywalker as his personal representative on the Jedi High Council."

"Wait, he could do that?"

"The Security Act had been recently amended, which allowed him to do so. I'm afraid I'm not privy to internal Jedi politics, but I assume they had their own reasons to accept the appointment. In any case, Grievous was located on Utapau, and Obi-Wan was dispatched there. He was there, and Master Yoda was aiding the Wookiees against an invasion on Kashyyyk; when Masters Tiin, Kolar, Fisto and Windu went to the Supreme Chancellor's Office to ensure Palpatine relinquished his emergency powers."

"Four Masters?" she said with surprise. "Including Master Windu? That's...quite a display of force." Were they expecting to intimidate him into cooperating? That would be distinctly un-Jedi-like. No wonder Anakin said they were corrupt.

"Some in the Senate were concerned that the Chancellor was unwilling to relinquish his control over the Republic, a concern the Jedi shared. I'm uncertain when or how Skywalker became involved, but eventually all four of the Masters were dead, and Palpatine triggered some secret brain-wired order in the clone troopers, compelling them to kill their Jedi generals. Skywalker arrived at the Jedi Temple with a division of clone troopers, and—"

"Please, no descriptions; I already know this part," she requested. She didn't need nor want to hear how the younglings and padawans were slaughtered.

"Fair enough. There's more after that, however."

"There can't be that much more after the entire High Council was killed."

"That...didn't actually happen."

"What?" she exclaimed, shocked. Was she really as wrong about the High Council as she was about Anakin?

"Obi-Wan and Master Yoda were offworld, and too much for troopers to handle. I met with them on their way back to Coruscant, in fact. And Master Ti was at the Jedi Temple, but she remains unaccounted for."

"So where are they now?" She certainly hadn't seen anything that'd suggest they were still around. But then, she hadn't known they were around to be looked for, either.

"I can't say," Bail answered. "The Empire's been looking for them all this time, they're unlikely to be in the same place they were if they're still alive."

Ahsoka caught the equivocation and implication in that sentence. "This is one of those cloak-and-dagger things, isn't it?" she accused.

"I don't have regular contact with them, they could easily have moved to different planets in the last several years. But it's dangerous to even imply I might know where they are. My family can't resist the Empire the way you can."

She sighed. As irritating as it was to have information withheld from her, she'd just had a soul-crushing encounter that she didn't know the Empire was sending; paranoia just might be healthy in these dark times. "Go on, then; what happened after the Temple was in flames?"

"I saw the troopers at the Jedi Temple and...figured out what was going on, though I didn't know Skywalker was involved. That was why I sought out Master Yoda and Obi-Wan. They discovered his involvement, and resolved to end the threat while they had the chance."

Ahsoka felt her pulse race, but said nothing. She was pretty sure she didn't want to hear what was coming, but she needed to.

"Yoda dueled Palpatine in the Senate chambers, and ultimately had to escape. Obi-Wan tracked Skywalker to Mustafar and...well, he thought he left Skywalker for dead. I think you can figure out what happened then."

"...yeah," she said sadly. "Poor man, having to fight his own apprentice."

And poorer man, whose every moment of existence was now a reminder of what his old master had done to him. She was thankful to still be intact after her own experience. Physically intact, at least.

"I can't imagine what he was thinking when he went there," Bail said.

"I can. He was thinking he could talk Anakin out of it, bring him to his senses. So together they could fight the darkness the Emperor represented."

She coughed fiercely for a couple seconds, as memories suddenly aligned in her mind. Taking a deep breath, she wiped her eyes off with her sleeve. "Sorry," she said, "suddenly realized Anakin just tried the same with me."

He frowned. "He wanted the two of you to fight the darkness?"

Ahsoka took another deep breath. She'd managed to reduce the general crushing feeling of despair down to a sensation more like internal bleeding, but it still wasn't a comfortable subject. It would never be a comfortable subject. "Yeah. Vader wanted to take over with his own flavor of darkness, but I think Anakin just wanted Palpatine eliminated."

