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The Truth - Part 2



Reluctantly, he raised his gaze up and up... panels, switches, lights, solid black...

"Kritpeth hell!" he muttered when his eyes finally rested on the helmeted visage that had become familiar to him through repetitive databank explorations and INN reports.

The huge figure of Darth Vader stood, legs planted on the floor like saplings, arms akimbo, staring at... Granv.

Luke heaved a sigh of relief.

"You dare," a deep voice rumbled, sounding more sonorous than on holonews broadcasts, "to serve this vile poison to children?"

"Uh...s-sorry, m-m'lord, it won't happen ag -- "

Luke flinched at the sudden silence and the sound of much breaking glass.

"Indeed it will not," the Sith Lord said with obvious satisfaction. A gauntlet-covered finger pointed at Luke. "You, come with me."

"Who, me?" he asked weakly, frantically looking around for another victim. "Or... you mean -- him? Or maybe... them?"

Vader strode away, his heavy cape flagging behind him.

Luke didn't move. There was a new, funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. The glacial ice was melting and he was all tingly and hot like a shorted fuse.

In the doorway, Vader stopped and turned. "Are you deaf, boy?"

A wave of righteous anger flooded him. Whether Vader was his father or not — and especially if he wasthe big guy wasn’t getting away with treating him like this! Luke folded his arms, ignoring the tingly feeling. "No, I'm not deaf and I'm not coming with you!"

A ripple of excitement in the form of murmurs ran through the cantina.

Vader stood motionless for a moment, perhaps astonished by the defiance. Then he simply raised a finger and Luke felt himself sliding off the stool and skidding across the room where he ended up face-to-face with Vader's chestplate.

"You – you -- " Flabbergasted, he struggled to find his voice. Glaring up at the expressionless mask, he shouted, "Don't you dare use that Force stuff on me! Who d'you think you are? You can't get away with that -- I won't let you! Don't you da -- smrph..." His voice cut out and he choked, trying to clear his suddenly constricted throat.

"Enough." Vader grabbed his upper arm and dragged him out of the cantina.

On the street, Luke spluttered and struggled, still unable to talk. He made some violent gagging noises, and whatever Force Vader had employed was released. After a short coughing spell, Luke could speak.

"Don't ever do that to me again! What's the big idea? Where're you taking me? HELP!" he called to people on the street, though they seemed to evaporate, sliding into doorways at an amazingly fast rate. "I'm being abducted by a pervert -- helllllp!"

"Cease that ridiculous caterwauling at once or I will do it for you."

Momentarily distracted, Luke asked curiously, "What's a caterwaul?"

Vader ignored him.

Luke decided to try the polite route. "My arm hurts. Would you please let go of it?"

No answer, no release. While he was considering his limited options, he was pulled into a docking bay where a sleek Imperial shuttle sat, two stormtroopers standing at attention at the base of its ramp.

Luke dug his heels into the sand, startling the Dark Lord into stopping. "Where do you think you're taking me, you sithspawn bastard? I'm not going anywhere with you!"

An abrupt gesture from Vader brought one trooper over with a pair of binders. Luke's wrists were fastened together and the Sith pushed him onto a bench, none too gently. "Your language is offensive," Vader stated. "Your behavior is atrocious. Your appearance borders on the ludicrous. In short, I am taking you somewhere you will be taught to behave properly."

"School? I don't want to -- "

"Your 'wants' are immaterial." Vader addressed the troopers. "If he escapes, your lives are forfeit. Restrain but do not harm him. You will suffer if he is damaged." Without further explanation, the giant stalked away.

"Hey, where are you goin'?" Luke called. "Don't leave me here like this! Hey...!" Abruptly he switched his strategy. "Wait -- please? I just wanna... ask you something. Pleeeease?"

The pleading tone worked. Vader stopped, hesitated, then returned. "What?"

"Umm..." Luke rolled his eyes toward the troopers and jerked his head in their direction several times, trying to send Vader a subtle message.

The Sith waved them away and repeated, "What?"

"Uh..." He had a lot of questions, especially about his father and this weird electric feeling he was getting when Vader was near, but the odds were against Vader answering more than a couple before losing patience. "Are you... uh, going to kill me?"

"Only if you continue to annoy me."

Luke snorted and tried to fold his arms but the binders prevented it. "I'm serious!"

"So am I."

They glared at each other. Or at least Luke assumed Vader was glaring. "Hrmph. Well... what do you want me for?"

"If you are deemed suitable," the Dark Lord said slowly, "my master will train you in the ways of the Force."

Luke didn't like the sound of that. "Who's your master?" Maybe the Force was creating these quivers along his nerve endings.

"The Emperor Palpatine."

Old wrinkly King Ugly. Great, just great. Life couldn’t get any better than that. Slave to an evil emperor, it sounded like a holovid. A very, very bad holovid. "What d'you mean by 'suitable'?"

"Having potential. Being amenable... and obedient."

"That's me, Mr. Obedient." He grinned and winked, hoping to show the big fellow that he was harmless and didn’t need to be manacled. "Wanna see my tattoo?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"My tat. I've got a TIE fighter on my shoulder, wanna see?" He tugged unsuccessfully at his shirt with his bound hands. "If you'd take these cuffs off me, I could show you."

Vader said nothing.

"Okay, so you don't want to see it." He sighed, considering. "Well...so why does Old Ugly have to train me?"

The Sith Lord made an odd choking sound. "You must not speak disrespectfully of the Emperor."

"Whatever. Why does he have to train me?"

"I do not understand your reluctance. If he deems you worthy of training, you will be appropriately grateful."

He sighed loudly. "You don't get it. I mean, why does he have to do it? Why can't you?"

"Me?" The tone was puzzled, and Luke realized with some pride that he was already learning how to read the emotions behind the mask. "Why would you prefer that I train you?"

Either he, Luke Lars Skywalker Vader Laze Loneozner Oz, wasn't as insightful as he thought, or the Dark Lord was pretty dense. "Aren't you...?" Aren’t you my father? he wanted to ask, but half-dreaded the answer. Good news/bad news... sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. "Never mind, it doesn't matter."

After a long pause, the deep voice murmured, "All things matter, young one."

"You think so?" Vader's last words, which seemed almost an endearment, hurt and somehow disappointed him. "I don't. Nothing matters, nothing lasts. Because of you, I don't have a home any more, and it wasn't that great of a home anyway. Because of you, I can’t see my friends, and now all the kids are gone, too. You're going to take me off this stupid planet, but only to that – that -- slave-master who'll probably kill me 'cause you two killed all the Jedi, I read about it and Ben told me you’d kill me, so what’s the point of gettin’ off this rock? I never get to do what I want, there's always somebody makin' me do stuff I don't want to do and you're the same as everybody else and now I have these weird feelings and I don’t know why!"

Vader folded his arms. "Your speech is immature, inelegant, and lacking logic. I suggest you do not plan for a career in diplomacy or politics."

"Kritpeth!" he shouted. "Don't make fun of me! Who the hell are you anyway? You think you're so great 'cause you're big and can threaten people! You're just a bully!"

“I am the bully who is now in charge of your life,” Vader rumbled threateningly, “so I suggest you modify your words.”

Luke narrowed his eyes. Are you my father? He hoped Vader would just confirm or deny it without being asked.

“What feelings are you referring to?”

“Huh?” His mind went blank. Vader was asking him a question?

“You referred to having ‘weird’ feelings.”

“Oh.” Vaguely astonished that the Dark Lord of the Sith wanted to know something from him, he looked down, trying to sort out his thoughts. “Yeah... well, funny feelings, y’know? Just since... now, when you’re around. Like...” He held out his hands. “Like I can feel the nerves under my skin, all of them. They don’t hurt, they’re just... awake. Does that mean anything?”

“It is the Force.”

“I never felt the Force like that before.” Luke cringed as Vader moved. But, incredibly, the large man lowered himself to sit on the bench beside him. Are you my father? “I could always do things, y’know? And I guess sometimes I feel things, but not this much and not this way.” Daringly, he asked, “Can you feel it, too? Just since I’m here?”

There was a long silence that seemed out of proportion for such a simple question. Eventually Vader replied, “Yes.”

“Why is it happening?”

“Reasons are irrelevant.” Vader stood. Evidently their conversation was over, but Luke was reluctant to let it end.

“You just said that everything matters.”

His reminder was ignored.

Sighing in defeat, he decided on a semi-direct approach. “Are you Anakin Skywalker?”

The tingling feeling abruptly morphed into something dark and oppressing, more violent than a sandstorm. Air was sucked out of the room, leaving them in a terrifying vacuum. Luke flinched as if struck, staring up at the mask fearfully, desperately trying to figure out what he’d said wrong to cause this horrible sensation.

"As you have nothing of importance to say,” Vader said coldly, “I will finish conducting my business." The Dark Lord signaled to the troopers, then turned away.

"Hey, wait!" Luke called after him, but this time his call was disregarded. "Fine," he muttered to the retreating form. "Act like a jerk, I don't care."

Without much hope, he tested the binders, but they were fastened securely. The stormtroopers approached, eying him closely, their laser rifles held across their bodies. "I suppose those are set on stun?"

No response. Luke sighed. There had to be a way to escape, he just had to figure it out.

But first he had to decide if he really wanted to escape. If Vader wanted to kill him, he'd already be dead. And if Vader was truly his dad... well, that put a different spin on the universe, didn't it?

Leaning back against the wall, he crossed his legs at the ankles, yawning as he considered his options. It wasn’t like he really had a choice. If he ran away -- assuming he could get away -- he’d still be stuck on Tatooine with Vader and the Imps after him. If he went... well, he was bound to have some adventures and maybe a pretty cushy life with his dad, assuming that’s who Vader was. Closing his eyes, he drifted into a light doze, imaging a palace, lots of speeders, fighting the bad guys...

***

Jarred from his sleep by the sound of voices, Luke jerked up and stared at the changed scene. The reptile -- what was his name? -- yeah, Jaslin Xenar, that was it -- was talking to the troopers.

“ -- emissary from Prince Xizor. Lord Vader is expecting me.”

Xizor? Luke frowned. Jas hadn’t said anything about being an official rep of the galaxy’s biggest transport company. “Hey, are you really -- ”

The troopers whirled in response to his voice and, just as quickly, Jas pulled a blaster from his voluminous sleeve and shot them. Luke stared, wide-eyed and silent with astonishment.

“Stop gawking!” Jas snapped. “Come, before Vader returns.”

“What?” Luke rose, following the Falleen to the docking bay doors. “What’s going on?”

“I’m rescuing you,” Jaslin said matter-of-factly. “You may thank me later, after we are safely out of Vader’s reach. Do not run or otherwise attract attention to us.”

“I wasn’t going to run,” he muttered resentfully. Jas yanked the colorful scarf from Luke’s neck and draped it over his bound hands. “Do you really work for Xizor?”

“That was a falsehood.”

“Did you kill those troopers?”

Apparently it was his fate today to have his questions left unanswered. Jas took off at a brisk pace and Luke followed automatically, wishing he had time to think this through. The one thought that kept jumping to the front of his mind was that this might be his only chance to escape the Emperor. But... Father? he wondered wistfully, and was taken aback when he felt the tingling again. This time it was in his mind, almost as if...

Almost as if Vader was answering him!

Young one...

It had to be his imagination, and yet... Father!

“Here!” Jas whispered, and they entered a small docking bay where a strange ship was waiting.

Luke stopped and stared in awe. It was a fair-sized ship, its trim lines elegant and clean, and it was obviously built for both local and deep space travel. “Wow,” he breathed.

“Save your admiration for another time. We must leave and enter hyperspace before Vader can track us.”

“Why’re you doing this?” he asked, half-complaining. “He wasn’t going to hurt me. I don’t think...”

Jas whirled on him, the brocade coat twirling around his long legs. “Falleen hate Vader,” he hissed. “We will do anything to thwart his desires!”

“Oh. Thwart,” Luke repeated. It was a new word, but its meaning was unmistakable. Uncomfortably, he wondered if Jas had heard any of the conversation between him and his... maybe-father. “So, um, you’re rescuing me because...?”

“I just answered you!” Xenar snapped in exasperation, shoving Luke up the ramp. “In, quickly!”

“Okay, but -- wait!” Panicked, he stopped. “My pack, I left my pack!”

“Does your ‘pack’ contain something more important than your life?”

