The Father - Part 2
Han leaned back despondently against his cell wall. An in-person encounter with the galaxys second most important and first most feared individual did not leave one in the best of moods, no matter how brief the contact may have been. But even more disturbing was the knowledge that Luke was or already had undergone the same ordealfor the second time that dayand had far, far more reason to be scared silly than Han. He could only hope the kid would be able to hold it together and maybe save himself from suspicion. But it seemed impossible that Vader could come so close to his quarry and not realize it
He jumped as the cell door swished open without warning. Glancing up, he had expected to see armored guards entering.
Except this for sure was no armored guard. In front of him stood a dark-haired young man, probably not much older than Han himself, dressed in a somewhat battered jumpsuit and carrying a blasterwhich definitely wasnt protocol.
Good evening, he said with a mock bow. Id like to invite you along on an escape party.
Han could hardly believe his luck. Wouldnt miss it, he answered, jumping up from his bench. Han Solo.
The other guy waved his blaster, glancing over his shoulder. Wedge Antilles. Come on.
Mind if I invite a friend along? Han said quickly.
As long as your friend knows how to run and shoot, Antilles shrugged.
Eh, we got the run covered anyway, Han said. And he can dodge pretty good. He pointed. Thats the cell.
Antilles nodded and leveled his blaster at the lock. In another second the door hissed open and Han rushed in. Luke was there, alright, and he didnt look so good. He was pale, leaning against the wall, and Han watched as his expression slowly shifted out of hopelessness. Han? he whispered.
He didnt hurt ya, did he, kid? Han breathed, crossing over and helping him up. Luke winced and reached a hand around to rub his back.
Im okay, he said softly. How did you
Talk an run, buddy, Han said shortly, dragging Luke out after him by the hand. Meet Wedge Antilles here. Antilles, this is my kid brother Luke.
Nice to have you along, Antilles acknowledged with a surprisingly good-natured grin. Well, this architecture is lovely, but Ive heard you get a better view out on the streets, so what say we find out?
Im all for it, Luke agreed softly, with only a side glance down the hall at the pile of obviously dead guards. Wedge tossed them both an extra blaster from his newfound collection.
If it moves and it aint me, shoot it, he said. And stick close behind me, Im pretty sure I have a route to a speeder hangar.
They followed Antilles down the hall to the door theyd been brought in by, all fearful of opening itbut the alarms must not have been raised yet, for no one was outside. They slunk quickly away from the detention wing after their mysterious guide.
Vader had just finished his conversation with the Emperor and was seething inwardly over the pettiness of the intrusion, on his walk back to the detention wing and the child, when the castles sirens began to scream and a voice came over the intercom. All squads proceed to level 127 intruder alert all squads proceed to level 127 intruder alert
In a fit of indescribable rage, the Dark Lord snatched up his comlink. Status report, he ordered as soon as the control room came online.
Prison break from level 127, my lord, the answer came immediately. Rooms 3,4, and 9 reporting security breach. The fugitives appear to be headed for a speeder hangar on 127. We are directing our forces to intercept them.
I want all bay doors sealed, Vader ordered tightly. Do not allow them to escape this compound. He switched off the comlink and adjusted his direction towards the speeder hangar. He would be cursed if he would lose that child when he had been so close!
Luke was breathless by the time they arrived in the speeder hangaronly to see the great gates whistling shut!
Kreth! Han swore furiously, and Wedge fired a blaster shot at the walls in frustrationthen shots rang out behind them, and the two older escapees had to spin around and return fire.
Lukes decision was split-second. If they couldnt get out, they were going to be taken prisoner again, and Vader would come back to question him again, and soon enough hed find out what he wanted to know, and then hed be dead. So it didnt much matter if he did this
Dropping his well-maintained shields, Luke desperately reached into the Force, and felt the connection come more easily than it ever had. He pushed his mind out, pushed his hand outand the hangar gates ground to a halt. With a violent shriek of protesting machinery, the panels reversed direction, ripping out their tracks as they flew back apart, sparks flying from overloaded circuitry.
Come on! he shouted at Wedge and Han, pointing at the open bay. The others didnt take the time to question their apparent good luck.
Vader was nearly at the speeder hangar and could hear the shots ringing out when the Force burst out in a sudden eruption of brightness. It dazed himhe physically staggered into the wall before the brilliance resolved itself into a single, shining, and above all deeply familiar presence. In a moment he felt the gaping emptiness in his mind refilled. The sensation of high-spirited laughter fell like a stun baton across his darkened soul.
The boy was his son his bright, brilliant, alive son
As if from a great distance he sensed his child stretch out and instinctively take hold of the Force with a depth and agility well beyond his young agefelt the boy pull, push, sensed his sons desperation. And then the desperation vanished in a blindingly bright surge of triumph.
His own desperation quickly arose, though, as the boys presence began to fade. He was drawing away, swiftlyhe and his companions had contrived to escape the castle.
