Absalom

ABSALOM

by Karen Winter

The Dark Lord sighed and pushed the control to rerun the tape once again. It was only a fragment, a bit of the monitor tape from the detention area, which had been found floating in the wreckage of the Death Star, saved from destruction by its heavy anti-tamper shielding. There was something there — elusive, maddeningly familiar — something he should recognize.

"I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."

Skywalker... Skywalker.... Vader studied the eager boy in the holopicture, frowning. Why should that name have such a tinge of recognition?

He mentally translated it into Sith, and found an answer. Skywalker — it was his wife's name as a child. But what connection.…

His mind turned back to the small woman with bright hair that was gold in the furnace and a temper hot as the heart of a star. His cousin, his lady, and — almost — his match. He smiled. What rousing battles there had been in the privacy of their own apartments! A small woman, true, who barely came up to his breastplate, but she had dared to challenge him with the courage of their House. Skywalker her parents had called her, after the Sith name for the sun, because of her pride, her fierce independence, and because her spirited feet never seemed to touch the ground as she danced through life. There had been much to remind him of her in the Alderaani Princess Organa. Perhaps that was why.… No, there had been good reasons, tactical reasons, for saving her from Tarkin. And yet... the Dark Lord dragged his thoughts back to the still picture frozen on the tape in front of him.

What connection could there be between his dead lady and the young man in the image? Unless—

He reached out with the Force, testing the faint aura of the boy which remained captive on the tape. It was ticklish work, this secondary deduction, and it required all of his trained skill, but the conclusion was inescapable. Excitement flared in him. No question about it, the aura was that of his missing son, the child he had thought lost in the disorders in the Sith after his supposed death at Kenobi's hands.

You have paid for that treachery, Cousin, thought Vader. May you rot in hell.

So Kenobi had found the child. A clever revenge, the Dark Lord mused, to take my heir and make him a weapon against me. Obi-Wan was always a master at intrigue. Cunning, yes — but perhaps — oversubtle. This boy is part of me and can, perhaps, destroy me.

He rose and walked to the viewscreen as a great wondering exultation welled up in him. But I am also part of him. He cannot escape me. When I call him, he will come, and together our glory will be a blaze to light the universe. The Dark Lord's hand closed. Power... the power of the dark side.… When you have joined me, my son, I will give you a galaxy of starfire in your hand.

And yet.... Vader felt a small chill at the back of his neck. He turned back to the viewer and probed the image again. There was little clearly of the dark side yet in the boy. Potential, yes — no child of his blood could be without that — courage, warrior spirit, pride, bright dreams of adventure. And anger, strong anger. But it was not decisive. The boy stood balanced on the edge of a swordblade and the future was uncertain. It shifted like heavy fog as he tried to grasp it. Always in motion is the future, a mocking voice seemed to whisper in his mind.

If he could not be turned, he would have to die. Such power as the son of Vader would have when he came to his inheritance could not be allowed to his father's enemies. Such power as... Ah-ha, there was something else familiar about the aura. He mentally replayed his last run over the Death Star — Then it had been muffled by the strong reverberations of Kenobi's death and the shock of the Corellian's sudden return, but the aura was the same: the rebel pilot who had led the bombing run. Vader smiled again with a sort of grim satisfaction; it appealed to his ironic sense of humor. Of course. He should have known no ordinary rebel, not even one with Kenobi's training, could have done that, or escaped him. "The Force is strong in this one" — HIS gift of Force ability! He chuckled. He almost wished Tagge had survived.

So, my child, your death will not be an easy one to achieve, even for me. I will be fighting myself, as you will be fighting yourself if you come against me. But whether I meet you as friend or enemy, whether I give you you life or death, you will be worthy of me. A strange pleasure uncurled and stretched within his spirit, like a hunting cat preparing to stalk, a deep joy he had not felt, even during his fight with Kenobi, since the destruction of the Jedi years ago. You will survive and grow, and someday I will meet you again as my equal, to challenge or join me. There has been none before who was my equal. I await you, my son.

The Dark Lord lit his saber and raised it into salute to the holographic picture of Skywalker, watching the image flicker as if with life through the shining beam of his sword. Then he flicked it off, shut off the tape, and turned with a businesslike air to instructions for deploying his flagship and the fleet.

There was much to do.

 

Winter's Tales