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Loyalties
 

by MJ Mink



His first feeling was that he had no feelings at all.

Physically, that was not true; his entire body ached and the stump of his wrist throbbed. It was not painful (how could any pain defeat the drugs he'd been given?) but it pulsated as if his arm's blood was searching for his hand and kept running into the solid wall his wrist had become. He wondered if blood could be surprised.

Emotionally, he felt nothing. They had attached another hand onto his stump. 'They' meant a medical droid. No human touched his wound, not even gently. He surveyed the replacement hand with clinical detachment. It was very realistic. It looked better than his old one. The little scar on his thumb was gone, the one he'd gotten when a womprat had spread its jaws and reached for him. If Biggs hadn't fired and killed the rat, the hand would have been lost then, and his father would have hacked off a prosthetic. (Surprise, Dad!) Would it have hurt as much? He felt pain when the droid pricked his new palm with a needle. Idly he wondered if he could feel pleasure with the hand. Would it sense hot and cold, would it know the difference between soft and rough? Would it confuse a slap with a caress?

Leia had been with him (physically, not in spirit) when they replaced the hand. Her comfort was perfunctory, a duty the princess was obligated to perform. Her smile was vague, her eyes didn't see him. Her eyes looked for Han.

If he had ever wondered how she felt about him (and he had) now the answer was bitterly apparent. He was an acquaintance, a friend of sorts. He wondered: If he hadn't called to her, pleaded with her to rescue him from the belly of Cloud City, would she have looked back? She and Chewie had fled. If he hadn't called, would she still be on Han's trail, Luke Skywalker forgotten?

Han was gone. In carbon freeze. Because of him. Leia had said that when she'd described their capture. They had been bait to lure Luke Skywalker. Vader wanted Luke Skywalker. Now Luke Skywalker knew why.

His first tentative steps into the morass of emotions were indescribably difficult. He'd always been emotional, but this was different. He was their captive, surrounded by thoughts that flew at him from all directions and shackled his reason. Loudest was the one that called Father-Father-Father-Father! and he could barely hear the others over its unrelenting supplications. He wanted to drown in that one and ignore the whispers. He wanted to hold that truth and put aside the others. If Ben had never found him, if Yoda had never taught him, he could have done it. But they had, and they'd given him a conscience that commanded his attention. Still, how much simpler his life would be now if he'd just taken that black hand in exchange for his own.

He dreamed about it. Followed every possible scenario to its conclusion. Taking the hand. His father, embracing him, welcoming him. His father, scornful of his weaknesses, condemning the choices he'd made, taking control of his life. His father, full of regrets and love. His father, full of future dreams for them. His father, dead by his son's hand (instead of his hand, dead by his father). So many possibilities.

He'd rejected them without consideration. Did that make him a fool?

Was he contaminated by these conflicting desires?

Leia wanted to rush off and find Han. He'd counseled wait, wait. He needed to practice the patience Yoda had admonished him for lacking. If only he could go back to Dagobah and learn more, learn about Vader (for surely Yoda knew all) but Yoda would not have him now, crippled as he was both in body and soul.

He would not have himself; why would Yoda want him?

One day they let him out of sickbay for awhile. He wandered, uncertain where to go, what to do, what to say. People stared at his new hand. Some of them said how sorry they were. Some of them were jovial, pretending that he had no hands. (Rieekan shook his new hand.) Some of them pretended not to see him, especially if they accidentally met his eyes.

He felt awkward around them. He darted into DataCentral to avoid a group of pilots. It was there, with the charge clerk looking at him (or his hand) that he decided he did indeed need some data. The clerk gave him a datacard containing Darth Vader's biography, information, supposition. Then he did his own two minutes' worth of research and produced a datacard on Anakin Skywalker, Jedi. He took them back to sickbay.

It was something he should have done long ago, reading the entries about his father (which father?). Now he could acknowledge that he'd avoided it. He'd asked people about Anakin, many people, many questions, but he'd never taken the simple step of obtaining a datacard. He'd been busy, very busy, and there were probably a dozen other excuses he could concoct, but there was no real reason he'd avoided this final step. Except, perhaps, because it was final. Looking at the information would either destroy or validate his dreams.

Was it better to have dreams or truths?

His father's card was small; he'd expected much more. There was no description of a Great Jedi, merely a Jedi. A student. Barely old enough to fight in the final days of the Clone Wars. Piloting skills were praised--that was where Anakin had starred, however briefly. Then came a mention of the Emperor's Purge of the Jedi, and Anakin's death was reported with a thousand others. There was nothing said about a mate. Nothing said about a hero.

Disappointed, he put the card aside and inserted Vader's card into the computer. It was much longer, full of accomplishments and victories. He scanned them, impressed despite his reluctance. He'd thought Vader was strictly a military animal, but here was evidence of great political acumen, of treaties and negotiations, of a cleverness that hadn't been exhibited in the core of Cloud City.

He paused, staring blankly at the screen. There had been no subtlety above Bespin. None of the ingenious manipulations that were evidenced in the biography. Could (he hoped) the reality of being faced with his son have flustered Vader?

He scrolled backward to the beginning of the listing, during the Clone Wars when Vader had risen from obscurity to something approaching fame. If Anakin had become Vader, why were both names listed during the Clone Wars? Propaganda from the Empire's political relations bureau? He pulled the information about Anakin onto a split screen and compared the data side-by-side. Vader had existed years before Anakin died. What did it mean? Was it a cover? Yet here were listings for Vader, leading troops during the Wars, public appearances, conquering planets in the name of the Imperial Coalition. Had Anakin Skywalker led a double life? Or did the Jedi have their own political relations machine that had tried to cover the defection of one of their own?

Five years before his son's birth, Vader won a significant victory in the skies above Adega. Five years.

If his mother had loved Darth Vader, then he truly was Vader's son, and Anakin Skywalker was a myth that had lived only in his heart.

Why, then, had he not been raised a Vader? He would have had a place, known his place, not been confronted now with maybes and might-have-beens. He wouldn't have sympathized with the Rebellion, never known Han and Leia and Chewie and Wedge. Never mourned Biggs and Beru and Owen. Never cried for Anakin.

But he hadn't been, he didn't, and he did. Nothing changed through wishing. If he wanted to change (he did/he didn't) it was a decision that would be neither simple nor quick. He knew now that his rejection of Vader's offer, made in pain, clinging to cold metal for his life, had been without thought. He had not considered The Force or Right/Wrong--his decision had been made in anger, in a rage against the man who first mutilated him, then declared he was the child's dream come to life as an obscenity.

There was so much to consider. It would take days, weeks, months. He wondered if he would be allowed the luxury of time.

He left sickbay and drifted into another reality, the canteen. The chimes signalling first seating pierced his thoughts. Abstractedly, he wondered if he was hungry, but it was too difficult to think about. It was easier to take the tray and load it with the plates offered and carry it to the pilots' table in the officers' dining room. He set the tray on the table. His hand must work, then, to have carried it so far.

A chair slid back without his touching it. He looked around. A man in gray fatigues had pulled it out. "Sit down, Luke. Good to see you're all right."

Strange, he'd almost forgotten his name. Luke...Vader. The tag on his pocket said Skywalker, and the sweet memory made him smile. "Thanks." There. He remembered civility and social niceties. "Wedge." He even remembered the man's name.

He picked up a fork, watching his fingers closely. They curved around the handle, but he felt nothing. Curiously, he touched the fork with his left hand. The metal was cool under the left fingers, but not under the right. He turned the fork over and touched the tines. Same.

"Are you all right?" The Wedge-man asked.

It was difficult to decide how to answer. On the one hand (his pun made him smile) he wasn't all right, not by a long shot, but people didn't want to hear that. On the other hand, to say I'm Fine would be a lie. Two possibilities, opposing, and he didn't know which road to take. He looked at the man for a clue.

"Just eat," the man said gently.

The relief was overwhelming. He had no decision to make, none at all. He could just eat and forget about deciding. Eating was simple, it was neither Light nor Dark. Mindlessly, he ate until his plate was empty. Wedge handed him a breadstick. He ate it.

The command staff settled at a nearby table. Leia smiled at him. Why did she bother? It wasn't a real smile; if it had been real, it would have been for Han. No one else in the group looked at him except General Rieekan. He liked Rieekan. For awhile he'd thought of him as a father. They'd never been close, but Rieekan was wise and kind, the way Anakin Skywalker might have been.

Anakin Skywalker-Vader. Was the Dark Lord wise and kind, ever? Would Vader be kind to him? He hadn't been yet. Vader had taken his hand (instead of his life), not precisely an act of goodness. Still, he'd struck his father first, though he hadn't known it was his father he struck.

But Vader had known. Vader had fought his son.

It was the stuff of legends. Maybe someday a story would arise of the battle between the Dark Lord and his arrogant, foolish, righteous son.

"--make a mistake, and I want to be there when he does!"

"So do I! But we should give Luke first crack at the bastard."

He'd missed what everyone was talking about. Interesting, how he could so isolate his mind to remain unaware of what transpired around him.

"What do you say, Luke? Maybe the next time you'll slice his head off."

"Rand!" Wedge said quickly, protestingly.

Whose head--Vader's? But he'd already done that in the cave. He touched his neck. Could they give him a prosthetic head? "Who are you talking about?"

"Who do you think?" The man had red hair. It reminded him of how his stump had looked when the wound was fresh. "Vader, of course! Next time you'll be ready for him. Next time we'll all be behind you--we'll blast him out of the sky!"

Such enthusiasm was alien; but hadn't he felt that way once, not very long ago? He shook his head.

"He's an animal," someone else said. "I've heard he's not human under the armor--he's an alien, some kind of monster."

"I heard they had to break his legs and his back to make him stand up straight in the armor. He used to crawl around like a spider."

"Yeah, well, I heard that he's not a man or a monster. That he's not real. There's nobody under that armor. It's remote-controlled by the Emperor."

"Maybe we're using the wrong weapons on him--maybe we should call a datatech!"

"Or a pest controller!"

"An exterminator!"

"An executor--that's how his ship got its name!"

"He's just a soldier," Luke said through the laughter.

The sounds subsided slowly. "What?"

"He's just a soldier," he said again, louder than he'd meant to.

The canteen got quiet. Now that he'd fought Vader and lived, people listened to him. He liked that. "He's a soldier of the Emperor, that's all. He's not a monster. He's not a robot. He's a soldier." More food would be nice. There was a veg stick on someone's plate. He reached across the table for it.

"You're right, Luke. Vader is a soldier." It was the one called Wedge, talking quietly to him as if he were sick and needed soothing.

He smiled. "He's a good soldier. Palpatine wouldn't be in power without him. He's a good diplomat too. Did you know that he settled the Tergva Five settlement problem before it exploded into a civil war?"

"Yeah, by wiping out the colonists," someone said.

"And he negotiated the treaties that kept the entire Aurelian system out of the Rebellion. That's why they're prospering now. And in the Clone Wars--do you realize how many clones would have died if not for his actions? And the Jedi--he singlehandedly wiped them off the face of the galaxy. We'd be overrun with Jedi if not for him. He's a hero."

People stood by his chair, probably to hear him better. Maybe he could be a great orator. "He's a great orator, too."

"Luke, let's get you back to sickbay. You shouldn't be up yet, you're not strong enough."

"And very strong. Stronger than a dozen men." He leaned closer to Wedge. "But you know what was the most interesting thing I learned?"

"What?"

"He told me a secret." He smiled, feeling important.

Wedge smiled back at him. "What's the secret?"

"If I told you it wouldn't be a secret anymore--you know that!" Wedge was trying to tease him into telling.

"Let's go, Luke."

Nice General Rieekan was pulling on his arm, lifting him out of his chair. "But it's a really good secret," he protested.

"I'm sure it is. But you have to go back to sickbay."

"I do?" He glanced around. Some people weren't looking at him. Others were, but their faces were embarrassed.

"Yes."

Apparently he didn't have a choice--he liked that. He edged away from the table. "I'll tell you the secret," he told General Rieekan. "Do you want to know it?"

"Of course."

He stopped, making Rieekan stop, too. And Leia was there. He supposed he could tell her, though she didn't love him. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "He told me who he is."

Rieekan's brows drew together. "Who is he?" he asked slowly.

Luke laughed. "Oh, no--that's the secret! I can't tell anybody. Nobody. No one. I can't tell. No one can know. No one knows but me. In the whole galaxy, no one knows but me. I'm the only one who knows. The only one. Who knows." His arms wrapped around his own torso, hugging, comforting. "And what am I going to do, now that I know?" he whispered.

None of them had an answer for him. So he went to sickbay and went to sleep.
 

* * *


"We need to know what he knows about Vader."

"Then ask him--don't drug him without his consent."

"He's in no condition to respond to questioning."

"Of course not--he's been doped for days."

"There is also the question of his mental stability to be considered."

"We will decide how to continue after he has awakened."

Luke kept his eyes closed and listened intently. Whatever had happened (and he had a vague memory of talking about Vader, but his memories were otherworldly and ephemeral) it had caused a conflict among the senior staff. He recognized Leia's voice arguing with Rieekan and Two-onebee, and Mothma overriding them all.

The voices drifted away, still arguing. He tried to relax into slumber, but now he was permanently awake. It was difficult to remember how he had felt earlier today...yesterday? He remember the datacards about his...fathers. Split personality. Skywalker/Vader. Senior and junior? Maybe he was half-and-half, too. Did his Vader side steer him sometimes? Was his Skywalker side the weak one, the one that fractured along the faultlinesof his heritage?

He rolled over and hid his face in the pillow. A link connected him with his father. At first he hadn't known what it was. It had just been something real and annoying, like an itch that couldn't be scratched. But it was familiar. On his sickbed, he had searched his mind for the itch and found it, followed it like a trail through the Wastes--if you weren't quick, the winds would blow the sand and cover the tracks.

So he'd followed it, and it was silver, incandescent, iridescent. It glowed, it beckoned. It was beautiful, and he thought it was The Force, that he'd found It, that he'd made Yoda proud and found It. But as soon as he'd gotten close, everything turned black and he'd known then who it was. And he'd run away.

Now he sought it, tried to catch it. It was like winding webs around his fingers, so thin and fragile that he feared it might snap if he was hasty. Yet he wanted to hurry, afraid it would dissolve and vanish. Father? he asked sadly.

The response was immediate: Son.

He wondered how this communication worked. Was his mind part of his father's? Was it physiological or strictly mental? Why weren't they linked all the time, why did he have to call? Why wasn't his father just there?

Father.

Son.

He was tempted to call again, because he liked the answer. I'm confused.

So am I.

A giggle nearly forced its way past his lips. I'm acting very strangely.

I have noticed.

He turned onto his back and pulled the blanket up to his nose and hid underneath it. Vader was funny.

Vader chopped off his hand.

Vader was his father.

Vader threw things at him and made him fall through that window and he'd almost died.

Vader didn't kill him when he held the lightsaber to his throat.

I don't know what you want.

I want you to come with me.

That he already knew; Vader wanted what Vader said he wanted. He wanted to join their powers (and Luke thought that his own powers didn't amount to very much) to defeat the Emperor. (That would only work if the Emperor could be killed by rocks--though he only knew how to levitate rocks, not how to hurl them.)

Are you and Anakin Skywalker the same person?

Anakin Skywalker does not exist.

WERE you the same person?

Yes.

Why did he ask, when he already knew? He clutched the blanket in his fists. People here say cruel things about you.

There was no response.

Father...are you still there?

Yes. Where are you?

In sickbay.

No, I mean...where in space?

He couldn't tell Lord Vader of the Imperial Fleet his location, could he? I can't say.

Yes, you can.

His head itched--no, the inside of his head itched. What are you doing?

I am doing nothing. You are opening your thoughts to me, my son.

But not by choice. He fought back, first struggling to close his mind but not knowing how, then by attacking Vader's mind. A flash crossed his brain--a vision of the Empire's ships passing through a familiar star system--then it was gone.

The Imperial Fleet was in the Valarian system.

Very good, my son. If you allow me to teach you, your powers will grow a hundredfold.

He was sleepy. He rubbed his eyes. There had been a reason he'd called his father, an important reason. Father? They want to give me drugs. They want to know what I know about you. They want to know about us.

Do you wish to fight the drugs' effects?

Yes!

You must open your mind again if you wish me to show you how to accomplish this.

It would be easier just to sleep. You'll hurt me, he replied wistfully, yawning. I wish you wouldn't.

I promise I will not.

Was there another way to fight the drugs? Maybe they wouldn't give them to him, maybe Leia could prevent it. No. I.... How did one sign off from a mental call? Good-bye, Father.

Fare thee well, my son. We will talk soon.

The assertion both intrigued and frightened him. He felt a pang of loss as Vader's presence evaporated. It occurred to him then that he knew the location of the Imperial Navy's proudest ships. If he told Rieekan, they could mount an attack, surprise the Imps, wipe out the enemy. Luke Skywalker would be a hero. Again.

But to give that information would be to betray his father and that he would never do. As long as they both lived, there was hope for a reconciliation. Somehow, some way.... Could he convince Vader to come with him? That was an alternative he hadn't considered. After a lifetime as Darth Vader, could the spirit of Anakin Skywalker be conjured, could life be breathed into a corpse that wasn't dead?

Footfalls sounded. He opened his eyes as Mon Mothma and Two-onebee entered the room. He would answer her questions as truthfully as he could, but he would surrender no information about his father. He would never betray his father. Never.
 
 * * *


Half a galaxy away, Lord Vader turned to Admiral Piett. "The Rebel fleet is in the Byos system. Set course to intercept them."

He paced back to the viewport, a satisfied smile hiding behind his faceplate. His son's mind was so defenseless, so eager, so full of yearning. After the Rebels were vanquished, it would be a small feat to win the boy's loyalty. Once he had done so, the boy would belong to him always, unquestioning in his devotion to his father. And to his father's ambitions.

Because once pledged, a Skywalker's loyalty was forever.
 

End


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