It must have been the bay doors he was pulling on, Vader analyzed numbly. He could still sense the childs presence, but it had already grown much dimmerand he could not bear the ache that was rapidly rising in him to have his son back immediately, to feel the little ones bright spirit refilling and healing the great wound he had lived with for so long. It had been thirteen years since he had felt so whole, so free of painto lose it so immediatelyhe could not allow ithe must prevent the child from fleeing the planet!
Desperately he stretched with all his might to touch his boys mind. Luke Luke, come back. Come back, young one
Luke did indeed hear him, but the result was not the desired onea surge of horrible fear came to him through their bond, and the next instant the bond was sliced off at the middle as the young one brought his impressive mental shields back up. Vader was left to stagger at the sudden return of the emptiness.
It cut him to the core, sharper than any lightsaber ever could, to realize how utterly terrified of him his son was.
But his determination reasserted itself. He could deal with that when he again had the boybut he must first ensure Luke remained in system. He seized his comlink and connected it to the bridge of the Executor overhead.
Admiral Siler immediately appeared in miniature on his projector, almost his single least favorite officer of the Empire, just ahead of one Admiral Ozzel and a close second to Wilhuff Tarkin, with whom he had enjoyed a standing hatred since he was eleven years old at the debacles of Zonama Sekotbut for once his disdain of the man did not arise. Admiral, you will cordon the planet immediately. A Rebel craft will shortly be attempting to leave the system. If you do not contain that ship and return the passengers to me alive, you may consider your life forfeit.
Siler swallowed tightly. It will be contained, my lord. He turned quickly back to the bridge. Communications, order the planetary traffic to descend to orbital altitude
The three escapees ditched the speeders as soon as they hit Aldray Avenue and hitched a quick ride on a public transport, where they did their best to mingle until they reached the block where Han and Luke had left the Falcon.
Wedge was none too impressed when he saw their escape ship.
Were flying that crate out of here? he said dubiously.
Yeah, shes a crate, Han said grimly, but shes got a Sienar beta drive and I had a couple of quads installed last month, so you can bet shell shoot back and run like a nerf with a burning tail.
They ran aboard and Han yelled at the other two to get into the quad cannon turrets while he lifted the ship out of the hangar. There was no time to waste being fancythey had to get clear of the system before the Fleet imposed a cordon, and they might already be too late. He took the freighter out of the atmosphere at nearly ninety degrees to the planet surface. As they broke into space, he heard groans come over the cabin speakers from Luke and Wedge. The traffic was all either below orbital altitude or heading down fast; their outbound trajectory was going to stick out like a Wookiee at a Jawa convention.
But he had no choice except to go for it. See you in the nine Corellian hells, Wedge said wryly over the intercom.
Huh so the guy was a Corellian too. Make it all the more interesting. Here goes nothin, Solo announced darkly. Strap in and shoot like you mean it.
The next second they were barreling through a swarm of TIEs, ignoring all the warnings from the flagships.
Got one! Wedge sang out; Luke wasnt far behind him with a spectacular two-in-one shot. Make that three down, Solo!
Great, pal, dont get cocky! Han wrestled with his controls for dear life, swearing anxiously under his breath, pumping every last klick-per-second he could from his sublight drives, and seizing every spare instant to punch in the coordinates for Nar Shaddaa. The world was ablaze with laser fire outside the ship, with flashing lights and howling buzzers demanding his attention inside the cockpit.
It was so intense he hardly knew it when they tore in upon the Star Destroyer blockadeeverything was a whole lot of shouting over the intercom, explosions and trying to dodge the heavy fire from the big guns on the warships. At one point his shields fried under a direct hit from the single biggest destroyer hed ever wished not to seebut he kept driving on because they were only aiming at his engines and their lasers werent set high enough to kill his shipweaving back and forth, trying to find a break through the blockade.
All of a sudden, Luke scored a freak hit on the bridge of one of the destroyers, fritzing out its shieldsand as the Falcon performed an axis roll, Wedge proved his worth by nailing the sucker again. With a spectacular flash, the bridge exploded, and the destroyer began a nosedive towards the planetbut all Han noticed was the opening in the blockade.
Without another whisper of a thought the freighter punched through, and then it was nothing but starlines.
Admiral Siler did not survive the freighters escape by two minutes, such was Vaders wrath; indeed the only thing he regretted afterwards was that killing off Siler forced him to take on Ozzel as the next commander of his fleet and flagship. But his rage was by far the least powerful of his emotions at present.
The Dark Lord was in such an emotional whirlwind that it was all he could do to contain the feelings behind his shields to evade the Emperors notice. Only one thing could he allow himself to think for several hourshis master must not know. He replaced all security recordings that featured young Luke, destroying the originals. The forger met with a quick death, getting no more warning than the ignition of Vaders saber, as did the security forces who had arrested his son, on the excuse of their having let prisoners escape. Within the hour, Luke might as well have never been in Imperial City for all the evidence that remained.
Fortunately, the Dark Lord had a good excuse for leaving the systemhis Fleet duties had piled up exponentially during his absence. With a single curt notice to his master that he was leaving Coruscant with Fifth Fleet to deal with affairs, and throwing in a few urgent-sounding pieces of intelligence regarding Rebel activity for good measure, he sent his shuttle up to the Executor. Fifteen minutes after his arrival, Fifth Fleet hypered out of system, bound for a rendezvous with Third Fleet.