He could hardly explain why a model skyhopper was definitely worth going back for. Although he was pretty sure his life wasn’t on the line, if Vader caught them, Jas would be punished, maybe even executed, and Luke didn’t want that to happen. After all, the guy was just trying to help him... even if he didn’t exactly need help.

With a true lack of enthusiasm, Luke allowed Jas to enclose them in the ship and made no protest as they blasted off. What the hell, it was another adventure.

Bye... Dad, he told Vader, though this time there was no answer, and he thought that he might never see his captor again.

And he realized, with some dismay, that possibility saddened him.

***

They were in hyperspace before Luke had gotten a good look at Tatooine from space. He had only a brief glimpse of a ball colored with shades of gold hanging in a progressively darkening blue sky before Jas ordered him to strap down in the passenger lounge. He felt suddenly melancholy... leaving home was what he’d wanted for as long as he could remember, but now that it was happening...

And he hadn’t loved Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru when he had lived with the Lars, so why were his eyes misting now? He hated weakness! “Krit,” he cursed under his breath, swiping his cuffed hands across his eyes. “Krit, krit, krit!”

“Come here!” Jas’s voice echoed through the speaker.

Luke made his way to the spacious cockpit. “Yes, master?” he drawled, sliding into the copilot’s seat.

“Don’t get comfortable,” Jas warned. He swiveled and rose from the pilot’s position. “If I remove those binders, you must make me a promise.”

“What do you mean ‘if’?” he huffed. “You’re damn well going to take them off!”

The Falleen folded his arms and stared him down.

“How’re you gonna get them off? Do you have... like, a key or something?”

The stare continued.

Luke squirmed. “All right, all right, what do you want me to promise?”

“That you will clean yourself and those filthy clothes. My olfactory sense is highly developed.”

“And mine isn’t? Hey, you think I like smelling like this?”

Jas grimaced in what Luke considered an elegant and refined way. “There is a sonic shower in my compartment as well as a clothes sanitizing unit. You may use them.”

“Thanks a lot.” As if there were any alternatives. Luke raised his wrists. “Now get these off me!”

“My pleasure.” From somewhere inside the folds of his voluminous garments, Jas produced a silver cylinder. Before Luke had time to speak, the other pressed a button and the long shaft of a lightsaber hummed into view, glowing bright and brilliant as the Tatooine skies he'd just left behind.

“Hey, you got my lightsaber!” Another thought followed hastily. “You’re not gonna use that on me, are you? You’ll chop off my arm!”

“Only if it is unavoidable.” When Luke blanched, the Falleen laughed, and for the first time Luke realized that the other wasn’t much older than him. “I’m teasing. I think we can do this. Why don’t you put your wrists on the... well, just hold your hands up.”

“No.” Luke pressed his fists into his stomach. “Nuh-uh, there’s no way this will work. There’s not enough room between me and the binders.”

Jas sighed and turned off the saber. “Pity, I was looking forward to using this.”

“It’s mine,” Luke reminded him.

“In exchange for repair work.”

Luke tried to fold his arms but ended up twisting his wrists. “From the sound of the engines, there isn’t a damn thing wrong with this ship.”

“I’m sure you can find something. But for now, go shower.”

He heaved an exasperated sigh. “How am I supposed to do that with these binders on?”

“If your olfactory sense is as developed as you claim, I’m sure you’ll find a way.” With a nod of dismissal, Jaslin turned back to his console and pulled navigation charts onto the screen.

Luke made a point of sighing very loudly and stomping hard as he headed to the passenger compartment. Removing the lower half of his clothing wouldn’t be too difficult, but he stopped after getting his boots off, picturing himself wearing a shirt and nothing else. Sliding down to the floor, he stared at the binders. “Off!” he commanded.

He expected that wouldn’t do the trick and it didn’t. Dad, he called in his head. Father? You around somewhere? Yoo-hoo, can you hear me? Faaaaaather!

Yeah, like that would work. He glared at the binders. Well, just use the Force, Luke, he told himself. Yeah, right. Closing his eyes, he concentrated as hard as he could. Nothing happened.

You’re trying too hard. Relax.

His eyes flew open. “Who said that? Dad?”

Zero, zilch, no answer.

“Okay, then.” This time he focused on relaxing, forming a picture in his mind of the binders, the mechanism that kept them locked, releasing the latch and...

There was a clunk.

He opened one eye and peeked. The binders were on the floor, wide open.

“Wow!” Luke murmured, impressed with himself.

If he could do that, he could probably do a lot of other stuff. But now wasn’t the time to experiment, what with the strange Falleen who did/didn’t work for Xizor and whose ship was/wasn’t in need of repair... and, come to think of it, who had/hadn't rescued/kidnapped him.

Oh, well. He'd worry about all that later. Whistling happily, Luke dumped his clothes in the sani-unit and headed gratefully for the shower.


He wasn’t nearly as happy when he exited and found Jas standing in the room, reading Luke’s datachip.

“Hey! What’re you doing? Where’d you get that?” He knew damn well where the other youth had found it. “That was in my boot! I didn’t say you could go through my stuff!” Backing into the sani unit, he peered around the door. “Throw me my clothes, will you?”

“They’re not ready,” Jas said calmly. “So, you are the son of a Jedi, and Vader does not wish to kill you. He will train you, I think, to be Sith like him.”

Edging out, Luke grabbed the edge of the sheet and tugged it off the bunk, bunching it around his waist. “You shouldn’t go through other people’s stuff!”

“You shouldn’t steal other people’s silver chains,” the Falleen said absently, waving his hand toward the floor where Luke had dropped the treasure he’d found in the sani cabinet.

“Oh. Uh... I was just looking at it.”

Jas glanced at him and raised one eyebrow.

“Okay, okay.” His face felt hot. “Sorry. And you still shouldn’t go through my stuff.”

“You are a stranger I have taken on board my ship and you steal from me. I have every right to search your belongings... such as they are.”

“I didn’t -- I hadn’t -- you looked in my stuff before I took your chain!”

“This is becoming tedious.” Jas pulled the chip from the datapad and tossed it on the bunk. “Are you Jedi?”

Luke grabbed his precious datachip and clenched his fist around it. “No. I don’t know. Maybe. No. I mean, I’m nothing, I’ve never been trained, I can’t do anything.”

“Indeed?” Reaching down, Jas retrieved the binders and dangled them from one finger.

“They just... uh, fell off. Guess they weren’t fastened very well.” Something about the other’s skeptical stare embarrassed him. “Oh -- I don’t know how I got them off! I just thought about it and they came apart.”

“Force user. Maybe Jedi, maybe Sith. Did I make mistake by assuming you wished to be rescued? Perhaps you wished to go with Vader?”

This guy was sure direct! Luke swallowed. “I don’t know. He just dragged me... I mean, it’s not like he asked what I wanted.”

“And if he had?”

“I guess... no... maybe. I’d be afraid of the Emperor.” Luke shivered. “Are my clothes done yet?”

Jas shrugged. “We will talk later,” he said, and exited the cabin.

Luke gnawed on his lower lip. He felt uneasy, unsure... and those emotions were not familiar. He’d always been one to dive into action and worry about the consequences later. Now he was out of his element, away from familiar territory, in space, with lots to think about... and even worse, he was hungry.

Maybe after he ate, he’d be able to think more clearly.

It was annoying, but after he finished eating the unfamiliar food, he still had a gnawing feeling in his gut. Shifting in the comfortable lounge chair, he looked at the Fallen who was engrossed with the ship’s control board.

“Do you have any glitt?”

“Pardon?”

“Glitt. Spice. Have any?”

Jas sent a look of disdain over his shoulder. “Certainly not. Are you addicted?”

“Certainly not!” Luke snapped, though that was something he’d worried about more than once. “I just find it relaxing. How about a drink?”

“No, thank you.”

“I wasn’t offering you one! I was asking for one. Do you have anything to drink on this ship?”

“Nothing that would be palatable to a human tongue.” The other swiveled his chair around and stared. “Are you an alcoholic?”

“Quit asking me stuff like that!” He frowned and subsided into silence for several minutes, aware that Jas was watching him. “Why do the Falleen hate Vader?” he asked abruptly.

Jas continued staring and Luke found the gaze unnerving. Or maybe it was the other’s appearance that made him uneasy. He’d seen non-humans in Eisley often enough, but he’d never been in continuous contact with one so alien. He was both fascinated and discomfited.

“He is a... he proved himself to be totally without conscience.” Jas swiveled back to the panel, running his long fingers over the controls in a manner that appeared completely aimless.

“Tell me.”

A long sigh ended in a decisive movement as the Falleen rose gracefully and paced the small area. “A contaminant was released into the atmosphere of a Fayaet, large Falleen city. Vader annihilated the city to prevent contamination to the rest of the planet. A quarter of a million Falleen were killed. So goes the official Imperial line.”

Luke shifted uneasily. “What’s the unofficial story?”

The dark eyes narrowed and focused on him. “Vader had chosen Fayaet as the location for a biological warfare laboratory. A huge, populated city. There was an ‘accident’, or so the Imperials labeled it, that resulted in the release of bio-contaminants into the atmosphere. Palpatine declared Vader a hero for saving the rest of Falleen... by murdering the population of an entire metropolis. Of course,” here Jas smiled bitterly, “had he not chosen Fayaet as the site to conduct his despicable experiments, there would have been no necessity for heroics. What a pity the laboratory had not been constructed on Coruscant.”

For one of the few times in his life, the shock was so great that Luke had no words. Frantically, he tried to sort out his thoughts, struggling to separate Vader-the-Evil-Sith-Lord from Vader-his-father, for only an evil Sith Lord could have done such a terrible thing. No honorable man would have. A father wouldn’t be involved in biological warfare experiments — wasn’t that illegal anyway? A father wouldn’t kill hundreds of thousands of beings... men, women... even children.

But apparently his father had. It was just like Ben and Owen told him. Vader was evil... and his son had inherited the same potential. Anakin Skywalker, the great Jedi hero, was Darth Vader, the evil Sith. So that made Luke... who?

“Are you all right?” The Falleen’s off-handed words pierced Luke’s brain.

“I... yeah,” he stalled, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m... I’m just tired. Would it be okay if I turned in? I can work on your... whatever’s wrong... tomorrow.”

“Of course. Follow me.”

Blindly he obeyed, not really noticing the small passenger compartment Jas guided him to. “You may have this,” the other youth said, gesturing to a folded pile of white fabric on the bunk.

Luke picked it up, gratified to focus on something tangible, even if it was only smooth, silky fabric. “Wow, this is soft, I’ve never felt anything like this before, thanks, I can wear it with — with — anyway, thanks, I’ll be — ”

“Stop babbling,” Jas said irritably. “Do not wear it with anything. It is for sleeping, so human skin does not befoul my silk sheets.”

“Kritpeth!” Luke shouted at him. “What in hells is wrong with you? So you’re green, big deal, you’re nothing special! Quit treating me like I’m some kind of — of — sithspawn scum!”

“May you have a healthy rest.” Impervious to his outburst, the Falleen inclined his head and exited, pulling the small door closed.

Luke stared at the door, struggling to maintain his anger. He failed, and it dissolved into agony. Slumping to the floor, he leaned back against the cot, clutching the nightshirt in his hands. Maybe Jas lied to him about what happened on Falleen... but that was unlikely; it was too easy to check. No, the hideous truth was that Vader — no, Anakin Skywalker had done an unbelievably wicked thing in trying to create a ghastly weapon. And then he’d compounded his depravity by murdering the innocent victims of his experiments. No wonder the Falleen hated him — everyone should! Why hadn’t the entire galaxy risen up in protest when the massacre happened? Krit, he didn't even remember seeing the story on INN!

He staggered to his feet, stripped, and pulled the nightshirt over his head. The hem puddled on the floor, much too long for him, and he stared at the ripples, his mind blank for several minutes. Then, climbing into the narrow bunk, he pulled the sheet over his head. Had he inherited this evil... or had Anakin Skywalker Vader contaminated him during their brief meeting? He’d been weak during that encounter, longing to know his father despite his protests. He had thrust aside the warnings from his guardians, wanting to touch Vader on some emotional level, needing to know if there were any emotions in the man to be touched...

Now he was contaminated. Or maybe he’d been contaminated since birth. Maybe Uncle Owen had been right all along. “Sithspawn,” he whispered. For the first time he understood the deeper meaning of the old curse. Only Owen had ever called him that, under his breath when he thought Luke couldn’t hear. Sithspawn... an ancient evil passed on from father to son.

“Stop it!” Rolling onto his stomach, he pulled the pillow over his head. It was time to quit thinking. He never had to see Vader again, didn’t have to have anything to do with him... and maybe Vader wasn’t Anakin... in fact, he probably wasn’t. People lied about stuff all the time. This was just another lie. Just another one...

... "Just one," the hunter wheedled, his voice garbled by the translator he wore, "and I'll leave the rest of you."

"Tessi, get behind me," the leader ordered, but the girl appeared too terrified to move.

The reptile reached for her, and she screamed again as his green claws pierced her arms.

Don't get involved in other people's problems, Owen said, except your neighbor's. You need your neighbors to survive.

The last thing he wanted was to get in a fight that might draw the attention of the Imps, Luke thought glumly as he drew out his lightsaber. But the son of a Jedi -- or even a Sith -- couldn't let this scum go free. He had less humanity than a Tusken, and Luke had killed a few of those. A Falleen deserved no mercy.

"Hey there," he called softly, igniting his blade.

The Falleen turned, then started, dropping the child when he saw the lightsaber. "No! Luke, don't!"

Luke swung, decapitating the reptile easily. It was not so different from killing a Tusken, Luke noted remotely, though this thing was more human than a Tusken. Would it be difficult to kill a human? He supposed that one day he would find out.

A thud drew his attention, and he turned to look at the monster’s head as it rolled to a halt against the cave wall. It was wearing a black helmet. It hadn’t worn a helmet before, had it? This almost looked like Vader's helmet. Luke approached cautiously and touched the tip of his blade to the faceplate. It exploded in a brief cascade of sparks. When the smoke cleared, he realized he would get a glimpse of his first Falleen kill. But when the smoke cleared... when the smoke cleared...

...he was looking in a mirror.

With a strangled cry, Luke bolted upright, gasping for breath. It took several seconds for him to fully wake and realize where he was. The steady hum of engines... the silk gown stuck to his sweating chest... the starlit darkness of space outside the tiny viewport.

He laid back, his heart pounding wildly. Damn you, Father, he whispered in his mind, damn you forever. Why couldn’t you be someone else? Anyone else... anyone except who you are.

Exhausted, he fell asleep again.

***

Luke crawled out of the maintenance compartment and laid the hydrospanner back in the tool kit. “Finished,” he announced in a loud voice. “This thing’ll fly like it’s been greased.”

“That makes no sense,” Jas commented. “Grease as a lubricant is utilized only when and where necessary on specific pieces of equipment. Although, theoretically, my ship might not fly if those pieces of equipment had not been greased, I believe that the modifications you have made will not — ”

“It’s just an expression,” he replied patiently, having grown used to the Falleen’s literal interpretations after the days they had spent cooped up together. He wiped his hands on his trousers and crossed the cockpit to sprawl in the copilot’s chair. “You know, we could be pirates.”

“Pirates?” Jas repeated without blinking, evidently also having grown used to his companion’s unusual ideas.

“Yeah! We’ll just fancy up your clothes a little, make you more colorful, and we can cruise around the galaxy, goin’ wherever we want!”

“Pirating implies boarding and robbing vessels.”

“Whatever,” Luke replied, gesturing vaguely. “The important thing is that we get to explore.”

“I am already exploring,” the other answered calmly, “and we agreed that you would be left off at the next port in exchange for your work.”

“And the lightsaber,” he reminded, abruptly disappointed. “But exploring the galaxy would be more fun with me.”

“I am not doing this for ‘fun’. It is a Falleen ritual that an aristocrat and future leader, both of which I am, makes a pilgrimage to other planets to observe the natives and remind ourselves of their inferiority.”

Luke heaved a big sigh and propped his feet on the edge of the control panel. “How boring for you.”

“It’s hardly boring.”

“Of course it is! You go places expecting to not find anything wonderful, so you don’t —what a drag! Stick with me,” he waggled his finger at the Falleen, “and we’ll find all sorts of new and exciting things — people, places, food — ”

“Judging from the little I know about you,” Jas interrupted, “it is trouble that we are most likely to find.”

“That too!” Luke grinned and then added in a wheedling tone, “C’mon, let me stay on board. It’ll be fun. And you’ll be able to observe my inferiority more closely.”

Jas coughed, though it sounded suspiciously like he was hiding a bark of laughter. “Very well, I cannot resist such an opportunity. But we will not be pirates, merely explorers.”

“Okay,” he agreed cheerfully.

“And no spice or alcohol use while you are accompanying me.”

“That’s not fair!” He scowled but the other’s expression was adamant. “Oh, all right.”

“You sound so sincere,” Jas retorted skeptically.

“Whatever. So, where are we going first? How about Naboo? It’s not too far, is it?”

“I have been there.”

“But not with me!”

The Falleen sighed. “You wish to visit your mother’s home planet.”

Luke nodded. “Maybe I can find some relatives.”

“Ah, then you would wish to stay with them!” Jas said brightly.

Frowning, he considered the options. If he found his mother’s family, he might want to stay on Naboo, and then he couldn’t go exploring the galaxy. Another of those good news/bad news choices that seemed to be popping up lately. “Maybe, maybe not.”

“At least you’re definite.” The other youth studied him for a moment. “Very well, Naboo it is, and perhaps I can rid myself of your presence.”

“Like you wouldn’t miss my company!” Luke scoffed. His feet dropped from the control panel. “Now would be a good time to teach me how to fly this thing.”

Jas looked alarmed.

“So I can help out. So you can rest sometimes. I wouldn’t fly fast. I’d be careful. Honest.” He flashed his most sincere smile.

The Falleen appeared doubtful, but replied: “Very well. I will teach you a few things. But you are not to practice anything without my supervision.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he fibbed, and began to pay attention to the instructions.


Luke had never seen a planet as beautiful as Naboo. Of course, he had never seen another planet from space, except the too-brief view of Tatooine. Still, he was willing to wager that Naboo was one of the prettiest planets in the entire galaxy. It was covered with colors — many shades of green, gold, white and blue. It stood to reason that if the planet was so beautiful, his mother must have been, too.

“Does Falleen look like this?” he asked his companion curiously.

“It has more water and — ah!”

Luke gasped as the ship jolted. “What was that?” It felt like they were being dragged away from the planet. “What’s going on? What’s wrong?”

Jas scowled and muttered Falleen curses under his breath as he flicked switches, shutting down the main engines.

“What’re you doing? Why aren’t we — ”

“Obviously,” Xenar said icily, “we have been captured in a tractor beam.”

“From the planet? Why would they — ”

“No, not from the planet, idiot boy! From another ship. Look for yourself.”

Leaning toward the scanner, he saw a blip that appeared considerably bigger than their little blip. “Who is it?” he asked, though the sinking feeling in his stomach was providing the logical answer.

“Guess.”

Vader. Luke was annoyed, scared, relieved, nervous... and a bit flattered that Darth Vader would come chasing after him.

“He wants you very badly.” Jas swiveled his seat around and studied him. “Do you prefer to fight or surrender?”

“Fight Vader? I don’t think we’d win.” Anyway, he wouldn’t mind spending some time with his dad. Maybe he and Vader could look for his mother’s relatives together. Assuming, of course, that Vader was Anakin Skywalker, something he was still a little confused about.

“No, we would likely be killed.” The Falleen’s tone was cool. “That might be preferable to being captured and tortured, do you think?”

“Tortured? He wouldn’t torture me... er, us. I'm pretty sure.”

“I have heard stories of his methods. He will torture me. As for you...” Jas shrugged. “...it is said that the Force can both break and rebuild a being. Perhaps that is your fate.”

“That’s disgusting.” Scowling, he peered out the viewscreen at the gray hull of a ship coming into focus above them. “I understand why you hate him, but nobody can be all bad. Besides, he wouldn’t hurt me — I’m just a kid.”

"There were children in Fayaet," Jas said quietly, but Luke pretended not to hear.

The other ship filled his vision for a few seconds before they were enveloped by darkness, and then they re-emerged into a hangar bay. A detachment of white-clad stormtroopers came running and, as best he could see, completely surrounded their small cruiser. Unlike his companion, Luke was unperturbed and found it all quite exciting. It was like a hologame -- well, except it was real, of course, but he couldn't believe his maybe-dad would let anything bad happen to them.

The main hatch reverberated with pounding. Jas sent him a grim look and pressed the control to release the hatch. Five stormtroopers, rifles pointed at them, and an Imperial officer entered the ship.

“Jaslin Xenar,” the officer intoned, “this ship is confiscated and you are being taken into Imperial custody on the charge of abduction of a minor child. Take him away.” Two troopers cuffed Jas and led him off the ship. The officer watched them depart before adding, “Luke Skywalker, come with me.”

"Who're you calling child?" he muttered under his breath, then: Luke Skywalker! It was the first time anyone had said his real name! Daydreaming for a few seconds, he followed the older man without paying attention, but when they stepped out of the ship and into the large bay, he was reminded of his situation. Was he an Imperial prisoner, too? No, that was impossible. He wasn’t cuffed and his pop was Darth Vader; no one would dare arrest him.

Nervous and excited, Luke chattered and studied his surroundings as they walked. “This is a really big hanger bay! Does this ship have other hangers? What kind of ship is it? It’s really big, isn’t it? Are you the captain? Is Lord Vader here? Is he the captain?” The man wasn't answering, but Luke was afraid to stop talking in case the officer said something he didn't want to hear. “What’s your name? Does the ship have laser cannons and torpedoes? Can I see the cockpit or helm or whatever you call it?”

A muscle twitched in the man’s jaw.

“Am I a prisoner or a guest?" Luke added hastily. "Do I get to wear a uniform, too? I’m hungry. Is it time for lunch yet? Or is it dinnertime? Do you count time in space the same as we do on planets? If different planets have their own times, how do you — ”

The officer raised his hand and came to a halt, meeting Luke’s gaze with what looked like amusement in his eyes, though his face was perfectly official and serious. Luke stopped and waited, hoping his shaking was invisible. “I am Captain Piett. This is the Imperial Starship Devastator, Lord Vader’s flagship of the fleet. The armament of this ship is a confidential matter. You will be advised when you will be fed. It is approximately 1500 hours. Imperial ships keep Coruscant time. Is there anything else?”

He blinked. “Umm... am I a prisoner?”

“That remains to be seen,” Captain Piett replied, reaching over his shoulder to press a button on the wall. A door slid open. “For now, this will be your quarters. It will be locked and you will be unable to leave.”

Luke peered into the dimly lit room and took a few cautious steps inside. It didn't look so bad. He relaxed slightly. “You have kids, don’t you?”

This particular question was ignored. “Please remain quietly in this room and do not destroy any Imperial property.”

“Like I would!” He rolled his eyes at the preposterousness of the suggestion. “Is Lord Vader coming?”

“Perhaps you should take a nap. Good day.”

The door slid shut, cutting him off from the captain while he was spluttering in indignation. “A nap!”


As it turned out, he did fall asleep, although he would never admit it to anyone, especially his father who needed to realize that he was practically an adult and too old to boss around. Fortunately, he woke on his own without 'anyone' being the wiser and discovered that the fresher had a regular sonic shower, not water like he'd hoped. Taking a full water-shower was one of his goals in life. After a fast in-and-out, he felt clean again, but it was disconcerting to peek into the sleeping area and see new clothes lying on the bunk. Obviously there was no one in the room right now, but still:

“Hello? Anybody here?”

There was no reply, so he deemed it safe to expose himself. He dashed into the room, grabbed the clothes, then scurried back to the sani. He dressed, disappointed that they’d given him a boring gray jumpsuit instead of a snappy uniform. It had pockets on both thighs, though he had nothing to put in them, and a utility belt, though he had nothing to hook on it.

Restless and edgy, he prowled the small quarters, taking about ten seconds to circle the entire place. He peered into empty built-in shelves and tried to peek under the bunk, but it was welded to the floor. There had to be listening devices, right?

“Hello? I’m bored. Can I get out? Is it time to eat? When is Lord Vader coming to see me? What happened to my friend Jas?”

He waited, but no answers came. Maybe there wasn’t even a speaker in here. What if there was an emergency and the ship had to be evacuated and they forgot about him and left him here to die? “Helloooooo!”

Nothing. He needed to say something guaranteed to get a response, so: “Vader is a crazy krit and all Imps are bantha-krit!” After a pause, he added: “Don’t forget I’m in here. And I have nothing to do! There isn’t even a vidscreen!”

Irritated, he tried the door, but it was still locked. Maybe the Force would work on it. Luke closed his eyes and concentrated on opening the door. Nothing happened. Frustrated, he gave it a few kicks but succeeded only in hurting his foot. He heaved a great sigh and sat on the edge of the bunk. Maybe his father was going to let him rot in here. Or not let him out until he was delivered to the Emperor who would probably torture him.

He lay back, tucked his hands behind his head, and stared up at the gray ceiling. Gray, gray, gray, everything was gray and boring. His entire life was in the balance, and he was locked in a gray room with no information and no food. With nothing else to do, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep again.

***

A clanging noise woke him and he shot into a sitting position. A soldier was in his room, putting a tray on the small metal table.

"Is that dinner?" Luke asked eagerly, pretending he'd been awake and alert and that the man's presence wasn't a surprise.

"Yes."

"Thanks!" He hurried over. "Do you know what’s happening? Or where my friend is? Or when Darth Vader is coming to visit me? Or when I’m getting out of here? Anything?"

The soldier looked him up and down. Luke did the same thing. The other man was sort of young, but looked tired. "I’ll be sure to ask Lord Vader to add you to his agenda," he said sarcastically, turning to leave.

Scowling, Luke balled his fists and put them on his waist. "Do you know who I am?" he demanded.

"Don’t know, don’t care," the soldier responded, and walked out the door. It slid shut with a sharp click, and Luke knew he was locked in again. At least this time he had food. And if Vader was feeding him, that meant he wouldn’t be killed... right?

He removed the cover and stared at the plate. Nothing on it was familiar to him. Guess the rest of the galaxy ate differently from Tatooine. He sampled a pale lump that evidently was some sort of meat. It had an odd after-taste. Maybe it was poisoned... maybe Vader had decided to kill him slowly and painfully. Damn, what he wouldn’t give for a big banthaburger right about now.

The yellow lumps were vegetables, nothing surprising about that non-flavor. He uncapped the beverage. It was white. He swallowed a mouthful. "Milk?" he called out. "What does a guy have to do to get a real drink around here?" Milk, like he was a baby. "Blech."

But it was this or starve to death, so he finished everything, even the milk. He wondered if the soldier would come back to pick up the tray. How could there not even be a vidscreen in these quarters? Or a computer set up to play games? What in hells did military people do in their spare time? He had no idea, but he did know what prisoners did: they escaped!

If his maybe-father couldn't be bothered to check on him, he would just leave. Vader thought he was a child -- well, he'd find out differently. Maybe Luke Skywalker was confused and out of his element here, but Oz was street-smart. Oz took care of a herd of children for months. Oz was clever; he'd find Jas and they would escape together. Then Vader would be sorry!

The idea perked up his spirits. He twisted the utility belt around his waist, inspecting it closely. There was a small metal fastener that looked like it might be useful. After a few twists and tugs, it came off. Luke dragged the chair to the center of the room and stood on it. He couldn't reach the ceiling, so he hauled over the table and climbed onto that. With a smug smile, he squeezed the fastener flat and used it to turn the screws on the plate that covered the fan vent. It was awkward work, but after several minutes, he was able to remove the plate. His grip on it slipped and it fell to the floor with a loud clatter. He waited a few seconds, but no one came to investigate, so he grabbed the edges of the opening and heaved himself up. As he suspected, the duct was wide enough to allow him easy access. He could crawl through it and, with any luck, find the ship’s brig.

His rescue mission went smoothly for several minutes. The ductwork made a few sharp turns, but he was pretty certain he could find his way back if he needed to. There were a couple access plates that were screened instead of solid, and they allowed in enough light so he could see. Not that there was anything to see but more gray metal.

The duct narrowed, forcing him to drop lower and use his elbows to pull himself through in a shimmying fashion. He came to another solid wall and wriggled around the sharp turn. And came to a sudden stop.

His utility belt was caught on something.

Luke twisted his hips, but the belt didn’t come loose. He tried to back up, but found he couldn’t move at all. He tried to move forward again. No luck.

Well, he’d just remove the belt. But he couldn’t move his arms backward to unfasten it. He tried to roll onto his side. His shoulder hit the top of the duct. No problem, he’d just hold this position and squish his arm down and...

That didn’t work. Now his arm was stuck, too. He lay still, considering his options. He could chew off his arm and free himself. He could wait until someone noticed he was gone and came looking for him. But they wouldn’t know where in the ducts he was. He could yell for help...but what if he was in a storeroom or a deserted area where no one ever came? He could starve to death. But before that happened, he’d have to go to the fresher.

"Ewww," he muttered. Well, okay then, he had to ignore his pride. "HELLLLP!" he yelled, trying to bang his fists and heels against the duct. "Get me outta here!"

It was mortifying, but he had to continue shouting for help. A desert kid shouldn’t be in a ship anyway, not even Oz, and especially not in a heating duct. Who knew they were so small and full of sharp edges to catch him on? It wasn’t his fault, and his maybe-father couldn’t blame him!

After endless minutes of pounding, he heard voices, then clunking and scraping. A few minutes later, a voice called from somewhere behind him: "Luke Skywalker! Come back this way and get out of there immediately!"

Oh, like it was so simple! "I can’t, I’m stuck!" You moron, he added silently. "Don’t you think I would if I could!"

Silence fell. After more minutes of absolutely nothing, Luke called, "You’re not going to leave me here, are you?"

No one answered. With a sigh, he rested the side of his face on the cool metal plating. He was beginning to feel claustrophobic and panicking just a little. What if Vader decided to leave him here? He was going to die slowly and horribly and his skeleton would rattle in the duct forever. Maybe his ghost would haunt the ship.

Suddenly he heard a loud hum and sparks appeared along one side him, then the other. Before he could react, the duct opened up to blinding light and he fell, hearing the shriek of metal, the sound of tearing cloth – and the thud of himself, landing hard on the deck.

"Ow!" he complained, struggling to recover from the sudden shock. Gingerly he moved his body. Nothing seemed to be broken. "That hurt!" Looking up, he found himself surrounded by officers and troopers. No one looked sympathetic about his possible injuries, and he gulped.

"Take him to a detention cell," a familiar deep voice said crossly.

Tilting his head back, he saw the upside-down figure of father hooking a lightsaber to his belt as he stalked off. "Hey, wait!" Twisting around and stumbling to his feet, he watched Vader disappear down the corridor. "Wait!"

"You destroyed Imperial property," someone said in clipped tones. "Look at this damage."

Turning, he saw a very stern Captain Piett pointing to the smooth cuts the lightsaber had made in the ceiling. It was a big hole, all right. "Don’t blame me, he did it!" Luke declared defensively, pointing in the direction of his dearly departed Dark Lord maybe-father.

Piett ignored his excuse. "Take him to detention," he told the stormtroopers.

Luke was marched off. By the time they arrived at the detention cell, he realized that he probably should have apologized to the captain. But it was too late.

***

Maybe Jas was locked up near by, but after a few seconds of hollering, Luke decided that he couldn’t be heard outside his cell. There were no windows and the door appeared to be airtight. He was going to use up all the oxygen and die in here. He sat on the hard ledge that couldn’t possibly be a bed and pulled his knees up to his chin, wrapping his arms around his legs and sighing. It was a tiring job, maintaining this level of resistance and defiance... pretending not to care about anything, when what he really wanted to do was get to know his father. Even if his father was Darth Vader. Maybe.

Since that momentous day when he’d first read the name "Anakin Skywalker", he'd continued wondering if Vader was really his father or not. Sometimes the idea was terrifying, but other times it was breathtaking. Imagine, ruling the galaxy at the side of the Dark Lord! They could get rid of Palpatine and make the galaxy a better place. It was a wild fairytale, a soaring adventure, and it could be his life. But now it appeared that the reality was nothing like his dreams. The real Vader was neither Evil Sith nor Doting Dad. The real Vader didn’t even try to understand him and sure didn’t feel any love or respect for him. As for what Luke Skywalker felt for Vader... well, nothing good. Fear, uncertainty, disappointment... True, there was that tingly feeling, but Vader said that was the Force, not a father-son thing. Did that mean Vader wasn't his father? But that would leave only Anakin Skywalker... who was dead.

If he really was twelve years old, he would feel sad enough to cry, but he was sixteen and practically an adult and it was time he started acting more like one. Men didn’t cry, though he wasn’t sure what men did do in situations like this. It wasn’t something he could ask his maybe-father. He was willing to bet that Darth Vader had never cried in his entire life.

He rocked back and forth, humming a little in an effort to stop his brain from thinking. It didn’t seem to be working because he continued to have thoughts about the varied and horrible things that might happen to him here. Torture at the hands of the Emperor— or worse and almost unthinkable... his maybe-father might torture him. Maybe Vader wouldn't even like him, let alone...

Tatooine hadn’t been all that bad. He should’ve stayed on the farm. Yeah, he would have been bored forever and probably hated his life, but at least he would have had a life. Now that might no longer be a possibility.

Without warning, without a tingle or a chill or any other kind of premonition, the door to his cell slid open. Luke sent a terrified glance at the black figure, then put his forehead on his knees and closed his eyes. "Just kill me quick," he whispered.

"Do not indulge in melodrama, it is wasted on me," Vader stated.

He didn’t comment, but turned his head to the side and opened one eye, checking the hem of the black garments to see if a toe was tapping. It wasn’t.

"What did you hope to accomplish by such foolish actions?"

"Nothin’," he muttered sullenly and closed his eye again.

"What did you hope to accomplish?"

Was repeating every question an Imp habit? "I said— noth-ing!"

Twin iron grips encircled his wrists and pulled him into a standing position. "Address me respectfully and answer me truthfully. What did you hope to accomplish?"

Sighing loudly, Luke tried to look anywhere but up. He settled for focusing on the set of switches on Vader’s chest. Maybe he should turn off a couple and see what happened. "I wanted to find Jas and escape."

"You cannot escape this ship. That is an absurd idea."

"If you say so." Luke shrugged, and his arms were released.

"The Falleen abducted you."

"He thought he was saving me. From you."

"He was taking you to Xizor."

"He just said he worked for Xizor Transport. He made that up."

"You are na´ve."

"And you’re still a bully! And you don’t get it!" He took a step back and glared at the unreadable mask. Lifting his hand, he tapped the black helmet. "Knock, knock, anybody hom—"

Before he could finish, he was pinned against the wall — high, higher than Vader’s head. Fingers of steel curled around his throat, cutting off his words and his breath. Dimly he was aware that however frightened he had ever been in his life, he had never truly felt fear before this moment. This was it -- the end!

"Take care, child," Vader murmured in a harsh tone that was clearly a warning, not a blessing. "No one treats me with disrespect. Not even you."

Dark spots appeared behind his eyelids and he felt consciousness slipping away. Then he was released and held steady as he gasped for precious air. It took seconds — maybe minutes — he didn’t know how long — before he recovered enough to talk. Dizzy and a little nauseated, he leaned heavily on the leather-clad arm that steadied him and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind:

"Even me?" He looked up through lashes that shimmered with unshed tears. "That means I’m special. That means I am your son! Why can’t you just say so?"

"You are alive... for the moment." The Sith Lord withdrew his support, folding his arms and leaving Luke to weave unsteadily. "That speaks of your importance."

Sinking onto the hard bench, Luke sighed. "I guess I wasn’t so important sixteen years ago, was I?"

There was no hint of motion in the dark figure, but Luke felt something he couldn’t describe, almost like a ripple in his mind. It was from Vader, that much he was certain, but he didn’t know what it meant. "Did you not want me or what? Why did you leave me on Tatooine? Why did I grow up without parents?"

The ripple became a gale. As if its power was too strong to resist, Vader turned and walked a few steps away. "Put aside useless dreams of the past and focus on the future."

"Are you talking to me or yourself?" he asked shrewdly.

Vader whirled and shook a finger in his direction. "Do not mock me, child, or you will pay dearly."

"Yeah, right." Luke rolled his eyes. "Let’s see, you’ve killed the people who raised me, destroyed my home, taken me away from the kids I was protecting, arrested the guy who was trying to save me, choked me a couple times... What am I missing? What else could you possibly do except kill me? Ben always said you’d do that, so it wouldn’t be any surprise."

"Who is this 'Ben'?" Even through the vocoder, the voice sounded irritated.

"Ben Kenobi, an old—"

"Kenobi!"

Well, that name certainly struck a chord in the big guy. "Friend of yours?" he asked sarcastically.

"Where is he?"

"Dead." Curious, Luke studied the Sith. There was no physical change he could see, but the ripple in his mind grew stronger and he had the impression of a storm, a violent, sweeping storm of sand or... something else. It was as if Vader’s mere presence was letting him get closer to the Force. He couldn’t interpret what he was feeling -- but just imagine if he let Vader teach him! He could learn everything. "When I was little, he told me you were my father and that you would kill me. Or make me evil. I guess you two really hated each other?"

"He was my friend... and he took everything from me." It was a whisper, raw-edged and richly laced with unspoken memories.

"Sort of like you did to me," Luke commented softly.

He wondered if the jab would hurt. Vader flinched visibly and that pleased Luke. I want to hurt you, he thought meanly. I want to pay you back. I want to hurt you until you... until...

"Until what?"

Livid, he glared at the Dark Lord. "Stay out of my head!" If you're my father, you're supposed to know what to say! You’re supposed to... to... feel something for me.

"You ask for what I cannot give," Vader said, and Luke didn’t know if he was answering the warning or the thought. Either way, he didn’t like the reply.

"Whatever," he said dismissively. "Are you going to keep me here?"

The helmet tilted slightly. "I am keeping you."

Something in Vader's voice made him shiver. It was so... possessive. Luke wasn't sure if he was afraid or pleased. "Will you let Jas go?"

"Why would I do that?"

"Because I'm asking you," Luke muttered. "He didn't hurt me. Just get my lightsaber from him first, will you?"

"Your lightsaber."

"What?" he snapped. "Is it yours? I’m not stupid, I know it was planted to lure me out. Okay, so you got me. Now I want the saber."

"I see." Vader folded his arms again, evidently his favored position. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Yeah, now that you mention it." Luke stood up and mirrored the posture by folding his own arms. "I want my backpack that I left in Eisley. Do you have it?"

"Filthy clothes and contraband."

"And my skyhopper!" he added, outraged at the easy dismissal of his belongings. "My best friend made that and I want it back!"

"How disappointing. I had hoped the model was a demonstration of your talent."

He flushed, caught off guard. "I’ll give you a demonstration of my talent some day!" he retorted.

"I look forward to that day, young one." With a dramatic swirl of his cape, the Dark Lord turned to the exit. Immediately the door opened for him.

"Hold it!" Luke called, panicking. "I need my ’hopper! And let Jas go! And I don’t want to stay here. Can I have another room? I promise not to take it apart -- I swear!"

Vader gestured to someone unseen. "I leave such decisions to you," he said and continued on his way.

"Yes, my lord."

Luke sighed as Captain Piett entered and stood very straight, hands clasped behind his back. "You have a request?"

"A couple, actually." He flashed his best smile at the ship's commander. "A real room to stay in? I promise not to destroy any more property. And I’m sorry I messed up your ship – it was an accident, honest! I just wanted to... umm... explore. Or maybe... okay, I wanted to escape," he added when Piett didn’t respond positively. "Dumb idea, hunh?"

"Definitely unwise."

"Yeah." He was starting to like this guy. "But that’s all I want, just a room to stay in instead of a cell. He has the other stuff I want – like my pack and my model skyhopper. Oh – unless you can let my friend go? He didn’t kidnap me, he thought he was saving me from Vader. That’s a pretty logical assumption, don’t you think?"

The incline on the head allowed that yes, indeed, it was logical.

This was looking promising. "If I’m going to be here for awhile, maybe I could have a holovid in my room? And some snacks? Maybe something to do? I could fix stuff for you, I’m good with my hands. In fact," he continued, warming to his subject, "I wanted to enlist as a mechanic -- they said I was too young, but that was a long time ago." Pausing, he studied the solemn face. "Or do you think Vader’s going to kill me?"

Piett raised one eyebrow at the last suggestion. "I think... that we can find other quarters for you. If I have your solemn promise that you will not destroy any more Imperial property."

"I swear!" Luke said eagerly. "Anything, I just want out of here! And I would like to not be killed, please."

A small smile quivered along the edges of the captain’s mouth. "Perhaps if you were more judicious in your choice of words...?"

Luke looked at him blankly. "What do you mean?"

Piett didn't answer him, which was an annoying and rude adult habit, but instead gestured to a uniformed man wearing very few rank insignia. After a brief conference, the man jerked his head to indicate Luke should follow him.

"Thanks, Cap!" He gave Piett a casual, two-fingered salute and followed the other man.

"And, Sergeant," the captain called as an afterthought, "take him to the barber first."

Barber? He was so horrified, he couldn't even form words to protest. As if his life wasn't messed up enough, now they were going to give him one of those military haircuts. But... maybe that meant they were going to let him enlist! Maybe Vader was going to let him be an ordinary soldier.

Ordinary?

No... that wasn't an option.

***

Morning took a long time arriving because it took forever for him to fall asleep. The ship was full of strange noises. His room was totally dark except for a faint light coming from a ceiling vent, providing only enough illumination to create shadows in the corners. Luke woke with a jolt and lay in bed for several minutes, breathing fast from the terrifying nightmares that had woken him several times during the night. He didn’t remember anything about them, except that there had been a lot of darkness, he couldn't see and he was scared by... something. Maybe he’d dreamt about Vader; that wouldn't be surprising. The upshot of the sleep-disturbed night was that he was exhausted, more tired than he'd been yesterday. And his brain that was tired, too, from everything he'd learned. He'd never expected Vader to allow him to have a computer that linked into the Galactic Database. Or maybe it was Captain Piett who'd done it.

Either way, he'd found some new stuff about Anakin Skywalker, that he'd been a heroic Jedi and a supporter of the "right" form of government -- that turned out to be the Empire, no surprise there. But the biggest gift was finding out about his mother, Padme Amidala or Naberrie or whatever -- she had been a senator and a queen, his mother had been a queen! He had a lot of mixed feelings about that. It didn't surprise him that Anakin Skywalker Vader had courted a queen because Vader was pretty amazing. But Luke felt uncomfortable that he was the son of a queen... he sure didn't look or act like a prince. No wonder Vader was disappointed in him. There was a saying that Aunt Beru had scolded him with a couple times. His memory was hazy about the exact quote, but his interpretation of it in this situation was: if he would be a better son, maybe Vader would be a better father. It was worth a try. He'd be better than good, he'd be perfect -- how hard could that be?

Hello, I am Lord Vader and this is my Perfect Son Luke.

But... what if Vader didn't want a son? Nowhere in the Database did it mention that Padme married -- or ever had a baby, for that matter. So it must have been a big secret, maybe a shameful one. He supposed that when Uncle Owen called him a sithspawn bastard, he'd meant it literally.

Slowly he wriggled his body around until his legs flopped over the edge of the bed and the floor brushed his feet. He propped himself on his elbows, resting for a moment before gingerly pushing into a sitting position. The bed was a mess, sheets tangled and twisted in mute testimony to his night terrors. With a yawn, Luke stood and stretched. If he was going to get Perfect, it was time to start. Rubbing his eyes, he staggered into the fresher.

The sonic shower made him feel only marginally better. He combed his hair, delaying looking in the mirror. Dressing quickly -- he still hated the jumpsuit -- he drew a deep breath and steeled himself to check his reflection.

His hair was... well, not too short, but it barely touched his collar now. Still, the various bright colors that had never quite come out of the ends had been cut off, making him look a little more civilized. He straightened, realizing he looked much more Perfect. Except for those... shadows? No... what was that?

Leaning forward, he spread his collar wider. His throat was black and purple and blue. Rubbing it with his forefinger made him wince. That wasn't dirt, it was bruises. From his father choking him.

His vision blurred and he took several deep breaths to clear it. He would be a better son and Vader would be a better father. Until then, he couldn't let anyone see the marks. He fastened the buttons to the top and turned up the collar. Only the edges of the bruises were barely visible. No one would know that his father had --

Wait a minute! No one knew he was Vader's son. They thought he was a Jedi, in which case the bruises were acceptable, even a mark of bravery that he'd lived through a confrontation with the Dark Lord. Still... he left the collar buttoned high.

He heard the sound of his door sliding open. "Doesn’t anyone knock around here?" he grumbled before stepping into the main room. Captain Piett stood there and Luke was surprisingly glad to see him. "Hi!" he said cheerfully. "Did you come to visit me?"

"I came to escort you to sick bay," Piett said, not returning the smile, though it looked like it was a struggle to keep his lips in a straight line.

"I’m not sick!" He tried again, this time with his absolute widest, friendliest smile. "Just hungry!"

"You’re having blood tests and a general physical, then you may eat. Are you ready?"

"What do I have to get ready?" he pointed out as he followed the officer into the corridor. "Are you in charge of me? Why isn’t someone else dragging me around, like an ensign or whoever?"

"Evidently," Piett replied crisply as they stood in front of an elevator, "shepherding you takes precedence over commanding this ship."

"Oh." Luke grimaced. "Sorry."

"Not your fault," the man said shortly, then added so crossly and quietly that Luke knew he was talking to himself, "Not when there’s an admiral on board."

The elevator arrived and they entered, making the fast trip in silence. Arriving on another level, Luke found himself in an identically boring and impersonal corridor. There was very little of interest to observe, so he amused himself by marching in step with the captain and pretending he was an officer, too. That entertained him for a good ten seconds.

"Do you like Vader?"

Piett shot him a reprimanding glance. "Lord Vader is commander of the Imperial Fleet."

Well, it didn’t sound like the captain was going to be forthcoming with any gossip, like if his dad had a girlfriend and if said imaginary girlfriend would tolerate a nearly-grown son. "What do you know about me?" he asked curiously.

"Your name is Luke Skywalker and Lord Vader ordered your capture."

"That’s it?" Krit. That meant he probably shouldn’t tell Piett that Vader was his dad. "He didn’t say why he wanted me?"

"Don’t you know?" Piett didn’t seem particularly interested. In fact, he seemed eager to abandon his charge in front the door labeled Infirmary.

Luke was a little miffed about being brushed off. "Well," he said innocently as they entered the medical area, "I think it’s because of this." Holding out his hand, he employed one of the few Force tricks he could usually manage. A datapad flew across the room and into his hand. He grinned. "You think that’s why?"

A scowling, gray-haired man wearing a medical tunic snatched the datapad from him. "I want him under guard while I examine him."

"I’ll be good!" Luke vowed, looking away from the stern physician to his new friend Piett. But the captain didn’t look too friendly right now. "Honest. No guards required."

"I’ll have a trooper posted outside the door," Piett told the doctor, then frowned at Luke. "Please do not attempt any more Jedi tricks or I will be forced to restrain you."

"I won't. Anyway, I can only do little tricks. I’m self-taught," he added proudly.

Piett folded his arms. "Proceed with your examination, doctor."

The doctor wore no name badge, so Luke decided to call him ‘Doc’. "What’re you going to do to me, Doc? I’m ticklish, y’know, so be careful."

"On the table and remove your shirt." The eyes were steel-gray and expressionless.

Luke fidgeted under that gaze. "Umm... why?" he asked, stalling. If the doctor saw the bruises, there would be questions.

"Captain," Doc said in an exasperated tone.

"Do as the doctor asks," Piett commanded.

"He didn’t ask," Luke pointed out. But they continued staring at him, so he hopped onto the exam table and unbuttoned the tunic as slowly as he could, hoping they would get tired of waiting and tell him to skip it.

Like so many of his desires, it was evidently going to remain unfulfilled. He let the tunic drop around his waist and looked down, not wanting to see their expressions.

"I see you’ve met the Sith Lord," Doc said, chuckling unpleasantly.

"Doctor," Piett scolded, imitating the physician’s earlier exasperation.

"Captain, this examination will proceed much faster if you don’t interrupt. I suggest you wait outside."

"Very well." Piett hesitated when Luke sent him a horrified glance. "Don’t be afraid, you’ll be fine."

"I’m not afraid!" he lied stoutly.

The doctor waved his hand at Piett. "Go on, I won’t kill him."

"That’s reassuring," Luke mumbled, wishing Piett wouldn’t leave. "I won't mind if you want to stay. Really."

The captain walked over to the door, paused to study him, then remained inside the infirmary, arms folded, watching them. Luke felt better. The doctor grumbled something inaudible.

As it turned out, Luke had been worried for no reason. He’d never had a physical, but it was simple and painless. Even the blood test didn’t hurt, and he couldn’t help comparing the Alderaani bloodsucker’s technique with this doctor.

"You’re relatively healthy," Doc finally pronounced. "Vader will love your blood sample."

Luke had no idea what that meant. "Why?"

"I’m sure he’ll explain before he kills you," Doc said mildly. "You can put your shirt back on."

Quickly he thrust his arms into the tunic, managing to twist it while he wriggled. "I'm just a kid, he wouldn't kill me! I don’t think."

"Kill you or keep you prisoner. Either way, the end result will be the same. You never should have let yourself be captured by the bounty hunter."

"What bounty hunter?" Luke exclaimed.

"Doctor, enough!" Piett said sternly. "If you are finished, I’ll take Luke now."

"Not quite." Doc handed Luke a small packet. "Put one of these patches on your chest before retiring for the night. Be sure to use them all."

"What for?" He turned the packet over, bewildered.

"Spice withdrawal causes night terrors. These will ease the symptoms. Now get out of my sickbay." Doc waved them away.

Luke followed on Piett’s heels, barely holding in questions until they were in the corridor. "Are you spying on me at night? So I had a nightmare – big deal! I don’t need these patch things!" He was furious, embarrassed, and hurt. "I'm not an addict! He's a liar!" He tried to corral his emotions but that was doomed to failure. "What bounty hunter? What’s he talking about? Vader caught me and Jas, not some bounty hunter! I hate it here!"

The captain sighed. "Luke, please settle down. The doctor was referring to the Falleen, but we have no indication that he was a bounty hunter."

"What about the spying part?" he asked suspiciously.

"You are monitored in your quarters," the captain conceded, sounding as though he would add more but evidently thinking better of it.

"I don't like that," Luke replied flatly. "And I'm not having withdrawal. That doctor should be punished for saying so."

"He was only interpreting your blood test," Piett said firmly.

Krit! It was so humiliating! Spice was supposed to be relaxing, just for fun. "Everybody does it," he muttered. "It's not supposed to be...addictive." Get real. You know it's bad for you, he scolded himself. You don't want to admit it, but you know.

He came to a sudden halt.

"What is it?"

"He’s coming." It was like standing in the desert and feeling an approaching sandstorm throbbing beneath his boots. He couldn’t see it or hear it or smell it, but he knew it was coming. He had that feeling now, only the throbbing was in his heart instead of his feet. "Vader."

"Try to be more circumspect than you have been," Piett advised.

"My thoughts exactly," and he chanted to himself: Perfect Son, Perfect Son, Perfect Son. Perfect Spice-Addicted Son.

The object of his good intentions loomed over him, bigger and darker than ever. "Hello, sir," he said politely to the Sith and was answered only by regulated breathing. Vader held out his hand.

"Here are the results, my lord," Piett responded, producing a medical datapad.

Vader scanned it briefly, then it disappeared, presumably into a pocket, though Luke had a hard time believing that sleek uniform had any pockets. "Thank you, Captain, you are dismissed. Young one, come with me."

Piett gave a clipped bow. "Yes, my lord." He smiled slightly. "Good-bye, Luke."

The Dark Lord had already turned away, and Luke had to lengthen his strides to catch up and stay with him. "Did you hear that? He called me 'Luke'."

"He will be severely reprimanded."

"What!" Uncertain, he looked sideways at his maybe-sire. Was Vader serious or did he have a sense of humor? "I just meant that you could call me that, too. Instead of 'Skywalker' or 'young one'. If you want..." His words trailed off.

He was getting used to Vader's lack of responsiveness. It annoyed him, but he reminded himself that Perfect Son wouldn't comment on it. "Would you have some time so we could talk? Sometime? Please? Sir?"

The black helmet swiveled and shiny eye pieces regarded him. It was like being stared at by a giant mutant insect from a horror holovid. After several seconds of surveillance, Vader said, "Now is convenient. Come with me."

"Great!" he agreed happily, before remembering that most of the stuff he wanted to talk to Vader about wasn't very pleasant. "So... the doctor said my friend Jas is a bounty hunter."

From behind the mask came a sound like a snort. "The doctor is a gossip-monger. Your abductor -- who is not your friend -- is a foolish young one who thought to curry favor with Xizor by thwarting me."

Thwart! There was that great word again. Falleens sure enjoyed thwarting Vader. "What're you gonna-- " Perfect Son. "I mean... please, sir, what will happen to him? You're not going to hurt him, are you? He didn't do anything to me."

"His ship has been confiscated and he is on his way back to Falleen, where his father is awaiting his arrival, no doubt most displeased with the loss of his ship, as well as with his son."

Something said, as I am with mine, but Luke figured it was his imagination. He increased his pace to a trot to keep up with Vader's long strides and was breathless by the time they entered an elevator.

"Are we going to Naboo now?"

"No."

So much for finding his mother's family. "Are we going to Coruscant?"

"No." The head swiveled and the bug eyes stared at him. "You are an embarrassment. I will not present you to my master until you are ready."

He swallowed his immediate response of indignation. "What do you mean by 'ready'?" he inquired carefully.

"When you have learned proper manners and behavior."

Okay, then. Obviously it was time to rethink the Perfect Son plan. So he thought about it for two seconds before banishing the idea. Being perfect was too much trouble anyway.

"Like that's gonna happen," he commented sarcastically as the elevator came to halt and they entered yet another personality-free gray corridor. "I don't need patches to sleep! It's hard enough to wake up naturally. There's no sun in space! How am I supposed to wake up?"

"There are many suns in space."

He made a scoffing sound. "You know what I mean! Krit, this is a long walk! When are we going to get there? Where are we going?"

"We have arrived." Vader halted by a closed door, pressed the panel to open it, then marched inside.

Luke followed, a little worried that he wasn't being annoying enough. The longer he could put off the trip to Coruscant, the better. "Arrived where? What is this? Krit, what's that thing?" Immediately he headed for a huge metal ball at one end of the boring room. "I could fit inside there! Ten of me could fit inside there!"

"Stay away from it," Vader snarled. "It is my meditation pod and I will not allow you to disrupt its serenity."

"Well, exsqueeeeze me! I wouldn't want to punch a hole in your lordship's big black bubble!" There. That should convince the big guy that it would be a very, very long time before he was ready to be presented to King Ugly. Like maybe never.

Somehow, some way, Luke found himself airborne. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, just... unsettling. He needed to learn to do this! He floated toward a small conference table and landed in a chair with a thump.

"Sit!" Vader commanded.

"Hello, are you blind? I'm sitting! Good thing this seat is padded or I'd have one sore butt!" He put his elbows on the table and gestured to the opposite chair. "Take a load off. Let's talk."

"You," Vader thundered, "are insolent!" The Dark Lord paced back and forth. "You are a disgrace to the name of Skywalker. I am heartily ashamed of you. You are – "

"You're ashamed of me?" he interrupted, jumping to his feet. The chair fell back onto the floor with a loud clatter. "After the stuff you've done? Jas told me about that Falleen city, how you killed everybody, even the kids! You should be ashamed of yourself, not me!" He folded his arms and glared. "How do you think I feel, having a father I'm ashamed of?"

There was a moment of stunned silence, following by what sounded suspiciously like stuttering. If Darth Vader could stutter. "I – You – I – You are a thief and a drunk!" The medical datapad reappeared and Vader slammed it on the table. "You are a spice addict! Have you no brain? Spice is poison!"

"Don't change the subject! And I'm not an addict, I haven't had spice for ages!" Even if the accusations were true, they still hurt. "So I'm not perfect, what did you expect? I'm your son! Nobody ever expected me to be anything but – but... evil," he finished, suddenly struck by the truth that he'd never thought deeply about before. "Nobody expected anything good from me."

"You certainly fulfilled their expectations," Vader huffed righteously. "How you have managed to live so long -- I can only believe it is because your Destiny is stronger than your will to self-destruct."

That was definitely 'destiny-with-a-capital-D'. "What Destiny would that be?" His anger re-ignited. "Following in your footsteps? Being a killer? No wonder I'm a disappointment to you – I'm only a thief and a spice user!" He yanked the chair upright, holding onto it for a couple seconds before sitting hard and slumping forward onto the table, his head lolling across his arms. "You might as well go ahead and kill me. I'll never be good for anything. I can't even be evil right! I'm a failure." He sighed heavily and closed his eyes, completely depressed, and waited for Vader to falsely accuse him of being melodramatic.

Instead, the Dark Lord pulled out the opposite chair and sat very straight, gloved hands clasped on the tabletop. "I am hopeful that you have some virtues," he said in a unsympathetic tone. "You are brave... foolishly so at times. You cared for and protected children on Tatooine."

"You killed children," Luke reminded him, raising his head, "so why's it good that I protected them?"

One hand made a sharp gesture. "There was much more to that incident than you understand. A contaminant was released – "

"Yada-yada, I know that part." He stared at his own hands. They looked a lot smaller than Vader's. These were definitely not choking hands. "Why did you put the factory there? Why were you even doing biological experiments?"

Vader sighed, the sound amplified by his vocoder. "It was my duty."

"Your duty," he repeated. "So you think that makes you innocent?"

In the quiet that followed, he could hear the low thrumming of the ship's engines matching the harsh breathing. The helmet bent forward. "Nothing can make me innocent, Luke," Vader said eventually, sounding tired. "Perhaps I never was. And neither, perhaps, were you."

Luke shivered. A strange feeling coursed through him. It felt like... he wasn't alone with his scary thoughts any longer, even though he hadn't been aware of being alone until this moment. He wished he could say it out loud so that Vader knew what he was feeling, but...

"I feel it too."

He looked up. "Stop reading my mind," he said without heat.

"I'm not." Was that the hint of a smile in Vader's voice? "Only the feelings that you broadcast so strongly... or perhaps those were my feelings that you received and reflected back."

"What, like I'm some sort of Force antenna?" He pretended to frown. "Great, I'm on the Darth Vader Channel." Amusement was born and died a quick death. "Does that mean I'm going to be evil like you? Unless you kill me, of course."

"I am not going to kill you," the Dark Lord said with some exasperation. "Why do you continue to fixate on that idea?"

"I told you, that's what everybody told me would happen! Evil or dead, not my choice!"

"Everybody? Just who is 'everybody'?"

"I told you!" he snapped. "Don't you listen? Owen and Beru and Ben!"

"Three people. Hardly 'everybody'."

"Whatever," he muttered sullenly. Folding his arms, he refused to look at... well, his father, whether Vader admitted it or not.

"Address me with respect."

"Whatever!"

Vader stood. "Address me with respect or suffer the consequences."

Luke rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. "There you go with the 'consequences' threat again. If you're not going to kill me or make me evil, what consequences are left?"

"Young one, you do not know whom you are baiting!"

"Yeah, that's right, I don't, because you won't tell me!" Luke grinned wickedly, pleased to get even more reaction out of the Sith. "Speaking of knowing... did you know my father? Anakin Skywalker? Jedi Knight? Sound familiar?"

"Young one." With a swiftness surprising in someone so large, Vader came around the table, grabbed Luke by his already-too-tight collar and lifted him from the chair. "You will make a dramatic change in your attitude and you will begin now or you will pay the price!"

Kritpeth, his feet weren't touching the floor! "Put me down! You're the one who needs an attitude adjustment, not me!" His wriggling was proving fruitless, so he tried punching at some of those buttons on Vader's chest. "Let me down! And I wanna see your face when you're yelling at me! Take off that stupid mask!"

"I cannot take it off!" the Sith roared and let go of Luke's collar so suddenly that the boy dropped to the floor, then turned his back, visibly shaking with violent rage and...

...something else. Luke frowned as he scrambled to his feet. "Why not?"

Fists clenched, but Luke could see little else behind the ebony cloak. "It... breathes for me," Vader finally hissed, so low that his words were barely audible.

"Breathes," he repeated. Well, that explained the famous Vader sound that kids used to imitate in school. They thought he breathed strangely because he was an alien monster, and Luke hadn't been able to correct them.

"I was injured. I... no longer have working lungs." The shaking was controlled but the fingers were still balled tight.

"No lungs?" Appalled but curious, he pressed, "How did it happen?"

One fist unrolled and the hand made a gesture of open frustration. "It happened... that is all you need to know. Anything further is not your concern. "

An image flashed through his mind -- pain, rage, horrific screams... blazing fire that he'd seen before... in his dreams? -- and he jerked his head to clear the scene. "Does that mean... is what Ben told me true? He said you were more machine than man."

Vader made a guttural sound, aborted suddenly as if the breathing regulator wouldn't allow it. "Then Obi-Wan had forgotten what makes a man," he said bitterly.

Luke was stricken into silence. Sure, he was angry at Vader for... for not... well, for something. But he hadn't meant to really hurt him by bringing up awful memories. He'd only wanted to hurt the big guy enough to make him respond. Well, he was responding all right. "I'm sorry," Luke whispered.

Vader whirled on him. "I do not want your pity!" he growled.

"Then what do you want?" Luke retorted desperately, stepping back from the angry giant.

Breathing heavily, the Dark Lord said nothing for a long minute, thankfully taking time to control his temper. When he spoke again, his voice was tense but even. "I have assigned you the quarters next to mine. There you will find your new uniforms, which I expect you to wear every day. Your appearance will be consistently clean and neat. You will obey me in all things. In return, I will teach you that which you will need to know to survive your future."

Asking questions was obviously not a good idea right now. "Yes, sir," he replied, temporarily subdued.

"You are dismissed. Your quarters are to the right. I will come by shortly and I expect you to be ready."

Ready for what, he wondered, but decided it would be wiser not to ask. Luke walked slowly to the door and hesitated before opening it. "Tell me, Darth Vader... " he managed to ask in a whisper, not daring to look back at the older man, "... who are you?"

If not for the sound of breathing, he would have thought Vader had vanished. But several respirations later, a deep voice behind him finally said:

"I am your father."

His skin got clammy and his limbs started shaking. Luke barely made it into his new quarters before his knees gave way and he leaned against the wall beside the door, sliding down to hunch on the floor. Gasping frantically to suck in air, he wrapped his arms around his middle and rocked.

I am your father.

Finally. Four words. He'd known this! He'd always known it. Why should just hearing the words hit him so hard? I am your father your father your father... they echoed over and over in his brain, like shouting in Beggar's Canyon. ...father father father...

There were dark spots on his sleeves. He watched as more appeared. When he heard a sob, he realized it must be him. Crying like a baby. He was a grownup, he couldn't, he mustn't fall apart. He squeezed his arms, digging in his fingers, holding himself tighter and tighter as if he could force the tears to stop. Words from the last hour ripped through him. His father was disappointed in him, they'd both said terrible things, that wasn't what he wanted, he just wanted a father -- a regular father. What was he going to do with Darth Vader?

And what was Darth Vader going to do with him? They didn't even like each other! They were nothing alike, they had nothing in common. His father was a powerful leader, while he was a no-good kid. There had to be a dreadfully evil force that controlled the galaxy, something that thought it was funny to first separate them, then bring them together like mismatched pieces of a puzzle that had no design.

It was too complicated to think about. He couldn't think. He just... hurt. Inside and outside, he hurt. His father was coming and he had to wear the new uniform, he had to be ready for his father, but he couldn't move.

Not good enough, Skywalker! He had to move. He had to be ready so his father wouldn't be even more disappointed in him. But his legs wouldn't budge. Even when he heard the door to his quarters slide open, they still wouldn't move. Darkness like an impending storm moved into his field of vision. Black boots, the edge of a shiny ebony cloak that eddied like shifting sands. He should say something –

"I'm n-n-not r-r-read-d-d – "

The deep voice interrupted, "You are a very strange child."

That didn't make him feel better. He began to shiver harder. "N-not a ch-ch-child!"

"You are behaving like one. Still, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised," Vader said, and Luke couldn't even begin to interpret his tone.

The blackness swirled, enveloping him like a tent before puddling down on his head. Claws hooked into his armpits and he was lifted to his feet.

"You will make yourself ill." A black glove latched on his arm and steered him somewhere. "Be calm. Focus the Force to calm yourself."

"I d-d-don't know h-how!" He was pushed down into a cushiony seat and the Dark Lord paced in front of him, only the boots and the swirling cape visible to Luke's lowered gaze.

"Of course you know how!" Vader snapped. "Obi-Wan must have taught you something!"

"Who-ERP!" The word came out as a very loud hiccup, making him even more embarrassed than he already was.

"Kenobi."

Right, Vader had called Ben by that Obi-Wan name before. "He d-didn't teach me any.. anything." His babyish sobbing was slowing, thank the stars. He sniffled, hiccupped, sneezed, and grabbed a handkerchief to wipe his eyes. Then he blew his nose, hard. Twice.

Vader sighed.

Luke realized his ersatz handkerchief was black. "Sorry." He looked up and sent his father a watery, apologetic smile, folding over the wet edge of the cloak a few times before squeezing it flat and releasing it. The quantity of stuff that came out of a nose always amazed him.

"You levitated an object during your medical examination." To Luke's relief, Vader was evidently going to ignore the fact that parts of his cloak were sticking together.

"I taught myself." He hiccupped again. "Stuff I read about Jedi and Sith doing. I can move little things and I can jump off roofs. Can the Force stop hiccups?"

"Hold your breath."

"That never—hic!—works!"

"It will work this time," Vader said firmly. "Inhale deeply."

After another hiccup, he drew in a long, loud breath. Vader's hand clamped over his mouth, leather-clad fingers squeezing his nostrils shut. Luke struggled, wondering if this was retaliation for the Cloak Catastrophe.

"Cease squirming."

Squirming? He was not squirming! Just when he thought he couldn't go a moment longer without air, the hand was removed. Luke gasped twice, fully recovered. "What was that for?"

"Your hiccups are gone," the Dark Lord declared smugly.

Skeptically, Luke folded his arms and waited. Nothing happened. Maybe Vader was right. Hell of a way to cure hiccups, though. The Dark Lord could use some classes in parenting.

"I have rules for you. They are not subject to discussion."

Luke stifled both a sigh and a smart response. It was second nature to snap retorts back at people, but Vader wasn't a person. Vader was his father, and this is what fathers were supposed to do -- tell their sons what to do. "Okay."

"You will address me with respect. In front of others, you will address me as 'my lord', 'sir', or 'master'."

"Can I call you 'father' in private?" Luke interrupted.

Vader hesitated before answering. "If you wish. However, no one must know of our relationship."

"Oh," he whispered, disappointed. That ban brought up several questions. "This isn't a discussion, but... who will people think I am? Is it private here? Aren't my quarters being monitored?"

"These quarters are not monitored. I am allowing you several privileges, privacy among them."

"Really? Cool!" He grinned. "What are my other privileges?"

It sounded like the Sith sighed again, but he couldn't be certain. "It will be assumed that you are my apprentice. It is unfortunate that the name 'Skywalker' was revealed. To help mitigate that blunder, I will address you only as Luke. Those newly familiar with the name 'Skywalker' have had losses of memory or have been otherwise dealt with."

Luke frowned. So Captain Piett wasn't calling him by his first name because he liked him, but because he was forced to. "What's wrong with 'Skywalker'?"

There was a short pause, then Vader sat beside him. The sofa cushion depressed, tipping Luke slightly. "Certain people are aware of my former identity. It is not safe for you to be known as my son."

"Oh." He finally had his father, but he still couldn't tell anyone. It was dismaying, but he refused to let it spoil the joy he was feeling right now, having a great conversation with his dad. Unless he was very much mistaken -- and he hardly ever was -- his solid steel old man was softening. There was one sure way to find out. Cautiously, ever so slowly, Luke began to lean sideways. Just a little. He kept tilting like a top-heavy building until the side of his head rested against Vader's arm.

There. That was much better. The cloak was really soft against his face. Too bad his father couldn't feel it. Did he always have to wear all that armor and padding? Even the gloves? Luke couldn't help wondering if there was anything left of his dad's body. Maybe he was a droid except for his brain. Still... he had a voice, so there had to be some of him left.

"What about my other privileges?" he prodded.

Vader had stiffened at the contact and now he tried to pull the edges of his cloak closer, like he wanted to withdraw into it. Luke choked back a giggle as the immaculate leather glove came in contact with the... well, his nose residue. Vader grunted and wiped off his fingers on a clean part of his cape, then stood. Luke caught himself before falling flat and sat up straight.

"I am going to change my cloak. Put on your uniform. When I return, we will go to the bridge. It is a privilege and," Vader added sternly as he strode to the door, "a test of your behavior. Fail this test or any other, and you will be confined to your quarters indefinitely."

That's harsh, he said silently. Aloud, he said, "Yes, Master," earning a glance that he suspected was actually a glare beneath that mask. But he grinned, feeling more light-hearted than he had in... well, in forever.

He finally had his father and he was positive that they were going to get along.

Maybe.

***

The "uniform" wasn't bad at all. In fact, he looked very mature in black and brown, sort of a mini-Vader but cuter. Too bad there was nobody on the ship to admire him. Not that he needed girls to admire him, but it would be a pleasant change.

His image in the mirror didn't look confident, though; it looked anxious. He struggled to change his expression and ended up with a barely acceptable "Honest, I'm fine" look. Turning away from his substandard reflection, he wiped sweaty palms on his pants. He had so many questions about his future that he didn't know which one to start with. But his father had forbidden discussion.

Said father entered his suite without asking permission, so Luke left the 'fresher and went to confront him, hoping his appearance was acceptable. Vader dropped a box and a familiar tan bag on the desk.

"My pack! You brought it!" Luke exclaimed, forgetting his concerns and rushing over to rip it open. Colorful fabrics spilled out. "You didn't take my clothes!"

"I am not a thief."

His happiness dimmed a little and he sent a reproachful look at his father. "Neither am I. Not any more."

"I am relieved to hear that." Vader watched as he unwrapped the model skyhopper. "I am surprised that your friend was willing to part with work of such quality."

"Yeah, Fixer's good with his hands." He examined the ship carefully, ensuring it was fully intact. "It was a going-away present. Something to remember him by."

"Ah." Vader folded his arms. "I take it, then, that 'Fixer' is Laze Loneozner, the person who illegally gave you his identification papers?"

Good thing Vader couldn't see his heart pounding in sudden fear! "Uh... no, he didn't give them to me, I stole them."

"Along with his model?"

"No! I wouldn't steal from him! Uh... I mean, besides certain things... just his I.D..."

The helmet tilted slightly. When he spoke again, the Sith's voice sounded almost indulgent. "Fixer must be a good friend indeed to take such a risk for you."

"My best friend," he said sadly, blowing particles of Tatooine sand off its wings before placing the model at the far side of his desk. "For almost my entire life."

"That long?" Vader moved closer and leaned against the edge of the desk. One gauntleted hand reach toward Luke's face. He flinched, then forced himself to hold still. Fingers spread his collar wide and hovered over the bruises. After a moment, the hand dropped.

Silence stretched several seconds until it crossed the boundary from tolerable into awkward. Luke swallowed. "Does my, um, uniform look okay?"

Vader nodded once.

Luke fidgeted with the collar. "So... I'm not an officer or anything, right? I mean, this isn't like a real uniform, there's no insignia."

Big arms folded. "It is similar to what I wore as a young Jedi Knight and Sith warrior."

"Oh. But no cloak? I guess I could wear my old one." He rummaged through the pack.

"Absolutely not. At any rate, given your limited history with cloaks, I believe your laundry costs would bankrupt the Imperial Treasury."

"Very funny." He looked down, struggling to form words that would convey his worry without angering the Dark Lord, who seemed to be in a good mood for a change. He couldn’t find any.

After a few more silent moments, Vader spoke. "Young one, you asked me a question that I answered. Now I have the same question for you."

He shot a wary glance at his father. "What is it?"

"Who are you?"

"What d'you mean?"

"What did you mean when you asked me?"

"In that case..." Luke smirked. "I'm your son. Lucky you."

"My son of multiple identities. I require clarification as to which one is the true Luke." The helmet tilted to the side and Vader raised three fingers. "Luke Lars is a miscreant who is not worth my time." One finger folded down. "Luke Skywalker, on the other – "

"You have different names, too!" he snapped defensively to avoid further ridicule. "It's no big deal! And you skipped 'Luke Vader', I was him my whole life. Of course, that was a Big Secret that I couldn't tell, so I never really was Luke Vader, was I? And now I can't be Luke Skywalker because it's a dangerous name. Maybe I should just stick with Oz, he's smart and cool and dangerous and totally not Luke." A glint of enlightenment flashed across his mind, then vanished almost as quickly, leaving him as confused as always.

"Oz," the Dark Lord murmured reflectively. "An interesting persona, one I could possibly utilize."

Inexplicably, he felt queasy. "So you want me to be Oz?" Disappointment interlaced with his confusion.

"At this time, I do not need to add another criminal to the Imperial payroll." Vader paused. When he continued, his tone was quieter, more reflective. "You must understand your importance. If your behavior continues to be as inconsistent and irrational as it has been, you will be useless to the Emperor and to me. You lack definition and purpose, and that is unacceptable."

"Then I don't know what my name is," Luke mumbled lamely, looking around the room for a reason to change the subject.

"Names are only labels," the Sith replied dismissively. "I want to know who you are."

The impact of all Vader's words exhausted him, he sagged onto the edge of the desk, close but not too close since proximity seemed to make his dad nervous. "I don't know." It was his automatic response, but when he thought for a moment, he realized it was the truth, and it was a truth too complicated to face right now, so he lashed out. "You've got rules for me and I'm supposed to obey them, but I don't know who I am! How am I going to find out if you always tell me what to do? And if names are so damn unimportant, how come you have more than one?"

The helmet tilted slightly and his father sighed. "Child, I was not ignoring your existence during those months I allowed you freedom in Mos Eisley. I learned much about you. Your teachers regarded you as intelligent but a disruptive influence, your grades were poor because you missed many classes -- "

"I didn't – "

Vader raised one hand for silence. "These are not accusations, Son, but observations."

Son! Luke's heart leaped into his throat. "Okay," he mumbled, suppressing his sudden need to hug the Sith Lord and get hugged back.

"You aroused great loyalty in some friends, but disappointment and fear in others. Your evasions of troops sent to catch you cannot all be attributed to your untapped Force skills; there is an innate cleverness in you that was also at work. You are na´ve, yet streetwise. Wary, yet too trusting. You are mature enough to care for a group of orphans, yet among adults..." Vader surprised him by hesitating.

"What?" Luke asked nervously when the Dark Lord didn't continue.

"You behave either as a caricature of an irresponsible adult, one who abuses alcohol and illegal substances, or you behave considerably younger than your years. Your actions can be honorable or reprehensible. In my presence, you prefer to hide behind the protection of a puerile mask rather than expose your true self."

Overwhelmed by the onslaught of descriptions, he wasn't certain whether he had ultimately been complimented or insulted. But the last one... "What does puerile mean?" he asked uncertainly.

"Childish. And obnoxious." Vader folded his arms, but it didn't seem to be a sign of displeasure this time. "You wear many masks."

"Lots of masks and lots of names, like father, like son!" Luke quipped, uncomfortable with the serious direction this conversation was taking. "But the obnoxious part isn't a mask, it's how I am!"

"If I believed that, I'd throw myself out an airlock," Vader said seriously. He shook his head. "Luke, your identity is not tied to the names you use. It is here." Black leather fingers brushed the center of his chest.

"Oh, yeah? Does that mean you're still the same inside?" He reached over and mimicked the gesture, careful not to press any buttons this time, and looked directly into the mask that hid his father's face. "The same as when you were named Anakin Skywalker?"

Something in the room rattled, and he snatched back his hand. Vader was angry. Luke could feel that anger inside him. Yet it wasn't only rage coursing through the Sith; there were more emotions, confusing ones, like earlier. Pain, sadness, loneliness... feelings that seemed uncharacteristic for a Sith Lord. But Luke couldn't quite tell the difference between his feelings and his father's, so maybe those were his sorrows and fears, not Vader's. "You wear a mask, too," he whispered, the words coming from his heart rather than his brain. "The difference is that everybody can see yours. They can't see mine. They think the mask is really me. Except... you see me. Just like I see you."

Abruptly, the Dark Lord rose and stalked to the opposite side of the room. For a heart-stopping moment, Luke thought he was leaving. But Vader halted in front of the door and turned, fists on his waist. "We are talking about you. Your upbringing was inadequate. You were not allowed to develop your true self -- to learn that you have an identity beyond being the son of Vader. I believe that is why you have no direction in your life." His father paused, studying him for interminable seconds. "I will endeavor to give you only rules of behavior, not rules that dictate who you should become. You have infinite potential, but you have not had the guidance that will allow you to reach that potential. Indeed, the deplorable lack of guidance has caused you to veer off the Path toward your Destiny."

Luke nodded vigorously. "Yeah, I've been thwarted a lot, that's for sure."

The Dark Lord made an odd, strangled noise as if he was clearing his throat. "Yes...

Luke, you must change in order to survive. I am willing to provide guidance, but I have no experience as a father and will require input from you. If you have needs, tell me and I will fulfill them if they are reasonable."

That seemed like a lot of 'if's'. Luke slid him a sideways glance. "I have a need not to be choked. Think that's reasonable?"

Again came an unnerving silence. "I will try not to throttle you," Vader said finally, "and instead find another outlet for my anger."

"I hope you don't mean a person," he answered uneasily. "Maybe you could kick a door."

"Or you could attempt to be more reasonable and refrain from deliberately aggravating me."

"I never deliberately... Well. Okay, I suppose I could try."

"Thank you," his father replied dryly. "I realize I am requesting the nearly impossible."

"It's good that you realize it," Luke stated solemnly. His father was still hovering by the exit, so he looked around for something to detain him. His gaze landed on the forgotten box that Vader had brought. "Hey, what's this?"

"The beginning of your education." The Dark Lord approached and they both looked into the box crammed with datatapes.

"That's a lot of tapes," Luke said doubtfully. "It could take months to get through them."

"One-point-eight years, to be precise. At the rate of one per week. If you are slower, it will take longer."

Speechless, he picked up a couple tapes and looked at the labels. "The History of Galactic Civilizations?" He grabbed more. "They all say the same thing."

"There are a lot of civilizations in the galaxy," Vader said, something that sounded suspiciously like amusement in his voice. "However, that single study would certainly not give you a well-rounded education. There are also tapes of increasing levels of mathematics, geography, political -- "

"I don't like math," he complained.

"If you want to be a pilot, you will need to know how to program jump points, will you not?"

"That's what navicomputers are for!"

"And if your navicomputer fails?"

He sighed loudly. "Can't I use the Force?"

"No. Also," Vader continued in the same playful tone, as though he were enjoying himself, "there are tapes on physical sciences and biology, psychology, tactical -- "

"Palpatine's Emerging Empire: The Glorious Promise?" he quoted incredulously, waving a tape in the air. "You've got to be kidding! I'll get old and die before I get through these! It'll be so boring! Can't I have a tutor tell me this stuff instead?"

"This is an Imperial vessel, not a school. You will study quietly, and I will personally examine your understanding of these subjects by questioning you after completion of each tape. This a large commitment of my valuable time, so I will expect you to be prepared. You may select which category to study first."

"And to think I always wanted a father!" he grumbled under his breath.

"Did you?" Vader asked after a slight pause.

Something had changed in the tone, Luke noted. "Yeah... sort of. Okay, if you want to torture me with all this, I'll go along with it. But hey, what are we doing hanging around here? I thought we were going to the bridge!"

"We are. And there you will demonstrate to me your ability to follow my rules. You will remain close by my side -- "

"Okay!"

" -- yet at a respectful distance."

"How do I – "

"You will address me properly – "

"Just when we're on the bridge?"

"At all times," Vader continued, unperturbed by his interruptions. "You will not speak to anyone except to respond to greetings. You will not bother the personnel with questions. Agreed?"

"I guess." He grinned. "Can I fly the ship?"

"Can you fly any ship?" Vader parried.

"Not very well," he confessed. "I used to until I totaled the 'hopper years ago and Owen wouldn't get me another one."

"I will teach you to pilot."

"You will?" The door slid open and he stopped, staring at Vader with amazement.

The helmet inclined slightly. "It is a necessity. But not today, and we will start with a much smaller vehicle than a Star Destroyer."

"Okay. Thank you... Father," he added shyly. His father was going to teach him to fly a ship – someday maybe even this ship. He would be a pilot, a fighter pilot like in vid games! One day, he could even be a hero.

A hero was as good a person to become as any.



Interlude

Spicer

By Spirit

Captain Piett hadn’t met a young man like Luke Skywalker since he’d been a mere boy on Axxila, studying hard to be accepted into the Imperial Academy. A drinker and a drug addict, the boy that Piett remembered had swiftly ruined himself, pushing away any help that was offered.

What virtues this one had, Piett had no idea.

Of course, he might just be biased right now – he was, after all, staring at a gaping hole in the heating ducts on his beloved ship – but he didn’t think so.

It took a lot of effort, but he managed to school the look of fury from his face and replace it with a sternly expressionless one. He wasn’t sure how well he succeeded, but it was the effort that counted.

Why, he wondered to himself, is this child here aboard my ship?

A glance at Vader reminded him once more. Right. Force user, he thought grimly. Why in the galaxy the Emperor wanted this particular boy…Piett had no idea, and had the odd feeling he wasn’t meant to. So he rigidly suppressed his irritation enough to lead the little spicer to the detention level, feeling a brief flash of satisfaction at that. It died a quick death, though, because just before the secure hatch closed, Piett glimpsed the mulish expression fade from that youthful face, replaced with an expression of abject misery and confusion.

He got the feeling that not even Luke knew why he was here.

The next time Piett saw the boy he was dressed in a strange outfit that Piett dimly remembered from Republic days – a uniform of black and brown with an odd sort of wrap around the torso. He was standing beside Lord Vader with a sullen expression that periodically flickered with anxiety and indecision, augmented by the jerky movements and an unknowing wrinkling of the Lord Vader’s cloak. Piett had to pinch his lips together to make them stop twitching as the pair stopped beside him, Vader’s hand reaching down to pry the boy’s fingers off.

“My lord,” Piett greeted, nodding his head respectfully. “Luke,” he added, giving the boy a tight smile.

“Hi, Cap,” Luke replied, smiling back. Piett quelled the urge to grin broadly, feeling like a teenager again. He glanced up at Lord Vader, seeing him staring down at the boy with what looked like a glare under his mask. Luke seemed to feel the look, because he shrank a little and uneasiness crept into his eyes, and Piett observed as his hand automatically reached out to grasp the black cloak again as Vader nodded in reply to Piett’s greeting and started to move off. An Ensign coughed, and Piett shot him a sharp look, seeing the young man struggling to hide an amused smile.

For several moments, Piett observed that the boy seemed to be genuinely trying to behave. He struggled a little bit, and Piett could see him longing to say something, but the only time he did was when someone greeted him with words.

Then it all went downhill.

With alarm, Piett saw the boy step away from Vader’s side and examine a small button on one of the empty consoles. His alarm grew when Luke lifted a hand, and he stepped forward quickly.

“My lord – ” he started, but it was too late, and Piett saw the finger push the button down.

Instantly, an alarm echoed through the bridge, and various tiny holes in the wall appeared, their lids sliding away from them. A moment later, decontam foam was spilling from the holes, and emergency masks were falling from the ceiling.

Instinctively, Piett grabbed one and yanked the strap over his head, feeling the effects of the decontam foam immediately. The rest of the crew followed suit…except – Piett stilled in alarm – Luke.

The boy was looking around him in shock, one hand flailing out to his side as his balance went off kilter from the effects. In two quick strides, Piett yanked another mask from its string and arrived at the boy’s side, quickly shoving the mask into place on his face. A moment later, an Ensign turned off the klaxon and a ringing silence fell.

“Whoops.”

Piett had to close his eyes against an involuntary laugh, one hand still grasping the boy’s shoulder, the other pressing the mask over Luke’s mouth, feeling the vibrations of the word. A moment later, a loud noise filled the silence…a sort of gurgling grumble…and Piett really did grin this time behind his mask.

Luke’s stomach had growled.

His face flushed immediately behind the mask, and he tilted his head back to give Piett an embarrassed shrug, and then a black-gloved hand fastened around his upper arm and yanked him backwards.

“What,” Vader asked slowly, his voice an ominous rumble, “part of ‘Do everything I say’ don’t you understand?”

“I did everything you said!” Luke said indignantly, and then added, after a heartbeat, “I just did a little extra, as well.”

As they spoke, Piett saw out of the corner of his eye as the maintenance crew swiftly cleaned up the decontam foam and spraying air-cleaner around the bridge. Within moments, the air was clean. He turned back to see Luke wrinkling the cloak again.

“You,” Vader snarled, pointing a finger at the teenager, “are reckless. Come.” The black-armored man turned abruptly, striding away. Luke gave Piett a desolate look, and pulled off his mask to follow.

“Thanks, Cap,” he said quietly, and hurried away. “Hey, wait,” he called. “Ah – sir! Waaaii-aaaiiiit!”

Lord Vader ignored him, his dark cloak billowing out behind him in a swirl of dark cloud, perfectly pressed and spotless.

Except, Piett noticed, one edge, which was badly crumpled, as if a young hand had wrinkled it between the fingers for too long.

Piett had to turn away in his struggle to contain his smile.


Part 3


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