Summary: Firmus Peitt knew ghosts of the past haunted his commander. He just never expected to see one.
Firmus Piett questioned his sanity. Ever since he was stationed aboard the Executor strange things had been happening. First he heard a child's laughter ringing through the halls, echoing slightly. Then it was small footsteps, or a flash of movement in the corner of his eye. Once or twice he could swear he saw a boy running through the hanger.
In the beginning, he just put it off as his imagination; a new post was a daunting task, particularly under the Emperor's second in command, and a Star Destroyer was no place for a child anyway.
Within a few months however he noticed some similarities. For one, the boy only appeared after Vader let his... displeasure control his actions and had...ah....disposed... of an incompetent officer.
Once he had caught sight of the boy on numerous occasions, he concluded it was always the same child. Sandy blond hair and bottomless blue eyes, perhaps eight standard years of age. His skin was tanned and his whole demeanor seemed to denote innocence.
After the boy's appearance Vader would enter a deep depression, retreating into himself and simply staring off into space for hours at a time or disappearing all together. When he emerged from the depression some poor fool upset him and the cycle repeated.
The crew put it off as one of Vader's quirks; violent mood swings. Piett knew better. His suspicions were unconfirmed but the boy's presence seemingly had an adverse effect on his commanding officer.
Eventually the child noticed Piett's lack of ignorance. The fleeting glances his way, the startled and slightly sad look that crossed over his face when the specter appeared, the blank stares.
When their eyes met it was as if the boy was seeing his very soul - his doings, morals and intentions rather than his physical presence.
Not for the first time Piett questioned the Empire's credibility, as it went so against his own beliefs and all he had ever known.
Surely death, destruction, plague, and famine were not the way of God.
Piett was a God-fearing man. From a young age he had been taught right from wrong and charity from his parents, teachings that stayed core to his person until this very day. He had learned there was no greater calling than serving your fellow being - and it was not just him, religions throughout the galaxy were based upon the same principle. From the ancient ways of the Jedi (though you couldn't learn that anywhere) to the most recent medical breakthroughs on Kamino, it was all based on serving the greater good.
That's why he joined the Imperial fleet - the naive belief that he would be protecting the innocent and uplifting the downtrodden.
That was before he learned the truth behind the tyrannical regime.
These thoughts were distracting to say the least. For a moment he was lost in a world where there was no Empire; no duty, no lies.
When he was young, he drank those lies in readily. The lies that the Empire was a perfect state, that humanity and justice ruled. (There was no humanity or justice in the genocide.) That everyone was better off in this government. (Everyone being those who pleased the Emperor.) That only in monarchy there could be true peace. (Seeing as any disturbance was promptly 'taken care of.')
In his time aboard the Executor these ideals had steadily stripped from his person. He saw the oppressed and enslaved species, the grit and grime that they were forced to work in, the blatant bias towards those of powerful names and lines. There was no room for what was moral and what was not. As far as the Emperor was concerned, he was god and therefore defined moral.
None could tell him otherwise.
And he was too far involved to safely escape without forfeiting life (and no matter what anyone said, he knew killing was immoral, even if indirect.) He could not shirk his duty, he had honor. He was not a coward. He would not hightail it like some lowly deserter. If he left now there would be violent repercussions for any associated with him.
Absently he wondered if dying under the hand of Darth Vader would be considered 'in the line of duty'.
Piett was wrenched out of his musings by a thick gloved hand on his throat.
Glancing at the chrono he was horrified to realize he had spent the past half standard lost in thought, his post blatantly unmanned.
"Slacking, Piett?" The synthesized voice was as harsh and emotionless as ever. The inhuman obsidian mask seemed even more ghastly close up, if possible.
The young officer knew better than to speak even if he could.
Apparently the parameters of 'in the line of duty' were about to be determined.
His end was near. A hand restricted his airway, he could feel the small child behind him. It saddened him that the boy had to see such a gruesome sight as death - his eyes were far to youthful, still unmarred by the cruelty called life.
The irony of the statement was lost on the young officer.
Still motionless, the child stared, fixated upon the man he had unintentionally caused such grief.
Purposefully, the boy emerged from his hiding place walking towards the dark entity. With calculated steps the youth came too stand motionless next to the dying man, silently apologizing.
Though invisible to all those around him, Piett knew Vader was focusing on the child... on the boy's pleading eyes, positioned near his own asphyxiated, expiring body.