Once he was a good distance away, Vader retreated into his hyperbaric chamber and released his hold on his emotions, let himself think. Like a great flash flood, anger and sorrow and pain and a thousand other sensations overpowered his thoughts, and he let them battle as they would to see which would prove strongest.
In the end, he was surprised by a sudden outpouring of joy. A most un-Sithly emotion if ever there was one, he growled at himself, trying to deny the factbut he soon had to give up. It was a joy from the same mold as the first sensation of holding Sara and Sandra, the joy he had felt the moment Padme first whispered to him that she was pregnant.
I have a son. It was strange how much different that was from his daughters. They were no less precious to him nowbut Luke was the child he had believed lostto be given that child back nearly made him want to cry.
Of course, he certainly did not do any such weak, uncharacteristic, womanly thing.
Dizzily he turned the memory of his son over and over in his minds eye. He had his mothers build, Padmes build, Padmes more delicate features, Padmes stubbornnessin fact, when his hair was dyed dark like it had been there seemed to be almost nothing about the boy that reminded him of himself.
But he knew from those images that his son was not dark-haired or green-eyedhe was blond and blue-eyed, like his father. And the museumhow he had been so interested in the lightsaber, had picked out the Jedi fighter as his favorite. That was all from him, as was his clear strength in the Force. With a deep surge of pride he remembered how well the boy had been able to hide his sensitivity.
And he was a brave child, too, despite the Dark Lords impressions from their two encounters. He had thought himself in danger of his life from Vaderknowing that, his self-control at the museum was nothing short of magnificent. It was no wonder that, after such a stressful effort earlier and in such a terrifying situation, he had not been able to conceal his enormous fear the second time. And even then, he had retained a measure of controleven, towards the end, had gained ground. It was amazing in a thirteen-year-old.
Thirteen. Vader leaned against the wall of the hyperbaric chamber weakly. Could he really be the father of a teenager? Just two hours ago he had been the father of two-year-old toddlers! To miss so much of his childs life so much even in two and a half years, Sara and Sandra had done such a great deal of growing, changing. How much he had missed seeing in his son! Seeing him begin to walk, teaching him to fly a speeder (as he clearly could do), watching him learn and grow in the Force, hearing his first words, rocking him to sleep, holding him seeing him born
Seeing him born. He closed his eyes against the bleak upwelling of agony. Padme, Padme the nightmares of long ago came back. Had she died in childbirth after all, as he had so feared, despite all his efforts to prevent it from happening?
He no longer knew. The discovery of his son had destroyed all he thought he knew about what had happened to Padmebut it had given him one, great, incredible relief.
I did not kill her. I could not have killed her. Luke was alive; his mother must have lived long enough to be taken away from Mustafar, long enough to give birth in safe medical conditionsthe unborn child would have suffocated if its mother died and ceased giving it oxygen, and equally could not have survived such a premature delivery in harsh conditions. Padme must have been gotten to somewhere safeand there was nowhere that close to Mustafar, certainly nowhere closer than a few hours hyperspace jump. It was thus impossible that he could have killed her.
She was alive I felt her
She had been alive.
Which meant he had been lied to. He had thought he hated Obi-Wan, but that fury paled before the soul-deep, cold, acidic rage that was slowly rising against his master. Palpatine had lied to him, not once but twicefirst that he knew the way to save Padme from the fate he had dreamed of, and secondly that Vader had killed the most precious, beautiful, beloved thing in his life.
In comparison to that great, unforgivable betrayal, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a saint among men.
But his anger could not now hold sway, not while the relief was still so great. My child is alive, alive, I did not kill him, I did not kill my Padme He had still hurt her, and he would never forgive himself for it, but at least the greatest sin could not be attributed to him. And his young son was within his reach, his precious priceless son already he felt sick at the memory of striking the boy, of hurting him in any way. ButForce, he had not yet known
Yet it was not long that he could be despondent. There was too much to feel relief for, too much to think about, too much to plan. Of course he must search the child out again, that was the first thing to be done obviously. Find him again, bring him back to Bast Castle
And then he could tackle the boys opinion of his father. He frowned again. What did Luke know about him? What lies had Kenobi fed him, that the child would believe himself in mortal peril from his father? His ire against Obi-Wan was immediately refreshed
And it was just as quickly balanced when the possibility occurred to him that Luke might not know anything. It would then be quite logical for a Force-sensitive boy to be terrified of Vader, who had slaughtered not only the Jedi but also any Force-sensitives Palpatine did not choose to use. Kenobi, he grudgingly admitted, might not have fed his son any lies about his father, but only refrained from discussing the subject.
Just what had Kenobi done with his child? His first reaction was of course anger that the child had been kept from him. But he then came to realize that from the admittedly twisted Jedi point of view, Kenobi must have believed he was protecting the young one. Well. That was no less than he wished to do. The man had been wrong to keep father from son, but Luke did not appear to be an unhealthy or maladjusted child, nor had his great abilities been left without cultivation. Other than imbuing him with incorrect views, Obi-Wan had likely done nothing more harmful than feed Luke, send him to bed, see to his basic education, and the like.
