This short story was originally written for May the Fourth 2020. Darth Vader, the Empire, the Sith, and all other Star Wars elements are property of Lucasfilm, Ltd. and the Walt Disney Company. The following story is fanfiction and is not an officially-licensed, Disney-authorized work of fiction.
The sun burned furiously in the evening skies over PT-187, heat waves shimmering over the bright beachfront as frothy, wind-tossed waves crashed against the sand… but he could feel no sun warming him and no gentle sea wind caressing his pale flesh. The sea salted the air around him, but the artificial olfactory receptors built into his helmet filtered out most of the ocean air, and his nostrils registered only the merest hint of the sensation.
Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith and commander of the military might of the Galactic Empire, would never feel the sun or the wind again. He would never smell anything again, not the way most people detected scent, nor would he hear or see the way others heard and saw.
The armored life support suit he wore saw to that.
Instead, Vader felt only bunchy, padded fabric cushioning and sealing off his still-highly sensitive epidermis from the worlds around him, the suit’s climate control functions keeping him forever cool. Never cold like the blessed chilly nights of arid, dune-washed Tatooine after both the planet’s suns had set, never warm like the lakeside shores of placid, picturesque Naboo at summertime, merely cool enough for some meager measure of comfort amidst all the other lesser torments the suit inflicted upon him. He sometimes had to remind himself that these minor chivvies were a small sacrifice, as this suit saved his life.
He never heard the sounds of the worlds he visited — never heard the trill of the native birds, the rustling of dead leaves, the crackling of ice beneath his feet, or the bustle of each planet’s sentient inhabitants as they rushed about their business — with the full breadth and scope that each sound carried as they vibrated through the air on their way to his ear. Instead, tiny microphones captured each and every sound with the same stale mechanical efficiency that they picked up any other sound and transmitted these sounds to his scabbed and scarred eardrums via tinny, scratchy speakers based on technology now a decade old. Each sound trilled in his ears at either too high or too low a register, causing his ears no end of pain no matter how often he adjusted the pitch, bass, treble, or volume. He gave up trying to find a comfortable, almost-natural volume years ago; he simply set his helmet’s speakers to a volume that caused his ears the least pain and left the settings there. His technicians assured him that upgrades would be coming as soon as the technology was ready and he had enough downtime for his technicians to install the new audio sensors.
Vader would not hold his breath waiting. The galaxy roiled and trembled in chaos, and he had been tasked with ordering it by force.
Not that he could hold his breath if he wanted to. If his hellish existence had any constant, it was the deep, rumbling sound of his own mechanically-aided respiration. An administrative underling had told him once, long ago, that the sound produced by his suit’s built-in respirators was terrifying, and though Vader would never admit it to anyone, he understood exactly what that underling meant.
When Vader first heard his own mechanical breathing — a thunderous, ever-constant sound in his own beleaguered ears — he was frightened by it. After being sealed up in his black life-support armor for the first time ten years ago, Vader remembered how the sound had chilled him to his core, not solely by the sound of it, but by its consistency. Most sentients take the way their speech or their physical activity distorts their breathing for granted. Vader could speak, he could whisper, he could scream, and his breathing remained at its constant, computer-controlled rate throughout. He could run five kilometers aided solely by his prosthetic legs or leap incredible lengths with the Force granting him wings, he could spar with his combat training droids for days on end or physically exert himself in the most exhausting ways imaginable, and his mechanical breathing would remain as constant as the motions of the stars.
It was maddening. He couldn’t sleep for almost a full week after he was first sealed in the suit. Over time, however, his mechanical respiration went from terrifying to irritating to infuriating, until it finally became just another part of his day-to-day existence. The breathing used to drown out all other sounds at times; now, it served as a constant reminder that he was alive — he still alive no matter who or what had tried to kill him over the years, that he had lived through Hell itself and had come out the other side of the most transformative trials any Sith would ever face. He had conquered every foe set before him. Though he had sacrificed so much of who he once was, at each day’s end, his breathing reminded him that he had been molded into a new creature, an engine of fierce and terrible order to be imposed upon the wild and unruly Galaxy, and that breathing — once an irritant, now an almost meditative sound at times — and the life that it gave him was part of his reward, as was the power to impose the stability of order and the rule of law to everything he set his eyes upon…
…And all that he saw now was red. If he missed any of his senses, the sense he missed the most was his sight. Not that Vader was blind, of course. His eyesight had been almost fully restored years ago after his painful rebirth at fiery Mustafar years ago, and Vader could see with crystal clarity, though he could only use his natural eyes in specially-designed hyperbaric living chambers that allowed him to remove his life-support mask. Vader was forced to wear his life-support helmet whenever he left his habitations, and the helmet’s computerized lenses rendered the worlds he visited in harsh shades of crimson.
Vader had been informed by his technicians that this was a practical choice: red lenses were excellent for computer-enhanced vision in both day and night, and seeing via red light at night preserved his eyes’ night vision. Though he missed seeing the beauteous colors of life at times, Vader agreed with his technicians. As beautiful and splendid as the hues and shades of life could be, color and beauty were distractions. They bound the viewer to the forces of life around them, fooling them into accepting the meaningless nonsense of life as it was instead of seeing what life could be. Red lenses, Vader had discovered, were the purest way to view life.
