Darth Vidius – who remembered once bearing the name Anakin Skywalker – clenched his fist and tried not to scream. Outside, the heavy tread of troopers’ feet rang out against the Death Star’s corridors, but the sound barely registered. A flicker of light from the screen in front of him reflected off the walls of his private office, followed moments later by the distant sound of blaster fire.
His office was not cold, the temperature carefully controlled by the Death Star’s internal systems, and yet… Clenching both hands into fists in an attempt not to rip the screen from the desk, Vidius could feel a chill rising up from his belly. His dark uniform and cloak were no protection against such a raw sensation. No, this cold came from somewhere deep inside, somewhere he been unable to heat since the day he first woke in the vats.
Vidius stared at the screen, hardly blinking. His thoughts snarled like Krayt dragons. Why did no one stop him? By the Force! Why did no one stop him?
The recording ended and Vidius immediately cycled back to the beginning, as he had done countless times since it had been flagged to his attention. Once again, he saw the conference room on Coruscant, filled with stormtroopers. Once again, he saw Tarkin. Once again he saw… Her. Padme.
Vidius paused the recording and touched the screen with a single finger. Instantly, the image was enlarged and enhanced, providing him with a close-up of the face that still haunted his dreams. He could hardly believe how little – and yet how much – she had changed.
In his mind, he knew that many decades had passed since the last time he had seen her. In his heart, though, he knew that they had been together mere months before. Mere months since they had left Tatooine on a wild rescue mission to drag Obi-wan out of Dooku’s hands on Geonosis. Mere months since they had finally admitted their love for one another just before being taken out into the arena.
Vidius closed his eyes, a single tear escaping and running down his cheek. His first thought upon waking in the Emperor’s facility deep below Mount Tantiss had been of her. His last clear memory had been of seeing her falling from the troop transport just before Obi-wan and he had fought Dooku. Before Dooku cut off his hand.
Vidius forced his eyes open. Anger flared. Not
. His hand
. The other him. The Anakin who threw it all away.
It was all his fault, Vidius decided. His “brother” had everything. Vidius had spent much time since his awakening studying the historical records. He had watched news feeds and read holoreports, had followed Anakin Skywalker’s career. His heroics during the Clone Wars. His rise to Jedi Knight and appointment to the Council as Chancellor Palpatine’s own representative. His fall from grace and departure from the Order after Palpatine thwarted the Council’s attempts to take over the Republic.
Palpatine himself had filled in the missing parts. He had told Vidius of their close relationship and shared fears. How Palpatine had considered Anakin a friend and that he had believed Anakin felt the same way, especially after Anakin had confided in him the greatest secret he had: his marriage to Padme.
Vidius touched the screen and allowed the recording to continue. He had it all
. He had Padme as his own
. He was about to become a father. My master would have done anything for him
. Anakin had always known that the Council was corrupt, that the Masters were afraid of him and his abilities. That they feared Palpatine and the order that he represented. Vidius shared those memories, shared those fears. All he needed to do was remain faithful, to stay the course until the Council had been brought to heel. Instead…
“The harder you tighten your grip, the faster the Alliance will take all of this away from you.”
The sound of Padme’s voice tore Vidius from his thoughts. He gripped the desk, the Force pounding at his chest. He felt a need to destroy something, to take that power and choke the life out of the first person he found. His palm itched to feel the familiar weight of a lit lightsaber.
“Do you really want those to be your last words Padme Amidala?”
Tarkin. Fury boiled in Vidius’ veins, an overwhelming monster tearing at his innards and howling to escape. If he ever got his hands on Tarkin, he would…
A beeping sound forced its way through the haze, seizing his attention. A holonet communiqué on a very specific frequency. One that only one person could use.
With a roar, Vidius brought one fist smashing down on the screen, ripping it out of its socket and sending it crashing to the deck. Grappling with the Force, Vidius lifted the shattered mess of plastic and steel, crumpling it into a tiny ball that he sent hurtling into the far wall. Breathing hard, Vidius forced himself to calm down. Though his master encouraged him to give in to his emotions, he could not afford to speak with him in this state. Only once he felt that he had his feelings under control did he allow himself to reach out and activate the controls.