Vader therefore calmed his rage. He could perhaps even bring himself to forgive Kenobi just this oncefor if Luke had been hidden from his father, he had been just as effectively hidden from the Emperor, and it could be argued that Vader owed his old master for thus protecting the boy. He felt any potential debt was more than outweighed by the rest of Kenobis offenses, but the man was deadit was pointless to fuel a rage he couldnt vent anymore, and in any case this injury could still be repaired.
He did not doubt that he could win the boys trust, once he had him again. It would not be easythat had been no trifling fright in his sons eyes, and Vader had unwittingly given his son a glimpse of his harsher side that Sara and Sandra hadnt seen. But he felt with time, with patience, with gentleness, with familiarity, that fear could be shed. His son might be thirteen, but that was still so young and malleable an age.
And besides being his precious little onewhat an ally he could be when he was grown! Eager anticipation arose in him at the prospect of the two of them, side by side. They would be a force like nothing before, one to make even a wily, traitorous master of darkness quiver on his throne. He had seen such possibilities with Sara and Sandrabut now his dreams were eleven years closer to realization. The boy was already so strong! Vader was confident he would prove a worthy ally.
Back in hyperspace
Kid, we gotta stop pulling such close scrapes, Han breathed shakily into the com, slumping in his seat as he watched the swirling panoramic safety of hyperspace out the cockpit windows.
You can say that again, Luke affirmed. The connection was too fuzzy for Han to get any idea of his tone.
Ah, lighten up, you two, Antilles chided cheerfully. A meters as good as a lightyear.
Han would have agreedexcept Antilles didnt know the kind of danger Luke had been in.
The three of them met up in the rec room. Nice flying, Solo, Antilles said brightly as soon as he saw Han. And that was some shooting, kiddo. He grinned at Luke and ruffled the kids hair a little.
Thanks, Luke mumbled.
So whore you again? Han said. Introductions got kinda blurry.
You from Corellia? Han tried hopefully.
No better place in the galaxy, Antilles nodded.
There sure aint, Han agreed, sticking out his hand.
Wedge shook it firmly. So howd you two wind up in the box?
Han shrugged. Imps launched a sting operation and we got snatched up on the side, he answered vaguely. Kept askin about the Rebellion. How about you?
They accuse everyone of that? Han snorted.
Just about, but they had it right with me.
Han and Luke both raised their eyebrows. So this was a genuine Rebel, huh?
Guess you had some motivation to get out, then, Han finally responded.
Wedge laughed and sat himself down at the game table. Kreth, yes, he said, with that same good-natured grin. For crying out loud, they didnt even have a fresher in those boxes.
Han shook his head at the guys nonchalance. Well, you tell me where you feel like getting dropped off, cause we for sure owe you that much.
Thanks, Wedge said. You know where the Dantooine system is?
My navigator can find it, Han said, nodding to Luke. Well set our course there once we hit Nar Shaddaa.
Wedge raised his eyes. You generally think of Nar Shaddaa as safe?
Beats Coruscant. They stood around in silence for a while.
Well, Antilles announced abruptly, I dunno about you two, but Im starving. Does this crate of yours have a galley, Solo?
Han pointed down the lefthand corridor.
Great. You two like Giju stew?
Han rolled his eyes. Were Corellian, arent we?
Wedge grinned and disappeared down the corridor. Han turned immediately to Luke.
Kid, are you okay? he asked anxiously.
Luke shook his head slowly and rubbed his back again. Han felt his stomach sink. Did Vader hurt you? he demanded, grabbing Lukes shoulders.
The boy bit his lip, but finally he nodded. Not bad, he qualified. My back is sore.
Han promptly pulled the youngster over to the bench. Then you lie down, he ordered. Well get you somethin for it.
I dont need painkiller, Luke objected. Its not that sore. But Han would not let the boy weasel out of taking at least two tablets of generic painkiller.
Was he grillin you? Han pressed once he had Luke stretched out on the bench.
Luke nodded shakily, and Han judged his stomach to be roughly in the same proximity as his toes. Come on, you gotta tell me what he found out, the ex-street rat pushed fiercely.
I had to tell him how old I was and that my parents were dead, Luke murmured, and where I was from.
Han relaxed. That aint so bad. Is that all? He didnt get your name?
He saw the boy tremble. No.
Does he know anything else?
He found out we werent brothers, Luke answered. But I think thats all.
He refrained from mentioning that terrifying moment on the speeders when he heard the Dark Lords voice echoing in his head. Vader certainly knew he was Force-sensitive nowbut so long as Luke kept his shields up, he didnt need to worry, and Han couldnt help him there anyway. We better do something, though, he murmured.
Yeah, Han agreed. How you feel about red hair?
Luke made a face. Han, theres a lot of people who look like me, he pointed out. And they didnt get a mug shot or anything.
Han relaxed a little as he thought about that. Rightso Vader now knew exactly who he was looking for. But he was the only one who did, and Vader could only be so many places, right? Right.