All the passion inherent in existence, the roiling ambitions of the Imperial officers serving alongside him and the blood-bought devotion of stormtroopers serving under him in the 501st Legion, all the petty cruelties and impersonal horrors life had to offer, were revealed in their stark, cataclysmic glory by the color red. When Vader gazed upon the worlds he would visit, he saw through his mask’s crimson lenses the blood that united all lifeforms in the sanguine tableau of existence in all its shades, from bright and screaming pink to electric carmine and rusty, slaughterous crimson. He saw no inequity between individuals and the differences between sentient beings expressed in their skin tones no longer held any meaning for him. Everyone, everything, was all the same: the color of lust, rage, life, and death, all things deemed “precious” to the Sith.
When Vader scanned the breathtaking vista before him, he saw neither the glimmering turquoise sea, nor the setting sun’s red-orange final furies as it spread its dying light across the sky, nor the golden sands that inspired poets and artisans throughout PT-187’s storied history. All Vader saw was the blood red madness that seeped from the darkest shadows of this world’s turbulent heart… and the apocalypse that he would visit upon this planet when his forces razed its capital city to the sands beneath it.
PT-187 — that was the designated assigned to the planet by Imperial administrators — was a virgin world boasting beautiful beaches and plentiful natural resources that had only been discovered two years ago by Corporate Sector scouts traversing yet another new trade route through hyperspace. Its native society was highly industrialized and had only recently colonized their planet’s two moons, but they had yet to develop technology more advanced than the basic chemical rocket or metal projectile weapons. Though PT-187 possessed its own planet-wide computer network, the planet’s inhabitants were largely ignorant busybodies toiling away at meaningless tasks to support their dreary lives. None of them had any knowledge of the Force, or of the wider Galaxy beyond their world’s atmosphere. No centralized government existed yet; a handful of larger political polities bullied smaller states into submission, and wars were frequent. Ambassadors from the nearest Imperial sector had made their overtures to the pitiful beings that the planet’s inhabitants deemed their “leaders” only to be rebuffed, then felled, by the unruly inhabitants.
No matter; there would always be uncivilized natives, rioting protestors, greedy backstabbing nobles, overzealous political dissidents, or thugs and gangsters whose criminal ambitions outgrew their social standings, Vader mused. This was simply the ebb and flow of life in the Galaxy. The unruly, undisciplined, and uncivilized refused all vestiges of order when it was presented to them, and they would always, always respond to that halcyon order with brutal, unthinking violence, no matter how much that order could benefit them. That was simply the reality of life in the Empire, just as it was in the days of the corrupt and inept Republic that preceded it. When they did, that was when Imperial naval forces would be dispatched to impose order, whether the barbarous fools wanted it or not.
The Imperial Navy had successfully blockaded PT-187 for six months, but the threat of starvation had only emboldened the more zealous of the planet’s savage inhabitants. Vader and the 501st Legion had been dispatched to bring an end to the pointless conflict three days ago, and his troopers had already made tremendous headway, especially after their major military command centers had been obliterated from orbit by his flagship’s laser cannons.
Vader and his troops landed during the cannonade and assaulted the planet’s major centers of government, and blood was all he had seen since. He and his forces waded through it as his lightsaber — a blade as bright as the life essence it spilled onto PT-187’s sands — and his trooper’s blasters carved swaths of carefully-constructed order through the disarray of rebellion, bringing the glorious stability of victory forth from the chaos of armed conflict. Within hours, several of PT-187’s political entities had surrendered, and the rest had fallen into silence as their warriors fell on the battlefields.
Finally, step by bloody step, Vader stood on the beaches surrounding the capital city of one of the planet’s three strongest nation-states. The first of the other strongest nation-states was cowed into submission after Vader had personally strangled their head of state as her citizens watched in horror, and the second had surrendered hours later. This final nation-state, a haven of misguided idealists, zealous militants, greedy corporate moguls, and corrupt politicians, was the only bastion of what passed for organized resistance remaining on this world. It reminded Vader so much of the outdated Republic that he would have vomited in disgust, had his suit’s onboard medical computer would have allowed his stomach to do so.
Vader scanned the idyllic beaches through his helmet’s blood-red lenses, visualizing the crimson carnage he would wreak upon world after world to birth the Emperor’s New Order as his heavily-armored mechanical feet crunched their way across the sands. Even through the cacophonous din of the orbital cannonade ravaging the city’s pitiful defenses and the sizzles of blaster-fire that erupted from his troops’ weapons, Vader could hear the ever-constant sound of his own breathing — once a reminder of his imprisonment in his imposing black battle armor, now a symbol of every victory he had wrested from the cruel Force since Mustafar.
As the planet’s screaming inhabitants fled all around him, he focused on his breath and stretched out with the Force. He drew upon the fear and rage of the fools native to PT-187 as he drew upon their lusts, their ambitions, their hatreds, and all the other passions of this world’s inhabitants, and added it to his own as he carved a path further into the battlefield.
“Lord Vader,” his troop’s commander squawked over Vader’s communicator from further ahead, “we’ve mopped up resistance at the capitol building and are prepared to make our final assault into their senate chambers.”
“Wait for my signal,” Vader’s booming artificial voice barked, and he smiled as he cut down a few more of PT-187’s rebels. Soon, this world would be washed in the blood of renewal that Vader had been baptized with a decade ago, and when he and the 501st were finished, the Imperial administers would christen the world with a new name, as Vader had been so christened that fateful, fiery evening on Mustafar.