"You talk like Skywalker and Vader are different people."

"Darth Vader is a deep, thorough perversion. Anakin is the real person, and he's still in there, somewhere."

Bail exhaled slowly. "That's...hard to accept."

She slowly shook her head. "I know. Vader doesn't believe it either. Clearly he's better at lying to himself, than to me."

"Well, you'd know that better than anyone else. Except possibly Obi-Wan...who, along with Master Yoda, went into self-imposed exile. To wait, until the time was right to reveal themselves."

She frowned. She caught the pause in that last sentence, he knew more specifics than he was letting on. This was getting annoying....She briefly considered compelling the whole story out of him, but using the Force just to satisfy her own curiosity was at least as un-Jedi-like as using a display of force to induce fear, and she was better than that.

Besides which...."Seriously?" she commented with disdain. "They're going to hide until the Empire is complacent, and the galaxy is in ruins, before they'll do anything?"

"My guess is they're contrite. Over their failure to protect Skywalker from the path he's now on, and their inability to stop the Empire when it had barely started. They're waiting to support a Jedi who can take on Vader and the Emperor directly."

Her ego resented the implication that she wasn't who they were waiting for, even though she knew she didn't want to deal with Anakin like that again, not if she could help it. But an eerie portion of her brain insisted that nothing could stop that now. That Darth Vader was the only agent of the Emperor who stood a real chance of stopping her, so a repeat encounter was inevitable. It was only a matter of time, and the only thing that would matter was what she did with that time.

And for the immediate future, a change of subject seemed the best use of her time. "You really think Chuchi will be convinced to support you just by my presence?"

"It isn't Senator Chuchi that needs to be convinced," he explained. "She needs to convince the Pantoran Assembly to go along with it, so she needs something to satisfy the holdouts with. I'm sure she has something in mind, though she hasn't told me what it might be."

"Maybe the Chairman's daughters need to be rescued from the Trade Federation again," she guessed sarcastically.

"Something of the sort, possibly. I figure we'll find out when the Senator sees that we, or rather you, are up to the task."

"And what happens then?"

"Once the Assembly assents, we'll set up an administrative center in one of Pantora's larger cities. Most of the actual work in the system will happen between space transports in orbit, of course, but a presence amongst the populace will attest to our open intentions...as well a clandestine place to run our less-open, but no less good, intentions from. Last thing we need is Imperial curiosity about our ship-to-ship communications."

"The Empire would shoot first and ask questions later, if ever."

"Exactly, debris in place of ships is the last thing we need."

Ahsoka wracked her brain, trying to try up with a similar scenario she remembered. Disconcertingly, the memory that finally came up was after the second battle of Geonosis, when she and Barriss Offee were to escort a medical frigate delivering supplies from a medical space station to the remote world of Dantooine.

That, obviously, was before Barriss murdered Letta Turmond and framed her for the crime, and only Anakin's last-minute intervention kept her from being convicted and executed for it. Was every moment in the past ten years of her life tied to that one event? It seemed to be quite alive just behind the forefront of her mind.

But this wasn't the time for introspection. "So bulk freighters will make supply runs from Alderaan to Pantora, offloading to smaller and faster ships, which in turn will take the...cargo...to the various worlds around the system?"

"There are intermediate parts, but basically yes. You sound troubled by that."

Ahsoka paused for a split second, replaying her own voice in her mind. She exhaled sharply, annoyed that she had unintentionally let her tone of voice go unfiltered. Did ambassadors have their own version of the Jedi mind trick? "Sorry, the last time I was involved with something like that was after the second battle of Geonosis. Not the best of memories."

"Because of the brain worms?"

Ahsoka suppressed the shiver, which was more from the frigid cold it'd taken to kill the worms than any other aspect of the memory. She lowered an eyebrow as she looked him in the eye. "You know that offhand, too?"

