Darth Vader stood in front of the rectangular window. Bleak raindrops trickled down the glass with monotonous persistence. Outside, small lonely aircraft were barely visible through the impenetrable mist; only sporadically glowing red lights sent hopeful signals to the observers as the plane was making its predictable course. The air was fresh in an unpleasant, nearly sterile way, devoid of any discernible smells, threatening to tear the lungs with its frigid indifference.
“Tomorrow,” the Emperor said.
“Yes, Master,” Darth Vader replied without turning his head.
The Emperor had just entered the room, moving softly, with deceptive humility, like a lean old cat ready to hunt once more for good old times’ sake. He floated towards the tall masked man, his scarred face evoking pity alongside revulsion, a regular old ugly Grandpa strolling out in the night. He put his bony hand on his disciple’s shoulder, and they stood like that for a while, a master and his student, bound by too many contradicting emotions and too much pain, their own and that of others.
“It’s your son,” the Emperor said quietly, pursing his lips and nodding, as if he was precipitating a complaint and eager to show his compassion and understanding.
“I know, Master,” Darth Vader spoke in the same even tone, like an antique droid with a damaged emotive simulator.
The Emperor sighed.
“Your son,” he spoke a bit more loudly. “He is going to come here and fight me. He’ll try to kill me. And he’ll probably succeed, you know? The Force is strong with him. He is your son, after all.”
Darth Vader was silent.
The Emperor looked at him almost imploringly.
“I’m an old man,” he said. “Old, weak ... well past my prime. I can’t win this fight. Unless ... unless you help me. You’ll have to stop him ... for me. Anakin ... I’ve always cared for you, you know that...”
Darth Vader turned to him for the first time. A shiny, plastic-like, scary black mask covered his face entirely, and his voice sounded as cold as ever, coming through artificial chords.
“What if I don’t?” he said. “What if I choose to fight you instead? He is my son, after all, just like you said. How can I betray him?”
“The very concept of our philosophy, the way of the Sith, is justification and sanctification of any betrayal,” the Emperor uttered with dogmatic importance. “Lying, cheating, betraying is good for us. I thought there was no need to teach you that now?”
Darth Vader chuckled. It was horrifying to hear that clacking, metallic sound coming out of his chest, while his face remained permanently immobile.
“Listen to yourself, Master!” he exclaimed in his fake thundering bass. “This philosophy of yours contradicts itself at every corner. If betrayal is good, then why are you begging me not to betray you? And just hear the words you are using – sanctification, justification! All words from the Jedi lexicon. How can there be justification if you don’t believe in justice, sanctification if you think nothing is sacred? And the whole concept of evil being good – isn’t that a glaring contradiction? Evil can never be good because evil would never exist if there were no good. All evil can do is mimic the good, steal its principles, turn them upside down, mock and monkey it – because in itself, it is powerless to initiate anything, powerless to stand on its own!”
The Emperor was slightly taken aback by this outburst. His large, innocent blue eyes were gazing at his apprentice attentively.
“Well,” he said dryly, “Looks like you are the philosopher now, my dear Anakin! What’s the matter? Panicking? Chickening out of a genuinely evil deed – the murder of your own goody-two-shoes son? Deciding to switch sides now? Well, news flash – it’s too late for you!”
He arched his back and looked at his disciple defiantly, his eyes emitting almost mischievous sparkles.
“Too late!” he continued, happy to repeat those words, as if they contained absolution and forgiveness of his own deeds, rejoicing at the prospect of another creature sharing damnation with him. “Too late ... You ... you –” he started laughing. “You’ve just ... killed too many, my dear. Shall I remind you? Enumerate, so to say? Hahahaha...”
He kept looking at Darth Vader, merry little fires dancing in his calm, intelligent eyes. His good mood was coming back.
“Interesting,” the other retorted after a short silence, seemingly unfazed by the horrible truth laid out to him in such a nonchalant manner. “Many years ago you told me that whatever evil I did was pardonable because I was doing it in an attempt to save the life of a woman I loved. You painted evil as a tiny, but necessary deviation from the dull, square, ineffective way of the Jedi. You worked hard to convince me that deep down, I’d still stay true to my ideals even if I did what you wanted me to do. In other words, before I became a Sith, you wanted me to believe that, no matter what, I’ll still always remain a Jedi. But right after I’ve turned and started following you, the path back was suddenly cut off – well, according to you it was. I’m already a Sith, you told me. I’ve done terrible, unforgivable things. Nobody would ever love me ever again, so my only choice is keep doing evil, because evil is actually good.”