I think we better find somewhere to lie low for a while, he said anyway. Just to make sure. Maybe somewhere in Hutt space, the Empire doesnt stick its nose in too far there.
Luke shrugged, pushing himself up on his elbows.
Antilles reappeared from the corridor. Hey, Solo, you got anything to drink on this crate? He set a tray full of steaming bowls down on the game table.
Water, Han told him, picking up a bowl and digging straight in. Luke, rather more scrupulous, stirred the stew around with his spoon and inspected its contents carefully before trying it.
Nothing special, but its not bad, Wedge said, settling down next to Luke. You feeling okay, kid? he asked.
He had a rougher time than I did, Han said darkly between bites.
Yeah? You two must have been there longer than me if they got around to asking questions.
Han shook his head. We were only therewhat, maybe an hour?
Wedge raised his eyebrows. I didnt think any of the interrogators was that industrious.
I dont think we got one of the usual interrogators, Han snorted.
Funny guy, was he?
If you think Vaders a comedian, sure.
Wedge choked on his stew. When he could breathe again, he got out, You wanna run that by me again?
Yeah. Kinda surprised me too when he showed up. Han stared at the far wall, chewing.
Wedge shook his head. You get him too, kid?
Luke nodded, pushing his bowl back up on the table and lying his head down, closing his eyes.
Come on, let him sleep, Han told Wedge. The two of them retreated back to the galley, leaving Luke to rest while they cleaned up.
Solo, is that brother of yours okay? Wedge asked him softly once the door was closed behind them.
He got the crap scared out of him, Han said bluntly. And he was sayin his back hurt. He didnt say exactly why. I gave him painkiller for it.
They loaded the bowls into the washer silently and stood around for a few minutes.
Look, HanIm not trying to push, but Vader doesnt bother with questioning just anybody, Wedge finally said in a low voice. And Ive seen the wanted lists over the last few months.
Han immediately put on his sabacc face. Whats your point? he said lightly.
Wedge crossed his arms. I think that kid is the one the Empires been looking for, he finally announced, point-blank. Am I right?
Han stiffened up just a little.
Buddy, relaxIm a Rebel, remember? Im not about to turn anyone in. Wedge leaned back against the bulkhead. I appreciate that youre trying to look out for him, but youre up against Vader, obviously on a personal basis, and you arent gonna beat him by yourself.
Get to the point, Antilles.
You need help from people who have more resources, Wedge said patiently. LookI can take you two back to base, and you can give Command your case. I guarantee you the Alliance is always ready to help out anyone on the run from the Empire, especially a kid like Luke. Hows it sound?
Han crossed his arms. Ill think about it.
A month later, on Dantooine
Bail Organa was generally a man who enjoyed being busy, on the move. He therefore was normally in his element when traveling, especially when he could keep himself brisk with the prospect of important work to be done at his destination.
But this journeythis was one he would rather not have had to make.
Ostensibly, Senator Organa had come to Dantooine for charitable purposes, one of his numerous relief projects for refugees. And indeed that was an important thing to see to while he was on Dantooinebut much more important was the secret errand he was also attending to on this world.
The Alliance to Restore the Republic had since its inception been the greatest expression of Bails deepest convictions, resolutions, the project which he could pour all his energies into with no reservations of conscience. His work with the Alliance was even more his lifes work than the Senate was, and beyond that a great memorial to lost friends who had stood for its cause. Friends such as Padme Amidalawhose daughter, in this case unfortunately, shared her mothers heart for justice and equality, and thus took great interest in her fathers relief projects.
Any other time than this, Bail was brimming with delight and approval for Leias humanitarian interests. He was of course no less pleased with this quality nowbut he strongly regretted that she had asked to come with him to Dantooine to see one of his projects firsthand.
There was really no way for him to squirm out of consentingnot without telling her of his involvement in the Rebellion, and she was too young to worry about such things yet. She was already growing up fast, and Bail refused to speed the process any more. And Dantooine was as safe a world as they came, so he could find no other solid grounds upon which to discourage the development of her interests. He did not want to discourage her, eitherand so he had been compelled to bring Leia with him.
And that was the reason for his nervousness. Should he be discovered by the Empire and arrested, what might happen to Leia? It was not that the likelihood of such an event was any greater than usual but he was risking so much more
Well, the only thing to do was to get his business, official and otherwise, finished as quickly as he could manage and get back to the relative safety of Alderaan.
They had landed on Dantooine this morning, and he had taken Leia with him to the refugee camps that afternoon, where they had gotten reports of the progress of Alderaans efforts towards relief and done some helping out themselves. And of course the local authority figures had seen to the appropriate formal dining and such in the evening; he had just managed to extract himself and Leia and settle his daughter in her rooms.
It was now time to see to his other tasks in system. He left his guest rooms smoothly enough under the pretense of some evening amusement or other and took his speeder out of the city to a rural district several hours away, where the Alliances headquarters were presently situated.
Senator Organa, General Dodonna greeted Bail upon his arrival some hours later. Im glad you were able to make it safely. Weve had no reports of suspicion, but still caution is always wise.