"Geonosis was always a symbol of the Clone Wars," he explained, "as the first planet the Republic clone troopers were deployed to. It was referenced in many speeches, so I tried to stay informed of developments."

"Ah," Ahsoka replied flatly as she relaxed, not entirely buying it but not particularly caring. "Because I was there with Barriss Offee, actually."

"Because she wasn't trying to kill you yet?"

Ahsoka's eyes went alert again. "Unless you count the brain worm part, anyway. Just how many developments did you stay informed of, hm?"

He took a deep breath. "This one, I was actually there to hear."

That stopped her cold. She hadn't really been paying attention to anything except the proceeding themselves that day. "You were at the trial?" she asked, feeling a little ashamed for not noticing.

"Assuming it qualified as a trial, yes. Senator Chuchi was there as well, for that matter."

"I...I didn't—"

"You had other things on your mind than the gallery roster."

"...yeah." She sighed. "I guess as long as today's Uncomfortable Truth Day...why do you think she did it? The bombing, the framing, everything."

"I'm hardly knowledgeable about her intentions, but I'd guess she did the bombing for exactly the reasons she said: She believed the Jedi had failed their ideals and the galaxy, and were responsible for prolonging the Clone Wars instead of keeping the peace. As for the framing...didn't Letta ask to speak to you, and you alone?"

"Yes."

"That would explain why you. Barriss couldn't risk being revealed, and you just happened to be the one there when time ran out."

Ahsoka sighed sadly. She had hoped there were some sort of extenuating circumstances she hadn't known, like if the Emperor had coerced her somehow. It was continuing to look like Barriss had simply taken what she saw for granted, changed her view of the universe to match, and sought to destroy any threats to her new perspective...which happened to include Ahsoka herself. It sounded like Barriss and Vader had a lot in common.

She thought Barriss would help her out. Told Anakin that he was the only one she could trust. Declared that she shouldn't trust herself if the Council didn't. And that was all followed by ten years proving she'd been completely wrong. It was almost hilarious, in a schadenfreude sort of way.

She still remembered, back on that medical frigate, that Barriss asked Ahsoka to kill her, before the brain worms took her over again. She couldn't bring herself to do it. As Anakin told her afterwards, Barriss didn't know the cold was going to kill the worms. But if Ahsoka knew then what Barriss was going to do later, would she have done things any differently? Could she have prevented all of this, calling it self-defense if necessary?

She frowned. No, she wouldn't. Barriss lost her way, and ended up orchestrating the death of one of her friends in the bombing, and almost did the same with Ahsoka herself. Anakin lost his way, and...brought Darth Vader into the universe, along with all that entailed.

Whatever else she might think of them, they proved too weak to truly survive their own foolishness.

Not her.

"Anyway," she said in hope of covering her introspective moment, "I suppose you'll want me to stick around for the distribution of your good intentions?"

"Naturally, but whether you do is your decision."

Not like he could stop her even if he wanted to. But maybe it was time to stop fighting the offer so hard. If Anakin had the foresight to envision the need to hold the pieces of the galaxy together when the Empire broke, well, someone should make good use of it. And it clearly wasn't going to be Vader.

"I can't stay in one place for long," she said, shaking her head. "The Emperor knew where I was going to be yesterday, somehow. It'll just happen again if I hang around somewhere, and that'll be a severe risk to your people."

"The Outer Rim's a big place, you could be in hyperspace more often than not." Bail responded. "And you won't have to dodge Imperial security nearly as often."

"Yeah that's a high bar to meet," she countered sarcastically. It was a good point, though: She couldn't risk getting spotted by Imperial security, and she couldn't book passage on any sort of civilian transportation without getting spotted by Imperial security. Heck, she'd technically invited herself aboard the escape shuttle. The transport between the shuttle and the ship she was in now was her first legitimate use of a vehicle since the beginning of the Empire. It was nice to travel without the 'stowaway' feeling.