The lights dimmed immediately and a flickering figure, face hidden beneath a heavy cloak, appeared in the air before him. Vidius slipped from his chair, hands still trembling with barely contained rage, falling to one knee.
“What do you require, my master?”
Palpatine did not respond immediately. Vidius took advantage of the delay to bring his raging emotions under more control.
Vidius did not need to ask what. “I do, my master.”
“An unfortunate misunderstanding.”
Misunderstanding?! Anger, rage, fury… None of those words could possibly encompass how Vidius felt at that moment. If Palpatine had been physically in front of him, Vidius was not sure he would have been able to withstand the desire to attack his master. As it was, he lowered his head to the floor, attempting to hide his feelings.
“I had hoped to be able to turn Padme Amidala to serve us. She would have been a formidable symbol to use against the Alliance. And a worthy consort.”
Vidius choked back a roar of outrage. The Emperor did not mean a consort for Vidius. The thought of Padme – his Padme – on the Emperor’s arm… He would have killed her himself rather than see that happen. Not that that changed the fact that Tarkin had to pay for what he had done.
“I would like to see to Governor Tarkin’s punishment myself, my master.”
“Punishment? Governor Tarkin may have overstepped his boundaries, but he will not be punished for it. He is much too important to the war effort for me to throw away for such a middling offence.”
This time, Vidius’ head snapped up and his eyes bore into his master’s reflected image. “He killed the woman I loved. I will have revenge.”
“You will do what I tell you, my apprentice.”
“Must I remind you again that you are not Anakin Skywalker? Padme Amidala was not the woman you loved. You were not the man she fell in love with. You are a copy of that man, Lord Vidius. A better, purer copy, but a copy nevertheless. Do not forget that.”
Bile burned the back of Vidius’ throat and he looked back at the floor. One day
, he vowed. One day I will show you that I am more than a copy of a failed man. One day I will see you die screaming at my hand, master.
“Now, we have more important things to talk about.”
The image of Palpatine writhing and screaming under a battering assault of Force lightning filled Vidius’ thoughts. He imbued it with all of the anger, disgust and humiliation he felt, searing it into his mind. Only then did he raise his head again.
“What is thy bidding, my master?”
“You will prepare the Death Star for travel, Lord Vidius. I will soon have the hidden location of the Jedi planet. Once I do, you must make all haste there in order to destroy it before our enemies can evacuate. Before that, though, I need you to take the Death Star to Dantooine. A rebel leader has come into our hands. An old friend.”
He pushed thoughts of Padme away. “Obi-wan.”
“Your insights serve you well, my apprentice. Yes. Your old master has been captured. I am having him moved to Dantooine for you to collect him. I thought breaking him could serve as a good opportunity. To test the Son of Skywalker for the first time.”
“I am not sure he is ready, my master.”
Ever since he had infected Luke with the nanites down on Corellia, he had been keeping him under close observation. If the tech worked in the way the scientists on Qiilura had promised…
“Make him ready.”
Vidius bowed his head. “It shall be as you say, my master.”
“Good. You will soon see that everything is proceeding as I have foreseen. In expectation of certain of those events, I have recalled Mara Jade to my side. She will be departing the Death Star before you leave for Dantooine. Provide her with anything she may need.”
, Vidius thought. In the few months they had spent together, Mara Jade had proven to be a thorn in his side and, since delivering his son to him, she had become too close to Luke. The two of them spent time training together, sparring. If Palpatine truly wanted him to have Luke ready and willing to face Obi-wan, then it would be better if he had her out of the way. She might interfere with the morphei-tech otherwise.
“I will provide her with everything she needs.”
“Good. Soon, we will crush this feeble Alliance and bring the galaxy to heel. Just as we always envisioned. May the Force serve us, Lord Vidius.”
“May the Force serve us.”
With a crackle of static electricity, the hologram vanished, leaving nothing but darkness in its wake. Vidius remained on his knee for a moment, the weight of his loss almost too much for him to bear. Padme. Her name whispered in his mind, rousing a thousand memories, an infinity of feeling. Palpatine’s words echoed there, too. You are not the man she loved. You are a copy. A copy of a failed man. A man who failed to hold on to her.
If nothing else, Vidius knew that if he had been the one to live that life, he would have done it differently. He would have done it better. He would have saved Padme from her fate. One way or another.