Disclaimer: The characters of Vader, Emperor Palpatine, stormtroopers and other Star Wars stuff belong to George Lucas.
Summary: What if Luke had runaway from Tatooine and joined the Imperial Academy?
Authors' Note: This story was elected the 1999 winner in the Star Wars category of a fanfiction contest held at Dragon Library.
In the control room stood a dark figure. Mechanical breathing sounded faintly, carrying fear into the officers working at their stations. The figure was cloaked, armored, helmeted, and masked. An evil seemed to drip from the folds of its cloak. It cast its hidden eyes out the viewport, searching the skies. Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, turned to the Captain.
"As soon as our last troops return to the ship, contact the Emperor. Tell him that we are done here. Request our next assignment." With that, the dark lord strode from the control room, headed for his personal quarters.
Doors swished shut behind the Sith Lord as he entered his rooms. Bare walls received no notice, he went to his meditation chamber and sat down. Jagged edges of the white dome came together, sealing him off from the outside galaxy.
'Stupid rebels' The Sith Lord thought viciously. 'If they are going to have an uprising, they should at least determine if they can win. Petty skirmishes- they didn't have a prayer. And I had to come all the way out here to put it down.' The air in the chamber hissed as medicated atmosphere filled the space. 'Wasn't worth my time. Damn Palpatine. I know that he's giving me these assignments just to keep me busy. Doesn't trust me, not that I blame him.' Darth Vader smirked behind his mask.
A mechanical arm came down from the ceiling, relieving the dark lord of his helmet and mask.
No, he didn't blame the Emperor. Rising with the Empire, Darth Vader had always stood to support the ideals of peace and order that the Empire had promised. Order to be forced upon an unwilling chaotic galaxy, but order all the same. But the peace that should have come with that order was still to be seen. And over the last few years, Darth Vader had come to realize that was due primarily to the Emperor's mishandling of situations. He was brutal- ordering first cities, then continents, then whole planets striped of life for disobeying his slightest whim. The Emperor had stopped using subtle politics or public relations to sway the reluctant public. He came to rely more and more on brute force.
And that force meant using Darth Vader. The Emperor saw him as a puppet. Vader ground his teeth. It was stupid really. You should never use any more force than you had to.
Take this planet, Bakura, for example. Known mostly for its repulsor industry, the planet was not well-armed. The rebel faction had been unorganized, rather pathetic really, but once they recovered from the purges that were about to happen- they would be back with a vengeance. It would take a few years, but then the Emperor would send him out here again. And he would, with his troops, smash them down again. But it didn't have to be that way. If they had done some undercover work, a few assassinations, discredit some of the leaders, this uprising would have fallen like the house of cards that it was.
But the Emperor was stupid. He was loosing control, letting his lust for power control him. He would destroy his own Empire in time, and Darth Vader didn't want to see that happen. Vader knew, in his heart, that he would have to seize control. He would have to kill the power hungry man he called master. His ideals demanded it. He knew he could wield the power much better than his master. He would save the Empire from its own creator.
But he couldn't do it alone.
Obi-Wan had seen to that. 'Curse him.' Vader thought as he breathed in the medicated air. 'I'm in this suit because of you, Obi-Wan. And some day I will find you. You will die for this. You will die for all of your trickery.' Vader tried to throttle down his emotions, but he would not let himself forget. Obi-Wan, who had told him he was wrong, who had cast him in the pit. Vader shuttered. He could still feel the lava caressing his skin with its burning touch. He had crawled out, had gotten medical aid. He had been turned into a mechanical monster. After months of physical therapy, learning to live again, he had returned to find his wife... gone. Obi-Wan had taken her.
Then he had found out she had been pregnant.
Her medical records, he had checked everything to find where she might have gone. And she was pregnant. He remembered reading those little words on the datapad taken from the doctors' office. Obi-Wan had taken his son from him. He had known that it was a son- he had seen glimpses of the boy in visions. Rage filled his veins. 'Damn Jedi. Do you always take children from their parents? You took me from my mother, now you take my son.' Vader pushed out the memory of his mother. It was still painful to think of her. Loosing her, then loosing his son, it had been too much. And the Jedi had approved. Vader had been furious, so he had agreed with Palpatine about the purges. He had gone after as many of the Jedi as he could. He had run out of Jedi before he had run out of anger.
Vader thought about his son. 'Ah, my child, if I could find where that bastard has taken you. I'm not quite strong enough to kill the Emperor, but with you at my side, I could do it. I could rule the galaxy. You could help me. I know you'd be strong in the Force. And you are my son. You should be beside me. You're old enough now, you could be a real asset to me. Sons should be with their fathers.'
Vader focused on his son. Vader sent tendrils of the Force out to look for his son. He had to hide this action from the Emperor, but he would search this world below for his child. He searched every world he could for his son.
Someday, he would find him.
Someday, they would be together.
Luke let out a loud 'whoop' as he dropped his T-16 beneath ground level just as he entered Beggar's Canyon. Quickly glancing over his shoulder he saw that his best friend, Biggs, was gaining on him. Looking forward again he pushed the accelerator forward another notch and firmly gripped his hands on the controls. One little glitch, a moments loss of concentration, a single mess-up, and he'd be no more than a red smear on the canyon wall, but then, that was the fun of it.
Up ahead of him the canyon split in two, to the left was a canyon known as Easy Street, and to the right was Dead Man's Turn. However, despite the name, most people went down Easy Street because Dead Man's Turn had gotten it's name for a reason, the sharp-angled turn was quite deadly if you didn't know how to fly it.
Grinning to himself Luke thought of how he had secretly been taking Dead Man's Turn when no one else was around, not even Biggs knew he was doing it. At first he had been forced to take the turn at minimum speed, but now, after months of practice, he was sure that he could make the turn at little less then breakneck speed.
Casting a last glance over his shoulder he slowed his craft down and then turned hard to the right, bringing his T-16 into Dead Man's Turn. Letting his instincts guide him he managed to get his craft through the turn without coming closer then a meter to the canyon wall on either side. As soon as he made it through the turn he pushed the accelerator back up to full speed and shot forward. The advantage of using Dead Man's Turn was that it was a major short cut to the end of the canyon.
Knowing that he'd win the race Luke smiled to himself and thought of what his friend's reaction would be. Having known Biggs for as long as he could remember he knew that his older friend would lecture him for taking such a big risk, however, underneath it all, he would be unable not to be impressed.
Expertly maneuvering his craft he quickly reached the end of the canyon and set his T-16 down on the ground at the finish. Climbing out of the craft he sat down in the shade it provided. He sat there and waited until he heard the soft hum of Biggs's approaching ship. Rising to his feet he watched Biggs's T-16 appear over the rim of the canyon and land near his own craft. Quickly Biggs shut off the engines and climbed out of his ship.
"You're nuts," Biggs exclaimed as he approached Luke. "You could have killed yourself pulling a stunt like that!"
"I won the race," Luke replied simply.
Shaking his head Biggs came over to stand next to his friend in the shade.
"That's all you care about isn't it?" he asked looking into his friend's ice-blue eyes.
"No," Luke replied. "I want to get out of here, of this planet, and into the Imperial Academy so that I can fly real ships."
"You do know what they say about the Imperials don't you?" Biggs asked. "That they're extremely cruel to non-humans and all."
"Well what do you suggest then?"
"Well we could join the Academy and then jump ship and join the Rebellion," Biggs replied looking away from Luke to Tatooine's twin suns setting in the distance which were leaving a blaze of gold and crimson behind them as they sank lower and lower.
"True," Luke stated. "But then Uncle Owen would never let me leave, he needs me to help him."
"He can't keep you here forever," Biggs replied looking back at the friend whom he often thought of as his younger brother.
"With him you never know," Luke replied looking at his chronometer. "But I'd better be heading back home, I'm late as it is."
"Okay," Biggs stated heading back to his own T-16. "I'll see you tomorrow, and don't scare me like that again!"
Laughing Luke quickly climbed into his T-16 and headed back home, knowing that he'd probably be in for it.
Luke revved the landspeeder around the street corner at Anchorhead. Most of the buildings were sand colored concrete with flat roofs. The squat, heavy buildings were separated by dusty sun-baked dirt roads. Grit covered everything.
Luke had gotten the raw side of Uncle Owen's tongue a few days ago when he had come home late. He had finally gotten permission to come into town to get some much needed vaporator parts- but if his uncle found out he had made any side trips- he'd get his hide tanned.
He pulled up to a long low building and launched himself from the landspeeder.
Rushing into the building, he saw Biggs playing computer-assisted pool with Deak. Deak was another farmers' son- but his clothes were a little newer than Luke's. In the back was Fixer, a huge man of a mechanic, working on a landspeeder. Parts were strewn around him in a rough semi-circle.
"Hi guys!" Luke said, waving to Biggs as he walked back to Fixer.
Fixer looked up from the engine of the landspeeder and glared at Luke.
Luke grimaced at the term, then he bucked up his courage and went on in a rush. "Ah, Fixer. I got grounded by my uncle so I would have told you sooner. I ordered a package and told 'em to deliver it here. It was going to have some postage due- I couldn't afford to have it sent to the farm. Ah- I have the credits, could I... "
"Oh, that's great!! I mean, how much do I owe you? Um, you did take it didn't you?"
"Yeah. Figured I'd grind it outta your hide if you didn't have the credits." Fixer went back to a desk, opened a drawer and brought out a datapad with a big Imperial seal on it.
"You owe me 10 kid." Fixer held out an open palm. He had only paid 5 credits for the postage, but the farmboy wouldn't question.
Luke rummaged in his pockets and handed over the credits to Fixer. Tossing the pad to Luke, Fixer pocketed the cash. Biggs wandered over, curious.
"What are you trying to do kid? Apply to become a spy?" Fixer laughed.
"No" Luke said as he tried to wipe Fixer's greasy fingerprints from the datapad's screen. "It's an application for the Imperial Flight Academy."
Biggs eyebrows shot up. "Really Luke? Did Uncle Owen say you could go?"
"Nah. Haven't talked with him yet. But I wanted the information. Maybe I can use it to persuade him."
Biggs looked hopeful. "Might work- wanna play pool?"
"I gotta go- I promised I'd be right back." Luke headed for the door "Want Uncle Owen in a to be in a good mood when we talk!"
Luke went out into the searing heat. Carefully hiding the precious datapad beneath the seat, he took off for home.
Entering his room Luke quickly took the datapad out from underneath his shirt. It had been necessary for him to hide it as his uncle had approached him as soon as he had returned. He had quickly given his uncle the parts he needed and had then been able to go to his room as there wasn't enough time for him to go out and work on the vaporators until after lunch.
Walking over to his bed he sat down on it. Taking off the Imperial seal he just looked at the datapad for a moment, this could be his key out of here, his key to becoming a pilot, just like his father had been. His father. His uncle and aunt had always told him that his father had been a navigator on a spice-freighter until his death shortly before he had been born. Despite this knowledge he had always dreamed of having a father, of being called son by him, and being taught by him.
But those things were only dreams, in actuality he didn't even know what his father had looked like! He always got punished if he asked questions about him. He had often wondered why and the only reason he could come up with was the probability that his uncle and his father had never gotten along very well.
But why had his mother then left him with his uncle? Why had she left him at all? Or was she dead too? He knew even less about his mother then he did about his father and, considering the beatings he had gotten when he asked questions, he had soon learned that he would accomplish nothing by asking for information.
Pushing aside those thoughts he turned his attention back to the datapad in his hands. A little nervous he turned it on and then watched silently as the Imperial symbol appeared on the screen, it was followed by the anthem of the Imperial navy. Quickly turning down the volume Luke leaned closer to the datapad and listened while a voice explained what the Imperial Academy was like, how people could join it, and all the benefits of being part of the Empire's defense against the Rebellion. As the voice droned on images of the different Academies flashed across the screen.
Mesmerized Luke watched and listened in amazement. The Academies looked and sounded so cool, not to mention that the planet the Flight Academy was on was covered by a lush, blue, forest. Reaching up to the top of the datapad he was about to start the short video over again when he heard his aunt's voice:
"Luke," she called. "Lunch!"
Rising to his feet Luke quickly turned off the datapad and placed it on his desk under some other datapads lying there. Then he quickly left the room and headed upstairs for lunch.
"Finally," Owen Lars stated as Luke entered the dining room. "What took you so long?"
"I was busy," Luke replied as he took his normal seat.
Owen gave a grunt as he took a sip of his drink. Knowing that his uncle was displeased with him Luke knew better then to bring up the Academy, instead he just reached for the food and served himself.
"You are to go fix the vaporators on the south ridge when you're done eating," Owen ordered.
"Okay," Luke replied obediently. "May I go see my friends tomorrow?"
"You st--" Owen began.
"As long as you're back by noon," Beru interrupted flashing a look at her husband.
"Thank you," Luke replied as he carefully avoided eye contact with his uncle.
Luke's landspeeder swooped sluggishly up to the house. The farm and its outbuildings looked like so many rounded bumps clustered on the desert sands. Most of the living space was underground, hidden from the desert heat. Luke pulled the landspeeder into the domed garage. Behind him, the last sliver of the twin suns was dipping below the rocky horizon. Luke lugged the tools from the back of the landspeeder up to the workbench, closed the garage door, turned off the lights, and he clomped down the stairs.
Cutting across the courtyard, he ducked into the kitchen. Aunt Beru was cleaning up.
"Wondered where you were."
"Lousy vaporators. I swear- they just love to break. They must get lonely out on the sands. I didn't think that I'd get done by sunset. Got any dinner left over?"
Beru gave the counter one last swipe. "Yes, I saved you some on the bottom shelf of the refrigeration unit." Beru turned to Luke as he hungrily reached into the unit. "But, I don't like you out so late alone Luke. I worry about sandpeople."
"I wouldn't have stayed after dark. " Luke pulled the dish out of the unit, removed the cover, and began shoveling his mouth full of food.
Sighing, Beru turned to her bedroom. "Start the sonic dishwasher when you're done Luke. Goodnight."
As soon as Luke had finished eating, he carefully placed the his dishes into the machine and set the timer. Turning off the kitchen lights, he went to his bedroom.
Carefully shutting his bedroom door, Luke dimmed his lights. Furtively walking over to his desk, he pawed through the datapads until he found the Imperial Academy pad. Sighing with relief, he sunk down, sitting on the corner of his bed. He looked at the pad thoughtfully. So much hope rode on one little pad.
A half-formed idea rose Luke up and back over to the desk. He shuffled through the pads there once again, picking out a slightly smaller one. Connecting the two pads with the appropriate cable, he quickly programmed the original Imperial datapad to copy itself to the smaller pad. He then hid the second pad under his mattress.
'Luke' he thought, 'Why did you do that? You're getting more paranoid than a Jawa.'
Pulling off his worn boots with one hand, Luke grabbed the original datapad and turned it on. Scanning the main menu, he chose to breeze through the sections on Application Requirements (startlingly low), Imperial Honor Code (rather unoriginal), and Local Recruitment Stations. Luke found out that there was no recruitment station on Tatooine, but he could report to the Imperial offices in Mos Eisley, and the local officials would schedule free transport to the Academy. Luke snorted. Mos Eisley was really far away- he had never even been there.
Turning the volume down even lower than before, he watched the recruitment narrative again. Stately white wedge-shaped mammoth ships glided across the screen against the black backdrop of stars. Proud ranks of the navy stood in formation. Beautiful foreign worlds flashed by. The narrative ended with a shot of the Imperial Academy itself, nestled down in the lush jungle.
Luke hit replay.
Luke's bedroom door swung open. Uncle Owen announced "Goto sleep Luke." Luke nearly jumped out of his skin. He fumbled for the off-switch on the datapad.
"Luke, what do you have there?"
"Ah, nothing... just... " Uncle Owen leaned over and grabbed the pad from Luke's hands. "Just some information... " Luke's answer sounded flat to his own ears.
"Information." Uncle Owen switched the pad on. His eyes got hard as he read the contents. "This is Imperial" He hit the controls again. "This is an application to the Imperial ACADEMY? Are you STUPID?" He thundered.
"No, I just wanted to, to look into it. I wanted to find out... " Luke trailed off, this was not going as well as he had hoped.
"Find out what? How to sell your life away? DID YOU THINK THAT I WOULD HAVE LET YOU GO?" Owen's face was red. "Let YOU join the EMPIRE?" Owen looked really angry. A small detached part of Luke noticed that he also looked afraid. But he couldn't figure that out now, Owen had grabbed his shirt and pulled him up.
"What were you thinking? Why the empire?" Owen said.
"I... wanted to..." Luke thought frantically. "I wanted... I... wanted to do something... meaningful" Luke hoped that answer would suffice.
"With THE EMPIRE?" Owen asked incredulously. He shook Luke. "Oh come on, you're not that stupid. Why the Imperial Academy?"
"I... want to be a pilot." The last came out very small, but it wouldn't stay in.
Owen dropped Luke. Shock and disbelief written into his face. "No. You will not be a pilot. No. Never. I won't let you. I... " Owen swallowed and started looking determined. "I need you here on the farm. You will stay and help me." Owen looked at the pad. He nodded to himself. He looked at Luke. "This is not for you. You'll stay here. And be a farmer."
With that, he turned and strode down the hall, with the datapad.
Luke sat on the bed. Stunned. Uncle Owen's reaction had been so much worse than he could have imagined. Sudden tears welled up. His dreams were dying. He turned off the lights and buried his head in his pillow. Silent sobs wanted to rack the young man's body. Luke fought them down. He listened carefully to the night. Then, slowly, one hand slipped down, under the mattress, and touched the datapad hidden there. The hand came back up, and Luke fell asleep.
Heading his landspeeder towards a spot near Beggar's Canyon where he and Biggs always met Luke thought. Uncle Owen's sudden, unreasonable, outburst the night before was still on his mind and he was surprised when he had been allowed to go. Generally when he had misbehaved, in his uncle's opinion, he was grounded for at least a couple of days. But not today, today he had gotten out of the house without so much as a word of protest. This disturbed him greatly, never had this ever happened before. His uncle was clearly upset about something far more then him leaving Tatooine and going to the Imperial Academy.
Turning his attention back to his driving he smiled as he saw Biggs waiting for him at the mouth of one the smaller canyons surrounding Beggar's Canyon. Pulling his landspeeder up next to Biggs's Luke picked up the small datapad and jumped out of the beat up speeder.
"Hey Luke," Biggs said as he stepped forward. "Is that the pad you got from the Academy? May I see it?"
"Sure," Luke replied as he tossed the datapad to his friend.
Catching the datapad Biggs quickly turned it on and selected the recruitment narrative from the main menu. Turning up the volume as the short narrative started Biggs kept his eyes on the screen until it ended.
"This is awesome!" he exclaimed, excited. "Although I'm sure they left out the parts about the non-humans... but still. Can I take this home to show my parents? I think they'll let me go when they see this, or at least when I'm old enough anyway."
Silently Luke listened to his friend as his mind went back to the night before. Why had his uncle gotten so mad? And why had he seen a momentary glimpse of fear on his uncle's face? He knew his uncle had no love for the Empire, but still....
"Luke?" Biggs questioned snapping Luke out of his thoughts. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," Luke answered automatically.
Should he ask his uncle why he couldn't go? No! How could he have thought that? He'd probably get punished, just like when he asked questions about his father. It seemed like he was expected to just obey his aunt and uncle and not to ever question them. But there had to be something more behind last night's incident, hadn't there? This was all so frustrating!
"Don't give me that," Biggs replied. "I've known you far too long to fall for that. You're preoccupied, what's on your mind?"
"Uncle Owen knows about the datapad," Luke replied as he walked over to where the canyon wall met the ground and sat down.
"And?" Biggs asked seating himself next to his friend.
"He got mad, extremely mad, mad and..." Luke trailed off.
"And what?" Biggs pressed. "And if he got mad then why did he let you keep the datapad?"
"He didn't, he took it away, that's a copy you're holding," Luke replied looking at his friend. "I can't be sure, but I'd swear that I saw fear on his face when he learned I wanted to become a pilot."
"Fear? Owen Lars?" Biggs questioned and Luke knew what he meant.
His uncle was known for having defended the farm against a raid of Tusken Raiders all by himself several years back. Their neighbors had happened to be over and they had told everyone of how fearlessly his uncle had fought the Tusken Raiders.
"Yeah," Luke replied getting up and pacing back and forth. "He also said that I couldn't become a pilot, he said that I had to stay here and become farmer!"
As he said this last he kicked up a cloud of sand, then he leaned over and picked up a rock laying next to his feet.
"What?" Biggs asked. "He can't keep you here!"
"Well he said that I'm not to leave," Luke replied as he angrily threw the rock against the canyon wall and watched it shatter into several tiny pebbles on impact. "It's not fair! You'll be able to go away from here once you're old enough and I'll be stuck here!"
Watching his friend pace restlessly back and forth Biggs sighed. What Luke said was true, it was only a matter of time before his parents let him go, and as soon as they did he would join the Imperial Academy. But Luke? If his uncle said he was going to keep him here then he probably would.
"So what are you going to do?" Biggs asked knowing that Luke wasn't just going to give up all his dreams this fast.
"I don't know," Luke replied as he stopped pacing and turned to face his friend. "I don't know, but some way I'm going to get off this dust ball!"
Luke was flying across the sands in the landspeeder. Having returned to the farm for lunch he had been sent out to check the equipment on the west ridge this afternoon. Fortunately, only a little maintenance on the fourth vaporator was needed. He would be home well before dinner. Luke thought about stealing some time to himself before he went home.
He whacked the side of the landspeeder in frustration. He was trying to steal a few hours, but Uncle Owen was stealing his whole life. It just wasn't fair. Why should he have to beg for a few hours? It was his life- why did Uncle Owen think that he owned Luke? He wasn't a slave. After all, slaves were told what to eat, what to do, what to...
The landspeeder slowed. Luke took a deep breath. No. He wasn't a slave. He couldn't be. He wasn't owned by Uncle Owen. Uncle Owen didn't force him to stay. He just didn't help him leave. He wouldn't be able to post a bounty or anything if he left. Uncle Owen just wouldn't let Luke use any of the farm's resources to leave. But Luke could leave whenever he wanted to.
Luke stopped the landspeeder. Stood up, and looked around. The sand seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions. The enormity of the thought seemed to permeate his mind... "I can... I can... runaway... from all of this" Luke whispered to himself.
Luke laughed, sliding back down into the seat. Yeah, he could runaway, he thought to himself. With the five credits in his pocket and, glancing down, a landspeeder with only a quarter of the power needed to get to Mos Eisley. Starting the landspeeder back up, he knew that he had only to get the transportation, and he could leave. Wouldn't hurt to have some spare credits as well.
The landspeeder crested the last rise to the farm and Luke pulled into the garage. He bounced out, glancing around. Uncle Owen was on the back workbench, repairing one of the farm's old droids. Luke tried to casually head to his room.
"You're back early."
"Yeah, only one of the vaporators needed any work." Luke sighed. He wouldn't get any free time this afternoon.
"Well, that's a relief. Here, you can help me. I'm trying to get this droid's motivator properly calibrated." Uncle Owen was looking into the droid's innards, parts scattered across the bench.
Luke sat down on the other side of the droid next to the workbench. Owen had one hand in the droid. "Hand me the microspanners, Luke." A few twists with the offered tool, and Owen leaned back.
"I've been thinking Luke. You've been given quite a good life here." Luke forced a neutral expression on his face. "You've never had to worry about food, clothing, or shelter. You've also been given lots of time to hang out with those 'friends' of yours. Now, I'm sure that these 'friends' have stuffed your head with all these crazy ideas... " Alarm bells began to ring in Luke's head, but Uncle Owen continued to speak. "Flying, spaceships, piloting, the Imperial Flight Academy" The last two came out like a curse.
"So I've decided that you shouldn't be goofing off with these so-called friends of yours quite so much. I don't want you to use your T-16 for a couple of weeks Luke. You need to start thinking about your priorities in life."
"Two weeks?!? But I just... I was just checking it out! That's not fair!"
Owen eyes got hard again. Luke wished he could learn to keep his mouth shut. "Yes, two weeks. Teach you what's important. Besides, we don't need your skyhopper for the farm. I could always sell it. Could use the money. Buy a few more droids, a vaporator or two. Now, finish this droid, I'm going to clean up for dinner." Owen walked out.
Luke got up. He walked over to his skyhopper. It looked like a perched bird. Its little one-man cockpit with two wings folded up waiting for the sky. Sell it. Uncle Owen would sell it if he didn't toe the line. He ran one hand down a wing. Flying Beggar's Canyon was the closest he got to real piloting. Uncle Owen would sell it. Fly the skyhopper to wherever he wanted and sell it. Fly the skyhopper where he wanted... Luke stepped back and stared at the T-16. Stared at the transportation he needed. But he couldn't take the Skyhopper all the way to the Academy. Wouldn't want to. He would be flying real ships. He'd have to sell it. The credits might be of some use.
Luke grimaced at the thought of getting rid of the T-16. Even if it was the only way. Well, he wasn't getting rid of it right away. Not yet, not tonight. He would have to plan. He gave the skyhopper one last pat and turned back to the droid.
As soon as dinner was over Luke quickly left the dining room and went to his bedroom. Dinner had been completely silent and there had been an awful tension in the air. He had also noticed that Aunt Beru kept eyeing him every few moments, a slightly frightened and worried expression on her face. But why? Why did she seem frightened? Why had he seen the same look on his uncle's face the other night?
As often before in his life he had lots of questions but no answers. It seemed to happen all too often, he had asked Biggs if he sometimes felt the same way and his friend had answered no. Biggs had said that his father always answered his questions when he had any... his father.
Suppressing the urge to pound his fists against the wall, he had been grounded for two days last time he had done that!, Luke lay down on his bed. As he lay there looking up at the sand colored ceiling his earlier idea of running-away surfaced again. Could he do that? Yes he could, he had everything he needed, transportation and money.
But where would he go? What would he do? How would he get to the Academy? Suddenly he remembered that there had been a section on the main menu of the datapad he had that was on how to join the Empire. Quickly getting up Luke walked over to his desk and pulled the small datapad from underneath all the others on his desk. Turning it on he sat back down on his bed and selected the 'Local Recruitment Stations' option from the main menu.
Listening to the voice that explained everything Luke quickly learned that while Mos Eisley, or Tatooine for that matter, didn't have a recruitment station he could report to the local officials and they would provide free transportation to the Academy.
Smiling to himself he quickly turned off the datapad and hid it underneath the other datapads on his desk. Now he had everything he needed and he knew exactly what to do. The only things left to do were to inform Biggs, gather his courage together, and he'd have to be able to get his T-16 out one day without letting his uncle and aunt know what he was going to do.
Quickly changing Luke then lay back on his bed and smiled to himself, soon he would be off of Tatooine and in the Academy. Then he'd be able to become a pilot, just like his father had once been. He was so excited about the prospect of actually having a future that it was hours before he managed to fall asleep, all he could think about was telling Biggs about his plan.
When he finally did fall asleep he dreamt about becoming a brilliant pilot and of having his name known throughout the galaxy.
Luke walked into Fixer's place in Anchorhead. The ever-present dust and sand swirled in after him as the door swung shut, locking out the burning rays of the double suns. It had been almost a week since his Uncle had grounded him from using the T-16. He hadn't been able to get away in all that time. His Uncle had given him one chore after another for the last seven days, till crawling into bed was all he wanted do at night.
Biggs and Deak were deep into the computer assisted pool game. Fixer was in the back, head stuck in yet another beat up landspeeder. Luke realized that things would never change. He would sit around, cycling between pool games at Fixer's and broken vaporators as long as he stayed on this dusty sandpit of a planet.
"Hey Luke!" Biggs had noticed his arrival, "Where have you been?"
"Everything on the farm chose this week to break." Luke didn't feel like announcing to the world that he'd been effectively grounded- even if it was just Fixer and Deak. Luke forced a smile and sat on a box next to the pool table.
"Tough. Missed you at the canyon. We had a couple of challenges. Deak here raced some guy from Blayton" Every once in awhile people raced each other for bets and bragging rights at Beggar's Canyon. Biggs leaned over to shoot. "Terrible shame he lost." Biggs was smirking at Deak.
Deak leaned over for his shot. "Yeah, well, not by much. I just need to tune up my secondary dampers."
"You always say that Deak. You never get around to it so you have an excuse." Biggs sunk his last computer generated ball. "Come on Luke, let's go." Biggs put up his cue and grabbed Luke. Both of them walked back outside.
"Everything broke? Yeah right Luke- you got grounded again." Biggs was grinning, he gave a friendly swipe to his friend. "Hey, what did you do anyway?" Both of them jumped into Biggs' landspeeder. Biggs pulled the 'speeder out, heading for the open dessert.
Luke sighed, depression slamming into him again. "Nothing. Uncle Owen just wants me to stop hanging out with my friends, who are such a horrible influence. Trying to get me to go to the Imperial Flight Academy and all that." Luke rubbed his temples.
Biggs whistled. "Damn, Luke, he sure is worked up about this."
"I know." Luke paused. "I'm going anyway."
"I'm going anyway. Got it all figured out. Fly my skyhopper to Mos Eisley. Sell it and take the money with me to the Academy." Luke was smiling now. Hands behind his head, staring into the painfully bright sky.
"You're nuts. Sell your T-16? You love that thing!"
"Can't take it with me. Some spending money would be nice for my trip. Besides, I'll get a real ship at the Academy."
"But your skyhopper wouldn't get you enough to get to the Academy anyway, would it? And why Mos Eisley? That place is rough."
"Imperial offices are in Mos Eisley. The recruitment datapad said that the officers would arrange free transportation to the Academy."
"Whoa." Biggs said "You're serious."
"Yeah. It'll be great." Luke flashed his best friend a grin. "Besides, you'll be there in six months yourself."
"Yep, I will, talked to my father. He wants me to go. Ordered a copy of that datapad for me... Hey, when are you going anyway?"
Luke swallowed regret. Biggs' father always seemed to support him. "Oh, tonight. Or tomorrow. I'll have to wait for a good opportunity. Definitely in the next two weeks."
The speeder came up to a canyon ridge. Biggs stopped the speeder, looking at Luke.
"You are really serious." Biggs let out a little laugh. "Sithspawn! I hope you weren't leaving before you said goodbye!"
"Nah, that's why I waited this long. Wouldn't want to not say goodbye to my best friend."
Biggs reached over and grabbed Luke in a bearhug, pounding him on the back. "Take care of yourself, kid."
"Hey, no problem." Luke pulled back, looking at his friend. "And Biggs, don't tell 'em you know where I am. I don't want Uncle Owen to know. Okay?"
"If that's what you want."
Fours days later Luke finally got the opportunity he had been waiting for. His uncle had gone out to the north ridge to work on some of the troublesome vaporators himself and he had taken Aunt Beru with him as she needed to see the neighbors who lived along the way. As soon as they left Luke went down to his room and took a small, white bag out of his closet. Quickly he filled it with some of his possessions, including a couple of the datapads he had. Double checking to make sure he had the datapad with the Academy information he headed upstairs.
Crossing the courtyard and climbing the stairs he entered the garage and put his bag into the T-16 before he exited the garage and looked at his home for the last time. He knew that the Empire allowed leave every six months, but he wouldn't be coming back, he couldn't for Uncle Owen would then force him to stay. Shaking his head, slightly saddened, he turned around and reentered the garage.
Starting up his T-16 he was unable not to smile despite the sadness he felt for, although he would miss Aunt Beru, and perhaps even his uncle a little, he was going to be leaving Tatooine! Not only that but from now on he'd be making the decisions concerning his life, he'd go to the Academy, learn how to fly and then he could always drop out of the navy and become whatever he wanted should he chose to do so.
Pushing the accelerator forward he rushed away from his home, heading in the direction of Mos Eisley. Several hours later he finally caught sight of the spaceport city just as Tatoo I started to sink beneath the horizon. Slowing down as he entered the city he looked around, amazed. There were aliens of every sort and type milling around admits a bustle of activity. Merchants were selling stuff all over the place and there were cantinas everywhere, and not the cantinas like Anchorhead either, these cantinas had dark entrances making him glad that he didn't have to go in there.
Slowing down even more he started to look around for the Imperial outpost when he realized that the buildings here were a lot cleaner then in Anchorhead, the usual grit that he was accustomed to seeing wasn't on these buildings, meaning that the city must be better protected from the sudden, violent, sandstorms common on the planet.
Then, looking to the left of him, Luke caught sight of a group of stormtroopers exiting a building. Smiling he quickly settled his T-16 down next to some other crafts and locked it up before heading towards the building the Imperials had just left. Walking towards the building he kept having to side step vehicles of all sorts, driven by humans and aliens who didn't seem to care whether they ran somebody over or not.
But even as he noticed this he noticed that everyone, whether human or alien, fearfully avoided the stormtroopers.
The building had an old, cracked sign over the top of the door that had "Imperial Offices" written across it in basic. Luke gathered his nerves and pushed open the doors.
The inside was slightly cooler, with pale stucco walls that held screens with flashing wanted posters and other notices on each side of the entry. A wide counter was centered across the entry space. Behind the counter were several desks, piled with datacards. Off to the left of the desks was a dark hallway, thick doors with large numbers lined the walls. Off to the right of the desks was a brighter hallway, each of the doors held a worn nameplate. A droid receptionist looked up.
Just then, four stormtroopers burst through the door, manhandling a short and stocky alien between them. The creature was basically humanoid in shape with blue scales and pink tuffs of fur where its ears should be. It kept yelling in squeaky accented basic "I didn't do it! I didn't do it!"
One of the stormtroopers grunted at the droid. "Attempted theft of Imperial property."
The droid receptionist looked down at a screen behind its counter "Number 12 is clear." The stormtroopers dragged the still protesting figure down the darkened hallway.
"May I help you?" Luke swept his bewildered gaze back to the receptionist droid. It was a plain, metallic gray droid with minimal plating.
"Uh, yeah. The datapad said I should report here for transportation to the Imperial Flight Academy. I.. uh... want to fly. Um..."
"Oh." The receptionist nodded. "We haven't got one of you for awhile. You'll need to talk to Assistant Security Officer Predne Balu. He's in his office. I'll buzz him."
Picking up its comlink, the droid proceeded to mumble into it. "He'll be with you in a minute." It turned back to its work.
Luke smiled at the droid and wandered over to the side of the entryway, looking at some of the wanted posters. Various aliens and human holovids dotted the screens with descriptions of crimes, bounties, and other statistics.
A stocky male human with a rumpled blue uniform emerged from one of the right hand offices. He walked up to the desk. Luke came forward.
"Ah, so you want to fly kid?" The Imperial official was forcing a smile. "You're a moisture farmer, right?" Luke nodded. "Figured. Betcha your family's got your whole life mapped out for you, telling what you're gonna do when. Now, don't look so surprised kid. We don't get many recruits from Tatooine, but they're all the same. You're not alone. Yep, could say, you could, you've got a whole new family now." The Imperial gestured Luke to go in front of him. "Let's go back to my office. I'll tell you what's next."
Luke was ushered into a small office. One chair sat behind a desk piled high with datacards, two chairs sat in front. Luke took one of the chairs as the Imperial official sat down.
"Now kid, my name's Predne Balu. What's yours?"
"Luke Skywalker, sir."
"Skywalker? Good name for a pilot. Well, this is what's gonna happen. Tomorrow morning, first light, you'll be at landing bay 94. We've hired an independent freighter to take some supplies from here to Goblonia. You'll ride on his ship to there, and then you'll transfer to an Imperial ship. That'll take you straight to the Academy. Here's a datapad with the transfer information for you." He handed Luke the pad. "Now, Luke, I'm gonna ask you a few questions real quick- okay?"
"I am guessing that you're folks don't know where you've gone." The official was looking concerned.
"That's all right. The Imperial government understands wanting to serve. You're not running from anything illegal?"
"No." Luke's face was surprised.
"Didn't think so. Now, how did you get here and where are you spending the night?"
"I came on my skyhopper. Don't know where I'm sleeping."
"Well, I don't recommend trying to sack out on the streets, you'll get robbed. I wrote the name of two local hotels on the first directory of that pad. Stay there. What you doing with your skyhopper while your gone?"
"Um. I'm not coming back. I figured I'd sell it. Know a good dealer?"
"Yes, try the ship dealer six blocks west of here. If his prices are ridiculous, go to the next one down the row. With any luck, they'll notice and start bickering with each other. First hotel on your list is only a block or so from there. Landing pad is only a few blocks further than that." The official looked at his chronometer. "Better get going, you're loosing daylight."
"Uh, thanks sir. Thanks a bunch." Luke shook the offered hand and almost ran out of the office and back to his skyhopper.
Balu walked back out to the receptionist droid. Bored eyes followed the retreating back. "Well, that was worth the 50 credit recruitment bonus. Damn young idealists. Call the hotel. I want my kickback. Call the pilot, tell him the kid's coming. I'm going home."
As soon as Luke exited the Imperial building he noticed that Predne Balu was right, he didn't have much daylight left as Tatoo I had just dropped beneath the horizon. Walking back to his skyhopper he called up the first directory on the datapad Balu had given him. Scanning the information he quickly climbed into his skyhopper and headed west through Mos Eisley.
Reaching the area Balu had said the dealers were he set down the skyhopper as close to one of the shops as possible. Climbing out he looked at the small, dirty, sandstone, shop. Slightly to the left and behind the shop he could make out a fenced yard with other small crafts and pieces of old crafts. This must be where his uncle came every few years when he desperately needed some hard-to-find pieces for the vaporators.
Walking over to the store Luke side stepped a Rodian coming out of it. Entering the shop Luke was instantly approached by a tall, muscular, male, Twi'lek.
"Hi chudda da nago?" the Twi'lek asked.
"Um," Luke started, recognizing that the Twi'lek was speaking in Huttese, but unable to understand it. "I'm looking to sell my T-16."
"A T-16?" the Twi'lek asked in heavily accented basic. "Let me see it."
Nodding his head Luke exited the stop and showed the Twi'lek his craft. The Twi'lek seemed interested and started examining it. Several minutes later, after a good look at the skyhopper, the Twi'lek turned back to Luke.
"I'll give you 4,000 credits for it," he stated.
"4,000?!" Luke exclaimed astonished and angry. "It's worth at least double that!"
"It's an old, used, airspeeder," the Twi'lek responded. "You're lucky that I offer so much."
"It cost 30,000," Luke replied, determined to get the amount of money the skyhopper was now worth.
"That was when it was new," the Twi'lek argued. "It's been used and it's dirty."
Nodding his head Luke looked around and noticed that, just as Balu had said, there was another shop next to the Twi'lek's.
"Very well," he said. "If that's all you're willing to give me for it then I'm not interested, I'll just try that shop there."
With this Luke started walking towards the other shop.
"No, wait!" The Twi'lek called after him. "Perhaps I can give you a little more for it."
"How much more?" Luke asked turning around.
The Twi'lek tilted his head slightly to the right, letting his right headtail brush the ground. He was silent for a moment, studying Luke, then the skyhopper, and finally looking to the other shop.
"I'll give you another 3,000 for it," he finally stated.
"No," Luke replied stubbornly, this was after all the only source of money he had available, he wanted at least another 1,000 for it.
"All right 8,500," the Twi'lek stated firmly. "But that's my final offer."
Hesitating Luke looked at the Twi'lek and then at the shop behind him, it was possible that the owner there would him more for it, but it was also possible that he wouldn't. Taking one last look at the shop he turned back to face the Twi'lek.
"Deal," he stated.
Bag slung over one shoulder, Luke walked up to the docking bay in the quiet of dawn. The dusty air filled with the first rays of light. Skywalker rechecked the bay number against the datapad the Imperial had given him. This looked to be the place.
Last night, he had gotten to the hotel just as the last light had left. The hotel receptionist had proposed a ridiculous fee for one night's lodging. Luke had nearly left, but he didn't want to risk the streets. The coming night had brought out some very disreputable looking beings as he had made his way to the hotel. Disgusted, he had forked over the credits and had slept with one hand on his credits the whole night. He had tossed and turned all night in the tiny room, too excited to sleep. At the first hint of dawn, he had hurried to the docking bay.
The vanishing gloom reluctantly revealed the silent ship inside. Walking inside, Luke began to circle the ship. He was going to space in this? The ship was vaguely saucer shaped with a forward protrusion for the cockpit, upper and lower guns, and a sensor dish. Other components looked stuck on. The whole thing looked cobbled together out of scraps and held together with space tape. The ship was a hunk of junk. Luke guessed that independent freighters must not make much of a living.
Suddenly, one of the lower gun emplacements swung around and pointed at Luke. A voice came out of the ship's intercom, "What do you want?" Whoever it was, they sounded like they just woke up.
"I was told to come here for my transportation. The Imperial officer..."
"Oh. Yeah. They called last night about you. Hold on."
A ramp lowered from the base of the ship, and a human male ambled down, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He had scuffed military boots, rumpled military pants, a white shirt, a short brown vest, and a blaster strung low on one hip. Except for the blaster, Luke bet that the man had been sleeping in what he had on. The man had put one hand up on the underside of the ship and the other on his blaster, he looked Luke up and down. Luke thought, 'no, I think he sleeps with the blaster too.'
"So you're the Imperial recruit. Huh. You look like a moisture farmer. Got tired of working on dad's little farm?"
Luke was instantly uncomfortable. "Don't have a father. Grew up at my uncle's place."
"Sorry kid. But I must say, the Imperial's must be desperate. You sure don't look like much."
"Neither does your ship."
The man was instantly defensive. "Hey! Watch what you say about my ship! You wouldn't believe what she can do! She's faster than she looks!" The man paused, and began to laugh. "Yeah, good point kid. Looks can be deceiving. Come on up. We've got clearance in an hour for lift-off." Turning back up the ramp, the man led the way. "Welcome to the Falcon. I'm Han Solo, this is my first mate Chewbacca-"
Luke jumped back. A huge furry thing with fangs had just roared at him.
"Ah, he's a Wookiee. He can understand everything you say, but he doesn't speak Basic."
"You'll sleep in the common room. I'd already filled the spare cabin with freight when I got the call that you were coming. I hope that's all you have- I don't have a lot of spare storage."
"This is all. Um... "
Han flicked a hand at a bench with a table in what looked to be the common room. "Sit here. I've got to go get some stuff ready." He walked off, mumbling to himself.
Looking around the small room Luke sat down on the bench with a sigh, he was finally on his way! He'd heard of Wookiees before but he had never actually met one until today. He hoped that they didn't anger quickly as he didn't want to end up having to face an angry one. Pushing aside the unpleasant thought he turned his mind to the future, it wouldn't be long before the Falcon took off and took him off of Tatooine forever.
Briefly he thought of how his aunt must be feeling right now, she would probably be worried sick about him, worried and hurt. He felt a momentary pang of guilt as he thought of her, she had raised him and he had repaid her by leaving her in a way that clearly showed that he had disliked the life she had given him. But then, how could she expect him to become a moisture farmer?
Shaking his head he pushed that thought aside too. He was going to the Imperial Academy now and once there he would become a pilot... just like his father had once been. Smiling at the thought that he would finally be able to do something that his father had done he got up and headed towards the cockpit.
"Sit down kid," Han ordered as he entered. "We're taking off."
Sitting down in the vacant chair behind the pirate, what was his name?, he watched in fascination as the pirate and the Wookiee started up the Falcon's engines and took off. Han, Han Solo, that was the name of the pilot.
"How long until we get to Goblonia?"
"Two days," Han replied, not taking his eyes off the controls as the Falcon rapidly climbed into Tatooine's dry atmosphere.
Luke continued to watch Han's every manipulation of the controls as the ship pulled away from Tatooine's gravity well and entered hyperspace. As soon as the stars blurred into strips of light that streaked past the ship Han swung his chair around to face his passenger.
"So, do you really want to become an Imperial or did you just want to get off that hellhole of a planet?" he asked.
"Both," Luke replied.
Han immediately sent Chewie a look, warning him not to touch the boy. He knew the kid's answer had angered the Wookiee, and he couldn't blame him, after all if he'd been enslaved by the Empire then he'd want revenge as well. But they desperately needed the money this shipment would bring them and he couldn't deliver the shipment without the boy along with it, for he knew the Imperials on Goblonia would be expecting him. Perhaps he could tell the boy what he was getting himself into, perhaps he could warn him.
"What?" Luke asked, not knowing how he knew, but suddenly knowing that the Wookiee didn't like him... that he was angry with him.
"Well I, we, think that you're making a big mistake," Han replied looking right into the boy's ice-blue eyes.
"A mistake?" Luke asked, eyes flashing from the pirate to his first mate.
"Yes," Han replied as Chewie growled his agreement. "The Empire isn't all that it seems to be. I was an Imperial once, I should know."
"You were an Imperial?" Luke asked curiously. "Why aren't you one anymore?"
"I... I... I quit you could say," Han lied uncomfortably as old, unwanted, memories surfaced. "I didn't like the slavery they had."
"Slavery?" Luke asked.
"Yes," Han stated. "Chewie here was a slave until I freed him."
"You freed him? Weren't you punished?" Luke asked, but then his eyes opened wide with sudden understanding. "You didn't quit, you were kicked out, discharged!"
Han gritted his teeth at the word, despite his dislike of the Empire the word made him sound like a failure, like a loser.
"Look kid I quit, I had no intention of staying with people who do slavery," Han said coldly. "If you want to join the Empire then that's fine with me, just know that within the Empire you will be nothing, a nobody, just another soldier that can be expended!"
Luke's eyes narrowed at the pirate's words. Was what he was saying true? Biggs had mentioned something about non-humans too, but then what could Biggs possibly know about the Empire? What he had heard could have been rumors, rumors spread by people angry at the Empire. People who had been punished by the Empire for doing something they shouldn't have been doing... or by people who had been discharged from the Imperial navy and were resentful of that fact.
Looking at the pilot of the ship he was on Luke wondered how someone discharged from the Empire had managed to get a job hauling Imperial cargo. Perhaps the Imperials didn't know, perhaps this man, Han Solo, had changed his name and they didn't know, there were many different reasons. But whatever the reason he was certain of one thing, and that was that he shouldn't let himself be influenced by people who had reason to hate the Empire. He would go to the Academy, and if he found that he didn't like the Empire, then he'd just quit and make a life for himself as a pilot.
"We'll see," Luke replied getting to his feet.
"Isn't that what they all say, Chewie?" Han asked as he leaned back in his chair and looked at his first mate. "They all think that they'll become important and have their name known throughout the galaxy. Well pretend that if you want kid, just don't be surprised to find yourself just another face in a crowd full of nameless people."
This would be a long two days Luke realized as he gave the pirate a last, stony, glare before he left the cockpit. Two long days indeed.
Luke was playing the computer at holo-chess in the common area. The different pieces were represented by holos of different monsters. The first half of the day had gone by without a word being spoken between him and the ship's crew. Luke moved one of the monsters on the board.
The captain came walking through. He was holding a toolbox in one hand. Luke had noticed that the man and his Wookiee had been walking back and forth all morning with tools and parts. Luke got the funny feeling that this was pretty normal for this ship- it looked like it required a lot of upkeep.
Luke cleared the board. He hated the tension- he decided to break it. "You know, the only reason I want to become an Imperial is to be a pilot."
Han Solo turned and looked at Luke. "So you're selling yourself, your whole life, just to fly?"
Luke grimaced. "It's not like I can go anywhere else."
"Humph. You got any flight experience? Any at all?"
"Got- Had a T-16 Skyhopper at home. Used to fly Beggar's Canyon all the time."
"Nah, that's just flying in goo. Atmosphere. Ah well, you'll wise up. Get out of the academy- skip town. Once you see what the Empire is all about you'll want to quit. Bet you'd even want to join the Rebellion." Han laughed.
Luke looked sheepish. He should have known that this guy wasn't going to quit. Ah well, he might as well make the rest of the trip more enjoyable. "Yeah, just might- if it's as bad as you say."
"I give you six months, then you'll want out. I recommend shipping. Maybe transports. Less risky than the Rebellion. Pays better."
"Besides- it's not like the Rebellion has recruitment offices."
Han was laughing as he started back to the rear compartments with his toolbox. "That would be the day!"
Luke leaned his head against the bulkhead. This guy was annoying. He could tell that Han just wanted to keep him at arm's length for wanting to join the Imperial Academy, but what else was he going to do now? He'd burned his bridges- couldn't go home. And he still wanted to fly. Closing his eyes, he could envision himself swooping in a little snub fighter, out in the darkness of space.
Luke sighed. He could hear Han and his first mate talking through the bulkhead. Well, he could hear Han talking, Chewie was just growling and barking back at Han. "Ah, Chewie, the kid doesn't know any better." The clanking of tools could be heard. "Just wants to pilot." A growling reply. "No, I don't think he cares who for." A few yips. "Take him to the Rebellion!! Are you nuts? Listen, we need the money. We deliver the kid. If he wants to join them later, he can. I don't even know where the Rebellion is. And they won't pay us for him either." A low growl. "He wants to go. Let him. His funeral. Hand me that hydrospanner." The conversation continued, revolving around the reluctant coupling.
Luke lay down on the bench. He just wished they'd get to Goblonia. He wanted off this bucket before it blew up underneath him. He tried to doze off.
"Sit down kid," Han ordered as Luke entered the cockpit. "We're about to come out of hyperspace."
Sitting down Luke mentally gave a sigh of relief, it wouldn't be long before he would get off of this ship and away from its crew. It wasn't that he hated Han, but he didn't like him either, as for the Wookiee... well he'd been getting the cold shoulder from him and he disliked him quite a bit now. He briefly wondered whether all Wookiees were like this or if it was just this one, but then he pushed that thought from his mind and watched as Han and his first mate brought them out of hyperspace.
The ship slowed and then jumped out of hyperspace near a green and orange planet.
"Well, here you are, Goblonia," Han said as he set the Falcon on a course heading for the planet.
Luke just looked at the planet through the view port, this was the first time he had actually seen a planet other then Tatooine. Not wanting to miss anything he leaned forward in his seat and kept his eyes on the planet. He had heard that most vegetation was green, which was probably what gave the planet it's green color, but orange?
"What's the orange?" he finally asked, his curiosity finally getting the better of him.
"Water," Han replied. "This is the only planet that I know which has orange water, some kind of organism is responsible for it or something."
Luke nodded his head despite the fact that the pirate couldn't see him.
"Millennium Falcon what is your purpose and destination?" a cold voice suddenly demanded over the com.
"We carry cargo and a passenger for the Imperial outpost," Han replied rolling his eyes.
The outpost was the only civilized area in the entire system and still the Imps had to ask stupid questions, not to mention the fact that they were expecting him and knew the name of his ship. The Imps really had to control everything and everyone they could. Well he'd had enough, after this he'd quit hauling Imperial cargo, and passengers!, no matter how much he needed the money.
As soon as the outpost came into view Han cast a quick look over his shoulder to the farmboy sitting behind him. The kid had his eyes fixed on the outpost, seemingly lost in his own world. Shaking his head he turned back to his piloting, if the kid wanted to waste his life then he could, it was his business, he didn't care.
Luke looked at the Imperial outpost in fascination, it was just as he had dreamt it would be. The landing pad laying next to the building complex was nearly full with TIE fighters and Imperial shuttles. Walking between the ships were techs checking to make sure all the fighters and shuttles were ready whenever they might be needed. Near the buildings he could see stormtroopers walking around.
Landing the Falcon Han quickly cut the repulsorlifts, got up, and turned to Luke.
"The moment you walk off this ship your life won't be your own anymore," he stated. "You'll belong to the Empire then."
Looking up at the older man Luke gritted his teeth but remained quiet. Han's constant warnings about the Empire and its ways had really started to annoy him. Seeing that the kid wasn't going to listen to him Han shrugged and left the cockpit, Chewie right behind him.
Sighing Luke looked out the viewport at the outpost again before he got to his feet and made his way to the Falcon's ramp.
"The cargo is in the storage area as well as in the spare cabin," Han was saying to an Imperial officer as Luke appeared at the top of the ramp. "And there is your new recruit."
The officer looked past Han and up the ramp to where Luke was standing. For a moment his cold gray eyes studied him.
"You're Luke Skywalker," it was more of a statement then a question.
"Yes Sir," Luke replied as he came down the ramp, ignoring the look Han was giving him.
Nodding his head the officer turned around and motioned for a nearby stormtrooper to approach.
"Take him to Commander Frag," the officer ordered as he gestured to Luke.
"Yes Sir," the stormtrooper replied before he turned around and lead Luke towards the building complex.
Watching Luke go Han shook his head, the kid could have made a good life for himself, he could have become someone and gotten married, instead he chose to give himself to the Empire. Considering that the kid wanted to be a pilot he probably wouldn't live very long. The TIE fighters the Empire gave its pilots had neither shields nor hyperdrive meaning that they were very vulnerable to the Alliance's shielded and hyperspace capable snub fighters. But then the Empire could afford to be careless with its pilots as they, unlike the Alliance, had an almost unlimited supply of kids and young men like Luke.
Turning around to oversee the unloading Han pushed all thoughts of the boy out of his mind, he'd never see the boy again so his thoughts shouldn't dwell on him.
Luke followed the stormtrooper in silence. The soldier quickly marched past several ships to a doorway in one of the nearby buildings. The gray building was a large several story cube, with the only windows on the upper story. It looked exactly like three other buildings that surrounded the garrison proper.
The soldier walked down the interior hallway. Harsh artificial light shined off immaculate gray walls. The stormtrooper's feet echoed off the spotless flooring. The soldier turned at a door marked 'Recruitment'. The stormtrooper looked straight at Luke, his hand on the door. "Good luck." He opened the door.
Surprised, Luke followed mutely. A waiting area and a desk sat in the next room. The soldier announced to the receptionist "Luke Skywalker, recruit." Turned and left.
The prim receptionist had her graying hair pulled back in a severe style. Her pressed uniform, stiff and formal, matched the rigid lines of the room. She looked the young man up and down. She pulled out a datapad and a stylus, and held them out to Luke. "Fill these out." It was clearly a refusal to answer any questions till she had her completed forms.
Luke took the datapad and turned to the chairs in the waiting area. Two other recruits sat there, both of them wore clean civilian clothes of tunic, pants, and boots. One was in a dark blue outfit, the other in brown. Luke sat as far in the corner as he dared, and looked at the datapad. He was beginning to feel like a real rimworld bumpkin.
The form was pretty standard, name, age, schooling, birthplace. Luke was busy filling in "Tatooine" when he realized that he didn't really know where he was born. It then went on to ask for parent's names. Luke left it blank. It was so frustrating- whole segments of his life were left out- Uncle Owen kept so much from him. Well, he was going to start his life over here. He finished filling out the rest of the form and handed it to the receptionist.
She took the pad and plugged it into her terminal. "You did not fill it out completely."
"Uh... I'm adopted. I don't know who my mother and father are."
"Section 1345-128b of the Imperial Laws say that you should be knowledgeable of all personal information."
"I'm from Tatooine. They don't really follow..."
"Ah. A rimworld. We could arrange for the local officials to investigate the matter."
"No! I mean... ah... they don't know where I am. They didn't want me to come... um, do you have to?"
The receptionist blinked. "I am sorry. Most of our recruits in your classification are supported in their decision to join by their families. We can accept your application, under the circumstances." Luke sighed with relief as the receptionist went on. "Now, please go through that door and follow the blue line so you can take your aptitude test."
Luke smiled, and walked through the door. He was on his way- finally.
Luke walked down the hallway and into a room. He was given another datapad by a droid and given a seat in a room filled with rows of chairs. He took tests asking him to solve mechanical problems, math problems, and others. He was thrown in a flight simulator for a 'dry run' as the inspector told him. As the morning wore on to afternoon, he was given medical tests, hand-eye coordination tests, asked a barrage of questions about his friends and family back home, and, finally, someone gave him a small tray of food and told him to sit in a chair. Commander Frag would see him shortly.
Luke was just finishing his food when someone returned for him. "Skywalker, follow me."
He was lead into an office. A balding man sat behind a large desk. The desk was clear of anything except one datapad held in the man's thin fingers.
"Sit down, Skywalker." Luke sat. "You want to be a pilot? Hope so, we are going to make one of you, young man. Your scores were quite good."
"Thank you sir."
"Noticed that you weren't suppose to, shall we say, visit us? Oh, don't be ashamed. You knew where you needed to be. You're wanted here. I want you to remember that. Your family back home, they were never very accepting of you- am I right? Don't worry about it son. You've got a new family now. We want you here." He paused. Luke felt a little confused. Then he remembered all the questions he was asked today. They probably figured out his whole life story with all the questions they asked.
Commander Frag gave Luke a friendly smile. "Now son, next we are going to send you to the Academy. Flight school. I want you to know that the Academy initiation period is going to be tough. It's like the boot camp for the stormtroopers, but it's tailored towards our future pilots. You'll learn how to fit into our family, carry yourself like a pilot. Just stick with it, and you'll be fine." Commander Frag got up, walked Luke to a door on the other side of the office. "The ship leaves for the Academy in the morning. I'll have someone escort you to your quarters for the night. Any questions, son?"
"Uh... no sir."
"Fine, fine..." The Commander opened the door. "Please take Skywalker to recruitment quarters, section E."
After the door closed, the fatherly attitude of the Commander fell off him like cloak. He picked up the datapad. The next recruit needed a harder hand. After all, this was Commander Frag's specialty. He gave each new recruit the command figure that they needed to feel comfortable with their decision to join the Imperial armed forces. To remove their doubts- at least until they reached their respective training grounds.
Waking up the next morning Luke looked up at the gray ceiling of the room he was in and briefly wondered where he was. But then it all came rushing back to him and he quickly got out of bed. This was the third time this had happened to him, he always woke up wondering where he was. But that was probably from having lived in one place his whole life and having always woken up to see the same sand colored ceiling of his room at home.
Pushing the thought aside he turned to look at his clothes. He had found them lying on the bed when he had entered the room the night before. The clothes were a plain black jumpsuit with the only markings on it being three, white, Imperial symbols, one at the top of both sleeves and one above the pocket on the left side of his chest. With the clothes, which he had seen were exactly his size, were a pair of black ankle-boots. He had wondered at the color at first as all the other uniforms he had seen had either been gray, blue, green, white or brown, but then he had realized that that was why his were black, so people would be able to tell that he was a recruit.
Putting on the clothes he looked at himself in the small mirror in the bathroom and smiled. He liked the way he looked in black, it was such a difference from the white he had worn for everyday of his life until today. At the thought his smile broadened, he wasn't even at the Academy yet and he was already extremely pleased that he had left Tatooine. True he felt a little guilt about leaving the way he had, but even that was beginning to fade with the excitement of what had already happened and what was going to happen soon.
Walking back into the small bedroom he looked at the chronometer and saw that he still had a good two hours to go before he needed to report to the landing pad along with the other recruits. Deciding to go and have breakfast he left his room and headed for the cafeteria he had been shown the day before as he had been lead to his room.
Entering the cafeteria he looked around. Obviously there were several cafeterias in the buildings as everyone in this cafeteria wore the same black uniform he did. Briefly he remembered what Solo had said about him being just another face in a crowd of nameless people, but he quickly pushed the thought aside. Hadn't Commander Frag said that his scores on the tests he had taken had been quite good? That had to mean something, didn't it? Briefly he wished he knew exactly what his scores had been.
Knowing that he couldn't find out now he went to stand in line behind the other recruits and waited until he got his food before he sat down at an empty table. At least now that he was wearing the same clothes as everyone else he didn't feel so out of place. Nobody could tell that he was from the Outer Rim Territories anymore and that made him feel a lot better.
Looking down at the food before him he wondered what it was. It looked like nothing he had ever seen before and it had the most peculiar smell to it as well. However, since he knew he wouldn't be getting anything else, he started to eat the food and found that it didn't taste too bad. Just as he was about half way through his breakfast another recruit came up to his table.
"May I sit with you?" the boy asked and sat down when Luke nodded his head. "So where're you going?"
"Flight Academy," Luke replied as he took another bite of his food.
"Hey, me too," the boy replied. "By the way my name is Ausly Hesu, what's yours?"
"Luke Skywalker," Luke replied as he looked at Ausly.
The boy had dark brown hair, hazel brown eyes and looked to be a couple of years older then himself.
"So, where are you from?" Ausly asked as he started to eat his breakfast. "I'm from Corellia."
"I'm from Tatooine," Luke replied reluctantly, he couldn't really refuse to speak, could he?
"Tatooine?" Ausly asked. "That desert planet? No wonder you're so tanned."
"So, why'd you join the Empire?" Luke asked hoping to change the subject.
"I want to see the galaxy, and my father's in the Empire as well," Ausly said. "I want to follow in his footsteps and become like him, you know."
"No, I don't," Luke replied sadly as he felt jealousy rise within him. "I never knew my father... or my mother."
Ausly knew what it was like to grow up in a normal family. He'd had a father to love him, to help him, to teach him... He'd had no one, sure he'd had Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, but it wasn't the same. There was a kind of bond that existed between parents and their children, he had seen it often enough with Biggs and with others, but he had never felt it himself.
"I'm sorry," Ausly replied shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "If I'd known I'd never have said anything."
Luke gave a brief smile as he shrugged and finished off his breakfast.
"I'll see you at the landing pad in an hour and a half, bye."
"See you later," Ausly replied as he turned his attention to another recruit who came to sit next to him.
Quickly exiting the cafeteria Luke headed outside. He wanted to get a look at the plants outside before he headed back to his room for his stuff. He had never seen a plant up close before in his life and was curious as to what they looked and felt like.
As soon as he exited the building he circled around to the back of it and approached the nearest plants. The bush he approached was green and had bright yellow and purple flowers. Reaching out he took a leave between his fingers and rubbed it, feeling the veins running through it. Then he reached out and picked one of the yellow flowers from the bush, brought it to his face, and promptly sneezed as he got pollen up his nose. Dropping the flower he quickly looked around to make sure no one had seen him and heaved a sigh of relief when he could see no one nearby. Looking at the bush one last time he turned around and headed back inside, he knew it was early, but he wanted to be ready when the shuttle came.
Luke had gone back to his temporary quarters and started to pack his bag. He was shoving his old clothes into the bag when he came across his credit pouch. He checked the contents, everything was still there. But it was a lot of money to be carrying around- he ought to do something with it before he got on the shuttle.
But that was easily fixed. The entrance to the temporary recruit quarters had a front desk- he had seen it when he walked in. Asking the receptionist at the desk, he was given directions to an office on the next floor. Opening a bank account with the Imperial military was easy. The terms were easy to understand too- if he got kicked out or died, the Empire kept the money. He didn't like that part, but it was better than carrying cash.
With that taken care of, Luke went to the launch pad.
The sun was shining, but Luke barely noticed its relatively weak rays. The shuttle that was to take him to the flight school sat on the tarmac. It was a big squat thing with stubby wings and blunt nose. It didn't have any viewports for the passengers. The shuttle was loading supplies, but the recruits were still hanging around outside. Many of the black-clad recruits were sitting on crates or standing in circles, talking. Luke felt suddenly shy- he didn't know anyone.
"Hey, Luke! Over here!"
Luke turned to see the dark haired man from breakfast waving at him. "Oh, hello Ausly!" Luke walked over to the group Ausly Hesu was with. About six guys stood together, chatting like they had known each other for years.
"Hey everybody, this is Luke, met him at breakfast. You ready for initiation?"
"I told you guys they never tell the newbies anything. My father told me all about it- the first six weeks of academy are going to be hell. But you stick it out, and everything's fine."
"Oh. Must be nice having the inside scoop."
"Yeah, well, you sit by me and I'll fill you in on the trip. It's the last time we'll get to talk till it's over." The group laughed at Luke's expression.
"You're scaring him Ausly." That came from a blond haired, brown eyed guy across the circle. He was huge, large muscles rippled under his clothes.
"Ah, Drake, he needs to know."
"Don't see why you flyboys need your little initiation anyway." Drake was smiling- he was ribbing his friend.
"Ignore him Luke, musclehead here is only going to be a stormtrooper. They don't count. Drake and I have been arguing about this for the last two years."
"LINE UP!! ALL RECRUITS LINE UP BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE!!" An officer was standing beside the now lowered passenger ramp.
Ausly grabbed Luke's arm and whispered: "Come on Luke, stand close. They separate us by academy type- all us flyboys are together." Much louder, Ausly told his friends "See ya at graduation guys!"
Luke stuck close to Ausly as they boarded the shuttle. Inside was row upon row of passenger chairs bolted to the floor. Each section of chairs was painted one color. The whole back half was yellow, the next section was red, and then the purple section. Luke and Ausly had been directed to the purple section- all recruits going to the Flight Academy were seated together.
"Techs. The stormtroopers are red. Don't let it fool you though- if you wash out of technical or flight, you end up a trooper. Most of all of us will end up troopers. Or pilots on supply ships. Tech always gets a lot of volunteers though- you're less likely to die in action. All my other friends went tech."
The ship rumbled as it took off. Luke wished he could look out a viewport, but at least he could talk to Ausly.
"You flunk out and they move you to another Academy?"
"Yeah- you've signed up. The Empire owns you for the next 4 years. If you can't fly, well, they have to do something with you."
Luke didn't like talking about this. He had come to fly- not spend the next few years in a white armored uniform. "Why did your friend Drake want to be a stormtrooper?"
"Don't let musclehead fool you. He's smart. Wants to be an officer. He'll make it. Not too many volunteers for the ground troops, and volunteers promote faster. He'll advance quick."
"So what about initiation? What's going to happen?"
"Oh boy, it's going to be tough. It may have changed a bit since my father and my cousin went through- but it will start the second we get off this shuttle. Just keep your mouth shut, don't talk back to the instructors or upperclassmen, and do what you're told. Dad told me..." Ausly went on with a bunch of stories about upperclassmen making the newbies scrub the floors all night, instructors yelling at you for anything, and how the whole group of recruits could get punished for one guy's mistake.
Luke was beginning to feel like he had made a mistake. Ausly caught Luke's growing mood. "Ah, don't worry about it. It's bad, but you get through it. Then it's all downhill. Hey, anything for the Empire, right?"
Luke forced a smile. "Actually, anything to fly."
"That too!" Ausly laughed. Then he got serious and quiet. "But be sure to tell them its for the Empire- it's important." Ausly smiled again. "So tell me about Tatooine. Never been there- what's it like?"
"You haven't missed a thing. It is so hot there all the time. I almost feel like I'm freezing here. And dry. And sand." Luke was loosening up.
Ausly was fun to talk to, and listen to. He kinda reminded him of Biggs, besides he had nothing else to do. The rest of the shuttle was buzzing with other conversations.
Luke and Ausly talked on. Water was served, then lunch. Luke realized he hadn't even felt the jump to hyperspace. Ausly checked his chrono. "Academy isn't that far away. We'll be there in a hour. I'm going to use the fresher. I'd use it too, if I were you. Check-in takes awhile." He got up. Luke followed.
Soon after they got back to their seats, the shuttle rumbled. The intercom came on with a click, "All Flight Academy recruits prepare for unloading. All Flight Academy recruits, prepare for unloading. Remaining recruits, remain seated at this time." The intercom clicked off. The shuttle had landed.
Ausly and Luke stood up. Row by row the black clad recruits filed out the shuttle. Luke tried to straighten his uniform as he walked to the ramp.
The incredibly wet air of Rauz hit him in the face. After the dry air of Tatooine, it was almost too thick to breath. All the flight school recruits walked down the ramp and stood in a group at the bottom as the shuttle's passenger ramp closed. The shuttle took off as Luke tried to get his bearings.
"Here they come." It was Ausly, he was talking about the group of officers marching towards the recruits. "Nowhere to hide, huh Luke?"
A week and a half later Luke stifled an impatient sigh as he waited in line. So far he had not yet even gotten into a simulator since the 'dry run' he had done on Goblonia. True, he had been studying the controls and maneuvers of the Imperial TIE fighter, but mostly he and the other recruits had been put through one physical workout after another. The workouts had gotten so hard recently that some of the weaker recruits had already been sent away because they couldn't keep up. And, although he had managed to stay in he Flight Academy, he was always sore and more tired at night then he had ever been in his entire life. The officers had said that pilots needed to be in perfect physical condition to be able to fly. And, although he didn't like the workouts, Luke had to admit that he was in the best physical condition of his life.
The other things he detested besides the officers superior manner and the fact that he hadn't yet been able to fly was the fact that he had had almost no time to talk with Ausly. They had been assigned to the same dorm building, but their schedules were so busy that they only got to talk during lunch, and even then they couldn't exchange more then a few words as their lunch was so short.
At least today he'd be able to get into a simulator. He had heard the news yesterday morning and it had been all that he could do to keep his face expressionless as was required by regulations. There had been a couple of times when he had started to regret coming here, but all that had vanished when he had learned that he'd be put into a simulator today.
Suppressing another impatient sigh he leaned forward to see how many other recruits were ahead of him, waiting to get into a simulator and to be tested for their skill. He and the other pilots had been told that now that they knew the controls they would be tested and then divided into squadrons according to skill. Seeing that there were five more recruits ahead of him he leaned back in his chair and waited for Ausly to re-appear out of the simulator he was in.
Yesterday, during lunch, Ausly had managed to tell him that the best pilots were placed together in Gray squadron which was under the command of Commander Riggs, then pilots were placed in either the Blue, Green, or Red squadron, or they were exported to the Stormtrooper Academy.
Sitting in his chair Luke finally saw Ausly appear from the simulator before he started walking past the recruits towards him.
"I think I did okay," he whispered softly at Luke's raised eyebrow.
Then Ausly was out the door. The moment they were done with their testing they were ordered to go and get their assignments for the rest of the day until dinner. He had heard different recruits whispering amongst themselves that the assignments following the testing were normally messy clean-up jobs that the officers couldn't be bothered to do themselves. Pushing the thought aside Luke looked forward instead and wondered exactly how he would be tested. He guessed that he'd probably have to go up against a computer program of sorts, but he wasn't sure what kind of program. The computer would probably create other TIE fighters that would be on his side so as to simulate what it would be like fighting and flying in a squadron.
"Skywalker," an officer finally called out ten minutes later.
"Here Sir," Luke replied getting to his feet.
"Get into the simulator," the officer barked.
"Yes Sir," Luke replied as he stepped forward and got into the simulator.
Sitting down he strapped himself in and put on the breathing mask that covered his entire face. It took him a couple of seconds to get used to the feel of it, but then he pushed those thoughts aside as the blank screen before him changed into a space scene. Taking hold of the controls he took a deep breath and waited. It was seconds later that he realized that this exercise wouldn't be done with anyone else, computer generated or not. Quickly glancing at the radar to his right he saw two dots rapidly approaching him from behind, X-wings he realized from the studying he had done.
Instantly he threw the TIE fighter into a sharp, spiral, turn just as the lead X-wing's red laser fire overshot him by inches. Suddenly he realized why some of the recruits had come out of the simulator so fast, they had been completely taking by surprise and wiped out with a couple of well placed shots by the X-wings. Clearing his mind of everything but that which he had learned about TIE fighters, their controls, and maneuvers he quickly brought the TIE he was in level as he fired at one of the two X-wings. One of his two shots hit the X-wing, only to be deflected by it's shield.
Cursing, but somehow managing to avoid the X-wings fire, he finally managed to destroy one of the two X-wings.
"Now the numbers are even," he said to himself as he started chasing the second X-wing.
Ten minutes and two X-wings later, as more of them had appeared out of no where when he had finished off the second one, he was finally hit and destroyed by one of the X-wings. Leaning back in his seat and taking off the breathing mask he took a deep breath as he wondered whether he had done well or not. The officers had said absolutely nothing about what they expected them to do in the simulator and the test results would only be out after dinner.
Sighing once more Luke quickly climbed out of the simulator and went to go get his next assignment before dinner.
Plates clattered and the rattle of dinnerware was loud, but only a few whispers were heard. The bare gray dinning hall held the nervous recruits who were busily shoving food into their mouths. The recruits didn't have time to talk, the 15 minutes given for meals wasn't nearly enough time to eat, let alone discuss anything. Luke sat at his assigned seat at dinner, gulping down the food and trying not to choke- the results of the simulation would be announced after dinner, and he felt too nervous to eat. But, at the Academy, you ate anytime you were given food.
"ATTENTION!" Five officers had walked in. All the recruits instantly dropped their forks, jumped to their feet, turned, and snapped a salute. The first officer pointed at a space on the floor.
"The following recruits are to line up here! Skywalker, Daol..." startled, Luke had already started marching to the front, missing the next few names. "...Hesu, Blann..." Well, at least Ausly and him were together. He snapped to attention at the front of the line. The officer finished reading the first list. "You recruits are now Gray Squadron. Follow Commander Riggs." One of the officers stepped out and nodded at the line and marched out of the cafeteria. Luke followed, the rest of the group marching behind as the officer in the dinning hall started reading a second list of names.
They quickly turned into a classroom, everyone took a seat while Commander Riggs leaned against the desk at the front of the room. He was an older man- salt and pepper hair toped a small athletic frame, crows feet marked sharp eyes, and one half of his face was covered in a thin network of scars. The scars went up into his hairline, down across his neck and into his uniform.
As Commander Riggs spoke, it was obvious that whatever had scared his face had also damaged his voice. He spoke in a gravely rasp, words dragged across ruined vocal cords. "You're Gray Squadron. Your simulation scores gave the indication that you may become TIE fighter pilots. Do not think that this means that you have secured your pilot status. I will expect more out of you than you have given the Empire before. You must learn to work as part of a squad. You must learn unwavering concentration."
The commander smiled. It did not sit well on his damaged face. "I've learned the price of wingmates that loose their concentration in battle." His eyes bored into the recruits "I will not let you become TIE pilots without that concentration, that skill."
"Skywalker, stand up, face your squad." Luke stood, nervous. "I want you all to know that Skywalker here has set the academy record for first-time simulation scores. Beating his scores in future sim flights is now your goal. That shouldn't be too hard, considering he's just some farmer's kid from the Rim. Therefore, everyday we run a simulation and no one beats him either time, we will find something to do to 'reward' the group. However, Skywalker, if you throw a sim, you'll flunk out of the Academy and be sent to be a stormtrooper. Sit down."
Commander Riggs went on to describe the coming week's schedule. Two simulation flights per day were planned. Luke's growing enthusiasm was only slightly damped by fears- surely he wasn't that much better than everyone else.
"Are there any questions?" Commander Riggs growled. "Good. Report to the parade ground in 15 minutes."
As the recruits filled out, Ausly caught his arm. "Sith, Luke, what did you do?"
"I don't know."
Ausly sighed. "Can't be too bad. How long did you last in that sim flight anyway?" The rest of the squad slowed down, listening without looking like it.
"Um, not long past the third X-wing I got, about 10 minutes."
Most of the squad looked at Luke. One of them swore under their breath.
Ausly sighed. "Well, I got two. We'll be okay. Besides, my dad said they always find something to get you for, everyday. If it isn't you, it will be something else. Won't really be your fault. Come on, let's go." Ausly looked at the rest of the squad. "Anyone else get two?"
Four others raised their hands.
"Actually, I got three as well. But I had to ram the last one." That was from a small blond recruit. "I'm Daol. I think they lined us up in order."
Ausly nodded. "See, we'll be all right."
Luke nodded back, devoutly wishing that Ausly was right. He didn't want everyone to hate him.
Fifteen minutes later the group was waiting on the parade ground. As Commander Riggs approached the group could see that he was holding a gray bag. Stopping in front of Luke as the squad lined up he tossed the bag to Luke.
"In the bag are strips of gray cloth," Commander Riggs stated. "You are each to take one and put it around your right shoulder as an identification of what squad you're in."
Nodding his head Luke reached into the bag, pulled out one of the strips of cloth before handing the bag to Daol standing behind him. Then he quickly tied the cloth to his right shoulder before looking back to Commander Riggs.
"You shall be split into two groups and put into the simulators again for a dry run with wingmates," Commander Riggs rasped as the bag was passed from one squad member to the next. "Both groups will go up against one another. One group will have black TIEs and the other group's TIE fighters will be gray."
Luke and the others in his squad nodded as Commander Riggs's cold eyes swept over them.
"Starting with Skywalker every other one of you is to take two steps to the right," Commander Riggs ordered.
Doing as he was told Luke quickly took two steps to the right and looked over his shoulder to see who was with him. He was disappointed to see that Ausly was in the other line.
"Although you shall be flying in a group your individual scores will be monitored," Commander Riggs informed the group. "So remember what I said earlier, you are to try to beat Skywalker's score or else we shall start the day tomorrow with something other then the simulator flight, understood?"
Nodding his head nervously Luke tossed a quickly look over his shoulder and saw that most of the others in the squad were eyeing him. He couldn't purposely lose, so he sincerely hoped that what Ausly had said earlier was true, that he had indeed just had luck. He would do his best and hope for the best, he had after all joined the Empire to become a pilot and not a stormtrooper. He briefly tried to imagine himself spending four years in that white armor and quickly shoved the thought aside. If he ever needed to remember why he had to do his absolute best in the simulators all he had to do was think of himself as a stormtrooper.
"Follow me," Commander Riggs ordered as he turned around and headed indoors.
Marching behind the Commander at the head of his line Luke wondered where they were going as the Commander was heading towards the one building he hadn't been in yet. As they entered the building two stormtroopers in the first room looked up and raised their blasters but then lowered them as they saw Commander Riggs. Walking through a winding gray hall Commander Riggs finally entered a room and Luke saw that it was full of simulators lined in two rows along the walls.
If they had this many simulators then why hadn't the officers tested them here? Why had they been tested in two simulators? Shaking his head Luke walked forward at the Commander's signal and stopped before the last simulator in the first row.
"Skywalker, your group will have the black TIEs and Daol's group will have the gray ones," Commander Riggs stated in his raspy voice. "Get into your simulators."
Quickly, eagerly, Luke climbed into his simulator and pulled on the annoying breathing mask. Then he took hold of the controls and waited until the screen changed into a space scene. Looking out the viewport he saw that they were in space above a green and brown planet. Instantly he made a mental note of not getting too close to the planet to prevent being pulled in by the planet's gravity well.
Searching the vast expanse of space he looked for the gray TIEs but failed to see them, quickly he looked down at his radar but still saw nothing but the ships of his wingmates. Sitting back he wondered what was happening when he suddenly became aware of the sound of breathing near his ear.
"Who's there?" he asked looking behind him.
"Skywalker, that you?" another voice replied over the com, a voice which Luke recognized as Blann's.
"Yes," Luke replied.
"I guess everyone in our group has com connection," Frand stated. "Perhaps we should agree on some kind of strategy."
"Probably," Luke replied. "We'd better break into two groups so that the other group can't surround us."
"Good idea," Jokanse stated. "Why don't Skywalker, Frand, and Blann be in one group while Wlanke, Grust, and I be in the other."
"Sounds fine with me," Wlanke replied.
"Watch out," Luke said as he saw six gray dots appear on his radar. "Here they come."
"How do you know?" Grust asked.
"Look at your radar," Luke replied. "My group break left."
Quickly Luke turned his TIE fighter left and saw that two other black TIEs followed him.
"What do you think we should do Skywalker?" Blann asked as they turned to face their approaching opponents.
"I'm not sure," Luke replied, nervous that the others were automatically looking to him for instructions, he had never been a leader. "Perhaps we should chose a target and one of us attack it while the others provide cover."
"Good idea," Frand replied. "Let's take that gray TIE near the edge of their group."
"Okay," Blann replied. "You get him, Skywalker and I will cover you."
Silently nodding his head Luke let himself fall slightly behind Frand's TIE as he looked at the other gray TIEs. Frand had fired his first shots before the gray TIEs responded. The target Frand had chosen swerved at the last minute and managed to just avoid the fire aimed at him. Following his target Frand fired as he turned his TIE. Seeing one of the other gray TIEs breaking from the main group to help his wingmate Luke quickly fired and missed.
"Watch out Frand, behind you to the left," he said into the com before he pulled his TIE into a turn and fired at the gray TIE again.
This time one of his two shots hit the cockpit of the TIE before the TIE started spinning out of control, oxygen seemingly leaking out of the cockpit. The TIE continued to spin until it disappeared.
"One down," Luke stated triumphantly over the com just as Frand fired and hit his TIE.
"Make that two," Frand said.
"Guys, we just lost Grust," Jokanse's voice suddenly said over the com.
"You and Wlanke watch out and stick together," Blann ordered.
"Okay," Jokanse agreed before he cursed.
"What's wrong?" Luke asked. "Jokanse?"
"He's out of it," Wlanke replied.
"Come join us," Frand stated.
Seconds later Wlanke joined them and they manage to take out several of the gray TIEs before Blann and Frand both were hit and 'killed.' Firing at the TIE that had taken out Frand, Luke shot a brief glance at Wlanke and saw that he had just destroyed the TIE that had 'killed' Blann. Destroying the TIE he was chasing Luke turned around just in time to see Wlanke's TIE disappear in a ball of fire as it was hit by the last remaining gray TIE.
Looking at the other TIE Luke wondered who was piloting it, perhaps it was Daol, or perhaps it was one of the others. Approaching the TIE Luke fired at it at the same instant the other TIE opened fire on him. Twisting in an unsuccessful effort to avoid the fire Luke saw the other TIE disappear in a ball of flame just as his screen went blank. Getting out of his simulator Luke saw Ausly getting out of his own simulator before joining his 'dead' wingmen. Smiling at his friend Luke knew that they had just 'killed' each other.
Snapping to attention as Commander Riggs entered the room with a datapad in his hand Luke wondered how he had done. Just because he was the last one of his squad to die didn't mean that he had scored the most hits.
It was late, but Luke sat alone in the lobby of the dorm, studying for the test. He had to know every last detail of the TIE fighter controls for tomorrow. Hard gray benches and darker gray tabletops matched the gray walls of the room.
'Didn't they have any other colors?' thought Luke. He was starting to get sick of gray. 'At least Tatooine had color. I haven't even been able to walk through that blue jungle out there yet. Who could have ever thought that a plant, a tree, could grow that tall? And it rains all the time here... rain. How odd, water from the sky.' Luke shook his head. Everything was different here.
The lift door opened. "Hey Skywalker, trying to beat us in the classroom as well?" Ausly gave his head a friendly punch. Blann and Daol were with him.
"Yeah, I'm just trying to brush up on the control configuration for tomorrow's test. Would have gotten to it earlier, but I had to study history."
"History? Oh, come on, didn't you get that in your Rimworld education?" Ausly sat down across from him.
"Uh, it's a little different than the version I got..."
"Damn, I bet the Rebel Alliance has been feeding those outer worlds all sorts of garbage. No wonder we get so much trouble from them. Look on the bright side Luke, at least now you know the truth. How's the hand?"
"Oh, a little stiff. I'll be all right." Luke looked aside. "I wish that hadn't happened. I didn't tell anyone, I..."
"We know." That was Daol. He had been there, behind Nack, when Nack had reached out and tripped Skywalker on the stairs. Everyone had gotten tired of Skywalker beating them half the time. Nack had tried to even the score. It had backfired. "I don't know why that idiot did what he did. I would have stopped him. He should have known that we're watched."
The security cameras had caught the incident. Not 15 minutes later, Skywalker had been ordered to the medical center for evaluation. Luke's wrist was sprained. And Nack had gotten lectured, more like reamed, on the parade ground, in front of everybody. Commander Riggs had rasped on, at great length, about respecting the team, and more importantly, protecting Imperial property. Nack had been transferred to Red Squadron.
Nack's lecture had drove home to everyone that the Imperial government owned them, heart, body, and soul.
Blann's response was lighthearted. "Yeah, wouldn't want to risk loosing Imperial resources. See you guys later, I'm going to bed. We've got to get up early, don't we?"
Luke slumped down. Over the last few weeks Commander Riggs had gone from replacing morning simulation flights to just waking everyone up early. It wasn't everyday- in fact, he was beaten by at least one other person once a day at least half the time in sim flights. And Commander Riggs usually found another reason that the squad should wake up early. But it was making everyone rather sick of Skywalker.
"Yeah, Skywalker can't be beat. I'm going to bed." Daol said as he walked out.
Skywalker looked at Ausly. "It's not like I can loose on purpose. I tried once, you know. Just a little pause," Luke held up two fingers, an inch apart, "just a little one, got hit, died. Commander Riggs met me at the door to simulation chamber." Luke shook his head.
"What did he do?"
"Said if I ever did that again, he would personally escort me over to the Stormtrooper Academy." Luke snorted, "Like I want to wear that damn white armor. I'm too short for one thing. Your friend Drake is welcome to it."
Ausly smiled. "And if I remember right, you don't look good in white anyway."
Luke looked down at his black sleeve. "This is much more my color." Luke kicked his feet back, putting his hands behind his head. "Yep, this piece of Imperial property shall enjoy wearing black."
Ausly laughed, "What about when you become an officer?"
Luke frowned. "I guess I'll have to change the rules." Then he smiled again, "Like that's going to happen."
"Sooner have a fish-head as an officer, my friend." Ausly was talking about a Mon Calamari. It had quickly become apparent to Luke that the Imperial forces did not have much room for any non-humans. The second day he was here they had attended an 'Imperial Education Seminar', it was a propaganda film about not trusting non-humans. They had seen a different film each week.
"Ausly, do you think that they are all bad? Every last race but us?"
Ausly looked shocked. "Luke, I know you're a little out of touch with the galaxy because of where you grew up, but what interaction have you had with aliens?"
"Um, not much. Everybody in Anchorhead was human. I guess just the Jawas and the Sandpeople. Oh, and I saw a few in Mos Eisley on my way off Tatooine."
"Were any of those creatures trustworthy?"
Luke laughed. "Trust a Jawa? Sandpeople? I'm not that stupid. And I'm probably lucky to get through Mos Eisley alive."
Luke looked at Ausly. He remembered the hidden cameras. "You're probably right." He sighed. 'Better cover myself' thought Luke as he said, "You know, I bet the Rebel Alliance just saturated my education with junk. You're lucky, knowing all this stuff."
"Yeah, superior education brings superior minds."
"Sounds like a quote."
"You did come from the sticks! It's straight out of the Imperial Youth Handbook."
Ausly just looked at Luke. Then he yawned. "It's late. I'm not going to be able to fill all the gaps in your education tonight. You go to bed. Wouldn't want to be late tomorrow morning." Ausly walked off to his room.
Luke packed up his stuff to take back to his room. Ausly was right, being late would really make everyone hate him even more. Well, that wasn't fair. They just didn't like him. Early morning exercises, provided by Skywalker, were just an initiation mind game. Most of them knew that the mind games came with the Academy, but that didn't keep them from wishing he would wash out and leave them in peace.
As Luke shut his door to his room, he remembered that Ausly didn't hate him for having to wake up early. He just shrugged it all off. Said his cousin had gone through the Academy with another hotshot flyer and had all the same tricks pulled on him. He didn't hold it against him. Ausly always seemed to know how everything really worked.
Luke threw himself on his bed, wishing for more sleep than he was going to get tonight. Questions still buzzed in his head. The Imperial military seemed to have so many unspoken rules, Luke felt like he was rushing to find them all out, just so he could survive. Like the 'don't trust non-humans' rule. Luke lay there, drifting off to sleep, trying to straighten out what he knew from before, and the truth in front of him now. Truth was so malleable in the Empire....
His morning alarm buzzed. Luke slapped the wall panel, and dragged himself up. It was morning already? He checked his chronometer, and rushed through the fresher and tossed on some clothes. He would not be late. Blann had been 15 seconds late once. The whole squad had to run all the way around the Academy complex for that.
Luke met Ausly in the hall. Ausly was smiling. "Hey, initiation's over today. Let's see what changes."
Luke blinked. "I forgot. Been too busy trying to stay awake."
Down at the parade ground, Commander Riggs was looking as clean, awake, and irritated as usual. The harsh floodlights made the Commander's scars stand out like bloody scratches.
"Today, we start strategy training. You will start to learn how to work as a group. Scores will now be both for individuals and for your group. The group that looses will have to wake up early, the other group will get to sleep in. We will be rearranging groups as your strengths and weaknesses become more apparent. Later, we will have the whole squadron fight as one team against other squads. Then, you will get some real flight time in an actual TIE." The Commander handed out class schedules. "You may return to your quarters till breakfast. Dismissed."
Commander Riggs watched the retreating recruits. He stood and watched Skywalker. It was a shame that Imperial procedure made a target out of anyone who excelled like that kid. He was a great natural leader, but the training procedures made everyone hate him. Hopefully, the group scoring would change all that. Hopefully.
Four months later, Luke walked down the gray hall on his way to the outside landing pad. Today would be the first day that they actually left Rauz since they had first come here five and a half months ago. Since initiation had ended things had gone a little better among the pilots who had been in the same team as him as they had had to get up earlier far less frequently then the pilots of the other team. The members of the other team had therefore started to dislike him even more then before, but he had learned to live with that. Luckily the other team's dislike of him had lessened when their entire squadron had started flying as one against the other squadrons. Thus far they had only been beaten twice, both times by Red Squadron, but since those two defeats their team performance had gotten better and it was now known among the recruits that Gray Squadron was practically unbeatable.
Luke smiled at the thought, he and Blann had quickly excelled as leaders and he had slowly but surely gotten used to being in charge of his team. But today he wouldn't be leading his team, today Commander Riggs was going to take them off-planet in their TIEs so that they could get used to flying long distances in their fighters.
The thought made him excited for, although they had gone up into space a couple of times so that they would get used to it, they had never actually stayed out there for more then a couple of hours. Now he would stay in his TIE for a far longer time and he'd feel more like a real pilot then a student.
Another thing that excited him was the fact that he had received a message from Biggs this morning. The message had said that his friend would be joining the Academy in three weeks. Three more weeks and he'd be able to speak to his best friend for, although he had a friend in Ausly and that the others of the squadron didn't hate him too much, they weren't exactly all that close either. So the thought of having Biggs nearby truly excited him, he'd be able to tell his friend everything that had happened to him and they'd be able to talk about things he just couldn't talk about with Ausly.
Exiting the building he was in he hurried across the parade ground to the landing pad just as the sun came up in the distance. Walking over to where his squadron's TIE fighters were perched on their racks he wondered if he'd have to fly as Commander Riggs's wingman again. The last few times they had gone up into space Commander Riggs had divided them into groups of three, the first time it had happened there had been three groups of three and one of four as there had been twelve students in the squadron plus Commander Riggs. However since then Hreswe and Olsnu had been sent to the Stormtrooper Academy for misconduct, leaving three groups of three and him with Commander Riggs as the forth group.
"As you know today we shall take our TIEs and fly over to Caridia, the planet with the Stormtrooper Academy," Commander Riggs rasped as soon as everyone had arrived. "We shall spend the night there and return tomorrow."
Looking at his squadron Commander Riggs eyed them until everyone nodded his head before he continued:
"You shall pair up in your usual groups, Skywalker you shall be with me again, understood?"
"Yes Sir," they all replied before heading towards their TIEs at Commander Riggs's signal.
Climbing up the rack and into his TIE Luke barely managed to hide the excited smile on his face from his team members. This was the first time in three months that he had trouble controlling his emotions. Sitting down in the seat of his craft he quickly put on the breathing mask and smoothly lifted off at the Commander's order. They all climbed up into Rauz's atmosphere as a single group.
"Split up into your small groups," Commander Riggs ordered as soon as they had pulled away from Rauz's gravity well.
Heading up to the front of the squadron Luke quickly took his place to the right of Commander Riggs's TIE fighter.
"Everyone in formation?" Commander Riggs demanded and waited for the leader of each small group to respond before they speed away from Rauz.
Sitting back in his seat Luke looked out the window to the Commander's TIE fighter and made sure that he was in the correct position. Lately Commander Riggs always waited five minutes before commenting on a squadron member's mistake, waiting to see it the pilot would notice the mistake himself or not. If not he'd tell the pilot and then later use him as an example for the rest of the squadron. Seeing that he was slightly off he quickly adjusted his position.
"Good," Commander Riggs praised over the com.
Looking down Luke saw that the praise was aimed at him as the Commander had used a com channel that each group had so that they could communicate to only the others in their small group and, seeing that he was the only one in the group with Commander Riggs, the praise had to be aimed at him.
"Thank you Sir," Luke replied automatically.
When he had received his first praise from the Commander he had asked Ausly if he or anyone he knew in the squadron had received one as well the reply had been negative. Ausly had continued to say that at times it seemed like Commander Riggs was firmer on Luke then the others and it had seemed to Ausly as if the Commander was training him to be a commander himself someday. He had dismissed Ausly's idea saying that it was just coincidental, but since then he had also started noticing that the Commander treated him differently and he had begun to wonder if Ausly was right.
If someone had told him about this on the first day or during the first two months he would have been both nervous and scared at the thought of having power over others, but not anymore. Having been constantly seen as a leader in his team he had slowly gotten used to, and had even started to like, being in charge.
Shaking his head he turned his attention back to his flying. He didn't want to mess up now, not with Commander Riggs right next to him.
Caridia wasn't far away by galactic standards, but without hyperdrive it was a long, boring trip. The two Imperial training worlds circled the same star, but were currently almost directly opposite each other. By the time Gray Squadron approached the blue, green, and tan world below Luke felt thirsty, hungry, and had to use the fresher.
Commander Riggs sounded as well rested as ever. "Well squad," he croaked, "this is Caridia. One of the few worlds in the galaxy that has an amazing variety of climates. Useful for training stormtroopers in land operations. We'll be landing shortly, but first... " Suddenly, an orange light lit up on Skywalker's control panel. "I've just turned all your lasers to stun shots only. You can't really kill anyone now. Also, your TIE can register these hits on your hull as 'kills', so... " Luke noticed his scanner screen showing a squad of ships approaching fast, "Well, I'm not here boys. Join me when you get hit." Commander Riggs suddenly peeled off to the side.
'Great, a war game.' Luke thought. 'and I really need to use the fresher.' He slapped on his all squad comm while he studied the screen "Seems like a standard Corrilian Claw formation. Let's try a Drayson Defense. Blann take your group solar north. I'll go south. Daol, you're with me."
Skywalker's group swung down while Blann's shifted up. The Corrilian Claw attack was a standard V formation swung forward to surround a squad and crush it between it's claws. The ships were almost upon them now, and Luke checked the scanners again. The dawning realization hit him as someone else in the squad blurted out- "X-wings?? but..."
Luke forced his panic down. He hit the comm again. "Just training. Commander Riggs wouldn't just be sitting there if it wasn't. Remember the sim flights. Nail 'em twice. Attack speed- let's go."
The Drayson Defense called for a turning of the tables on the attacking group. The TIEs would attempt to divide the claw right down the middle, taking out one side first.
The approaching X-wings, no doubt noting the formation of the TIEs, started to rotate their formation. "Rotate opposite, we'll get the half on the inside." Near a planet, anything on the planet side was 'in'.
Suddenly, they were upon them. Luke yanked his stick, and his TIE sprang planetward. He got a hit on the leading X-wing, but it's shields held. As Luke started to tear a tight circle, he noticed that the X-wings had been liberally covered with the Imperial symbol on wings, body, belly, and nose.
"Keep to your elements. Stay together." Luke jinked left, then right, as the X-wings' stun fire tried to tag him. Heading down, Luke shot around the clustered, swirling ships. He dove into the maelstrom again. Hitting two X-wings during his swerving pass, he noticed that the ranks were beginning to thin already. "Gray 3" that was Daol- "how you doing?"
"Lost 'em both." Daol was a hotshot pilot, but he didn't work well with others. "Got an X on my tail." Luke ran a looping path between speeding ships to where his screen said Gray 3 was located. Sure enough, Daol was being hunted by an X-wing who was tight to his tail. Luke swooped behind, nailing the X-wing three times in rapid succession. The X-wing barrel rolled till it was belly up and pealed away to the waiting group of the 'killed'.
"Stick with me." Luke scanned the screen again. Six TIEs left. 'Damn, it's hard to watch everything.' Luke started pairing off the survivors- wingmen helped keep your tail clear, they watched your back. "Gray 6, 10 together. 4, 5, keep it tight."
Luke and Daol charged back into the giant cloverleafed dogfight. Tearing up, spinning around, hurling down they shot at the X-wings. But the numbers kept dropping. Suddenly they only had four left of the squad, then it was just Luke and Ausly. The remaining four X-wings separated them, and then Luke was alone.
'Sith. But I'm not dead yet.' Luke barrel rolled left and swung right. He scored the last hit needed on one X-wing to take it down- clipped another. 'I really want some shields.' Luke forced his mind clear as he took another twisting dive. Luke purposefully flew so close to an X-wing that he could see the pilot. The X-wing jumped away, giving Luke a clear shot at its partner. 'Got ya.' Luke was grim as he pulled up, shimmying right. As remaining X-wings teamed up on Luke, there wasn't much he could do. But he kept trying- until one 'hit' him, setting off red lights on his control panel.
"Sithspawn!" Luke smacked the panel.
"Not bad Skywalker." The raspy voice of Commander Riggs was heard over the comm unit. "But I wouldn't recommend running that close to an X-wing in a dogfight. The bastard may just run into you out of spite."
"Sorry sir. I just needed to scare him, sir."
"Fall in. Gray Squadron, meet Ghost Squadron. They're a little training group temporarily here at Caridia. You're not to tell anyone about Ghost Squadron until they've gotten the same surprise you just did. It's part of the training." Commander Riggs started to slide his TIE towards the planet.
The ride down was uneventful. After parking their TIEs, Gray Squadron had been escorted to the pilot barracks. Luke had visited the fresher and plopped himself down in the lobby with his mealpack. Tearing into the food, he watched Ausly try to use the wall terminal to contact his friend Drake.
"He should be in officer's training by now. I might get to talk to him." Ausly punched more buttons. Suddenly he smiled. "All right! I can leave him a message. Hope he can get back to me tonight."
Luke went back to eating. He understood Ausly, Biggs would be at the Academy in three weeks. He hoped he got to talk to him soon. He didn't know what had been going on in Biggs' life, or anything. He had so much to tell Biggs, stuff Ausly had told him, things that made adjusting to Imperial life so much easier. Also, Luke really wanted to know what everyone back on Tatooine thought happened to him. Did they even know where he was? Did he care?
One of the pilots from Ghost Squadron came into the lobby. He was a grizzled man in this forties, graying hair, hard-bitten expression, medium build. He looked around, saw Skywalker, walked over.
"Commander Scagg. So you're the one who gave Nasu that fright. He was convinced you had gotten lost and were going to really nail him." Scagg grinned. "I looked at the computer readouts, that was some fancy flying. Surprised you didn't black out."
"Thank you sir. I have to be careful about that- blacking out I mean."
"I'm sure you do. Those TIEs sure can turn. But we've got shields."
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind having shields. We were sure surprised when you guys popped up on our scopes. Never seen a real X-wing in action before."
"Last time you'll see a friendly one. Come on hotshot, I'll show you my ship. Never met an Imp yet that didn't want to see one up close."
"Well, just one that wasn't shooting at me."
The Commander laughed. "You do have a dry sense of humor kid. Come on, Commander Riggs said you'd want to see this."
Skywalker followed Commander Scagg out to the landing field. The sun was beginning to set. Twelve X-wings sat at attention, in close formation. Scagg reached out and patted the leading ship.
"This one's mine. Always has been." Luke walked up and ran his hand along the hull. His eyes found orange paint beneath a chip in the Imperial gray. "I had to fight to keep her. Took some doing, but the Imperials needed a training squad like mine. Once the right people heard my idea, I got to build my squad. We go around, training different groups."
Luke replied quietly. "You weren't always an Imp?" Luke smiled at the man, Scagg was right, the Imperials did need a squad like this. He wasn't so scared to fight X-wings now, even if he did 'die' in that training exercise earlier.
"Nah, grew up on the Rim. Joined the Rebels to fly. What a bunch of idealistic idiots. They were so busy being free individuals, they couldn't work together. I couldn't stand the lack of discipline, the lack of reality in their goals. And other things. So I jumped ship."
"And just casually changed sides and ended up leading a squad?" Luke was grinning.
"Well, my ship no longer has hyperdrive, or anything but stun weapons. And I had to talk to the right people..."
"Who was that?"
"Lord Vader." Luke was surprised, he had heard of the Dark Lord. "That man, he can look into your soul. See right into you. Can tell if you're lying, what you want to do. He just stared at me behind that mask. Felt like he was peeling me inside out, I wanted to faint. Then he turns to one of his officers and says 'Give him his squad. He keeps the ship. Round up the others like him.' Then he walked out, and everything happened."
"Just like that?" Luke didn't know hardly anything about Darth Vader. He had heard of him, sure, who hadn't? But his information was just rumors...
"Just like that. When our lord says something, it happens." Scagg gave his ship another pat. "But I didn't invite you out here to tell you my life story. Commander Riggs is right, you're going to be an officer. Squad leader at least." Skywalker felt surprised.
"That's why I want you to study this." He handed Luke a datapad. "The brass knows I have it, they have a copy, and they know that we let promising pilots look at it. It's the Rebel's training manual, their standard attack patterns. The copy isn't new, but it helps with figuring out what they're doing in the thick of it. I need the copy back by morning- we don't want you becoming too dependent on what's in there."
"Don't mention it. Well, we better get back to the barracks."
Just as they began to turn, the lights on the fields across the landing strip turned on, banishing the gathering gloom. Two swoops zoomed out into the field, shooting stun blasts into the grass. One swoop stopped, its driver heaving a prone form over the back of his bike before heading back to the building it had come from. The remaining swoop set up a search pattern over the field.
"Conscripts." Commander Scagg answered Luke's unasked question. "Sometimes they think that if they run off base that they can get away. Fools ought to just learn to live with their place in life. Need to learn self-sacrifice for the greater good." Scagg shook his head. "You should hear them, 'I have to feed my family' or some other nonsense. It really means 'I don't want to fight.' Shesh. You think that peace just happens? It has to be defended." Scagg sounded disgusted.
Luke didn't know what to think. Everyone at the Flight Academy wanted to be there- the Imperials didn't use conscripts for pilots that much. But Luke could understand not wanting to be a stormtrooper...
Back at the barracks, Luke scanned the datapad. He knew most of it, so he skipped to attack and defense patterns. Not much was there- It seemed that the Rebels didn't bother with too many rigid formations. The words 'improvise as needed' came up a lot. He put the pad down. He headed out to the lobby, maybe Ausly got hold of Drake.
The huge muscle-bound man sat in a chair across from Ausly. He was smiling, a slightly glazed look in his eyes, as him and Ausly tried to catch up on the last five and a half months.
"Yeah, we've been chasing each other around in sim flights, real flights, every which way. I think I can target in my sleep."
"I know I can. The flash learning gives me the weirdest dreams. Battles I know I wasn't in, stuff like that. But it is the fastest way to go. I'm surprised you pilots don't got through the same thing."
"I heard it doesn't take as well on pilots. Being drugged and glassy eyed don't sit well in a cockpit."
"Ah, I've only got one session left."
Luke hid his surprise. He had no idea why stormtrooper training was so much shorter.
"Besides, I volunteered. Commando team training. The shortcut to becoming an officer." Drake had shoved a large smile on his face. "Then, officer training, and off to the real world."
"Hey Luke, remember Drake?"
"Of course, who could forget that mountain? Hope you're having fun here."
"Good to see you again Luke, glad to see you made it." Drake checked his chronometer. "I've got to get back, I'm lucky to get this much time." He stood to leave, every move a careful extension of power. He gave Ausly a careful bearhug and then slid out the door.
"Damn Luke, he sure moves different. I think he's dangerous now." Ausly was amazed at his retreating friend's change.
"Well, we fly different now too. Same thing."
"I guess. Well, sleep tight, it's a long trip tomorrow." Ausly and Luke returned to their temporary quarters.
Looking at the datapad in his hand Vader sighed as he ordered the last section of the report to appear on the screen, the casualty list. Looking down at the list he felt his anger rise, more men had died uselessly and all because the Emperor had demanded another brutal attack on a rebellious people. Crushing the datapad in his right hand he watched as small rivulets of blood ran down his gloved hand from where the shards of the datapad had cut him. Seeing the blood drip from his hand to the floor he was reminded of his son, of the only person alive who shared his blood.
Leaning back in the chair in his pod he thought of the boy. It had been a little over eighteen years ago that he had learned of his wife's pregnancy meaning that his son had to be about eighteen years of age. Eighteen and he probably didn't know a single thing about the Force yet. Feeling a boiling rage rise inside of him he clenched his fists. His son should be with him, standing at his side and ruling the galaxy with him, not living on some planet completely ignorant of his heritage, of who he truly was.
Letting his anger wash through him he suddenly had another vision, another of the visions that had allowed him to see glimpses of his son in the past. Concentrating on the image as it swam into view he was surprised to see the inside of what had to be an Imperial building with all the stormtroopers walking around. It took him a little longer to realize that he had to be seeing one of the buildings on Caridia as there seemed to be a lot of young men clad in the black uniforms of Imperial recruits.
His son was a stormtrooper? His anger rose as the vision narrowed until he was seeing a group of boys. Studying them he saw only two that could be his son as only two of them were blond haired and blue eyed as he knew his son was from previous visions he had seen. Watching the group he saw them laugh before one of the blond, blue eyed, boys looked at his chronometer, said something to the group, before they broke into two groups each heading in separate directions.
Smiling behind his mask Vader was pleased to see that only one of the two blond, blue eyed, boys was in the group the vision followed. Studying his son he nodded his head in approval as he noted how his son carried himself, there was clearly pride in the boy.
Instantly the smile on his face broadened as he saw the group approach and climb into the TIE fighters waiting in their racks on a landing pad. So, the boy was a pilot and not a stormtrooper, this proved that he had inherited his father's skill for flying. When the vision finally faded he didn't curse as he normally did, he now knew where to find his son. He would collect the boy, train him, and then see to getting the Imperial throne for himself.
"Admiral Dern," he said as he activated the com next to him.
"Lord Vader," Admiral Dern replied.
"Set course for Rauz, immediately," Vader ordered.
"As you wish my Lord," Admiral Dern responded as he wondered why they were heading for the Imperial Flight Academy.
The morning shone bright and sunny on the Stormtrooper Academy the next morning. Late last night Green Squadron had shown up in their TIEs and had gotten the nasty surprise of Ghost Squadron pouncing on their tails after the long flight. Gray Squadron sat around eating breakfast with the Greens. The banter was flying back and forth between the two squads, on who had been more surprised.
"Ha, I bet if we look at the computer readouts, half your guys froze for the first second." A Greenie was defending their performance.
"Yeah, but at least we knew that it was a war game." That was Wlanke, he had always been a little defensive about anyone knocking the Grays.
Luke's mind wandered, he had returned the copy of the Rebel Manual to Commander Scagg that morning. Commander Riggs had been in Scagg's room, they had been discussing last night's exercise. Skywalker had been surprised when he had been told to pull up a chair, Riggs and Scagg had proceeded to go over the computer readouts with Luke. Riggs had given Luke a brief lesson on how to interpret the readings, how they pinpointed a pilot's weaknesses. Riggs had hinted that Luke would need to start motivating the squad members to improve. "They won't be in the Academy forever. Squad leaders coach their teammates constantly. It's their job." Riggs had then stated what some of the members of Gray Squadron needed to work on, and what Luke should do about it.
"Yeah, well, we ain't stormies. Least I don't need to write home to my dad with that news." Everyone laughed. Luke snapped back to the present, and checked his chronometer.
"But we may end up staying here if we don't get to our ships, come on guys." The two squads parted ways, each headed for their TIEs.
Luke smiled as he marched back to his craft. He wasn't going to be a stormtrooper. He was a pilot, and he if he had anything to do with it, he was going to be the best pilot in the whole Imperial Navy. 'Father, I wish you could see me now. I think you'd be proud,' Luke thought as he climbed the rack to his TIE fighter.
The next morning, back at Rauz, the air was filled with a light fog as a thin mist settled on the ground. As Gray Squadron marched from the barracks to the classroom building, Luke could hear the mournful wails of the jungle beasts.
A distinct 'WHUMP' was heard in the morning gloom. The squad paused, another 'WHUMP' sounded, closer this time, and sirens began to wail. The shrieking clamor spread across the Academy, tearing at the ears. The orange glow of fire began to burn against the foggy sky, down near the repair sheds.
Commander Riggs' com-link beeped a signal, and he suddenly looked grim. "Get to your ships boys! Its a Rebel attack!"
Gray Squadron began hurling themselves across the parade ground as the barracks they had just exited exploded into flames. The concussion wave of the explosion pushing them onward towards the racks of TIEs. Luke was barely aware of tossing his flightsuit on, clambering up the rack to his TIE, and punching the warm-up sequence.
'Oh Sith, this is real.' His mind screamed with adrenaline, Luke swallowed hard. 'Calm it, focus, stick together, just like yesterday.'
Commander Riggs' voice cracked on the comm. "Same groups as yesterday. Stick together, boys. Time to show what you've learned."
Suddenly, they were ready, ships surging into the sky. Arching upward, Riggs cracked "We have to get the bombers, chase 'em out of the system. They'll be protected by X-wings, most likely. Ah, here they come. Trust your sensors."
Scanners showed ships approaching fast, the foggy mist obscuring vision. Luke's mind whirled, his ship clinging close to the Commander's. The X-wing squad appeared, surrounding the bombing craft. The X-wings spotted the TIEs, and dove for the squad, lasers blazing. Luke barrel rolled under the Commander, twisting his ship around. 'We've got to get out of this soup. I can't see a damn thing.' Luke thought furiously.
Two of the TIEs exploded into flames. Luke felt momentarily stunned. This was it. This was real. No mistakes, or you'd never make it back. Luke checked the screen. Daol's wingmates were gone. "Daol, with us." Luke fumed, 'Damn fool never watched anyone's back.'
The X-wings were arching back. Riggs snapped "Scatter Play 4." The three groups of TIEs bunched up and charged in different directions, intending to circle around the back of the X-wings. The X-wings stayed together, lunging at Commander Riggs ship. Luke had a sudden sinking feeling, 'They know he's the Commander. I've got to cover-' Luke had sprang ahead, hoping to pull off the attack, but it was too late. Commander Riggs ship went up in a muted ball of flame. Luke had instinctively shot at the leading X-wing. Flipping around, he continued to 'tag' that ship, till it flamed into shards.
The other elements of the squad had caught up, picking out the orange ships and hitting them hard. Shields held, as each TIE hit a different ship. Luke smacked the all-squad comm. "Try to target one ship per element, we need to get through their shields."
Luke tried the all comm channel, it should connect him with Academy Command. Recruits were not suppose to even call the Academy base, but this was different. No response. 'With the bombing runs, the communications tower could be slagged by now. We're on our own.' Luke didn't like the thought, he felt worse than blind in this mist.
A flurry of twisting dives and rolls followed, while each squad tried to vape the other. Luke had a hard time orienting himself in the gray soup, and rest of his squad kept drifting apart. Neither side could see through thick mist of the clouds, but the well-seasoned X-wing pilots were more accustomed to relying on their scanners. Luke felt like screaming in frustration when he lost another TIE. Daol wasn't sticking close, either.
An idea flashed across his mind- "Daol, I want you to go after the bomber." A quick check of the remaining ships, "Ausly, Frand, I'm with you. Blann, follow us, we're covering Daol." Luke hoped this would work. 'If he can't watch his wingman's back, I don't want him to have the respons-' Luke shoved his ship down, laser's flying over his head. Ausly's ship twisted, returning fire. Luke spun around, joining his friend, and the X-wing blazed apart.
The two elements continued to hound the X-wings, while the X-wings harried them back. Daol became single-minded in nailing the Bomber, the rest of Gray Squadron became hard-pressed to keep his tail clear when the X-wings figured out Luke's tactic. Daol got another round of hits into its hide. It suddenly arched for space, sides streaming smoke.
"Grays- follow. We got to chase them all the way out of the system." Luke was elated, they were going to win this thing...
Breaking free from the clouds and hurling ever upward, the TIEs and X-wings braided the paths of their ships like a Nanterra weaving. Lasers highlighting the curves and turns, the two battling squads popped up into the blackness of space. Luke suddenly realized that the skies above Rauz were thick with Rebel ships. Only a scattering of TIEs graced the battlefield. Two of the Alliance's capitol ships glided through the maelstrom, gunning at the remaining TIEs. Looping around, Luke centered on another X-wing and hit it with his lasers. Ausly and Frand were following right behind, each hitting the ship in turn. It flamed apart.
Luke hit the all comm button- he needed to know who was in charge of the Imperial force up here. "Gray 2 reporting. Gray 2 reporting."
"Red 3. Red 3."
"Blue 7. Blue 7."
A bare handful of TIEs rose out of the clouds below. "Green 5. Gre-" The leading TIE exploded as an X-wing leapt out of the clouds, spitting fire.
"Gray 2, this is Red 3. They took out our Commander first. Got any ideas?"
Skywalker looked at his screen as he lunged left, almost feeling the hot breath of the blast that flicked past his cockpit. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and doomed.
'Well, this was not a good day for the Empire.' Luke accepted his fate. Months of training calmed his mind, he would fight to the end. He always had.
He calmly flipped the all comm switch again. "This is Gray 2. I want Red and Green to work together to take out the returning bombers on the solar north half. Blue, with us. I want to cover the south half while we can. Watch your tails, avoid the large ships."
Luke flipped the squad comm. "Okay, Daol, pick a group and stick with it. Nobody fights alone up here. Blann, you okay?"
Blann's ship took a turning dive, avoiding the hungry shots from his trailing X-wing. "Get this off my tail!" Wlanke obliged, tracing fire over the X-wings cockpit till it burst.
Gray Squad fought on. Looping curve, to twisting roll, they scrambled across Rauz's skies. Luke scored a hit on a returning bomber, slicing through its hull as his ship screamed past. Barreling around and curving underneath a group of charging X-wings, his squad pulled up under their bellies, fire flashing at exposed undersides. Two X-wings disintegrated in the airless void as Gray Squadron tore through the remaining formation.
'Two down, eighty to go.' Luke twisted around, sending his ship in a tight upward spiral as returning fire flew past his hull. 'I guess Uncle Owen was right, this is going to get me killed.'
Suddenly, a huge eight kilometer long white spear dropped out of hyperspace. Behind Luke, the chasing fire stopped. X-wings tore off, heading for their capital ships before turning around again, drawing a line of defense.
The Executor had arrived.
Looking out the huge viewport on the Executor's bridge, Vader took in the battle scene almost instantly.
"Lord Vader," Admiral Dern said as he approached. "We are unable to contact the Academy, their communications tower must have been hit."
Hearing this Vader half turned to look at the Admiral before he cast another glance out the window. His son was probably out there, fighting for his life. He would know if the boy were dead, he would have felt a disturbance in the Force, and he hadn't.
"Get our TIEs out there," Vader ordered. "And have the techs prepare my fighter."
"As you wish my Lord," Admiral Dern replied as he rushed to carry out his orders while wondering how Vader could have known that they would be needed here.
A smile appeared on Luke's face as he recognized the ship that had appeared out of hyperspace. Quickly he turned his attention back to his piloting, just in time to avoid fire from an approaching X-wing.
"I've got a tail," Luke said as he pulled his TIE into a spiral dive.
"I've got him," Wlanke stated seconds before the X-wing firing on Luke exploded into a brilliant ball of flames.
"Thanks," Luke replied as he watched more TIE fighters appear out of the Executor's docking bays. "All right, we're going to pull back, make it look like we're retreating. Red, Green, when I give the signal you guys turn back and attack the X-wings from the left; Blue, Gray, we'll turn back and attack them from the right. If we do this correctly we'll be blocking their escape from one side and the Executor's TIEs will block their escape on the other side."
"Lets get them!" Ausly's voice said over the com, his excitement evident.
In his own TIE Luke couldn't help but smiling as well, the odds were now definitely in their favor. But then he remembered something Commander Riggs had told him: excitement often made a pilot reckless.
"Keep focused," he ordered. "Begin retreat now."
Instantly all the Academy TIE fighters began turning around and heading back to Rauz. For a moment the X-wings remained where they were, frozen in space, before they pursued the fleeing TIEs.
Looking at the retreating Academy TIE fighters Vader's eyes narrowed, he had activated his com unit just in time to hear the leader give the retreat order. When all the TIEs had turned he had instantly known that most of the leaders were dead as there were supposed to be four squads at the Academy at all times, not one.
Leaning forward he opened a com channel and was about to order the TIEs back when their leader spoke again.
Seeing the TIEs break into two groups Vader instantly knew what was happening.
"Block the Rebel's path," he ordered as he reached out with the Force.
Sweeping the battle scene he quickly felt the disturbance in the Force created by an untrained Force sensitive individual. Knowing that he couldn't hope to find his son unless he had idea of what the boy's mind was like he quickly turned his attention back to his flying. Once this was over he'd find his son.
"Ausly," Luke said as he saw his friend flying alone. "Where's your wingman?"
"X-wing got him," Ausly replied as he peeled off from the group to follow a lone X-wing.
"Ausly get back here," Luke ordered. "Wlanke, cover him."
"I can't," Wlanke replied and Luke looked at his radar to see Wlanke and Blann busy with another X-wing.
Seeing everyone was busy Luke quickly peeled away from the group, heading after Ausly.
"You should have told me your wingman got destroyed," he said as he neared his friend's TIE.
"It happened seconds before you asked about it," Ausly replied and then gave a startled cry as a second X-wing appeared on his tail. "Luke, help!"
Feeling his heart start to pound faster in his chest Luke watched helplessly as the X-wing started to chase his friend. He was still too far away to fire at the Rebel attacking his friend. Then, as he watched, the X-wing spat red laser right at Ausly before Ausly's TIE disappeared in a brilliant red flower of flame.
"Nooooooo!" Luke cried out as a boiling rage the likes of which he had never felt rushed through his veins.
Narrowing his eyes he gripped the controls tightly as the X-wing that had just killed his friend turned around and headed towards him. Before he realized what he was doing he found himself speeding towards the X-wing. Part of him screamed at his brain, telling him to turn away, saying that he'd only get himself killed going head-on with an X-wing. But his brain wasn't listening to that part of him, it was only listening to his blossoming anger, to his need for revenge. Then, at the last moment, he turned his TIE to the left and the X-wing overshot him. The next minute he found himself on the X-wings tail and quickly fired, pleased to see the ship explode.
Watching as yet another X-wing was destroyed from his fire Vader froze as he felt a strong ripple in the Force. Grasping for it he was pleased to feel the anger that had to be coming from his son. Tracing the disturbance back to its owner he was extremely pleased to see that his son was flying the Academy TIE fighter that was leading the others. So, his child was both an outstanding pilot and a leader, this was perfect, especially considering the fact that the boy would be ruling the galaxy at his side in the future.
Briefly he wondered how the boy had managed to get into the Imperial Flight Academy considering the fact that Obi-Wan would have made sure his son would never have ended up with him, but then he pushed the thought aside. He'd ask the boy later when he told him who he was and what his future would be. Finally, after all those years of searching, his son was as good as his.
Calming down Luke looked at the radar and was pleased to see the last X-wing jump into hyperspace. They had done it! They had driven the Rebels away! But at what cost? Turning his TIE fighter around he felt his heart sink as he saw that of the four Academy TIE squadrons that had started the fight only two squadrons were left.
"Let's head back," he ordered as he looked at the Super Star Destroyer hanging in space.
If it hadn't appeared when it did they would all have died here. Following the others back he forced back the tears that threatened to overtake him, Ausly was dead! The one true friend he had known since he had left Tatooine was dead! It was a good thing Biggs would be arriving soon, he didn't know what he'd do if Biggs weren't to show up.
As he landed his TIE fighter in it's rack he thought about the rage he had felt after Ausly's death. He hadn't known that he was capable of hating someone as much as he had hated that X-wing pilot. The pleasure he had felt upon the pilot's death was also something that greatly disturbed him. How could he take so much pleasure in someone's death? Shaking his head he took off his breathing mask and got out of his TIE fighter.
Vader felt surprise at the immense curiosity he had on finally meeting his son. He steered his customized TIE towards the surface, secretly pleased that the communications tower at the Academy had been taken out by the Rebels. He now had an excuse to land.
'I don't know what they've told him. I don't know what he knows about me. He's here- so he hasn't been completely brainwashed about the Empire. He's untrained, so the Jedi haven't gotten to him.' Vader's mind ran in circles, feeling out everything he could reason or guess about his son. 'I don't even know what his name is. Force only knows what they came up with for his name. But he's strong. So strong. That instinctive grasping at the Force, the power of it... The Emperor will feel it. I'll tell him something, mislead him.' Darth Vader gently landed his ship, not even a wobble betrayed the fact that the ship had connected to the ground. Effortlessly lifting himself out of the cockpit, he steeled himself to show no emotion.
Skywalker stood on the walkway under the rack that held his TIE. He felt like he was trembling. 'Ausly. Damn, I'm so sorry. Everything went crazy. I tried to get that X-wing off your tail, I did.' Leaning against the strut of the TIE's rack, Skywalker stared at the bright shinning sky, the warm beautiful day. The mist had burned off, the warm breezes blowing away the last trace of smoke. 'Ausly, I still don't know what I did next. It's like I could see where everyone was. Must be like what Commander Riggs said about situational awareness of your squad. I should ask him- Damn. He's dead too.' Skywalker looked up at his squad's TIEs, huge gaps in the ranks where ships had not returned.
Blann was walking up, glancing at the empty places above. "Skywalker. Thank the Empire you held together. Heard we lost the entire Green squad." Blann looked at Ausly's blank space. "I'm sorry." Blann swallowed. "At least the Executor showed up. I don't think we would have made it without Darth Vader's men." The remainder of Gray Squadron came walking up. Daol, Frand, and Wlanke- they could hardly be called a squad anymore.
"Not your fault Blann- the Rebels killed him. We'll get even..." Luke heard his own words, they felt like someone else had said them.
"Yeah. It's personal now." Blann looked angry.
Daol cut in, "Did you see that strange TIE? I think it was a TIE Advance- do you think Lord Vader was out there?"
Blann replied offhandedly, "I dunno. I heard he does that sometimes..." Blann's voice trailed off, Luke noticing simultaneously that all the color had drained from Blann's face and that very distinct mechanical breathing could be heard behind him.
Luke turned on one heel. A huge black form stood about ten paces away. A scull-like mask and helmet covered its towering head, black armor and cape cloaked its body. A chill stilled the wind as the Dark Lord's form seemed to reject the light of the sun above. Luke forced a salute, not knowing what else to do. Was this who he thought it was? It had to be Lord Vader.
"What's your name?" a mechanical voice cracked in the space between them.
"Luke Skywalker, my lord." Luke, at the moment, was extremely proud that his voice came out clearly.
There were few moments in his life were Darth Vader was thankful for his mask. This was one of them. 'That name? They actually gave him my old name?' Vader was furious. He felt like the Jedi had been mocking him, his old weak past. Clamping down hard on all his mind's thoughts, Vader turned to the Academy officer behind him.
"I need replacement pilots for my ship. Have Commander Skywalker and his squad transferred." Turning, Vader continued, "Now, Lieutenant, we need to discuss why, exactly, this Rebel raid was so successful." He strode off, Vader would have plenty of time to talk to his son later. It was hard to concentrate on the Lieutenant's babbling however, thoughts of his son kept interfering.
'He has absolutely no idea who I am to him. None at all. It even took him a second to recognize me as Lord Vader.' Vader walked on to the office buildings of the Academy, officers in tow. 'He's built like his mother, but the hair and eyes are definitely mine. And he can change his name.'
One of the lower officers had held back for just a moment, to give Skywalker's squad further instructions.
"You have two hours to gather your personal effects. Return to the shuttle landing pad at the end of that time." The officer then scurried after the retreating form of Lord Vader.
"Speak of the Sith." Blann nervously whispered. "Did I hear that right? We got transferred to the Executor?"
"Sounds like it." Daol was equally stunned.
"I don't believe this Skywalker- the Dark Lord spoke to you." Wlanke looked at Luke in awe.
"I wouldn't really call that a conversation." Luke replied ruefully.
"No, but, he did promote you." Frand looked just as impressed. "That's got to mean something, Commander."
"Come on, we have to get our stuff" Luke wanted to end the discussion. He felt funny- he had gotten the distinct impression that the Sith Lord had looked him up and down almost expectantly before asking his name. And then he had been furious. Not at Luke, just about something. Luke brushed it off. He doubted that the Dark Lord really cared one way or another about a simple TIE pilot.
The trainees- no, pilots- turned to the remainder of the barracks. The Rebel bombing had taken out the half the building.
"Do you think our stuff's okay?" Daol looked at the wreckage hopefully.
"Yeah, our rooms are on the side still standing. Let's see what we can salvage."
"Damn terrorists." Wlanke looked furious.
Luke's mind was a blur with all that had to be done before he left. 'Get Ausly's home address, I need to write his parents. His father deserves that much. Biggs- Damn. Biggs. I won't get to talk to him. So close. I hope he makes it to the academy okay. Oh well, we'll met in the skies.' Luke trudged to his room, throwing everything he owned into a bag. Once again, everything in his life was shifting.
Three months later Luke tossed in his sleep as he heard that strange voice in his head that he had been hearing for the past few weeks.
'How did you get to the Academy Luke?' it asked him softly, but there was something about the voice that made him reply.
"I ran away from home," Luke murmured as he started waking up.
'Why?' the voice demanded.
"I wanted to get off of Tatooine, to fly like my father once did," Luke replied.
'Your father?' the voice asked, suddenly interested.
"Yes, he flew, was a navigator on a..." Luke trailed off as he awoke with a start as his chronometer alarm went off.
Sitting up he shook his head as he tried to remember with whom he had been speaking to. Then he remembered, that strange voice that visited him every morning, a voice which seemed to want to know everything about him. At first he had been scared by it, wondering if he was suffering from some kind of medical problem and was going nuts, but since then he had had his monthly check up and he'd passed with a perfect bill of health so he hadn't said anything to the doctors. The last thing he wanted was to be kicked off of the Executor because they thought he was going mad.
However he had to admit to himself that he sometimes wondered if he was going mad. At first he had tried asking the voice what it was and why it was asking him all those questions, but whenever he did so he felt a cold chill seep through his body and the voice always disappeared. He had considered telling the voice that if it didn't answer his questions he wouldn't answer any of the voice's questions anymore, but he had decided against it. He felt some kind of strange connection to the voice and had finally agreed to obeying it when it asked him something.
Sighing he quickly got up and got dressed. He liked to get up earlier and have time to actually enjoy breakfast instead of rushing through it, besides as Commander he had to be the first of the squad at either the simulator room or in the docking bay. He had quickly learned that being Commander brought on a whole lot of other changes as well, it meant that he had to punish the members in his squad who misbehaved or didn't do as they were meant to do during a battle or practice, a duty which nearly cost him his fragile friendships with Daol, Blann, and Wlanke. Frand had remained extremely friendly to him, but he had died in a recent battle.
Other then the four other surviving members of Gray squad he had gotten seven pilots who had been part of a squad on board the Executor which had taken heavy loses during an earlier battle. Those pilots had given him a rough time at first, testing him as they despised being under a pilot who had just come from the Academy. They had quickly calmed down when Frand had told them he had been promoted by Lord Vader.
Lord Vader. He shivered as he remembered how the man had killed Admiral Dern after the Rebel attack in which Frand had died. He and his squad, minus two TIE fighters, had just climbed out of their TIEs when he had turned around to see the Admiral talking to the Dark Lord. Then, without even touching the Admiral, Vader had choked the man to death. He had stood frozen in shock until Vader had looked in his direction at which he had instantly spun around and given a few orders to his squad before dismissing them and leaving the docking bay himself. The Dark Lord made him feel uneasy. He felt like there was something he should know, something important, every time he saw the man. It was a nagging feeling inside of him which he just couldn't understand.
Exiting his room he walked over to the cafeteria and quickly got his breakfast. Sitting down at an empty table he nodded his head at one of the other TIE fighter Commanders. That was another thing that made him uneasy, he was the youngest Commander on board the ship and the others weren't making it any easier for him to adjust. He always felt out of place at meetings all the TIE fighter Commanders had to attend to make reports on their squads.
Eating his breakfast he thought of Biggs. He had sent him a message when he had sent Ausly's father word of his son's death, but he hadn't gotten a reply. Suppressing a frustrated sigh he finished his breakfast as fast as possible, there were times when he felt so lonely. At the worst of times he couldn't wait to go to sleep knowing that the voice, whether real or imagined, would talk to him come dawn.
Getting up he put his tray away before heading towards the docking bay. As the Executor was momentarily in orbit above the water world of Mon Calamari he had been able to get permission to take his squad out for a practice run instead of using the simulators. Entering the Super Star Destroyer's enormous docking bay he quickly walked over to the racks containing his squad's TIEs. Climbing onto the rack he went around to the back of his TIE and started looking it over for, although the techs checked the ships each time they came back in, he liked to reassure himself that his fighter was in top condition. He was after all the one whose life depended on the fact that it was in perfect condition.
Several minutes later he got off the rack and was just checking his chronometer when he felt a funny prickling sensation in the back of his mind. Recognizing it he could feel his muscles stiffen. He had felt the sensation several times before in the past, and every time he turned around he always found Lord Vader somewhere nearby, watching him, or so it seemed. Feeling his whole body tense with fear and curiosity he slowly turned around and, just as he had expected, saw Vader standing at the entrance of the docking bay, looking in his direction. Then, as he watched in surprise, the Dark Lord started walking towards him.
He was just wondering what to do when, suddenly, deafening sirens went off. Recognizing the sound he turned around and looked to see his squad members running towards him. Climbing up the rack to his TIE Luke felt his heart start to beat faster in his chest, the sirens indicated a Rebel attack nearby.
The Mon Calamari waterworld hosted Imperial shipyards. In the days of the Old Republic, the Mon Calamari had a thriving shipbuilding industry. With the change in government, the shipyards and the planet had fallen to Imperial command. Imperial rule ran heavy on the Mon Calamari as they were forced to produce the ships for the Emperor's war machine. It was well-known that the Mon Calamari hated the Imperials for taking their freedom. Many Mon Calamari had joined the Rebel Alliance, and that fraction of the Rebellion had made itself felt today.
The fighting had been fierce. The Rebels had used X-wings, A-wings, and B-wings. They had targeted the Executor, swarming around the huge ship like so many gnats. Then, to add injury to the insult, several of the Rebel Alliance's capitol ships had dropped out of hyperspace. They had fired repeatedly at the shipyards, and slipped back out again. The squads of Rebel snub fighters had then broken off, fleeing into hyperspace.
It shouldn't have done much damage to the yards, the quick barrage of firepower. Except for the fact that the Rebels had sent in an undercover commando team to take down the shipyard shields. Defenseless, thousands of Imperial lives had been lost.
Vader was furious.
The Rebels were getting bolder. They were attacking military sites, surgically targeting buildings, complexes, and shipyards. The Emperor's bloody tactics were alienating neutral worlds. To add to the fire, Imperial military personnel, with all their training and knowledge of procedures, were starting to turn traitor in droves. The unnecessary purges were revolting to these more honorable men. The added influx of well-trained personnel was growing the insignificant Rebellion into a monster the Dark Lord could fear.
And he needed his son closer to him. Training him would take time and energy, and Luke would need to have more regular contact with him. But the next step had made itself available today...
Luke crashed to his bunk. He had just left the Squad Commander debriefing. He and his men had fought courageously against the swarming rebels. They had done well, all things considered. 'Out numbered. Why do I always end up in battles outnumbered? Those Rebels are cowards. Didn't even stick around. Just vaped what they could and left. Then that stupid brass- coming down out of his secure bridge to tell us we could have done better. It was us in those little shieldless ships, not him from his comfy bridge chair. Actually, with Vader, the bridge probably isn't that safe right now.' Luke rubbed his temples.
Luke mussed on the thought. Maybe that's why he choked Admiral Dern- that man's screw-up had cost a lot of pilot's lives. Maybe Vader was just tying an officer's survival with that of his men.
Then there was the other issue. Black 2 had died in the battle. Black 2 was Vader's wingman. Lord Vader had not been out in his ship, but his wingman would occasionally go out together as an element to 'keep in practice'. Somehow, a lucky Rebel had got in a shot and killed him. It had to be a lucky shot, being Vader's wingman was reserved for the best two pilots in the whole Imperial fleet. Sometime in the next few days Lord Vader would pick a replacement.
Every pilot on the Executor was waiting with baited breath. Everyone except Luke. There was no way, he hadn't been out of the Academy three months yet- he wasn't concerned.
Luke dozed off...
'Your father was a navigator?' the soft voice whispered.
'Yeah. On a spice freighter. He died out there. When I was very little.' Luke suddenly wanted to talk, to talk to anyone.
'Died?' The voice sounded surprised.
'That's what Uncle Owen told me.'
'What else did he tell you? About your father?'
'Not much of anything. I wasn't suppose to ask. He'd punish me for it. Uncle Owen once made me scrub the trash bin for asking.'
'I suppose he wanted to raise you as his own.'
'No, not really. He didn't want to be my father. I don't think he even wanted to be my guardian.' Luke's sleepy mind wandered, his memories flicking over scenes of a fatherless child ridiculed by his peers. 'It's lonely to grow up without a father, without parents.'
'I understand.' And Luke knew that the voice did understand, it understood loneliness.
Luke felt gratitude towards the voice. 'Thanks. Most of this is probably in my file.'
'Not all. You should wake up, you have to eat dinner.'
Luke lifted his groggy head, snapping awake when he read the time. He had to hustle to get to the cafeteria.
'Great, now I'm hearing voices in the afternoon.'
Sitting in the cafeteria Luke ate his dinner as fast as he could manage, if he didn't hurry the others would be in the simulator room before him and that would look bad. Still chewing the last of his food he got to his feet and put the tray with the empty dishes away. Rushing down the hall he checked his chronometer. Seeing the time he breathed a sigh of relief, he should be the first one in the simulator room.
Entering the room he missed a step as he saw Nack standing next to one of the simulators. Unconsciously he flexed the hand he had sprained when Nack had tripped him back at the Academy. Looking at the man who had only recently been transferred to the Executor he noticed that he was wearing the uniform of a commander instead of the uniform TIE fighters wore.
"Skywalker," Nack said as an unpleasant smile spread across his face.
"What are you doing here?" Luke asked, keeping the sudden nervousness he felt out of his voice.
Something was about to happen, something big. He didn't know how he knew, he just knew. Forcing a neutral expression on his face he looked at Nack expectantly.
"I've come to replace you as commander of your squad," Nack replied just as Blann, Wlanke, Daol and the other pilots of the squad entered the room.
They all froze in their tracks as they heard Nack's statement. Daol's eyes quickly flashed between Luke and Nack, remembering what had happened the last time those two had met.
"Excuse me?" Luke asked, astonished.
"I'm here to take your place," Nack stated joyfully as he extended his arm. "Give me your rank plaque."
Looking down at Nack's uniform Luke saw that the man had everything but the rank plaque. Feeling his anger rise Luke was tempted not to do as the Nack said, after all Nack couldn't order him around, he wasn't a superior officer, indeed, if anything, Nack was inferior to him. Perhaps Nack just wanted to make a fool of him, there was no way for him to know if Nack had really been ordered to replace him or not.
Slowly he felt his heart sink as he realized that he could tell Nack had been ordered to do this, how else would he have gotten hold of a commander's uniform? But why? Had he done something wrong? Confusion and boiling rage rushed through him, confusion as to why this was happening and rage because Nack was making him look bad before his entire squad. Reluctantly he reach up and undid the rank plaque hanging on the left side of his chest. As he handed it to Nack he saw that his hand was trembling with anger.
Taking the rank plaque, Nack's smile grew as he pinned it to his own tunic before he looked past Luke to his new squad.
"Get ready for the simulation," Nack ordered harshly.
Instantly the squad members rushed to their normal simulators casting looks at Luke. Blann, Wlanke, and Daol's looks were confused and slightly sympathetic, the looks of the others were gleeful and Luke knew that if they got the chance they would repay him for the when he had punished them after a failure.
"Who gave you your orders?" Luke suddenly demanded before he could stop himself.
Even the fact that he was now inferior to Nack couldn't stop the rage boiling inside of him, ready to explode. He wanted to know what he had done to be replaced, he wanted to know who had ordered it. He was surprised to find that his anger went beyond being embarrassed before his squad, he was also angry that his power had been taken from him. Feeling confusion and revulsion at the realization he struggled to keep his face straight.
"I am now a superior officer and you will address me as such in the future," Nack replied. "Admiral Koas ordered me to replace you, he also said you are to report to Lord Vader."
Looking up at Nack with ill concealed astonishment Luke caught the joyful smile on the other man's face. Lord Vader? What had he done wrong? Instantly his mind went over the events of the last few days, looking for a mistake big enough for the Dark Lord to de-promote him and call him to his presence.
"Lord Vader waits in his quarters," Nack added before he turned his back to Luke.
Feeling his anger rise at Nack's behavior Luke clenched his fists as he exited the room and headed for the Dark Lord's quarters. Entering the area where only the highest officers had their quarters Luke noticed the looks those officers were giving him. Approaching the doors to Vader's quarters he hesitated and slowed down, what was he to do? Knock? Stopping before the door he looked down the hall and was about to raise his hand to knock on the door when it suddenly opened.
"Come in Skywalker," Vader's deep, rich, voice ordered.
Swallowing Luke entered the room. Nervously he walked forward and stopped before the strange pod-like structure, looking at the seated form of the Imperial Dark Lord before he respectfully lowered his eyes.
Studying his son Vader smiled unseen behind his mask. The boy's nervousness at being summoned by him was crystal clear to him through the Force, as was his anger at the way he had been replaced by another commander. This was exactly the result he had hoped for, the more often the boy got angry the easier his anger would come to him. Probing his son's undefended mind he marveled once more at the potential the boy held. He had always known his son would be powerful, but Luke held more potential then he had dared hope. Indeed, once trained the boy would be almost as powerful as he himself was, almost, but not quite.
"You know the outcome of the recent battle, no?" Vader asked, wanting to see if his son would physically betray his nervousness.
"Yes my lord," Luke replied and was thankful to hear his voice was steady.
"Then you know I need a replacement for Black 2," Vader said and waited a couple of seconds, watching as Luke nodded his head. "You."
Luke's head snapped up at the single word.
"What?!" he exclaimed before he could stop himself.
Had he heard correctly? The Dark Lord wanted him to be his wingman? But he wasn't that good, was he? No, there were others on board the Executor who were far better pilots then he was, then why had the Sith Lord chosen him? Did it have anything to do with the way Vader had always been watching him?
As the questions flashed across his mind like lightening he realized he was staring at Vader with his mouth open in shock. Quickly he closed his mouth and lowered his eyes.
"You will be the new Black 2," Vader repeated, amused with his son's reaction.
Hearing Vader say it again Luke couldn't help but feel a wave of joy wash through him. This was better then he'd ever dreamt, he was going to be Lord Darth Vader's wingman! Wait until Nack heard this! The corners of his mouth rose as he thought of what he could do to Nack. Realizing what he was thinking he quickly shoved the thoughts aside, what was coming over him? He'd never felt like this before.
Feeling his son's instinctive lust for revenge Vader smiled again, despite the boy's upbringing he was definitely his father's son. Reaching over he pressed a button on the control panel next to him. Instantly the door to his room opened and a stormtrooper entered.
"Show Black 2 to his quarters," Vader ordered.
Watching Luke salute before he left Vader leaned back in his chair. He had been tempted to tell the boy everything now, but he knew that it was best to do one thing at a time. At least now he'd have Luke close to him on a regular basis, the next step was to start Luke's training and then tell him about their relationship. But he wouldn't move to the next phase for a couple of days, the boy needed to get used to being Black 2 first.
Black 2's quarters were huge. Luke had a living room with a desk, couch, low table and two lounging chairs. He had a bedroom, whose bed was much larger than the bunk he had been sleeping in. He even had a fair sized bathroom, with a real hydroshower. There even was a completely empty room off to one side.
Skywalker had woken early, the new surroundings disorienting him. He had dressed quickly, but now he sat in one of his chairs, feet propped up on the table. He wanted to talk to someone, anyone, about his promotion. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.
"I got promoted."
'You did. Why?'
"I don't know. I've got to learn to fly even better now, I have to protect our lord."
'Yes. You shall. How do you feel about Nack taking your squad?' The voice was questioning.
Luke's anger flashed. "That fool? He'll probably wreck it, he's too impulsive." Luke continued gleefully, "Can't wait till he hears about my promotion."
'Yes. Use your anger, focus your rage, control the hate, do not let it control you.' The voice paused. 'And, plot your revenge. But don't be afraid to take advantage of situations that arise.'
Luke mulled over what the voice said. It had never mentioned anything like this before. Compelled by the soft tones of the disembodied voice, Luke pulled up the rage he felt for Nack. What would he do about it?
The shadowy presence behind the voice dissipated, Luke went to breakfast.
Skywalker sat off to one side, eating his breakfast in the large pilot cafeteria. He didn't really want to eat with the commanders right now- he had gotten enough strange looks as it was. Last night, stormtroopers had gone to his old quarters to collect his gear. The rumors had spread fast, and half the pilots in the room were surprised to see him alive after visiting Lord Vader last night.
Apparently, Lord Vader hadn't bothered to tell anyone about his new wingman.
Squad Commander Nack was busy dumping his tray, his new squad following him to morning simulation. Nack had been surprised to see Skywalker this morning. Well, Skywalker would just have to give him another nasty surprise. Luke smiled wickedly, and assumed a look of pleasant friendliness. He leaned forward, elbows on the table, chin on hand, and arms concealing his new rank pin.
"Good morning, Nack." No title, no 'commander', Nack was sure to notice.
Nack spun. His face flashed rage. He stalked back to Skywalker, his squad following cautiously. "You should learn your place Skywalker. I warned you last night..."
Luke tuned him out. His anger rose. This man was an idiot! Didn't he notice that he still wore his commander uniform? Luke grabbed his rage- focus. Focus. Luke smiled. Use the opportunity...
Nack was incensed at Skywalker's reaction. "You need to learn respect of your superior officers, report for level 2 discipline." The squad behind him grinned in anticipation, except Blann, Wlanke, and Daol. Skywalker wasn't this stupid, what was he up to?
Luke raised his eyebrows as he dropped his arms. "I don't think so."
Nack, still glaring at his face, didn't see Luke's new rank plaque. Blann and Daol flinched in shock as Nack grated out "Why you little..." Nack raised his arm, but Daol leaned forward and grabbed it.
"Don't hit him." Daol's voice was an urgent whisper, his eyes glued to Luke's chest. Nack ripped his arm free and followed Daol's eyes.
Nack's eyes got big, he swallowed. Skywalker took on a bored tone. "I am now a superior officer and you will address me as such in the future. I accept your recommendation on discipline. See to it." Luke made a little dismissive gesture with one hand.
Nack stomped out of the cafeteria, squad following. He would get even.
Wlanke, Blann and Daol held back. Wlanke whispered "He did it again? He promoted you?" Luke nodded. The three exchanged glances, then they took off after the rest of their squad.
Luke watched them go. He had never done anything so ruthless in his entire life. He hadn't really meant to, all he wanted to do was give Nack a rude shock. But Nack had been so stupid, Luke couldn't have stopped him if he had tried. Maybe the idiot would learn something before he got his whole squad killed.
The weeks had flown by. Skywalker had not hit it off with Black 3, the man was infuriated that he had to 'baby-sit some greenie', but that wasn't important. The other commanders barely respected him, but that wasn't important. Every morning Luke woke up early, got dressed, and listened to the voice before breakfast.
The voice was important. Each day was a lesson, on how to focus his rage, on how to use it to fly better. There was so much knowledge there, but Luke felt like the voice was holding back. There had to be more to this ability he had. His flying skills had jumped, surprising Black 3 with the rate of his improvement, but better flying wasn't enough anymore.
Luke sat on his chair early in the morning.
'Are you ready to begin?'
"Is there more? More than just flying?"
The voice smiled. 'Just flying? Of course. Are you ready?' The tone was serious. Luke would be getting in further. Somehow he knew that there would be no turning back. He barely hesitated.
'Good. Focus your rage.' Skywalker did. It was easier now. The other commanders' disrespect made it easier, the isolation gave him plenty of time to practice. 'Use your rage, let it swell out of you, let it fill your room.' Luke did.
It was strange. He could feel the furniture in the room, 'see' the datacards he had left on the table, the pillow on the floor. "My rage senses this?"
'No. Your rage lets you connect to the Force. The Force surrounds your room, this ship, the galaxy. It connects to everything, and your rage connects you to it.'
'The Force?' Luke's mind raced, where had he heard that term before?
'The Force is an energy field that binds the universe together. The Jedi,' Luke could hear the rage packed into that one word, 'The Jedi would tell you that the Force is created by life. This is only partially correct. Hate, fear, anger, and death also make it grow. Now, see how far around the ship you can sense.'
Luke pulled his mind along the ship. He could faintly make out people, sleeping, around the ship. A few were awake and working. It was odd, the images fleeting, the people ghosts, it was like a dream.
'Now up, to the command center.' Luke didn't really want to go up there. His suspicion on who the voice was had grown over the last few weeks, and he'd rather avoid confirmation. But he did as he was told.
He was there. The Dark Lord. Luke gulped, he forced his wavering sense to steady. The Dark Lord's form looked pure black, solid, and ordered. Not like Luke's wavering probe. Lord Vader's form was awake, it looked at Luke.
'Good.' The dark form said. There was no doubt now. Skywalker knew he had been talking to Darth Vader. Luke forced himself to maintain contact, through his fear. The Dark Lord noticed Luke's struggle, watched his success. This was better than he had hoped. His boy had control. Not as much as he needed, but he had the strength of will required. The rest could be trained.
'Very Good. I knew you were strong in the Force.'
"Thank you, my lord."
'No, don't call me that. Not here. In public, yes, but in private, no. Call me 'Master'. You are my apprentice.'
"Yes, Master." Apprentice? Apprentice to what? Luke felt way over his head, but held on.
'Apprentice to becoming a Sith Lord.' The Dark Lord paused, feeling Luke's astonishment, his struggle to maintain this connection despite the shocks he had received. Darth Vader was pleased at Luke's strength. 'Go to breakfast, we will talk later.' Vader reached out, tearing the connection, gently letting Luke come back to himself. He watched from a distance.
Luke sat in his chair, sides heaving, face sweating. He got up, washed his face. He stared at his face in the mirror. The Dark Lord had been watching him a long time. He had chosen. Luke blinked, he didn't look different, but he felt different. 'Do I want this? Do I have a choice?' Luke snorted. No he didn't. 'But. Not a word. Not to anybody. This isn't official. Don't hint, don't insinuate.' Luke wondered why the Dark Lord kept this secret, then decided he would just wait to find out.
Sitting in the cafeteria Luke tried to eat his breakfast. Darth Vader, he'd been speaking to Darth Vader all that time! Although he'd had his suspicions it was still a shock. That and the fact that he was being trained as a Sith Lord. Why him? Did that mean he'd become like Vader? Would he be as powerful? Although he pretended that he hoped not, he knew in his heart he hoped that it was true. Confused and slightly revolted by the sudden lust for power he felt inside of him he ate another bite of his food.
Looking around the cafeteria he caught sight of Nack making his way to the table with the Commanders, his tray in his hands. Seeing the man Luke felt his anger rise within him, two days ago Wlanke had died because of Nack. They had attacked a Rebel outpost and, during the battle, Nack had left Wlanke's back undefended when he had gone after an X-wing by himself. One of the other X-wings had noticed this and had quickly fired at Wlanke, destroying the TIE fighter.
He had been out there himself, but he had been unable to do anything as he had to watch Black 3's back at the time. Letting his rage rise within him Luke stared at Nack, wishing he knew more of this Force Vader had described. It was probably with the Force that Vader had killed Admiral Dern. It wasn't that he wanted to kill Nack, but if the Force had the power to chock somebody to death, then it definitely had the power to trip someone.
How he longed to be able to release his anger on Nack, if only to trip him. He could see it in his head, Nack would be approaching the table with the other, older, commanders and then he would trip, his tray flying out of his hands either onto the table or onto one of the commanders. Nack would be so embarrassed that he'd never be able to look the others in the eye again. Smiling Luke closed his eyes so that he could see a mental image of it happening in his head.
Suddenly he was pulled from his thoughts as he heard a startled cry. Opening his eyes he looked up to see Nack falling down and his tray flying to land on the lap of the commander sitting at the end of the table. Staring at Nack, his mouth hanging open, Luke wondered what had just happened. Had he done that? Looking around the cafeteria he saw that everyone had stopped talking and that all eyes were on Nack.
'What did you just do?' Vader demanded angrily.
"I don't know my lord, I mean master," Luke whispered softly so that no one else could hear him. "One minute I'm visualizing Nack tripping and falling and the next minute he does it."
Looking back to Nack he saw the man was slowly getting to his feet, his face bright red with embarrassment. Keeping his eyes lowered Nack avoid making eye contact with anyone as he spoke to the commander on whom his breakfast tray had fallen.
"I'm sorry," Nack apologized. "I... I must have tripped."
"Next time watch where you're going boy," the Commander growled threateningly.
Nodding his head Nack quickly turned around and exited the cafeteria, unable to take the humiliation anymore.
'You used the Force,' Vader stated, some of his anger evaporating. 'Come to my quarters as soon as you're done.'
"As you wish master," Luke replied before he was left alone again.
Looking at his food he began to wonder how he had gotten this strange ability to touch the Force. Was it a chance occurrence? Or had he inherited it? And if so why hadn't his uncle and aunt said anything about it?
Shaking his head in frustration he continued eating his breakfast. The only way he might get some answers to all the questions he had was if Lord Vader was willing to give them to him, he definitely wasn't going to ask the questions. Finishing his breakfast he picked up his tray, put it away, and left the cafeteria.
Swallowing he stopped in front of the door to Vader's quarters. And then, just like the last time he had been here, the doors opened by themselves.
"Enter Black 2," Vader's voice ordered.
Doing as he was told Luke entered the room and walked over to stand next to an astonished Admiral Koas. The Admiral quickly looked at him before turning back to Lord Vader.
"And that was when the Avenger lost track of the Rebels my lord," Admiral Koas finished.
"Tell them to search the area," Vader ordered.
"As you wish," the Admiral replied before bowing, looking at Luke, and then leaving the room.
Vader waited until the Admiral was gone before he turned to his waiting son. Reaching out he entered the boy's mind finding confusion, fear, and curiosity about both him and the Force. Probing deeper he came across the boy's lust for power and his feelings about it, he nearly laughed aloud when he saw that his son was disgusted by it. Soon his boy would learn to accept it. And once he did then he'd be able to tell the boy his full plan, tell him that together they would overthrow the Emperor, but not before. Indeed, now the boy wouldn't understand, but by the time he got far enough into his training he'd also have seen just how badly Palpatine mishandled the Empire.
"Now we shall continue your training my apprentice," he stated and watched Luke hesitate before nodding his head. "Do as you did before breakfast."
Letting his anger fill first him and then the room Luke reached out as he had done earlier.
Two months later, Luke gently landed his TIE fighter in its rack in the docking bay of the Executor. They had just attacked another Rebel outpost, a battle they had won with almost no losses. Taking off his mask he quickly got out of his TIE fighter.
"Not bad Skywalker," Black 3 said as he walked up to Luke. "Not bad."
"Thanks," Luke replied knowing that 'not bad' from Black 3 was a major compliment.
"You coming down to the gym?" Black 3 asked.
"No," Luke replied nervously. "Lord Vader told me to see him once I came back."
"Okay," Black 3 replied icily before he turned around and left.
Shaking his head Luke headed for Vader's quarters, although he was coming to like learning about the Force more and more he disliked the consequences of the training. The other pilots had quickly become aware of the fact that he was spending a lot of time with Lord Vader and they were staying away from him because of it. Approaching Vader's quarters he felt the Dark Lord's mind reach out and touch his.
That was another thing that bothered him, being this close to Vader. There were times when he'd be eating or relaxing and that he'd suddenly feel the Dark Lord's touch in his mind. And, since he knew that Vader could hide his presence from him, he was sure that the man was in his mind more often then he'd like. And then there was this strange connection he felt to Vader, he couldn't describe the feeling, but the more he was with him the stronger the feeling would get.
Entering Vader's quarters as the door opened he quietly walked to stand before his master.
"We shall continue working on your mental shields today my apprentice," Vader stated.
Nodding his head Luke sat down in the chair that he always used when he and his master worked on a part of the training that didn't require any physical actions. His master seemed to put a heavy emphasis on the shielding of his mind although he didn't know why, there was no one else on board the Executor who had the ability to touch the Force so he wasn't in danger of having his thoughts read. Suppressing a sigh he raised he mental shields and waited to see where Vader would a find a weakness.
A couple of minutes later Vader pierced his shields and then, before his master pulled out of his mind, he felt the strange bond again. Biting his lower lip he wondered what it was, what it meant.
"You have a question," Vader stated as he got up and walked over to his son who immediately rose to his own feet.
"Yes master," Luke began, knowing that he couldn't lie. "Whenever you enter my mind I feel something... I can't really explain it, but... it feels almost like a..."
"Like a bond?" Vader finished for him.
"Yes," Luke replied looking up. "Master," he added hastily.
"I was wondering when you'd ask," Vader said as he raised a hand. "You see your foster parents lied to you, your father didn't die and he wasn't a navigator."
"What?" Luke asked astonished, but sensing the truth in the Dark Lord's words. "Why would they lie about him to me?"
"Because they disagreed with what your father stood for and they didn't want you to be with him," Vader stated as he felt anger rise within his son at the words. "You see Luke, I am your father."
Luke froze at the words as Vader briefly stroked his bloodless cheek with the back of his hand before he turned around and walked back to his pod.
"Why... how..." Luke stuttered as he tried to process what he'd just heard.
Vader was his father? Reaching out with the Force he hesitated before he touched Vader's mind, surprised to find all the Sith Lord's shields down. The moment he touched the Dark Lord's mind he was certain that the man was telling the truth, he could feel it.
"Why was I raised on Tatooine?" Luke finally asked, looking at his newly found father.
"The Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi disagreed with my beliefs and stole your mother from me while I was recovering from the accident which confined me to this armor and respirator," Vader explained as he felt the flame of anger inside his son grow. "When I later found out that she was pregnant I searched for you whenever I could, but I had no idea where to look."
Luke felt anger rise in him at what this Obi-Wan had done to him, the man had stolen him from his father and from the life he should have had. But at the same time he felt joy, joy at the fact that he wasn't an orphan, joy that his childhood dreams and hopes had come true; he had a father!
Skywalker tested his mental shields. His father had instructed him to maintain them at all times. Luke had even learned the skill to shield in his sleep. The shield was firm, unbroken covering against mental intrusion. It wasn't perfect, his shield. The thickness varied, the form shifted, but it surrounded him. Except for the wire thin bond that snaked off to his father. Luke wondered at that, the bond. He could feel his father brush mental fingers against the bond occasionally, almost subconsciously testing to see if it still held.
His father. That had taken some getting used to, that Darth Vader, the Dark Lord, was his father. He still wondered at it, that a man so imposing, so sinister, would even bother to reclaim his farmboy son. His father showed almost no affection for Luke, shared little praise, but he was extremely jealous of Luke's time. It was as if the Dark Lord was driving Luke towards some goal. Luke just didn't know what that goal was, and that bothered him.
Luke sat at his desk, picking up the datacard that held the report about a Rebel uprising on the other side of the Empire. An Admiral Tarkin had responded to a minor uprising with a series of vicious planetary bombardments. He had been following the Emperor's direct orders, but had followed them with such enthusiasm and thoroughness that revolted Skywalker. Sure, the Rebels had to be put down, but how many loyal Imperial citizens had been killed, or their lives destroyed? Luke noted with disgust that the Admiral had been promoted for his actions.
Luke sighed. This Emperor he served had an unquenchable blood lust for revenge. Luke tossed the datacard on the pile on the table. His father had given him a whole group of reports to read in his spare time. Each status report was on a different part of the Empire, the uncensored versions held accounts of Imperial activities that the standard citizen would be appalled to learn. Luke didn't even flinch at this latest Imperial atrocity. The pile of datacards was full of them, and they all had one thing in common.
The Emperor had ordered them. Mass executions, planetary purges, it was the standard order of events for any Rebel activity in an area. Luke shook his head. This overactive 'discipline' stirred up more trouble than it put down. What was wrong with the Emperor? Even Luke, with his limited experience, could determine that the Emperor was almost driving his subjects to rebellion. Luke could even sense that Darth Vader didn't approve of all the Emperor's actions, he went too far for the Dark Lord. Vader wanted order, strict controlled order, not some blood soaked chaos labeled an Empire.
He stared at the pile of datacards again. Nothing he learned was without purpose. This was another riddle he had to figure out. Luke marshaled what he did know: the Emperor was starting to tear his Empire apart, Luke was being trained in secret, and Darth Vader did not approve of the extent of the retributions brought against the people.
Which wasn't to say that the Dark Lord didn't approve of violence as a solution. Just yesterday they had attacked a Rebel outpost and slaughtered the occupants down to the last sentient creature. Darth Vader was more than efficient when it came to removing his opposition, permanently. It made Luke wonder why his father hadn't done anything about the problem, even Luke was beginning to see the necessity of a violent solution to the leadership problem in the current situation.
Luke definitely wanted to fix the ailing Empire. It was a beautiful thing, the Empire. Warring worlds brought to peace. A vessel by which to purge the rotting Old Republic of its corruption. A place for Luke to stand in glory.
Luke let that last thought roll around in his head. He hadn't really given his path in life much thought before, he had run off to the Academy to follow his childhood dream of becoming like his father. He was becoming like his father now, but what should he do with his power? The more he thought about it, the more he realized he was meant for better things than remaining Darth Vader's wingman. He didn't mind standing behind his father, the Dark Lord. It felt right, following him. But Luke didn't like standing in his shadow, unseen. The more he learned, the harder it was to pretend he was just another pilot. No one believed he was just another pilot anymore, but everyone continued the charade.
Luke was sick of it. He wanted to drop the play-acting. Showing up to inspections, drills, and junior officer meetings was a waste of time. The senior officer of the Executor's TIE fighter squads, Wing Commander Jamerson, took pleasure in watching Luke go through the motions of being his junior officer. Worse, Luke felt he could command the squads better than the Wing Commander. He certainly wouldn't have kept that idiot Squad Commander Nack around.
Nack's impulsiveness continued to endanger his squad. His short-sighted orders in the last battle had exposed his squad to unnecessary risks, which had resulted in the death of four members of his squad. Luke pulled the datacard off his desk with the computer readouts of the last battle.
'Nack's dangerous, he should be removed.' Luke looked up at the pile of datacards outlining the Emperor's mistakes. 'If he's so dangerous, why hasn't he been removed?' Luke wasn't thinking about Nack. Why hadn't his father taken care of the Emperor? Skywalker knew that the Dark Lord wouldn't have any moral problems killing anybody that threatened his beloved Empire. So what was holding him back?
Luke leaned back in his chair, pondering. He absently checked his shields. 'Still holding, for whomever out there can actually use the Force. Not that they're on this ship...' Luke came up short, cursing himself. Sometimes he could be so blind to the obvious.
Luke gently probed out. He could ask his father right now. He had a right to know, this was important. Lord Vader was flipping through yesterday's battle report, it was safe to interrupt him.
'Yes, my son?' Luke got the eerie feeling Vader knew the question Luke was going to ask.
'Father, how powerful in the Force is the Emperor?' Darth Vader smiled behind a mental shield. His son sure got to the point fast.
'More powerful than I am.' Vader's tone was dry. Would his son finish this line of the conversation?
'More powerful than both of us?'
'Meet me on the bridge.'
Luke stood, straightened his uniform, and set off for the bridge. He had never been there before. After a long ride, the lift doors opened, revealing an oval room, the sides filled with officers at terminals. The Dark Lord stood at the far side at the viewport, back to the room, overlooking the stars.
Admiral Koas looked up, recognition flashing across his face at the unexpected visitor. He glanced at the Dark Lord. Admiral Koas wished that Darth Vader would give him some clue as to how he was to respond to the young man's presence. Koas didn't become an Admiral under Darth Vader without realizing that the Dark Lord did many things that were completely unexplainable, and that he was never to question a single one of the Sith Lord's actions. It wasn't healthy.
"Black 2, come here." The mechanical voice rasped, carried across the bridge. As Luke strode across the room, he noticed the glances of surprise from the officers around the bridge. TIE fighter pilots did not come on the bridge. As he neared Vader, he noticed that the Dark Lord had modified his personal shields, letting a dark cloud of fear out, keeping his private thoughts in. Darth Vader used the Force to instill absolute terror in his subordinates. The Dark Lord deliberately took a step to the side, making room for Black 2.
Luke stepped up to the viewport, glanced at his father, and then joined him in staring at the stars.
Vader began to silently talk to his son, through the Force. 'There are thousands of worlds in the Empire. The Emperor would destroy that. He would create a bunch of warring factions- warlords and the Rebellion, at each other's throats for centuries. His lust for absolute power is driving him insane, he has become unable to rule well. But he is powerful in the Force. More powerful than me, more powerful than you, more powerful than us. For now. When you have learned all that you need, we will strike. He will fall, I will be Emperor. Order will be restored.'
'And what of your wingman?' Luke wanted to know. He had to know, did his father really care, or was he just a tool? What was his place in this future order?
Luke felt a ripple of dark amusement from his father. 'What of my son? He shall rule with me. My prince, my heir. I will introduce him to the galaxy, change his name. No one will doubt your place.'
Luke stared at the stars. Rule the Empire, the galaxy. He felt a growing dark joy at the idea. He would stand beside his father, and everyone would know. He liked the picture in his mind.
He let his father feel his acceptance of the plan. Vader knew his son had embraced his heart's desires as his own. Luke turned to Darth Vader and bowed, "Yes, my Lord." Vader dismissed him with a nod, and Black 2 walked off the bridge.
Admiral Koas watched the seemingly insignificant TIE fighter pilot leave the bridge. That pilot had shown absolutely no fear of the Dark Lord. Darth Vader had practically treated the young man as an equal. Koas began to feel afraid. Something was going on, but he couldn't even try to find out what.
Looking out the window of the shuttle he was in Luke sighed as Pekft grew smaller and smaller. Every now and then when the Executor was above what was considered a 'safe' planet, namely a planet completely loyal to the Empire, a selected few TIE fighter pilots and officers were allowed to go down to the planet. This morning his father had given him permission to go. As soon as he had heard the news he had quickly gone to his room and changed into the jumpsuit all TIE fighter pilots had to wear when off their ship. The jumpsuit closely resembled that of the Imperial recruits with the exception that on the left side of their chest the jumpsuit had the name of the pilot on it. Just the name, no rank.
Turning away from the window Luke leaned back in his seat and checked his mental shields again. While on Pekft he had reached out with the Force and probed some of the different people there while being sure to shield his actions with his mental shields. Over the weeks since his father had told him of his plan he had grown to like the idea of being Prince of the galaxy more and more and he had worked harder then ever on his shields, not wanting Palpatine to learn of his training.
The moment the shuttle set down in the Executor's docking bay Luke rose and walked down its ramp. Checking his chronometer he saw that he'd have to go to the cafeteria before he went to his quarters to change if he wanted to have lunch. Entering the cafeteria he quickly got his lunch before he sat down at an empty table.
Several minutes later, having finished his lunch and just put his tray away, he was just about to return to his quarters when he felt a hand on his shoulder. For a moment he just stood there, frozen in astonishment that someone had actually just touched him, before he turned around and found a young man wearing a recruit's jumpsuit.
"Hey," the man said. "Are you new too? I saw you sitting alone and was wondering if you want to come with me and the others."
"New?" Luke asked as he raised an eyebrow, before he realized that the man before him thought the jumpsuit he was wearing was a recruit's jumpsuit too. "No, I've been here for quite a while."
"Oh," the young man said. "I'm sorry it's just you seemed to be wearing a recruit's uniform, so I thought..."
As the young man shrugged his eyes feel on Luke's nametag and widened.
"Skywalker?" he said aloud. "You Darklighter's friend?"
"Biggs?" Luke asked, instantly interested. "You know him?"
"Sure," the young man said, visibly relaxing. "We came aboard together, we were in the same squad at the Academy."
"Where is he?" Luke demanded.
"This way," the man replied leading the way out of the cafeteria.
Quietly Luke followed the man. As they neared the pilots' rooms he quickly checked his chronometer and saw that he had five minutes before he'd have to go change and go to his father's quarters for his training.
"He should be in here with the others," the man said as he opened a door and entered the room. "Hey Darklighter, look what I found."
Luke felt his anger rise at the way the pilot had spoken about him, but for once he shoved it aside as his eyes fell on his best friend.
"Luke!" Biggs exclaimed as he got to his feet and embraced his friend. "Good to see you! What happened? I get to the Academy only to learn that you and your squad left early."
"Biggs," Luke said as he returned his friend's embrace before pulling out of it and looking at the others all squashed into the small room.
"These are the other pilots in my squad," Biggs said as he saw Luke eyeing them. "Now tell me why you and your squad left the Academy early."
"Well you couldn't really call us a squad anymore after that Rebel attack on the Academy, there were only five of us left including myself," Luke replied. "If the Executor hadn't shown up when it had we'd have been totally wiped out. Anyway the Executor needed pilots to replace those killed in the battle, so we were transferred here."
"So you've been on the Executor for over half a Standard year now?" one of the pilots in the room asked.
"Yes," Luke replied as he thought of how long it had been since he had left Tatooine. "How's everything back home?"
"Your uncle was furious when he came home and found you and your T-16 gone," Biggs informed his younger friend as he offered Luke the chair he had been sitting in earlier. "He came straight to our house to see if you were with us or out with me. It wasn't until the next day that he began to realize that you hadn't just gone out to have some fun. Your aunt started calling everyone she knew to ask if they had seen you."
"You didn't tell them anything, did you?" Luke demanded and then winced at the tone he had used.
"No, of course not," Biggs replied. "I promised you I wouldn't."
"Thanks," Luke said. "So, who's your squad leader now?"
"Commander Hreso," one of the other pilots replied.
"Okay," Luke said remembering the commander. "He's okay, as long as you do as you're told. Just try to stay away from Commander Nack if you can and don't let him know you know me, otherwise you'll get trouble from him."
"Why?" Biggs asked, slightly concerned with the way Luke was talking about one of the commanders in front of the others, if any of them wanted to get Luke into trouble....
"Lets just say we didn't hit it of too well in the Academy," Luke replied before his com started to beep.
"What's that?" one of the pilots asked.
"My com, I wonder why," Luke said as he checked his chronometer and saw to his horror that he was already supposed to be with his father. "Sith!"
"What?" Biggs asked, surprised to hear his friend swear.
"Shhh," Luke replied and then turned on the com when the room was quiet. "Commander Skywalker."
Looking to his friend Luke saw the surprise written all over Biggs's face.
"You are to report to Lord Vader's quarters immediately Black 2," Admiral Koas's voice stated over the com.
"Yes Admiral," Luke said before he turned off the com and got to his feet.
"Commander? Vader? Black 2? Admiral?" Biggs asked, shocked. "Luke what?"
"I'll explain everything later," Luke said as the door opened for him. "But right now I'm in trouble."
"If you're alive later," one of the pilots remarked.
"I will be," Luke said as he stepped out into the hall, knowing that the pilot was referring to the fact that he had to see Vader. "He wouldn't kill me."
Hurrying towards his father's quarters he wondered why his father had had the Admiral call him while he could have done it mentally, it would have been a lot faster. Entering his father's quarters he walked forward to stand before the open pod.
"You're late and you haven't changed back into your proper uniform yet," Vader said as he glanced at Luke's clothes.
"I'm sorry master," Luke replied. "I was... busy."
"With what?" Vader demanded.
"My friend Biggs is among the new TIE fighter pilots we got today and I was with him and his friends," Luke explained.
"Darklighter?" Vader asked, remembering the name Luke had once told 'the voice.'
So, Luke's best friend was now on board the Executor. No doubt the boy would want to spend time with him which would take away from his training, but perhaps this could be made to serve his own ends as well.
Luke walked quietly down the ship corridors. The pilot's sleep cycle had just began, and Luke technically wasn't supposed to be out of his quarters, unless on official business. But he was an officer, so no one would give him any trouble. If they could even see him. Luke ducked into a niche as two stormtroopers marched by on patrol. Luke fuzzed their senses with the Force as they passed by in front of him, then he continued on his way.
He paused in front of Darklighter's squad quarters. Luke brushed his senses out, Biggs and his squad were supposed to be asleep. Of course they weren't, it was their first few days on the Executor and the whispered conversations were flying around on the other side of the door. However, no one was out of their bed, so Luke wouldn't have to discipline anyone as long as they pretended to be asleep. He remembered this part of commanding his own squad well.
The door opened with a brush of the Force on the controls. Luke walked in, door sliding shut behind him. The room suddenly went deathly quiet. An officer had entered, probably checking that they were all asleep, per regulations. Luke walked around the room, till he came to Biggs, pretending to doze.
"Biggs, you can't fool me." Luke's voice was quiet.
"Luke?" His friend sat up as the tension drained out of the entire room. "Shesh, you sure fooled me. What you doing running around at night?"
"Whatever I want. Tomorrow, after morning sims, hang back at the door. We can go talk till lunch."
"Okay. So, did you get in any trouble?" Biggs was dying to know what had happened to his friend. Luke sensed that the entire squad was quietly listening, they wanted to know why Lord Vader had wanted to speak to Biggs' friend.
"Not really. I better go, it's not polite to be messing around with other Wing Commander's squads." Luke turned to leave, then clearly whispered over his shoulder "Oh Biggs, by the way, I was never here. Be sure that your squadmates remember that. I wasn't here. And I sure didn't tell you about that surprise inspection tomorrow morning."
Luke walked out. Biggs and squad quietly groaning and starting to silently clean their uniforms to perfection for tomorrow's review. Thoughts of Lord Vader had evaporated under the more immediate threat of unhappy commanders. As Biggs reached for his boots and glowrod, he briefly wondered how his friend found him in the pitch black room.
Biggs sat in Luke's living room. He was still amazed at the shear size of Luke's quarters. Biggs had been on the Executor for four weeks now, and he still hadn't really gotten to speak to Luke yet.
The kid was always busy. An hour here, a few minutes there, that was all that his best friend could give him. Between sims, meals, and officer meetings, Luke didn't have a lot of time left. Plus, he spent a good deal of time with Lord Vader. Biggs had learned that much from the rumor mill. It had quickly become apparent that half the TIE fighter commanders were extremely jealous about Luke's apparent favor in the Dark Lord's eyes. They hated him for it. The other half just plain ignored him.
Biggs wondered what was going on between his friend and the Dark Lord. Every time he asked, Luke would evade the question. It had quickly become apparent that the subject was taboo.
Biggs reached over to pick up some fresh fruit in the basket on the table. 'Fresh fruit, you don't see that in the cafeteria. I'm not even sure the rest of the officers get this.' Biggs' fingers squeezed through the soft skin. The fruit had rotted. 'Huh. I was here yesterday, it was fresh then. It shouldn't have gone bad this fast...' Biggs got up and went to the fresher to get a towel.
Luke popped out of his bedroom, tossing a datacard on the table. He looked at Biggs.
"You're fruit's gone bad." Biggs was wiping his hands.
"Oh yeah. Forgot to put it up." Luke went over and picked up the basket, tossing the wet globs in the recycler. Luke's anger at himself flashed, little things could give him away. His Dark Side meditations would promote decay in the objects round him, regardless of his shields.
Biggs noticed Luke's anger. His friend had changed, Luke was angry all the time. And he was calculating. Luke hadn't really done anything to anyone since Biggs had gotten here, but Biggs noticed that Luke was extremely careful about what he did where. If it weren't for the fact that Biggs' squadmates knew when Biggs wasn't with them, absolutely no one would know that Biggs was Luke's friend. As it was, his squad had kept the secret. Luke had almost used bribery to keep them quiet, what with telling Biggs when most of the surprise inspections were. Biggs knew that he was better off without anyone knowing he was close to 'Black 2', but it was strange to see his friend be so plotting.
It was even stranger to Biggs that the other commanders didn't like Luke. He remembered the likable younger friend from his youth. Even if they were jealous of him, Biggs thought that the other commanders would at least pretend to be nice to Skywalker.
But the strangest thing to Biggs was how much Luke looked up to the Dark Lord. Luke idolized him. Skywalker wasn't very communicative about his relationship with Lord Vader, but Darklighter could tell that Luke hung on his every word. And that scared Biggs, because he had to talk to Luke, and soon. He owed it to his friend.
"So, when are you getting leave on Pekft? The Executor has circled around to it again. Heard Commander Hreso talking about it."
"I don't know if I'll get leave."
"Yeah right. I thought all you'd have to do is tell the shuttle crew when you want your ride." Biggs tone was teasing.
"It's not that easy. I have things to do."
Biggs was tempted to ask 'What things?', but he didn't think Luke would answer. "Well, if you're too busy, why don't you get me leave? Or better yet, do your stuff later, and get us both leave."
"I wish. But-"
"But-" Biggs tone was mockingly whinny. "Come on Luke, you're no fun anymore."
"Okay, Okay, I'll ask."
Darth Vader's mind silently brushed over the shuttle headed down to the planet. Young Darklighter was sitting nervously in his seat. The Dark Lord knew exactly what the TIE fighter pilot was up to, but it furthered Luke's training to let it continue. His son had to learn that you couldn't trust 'friends'...
Biggs, Luke, and some of Biggs' squad sat around the table at the open air cantina. Biggs and his friends had sat around, drinking, talking, and laughing for the better part of the evening. Luke had been content to sit in the back and watch. The waiter droid rolled up, and produced the bill. Sighing, the pilots reached for their credits.
"I'll get it." Luke pulled out an Imperial credit voucher and dropped it in the droids claws. Biggs looked at his friend. "I sold my T-16 Biggs, can't very well use the credits on the ship."
Biggs laughed at himself, he was used to his friend being poor. "Yeah, you owe me about 50 more to make up for all the times I paid on Tatooine." Biggs grabbed his friend, "Let's go walk, see you guys on the ship."
They had wandered around as the sun set. They had ended up walking through a deserted park, moon shadows dancing as a soft wind rustled the trees.
"Luke, are you happy here?" Biggs whispered suddenly.
"Yes. It's pretty." Luke stood under a wide branching tree, invisible in his black clothes.
"No, I mean on the Executor."
Luke turned. Shadows hid Luke's figure, but Biggs could feel Luke's eyes boring into him. Luke was probing his friend. He hadn't bothered before, the idea of Biggs not following him hadn't even crossed his mind. What he found made him stiffen his shields.
"Yes, I am happy on the Executor." His tone was brief.
"Are you really? You're always too busy to see straight. You're different Luke. You don't seem happy to me. You're always angry."
"Luke, I can't stand it here anymore. What we do, it's wrong. Putting down whole worlds for a few people's dissension. We kill innocents. Every time I fly, I'm ashamed of what I'm doing."
"The Empire isn't unredeemable. Reform can happen, things will change." Luke felt strange. He had never spoken out loud about this before. But he knew he was loosing Biggs fast. He just had to get Biggs to stop, to hold off for a few more months.
"Change? Why? The Empire hasn't changed in twenty years, since it was born. Why would it change now?" Luke cursed himself. He had to be more careful.
"Come on Biggs, does it really matter? We fly, we do our part, everything will be fine."
"You sound like a propaganda film. Luke," Biggs took a deep breath and plunged on, "Luke, I'm leaving. I can't be an Imperial anymore."
"So what do you think you can be?" Luke knew what Biggs was thinking, but he needed to confront him.
"I don't know. Maybe join the Alliance, like we talked about back home. And- and, I think you should come with me."
Luke was stunned. He hadn't expected the last part. But it was ludicrous- "I can't leave. I don't want to..."
"Everything's here. My life, my family, my... "
"Family? Now you really sound like those propaganda films they make us watch. You should come with me."
"No." Luke was thinking furiously, he couldn't tell Biggs everything. 'Oh yeah, I've got family here. Stick around, I'm going to be a Prince. You'll like it.' He couldn't tell Biggs anything. He wished Biggs would just trust him.
"No. If you ask again, I'm telling Darth Vader."
Biggs stopped short. Luke wouldn't tell Vader, would he? Biggs couldn't decide, his friend had been acting so strange lately. Biggs shivered at the idea. He wasn't the only one leaving, he had to protect the group. He had taken a terrible risk as it was, but he owed Luke that much.
"Okay, I won't say another word."
"And if your smart, you won't leave. Just hold on Biggs, leaving would be far worse, trust me." Twigs crunched. Luke was walking off. "You only have a half hour of leave left, don't miss your shuttle."
Biggs never made the shuttle, he hadn't intended to.
Luke looked at the twelve empty seats on the shuttle before he shook his head. So, it had been a whole squad that had agreed to desert. Had Biggs talked them into this foolishness, into treason? His anger rose at the way his friend had left, he had told him to wait, that things would get better, but Biggs hadn't listened, he hadn't trusted him!
Suddenly he brought up his hands to his forehead, what was he doing? Biggs was his best friend, the only true friend he'd ever had on Tatooine, how could he be this angry with him? Biggs would realize his mistake sooner or later and drop out of the Alliance. And, although he wouldn't be able to get back into the Empire, he could at least make a life for himself somewhere within the Empire.
Feeling the shuttle set down in the Executor's docking bay Luke rose to his feet. He stopped short however as the officer who had checked to see if everyone was on board entered the passenger area.
"Sit down," he ordered looking at everyone who had risen. "Admiral Koas will be here shortly."
Luke stiffened at being ordered around, but quietly sat down, knowing that he had no choice. Besides he wouldn't get into trouble, indeed everyone who knew Biggs had been his friend had gone, everyone except his father. Suddenly he felt the beginning of fear in his gut, would his father be angry? He had seen what had happened to Admiral Dern and a few lower officers when they had failed his father, would this be considered failure? That was ridiculous, what could he have done? If Biggs had come back to the Executor to desert later, then he could have done something, but not now.
And yet he couldn't completely push the fear aside.
Feeling Luke approach Vader turned away from the window in his bedroom and entered the room containing the pod-like structure. Luke had, just as he had expected, let his friend go. He had let him desert his post, not thinking of the consequences. Well now he would learn to pay the price for his actions, he would learn to hate the people he had formerly called friends. And then, once he had learned that lesson, he could begin constructing his own lightsaber.
Sitting down in the chair in the pod he picked up the Corsuca gem lying on the chair's arm. The jewel was the most crucial part of a lightsaber, without it a lightsaber would be totally useless. Once the boy had constructed his own lightsaber he'd train the boy how to use it.
Putting the gem away he used the Force to open the door to his chambers and let his son enter. The boy walked up to the pod and waited, trying to conceal the fear he was beginning to feel within himself.
"So, you let them go," Vader stated as he got to his feet.
"You knew?" Luke asked, surprise evident in his voice.
"Yes," Vader replied as he looked at his son.
"Then why-" Luke began.
"A test," Vader stated and noticed Luke wince. "A test you failed."
"What?" Luke asked. "But I didn't do anything wrong, he asked me to go with him and I didn't."
"Didn't do anything wrong?" Vader demanded as his right hand fell on his lightsaber hilt which was hanging from his belt. "You let him go. As a loyal servant to the Empire you should have brought him back for an execution."
"He's my friend!" Luke declared, taking a step forward. "I couldn't do that!"
Suddenly, before Luke could react, Vader's blood-red lightsaber sprang to life and arced around towards him. Quickly he jumped back, trying but failing to avoid the blade. Instantly he cried out as his father's lightsaber cut right through his right arm just above the wrist. He cried out in pain and surprise as he fell to his knees, before bringing his right arm under his left shoulder, trying to stop the pain.
"You should have done it," Vader replied as he brought the tip of his lightsaber near his son's chin. "That or you should have killed him yourself."
Luke moved his head away from the lightsaber as he tried to register what had just happened to him. Looking next to him he saw his hand on the floor. Pulling his arm from under his shoulder he looked at the stump in surprise, shock, pain, and anger. How could his father have done this to him? Why had he done it?
Looking up at his father as the lightsaber was turned off he could feel the anger rising within himself.
"By letting Darklighter and his companions go you committed treason," Vader stated as he looked down at his son, seeing the boy flinch at the words. "Had you been anyone else you'd be dead now, consider yourself lucky you only lost your hand. How many Imperials will die because of what you did? If you had stopped your so-called friend he and his companions would have died, true, but how many Imperial deaths will they cause while flying with the Alliance? Think about it and know that you'll be responsible for all those deaths."
Looking away from his father Luke felt his heart sink. What Vader said was true, but how could he have turned Biggs in knowing that he'd be killed? But had the price he had paid been worth it? Looking at his arm he felt his anger grow and turn into a boiling rage the likes of which he had never felt before. Because of his friend's treason he had lost his hand! Why couldn't Biggs just have taken his word and stayed? Why hadn't he trusted him?
"Never trust 'friends'," Vader said, reading his son's thoughts. "Look what your friend brought upon you. And look at me, Obi-Wan was once my best friend, until he betrayed me. First he pushed me into a pit full of cooling lava and then, while I was recovering from that, he stole my wife from who was pregnant with you at the time. And all because he was jealous of my power."
Luke looked up at his father. What hadn't he just told him that? Why had he taken his hand?
"Because you won't have believed it," Vader stated, pleased to see his son's anger rise at having his thoughts read. "And, should you ever have met that 'friend' again, you would have given him another chance, a second chance which could have lead to worse consequences."
Quietly Luke looked away, realizing that what his father said was true: He would have trusted Biggs if he'd come across him again, but not now, no. Looking at his hand on the floor he felt his anger rise again, anger he longed to release on Biggs. He wanted revenge.
Smiling behind his mask as he saw that he had succeeded in destroying Luke's friendship with Darklighter, Vader used to Force to push one of the buttons on the control panel inside the pod.
"My lord," a stormtrooper said as he entered the room and snapped to attention.
"Take him to the medical center," Vader ordered as he gestured towards his son.
"As you wish my lord," the stormtrooper replied as Luke rose to his feet before following the stormtrooper out of the room.
Now that Luke no longer cared about Darklighter the boy was completely his.
Luke looked down at the metallic cylinder in front of him on his desk. He picked up one of the many tools spread around him and made a slight adjustment. Putting the tool down, he absently rubbed his prosthetic fingers together. He concentrated through the Force, letting his sense slide over the circuits within. It was perfect. The black ebony body and handgrip was highlighted with a delicate maze of silver and gold circuitry. Luke picked it up, thumbed it on.
The meter long blood red blade illuminated his quarters with its muted glow. Luke smiled, a long slow smile that never reached his eyes. He switched the blade off.
Luke reached out, his father was awake... 'Father. It works.'
'Of course. Bring it here.'
Luke got up, he headed for his father's quarters. It was the middle of the night, and most of the ship was asleep. Ducking into doorways and fuzzing the stormtrooper patrol's senses, no one saw him enter the Dark Lord's chambers.
No one ever saw him enter anymore. They held the training during the middle of the night, the Dark Lord never mentioning his favored 'Black 2'. The TIE fighter commanders firmly believed that Skywalker was still in disgrace from whatever had caused Darth Vader to cut off his hand weeks ago. One of the pilots had been in the medical center when Skywalker had entered, and the news had spread through the squads like wildfire. It was rumored to have something to do with that squad that had gone AWOL, but there was no proof.
Luke walked up to his father, and bowing low he presented his lightsaber. The Dark Lord took it, turning it in his hands. Each blade was different, the style and form a reflection of the maker's hand. Luke's blade was elegant, simple, and misleading. It looked almost too elegant, almost weak, but held a strong dark core. A perfect reflection of the double life his son led.
"Now, I will teach you how to use this blade."
Luke stepped away from his TIE fighter, he had been checking it over. He always rechecked the techs work, it was his life in that ship. He nodded at a passing commander, who just ignored him. According to popular knowledge, Skywalker was still in disgrace. Luke buried his disgust. He really didn't want anyone close to him now. His training was almost done, and it was getting harder and harder to pass without notice.
He walked across the docking bay, eyes flicking around. They came to rest on the strange sight that currently perched on the docking bay floor.
X-wings. Twelve of them, painted Imperial gray. Ghost Squadron was currently enroute to another training location, and the Executor was providing transportation. They would have been dropped off already, but the Lord Vader had been called upon to root out a Rebel base in the nearby system.
Normally, the Imperial military would send out probe droids, locate the base, and come in, guns blaring. But the Drilli System was different. It didn't have any planets, just three wide bands of large asteroids and planetoids. The rock had high metallic content, which made scanners next to useless. The large asteroids kept the Executor at bay, leaving only the small TIE fighters and bombers to make the attack. Attacking without the covering fire from the capitol ship was suicide. So they sat, waiting out the blockaded rebels.
Skywalker walked past Ghost Squadron. Most TIE fighter pilots hated X-wings, and therefore avoided Ghost Squadron like the space plague. Commander Scagg was sitting on a crate, playing cards with some of his squad.
"Commander Scagg." Luke put a smile on his face.
"Commander..." The grizzled man looked up.
"Skywalker. I met you on Caridia, before the Rebel attack on Rauz."
"Oh yeah. I remember. Commander Riggs always said you'd go far." Scagg smiled at Luke.
"I'm surprised that they don't have you out there for training our pilots. You're much better than a sim."
"I wouldn't mind, but the scanners can't tell us apart from the real thing. I wouldn't want an over-eager gunner taking us out."
"Indeed." Skywalker looked at the clustered X-wings, tone thoughtful.
"Want us to deal you in?" Commander's tone was friendly, almost taking Skywalker by surprise. Luke locked eyes with the Commander, lightly probing his mind. He didn't sense any manipulation, so he looked away.
"No thank you. I'm busy." Skywalker turned to go.
Scagg felt an indescribable chill climb his spine. Something about how Skywalker had looked at him, it reminded him of something... "Maybe next time." Scagg watched the retreating figure.
One of Scagg's squad leaned over. "Commander, you're nuts. That was 'Black 2', Darth Vader himself is supposed to be very 'displeased' with him right now."
"I doubt that, if Darth Vader was really upset at him for letting a whole squad desert, he wouldn't have just lost a hand, he would have lost a head."
An idea rolled around in Luke's head as he left the docking bay. Consumed by his own thoughts, he nearly missed the presence of Commander Nack.
"Skywalker, you ought to watch who you hang out with better." Nack was leering, the TIE pilots all thought Ghost Squadron was one step away from traitors. Nack's squad trailed behind him, following their Commander's lead in holding Skywalker in contempt. Except Blann and Daol, they still held back from sneering at Skywalker. It could be considered misplaced loyalty, but they still remembered that Skywalker was a better commander than Nack would ever be.
Skywalker ignored them all. They weren't worth his time. He might try to do something for Blann and Daol, if the opportunity arose, but he had better things to worry about. He left the docking bay, tentatively reaching out for his father. He had an idea on how to break the stalemate.
Admiral Koas was reporting to Lord Vader on the projected casualty figures for a frontal attack on the Rebel Base. The probe droids had located the base, but the Rebels had a strong defensive position. Most of the pilots aboard the Executor would be lost.
Vader told the Admiral what he wanted done. Admiral Koas was pleased. Intelligence had said that the Rebels weren't sure what Imperial ships were out here, so the plan had a good chance of working.
"Yes, my lord. I will implement your orders immediately."
Vader's reply was soft. "Oh no, Admiral. It's not my idea. A little black bird came and whispered in my ear." Vader waved dismissal. It was very possible that his son would be commanding this ship in a few short months, it would be best if the Admiral was... prepared... to take orders from his son.
The Admiral bowed, hiding his surprise. 'Black 2' was apparently back in favor. The Admiral wondered how 'Black 2' had managed to regain his position. The Admiral further wondered how 'Black 2' had managed to survive in the first place.
The Executor hung in space, her bays empty. The TIEs and bombers had left her hours ago, to take up position.
A squad of X-wings ran through the Drilli system, two squads of TIE fighters hot on their tails. They twisted and turned, dodging rocks and each other's lasers. Once in sensor range of the base, the lead X-wing hit his comm, which had been tuned to Rebel frequencies.
"Gray 1, this is Gray 1, is anyone out there?"
A pause. "Gray 1, this is base, what are you doing here?"
"Sorry to drop in unannounced. An Indidicor cruiser grabbed my squad out of hyperspace between two sets of TIEs." Commander Scagg grinned. 'Come here little fishy. Grab the bait. Save me from the big bad Empire.'
"Any other Imperials out there?"
"None that I saw. Can you guys lend a hand?"
Another pause. Commander Scagg could just visualize the Rebel Commanders' hurried debate. "Base to Gray 1, assistance is coming."
"Thanks. We'll try to hold on till you get here." Commander Scagg almost laughed. 'Stupid Rebels. You're sensors say 'X-wing' so I have to be one of yours.' Ghost Squadron was anything but a Rebel Squad. Scagg nailed another TIE with his stun bolts. The TIE whipped behind an asteroid, cut power, and played dead. The metallic rock hid its continued existence. Commander Scagg had never felt so proud to be an Imperial.
Suddenly, four squads of X-wings hurled out from the hidden Rebel Base. They had broken their own defenses to save their comrades-in-arms. But as soon as they approached visual range of the dogfight, the whole Ghost Squadron turned tail and ran. The two attacking TIE squads, ignoring the fleeing Ghosts, charged at the approaching X-wings.
It wasn't a fair fight, two squads of TIEs against four squads of X-wings, but the whole goal for the TIEs was to hold the X-wings till the reinforcements arrived.
Commander Nack gritted his teeth as he plunged into battle. He had been given the 'honor' of commanding these squads in this suicidal mission. The worst part was the feeling that he had gotten during the briefing meeting, that Commander Skywalker was laughing at him. Having Blann and Daol transferred from his squad immediately prior to the meeting had only raised his suspicions. But when he got back, he would make Skywalker pay. He would... The X-wings' lasers cut through Nack's ship, blowing him apart.
The remaining ten squads arrived, tearing from the large planetoid they had hidden behind. The tables had turned.
Some of the Rebels had tried to flee. Thinking that the TIEs had come from their capitol ship, they had run off in the opposite direction- straight into the waiting guns of the Executor.
The stormtroopers were still down on the base, mopping up. They were using stun weapons to take the Rebel troops, and then processing the prisoners for interrogation.
Luke sat on a crate in the docking bay, eyes scanning the rebels who were tied hand and foot between stormtrooper guards. He had a funny feeling that he should be down here....
His eyes landed on one of the Rebels. He was unmistakable. Luke rubbed the fingers of his right hand together, the rage building inside him.
Walking through the Executor's docking bay Biggs lifted his head and looked around. It had been several weeks since he had last been here. Feeling a strange need to look to his right he did so and stopped dead in his tracks as he saw Luke sitting on a crate at the other side of the docking bay, looking directly at him. Meeting his friend's gaze he saw something there that he couldn't understand, it was almost as if Luke was... Instantly he gave a short cry of pain as a stormtrooper savagely slammed his blaster into him.
"Keep moving Rebel scum," the stormtrooper ordered before pushing him out of the docking bay.
Doing as he was told Biggs quietly followed the others as he thought about Luke. So, Luke was still on board the Executor, still an Imperial. But why? The Luke he had known while growing up would never have been able to do this, he would never have been able to stay and watch the Empire slaughter innocent people. Then how come Luke had stayed? Was it because of Vader? And if so what was it about Vader that Luke liked?
At least Luke was still alive. That had been his only fear while flying for the Alliance: that he would end up flying against Luke. Every time he had heard a report of X-wings fighting the Executor's TIE fighters he had held his breath, knowing that if Black 2 had been killed it would have been in the report as it would have been considered a small victory. Luckily he had never heard the words he had dreaded to hear.
Briefly his mind went back to what Luke had said before he had left him alone in the park: 'Just hold on Biggs, leaving would be far worse, trust me.' His friend would say that he had been right, but Biggs knew in his heart that, even if he were to die here, he had been right. He had been sure of that the moment he had first climbed into an X-wing and had started to fight for all that the Alliance stood for.
Watching Biggs 'escorted' out of the docking bay Luke instantly got to his feet, his rage still growing along with his need for revenge.
'Father,' he called out.
'Son,' came Vader's voice. 'Good work.'
Luke briefly smiled at the compliment, his father must really be pleased with him as he hardly ever gave praise.
'What is it?' Vader inquired as he sensed Luke's growing rage.
'Darklighter is here,' Luke replied as he walked out of the docking bay, heading towards the detention area.
'Ah yes, your friend,' Vader replied mockingly and was pleased to feel his son's rage increase at the reminder of his previous folly. 'I shall be there in a couple of moments.'
'Yes father,' Luke replied as he stepped into the turbolift leading to the detention area.
Stepping out of the turbolift he looked around at the Rebels waiting to be assigned to a detention cell and stopped as his eyes fell on the young man who had lead him to Biggs the day his former friend had first boarded the Executor.
"Now you pay the price for your treason," he stated in a cold, hard, voice as he stepped closer to the man.
Realizing that he was being spoken to the man looked up and was unable to prevent a startled gasp as he recognized Luke. They looked at each other for a moment before the young man looked away. Turning in the direction of the officer in charge of processing the prisoners Luke stepped towards him.
"In what cell is Darklighter?" he demanded, knowing that he could find out himself, but not wanting to give himself away.
"May I see your permission to speak with the prisoner?" the officer demanded as he looked up at Luke.
"What cell?" Luke demanded as he reached out with the Force to convince the man to tell him.
"Cell number 2784," the officer replied obediently as he indicated one of the halls leading away from the room they were in. "Down that hall."
Nodding his head he cast one last look at the young man watching him then he motioned for one of the stormtroopers to follow him before he headed down the indicated hall and stopped before cell 2784.
"Wait here and open the door when I knock," Luke ordered and waited until the stormtrooper had nodded before he opened the door and stepped into the cell.
Looking up from where he was sitting on the cell's hard metal bunk Biggs nearly gasped as he saw Luke step into the cell before the door closed behind him.
"Luke!" he said as he got to his feet.
He froze as Luke's cold, ice-blue, eyes just started at him. Several minutes passed in silence during which Biggs began to shift uncomfortably. He had thought things had changed when he had last boarded the Executor, but that seemed like a grain of sand compared with the way Luke had changed since then and now.
"I told you things would be worse if you left," Luke stated coldly as he flexed and relaxed the fingers of his right hand, his prosthetic hand.
"No," Biggs replied, trying to determine what Luke was feeling.
"Indeed, for you it makes little difference," Luke replied, his white-hot anger beginning to seep into his voice. "As either path leads you to death. For me on the other hand," Luke winced at his own choice of wording. "It makes a great difference, I could have avoided punishment for your treason."
"Punishment?" Biggs inquired, concern suddenly entering his voice.
Despite the fact that Luke had changed, and despite the fact that he had chosen to stay with the Empire, he couldn't just toss aside his feelings for the boy that had once been his best friend.
"You didn't tell them you knew that it was going to happen, did you?" Biggs asked.
"I didn't need to," Luke replied as he felt his father approach. "Vader already knew. And, since I committed treason myself by not turning you in, I was punished."
"What?!" Biggs exclaimed astonished. "But... What did he do to you?"
Looking at Biggs, Luke brought up his right hand, letting the boiling rage and hate he felt seep into his voice.
"I lost my right hand."
Biggs flinched at the venom, wondering if it was directed at himself or at Vader. Suddenly his whole body stiffened as the door to his cell opened again and Darth Vader stepped into the room.
"It was directed at you," Vader answered Biggs's unspoken question as he stepped forward and possessively placed a hand on Luke's shoulder.
Biggs took a step back, not knowing whether he did so out of surprise, shock, or fear. Surprise at having his thoughts read, shock at the possessive manner in which Vader had placed his hand on Luke's shoulder, and fear of the Dark Lord in general. Letting his eyes flicker between Luke and Vader he stood rooted to the spot, wondering what it was about the Dark Lord that made Luke stay and what was going to happen next.
Vader smiled behind his mask as he felt Luke's muscles begin to tremble under his hand with the anger his boy felt inside of himself. He had reached a critical point in Luke's training, the training itself was all but done, all that remained were a few final touches and Luke would be ready to face the Emperor at his side. However, before he could do that, he had to be sure he had the boy's complete loyalty. Reaching down with his free hand he unhooked his lightsaber from his belt and saw Darklighter stiffen even more as he saw this. His smile broadened before he changed his grip on the lightsaber hilt so that he was holding the end where the blade came out of in his hand. Then he reached over and offered the weapon to his son who instantly accept it, tightly wrapping his fingers around the hilt.
"It is now time for you to prove your loyalty, my son," Vader stated ripping a surprised gasp from Darklighter's throat.
"Son?!" Biggs exclaimed, both shocked and horrified at once. "Luke... He's your father?!"
A smile slide across Luke's face at his friend's shock and finally realization as the meaning of the words sunk in.
"That's why you wouldn't leave," Biggs stated needlessly.
"Exactly," Luke replied as he simultaneously activated his father's lightsaber and let his boiling rage fill the room. "Now you pay for your treason."
"Luke!" Biggs said desperately as he eyed the lightsaber. "He isn't the father you always wanted, I mean what kind of father cuts off his son's hand?"
Losing control at the reminder of his prosthetic hand Luke lunged forward and listened with delight as Biggs screamed as he lost his own right hand. Watching his former friend until he looked up at him, Luke smiled.
"I've been waiting to do that since the day you left," he stated. "Since the day you left me to die for your treason."
Biggs just looked from his former best friend to the Dark Lord standing behind him. Luke's father! He still couldn't believe it, even though it made sense. The way Luke had changed, the favor he had seemed to have, the fact that he had become Black 2. He could see that Vader was Luke's father, what he couldn't see was how Luke had changed from the friendly, innocent, and open farmboy into this cruel, angry, and bitter Imperial.
Feeling his rage grow and knowing what his father wanted Luke brought up the lightsaber and then brought it down on his former best friend. Deactivating the lightsaber he turned to face his father.
Eyeing his son Vader nodded his head. It wouldn't take long to finish the boy's training, the moment the troops were finished with the Rebel base it would be time for the Executor to head for Coruscant and for him and his son to claim the Imperial throne, the galactic throne.
Striding down the detention area corridor behind his father, Luke marveled at the strength behind his rage. It was so sweet, it flowed around him like sticky syrup, clinging to his soul. As they entered the turbolift, the waiting rebel prisoners flinched at the bloody footprints they left behind.
'Watch your shields.' Vader sent. Luke immediately clamped down. They were too close for him to screw up now. Luke felt his father's pride running across their bond. 'Now, you did well with the attack plan. You have learned punishing for treason. What else is there?' Luke was puzzled, his mind trying to change track.
'Rewarding for loyalty. Loyalty isn't the same as friendship. Loyalty follows blindly. Admiral Koas is loyal to me, he never questions. Who is loyal to you?' His son needed to know all aspects of command, this was just another face of control.
The lift doors swished open as Luke thought. The question was not to be answered, the Dark Lord would trust his son to do the proper thing. He could be trusted now, his son was completely loyal.
'Ah... Here comes Admiral Koas. I think we should let him start guessing about you. It will make it... easier... later.'
Admiral Koas was walking up the corridor, followed by two of his officers. "Lord Vader, I have the preliminary report of our recent battle." The Admiral's voice was clipped. He noticed Black 2 standing behind the Dark Lord. Before he could even think about the implications, Vader spoke.
The mechanical hiss of Lord Vader's breath gave even measure to his rumbling voice. "Good. Give your report to Black 2, I have to contact the Emperor. There have been... developments... in the situation." Vader walked past the stunned Admiral.
Report to Black 2? But he was the Admiral of this ship, he shouldn't have to report to some pilot, no matter how favored he was. Inwardly seething, he turned to glare at the young man. This was ridiculous.
His eyes locked with the pilot, his mind stopped cold. He couldn't think, he could only stand there. His knees knocked, his heart thumped in his chest, his tongue turned to stone. Admiral Koas felt like a hessel-deer caught in a landspeeder's headlights.
"Your report?" His voice was soft, a brittle edge sheathed beneath.
Wordlessly, the Admiral handed over the datapad, noticing the blood on the back of the pilot's right hand. 'Blood? It can't be his, that hand will never bleed again.'
"It's not, Admiral." Absently, Black 2 flipped the datapad into his pocket. "And your summery?" The ice-pits of his eyes picking at the Admiral's brain, demanding respect.
"Uh... Yes... sir. We received only minimal losses, besides the two sacrificial squadrons. Those will need to be replaced. I recommend promoting two pilots to squad commander and re-dividing the squads until we get reinforcements. We managed to capture quite a few Rebels alive, and are awaiting the results from Interrogation to see if we learn anything useful. Sir." Koas noticed a dark chill in the air, a feeling of fear permeating the corridor.
Black 2 nodded. "Thank you, Admiral. I will take care of the promotions." Silently, Luke called the fear back to himself. He rewove his shields with the Force. The corridor warmed, fear dissipating like a shadow. It was difficult, letting the Darkness out only as far as the corridor. The Emperor couldn't hear a whisper.
A normal man stood in the corridor. He gave a jaunty smile to the Admiral. Turned, and walked away. Every movement seemingly that of a indistinguishable pilot. A bridge officer came out of the lift, and the pilot turned and saluted, per regulations, before continuing on his way.
One of the officers behind Koas whispered- "What was that about?"
The Admiral cleared his throat. "A warning. That man is a blood-drake in bantha clothing. But I don't think it would be wise for the whole crew to know. So keep this to yourselves."
"My Master." Darth Vader kneeled at the hologram. Inward heart strongly shielded. Outward mind portraying the emotions he wished the Emperor to read.
"Yes, my servant?" The voice crackled with age.
"We have rooted out the Rebels in the Drilli system."
"Good." The ancient form nodded approval.
"And there is an interesting development, master."
"One of the captured Rebels, sire. He is Force sensitive. It was discovered during interrogation."
"Oh. And what of it?"
"He is untrained. And very angry."
The wizened form paused in thought. "As soon as you are done there, bring him to me. We may have use of him."
"Yes master." The Emperor cut the connection, and Vader smiled.
Skywalker adjusted the collar on the Rebel flight suit he wore. It was a good fit. Squad Commander Daol had gotten it from the detention block, Squad Commander Blann had delivered it last night. Both curious, both unquestioning, both silent. No one else had known of their errands. Loyalty should be rewarded.
Luke looked in his mirror, dragging his hands through his hair, messing it up. His face took on a sullen look. Glancing at his reflection, he smiled inwardly. He could easily pass for a Rebel. After all, wasn't killing the Emperor rebellion?
Suddenly, the room lost focus, his vision began to sway. It was a vision from the Force, he would ride the wave, learn what he could.
People swam into view. A beautiful young woman in white, others he didn't know. They were living in cramped quarters, desperately fighting something. He saw himself, in a flight suit like what he now wore, running for an X-wing. Then shooting down TIEs. He saw that grungy freighter that had taken him on his first leg to the Academy. Its furry copilot giving him a bearhug. Him, sitting around, in a group of people, laughing. Just a pilot having fun with friends. Him yelling a friendly greeting at Biggs-
Darklighter. His anger tore him from the vision. His sides heaved, he shook his head. He stared at the flightsuit. Force visions told possible futures, the past, or alternative lives. He could have ended up a Rebel. Fighting a doomed cause. Unaware how shallow those friendships really were. He would have never known his father. He grimaced. A smelly Wookiee was not a fair trade for a father. Nor were friends a fair trade for ruling the galaxy.
He sat in his chair, gathering his thoughts, strengthening his shields. The Executor dropped out of hyperspace above Coruscant.
Sitting in his chair Luke waited for his father to come to his quarters. It would be close to suicide for him to leave his quarters without his father next to him as any stormtrooper that saw him in the Rebel uniform he was wearing would shoot first and ask questions later. Nervously he shifted in his seat before he jumped to his feet and began pacing the room. He hated sitting around and doing nothing.
Pacing past the table he bent down and picked up his lightsaber, remembering what his father had said about it. And, even though he hadn't had his lightsaber for more then a couple of weeks, it already felt like it belonged in his hand. Silently he pushed the button and watched the ruby-red blade jump to life with a humming sound. Studying the blade he felt pride well up inside of himself, not just at the fact that he had constructed this lightsaber, but also at what he had become since he had left Tatooine well over a year ago.
Who would have guessed that he'd become a Sith Lord and the Prince of the galaxy when he was only nineteen years old? No one save his father. If his 'friends' on Tatooine had heard this even over a year ago they would have laughed. But wait, perhaps Owen and Beru hadn't guessed it, perhaps they had feared it! Thinking of all that his aunt and uncle had done to prevent his reunion with his father he felt his anger rise. No wonder Owen Lars had gotten so mad when he had caught his nephew with the datapad containing Imperial information, he had wanted to keep him from reaching his full potential, from learning who he truly was!
Knowing that he couldn't be distracted now Luke quickly shoved the thought out of his mind, he would deal with those issues after Palpatine's death. Feeling his father approach he turned around, facing the door.
Walking into his son's quarters Vader stopped as his eyes fell on his boy. With the tussled hair, the uniform, and the sullen look Luke looked exactly like a captured Rebel, except for the fact that he held a lightsaber in his hands.
"Good," he said aloud as he reached out with his hand. "I'll take your lightsaber now."
Placing his weapon in his father's hand Luke looked up into the mask, smiling with anticipation.
"Are my shields okay?" he asked.
Quickly probing his son with the Force Vader nodded his head before he motioned for Luke to follow him as he exited the room.
'Palpatine will most likely probe you as soon as we enter to the Imperial throne room,' Vader sent.
Nodding his head in reply Luke ignored the looks he was receiving from the officers they passed. Sensing Blann he looked up, acknowledging the man's existence. Blann in response saluted him.
Catching the silent communication between the two Vader smiled behind his mask. As he had known Luke had done the right thing and he was sure that when he came on board the Executor in the future that he'd see this Blann and Daol holding positions far higher then that of Wing Commanders.
Entering the docking bay Luke picked up on the surprise radiating from the Admiral and the other Wing Commanders.
"Admiral Koas," Vader said, instantly summoning the Admiral to his side. "We shall be here for a while, you may issue leave to some of the pilots."
"As you wish my lord," Admiral Koas replied as he eyed Luke, before nodding at the boy.
Although he didn't know why, he knew that the boy was special and that he would be better off respecting him. He saw the boy raise an eyebrow at his gesture before nodding his head in approval after which he walked past him. Looking at the retreating back of 'Black 2' he suppressed a sigh, wondering when and how he'd learn the boy's secret. It wasn't every pilot who got the Dark Lord's attention and favor. Then there was also the fact that he was wearing a Rebel uniform while boarding a shuttle headed down to Coruscant. A thing that would normally be considered suicide, but then, losing the Dark Lord's favor was also considered suicide, and yet the boy had survived that.
Boarding his father's shuttle Luke walked back to the passenger area and sat down. Concentrating he started creating an illusion in his mind so that the Emperor would see the mind of an untrained Force sensitive individual when he probed him. He just thought that he'd finished when his father's mind reached out, entered his, and made a few small adjustments.
"There," Vader stated as the shuttle lifted off. "You're ready. Remember all you have to do is act angry and fearful about your position and be defiant, distract him, but be ready to defend yourself."
"Yes father," Luke replied as he thought about the Force lightning his father had told him the Emperor always used to punish people who had greatly displeased him.
Leaning back in his seat he looked out the window to the planet below. Coruscant was the center of the Empire as well as the galaxy and had once been the center of the Old Republic before the Empire for as long as anyone could remember. Looking at the city planet Luke noticed that it lay against the black backdrop of space like a silver colored jewel on a black velvet cushion.
He kept his eyes glued to the window until he felt his father's hands on his wrists. Looking down he watched as his father put his hands into a set of binders before closing them.
"Now remember, no sudden movements," Vader warned. "The instant you make one the binders will open and fall away as they're made to do."
Luke just nodded his head as he brought his bound hands up to his face to inspect the binders. Several minutes later he lowered his hands, the binders he wore looked exactly like the real thing, nobody would be able to tell that they were fake. Sitting silently in his seat for the rest of the ride Luke thought about the future, wondering what it would be like to walk around without hiding who he truly was, to be instantly obeyed by everyone save his father.
A smile came to his face and he felt his father's amusement flow over their bond, before his father reached over and carefully severed the bond. He had known that it would happen, as the Emperor would have picked up on the bond almost instantly if it hadn't been cut, but that knowledge hadn't prepared him for the sudden wave of loneliness and desperation that washed over him.
Quickly he reached out and harnessed his emotions, allowing just the right mixture of anger and fear to seep into the illusion he had created around his mental shields. Now, when Palpatine probed him, he would find an untrained Force sensitive Rebel who was angry at what was happening to him and yet fearful for his life at the same time.
Feeling the small jolt of the landing Vader rose to his feet and headed towards the shuttle's ramp. Stopping just out of sight of the two red robed Royal Guards that had approached the shuttle as soon as it had landed he reached back and took hold of Luke's upper arm, making it look like he was forcing an unwilling prisoner off of his shuttle.
"The Emperor awaits," one of the two Royal Guards stated as Vader reached the bottom of the ramp.
Nodding his head he shoved Luke ahead of him and used the back halls of the Imperial Palace to approach the second entrance to the throne room. This entrance was known only to a few high ranking individuals and was rarely used. At the doors he stopped and waited while the Royal Guards double checked to make sure Luke had no weapons. Then, gesturing for the guards to wait outside, he opened the door and pushed Luke into the room.
Pretending to stumble as he entered the room Luke felt Palpatine reach out and enter his mind. As he quickly scanned the room Luke allowed some of the anger in the illusion to drain away and replaced it with more fear, making it look like he was truly frightened of the Emperor. Walking forward he felt the Galactic Ruler probe his mind a little more before retreating. As he reached the top of the stairs he swallowed, knowing the Emperor would catch it.
"Lord Vader," Palpatine said as he looked at his servant before letting his eyes drift to the binded Rebel, no more than a boy really, before him. "What a nice gift you bring me."
Luke narrowed his eyes at the comment, knowing that any Rebel would be outraged to be considered a gift for the Emperor. Quickly he let more anger seep into the illusion before speaking:
"A cold-blooded monster like you doesn't deserve any gifts," Luke stated, adding a hint of arrogance to his voice.
Vader smiled behind his mask, his son played his part extremely well. However, knowing that if he didn't punish the 'Rebel' for the remark his master would, he lashed out with his hand and hit Luke on the side of his face, knocking the boy off his feet.
"Watch your mouth boy," he ordered as he stepped in-between Luke and Palpatine to yank the 'Rebel' to his feet.
Allowing his father to pull him to his feet Luke quietly took his lightsaber from his father and pushed it up his right sleeve until it couldn't be seen before he stared defiantly into the mask and then at Palpatine as he was shoved towards the Emperor.
"In time you will learn obedience," Palpatine stated as Vader walked over to stand at his side.
"Never! I'll never bow to your wishes!" Luke declared as he met the Emperor's gaze.
For a split second piercing yellow drilled into ice-blue before Palpatine rose to his feet, enraged. Taking a step towards the defiant Rebel, Palpatine raised his hands, preparing to use Force lightning on the boy, to teach him his place.
Recognizing the gesture from what his father had told him Luke instantly jerked his hands apart, feeling the binder open and fall away, before he let his lightsaber slid out of his sleeve and into the palm of his right hand. Bringing his hands together he activated his ruby-red lightsaber just in time to block the blue-white Force lightning aimed at him.
Realizing what was happening Palpatine spun around with an angry snarl, raising his hands to use his Force lightning on Vader.
Having ignited his own lightsaber seconds after Luke had Vader swung it in a wide arch, cutting Palpatine in half as he was still turning towards him. Watching his Master's body fall to floor in two pieces he smiled behind his mask. Finally, after all those years, the Imperial throne was his.
Raising his head he looked at his son as he reached out and rebuilt their bond.
Luke stood, gasping from the brief struggle, as he looked at the bleeding corpse of the Emperor. Blood oozed from the fatal wound, dripping down the stairs. He glanced up, locking eyes with his father. Their bond was rebuilding under Vader's willing hand. Joining his father in strengthening it, Luke felt the returning companionship with more relief than he had expected. The bond would allow no lies between them, he would never be alone. That by itself was worth the Emperor's death, ruling the galaxy just doubled the return.
Luke spoke first, "So, my Emperor, what next?" He looked at the doors by which they had entered. "And what do we tell them?"
Vader walked over, sat on the throne. Its huge form fitting him like a glove. "First, we tell them that I rule. We have them give allegiance to my throne."
"And those that won't?" The punishment was clear, the method was not.
"I am going to have to send you out. I'll give you my ship, The Executor. You will teach the dissidents the error of their ways. But only the traitors, no innocents. I'm not stupid, like our fallen friend. I have no use for stirring up rebellion against me. You will need to bring our over-eager commanders in line as well."
"But, before you go- I will be proclaimed Emperor, and you will be introduced as my heir and hand, Prince Vader. After all, there is no one else who I can trust." The spark of dark humor, the surge of victory rippled along the bond, tying the two together.
"And father, what of the people? They will need to be pacified. They will not understand the necessity of our actions."
Darth Vader smiled, his son always got to the point. "I will reinstate several 'rights' that the previous Emperor had taken away. I will explain that I did this for them, the people. I will loosen the binds on commerce. The people will prosper, they will see us as heroes." Vader shifted. "The people can be led like stupid animals. You make them think they can determine their own fate, and they chose to follow you."
"Then father, let us begin." Luke bowed, Vader got up from the throne.
'First things first, my son.' Vader sent to his son. 'We need to kill all the Royal Guards. We can't trust their loyalties. The conditioning they go under is very strong.' Vader hefted his weapon, Luke did the same.
It had been quick work. The guards were good, but they did not have the Force. Vader and Luke returned to the throne room. Vader used his com to call the Executor.
"Yes, my lord."
"I need you to send a message to every Admiral and above in the Empire. The message shall read 'The Emperor Palpatine is dead. Come to the Imperial Palace and swear allegiance to me, or die.' sign it 'Emperor Vader'."
A pause. But the reply was firm: "Yes, my Emperor."
Deep within Smugglers Run on the first settled asteroid known as Skip I Han Solo cursed under his breath. Quickly he got to his feet and walked to where Chewie was working on the Falcon.
"No," he said, beginning to lose his patience as he pointed to some of the wires. "That one goes there and that one goes there."
*This would be a lot easier if we had simply gotten a replacement,* Chewie growled.
"A replacement costs too much," Han replied as he walked back to the landing strut he had been working on. "Especially if we can repair the old one."
Chewie opened his mouth to reply when Sinewy Ana Blue came running up to the ship.
"What's wrong Blue?" Han asked, using the nickname the female smuggler got from the blue crystal tooth she had. "Decided you want me after all?"
"Dream on Solo," Blue shot back. "I think you'd better come to the entry chamber, there's going to be some big Imperial announcement."
"I'm not with the Empire anymore Blue," Han replied remembering the time he had spent as an Imperial TIE fighter pilot. "I don't care about any Imperial announcements."
"This is different," Blue insisted as she stepped forward and grabbed Han's arm. "All every channel shows at the moment is a big Imperial symbol, even the channels not controlled by the Empire. Whatever it is, it's big and Kid thinks that we had better listen to it, just so that we know what's going on."
"All right," Han said as he motioned for Chewie to follow him.
If Kid DXo'ln said he should see it, then he would. Kid was after all the one who had first taken him through the Kessel Run, an invaluable experience as far as he was concerned. Following Blue into the entry chamber he looked around to see that most of the smugglers on the asteroid where in the room. Quickly he glanced at the holo at the far end of the room and saw the Imperial symbol just as the Imperial anthem began playing.
"Wonder what all the fuss is about," Han stated.
*Probably something small that the Empire is just pulling out of proportions,* Chewie roared softly.
"True," Han whispered just as the Imperial symbol faded from the holo and was replaced by a scene inside what seemed to be the Imperial throne room.
"Loyal citizens of the Empire, people of the galaxy," Grand Admiral Skuzo began.
"This is big," Kid said as he came to stand next to Han, Chewie, and Blue. "Why else would the Empire's third-in-command be on a galaxy wide holo transmission? This hasn't happened since Palpatine declared himself Emperor!"
"Indeed," Blue replied.
"We have come together today to celebrate a glorious event, we have come together to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Vader," Grand Admiral Skuzo said.
"What?!" Kid exclaimed. "Emperor Vader? What happened to Palpatine?"
"Loyal citizens of the Empire, people of the galaxy I present you the Emperor Vader," Grand Admiral Skuzo stated as an applause could be heard in the background from the selected individuals who had been allowed into the throne room for this historic event.
Suddenly the holo shifted and everyone watching could suddenly see Darth Vader sitting on the Imperial throne. Standing to the right of the throne stood a young man wearing flowing black robes and, attached to his belt, was a black lightsaber hilt.
"That's him!" Han exclaimed as he recognized Luke. "What's he doing there?"
"Who? What?" Blue asked, completely confused.
"The kid standing next to the throne, I know him," Han explained as he looked to Chewie. "We transported him in the Falcon from Tatooine to the Imperial outpost on Goblonia."
"Why didn't you say anything before?" Blue asked as she took a step closer to Han. "Why didn't you tell us you had transported someone so powerful?"
"I didn't know," Han replied. "He was just a farmboy on his way to join the Empire."
"Obviously he's more then that," Kid stated.
"People of the galaxy," Emperor Vader said. "In light of Palpatine's sudden death there will be several major changes in the Empire other then just the leadership. One such change will be a reduction in taxes, another will be the loosening of the binds on commerce."
Han groaned as he heard this, the loosening of the binds on commerce meant that people would be able to get that which they wanted easier meaning that they wouldn't need smugglers as much as they used too. Looking to his right he saw an angry scowl appear on Blue's face.
"Standing to my right is my son and heir, Imperial Prince Luke Vader," Emperor Vader continued as he gestured towards Luke. "He shall take my former place and carry out my orders."
"What?!" Han shouted, startling everyone in the room.
Vader's son? That naive, idealistic, farmboy he had transported to Goblonia was Darth Vader's son?! Looking at Chewie's face he saw his own surprise and shock mirrored there.
*He'd be just be another face in a crowd full of nameless people, wouldn't he?* Chewie asked, throwing Han's own words back at him.
Walking down the ramp of the shuttle which had just landed in the Executor's docking bay Admiral Koas shook his head in disbelief. He had known that there was more to 'Black 2' then had met the eye, but Vader's son? He still couldn't believe it.
When he had gone to pledge his allegiance to Emperor Vader yesterday he had entered the throne room to find the boy standing to Vader's right, still wearing the Rebel uniform. However he had instantly noticed the lightsaber hilt hanging from his belt and had known that the boy had helped in killing Palpatine. Knowing this he had thought that the boy was simply someone whom had had the right talents to help Vader reach his goal, but his son? The thought hadn't crossed his mind.
But now that he thought about it, it all made sense. The favor he had had, his quick promotion, all the time he had spent with Vader, the fact that he was still alive after he had supposedly fallen from favor. Now he also knew why Vader had made him report to 'Black 2' after the battle in the Drilli system: the Sith Lord had wanted him to get used to obeying his son.
"Have Prince Vader's belongings moved to Emperor Vader's former quarters," he ordered one of the officers who had been with him when he had made his report to 'Black 2.'
"Yes Sir," the officer replied before he hesitated. "Is Prince Vader taking over command of the Executor?"
"Yes," Admiral Koas replied.
"Then we shall need a new Black 2, again."
"I'm sure Prince Vader will take care of that when he returns," Admiral Koas stated without a moments hesitation, completely confident of the young Prince's abilities, and ready to give him his complete loyalty.