"So again," she said directly, "what's in it for me if I go along with all this?"

He smiled slightly. "How long has it been since you had actual accommodations aboard a civilian ship?"

She'd accidentally broadcasted that one to him, hadn't she? "Long enough. Why?"

"I could certainly find a ship with above-standard living conditions to assign your team to."

She briefly considered whether he was trying to bribe her with creature comforts, before she realized he was trying to pay her with creature comforts. Which sounded much better. "My team?" she asked, confused.

"Technically Sareena would be in charge, at least officially. But yes, even if you are able to do everything yourself, it'd be an unreasonable expectation to force on you."

Ahsoka was silent for a few moments. Even though it was her idea, asking for compensation to do the right thing still felt a bit...off. It made her feel more like a bounty hunter than a Jedi. But she remembered something from a couple weeks back. She wasn't sure what kind of rodent it was that hopped out of the garbage pile, nor what it had been eating in there. She was, however, certain its raw flesh only made for a snack that didn't quite reach "mediocre" in quality.

"Are you finding a ship with a galley, too?"

"I could even find a chef to staff it."

She had an unpleasant feeling that, no matter what, things were going to end badly for her. But for the first time in a few years, she could see herself doing more than merely stalling the Empire's reign. "I think all three of us will need to iron out the details before I officially agree to all that."

"Fair enough. It's early anyway, we need to get permission from the Pantoran Assembly and get things set up first."

"Fine. For that part of it, I'm in."

He smiled. "Welcome aboard, then. Anything else you want to ask, before I get Sareena back in here?"

Maybe now was the time for simpler curiosity. "Why were you at my trial?"

His smile faded. "Honestly, I was there for Padmé. As for Senator Chuchi, well, you can ask her yourself when she gets here."

"...we're already headed there, aren't we?" she asked.

"You and Sareena met up with us midway," he explained. "After all, Pantora would be as good a place as any if you just wanted to set down away from Imperial eyes."

"I guess neither of us would be alive today, if we didn't recognize an opportunity when we saw one."

* * *


Watching hyperspace speed by out a side-facing window was very different from viewing the same sight head-on. Facing forward, areas that seemed lighter or darker than average drew attention to themselves, and remained in visual range long enough for a viewer to easily distinguish a neverending pattern. Even if that pattern was purely imaginary.

Whereas from her angle here, each luminous discrepancy Ahsoka saw was elongated into a horizontal line. The end result was a blue field of streaks, with every stripe gone by the time her brain acknowledged it been there in the first place.

She could've used the few hours it'd take to reach Pantora to mediate in silence. But she recognized her own longing to withdraw from the universe, to shut everything out, to ignore what had gone so very wrong in her life. And she couldn't give those things the opportunity to blindside her with their existence. They'd already tried to twist her heart into some sort of abstract sculpture, and she still felt the sprains and tears in it; there was no way a repeat performance could be an improvement.

So instead she chose to be in a corridor, leaning her shoulder against the wall, idly gazing out the viewport in silence. It was a game for her mind, she supposed; recognizing the big picture without being able to fathom its components. Though admittedly there was a big difference between components she didn't have the opportunity to examine, and events she didn't yet have the willingness to examine. It'd just have to suffice.

Her view was briefly interrupted by one of the ship's few crew walking in front of her. A technician, if the tools he was carrying were any indication. Him, she had noticed; walking deliberately down the corridor, shooting a curious look at her for a mere fraction of a second before turning his gaze towards his destination again as he walked in front of her.

He didn't know who she was, nor that she was a Jedi, if the miniscule amount of attention she drew was any indication. Which she guessed made sense, there would've been no point in keeping her in the secure section of the ship until Sentaor Organa arrived if everyone outside already knew. When she had remarked about being cooped up, he told her that it should be quite safe in the rest of the ship, as long as she didn't reveal her identity nor her reason for being there.

Perhaps she'd judged Masters Yoda, Kenobi and Ti too harshly. She'd assumed they were cowering from the fall of the Order, the way she was refusing to, but how could she be sure? After all, she'd been keeping her own identity separate from her actions as much as possible for the safety of those around her, why couldn't they be doing the same? Maybe she had gotten too good at it for them to have noticed her. Or maybe all four of them were too good at it to have noticed each other.

It'd certainly make more sense than Master Kenobi hiding in the shadows. He lacked Anakin's overt impulsiveness, but she knew he was just as unwilling to let an injustice stand. She also knew he placed the will of the Jedi High Council ahead of his own, like any "good" Jedi was expected to, but there wasn't really a High Council to object to his actions now. Maybe, now that she knew he might be alive to be looked for, she could eventually find him. It was a miniscule chance, obviously, but it made for a far better goal than aimlessly working against the Empire. The two of them would have a great deal to discuss, anyway. Maybe together, Anakin's former master and his former padawan could put together a complete picture, and a viable plan to go with it.

Because the direct approach was looking more absurd now than it ever had. Masters Yoda and Windu were the Order's premier lightsaber duelists. It hadn't been at the forefront of her mind when Senator Organa mentioned it, but for Palpatine and Vader to have faced off against them and prevailed...well, it moved her assessment of brute force from "ridiculous" to "ludicrous". And she'd just failed to talk Vader out of coming after her, and the only person in the universe who might improve the odds in that regard would be Master Kenobi. Maybe she and Kenobi, and possibly even Anakin, could overwhelm Palpatine at that point.

It was truly bizarre, thinking of herself being anywhere near the same level as a Jedi Master. Then again, Masters Yoda and Ti were Jedi Consulars; technically lightsaber proficiency was secondary for them. And all those years ago, she'd fared better against General Grievous than Master Ti had, somehow. Maybe it wasn't actually as big of a stretch as it felt.

They still owed her an answer for ejecting her from the Jedi Order so long ago, she deserved that much. Just as she suspected they would want an answer for why she refused to return. At least now she could respond to that, Anakin having recently given her words for the maelstrom in her head at the time. The High Council discarded her not for their convictions, but for their convenience. Her trust in its integrity had been shattered, even if a few of its members recognized the mistake they had made. Every step echoing down every hall left her wondering when she'd be sold out again. Her home had turned into a prison, and one does not willingly stay in such a place.

She felt her anger at them for their part in it. But it would be a pitiful thing to hold a grudge over, especially in the Imperial era. The Empire was something none of them had asked for, after all, and the threat she walked away from necessarily paled in comparison to the threat that would annihilate her if it saw her walking at all. She could give in to her frustrations when something could possibly be done with them. Besides which, passing judgment on the Council members in advance would make her no better than them, or Barriss, or Vader.

She realized that assuming none of the Masters had fallen to the Dark Side themselves could be dangerous. She'd held Anakin's moral fiber in higher regard than theirs, and for good reason. Even if it wasn't good enough to be right. Still, it seemed unlikely the Emperor would risk letting them live. And worst case scenario, there was more than one way they could answer for what they'd done. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that...but she could feel the edge of her own hope, and the sea of self-doubt daring her to push her faith too far.

Letting out a long sigh, she decided she'd simply have to make it work. Even if she was reduced to hunting for silver linings in a storm of despair, even if she ended up dead or worse at the hands of the Empire, even if nothing was actually the way she knew it. She would find the strength to press on in the face of irrationality, because there was no way she was letting a mockery like Darth Vader have it all to himself.

Anakin needed her to save him, and she owed him at least that much. She'd succeed, or one of them would die in the attempt. All that was left was the details. Much like the stars streaking by outside the ship, she couldn't recognize any of them from this angle, but she could certainly improvise. She was trained by a master, after all.

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 Post subject: Re: Eclipse (Star Wars fanfic)
PostPosted: Sun Feb 08, 2015 11:07 pm 
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Bravo. 8-)

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