And Im glad to hear your operations are in no state of danger, Bail returned sincerely. How are you, Jan?
Oh, well enough. Dodonna shrugged good-naturedly. No reasons out of the ordinary for complaining about the state of affairs.
Your situation here is satisfactory?
It certainly is, Dodonna said sincerely. Plenty of room, plenty of food. Short on personnel of course, but thats hardly unusual, is it?
Bail laughed wryly. Im afraid not, he agreed.
Not many new recruits come in here, Dodonna continued more seriously. Most are with the resistance cells on their homeworlds. Although I did get three new ones just a couple weeks ago.
Dodonna stopped. As it happens, Senator Organa, thats one of the things we certainly need to discuss.
Your new recruits? Bail raised his eyebrows in puzzlement.
Only one of them. Senator, we need to set a minimum age requirement. Obviously I cannot speak for the Alliance as a whole, so any decisions must be left to Command, but one of the new recruits who arrived is just thirteen years old.
Bail felt an immediate pang in his gut. It had not been long ago that he had decided how little he wanted his thirteen-year-old involved in a burgeoning galactic waryet here was one wanting to sign on.
Obviously, the first issue this raises is how young a recruit the Alliance should as a rule accept, but I cant deal with that problem. The second issue is what I am to do with the boy in question.
Can he not be sent home?
He claims to be an orphan, Senator. I can hardly justify relinquishing him to an Imperial childcare facility. And there are also well, other issues which complicate the matter.
Bail nodded. Perhaps I could judge the situation better if I could meet the boy in question? he asked.
Certainly, Senator. The general dispatched a junior officer to bring the lad, and the two moved on to the command offices to discuss other pertinent affairs of strategy. They were only about half an hour waiting before the officer returned.
General? Ive got Solo.
Bring him in.
The next moment a slightly built boy appeared in the room, in a rumpled shirt and soft sleep trousers. His dark brown hair was in shaggy disarray, his feet barein general he looked as though the officer had had to roll him straight out of bed.
Senator, this is Luke Solo. Luke, son, this is Senator Bail Organa.
Bail nearly jumped at the name Luke, so much had it been on his mind these past several months. There was a Luke gone missing somewhereElle had not been able to contact the Larses again since her first call to them, word had reached Alderaan of a covert Imperial strike against a small settlement on the planet Krytoa, and several different images of that missing boy were plastered upon every wanted screen in the galaxy. His own people had been searching fiercely, desperate to recover the child before Vader did.
He calmed his nerves by reminding himself that there were thousands of Lukes in the galaxy. With a friendly smile he got up and went to shake the boys hand.
Luke Solo, whatever else he might be, was no shyer than Leia. He looked directly into Bails eyes with his own bright green ones. Hello, senator, he said quietly, gripping the offered hand as firmly as he could.
Hello, young Luke Solo, Bail said. General Dodonna gives me to understand you would like to join the Rebellion.
The boy nodded firmly.
If Leia ever got wind of his involvement in the Alliance, Bail had a feeling this was exactly how shed respond. Why? he asked instead. There was a good chance that this was nothing but a typical idealistic whim grown to powerful proportions on nothing but its own allure; in that case he had hopes of being able to dissuade the boy.
But Lukes response immediately dashed his hopes. The Empire shot my family, he answered, as softly as before. He didnt have to raise his voiceanger was evident in his whole posture.
Bail glanced at Dodonna, understanding the mans predicament far better. He could not think of a response to discourage the boy from reacting to such bitter loss, not when so many of the Alliances recruits fought for exactly the same reason.
Do you not have any relatives beyond your parents to go to? Bail asked. Best to make sure.
My parents died when I was a baby, was Lukes answer. It was my relatives that they shot.
Bail felt an ache rising in him at the thought of Leia suffering such deprivation as this boy had at the same age. Luke Solo was practically a poster boy for the Rebel cause, it would seem.
I came here with my brother, Luke added.
Wellthank the Force the boy had at least one person left to him. How old is your brother?
Bail frowned. Certainly, it would be difficult for the boysbut seventeen, that was nearly of age. Why had the older brother not taken responsibility for seeing to his sibling?
Can we not put Luke in his brothers care? Bail asked Dodonna.
That, senator, is where the other complications enter the picture, was the generals response. Young Luke here is on the Empires wanted list. Go on, son, tell him.
Bails gaze swiveled sharply back to Luke. Was itwas it possible that ?
The Empire thought my family was linked with the Rebellion, Luke began. They attacked our home and my uncle and aunt were killed somehow. I dont know because I was away with Han, out of system. When we came back the neighbors said the Empire was looking for us too; I guess maybe they think wed know something.
Luke and his brother Han have been on the run for nearly eight months, Dodonna continued. They encountered one of our soldiers, who offered them assistance from the Alliance.
Bail nodded. Luke, Ive kept you up long enough, he finally said. You may go. I will discuss your situation with the general and he will inform you in the morning.
Youre not going to send me away, are you? Lukes eyes were both challenging and frightened.
Bail phrased his answer carefully. Rest assured, the Alliance will protect you, son. You have my word.
As soon as Luke had gone, Bail turned sharply on Dodonna. Im no fool, Dodonna, and neither are you. The Empire doesnt pursue children so fiercely on this thin a basis.
No, senator, youre not a fool, Dodonna said grimly. And neither is that boy. I happen to think his story is deliberately weak. He wants us to know hes hiding things. Hes just not going to say what hes hiding.
Rather a sophisticated approach for a young teenager, dont you think? Bail settled back down in a chair thoughtfully.
I dont believe hes a very ordinary teenager, senator. Dodonna took the chair on the opposite side of the desk and leaned forward on his elbows. As you say, the story is thin, and because I thought it so thin I spoke at length with the soldier who brought them here, one Wedge Antilles. Dodonna paused. Senator, I believe the boy is the child the Empire has been hunting since the incident on Corellia.
Bail felt his head spin in spite of his own suspicions. Do you have any evidence?
I have Antilles evidence, Dodonna answered. Apparently he encountered Han and Luke Solo while escaping confinementon Coruscant.
Bail sucked in his breath. Coruscant?
Yes, senatorthe detention block they were being held at, in fact, was located in Lord Vaders castle. Antilles reported that although he had not been interrogated prior to his escape, Han and Luke had been held for only an hour and had already been interrogated. He claims that both were personally questioned by Lord Vader.
Can you find Antilles for me?
After an interview with the youthful pilot, who recounted the story of the trios escape from Coruscant, Bail was quite convinced that the boy hed just spoken to was absolutely Luke Skywalker. Firstly there was the incident of the miraculously opened bay doors, the doing of a Jedi if ever there was any. And secondly, the Navy had gone to great lengths to stop the escaping ship, very great lengths indeed. Vader must know at least of the boys Jedi connectionsand perhaps more.
Wedge Antilles was dismissed. General and senator sat in silence for a few minutes.
Ill take both of them back to one of the cells on Alderaan, Bail finally said quietly. There are plenty of resources to protect him there.
I agree, Dodonna murmured. There is one further matter. The boys have a ship I doubt they will agree to part with. I admit it is not a great concern, but they seem to view it as home, and as they have little else...
Bail groaned and leaned into his hands. How big a ship?
Its a modified YT-1300.
Too big to be carried on the Tantive IV. They could perhaps tow it, but that left questions to be asked. Lets have a pilot fly her to Alderaan a few days behind us, Bail finally concluded.
Dodonna grinned. Good luck persuading them to let someone else do the flying.
Bail set his mouth firmly. Theyre going to have to compromise somewhere. He stood. Im leaving system at night, day after tomorrow. Ill send one of my security officers over to pick them up. Make sure theyre ready.
Somewhere in space
His Majestys Imperial Navy was far and away the most impressive military force ever assembled in galactic history. She boasted thousands of enormous Star Destroyers, millions of corvettes and snub fighters, and billions of men in her standard gray uniformseasily outstripping the Imperial Army for sheer grandeur. Amidst the ranks and divisions floated several proud crafts with glorious military histories, fighter divisions renowned across the width and breadth of the galaxy for their prowess.
But there was not one of them that could even be mentioned in the same class as the Executor. Even on the crude physical dimension, she literally dwarfed the competition. And she was no less superior in the higher terms of her crew. Most obvious was the collective merit of the resident starfighter battalion, the Fighting 501st, whose spot at the top of the galaxys piloting totem pole was never contested. But there were few unworthies among the rest of the officers aboard. Only the highest rated personnel were selected to serve in the ships leadership slots, from the most junior gunner to the ships captain.
As a result, the bridge crew of the Executor was probably the most stable in the Fleet. Over the past year their individual talents had been successfully forged into a cohesive, competent whole under the outstanding leadership of the ships Captain, Firmus Piettwho had already joined the scarce ranks of Naval officers that could claim the personal approval of the Fleets commander, Lord Vader. But, alas, there was one person on the bridge whom not even the talented Captain could successfully integrate
Piett, where are my updates?
The whole bridge crew muttered under its breath in unison as its resigned Captain crossed from his console to the seat of his newest superior. By now, even the lowest of the officers knew that the Captain had submitted the daily updates to the Admirals command console no less than three times.
I have submitted them, sir, the Captain said calmly, with a patience that should by rights have earned him sainthood. They should be on your communications desktop.
I have checked the desktop, Piett, Admiral Ozzel snapped. There are no such updates present.
The Captain refrained from suggesting for the thousandth time that the Admiral check his shipboard communications files, and not the fleet files. Ill resubmit them, sir, Piett said instead. Behind the Admirals shoulder, the executive officer shook his head at his Captain.
The Executor had only been in service for a year and some months. The first Admiral to command from her had been incapacitated before the engines lost their squeal. The secondwell, they still werent sure what the incident over Coruscant had been about, but at least it had rid them of Siler. The crew were already placing bets as to how long Ozzel would grace them with his odious presence.
It was a wonder hed made it this long. The only explanation anyone could come up with was that Lord Vader was preoccupied with more important matters; otherwise he likely would not have tolerated the constant irritant.