“Well, excuse me!” the Emperor cried, waving his arms theatrically. “Excuse me for being honest with you. Pardon me for showing you reality the way it truly is! Forgive me for not going all mushy on you, pampering your poor little conscience with sentimental lies! Life is tough, son! If you were such a believer in the precious Jedi teachings to begin with, you wouldn’t have listened to me. And once I tore apart their deception completely, you suddenly felt lonely and left out, and now you are blaming me for that! Where’s the justice, then? Tell me!”
“And again you are praising your own honesty and seeking justice,” Darth Vader sneered. “How ironic! Do you really think I seek justification for myself? Oh, no ... I’ve stopped doing that. I know I’m as guilty as you are. No, more guilty – because you seem to have forgotten the good, while it still lives in my heart, burning me from inside – and yet I’m unable to stop, because my sins are so heavy! They are weighing down on me, paralyzing me ... and I cannot save myself!”
“Of course not,” the Emperor said with what sounded like compassion. “Naturally, you can’t save yourself. That is, if we assume that there is such a thing as salvation. But you see, my dear, the whole point is that there is no such thing. That’s what I’ve been trying to get into that thick head of yours all this time. There is no judgment, no heaven and hell, no good and evil ... It’s just one giant cosmic energy and people’s free choices. So relax and do what your heart tells you to do! See how easy this is? To live outside of that unfathomable spiritual tyranny, to break the yoke of whatever fools call morals or ethics, empowering those made-out doctrines with ridiculous supernatural explanation – now that is called life!”
Darth Vader made a strange sound. It was impossible to say whether he was laughing or crying.
“If there is no good and evil,” he said slowly, “then you wouldn’t have gone to such great lengths to defend evil and present it as good. Even you, the theoretical supporter of all that is foul in this world, the master sophist, the brilliant inventor of that happy place beyond good and evil – even you can’t live a day without trying to feverishly convince me, yourself, and everybody else that what you are doing is actually good! You are evil, and evil is, according to you, good – ergo, you are good! So now please tell me, great master: if even you are so desperate to be good – no matter in what twisted and distorted manner – then what can I say about all those ordinary people who instinctively feel they’ve done something wrong and instinctively try to correct it? There may be many fantasies and inventions among sentient creatures; but our passionate, mad demands of justice, our innate attraction to everything that is right and correct, our annoyingly cloying, crying, creepy conscience that leads to weeping and gnashing of teeth during long, sleepless nights – all those are as real as you or me ... and now I begin to think that they are more real.”
The Emperor nodded several times, looking serious and collected, as if he was accepting the challenge and thinking hard about what to say next. When he spoke, his voice was soft and kindly; he was almost hugging his pupil, creating an air of friendly intimacy as the sky outside darkened more and more.
“Anakin ... Anakin...” he said, deep sorrow and mild regret in his voice, “You are so right, my dear. Maybe there is something out there, in fact. Something ... mmmm ... I don’t know ... let’s call it an energy, a spirit ... a world soul. Right? And of course, in ideal it would have to be ... err ... nice. Benevolent. That sort of thing. Nice and good, just like you say. But here’s the thing ... If you believe there is such a thing, then you have to ... how should I put it? Take responsibility for your actions. See, I think there is nothing out there. Nothing. After I die, I’m just ... what do you call it ... Pffff! Disintegrate. Dust blown by the currents. Worms will feast on my meager body, and I’ll be part of the cosmos ... Which, naturally, simply means ... err ... becoming nothing.”
“Of course,” Darth Vader said grimly. “Anyone who tries to console himself with the prospect of being reunited with this so-called cosmic energy, or whatever you call it, completely misses the point: if you’ve lost your consciousness, your personality, then you are no longer you. Become one with the universe or disappear is one and the same when applied to a sentient creature.”
“You are interrupting me,” the Emperor scolded him almost tenderly. “Allow me to finish. Yes, we are on the same page here – I’m way beyond appeasing my fears of death with the pantheistic nonsense. The problem is not me, the problem is you. You are the one who appeals to universal justice. Yet at the same time, you know that if that justice is ever extended to you, it would mean something pretty nasty, right? After all, you can’t expect to be patted on the head for annihilating an entire planet’s population ... So if there is truly that universal, absolute justice, it can mean only one thing –”
“What?” Darth Vader asked.
The Emperor shrugged his shoulders: