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The Vader Chronicles - Part 3

Chapter 11 : The Black Death

It began as a creeping thing, a quick death that came to a few, in the unnoticed places. It had lived forever in the small vermin prevalent in developed areas, but randomly it changed a little,and became able to infect humans. Now it slunk in the back alleys, the dark taverns, the dank hovels on the edge of cities. Methodically it moved forward, always finding a new host in the nick of time. Since it could kill within a day, it always risked stranding itself in an isolated corpse. In the game of survival, where luck may be the most important factor, it came up a winner.

One day, it had the fortune to catch a ride in the body of a stowaway, and it took to space. They thought he died from pressure loss, what with the bloody foam pouring out his mouth. So sure were they of the reason for his demise, that they weren't worried when specks of foam hit their clothing. But they should have been.

When they undressed that night, it was hiding in the dried spots on their clothing. It could have lived another twelve hours, but it was not necessary. It had already made the leap to another body. These men did not die from it, but they gave it to their shipmates when the coughing began. The med droid isolated them, but it was already too late.

Their ship docked at its destination, and it walked out with the crew onto a new world. Not that it cared; one human host was as good as another. Some crew members took new assignments immediately, and it went with them. Through the trade routes, unlimited numbers of naive hosts were made available to it. It had hit the viral equivalent of a jackpot.

When it made its appearance in the cargo handlers and tavern keepers, it gained attention, but not comprehension. No one understood how quickly it had dispersed in the Galaxy. On its home world, where most of the population had already gained immunity, it killed mostly newcomers.Now every host it came upon had no defenses against it. Their bodies rose in an uproar against it, their own immune response causing their lungs to fill with the frothy fluid. The healthier they were, and the stronger their immune system, the sicker they became.

When it began to kill on planets spread far across the Galaxy, fear rose throughout the Empire. Quarantines sprang up overnight, and suddenly nonhuman workers were in high demand to keep commerce going.With an entirely human composition , the Imperial Forces did not have that option. When it entered an Imperial Star Destroyer, and killed ten percent of the crew, even the Emperor took notice.

While the Galaxy withdrew behind nanopore masks, and xenophobia raged on as travelers became as welcome as the tax collector, the medics hastened to develop a vaccine, but without success. Worlds turned to their own traditional treatments to keep the invader at bay, mostly without changing the course of the disease. But on one planet the death rate from the virus was virtually nil. A plant used for centuries in folk medicine, now given against this new invader, worked. When the medics would finally study it, it would be found that the plant, if taken early in the infection, halted the devasting inflammation that ruined the lungs and led to death.

It was not a cure, but it was an enormous aid in battling the killer. Its use should have spread quickly throughout the Galaxy, as the anti-inflammatory chemical in the plant was easily synthesized in the laboratory. But the planet on which the plant grew was under the control of one faction of humans, who saw their good fortune as an advantage to be pressed against the humans on the opposing side. While their own peoples would be safe, they hoped the virus would run unchecked among their foes.

------

Life had gotten easier since he no longer thought of himself as the Chosen One, since the battle in which Palpatine crowned himself the victor between them. He had become a good soldier in the service of the Empire, following orders, suppressing his own ambitions when they arose. With that change, Palpatine's antagonism had subsided, and sometimes the Emperor even considered his ideas. Perhaps on the instructions of the Emperor, the command staff of the Imperial Navy had become less obstinate and more cooperative with him. And, oddest of all, Palpatine had begun addressing him as "friend". He guessed he qualified as "friend" because he was the only person Palpatine thought wouldn't kill him, and that was only because he had already tried and failed.

The battle had been so long ago, he could hardly remember what he had been fighting for, anyways. He had once pledged to bring peace and justice to the Empire, to make something of which Padme would have been proud, but his memory of her was like a disc that had been played too many times, and it had become erratic and weak. Sometimes, if he tried too hard, her face would not come to him, and he had to make himself relax, so that he could pull her image from his memory. He feared that one day it would not come at all, and it would be as if she never existed.

There was the proof of her existence, though, waiting for him on Tatooine. He had once thought he fought against Palpatine so that he could rescue his son, raise him, know him, work together to restore both justice to the Empire, and prominence to the Force. But Luke was already thirteen, already started down the path of manhood. The people around him, Owen, Beru, and probably Obi-Wan, were the ones guiding him, not himself. What could he offer the boy, what example could he be for him, if he was not strong enough to overcome Palpatine's grip? Each year he renewed his vow to regain his son, but it had become more a habit than a real promise.

He had also fought against the chaos that Palpatine brought to the Galaxy, against his manipulations, against his lies, against his lack of concern for the citizens of the Galaxy. He still valued honesty and loyalty, however rare they were, and believed the people were owed a straightforward leader who acted decisively for their benefit. Perhaps that was why he continued on now, kept his patience, trusted in the Force. Afterall, it was one of the few dreams he had left.

Sometimes, though, his faith was weak. He doubted whether it was right to simply wait and watch, to aid Palpatine in his convoluted rule of the Galaxy. That strategy had allowed the elusive Resistance to grow into a now official Alliance, as they called themselves, or Rebellion as they were known in the Empire.Certainly when a Rebel intrusion was too bold, the Empire chased the offenders down, tried to make examples of them, but the root from which the Rebellion grew was never harmed, and each branch that was cut down gave rise to five more. He feared for the stability of the Empire, cursed those who would tear it apart, hated even more those that would withhold the answer to this disease from their fellow man in the hopes of weakening the Empire.

He relished this assignment, then, because it was one of the few that he could believe in. There was no doubt about its necessity, about the clarity of its purpose.All citizens deserved to be safe from the black death that had spread across the galaxy, not just the ones that hid behind the curtain of the Rebellion. They would seize the reserves of the drug Anatriene from the hands of the Rebels, duplicate it in Imperial pharmacies, and deliver to the Empire relief from the spectre of the black death.

------

Protect the lab. They must protect the lab at all costs. Mar Nilan hadn't been a soldier long, but already he knew he must think only of the mission objective.The pharmaceutical lab was their most valuable asset. Some said the drug was evidence that the Alliance was right, that its discovery on an Alliance controlled planet was meant as a punishment for the misdeeds of the Empire. The Alliance had never been able to take down as many Imperial troops as the sickness had, and rumors circulated that the Emperor was even afraid to leave his residence on Imperial Center. Others thought the drug's discovery was just good fortune, but either way the drug protected the outnumbered troops of the Alliance and funded the organization through exports to the worlds deemed worthy.

He counted himself among the ones on the side of luck. The proof that the Alliance was right came from its own ideals, not from some imagined omen of destiny.The Alliance was right because it fought for the rights of all citizens, not just humans.The Alliance was right because it espoused freedom, and democracy, for the right of worlds to agree to disagree, rather than subscribe to an Imperial ideal that came from one man.He had not suffered much under Imperial rule, but that could change tomorrow with a whim of the Emperor. Mar wanted a secure, stable Galaxy for his daughters to grow up in, and that alone made the Alliance worth fighting for.

This fight would be different from all other missions he had undertaken as a soldier in the Alliance. While it was true that the Alliance was growing in strength and numbers, it was still a speck in the night sky compared to the Empire. It battled the Empire the way rebels always had, with stealth, ingenuity, and the strength born of conviction. They had disabled communication lines, disrupted key Imperial meetings, and engaged stormtroopers in small numbers on outlying planets, but they had never taken the Empire head on. This time, the Empire was coming for them.

The reports of Star Destroyers in orbit had already trickled down the ranks. The Alliance commanders had no illusions about their ability to overcome the superior numbers of the Empire. Victory might not be possible against the Empire, but they could do damage, instill some caution in the Empire for the next time they engaged the Alliance. Maybe, just maybe, luck would be on their side, and by some miracle they would keep the Empire from overrunning the pharmaceutical lab and the associated treatment center.

The Alliance leaders had spread their meager troops over the most vulnerable areas. Mar Nilan's company had taken up position directly outside the medical complex. The day was so beautiful it seemed surreal that the Empire would soon be upon them.With nothing to do but wait, he pulled his image pad from his shirt pocket, and thumbed through the pictures it held. Liria, his wife. Seya, his older daughter. Nea, the younger. Liria had been shocked when he first told her he was going to join the Alliance, leave his safe position in the commercial sector. He just hadn't been able to shake the feeling that this was important, that he needed to contribute, and tearfully, she had put her support behind him. He looked up from the image pad, feeling guilty, and was relieved to see he wasn't the only one in his company viewing images from home.

At the first crackle from the captain's comlink, Mar's company rose quickly to attention. The Empire had landed. Stormtroopers were coming. Many stormtroopers.Then an unexpected bit of information came across the com. Darth Vader himself had been sighted alongside one battalion.Murmurs rose from among the troops.

Mar's captain attempted to set his men at ease."Vader's presence is an opportunity, an opportunity to cut at the heart of the Empire in a way we've never been able to do before. Taking him out would be a huge victory for the Alliance."

A voice from behind Mar. "But sir, can that be done ?"

The captain continued."Despite what you may have heard, our contacts from within the Senate tell us that he's just a man.And if he's a man, he can be killed. His most vulnerable spot would be appear to be the electronic controls on his chest. The rest of his armor is reportedly resistant to blaster fire. But let's not get too fixated on Vader. Our assignment is to protect the reserves of Anatriene in the pharmaceutical area. The Empire might be too afraid of the sickness to even enter this building."

Mar heard his captain's instructions, but couldn't stop his mind from turning back to Vader. Vader, the messenger of the Emperor's will. If he was a man, there was no evidence of it, no heart, no soul. Lacking even the face that gave the Emperor a token of humanity, Vader was simply an enforcer, death embodied. Mar shivered unconsciously at the thought of him.

An explosion near the front of the building rocked Mar's entire company. The Empire was here. They had planned for hand to hand combat, thinking the Empire would not destroy the very thing it had come for, but the Empire apparently felt confident in the accuracy of its bombs.

Mar's captain called to his men to disperse around the perimeter of the building, to make a smaller target area. Stormtroopers were now visibly advancing, taking cover in the ornamental landscaping at the outskirts of the medical complex.The Alliance fighters returned fire as the front line of stormtroopers came into range.

Mar leaned back against the wall of the medical building, taking refuge behind a concealing shrub. His captain was suddenly at his shoulder, shouting instructions over the din of the bombs.

"You're the best shot in the company, Nilan. I want you to go in to the pharmaceutical lab, secure yourself inside, and take out any Imperial that comes through the door. If they reach you, that means the rest of us are gone. Understood ?"

Mar nodded crisply. Proving to be the best sharpshooter in the company had come as a surprise to a man whose previous career had kept him confined to an office. But he had taken to sniper training like a Hutt to gambling. His ability to become completely single-minded about his target, along with his superior eyesight, had earned him the highest marks in the company.

With a side to side assessment of the incoming fire, Mar moved swiftly from points of cover to a side entrance. He slipped into the building, pleased that blaster fire had not followed him. He headed confidently down the corridor, the importance of his assignment giving him fresh energy. This was what he had joined the Alliance for, to accomplish something of significance.

In was a running joke in his family, the way he could predict a visitor's arrival. He didn't know how he did it, he just knew that he could. He had that weird feeling now, but he wasn't at home, and he wouldn't have any guests here. He knew not to ignore the sensation though, so he doubled back to check the hallway from which he had just come. What he saw made him suck in his breath. Vader was coming his direction.

He ran far enough down the hallway to be out of what he guessed was Vader's hearing range. He hit his comlink, listening for his squad. He needed to know what to do about Vader. The com produced only static. He didn't have time to think through what that meant; he had a job to do. He thought of his captain's orders; he had to get to the lab, protect its contents.

The medical complex could be a maze to those new to its interior, but Mar could run its hallways as easily as his own home. He thought quickly of the fastest route to the pharmacy. He would have to take a shortcut through the patient ward, the one housing those who had been too ill to move to a safer location.

Mar knew he was immune to the sickness, having already survived his own bout with it, but that didn't stop his skin from crawling as he passed the beds filled with patients. Some were on ventilators, some looked gone already, and all had been brought here by their families in the desperate hope that the drug Anatriene would save them. Transported on private ships, moved at lightspeed from all parts of the Galaxy, they came from affluence, racing against time. He was sorry to disturb them, but with Darth Vader on his heels, he had no choice.

He hurried through the double set of doors exiting the ward, acknowledging for a moment that he had broken isolation protocol. He ran down the hallway, pausing to hit the entry controls outside the lab. Once inside he surveyed the room for a defensible location, then turned off the lights in the room to give himself the advantage over an intruder. Anyone entering the room would be starkly outlined for a moment, and that was all he needed. If his intuition served him right, that "anyone" would be Vader.

He tried one last time to contact the rest of his company, speaking softly into the comlink, but there was no answer.

He tucked himself into a corner behind an island cabinet that jutted out into the room. He took the luxury of closing his eyes, using the spare moment to draw in a deep focusing breaths.When he opened his eyes, he thought only of what it would take to bring Vader down.It would have to be a chest shot, at that electronic box, which hopefully controlled something vital. The flashing panel was a good sized target, and easy to see in the dark, which this room was.

With only one task before him, he eliminated all other thoughts in his mind. His determination cooled him, chasing away anger and fear, and keeping him calm. Vader would trace his path, follow him into this room,and become the target. He would shoot him square in that electronic panel, and the Emperor would be minus one key aide.It was a simple plan, and he just needed to wait for Vader to come to him.

Already he could hear the mechanized breathing coming closer. He drew his blaster, rising just high enough to see over the cabinet countertop.He took aim at the doorway, and his field of vision narrowed.His knees complained from pressing into the hard floor, but he ignored them.His heart rate slowed, and along with it, the passage of time. The normal chatter in his head was silenced, as his whole body awaited the signal from his eyes. Like the snare on a primitive's trap, when the flashing red lights tripped his retinas, his fingers would close on the blaster trigger, and Vader would be done. With no thinking involved, the action would take only the time necessary to traverse his synapses, a fraction of a second. He would sit here all night, in this position, mind emptied of decisions, if that's what it took.

He didn't know exactly how long he waited, crouched and ready, but his patience was rewarded. The door slid open, the respirations of Vader announcing his proximity. The glow and hum of a lightsaber entered the room ahead of him, but it was not the correct red stimulus, so for Mar nothing yet had changed, and he held position. Something told him that Vader was about to move forward, and so he held his breath, looking to steady his aim.

The lightsaber provided the only light in the room, and in its eerie glow Mar could make out the startlingly tall form of Vader. He was not turned correctly to give Mar the clear shot he needed. Mar forced himself not to react, to maintain focus on his target. In the darkness, Vader turned towards him, as if he could see him. The chest plate came in full view, and Mar squeezed the trigger.

He expected the shot to hit Vader dead on, and have an effect, preferably lethal, but instead the blaster fire was deflected harmlessly by the lightsaber. His commanders had told him Vader was powerful, ruthless, cunning, but they hadn't explained what a lightsaber could do. He pulled off several shots in succession,no longer keeping his tight focus, but the result was the same.

He scrambled backwards across the floor, knowing his position now revealed in the dark, and moved towards the rear door of the lab. He kept firing one-handed, thinking that one shot was bound to make contact, but his hopes were not met. Vader was moving in on him with a speed that seemed unnatural.He could not stop that black death, that monstrous blending of man and machine.

So this was how he would die.He hadn't died when the ocean swept him off the jagged beach rocks when he was nine, nor had he died when another pilot almost flew a speeder full throttle into his when he was twenty. But he would die here, in this room, the logic was inescapable. He was surprised by how calmly his mind accepted that reality, but he truly felt no fear.

He thought of Liria, and their daughters Seya and Nea. He loved them all so much, and suddenly sadness filled him, not because he would die, but because he would never see them again.It felt so wonderful when they were all at home together, the girls laughing about some thing or the other. He held them tight in his mind, while his hand continued squeezing the trigger on his blaster. He was thinking of them still when the lightsaber ran him through.

------

Vader watched the Rebel disappear through the doors directly ahead. A ripple in the Force had caused him to notice a soldier breaking away from the group and entering the building. After the stormtroopers had cleared a safe zone, he had followed the soldier's route.He felt the young man's protective intent, his focused dedication, and knew he was headed somewhere important.

The room Vader was standing in front of now was filled with many people, their muddled thoughts overlaying the trail of his target.He ignited his lightsaber, not knowing what he would find inside the room.

The first door slid open to reveal a second, and he paused in the space between, feeling for those that lay beyond. Not soldiers, that was evident by the disorganized thoughts flowing out of the room, not unless they had given into fear. He stepped forward to activate the door, and moved into the room decisively.

Once inside, he was sorry he had done so. This was a patient ward, filled with gravely ill people obviously infected with the black death. When the illness had begun to spread in the Galaxy, he had lined the air filtration system of his mask with not one, but three layers of nanofilter, to keep from being exposed to the virus. The med droids said one layer was sufficient, but it was not they who risked catching the disease, so he had been using three just to make sure. If this thing killed healthy people, there was no doubt that his ruined lungs would never withstand the assault of the virus.He was going to have to disinfect his whole suit when he got out of this place.

He shook his head once to bring himself back to his task. He ignored the gurgled breathing of patients and the whoosh of ventilators in the room to concentrate on finding the young Rebel. Feeling no trace of him in the ward, he thankfully exited the room through the set of double doors at the rear.

He found himself in a hallway intersection, and paused a moment to decide how to proceed. He sensed the path the Rebel had taken, the fixation of the soldier's mind on his task marking clearly which way he had gone. He followed the trail to its end, stopping outside another doorway. Scanning the interior of the room, he hesitated when he no longer felt the determined thought patterns of the young Rebel.

The trail had led clearly to this spot, but now it seemed to have dead-ended.If the soldier was in the room ahead, he had a remarkable ability to clear his mind, an ability he had not often encountered except in his days among the Jedi. He raised his lightsaber, and proceeded cautiously after hitting the door controls with his mind.

Inside, the room was completely dark, save for the light from his weapon. His helmet automatically adjusted the gain for low light conditions, but it was still too dim to see clearly. At last he sensed his target, a flash of Force energy coming from the middle part of the room.Vader realized this Rebel had minor Force talent, though untrained, and he turned toward the source of the Force blip.

Blaster fire revealed the Rebel's existence even more definitively, fire which Vader reflexively blocked with his lightsaber. His foe worked his blaster as fast as it would recharge, but all shots were lost in the red energy of the saber. He pushed forward towards the Rebel, working furiously to deflect the incoming shots.He admired his opponent's determination and lack of fear, but that feeling did not stop him from taking advantage when a brief lapse in blaster fire occured. Detecting the Rebel's position more through the Force than with his vision, without hesitation he plunged his lightsaber through the young man's chest.

Breathing heavily, he felt the cooling system in his suit activate. Finally able to turn his back on the Rebel, he located the light controls and illuminated the room. He made a visual sweep of the room to assess where he was. A medical room of some sort, not unlike the pharmacy he had seen too many times at the Surgical Reconstruction Center. He had been right to follow the soldier here.

Using his helmet comlink, he made contact with the commander of the stormtroopers. Satisfied that the building had been secured, he finally turned his attention to the fallen Rebel. Blond and blue-eyed, he looked how Luke might in another decade. He had fought courageously, unconsciously using the small bit of Force talent he possessed. What a waste.He would have made a fine Imperial, the kind of man Vader wanted supporting his command. Had it been worth dying to keep others from living?

------

In the refresher, he had scrubbed himself until his scars stood in stark white contrast with the irritated redness of his skin. His life support suit hung in the air, drying from the vigorous application of disinfectant.Finally certain that he had removed any trace of the virus from his surroundings, he could at last relax within the hyperbaric chamber.

He reclined his tall body in the chair, the lightness of his robe a welcome change from the weight of the suit.Eyes closed, he rubbed both golden hands slowly over his face, ending with them clasped behind his head. His concern over catching the virus must have been the reason he forgot. Afterall, it had been part of his earliest combat training by the Jedi; it was usually second nature. But he had lapsed this time, and now he was paying the price.

Like all soldiers, he had long ago developed the detachment necessary to kill another being. In hand to hand combat, it was easy, because it was a matter of self defense. In other situations, it was usually simplest to focus on the act that would bring death : the acquistion of a target in the sights of a TIE fighter, or pulling the trigger of a blaster. Galaxy-wide, all soldiers knew this, but for the Jedi, there had been one more requirement, one they only discussed among themselves. For Force sensitives, it was usually best to turn off that ability at the moment of contact, otherwise the dying thoughts and feelings of your opponent came rushing to you.

He knew this, better than any, but he had forgotten, and now the last images of the fallen Rebel pervaded his mind. Part of it was his own fault; he could have shoved the memories away, but instead they fascinated him, and he couldn't help reliving them. The young man had been so certain of the righteousness of his cause.He had no doubts, no fears about his actions, only a last moment of surprise. Even when he knew death was coming, he had not regretted giving his life for the Rebellion.

There had been a time when Vader felt a similar conviction behind his actions, but that time was long gone. He had risked his life this mission, not from Rebel weapons, but from the deadly virus, and he wasn't sure why. Nominally, it had been to gain the use of Anatriene for the Empire, but would that have been worth dying for ? Was he really willing to die for Palpatine ? He snorted, because the answer to that question was an obvious "No". Truth was, he continued on because he saw no other path to take.He envied the dead Rebel's clarity of purpose, wanted that again for himself.

And then there was the other part of the Rebel's final thoughts, the ones filled with his love for his family.His family had brought him strength, brought him comfort; he had been rich beyond compare. So short a time had Vader known feelings like those, it surprised him how much he still longed for them. Denied both the life of an ordinary man and the path of the Chosen One, the place between the two had proven as barren as the Jundland Wastes. He played the borrowed feelings of the dead Rebel over in his head, savoring them while they were still fresh.

Once he had hoped to sit atop the Empire, but today he wished only for the things a common Rebel had possessed.


Chapter 12 : Despayre

Darth Vader wanted to be done with the Death Star, wash his hands of it forever, and leave it with its doting master, Wilhuff Tarkin. Its purpose was distasteful enough, but the events that had been necessary for its completion had left him disgusted, most of all with himself for his part in them. Now that it was finally operational, he would have been more than happy to command Devastator to a sector far away from the enormous space station.

Unfortunately, for the third time in as many weeks, Admiral Motti was on the comlink from his own Star Destroyer, with yet another urgent message concerning the Death Star.Vader thought seriously about turning the call over to a subordinate officer, letting Motti stew a bit, but he knew that would only delay the inevitable.

Seated in his private quarters on board Devastator, he activated the com. "What is it now , Admiral ?"

------

They had been born at almost the same time, the Death Star and himself.Not his literal birth,of course, but his rebirth as Darth Vader.When he first saw the enormous frame hanging in space, he had been but 23, the trauma of Mustafar barely scabbed over in his mind.So many things he had taken for granted then, that he was the Chosen One, that he had the power to make things the way he wanted them to be, that Palpatine would rule the Empire with wisdom.He had not yet discovered that he was not as strong as he thought, and that Palpatine was not his mentor, but a manipulator who enjoyed the game even above the outcome.

Now he was 41, and the illusions and optimism of his youth were long gone from him. Not that he wanted to see with 23 year old eyes again; it was much better to see things as they truly were, even if the reality was harsh.There were just so many things he would have done differently, if he had only known then what he knew now. The things he had dreamed of, he had not accomplished. The things he had accomplished did not bring him peace.

He supposed he had conquered his greatest fear, though.He had known by the pain and terror that gripped his heart that he couldn't live without her, and so it had begun.The life changing event, the Galaxy changing event, all had been driven because he had been afraid to lose her.Miserably, he found he could live without her, had been forced to live without her, and here he'd been, almost twenty years, alone, untouched, unloved. In a way, it was almost the life the Jedi had outlined for him. But he no longer feared being alone, because now it was the only way he knew.

His other accomplishments were as nothing to him. Ironically, Palpatine was the one that had said it best, that he longed for a life of significance, a life of conscience. The destruction of the Jedi, his support of the Emperor, all had seemed to be the right thing to do once, but now he was not so sure.Service to Palpatine had not delivered the future he thought it would. There must be something more, something more to life than being a soldier in the Empire. He wanted the Force to speak to him, to show him the way, so that he might at least once take that action that was beyond doubt.

And then there was the great absence in his life, his failure to raise his son. He had promised him he would return, but the years had slipped by, and he'd only set eyes upon him the one time.Now Luke was eighteen, a man grown. He hoped Owen had been a good father to him, that Owen had known the things a father should teach a son, since he himself had not been sure how it should be done.Someday, they would still meet, and he would explain to Luke what had kept him away.

Just as his life had gaping holes, the Death Star was in the same state.Twenty years they had been working on this technological marvel. The credits that had been spent on its construction could have rebuilt a thousand worlds stunted by poverty, could have educated trillions of younglings. Fed the Galaxy, forever.Instead it was mired in one object, a weapon of incomparable power designed not for defense, but to strike terror in the hearts of Imperial citizens.

He understood the reasoning behind its creation, in fact he'd heard the Tarkin Doctrine directly from the lips of its originator, the now Grand Moff Tarkin, who had long held the Emperor's favor. Rule through the fear of force, rather than force itself, Tarkin had said early in his career, and the Emperor had nodded in agreement.

In theory, Vader could stand behind the concept. Every time he paused silently in an entry before a meeting, waiting to sit until he felt the level of unease among the Imperial officers rise, he was using the Tarkin Doctrine. A little intimidation never hurt anyone, and when it was enough to deflect conflict, it was quite valuable. The problem with the Tarkin Doctrine in practice was that the level of threat necessary to keep the Rebellion from growing had continue to rise until the Death Star was no longer grand excess. Fleets of Star Destroyers and legions of stormtroopers were simply not enough to quell the Rebellion, and it was now necessary to threaten the citizens of the Empire with the destruction of entire worlds in order to maintain their cooperation.

That,he thought, shaking his head in disapproval, is a failure of leadership. Palpatine and Tarkin were two of a kind, really. They both understood power, needed it like he needed his ventilator, but neither of them understood leadership.Fear could be useful, but you could push a man too far, and then he might come lashing back at you, even if his effort was futile.That was where the Galaxy stood now, with its back against the wall, and nothing left to do but come right back at its Imperial rulers. The Rebellion was only the natural response to the oppression of Palpatine's New Order. He had seen it coming, not in a farseeing way, but in a common sense way, tried to warn Palpatine of it long ago, but the Emperor had dismissed him with that all-knowing expression that came so easily to him.

Even now, as the Rebellion gained strength and momentum, Palpatine hardly seemed concerned. Maybe Tarkin had swayed the Emperor's mind, convinced him that the Death Star would solve the Rebel issue, as Tarkin so fervently believed. To that end they had sent him to hurry construction, to finish this thing that its designers had been unable to complete in nearly twenty years. This thing that he did not believe in, that represented the wrong solution to the problem. But he went because he always went,to make Palpatine's wishes into realities.If he had distinguished himself among all the Emperor's seconds, if he had carved out a niche for himself in this Empire, it was that he could be counted on to make things happen. It was comfortable in his niche, a spot where he could hide from Palpatine, be left alone to accomplish things as he saw fit. And in the comfort of the niche, he could forget that he himself was ruled by Palpatine's version of the Tarkin Doctrine , by his own fear of the Emperor's power.

------

The planet was called Despayre, and even the fanciful spelling of its name could not disguise what its inhabitants felt.On first arrival at the Imperial prison world, convicts might have felt elation when they discovered how loose security was in the penitentiary, and how easily they could escape into the wild jungles of the planet. Soon they were back, though, the numerous predators native to the planet forcing them to return to the relative safety of the prison compound. That's when it set in, the despair, when they realized that their fondest wish was no longer to escape, but to be let back in to their own cell.

While the prisoners saw the situation as a nightmare, Wilhuff Tarkin saw paradise. An isolated Outer Rim world, populated by a captive group unable to communicate with the rest of the Galaxy, a group to whom hard labor in space would seem a welcome relief to their current situation; to Tarkin, it had seemed almost too good to be true. Stealthily he had moved the final stages of construction of his beloved Death Star from the safety of the secret Maw Installation to the planet Despayre.

The convicts had not proved quite as desireable a work force as Tarkin had hoped, however. While they had fought over the opportunity to come off planet to work on the gigantic space station, their eagerness did not translate into productivity.Prison disputes carried from the surface spilled out in orbit, while other convicts worked slowly to delay their return to the prison below.Some prisoners carried out acts of sabotage, not to prolong their work, but for the joy of chaos. Too far into the process to move the Death Star to another labor source, a way had to be found to push the prisoners harder, to exact more effort from them, to get the station finished.

They had brought Vader in as the solution, expected him to wring his own standards of performance from the miserable group of prisoners, and get the Death Star completed. He had about turned around and left when he first assessed the situation. He knew from his own experiences, and from his time at Palpatine's side, that first you had to know what was important to a man to know how to motivate him, to drive him on. These men had precious little to live for; he didn't see much he could use as motivation.

By working on the Death Star they had already left the squalor of the prison behind ; he could not offer them any more reward than that. That left only the fear of punishment, the threat of being sent back to the prison, or worse, death. An endless exchange of workers constantly needing training was not productive either, so the Imperial foremen had taken to tolerating a certain amount of misbehavior just to keep the work flow going.

To start, he simply established standards. He outlined expectations for the workers and stopped the Imperial foremen from taunting the prisoners. He made the chief engineer of the Death Star, Bevil Lemelisk, come out of his remote office and down to the actual construction site. A structured workplace, and his overseeing presence, were enough to make immediate improvements.

The calm was short-lived, however. On board Devastator, stationed safely away from the debris field surrounding Despayre, he received reports that the work crews were in revolt. By the time he arrived in the shuttle from Devastator, the stormtroopers stationed on the Death Star had restored order, but the prisoner work crews were still hurling insults at their foremen. Determined to get to the root of the problem, he interviewed the prisoners, only to find the uproar had started when an Imperial lieutenant had casually mentioned that Despayre would be the first test site when the Death Star became functional. He had been unaware of this detail, and silently cursed Tarkin for omitting this information.

With no hope left for themselves, the prisoners were refusing to work, despite the presence of the stormtroopers. Needing to keep the project on track, he reluctantly turned to an ancient technique, one probably used in every corporation in the Galaxy, although perhaps not at the same level. He assembled the prisoners, felt of their minds, and determined who among them were the leaders. Those men, as well as the loud mouthed Imperial officer, were executed on his order.

Disoriented without their leaders, the remaining prisoners had returned to work, offering no resistance to their Imperial supervisors.Their lassitude was transitory, however, and within a week, they had put down their tools, and refused to do anything more.Once again, he found himself with little choice but to use the threat of death to push them forward.

It was not so effective this time. A new leader had emerged among the convicts, and with stormtrooper blasters pointed at his chest,he had shouted,"We may be prisoners, but we are not slaves ! We will not build the weapon that will kill our brothers down below."

He had stared with admiration at the defiant prisoners. From where did these men who had nothing pull such inner strength ? How did they decide that they would be pushed no further, even if the consequence was death ? He found he could not punish them for their rebellion. He ordered the stormtroopers to lock them in their cells, while he returned to Devastator to analyze the situation.

He was still on board Devastator when the call came in from Tarkin. Bevil Lemelisk, unhappy that he had not taken more drastic action, had complained to Tarkin that the prisoners had ceased working on the Death Star, that it would never be completed at this rate. Tarkin's solution had been to order the execution of every prison laborer, and to start over with new workers. Slaves, Wookiee slaves were the answer to the construction problem, Tarkin now believed, and he wanted Vader to stay on to supervise their adjustment.

Slaves. The prisoners had refused to become slaves. They had volunteered to work on the Death Star, so even though their options had been death in the prison below, or death for refusing to work, technically, they had chosen their own path. He had used that reasoning to comfort himself, to avoid the ugliness of which he had become part. With the Wookiees, there would be no such shield from the truth.

As a small boy, he had dreamt of freeing the slaves of Tatooine. He had never forgotten the feeling of being a thing, of being someone else's property, of not being in control of his own life. Instead of freeing the slaves, he was now to become the enforcer of slavery. Of all the things he had done for the Empire, for Palpatine, this one would require him to turn himself inside out, to become the very thing he had sworn to destroy, more than any other, save for one.

He remembered this feeling. He had felt exactly like this the night before Mustafar, on the steps of the Jedi Temple.He had known that what he was about to do was wrong, but he had valued her life above all others.He had silenced the small voice in his head, ignored the warning in his gut. In the weeks after, he went over and over the arguments, solidifying his defense of his own actions.The Jedi were a threat to the Senate, to the Republic, to Palpatine.It became second nature to repeat the reasons why his choice had been right.

But time, like water through a canyon, had worn away defenses that had once been as solid as rock. Now, sometimes, in the dark, in the silence of the hyperbaric chamber, without his armor and his mask, sometimes he heard the small voice. They had been his comrades,his teachers, his brothers and sisters. And the younglings, the younglings... who so desperately had wanted his protection.

He could not change what he had done; he could not bring them back.

The Jedi had spent so much time teaching him to listen to the Force, but they never taught him to listen to himself. Follow the Force, follow the Code, they said,but never follow your heart.Or your gut. Or that almost silent voice inside that is not the will of the Force, but the will of your own conscience. To look inward is the way of the Sith. Without knowing how to listen to himself, it had been too easy to follow the voice of others, of the Council, of Palpatine.

Those prisoners knew. They had no Force to guide them, no Code to follow, no Council directing them, and still they knew the point past which they would not let themselves be pushed any further. How was it that a man learned to do this ? Maybe, not by quieting the mind, which let in the Force, but by listening with the heart to the soft whisper of the conscience.

Tarkin and the Wookiees would be arriving soon.He already knew that he would do what needed to be done. He would take these beings that had been stolen from their home world, ripped from their families, and feed them to the monster that was Tarkin's dream. The former slave would indeed become the slavemaster.

------

Never in a million years would he have guessed Motti's newest message. The first call from Motti had been surprising enough. Governor Tarkin and Bevil Lemelisk, enroute from Eriadu to Despayre to perform the first tests of the Death Star, had been attacked by Rebels, and forced to abandon their ship in an escape pod. Only Admiral Motti's tendency to keep his nose close to Tarkin's backside had saved the Governor and the Death Star engineer from a long, uncomfortable ride in the claustrophobia inducing escape pod. Motti's Star Destroyer had intervened to rescue the pair, and delivered them safely to the Death Star.

The second call was not unexpected; it was not even necessary. Even though Tarkin and Lemelisk had been injured in the Rebel attack, they could not wait until they were recovered to test the space station. They had stood in the control room of the Death Star, bandaged and bacta'd, to watch the maiden test of the ferocious superlaser. The planet Despayre, and all its inhabitants, were obliterated in an enormous explosion. They had to move the Death Star back from the shock wave of debris, but that had not dimmed the glow in Tarkin's heart. On board Devastator, he had fought back nausea and headache as the Force delivered the news of the planet's destruction well in advance of Motti's signal.

When Motti delivered the third message,however, he made him repeat it. He sat in utter disbelief, trying to make sense of it all. Not only had the Rebels attacked Tarkin's shuttle, but in two separate occurances they had stolen sets of plans to the Death Star. Complete plans. Complete technical readouts on this thing that had been secret for 20 years. How could information this important be lost at precisely the most crucial moment ?

A breach of this magnitude reeked of Palpatine's influence. The pattern was all too familiar. By allowing the plans to fall into Rebel hands, the balance of power was tipped, fueling the flames of the Galactic Civil War. Palpatine would once again be in his favorite seat, presiding over the conflict, seeing how far he could push the thin edge of control, ever confident in his ability to swing events in whichever direction he desired.

All his efforts, all his actions in which he had yet again ignored his conscience so that the Death Star could be completed, had only been to aid Palpatine's amusement. When would he learn? When would he stand in defiance, and refuse to be pushed any further?

There was no time to think about that now, though. Now he had to get Devastator to the Toprawa system, where according to Motti's report, Rebels had taken over the relay station, from which they could transmit the Death Star plans. He would pursue the Rebels across the Galaxy, if necessary, and retrieve the stolen plans. Then, maybe then, he could finally be done with the Death Star.


Chapter 13 : The Awakening

How could all hyperlanes lead to Tatooine? For a wasteland of a planet at the far edge of the Outer Rim, it sometimes seemed to Darth Vader that it was the focal point of the Galaxy.

After finding the Rebels barricaded inside the relay station on Toprawa he had configured a blockade of that planet to prevent the stolen Death Star plans from going any further. Unfortunately the lightning swift Corellian corvette Tantive IV had managed to come out of hyperspace inside the blockade ring, then re-enter hyperspace as quickly as it exited. It would have seemed a pointless manuever, except that the technicians on Devastator had detected the transmission of the Death Star plans from the Toprawa relay station to the Tantive IV. It was not supposed to be possible to follow a ship through hyperspace, but he had used the Force to keep the Devastator hard on the tail of the Tantive IV.

When both ships dropped out of hyperspace again they were outside Tatooine. He would have given anything to have seen the faces of the Tantive's crew when they realized they had not evaded the Star Destroyer. They definitely wouldn't have wanted to have seen his face,were that possible, when he discovered the plans were not aboard the corvette. An escape pod, devoid of life forms, had been launched from the Tantive IV, suggesting that the stolen plans had been hidden inside. It would be necessary to send a detachment of stormtroopers to the surface to investigate.

He would have gone himself, but Tarkin was waiting at the Death Star, both for himself, and their captured spy, the Alderaanian Senator Princess Leia Organa. Beyond the reclamation of the Death Star plans, Tarkin was certain the location of the main Rebel base could be wrung from her. Because of Tarkin's impatience, Vader placed an Imperial commander in charge of the detachment on Tatooine, while he took Devastator forward to the Death Star. Before he began his interrogation of the Rebel Princess, he checked on the progress of the search for the stolen plans.

He switched on the holotransmitter. "Have you found anything,Commander ?"

"Yes, m'lord. The escape pod appears to have contained droids. Tracks were found moving away from the pod."

"It would be possible to store the plans in the memory banks of a droid. I take it you followed them?" he said.

"Of course, m'lord. The droids were picked up by a transport crewed by small, hooded creatures."

"Jawas," he said absently. "They buy and sell droids on Tatooine."

"Yes, sir, exactly," the commander said, thrown off by Vader's familiarity with the situation."We were able to extract information from these...jawas regarding recent transactions. We convinced them to reveal the location of the purchasers of the droids."

"You have not said you found the droids, Commander."

"Well sir, we haven't exactly. We went to the location the jawas mentioned, a moisture farm outside of Anchorhead, but the droids were not there. We searched the entire homestead, interrogated the occupants."

A feeling of dread was creeping in his mind."What did you do with the prisoners?"

The commander's confusion was evident even in the small projection of the holotransmitter. "Prisoners, m'lord?"

"You let them go?"

The commander brightened considerably."Oh no, sir. We burned the place, and the occupants, too."

Dread was giving way to panic. "A boy, was there a boy?"

"No sir, no children. They.."

"NO, not a child." He found he was almost shouting into the holotransmitter. "A youth, a young man."

Confusion had returned to the commander's voice. "I'm sorry m'lord.I didn't know we were looking for a particular person. The occupants were a man and a woman, middle aged, identification papers read Owen and Beru Lars. Should I be looking for a young man?"

"No.You are looking for droids. Move the stormtroopers on to Mos Eisley. If the Rebels are going to get the droids off of Tatooine, it will most likely be through the space port there. Secure the town."

"Yes, m'lord. It will be done."

He flicked the holotransmitter off. He should have gone himself. He would have made sure that Owen and Beru's faithful raising of his son was not repaid in pain and death. He would have made sure Luke was safe. Instead he was light years away, on board the accursed Death Star, unable to protect Luke.

Why had the Rebel ship come out of hyperspace over Tatooine? Why did the Rebel owned droids come to be bought by Owen? Following the will of the Force had taught him to dismiss nothing as mere coincidence. At the edge of his perception he could feel the breeze of destiny starting to flicker through his cloak, an unreadable future starting to swirl around him.

Answers, he wanted answers. It was time to move on to the interrogation of the Rebel Senator. Perhaps the information she would undoubtedly reveal to him would give him insight not only to the plans of the Rebels, but to this stirring in the Force.

------

He couldn't help but admire her.Her emotional strength and mental resolve were quite impressive, especially when considering the percentage of prisoners who usually succumbed to the invasion of the mind probe. To find such strength in one so young was even more remarkable. He was sure her father must be quite proud of her. Tarkin had no such appreciation, though. He was focused only on the failure to obtain the location of the principal Rebel stronghold.

Tarkin had his own plan to convince her to give up her secrets, and to that end Darth Vader escorted the Princess Leia Organa through the hallways of the Death Star, her slight form flanked by two black helmeted soldiers. The group entered the control room, where Grand Moff Tarkin and Admiral Motti were already waiting. Senator Organa leapt to the offensive as soon as she was within conversational range of Tarkin.

"Governor Tarkin. I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board," she said fearlessly.

Tarkin, for all the barbaric acts in his head, firmly believed in civility. Her demeanor disgusted him as much as her words. "Charming to the last. You don't know how hard I found it signing the order to terminate your life."

Leia was undaunted. "I'm surprised you had the courage to take the responsibility yourself."

As the two continued their verbal battle, Vader stood silently in the background. He had noted how strongly the Force was with her during his interrogation sessions, though she seemed to have no awareness, let alone usage, of the Force. That in itself was not an unusual finding, since younglings were no longer screened for Force abilities, but he couldn't remember Bail having any Force sensitivity.

Leia was just comprehending Tarkin's words that Alderaan would be destroyed by the Death Star, even though she had disclosed the name of the Rebel base. She tried to push past Tarkin, but Vader put a hand on her shoulder, and pulled her back, almost holding her against him.

Finally her mental resolve broke down, and he felt her desperation and fear. They watched as the Death Star's superlaser focused on Alderaan, blasting the planet into rubble.

The screaming in his ears was so loud that he didn't think it was possible for one small human to make that much noise, and then he recognized it was not coming from Leia. The agonizing noise continued, making him close his eyes, while waves of nausea swept over him. He realized he was grasping Leia Organa's shoulder rather tightly. Fortunately, in her grief, she did not notice. He struggled a moment to regain his composure.

The Force had not spoken to him like that in a long time. In the last decade, since his assassination attempt on Palpatine, his Force visions had dwindled into nonexistance. Even the destruction of Despayre had hit him with only moderate discomfort. With the destruction of Alderaan, however, the Force had unleashed the full power of its sorrow, as if his inaction after Despayre had been a disappointment. If the Force wanted his full attention, it certainly had it now.

He still felt unsettled as he escorted Leia Organa to her cell on the detention block, where he transferred her custody to the detention officer. She accepted her fate with great dignity. He could sense she had buried her grief so that she could once again assume her Senatorial face. Having been held prisoner while Tarkin made the great pronouncement, she was unaware that the Imperial Senate had been dissolved. She had no formal standing now; she was a mere Rebel, a spy, a traitor to the Empire.

She had given up the name of the Rebel base: Dantooine. He remained unconvinced that revelation would prove to be of any use. Her mind had been too calm, too focused, as she spoke what should have been her dearest secret. He wondered what other secrets her mind held, especially the reason why she had brought the Tantive IV to Tatooine.

The detention officer relayed a message. "Lord Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin requests your presence in the conference room."

------

He had been standing in the conference room with Tarkin when the call first came in regarding the ship that had been captured in the Death Star's tractor beam. His hope then was that the ship, which matched the description of a ship that had evaded Imperial troops in Mos Eisley, would contain the stolen Death Star plans. Strangely, the ship had been empty, the crew apparently having abandoned ship in escape pods.

As he walked around the perimeter of the Corellian freighter he was disappointed to find that the ship supplied more questions than answers. Disappointment was replaced by astonishment as he sensed a presence he had not felt in a long time. A very long time. He had no doubt it was Obi-Wan. Fifteen years of continual contact in the Master-Padawan relationship had left Obi-Wan's mental signature indelibly imprinted in his memory. The recognition had been so quick, it wasn't even conscious; he didn't even have time to think how illogical it would be for Obi-Wan to appear on the Death Star after a twenty year absence.

In fact, the identification was so certain, he found he was not asking himself if Obi-Wan was here, but why ?

------

Obi-Wan Kenobi had never been very prescient. As hard as he had worked, that particular Force ability had never been his.He trusted in his fellow Jedi to provide that information, and if there had one salvation after Order 66, it was that Master Yoda had survived and could continue to farsee for the both of them. He drew on that knowledge now, for his own comfort, to give him courage, as he walked on to a future he could not see. He trusted in Yoda's vision, trusted in the Force, that what he was about to do was the right thing.

It seemed so risky to leave Luke now, his training barely begun, his association with the remnants of the Jedi Order really nothing more than a piqued interest. To leave him in the vicinity of his father, after spending the boy's entire lifetime trying to keep that very person from him, seemed even more dangerous. He had to remember that he was not truly leaving Luke, that he would still be able to speak with him, as Qui-Gon had done with himself during those long years on Tatooine. At least, that was the theory. Qui-Gon was so much more gifted in the Force than himself; he truly hoped he would have the ability to transform himself, to have his consciousness persist beyond the death of his body.

It must be done. The absent father was such a powerful figure in Luke's mind; the influence Vader would wield with the boy would be immense, the attraction irresistable, if Luke learned the truth. A wedge must be driven between them to eliminate the possibility of that bond, a wedge stronger than a simple story about Vader killing Luke's father. A direct experience that would burn itself into Luke's memory, and make Vader forever into an unforgiveable enemy.

This intentional manipulation of Luke's experience felt wrong, but Obi-Wan reminded himself that it was for Luke's safety. This was war, a war between the Jedi and the Sith, as in millennia gone by, except that now the Jedi were on the verge of extinction. The survival of the Jedi Order rested in this boy, and in war, sometimes things had to done by whatever means were necessary. He could not allow uncontrolled emotion to interfere with the will of the Force.

He heard the sound of the ventilator first, though he did not recognize it for what it was. The Force told him to look down the corridor, and he paused for a moment, analyzing what he saw. There was no doubt this was Darth Vader, though he only knew the image from news reports and Senator Organa's description. This monstrous being was in a way his creation; what atrocities would the Galaxy been spared if he had only had the courage to kill Anakin at Mustafar?

He could see no trace of his former Padawan in the black armor before him. Vader was much taller than Anakin had been, certainly a result of the limb prostheses. Vader's presence was blank and unreadable to Obi-Wan. Anakin had never been able to contain his feelings that well, and Anakin could have never stood as quietly and patiently as Vader was doing now. An impenetrable shield seemed to cover Vader's mind; it was almost as if the mind inside was no longer human, but a machine.

The black form moved towards him, confident and controlled. "I've been waiting for you Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the Master."

Not Anakin's voice, but it sounded like him, nonetheless.

The clash of lightsabers brought Obi-Wan instantly back to Mustafar. This fight was pale in comparison, his own speed and agility diminished by age and lack of use. The absence of youthful strength would be of no consequence. He wasn't trying to destroy Anakin this time; he only needed to hold him off until the time was right, until Luke was present.

He kept his saber in a defensive posture, not allowing Vader close enough to be a real threat. He was close enough, though, for Obi-Wan to see the armor, the electronic controls of the life support suit. A fearsome visage Vader presented, but Obi-Wan saw mostly how much machinery had been necessary to sustain the wreck of a body that he had left smoldering among the rocks of Mustafar. It would have been a kindness to finish him then.

The slowness of the duel was apparently frustrating Vader.

"Your powers are weak, old man," he taunted.

Inside, Obi-Wan sighed. Still the same old Anakin. Still doesn't get it. He thinks this fight is about us, about determining a winner. This battle is not about that at all. He was reminding himself as well, reviewing the instructions Qui-Gon had given him.

He sensed Luke's presence, and turned his head slightly to see the boy staring, mesmerized by the battle. Now was the time. It went against every reflex he had to let the crimson lightsaber come toward him undefended. As Vader's blade swept towards him, he had to close his eyes to prevent himself from automatically countering the blow.

It was an eerie sensation, but at the same time comforting, to be enveloped in the Force in a way that he had never felt when his body had been alive. His relief at being able to accomplish the feat helped him throw off the disorientation, to come back to the present.

Run, Luke, run.

------

It hadn't felt as good as he thought it would. He'd imagined it numerous times over the last twenty years, and each time then it had brought enormous satisfaction as he watched Obi-Wan's head roll away from his body, or his face contort in agony as he sliced limb after limb from his former Master's body. Sometimes he just saw the dull look of surprise as he shoved his lightsaber through Obi-Wan's chest.

Seeing Obi-Wan had answered one question, but presented more. Yes, he'd been right about sensing the presence of his old Master, however improbable that had seemed, but now it was important to know why, why here and why now? Obi-Wan hadn't sensed him at first, and he'd stood quietly, waiting for Obi-Wan to finally notice him. His stomach tightened when Obi-Wan's eyes lit with recognition, but he let his hatred calm him.

The moment he had dreamed of so often was upon him, and he walked forward confidently to set events in motion."Now I am the Master," he had told Obi-Wan, so that there would be no misunderstanding.

"Only a master of evil, Darth," Obi-Wan had replied.

He shook his head within the helmet. Same old Obi-Wan. Sees everything in black and white, and judgemental to the bitter end.

Obi-Wan struck the first blow, but it soon became clear that this was to be no replay of Mustafar. It was hard to believe that this was the same Obi-Wan who had taken on the four sabers of General Grievous. He could feel the warmth of victory's breath, and his heart pounded with the knowledge that revenge would soon be his. When Obi-Wan conceded the battle and withdrew his weapon, he took the opening, let loose the mighty arc of his lightsaber to complete the dream. Only once it was done, the satisfaction he sought did not come to him.

It wasn't just that Obi-Wan had for some reason purposefully sacrificed himself, that he'd offered no resistance to the full length swing of the lightsaber. It wasn't just because in the end Obi-Wan hadn't lay crumpled in a heap, but had somehow vanished in the Force to leave only his ragged brown robe behind. It was that after it was done, after Obi-Wan was no longer among the living, nothing had changed.

His limbs had not regrown, his lungs had not been miraculously healed, and Padme had not reappeared at his side. Obi-Wan had been responsible for the loss of all of those things, but his death had not brought any of them back. It was wrong that Obi-Wan had robbed him, that he had wandered whole and unpunished after leaving him for dead, and preventing him from being with Padme when Luke was born. Without a doubt Obi-Wan deserved to die for those crimes, but nevertheless, vengeance left him hollow.

A commotion in the hangar bay drew his attention; it was a firefight between the stormtroopers and the crew of the Corellian freighter. The blast doors closed in front of him, preventing his entry into the hangar. No matter. The tracking device was securely in place aboard the ship; though its crew might think they were escaping, in truth, the Death Star would be right behind them.

As he walked down the corridor with Obi-Wan's lightsaber in his hand, his mind turned to Luke. To his knowledge, three people had been involved in raising Luke: Owen, Beru, and Obi-Wan. Now all three were dead. Luke was alone in the Galaxy.

He remembered when he was 19. He had been overconfident and insecure at the same time. Wanting to prove himself, but also needing the support of his mentors. Not a good age to be alone. If ever there was a time that Luke needed his father, it would be now. He would have to put aside his fears and step up to the responsibility, be the father that Luke needed.

As soon as the Rebel base had been dealt with, and he could leave the Death Star, he would take one of Devastator's shuttles, fly it alone, and find Luke.Though he might not have found a way to raise Luke before, he would not fail him now.

------

Luke Skywalker had never felt air like this before. On Tatooine, it could get hot enough to roast a sandrat, but you weren't really aware of the air. You felt the heat, the wind, the sand, but not the air. Here, on the fourth moon of the planet Yavin, the air was a palpable thing, heavy and full of moisture. It hit you like a rampaging bantha, made every exertion feel like you were fighting a tractor beam. All that moisture made the jungles on Yavin 4 thick and green and lush, the exact opposite of Tatooine.

But then everything was different now. His Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, killed by Imperials. Ben, killed by Darth Vader before his eyes. Anything familiar to him was now gone, save for the friends he'd made in just these past two days: Leia, Han, and Chewie. Besides his father's lightsaber, which rested comfortingly on his hip, they were all he had in the Galaxy.

It was all a bit overwhelming, and he hiked alongside a wall of the enormous Massassi temple, away from the hub of activity, to sit by himself for awhile. His back was up against the ancient building, the stone cool and soothing through his tunic. He heard footsteps coming up the path, fronds of plants rustling out of the way as someone passed through.

Leia Organa came into view, and seated herself next to him. "I thought I saw you come this way. Are you feeling any better ?" she asked.

Luke was pleased she had paid attention to his whereabouts, but at the same time he felt like a cad. Here he'd been so caught up in his own grief over Ben, he hadn't even asked her about her own family on Alderaan."Yeah, a little. How about you? Your family was probably on Alderaan."

Her head sagged downward, and her voice was so soft he could hardly hear her. "Yes. My father, my friends, everyone is gone."

"I'm so sorry, Leia. If it's any consolation, I understand. I'm an orphan, too," Luke said. He thought about putting his arm around her, but decided against it.

"I miss my father already. He was such a great man. He taught me so much about being strong, about fighting for what you believe in," Leia said. "You must miss your parents."

Maybe it was the similarity of their losses, but there was something about Leia that made him feel he could tell her anything. "They died when I was very young. I never knew them. Ben told me my father was a Jedi Knight, that they fought together in the Clone Wars. That was more than my uncle ever told me."

"Your father was a Jedi?" Leia found herself viewing Luke with new respect, noticing a depth in his eyes that she hadn't seen before. "Then my father probably knew your father. He always spoke very highly of the Jedi, told me many stories of the Old Republic, when he worked closely with the Jedi Council."

"Ben also told me that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered my father," Luke said.

"He is a very evil man. They say he is closest to the Emperor. My father always told me to keep far away from him. Unfortunately that wasn't possible on the Death Star," she said.

Luke suddenly felt protective. "He didn't hurt you did he?"

Leia shook her head. "No. Nothing permanent. But now you understand why it's so important for the Alliance to succeed here. We've got to find a way to destroy the Death Star."

"Well, count me in. I'll do whatever the Alliance needs.Back on Tatooine I used to say I hated the Empire, but now I mean it. Now it's personal."


Chapter 14 : The Hero

There was no better feeling in all the Galaxy. Power at his fingertips, the eternity of space in his viewscreen, speed so exhilarating it pasted a grin on his face. He pushed his TIE Advanced x1 even harder, the two pilots in their standard TIE fighters straining to keep up with him. They were skimming the surface of the Death Star, the threat of impacting any number of protruding structures ever present. He would do this any day of the week, even if the future of the Galactic Empire wasn't hanging in the balance.

But it was. With this direct attack on the Death Star, the Rebellion was launching its strongest offensive yet, choosing to take the Empire head-on, rather than escaping into hyperspace.He might not agree with the Galactic Civil War, but he felt at home in it. All of Palpatine's political manueverings, all the propaganda that was thrown at the citizens of the Empire, none of it made sense to him, but this, the straightforward pitting of pilot vs pilot in open combat, this was his arena.

He had grown up, really, in the Clone Wars, made the transition then from boy to man. It was in combat that he first discovered how different, how much stronger his own Force abilities were than his fellow Jedi. Away from the structure of the Jedi Temple, acting in the chaos of war, he had explored the limits of his capabilities, and been rewarded for that. "The Hero with No Fear", they called him, and he still liked the sound of it, even if it were not true. It was the most recognition for his efforts that he had ever received, one of the most satisfying times in his life.Now, even twenty years later, the opportunity to fly in combat again, to be the hero, was irresistable to him.

The Death Star was Tarkin's realm, though; onboard he submitted to Tarkin's command. As the Rebel fleet began their attack on the Death Star, however, the Grand Moff locked himself away in the isolation of its control room, distant from the frenzied actions of his men. It was Vader who was accessible to the line officers, who understood what to do in combat, and they came to him in the hallways, seeking his leadership.To him the strategy was obvious. If the small Rebel fighters were evading the large scale weapons of the Death Star, then send the TIEs after them and beat them at their own game.

He would have been content to let the TIE squadron battle the Rebels, but soon after the encounter began, General Bast reported to him that the Rebels' attack strategy was aimed at a particular design flaw in the Death Star. With that knowledge, he decided to go after them himself, and took two of the best TIE pilots with him.

They were flanking his x1 now, in tight formation as they plunged into the equatorial trench of the Death Star. He commed the gunnery crew on board the space station, ordered them to hold their fire as he went in pursuit of the Rebel Y-wings. The three Y-wings were older craft, and the TIEs had no trouble overtaking them. He targeted each one in succession, bringing off a successful hit in each case.

He led the TIEs back out of the trench to seek out the next group of attackers. It seemed ironic that here he was, one of the Death Star's louder critics, single-handedly saving it from destruction. But while he didn't care about the space station, he did care about the more than a million men stationed on it that would doubtless be lost if the Rebels succeeded in destroying the Death Star.

The next set of Rebel craft heading into an attack run were X-wings. Newer and faster, they could give the TIEs a run for the credits. He opened the throttle on his x1, finally coming close enough to pick off the first trailing wingman, and allowing one of the TIE pilots to take the other. The lead X-wing was far enough in front that he couldn't catch it. It got a shot off, aiming at the small thermal exhaust port that General Bast had identified as a weak spot. If it went in, it was over for all of them. There'd be no time to escape the blast wave of the explosion.

He pulled up out of the trench and was relieved to see that the proton torpedos had only impacted on the surface. He sighted the X-wing responsible for the attempt, and chased it down, his laser cannons sending the X-wing crashing into the surface of the Death Star.

There was no time to spare; the next trio of X-wings were already setting up in formation, already disappearing into the structural canyon. He whirled his x1 around, making sure the two standard TIEs were still with him, and plunged once again into the trench. To his surprise, the X-wings were too far ahead to be in visual range. He slammed the throttle wide open, wondering how long he could keep the engines in the red zone.

At this speed the walls of the trench were a blur, and he found himself relying on the Force to keep the x1 on course.It didn't seem like he would catch up to the Rebels in time, but in his mind he saw it happening, as the Force revealed the future to him. Gradually he gained ground on the X-wings, and he registered a hit on the trailing ship. It was only lightly damaged, and the pilot raised it out of the trench."Let him go," he advised his wingman.

He pulled up closer to the second X-wing, making sure to actually destroy, rather than merely damage the ship.With that accomplished, only one X-wing remained, the leader, whose pilot was flying like a man possessed. This one appeared to have the determination to get the job done; he had to stop this Rebel quickly, or all would be lost. He struggled to keep the X-wing in his sights, the pilot's evasive manuevers surpassing his ability to follow. He couldn't remember the last time, if there had ever been a time, when he had been out-flown. It gave him some solace, then, when he recognized that the pilot's strong Force sensitivity; at least he wasn't being outdone by an ordinary Rebel.

Not the first good man he'd had to shoot down. Another loss for the Galaxy, he thought with chagrin, another waste of talent consumed by the illogic of the Civil War. He landed one shot, but it went high, only frying the X-wing's astromech droid. He pulled closer to improve his accuracy. It was all but done now. Take out this last pilot, let the Death Star destroy the Rebel base, and he would be free to go in search of Luke.

He fired at the X-wing without making contact, then saw a flash as one of his wingmen disintegrated against the trench wall. His remaining wingman was hit by laser fire as well, that TIE colliding with his x1. The impact spun his x1 out of the trench and away from the Death Star. What had just happened? He was completely dumbfounded as he worked to regain control of the x1.When he finally stabilized the craft, the view was even more unbelievable. They had done it. The Rebels had blown up the Death Star.

Why had he not forseen the Rebel ship hitting his wingman? The Force had never deserted him before; he never got blindsided like that when flying. Was this the start of getting old? One's Force abilities started to become erratic? Obi-Wan's performance had certainly seemed to indicate that could happen.

As he stared at the expanding ring of debris, another possibility came to his mind. Perhaps the Force had intervened to throw him clear of the explosion in order to ensure his survival. Maybe this was turbulence from the storm looming on the horizon of the Force, the future he could feel, but not yet see. Maybe this was the sign from the Force that he had been waiting for, the signal that announced his destiny.

------

The party was over. The noise and celebration had ground to a halt, as the Alliance troops- and everyone in the Alliance was a soldier, really- had finally packed themselves off to bed. Luke couldn't sleep, though, despite being so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. It was just that when his head hit the pillow, his mind kept going, replaying the Death Star battle over and over.

He'd finally given up, and wandered outside the Massassi temple. Even at night the planet Yavin dominated the sky, not as the massive red globe it was in the daytime, but as an enormous span of darkness devoid of starlight. A light breeze stirred through the trees surrounding the temple, and he found at last the temperature could be considered comfortable.

A hero, they'd called him. A hero. He liked all the recognition, the wide smiles and pats on the back from total strangers, but he wasn't sure he was a hero. He was different than he'd been on Tatooine, though. There he'd been a follower, a tagalong among his friends. Maybe a show-off for his daredevil flying of his skyhopper, but not a leader.

In space, it had been different. Wedge had called him "Boss". Biggs flew behind him, covering him, not vice versa, as it would have been on Tatooine. Poor Biggs. Another friend lost to the Empire. Luke hadn't meant to take over, to jump ahead of Biggs when they made their run down the Death Star trench. It was just that they'd already lost too many men, and time was getting dangerously short. He knew he could do it, knew he could fly his X-wing full throttle down the trench, and hit that exhaust port. It had been beyond knowing he could do it; he had felt so certain that he almost saw things happening before they really did.

That's why he didn't think he was a hero. He'd simply done the job he knew he was capable of, not thrown himself into a situation beyond his ability. That would be a hero, someone who accomplished the impossible. He had become a leader among men, that much was true. He could feel himself changing, and he didn't think he'd be falling back into the tagalong role.

Maybe the change had begun when he first felt the Force on board the Millennium Falcon. Sensing the training remote had been a small thing, but because of that he was able to recognize the feeling of the Force when he was in his X-wing, to use the Force to guide the proton torpedos into the exhaust port. Even though destroying the Death Star was a monumental accomplishment, he could tell that he had just barely touched the surface of the Force, had just begun to comprehend its power. When it spoke to him, it was like it was in his blood, like it was a part of him. He could feel his own awakening potential separating him from his friends. It gave him a sense of connection to the universe, and that, more than anything, would stop him from returning to the Luke of old.

A sentry making his rounds of the Alliance complex diverted from his path to approach Luke. He shined his light at Luke, then quickly turned the beam to the ground. A broad grin filled the guard's face."Ah, Skywalker, the hero."

------

If he had accomplished the feat, he would have been a hero to the Empire once again. A hero, for fending off the Rebel attack, saving the Death Star, and thus enabling the destruction of the Rebel base on Yavin 4. If he'd accomplished the feat, he would have killed his own son.

He hadn't found out right away; there'd first been the extended process of returning to Imperial space from the vicinity of Yavin. Although his TIE x1 was equipped with a hyperdrive, the ship had been more damaged than he had first appreciated, and he had crashed on the planet Vaal. The journey back was of little consequence now, although he couldn't remember being more glad to get out of the suit then when he finally landed his comandeered shuttle back on Imperial Center.

Palpatine had shown neither surprise nor enthusiasm when he had reappeared from the dark reaches of space, but then the Emperor always acted as though every twist of fate had already been anticipated by him. Of course, it helped that Palpatine had received news of the disaster shortly after its occurrence. The three senior Imperial Army officers on board the Death Star, Generals Tagge and Bast and Colonel Veers had not shared Tarkin's unshakable faith in its design, and had at the last moment evacuated from the space station, allowing them to return to Imperial City to inform the Emperor.

Vader had resisted the impulse to ask Palpatine if he had forseen the destruction of the Death Star, because the urgency that the Emperor was now injecting into the pursuit of the Rebels told him the pendulum had swung farther in their favor than Palpatine had expected. The Emperor redeployed him immediately on the next Star Destroyer leaving Imperial Center. He'd rather been back aboard his own ship, Devastator, but any ship that took him out of Palpatine's reach was satisfactory.

After the Death Star explosion he had faced the reality of being alone in deep space in a craft less than ten meters long. No Star Destroyer hangar in which to land. No Imperial base nearby. The tiny cockpit had been his home for quite awhile. Plenty of time to think over the events that had just transpired. Luke, absent from the Lars homestead. Obi-Wan showing up after a 20 year absence on a freighter that, after escaping the Death Star, headed straight to the Rebel base. A Force strong pilot leading the charge to destroy the Death Star.

Being sent by the Emperor to find the new location of the Rebel leaders gave excellent cover for his own agenda. While he worked hard on his official assignment, he reserved the best spies for a separate mission, telling them that it was the Emperor who demanded to know the identity of the Rebel pilot who had blown up the Death Star.

That was a lie. Palpatine knew only the details General Bast had given him, that the Rebel fleet had attempted to shoot a proton torpedo down the thermal exhaust port, and had apparently succeeded. Palpatine had not been in the trench of the Death Star flying after the X-wings. Palpatine didn't know that the final pilot, the successful pilot, had glowed white hot with the Force. Only he had been there; only he knew the truth.

The spies had returned today with a name, and he already knew what they were going to say. Still, when the name actually rolled off the spies' tongues, he felt like he'd been kicked in the head. It was the first time he punished those who had performed well for him. He hated to do it, but he couldn't let the name of the pilot leave the room. He killed them where they stood.

He could hear the name now, echoing in his helmet, as he paced the length of what would have been Palpatine's private office, had the Emperor been on board. The sound of it was as clear in his memory as it had been a few hours ago when he first heard it pronounced. Those three syllables that bound them together. The name that had gone unspoken for so long. Luke, he thought of him only as Luke, but of course, this would be his name. Luke Skywalker.

He wanted the air to suck back into their mouths, to rewind time so that the name remained unsaid, but that was not possible. Even after their bodies lay silenced on the floor, he worried who else on board the Star Destroyer might have heard that name. He was proud of the fact that not once in the fifteen years since he first saw Luke on Tatooine had he ever let slip thought or emotion to reveal the boy's existence to Palpatine. Now the boy was drawing attention to himself, putting himself in the Emperor's sights. It was only a matter of time.

He gazed out the expansive window characteristic of all of Palpatine's private rooms. So many stars, so many planets, so many places Luke could be. So much to tell him.

My son, my son, you do not know. You do not know the serpent that awaits you. I will not let him have you.

Why did I think that you would be content to stay in the nothingness that is Tatooine? Of course, you wouldn't. We are alike, you and I.The stars call to us, and we are destined for greatness. Already the Rebels count on you, even though you are just a boy. Did you feel like I did when we were flying down the canyon of the Death Star? Did you feel your ship moving as one with you? You fly as though you do. Can you feel the Force flowing through you, answering your call? We are special, you and I,because the Force speaks to us more than it does the others.

Do you know this yet? Do you know that you can move things with your mind? Does the future come to you in dreams? What do you know, my son? What have they taught you? Have they told you of me? Did Obi-Wan try to poison your mind against me? Do not believe him, my son.

I should have come for you earlier, I should have taught you myself.I know what it is like to grow up without a father, and I did not mean for you to endure the same pain. I only wanted to protect you, to keep you safe from the monster who is my Master. I am sorry I was not strong enough to kill him, but I tried, believe me, I tried. Together, though, we can accomplish the act, set the Galaxy free. It does not matter that you are a Rebel and I am of the Empire. These are the constructs of men, not of the Force, and we are one in the eyes of the Force.

When I was young they said I was the Chosen One, the one of prophecy. But maybe it is you instead. You are young and strong and whole, and I am none of those things anymore. At least, not strong enough. But for you, all of the ways of the Force,and all of its power is still available to you. With your strength and my knowledge we will kill the serpent.

I will teach you everything I know. How to build a lightsaber, and how to fight with it so that you are invincible. How to use the Force within your body so that you can move farther and faster than you ever thought possible. How to sense the thoughts and feelings of those around you. How to use your mind to move things you thought were immovable. The power of the Force is your birthright, my son.You can become everything that I could not.

But you must let me find you. Before I can teach you, I must find you. Do not fear me, Luke. I am your father. Come with me, and together we will free the Galaxy.

The insistant beeping of the room com interrupted his thoughts.

"I told you I was not to be disturbed," he growled into the com.

The voice on the other end wavered with the tension that came of being in a no-win situation. "I'm sorry, Lord Vader, but the Emperor demands to speak with you."

Ah, the serpent himself. He thought about moving to another room, as the higher resolution of this holotransmitter would instantly give away the fact that he was using Palpatine's office. Then he decided he didn't care, and flicked it on anyways.

"Yes, Master," he said, remembering to kneel down.

"Have our spies returned with more information on the Rebels' location ?"

"I gave you an update less than two standard days ago, Master. I have nothing new to report," he said.

"Things change quickly sometimes, Lord Vader. Wouldn't you agree?" Palpatine said, ignoring both his insolence and the source of his holotransmission.

Something was fueling Palpatine's inquiry. Had Luke already become visible to him? "Yes, Master, sometimes they do."

"I expect you to apprise me immediately of any new information in your search."

No, not yet. If Palpatine knew anything for certain, his questions would be more pointed. "Of course, Master. Our hunt for the Rebels is my highest priority."

So much to tell Luke. So little time.


Chapter 15 : Secrets

Strapped into the pilot's seat, Darth Vader launched his lambda class shuttle from the main hangar of Kuat DriveYards, Fondor Division. He headed towards the space docks of the shipyards to make a slow pass around the Super Star Destroyer that would soon be his. Eleven times longer than a standard Star Destroyer, its size was ridiculous, really. It took the concept of lack of maneuverability to a whole new level, its mass surpassing that of a space ship and entering the realm of a space station. With the Death Star gone, this Super Star Destroyer would now be the most powerful weapon in the Galaxy.

But as he looked upon its seventeen kilometer length, he saw not power, but freedom. For the first time since the reassignment of Devastator following the Death Star disaster, he would again have his own ship. A ship wherein the crew would follow his standards, not the Imperial Navy's. A ship wherein the Imperial officers would be held accountable for their actions, and their performance would be strictly measured.

He could have no tolerance for errors. He never thought that the search for Luke would take this long. Almost three years he'd been chasing the Rebels, and he felt no closer to success. Every day that went by weighed heavily in his mind as he dreaded the fateful call that would someday come from Palpatine. The call in which Palpatine would say, "Tell me about your son, Lord Vader."

The very thought of it made him want to wring the Emperor's wrinkled neck, and this time with his bare hands, and not the Force. Never, he would never let Palpatine touch Luke. Not his mind, not his body, not his soul. He would never allow Palpatine to do to Luke like he had done to him.

The Force was crackling in him now, so great was his anger. Only the bitter knowledge that even now, even with the darkness of his thoughts infusing the Force into every muscle fiber, he was still not powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, only that tempered his rage. He could not do it alone. He needed Luke, just as Luke needed him. They would work together, watch each other's backs, be family.

------

Sometimes Luke was amazed that she didn't just slap him. Or shout, "Enough !" But she didn't. Instead, Leia seemed to take his continual questioning in stride, actually tried to dig into her memory to give him the answers he was seeking.

It was not like he had a different question each time. It was always the same one. "What else do you remember your father telling you about the Jedi ?" he would say.

When she did remember something new, it was often a gem, a bit of information he couldn't find anywhere else. And it was not like he hadn't tried to research everything he could about the Jedi. The Alliance members who had lived through the Clone Wars recalled the Jedi as an important part of the Old Republic, but when he searched the data libraries, it was like they had hardly existed, like they had been erased from the history discs. If he did find something, usually it related to them being traitors to the Empire, which didn't fit with what little the older Alliance members had told him.

It made Leia's tidbits of information all the more precious to him. It had become an obsession with him, to know who the Jedi had been, to know what defined a Jedi Knight. It was the only link he had to his long dead father, and he wanted to understand who his father had been, even if it was only in this one way. Maybe, if he knew who his father had been, he could understand who he was.

He knew he wasn't a farmer. Owen and Beru had been very open from his earliest memories that they were not his parents, but rather his uncle and aunt. Why? No one would have ever known the difference, least of all himself. So why had it been important to make that distinction? After Ben told him that his father had really been a Jedi Knight, and not a navigator as Owen had told him, he began to think it was because his father had been someone important, that there had been a reason his name had stayed Skywalker, and not become Lars.

Once General Rieekan had overheard one of his conversations with Leia, and joined in with an especially dear piece of information that confirmed that belief.

"I never knew that he had any children, but there was a Jedi named Anakin Skywalker," he said.

"You knew him?" Luke said with excitement.

"Everybody knew him. Or of him, anyways. He was a hero of the Clone Wars. He was on the Holonet at least once a week."

His search didn't mean he wasn't grateful to Owen for all that he had done for him, all that he had taught him. The survival skills he had learned from his uncle while living in the desert had proved surprisingly useful now that he was moving with the Alliance from planet to planet. While he might have chafed under Owen's strict discipline at home, he now found those lessons were serving him well as a soldier in the Alliance. The military had nothing on Owen.

The Alliance had fled Yavin 4 to new headquarters in the mountains of the planet Thila. The stop here was only temporary, though, just until the new base was completed on Hoth. Hoth would be another new environment for him; the planet was completely covered in ice and snow, and only marginally habitable.

He was ready for the challenge of Hoth. The time here on Thila was dragging, with the fleet grounded in order to ensure that the Empire didn't accidentally stumble across them. He still had his assigned shifts to pull, but they were hardly any more interesting than his time off. He was in between shifts now, sitting in his bunk with his back against the wall, the coarseness of the blanket faintly itchy against his bare feet.

Except for this period of enforced nonaction on Thila, he loved being a pilot in the Alliance. It was everything he ever dreamed of doing when he had been stuck back on Tatooine: flying spacecraft, fighting the good fight, being an integral member of the team. The Alliance had become like his family, really, and sometime he felt ungrateful for wanting still more. Maybe he should just be content to look forward to the future, and stop dwelling in the past. It was hard though, when understanding the past seemed so important to knowing what he should do now.

There was no ignoring that the Force spoke to him, and not to anyone else he knew, except for Ben. He had become accustomed to Ben's disembodied voice uttering instructions and encouragement to him from time to time. He had so many questions he wanted to ask Ben, but when he tried to talk to the voice, it never answered directly. The voice had helped him to become more aware of the Force and taught him a few new skills, but the sessions often left him frustrated because the process was so slow. Back on Tatooine he had promised Ben and himself that he would become a Jedi, like his father. But how could he become a Jedi if he didn't really know what it meant to be one?

He was holding his father's lightsaber in his hand now, wishing it could talk. He rolled it from side to side, as if by close examination he could unveil its secrets. He noted how the ridges on the activator switch were worn a bit, how the handle grips were rounded off in a pattern that almost, but not quite, fit where his own hand lay. Wear that could only have been created by usage, by his father's hand. What battles had this lightsaber been in? What enemies had it felled? Was his father holding it when Vader killed him? He didn't like to think about that, and decided it was unlikely, because how then could his father have given it to Obi-Wan to give to him?

But Vader had killed his father, and not just his father. That was one of the first things Leia had told him, about the great Jedi Purge, and how the Emperor had commended Vader in front of the Senate for killing the Jedi. Ben said Vader had been a Jedi once, which meant Vader had betrayed and murdered not strangers, but his own friends. That was evil beyond compare, evil that could not go unpunished.

Leia had also told him some of her father's stories of the Jedi during the Clone Wars. While Ben had called the Jedi guardians of peace and freedom, by the time of the Clone Wars they were on the battlefield, leading the clone troops. Ben himself had called his father a cunning warrior. Whoever the Jedi really were, undeniably they were powerful fighters. A Jedi would avenge the death of another Jedi, wouldn't they? Didn't all warriors do that? Wouldn't his father have done that had he been left alive after the Purge?

He remembered the last thing Ben ever said to him face to face, while they were still trapped on the Death Star. Your destiny lies along a different path from mine. What did that mean? What was his destiny? He was the son of the man who had been the greatest starpilot in all the Galaxy, a fierce warrior, and a hero from the Clone Wars. To follow in his father's footsteps, he would have to be a man of action and courage. As far as he knew no other Jedi existed, so it would fall to him to avenge his father and Ben, to avenge the Jedi. It would be his responsibility to kill Darth Vader.

------

Something changed. At that very moment, with the snow drifting across his boots, something in the Force changed. The trajectory of the future shifted, as the Force pulled irreversibly down a new path. He strained to see more, but details evaded his vision. Luke, was it you that caused this disturbance in the Force?

The now abandoned Rebel hangar on the ice planet Hoth was the closest he'd come to finding his son. He thanked the Force that the recently promoted Admiral Piett had been onboard Executor. Good man, that Piett. Excellent powers of observation, and enough courage to say what he thought. If not for Piett, that idiot Ozzel would have let them pass right on by Hoth, and he'd never be as close to finding Luke as he was now.

Although he had announced to Ozzel, "That is the system, and I'm sure Skywalker is with them," only half of that had been the truth. He had been certain that the power generator located on a desolate planet had been evidence of the Rebel base because despite Ozzel's ridiculous theory, smugglers did not invest large sums of credits in permanent structures. As for Luke being among them, that had been only a guess. Truth was, Luke was a stranger, and he could no more distinguish his presence among the many than he could renounce his life support suit.

He rooted through the debris left behind by the Rebels, passed his hands over the wreckage of their military workstations, tried to find something that would give definitive evidence of Luke's presence here. His search came up empty. Perhaps Luke had been on the Corellian freighter he now knew as the Millennium Falcon, the ship he and the stormtroopers had watched blast off from the hangar, just barely escaping capture. He didn't think so, though, because the change in the Force had come after the Millennium Falcon had left, as if Luke had still been here planetside.

He commed ahead to Captain Needa, instructing him to put the Avenger in full pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. The Millennium Falcon had come to Luke's rescue at the Battle of Yavin, so even if Luke wasn't on board, its crew would certainly know his whereabouts. What was a few more hours, or even days, compared to the years he had already waited to meet Luke?

We will be together soon, my son.

------

A few minutes ago, he had thought only of finding the Millennium Falcon admist the asteroid field it had entered. He had been thinking about what he would do, what he would say if Luke was on board. How he would compel the crew to reveal Luke's location if he were not. He was deciding what would be the first skill he would teach Luke. Then it had all turned to ash.

If Piett had been able to see through his mask, Vader was sure he would have averted his eyes, given him privacy for the stricken look on his face. Piett was that kind of man. But of course it was impossible to see his expression, and so Piett had not known that the Emperor's command to make contact had filled him with terror. There would be only one reason why Palpatine would be calling now; he must have felt the same ripple in the Force.

His heart was in his throat as he made his way to the projection room. He had to gather himself, control his fear, appear absolutely unperturbed to Palpatine.

He knelt deeply on the holotransmitter platform, sunk his head down low, as he worked to push all thoughts out of his head. "What is thy bidding, my Master?"

"There is a great disturbance in the Force," Palpatine said.

"I have felt it," he said. His worst fears were coming true. He hadn't been fast enough. He hadn't found Luke in time.

"We have a new enemy. The young Rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker," the Emperor said.

"How is that possible?" he said. You lying heap of dung. You who told me I killed Padme. You who told me my child died with her. How is that possible, you worthless waste of midi-chlorians?

"Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us."

You have no idea how long I've known it to be true. He could destroy you, you mean. He is my son, afterall.

"He's just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him." But I can.

"The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi," Palpatine said.

Ahh, there was the source of the disturbance in the Force. Another survivor of the Purge must be with Luke, must be starting to train him in the ways of the Jedi. For once I agree with you, Master. That possibility would complicate things.

He tried to pull the Emperor's malevolent gaze away from Luke. "If he could be turned, he could be a powerful ally."

The Emperor's tone made it sound as if he were truly considering the proposition for the first time. "Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done ?"

"He will join us or die, Master," he said. By my own hand, if that's what it takes to save him from becoming your "asset".

His anger fed his bravado, but he still realized that with Palpatine's awareness of Luke, the act of training his son had just grown exponentially more difficult. And if Luke was already being trained by a Jedi, there was no telling what poison was being pumped into his mind. To bring Luke to his side, he might have to combat both the Emperor and his son's unknown mentor.

His thoughts drifted unbidden to the past, and his confidence abandoned him. He saw his mother die in his arms, felt the warmth leave her body. He heard Palpatine telling him Padme was dead, felt the gash in his heart that had never healed over. Not this time. This time I will not fail.

------

Luke Skywalker decided he liked rain. Of all the new things he'd encountered after leaving Tatooine, rain had been one of the most foreign. After spending his youth working on the family moisture farm, fighting nature to glean precious water from thin air, he'd discovered there were places where water literally fell from the sky. It was like that here on Dagobah, and while its swampy wetness bothered him at first, in the end, he decided he liked the rain. Especially when he was inside Master Yoda's hut, the interior warmed by fire, and the raindrops softly hitting the roof with a now familiar and soothing sound.

He was lying in his bed on the floor of the hut, his blanket only loosely over him, the heat from the fireplace pervading the small dwelling. He had gotten his wish. He was learning to be a Jedi, being taught by the Jedi Master of all Jedi Masters, at least any that had lived in the past 800 years. Trouble was, he was more confused than ever. Everything that Yoda was teaching him went totally against what he thought he knew about the Jedi.

Yoda didn't talk about warriors or fighting or being a hero. He talked about being calm and passive, about using the Force only for defense. More than that, he said that for a Jedi, emotion was wrong. To have feelings, to use the information they provided was acceptable, but to act on those feelings was wrong. And not just negative emotions like anger and hate, but even feelings of love and friendship. A Jedi was not supposed to have attachments. Was that why his father left him with Owen and Beru? A Jedi was not supposed to have a family? How could love lead to the Dark Side?

It all seemed so strange, and he would have cast a doubtful eye on Yoda's teachings, except that they worked. When he was able to clear his mind completely he could feel the Force more strongly than he had ever thought possible. He finally understood what Ben had meant about a Jedi feeling the Force flowing through him.It was always there, and he just had to learn to let it in, let it help him. It enabled him to move things with his mind, to sense the feelings of the other creatures around him. He could feel the tree branch under the coils of the snake, the snake's alarm when he grasped it. He had to agree; it was very peaceful and calming to feel connected to every living thing.

But communing with nature couldn't be all there was to being a Jedi. Yoda had spoken in an almost reverential tone about how powerful Luke's father had been. How could power and passivity go together? How could he be expected to know that Darth Vader had killed his father, killed Ben, decimated the Jedi Order, and do nothing about it? Ben must have sent him to Yoda for a purpose beyond mere education. Why was he being trained at all, if it were not to take action?

There must be a way for the two paths to cross, to follow the way of the Jedi, and to follow what was in his own heart. He already knew the Jedi answer would be to trust in the Force, to let his destiny be revealed to him. Yoda would say he had to learn to let go, to be at peace. But what if what it took for him to be at peace was to destroy Darth Vader?

------

He'd been staring at the viewscreen inside the hyperbaric chamber for way too long, reading the incoming reports, trying to find the Millennium Falcon. He'd been staring at the screen so long, in fact, that his vision had become a little blurry. It was like there was a mist in the room. He cursed the mask for preventing the simple act of rubbing his eyes. He tried blinking it away, but it was still there. In fact it was getting thicker, like a fog, and soon it covered everything. He felt cold, though the temperature regulator should have made that sensation impossible, but the chill was strong enough to make him shiver inside the suit.

Now all around him he could see gnarled tree roots hanging in the air, as if he were below ground. Ahead he could just make out the outline of a path, and he moved forward to see where it led. The ground was muddy, moisture laden, and it squished beneath his boots. Snakes crawled in and out among the tree roots.

Then suddenly someone was there, coming through the mist. A youth, blond like he had once been, but not him, in a flightsuit that was not Imperial issue. The young man stepped back from him, looked at him with guarded eyes that seemed almost hateful.

He took in the boy's face, followed the features that were not unlike his own."Luke," he called, but no sound came out. "Luke, is that you?"

The boy answered by igniting his lightsaber, holding it forward in a challenging manner.

"Luke, what are you doing? I'm your father," he thought he said, but he couldn't hear it.

The blue lightsaber pushed towards him, and he brought his own crimson blade up to meet it. They exchanged parries while he wondered why they were fighting, and then the boy unleashed a mighty swing that must have hit him. It must have hit him because he felt himself falling, felt his head hit the ground roughly.

The boy was standing over him now, the lightsaber not sheathed, though at least his expression had softened. He saw the saber handle in the boy's hand, really saw it for the first time. It was his lightsaber, the one Obi-Wan had taken from him on Mustafar, held tightly in what could only be Luke's hand.

"Why?" he thought, and then a brilliant flash of light blinded him.

By sheer will he brought himself out of the vision, pushed the Force out of his mind, until he could feel only the hard angles of the chair arms, see only the interior control panels of the meditation chamber. His heart was thumping loudly in his chest.

Was this the future? Luke wanted to kill him? But why? They were blood, they were father and son. He was going to train him, teach him all the ways of the Force, so that together they could bring peace and justice to the Galaxy. Why would his own son want to kill him? Unless...

Unless Luke knew that his father had attacked his mother right before his birth, had contributed to her death. Unless Obi-Wan had told Luke of the slaughter at the Jedi Temple. Unless his own son hated him for what he had done.

He realized he did not know this boy, did not know what dwelled in his heart. Not you, too, Luke. Don't you turn against me.


Part 4


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