Jul 03, 2020 1:07 PM
Occlus meets a redeemed Darth Vader
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Neither she nor Luke can sleep. Luke, due to a vision of Obi-Wan saying goodbye. Anakin, due to...

Well.

She hasn't been sleeping through the night for a long while.

Her body doesn't hurt as much as it used to. She still has prosthetic limbs, still needs mechanical assistance to breathe. She's still a prisoner in her own body.

A prisoner in her own mind, almost, though not numb like she was as Vader. More... scrubbed clean.

She hates that the New Republic's selected Coruscant as their capitol. She hates herself even more for following Luke here. Hates that she can almost feel Palpatine looming over her, still - 

Something starts beeping. Anakin mumbles an apology to Luke, fumbles a bit, and - 

One of the old Imperial frequencies. One of Palpatine's old frequencies. Something wrong with a facility.

This...

Will be a problem. 

Anakin paces a bit, argues with Luke, indirectly argues with Leia - 

Ends up winning the opportunity to go alone. Leia and Luke are needed for a diplomatic mission, anyways. 

She takes a small ship, sets in her coordinates, and leaves to investigate the facility within a few hours.

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The system she's heading to is barely a footnote in the star charts. Resource-poor and off the main trade routes, for all that it's nestled comfortably in the Mid Rim. Surveyed once some fifty-four years ago and promptly forgotten again, not worth the effort of colonization.

On the second planet (lightly forested, large tracts of steppeland), she finds her destination. A temple, stone, old, steeped in the dark side until it hangs over the area like a shroud. There's a weed-covered landing pad nearby, and a doorway into the interior of the building that almost seems to be pulling at her.

(...and a faint sense that there's something familiar here...)

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Great.

Not too surprising, though. She doubts this'll be a boring trip...

She can't quite place the sense. It's - like something out of a terrible dream. An old vision?

Cautiously, Ani makes her way forward, alert for traps, alert for little nudges in the Force...

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The walls of the temple are bare, the lines clean and flowing. Were it not for the feeling in the air and the sure fact that she knows who hid this place from the galaxy, this mightn't be a Sith temple at all.

Further in, she sees rooms with racks of datapads, strange objects and esoteric sculptures, arranged more like they're in storage than on display. Unaccountably, she's reminded of the rooms she and Elesse shared, before.

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She's really not liking this trip down memory lane. Hoping this isn't a forewarning of visions. Wondering -

Why now.

Ani doesn't touch anything, not yet. She'll get what sense of this place she can, first. She keeps exploring, trying to push away thoughts of Elesse (and the thought of her hurts, so much still, like the wound Elesse's death ripped open in her chest never healed at all - but it's not the time).

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In the center of the temple is a large room, with the computer terminal that sent the alert flashing near the entrance.

There's a large tank in the middle of the room filled with a greenish fluid, looking like the cloning vats of the Kaminoans and others, but the occupant of this one is full-grown-

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-and has a face she's still not forgotten-

-and a presence in the Force that's like looking into a dark mirror.

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What.

Ani covers her mouth, breath catching in her throat - did - what -

She leans against one wall, hyperventilating, crying despite herself -

She's -

That looks like Elesse.

Feels like Elesse, but - twisted - dark - 

What - 

Did Palpatine - 

(Ani wants to throw up. She hasn't, since she figured out how she got pregnant. She's been too numb. She wants to.)

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(Distantly, there's a warm presence - concern, love, light - are you okay?)

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It's like a shock of cold water.

Ani - 

Focus on your mission, Luke. I'm fine.

She'll have to be. Even if Palpatine cloned Elesse, or - something - maybe something weirder is going on.

She'll... Reserve judgement.

She sits there, breathing, trying to meditate and clear her mind. Ending up mostly focusing on the warm, somewhat confused glow in her chest her children inspire. The present, and the future, not the past.

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She mostly manages calm. (She's been getting used to crying, after all.)

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The figure stirs. The beeping of the terminal grows louder.


The tank begins to drain.

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A few last deep breaths.

Ani backs up a little, making sure she's at the far side of the room. Giving El- giving the woman space.

(She keeps her hands loose by her side. Neither reaches for her saber nor wraps her arms around herself, though she wants to do both.)

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The walls of the tank retract into the floor, and the woman drops. Catches herself. Stands.

Looks Ani in the eyes. The weight of her presence is like a black hole, stronger than Palpatine, stronger than Luke- and unmistakably the same as Elesse.

"Hello there."

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"Hello." She meets the woman's gaze without hesitation.

The woman's presence in the Force... Is not quite as bad as the slap in the face the first time Ani met Leia. Mostly because of forewarning, but -

Ani is determined to handle this better than she did her avalanche into and then out of the dark.

It's - Ani doesn't think a clone would feel like this. Not so - the same.

(Ani's own presence is immensely powerful, albeit a bit confused about whether she's more dark or light. Mostly a disaster, lately.)

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She waves a hand casually and blasts the still-beeping terminal with lightning.

"Annoyances. Are you the inheritor sent to greet me, then?"

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"I inherited the frequencies for the monitoring systems, yes - from Sidious - though I'll admit some surprise at seeing you awaken." An understatement.

Playing along seems more likely to get her information. And... The woman feels so familiar. Almost enough to trick Ani into trusting her.

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"While I slept, it was as though I viewed the galaxy through thick glass. The details were blurred, but I saw the broad shapes. This.. Sidious did not expect me to wake either." Her lips quirk. "He feared it, though. The secrets he stole were enough to ensure that, even as he wrought the destruction of the Jedi and so sealed his own fate."

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So the woman has an information advantage over Ani. Great. But... It's sounding more and more like this woman's not a trap - for Ani, at least.

Ani doesn't think she's lying. Not yet.

"He was a fearful man."

(How is this woman not Elesse - how is this woman so much Elesse - )

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"I sense that you know me, though you are not familiar. I am Darth Occlus. What is your name, girl?"

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"Ani is the only name I bother with."

"You have - an odd resemblance to a woman I knew, once."

An odd exactly identical status except for the hair color and being a Sith. (...'Sith' suits Elesse oddly well.)

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"Then perhaps it is the Force that has brought you to me. Tell me, Ani, with your master dead, what is it that you seek?"

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Palpatine was not her master. Elesse, maybe, could claim that, if anyone could, but - the thought's painful.

"Perhaps it has." Though she really does not trust it anymore.

"And, lately, I've sought peace." Mostly on behalf of her children.

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"An elusive goal, peace. For so long as resources are limited, the nature of life is conflict."

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...Occlus is really weird. She'd be less so, if Ani's mind didn't insist on comparing every word to Elesse -

"It doesn't need to last forever, fortunately. Just long enough." For her children - and coming grandchildren, if the galaxy has decided to be kind for once - to grow strong.

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"Ah, then it is a question of imposing your will on an uncooperative galaxy. As it ever is."

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