His face must be turning blue by now; so little oxygen was reaching his brain his vision was greying around the edges. Still the child peered statically at the Sith Lord. The same piercing eyes that had him questioning his very soul were tearing the black cyborg apart.
Something must have struck an chord within his commander because as promptly as the execution began, it ended. Firmus Piett's living body hit the floor, hands automatically grasping his now freed airway, greyness retreating from his vision and color returning to his face.
Vader quickly retreated, brusque in manner.
Scrambling to his feet Piett followed the boy and the Sith. Without a doubt, the invisible child had just saved his life.
Exiting the bridge, Piett's eyes fixated on the two figures ahead of him. The boy was walking beside the Dark Lord, taking two or three springy steps for every one of his. There was familiarity to the scene, as if both occupants were remembering a long forgotten childhood friend.
The boy glanced back, catching sight of Piett and grinned.
Running ahead of Vader, the child made to attract his attention. Had he possessed ability to vocalize at that moment he might have warned the boy of the impending danger.
He was most surprised when Lord Vader stopped in his tracks and gazed down at the child.
Equally was he surprised when the little boy smiled, bright sky colored eyes staring into lifeless lenses, an inexplicable pride in his face. Vader stood motionless in front of the child. The boy tilted his head to one side.
As if controlled by something other than rational thought Vader reached out, not in the calculated death grip of only moments before but in a -dare he think- hopeful fashion, longing written in his posture.
Bionic fingers only millimeters from his face the child's demeanor became inexplicably sad. A small hand made to rest upon leather in a comforting manner, but merely phased through circuitry and wire. For the first time Piett noticed a slight shimmer in the child's image, the shapes and shadows leaking through his semi-transparent form.
Prosthetic limb falling, fist clenched in an attempt to regain composure, the minute tremble in his commander's body diminished.
With head downcast the cyborg seemed almost... human. Without turning he addressed the officer, long stride in play once more. "Come."
Alert, Piett moved to follow.
Dejected, the boy trailed mournfully a few steps behind the cyborg and his subordinate.
Silence weighed heavily on the trio.
Few, if any crew members had ever entered the Dark Lord's living space, but something told him he would be different.
Upon reaching their destination, the airlock to Vader's private chambers hissed closed. Almost immediately after the pressure adjusted Vader turned to his officer.
"I trust you can see him?"
Piett blinked. Though Vader never skirted around a subject this approach was astonishingly direct.
"You will not be reprimanded upon your answer. A simple 'yes' or 'no' will suffice." The statement was cold and curt.
Swallowing, he affirmed. "Yes, Milord." Piett glanced to the corner where the child was quietly sitting, watching them with his piercing eyes.
Vader noticed this action, following his gaze back to the child almost wistfully.
"You have told none of this... boy?"
A slight nod was the only proof he had heard. Piett was caught in the malice of the following words. "You will tell none of this occurrence under penalty of death. Is that understood?"
Something had deeply disturbed the immovable power that was Darth Vader - a something that was in the form of a small, sandy haired, blue eyed boy. The atrocious crimes of Darth Vader were known far and wide. He had nearly singlehandedly purged the entire galaxy of the Jedi - indiscriminate of species, gender or age.
Why a single child so greatly upset the man was a mystery to all but the cyborg himself.
Adrenaline still coursing his veins from the near death experience Piett did something none in his right mind would ask. "Permission to speak freely Milord?"
A pregnant pause and Piett feared he had forfeit his life - again. "Permission granted."
Slight weight was lifting from his shoulders, the enigma of the boy's appearance still reigned supreme. Ten million questions flitted through his head, but only one survived the onslaught to the physical world. Hesitantly Piett queried, "...Who is he?"
Once more the dread he had overstepped his bounds overcame the young officer until a nearly inaudible sigh escaped the mask. The very air seemed to groan in anguish at the bone weary sound. Was this another one of the Dark Lord's abilities?
He was brought from his ponderings when the baritone answered.
"Someone who never existed. Who never had the chance." A great pain seemed to descend on the Sith with a silence so earsplitting it was nearly palpable. He was unsure if the cyborg was even aware he had spoken those words as they seemed far too personal to ever escape his commander's impenetrable facade of indifference.
"Milord?" Piett questioned softly.
Monstrous helm in acute contrast to the dim light he turned to the officer, replying far more quietly than the vocorder should have allowed.
"He was my son."