There was a sudden series of chimes across the bridge, announcing an impending arrival. The guards at the door let their hands float down to their holsters
Then the doors of the bridge slid open, and the guards hand flashed up into a salute as a tall ominous figure stalked through, black cape flagging behind him. Every spine stiffened at the first unmistakable hiss of the respirator. Heads twisted back around to focus religiously on consoles instead of neighbors. At the head of the bridge, Captain Piett straightened promptly to attention. Even Admiral Ozzel was not yet impervious to the awesome presence his superior commanded, for he too straightened up and put on a somewhat less disagreeable expression.
Welcome, Lord Va
But Vader swept past Ozzel in the space of a single intake of his respirator and proceeded to address his flagships captain. Captain Piett, you may issue orders for formation, he said simply.
Yes, my lord, Piett said pleasantly, beginning to turn to his executive officer with no sign of confusion whatsoever.
Ozzel flashed a glance of consternation back and forth in the instant before Vader turned to him.
Admiral, prepare to commence your maneuvers, he said.
There was a very long tense silence
Ahmaneuvers, my lord?
The bridge crew dropped even the pretense of activity in anticipation of the Sith Lords response to that. It was as scathing as theyd hoped.
Perhaps, Admiral, the concept of keeping oneself informed is a new one to you?
Ozzel was struck totally speechless; but then, keeping his mouth shut at that moment was the wisest thing any of the bridge could recall him doing.
I regret to inform you, the Dark Lord continued icily, that I expect you to be familiar with the idea.
The silence continued. Finally, after Ozzel had likely begun to sweat with a vengeance, Vader turned from him in disgust. Captain Piett, inform the Admiral as to the Fleet schedule. He appears to be unaware of it.
Yes, my lord, the Captain said promptly. Admiral, the Fleet is scheduled to conduct war exercises beginning at precisely 1600 hours Galactic Time.
All glanced to the chronoswhich read 1557 hours.
This exercise, Piett continued with remarkable equilibrium, entails the division of the Fleet into two opposing forces, one of which will of course be commanded by you, sir.
I expect, Admiral, that these exercises will proceed as scheduled, Vader said chillingly. Unless, of course, your shipboard Captain failed to submit his daily updates. The sarcasm in his tone was slicing; evidently word of Ozzels most irritating failure had reached him.
Submitted, my lord, Captain Piett said. As usual. Ozzel didnt dare glare at the Captain with Vader present.
In that case, I am sure you are prepared, Vader rumbled.
Regrettably, the Admiral did not protest, which meant the Executor would be stuck with him at least for the duration of the war exercises. It remained to be seen whether Ozzel would survive to witness much of the aftermath
Theahthe exercises willwill commence, my lordcertainly Ozzel seemed to be hoping the Dark Lord would leave before 1600; but Vader would not have bothered coming to the bridge if he hadnt intended to observe the proceedings. The Dark Lord made no move to cease his observance of the unfortunate Admiral. Hearts pounding with wicked amusement and anticipation, the bridge crew broke into activity as Piett issued orders to the rest of Fifth Fleet to assume their positions for the exercises.
The outcome of the battle was very nearly a draw. Considering, though, that the Admiral had the Executor at his disposal, whereas Admiral Drean of the first division had only the far inferior Imperial-class ships, it was inexcusable for Ozzel to lose at all. It was beyond inexcusable. In fact, that he had managed it was something of a miracle
But not the sort of miracle that Darth Vader was known to appreciate.
Impressive, Admiral, he said acidly after the exercise sim finished.
A vacuum of silence reigned over the bridge, void of anything save the tangible displeasure of the Sith Lord.
I trust you have an explanation for such a thorough display of incompetence?
Ozzel did not. He fabricated one out of thin air anyway.
I thought it might serve as an example to the men.
A low suggestion of a snicker arose from the crew pits; the corners of Captain Pietts mouth worked furiously as he fought to maintain his stoic expression. No one could see behind Vaders maskbut they could well enough imagine what kind of murderous amusement must be lurking within.
Murderous was indeed the correct wordin another instant Ozzels face contorted strangely. He froze for a moment, working his mouthhis hands flashed to his throat, tugging at his collar in mounting horrora grim Piett edged to the side.
I tolerate neither lies nor incompetence in any officer under my command, Vader hissed viciously. You have failed me for the last time.
Despite their harbored hatred of the Admiral, the entire bridge flinched in unison at the subsequent, deafeningly final thud that came a few minutes later.
Remove that from my bridge, Vader snarled into the silence.
It was known that Vader had no scruples about eliminating officers who failed him at a critical pointbut standard war exercises were hardly critical. He was in a dark and dangerous mood indeed to strike so vengefully for so comparatively minor an offense. Piett saw it quickly and adjusted accordingly.
At once, my lord, he said, gesturing sharply to the stormtroopers at the door. In a few moments the unfortunate object of the Siths wrath was dragged out of sight, as swiftly as out of life.
Over the next few minutes the bridge slowly picked itself up out of silence and uneasiness, resuming its usual activity. Vader clasped his hands behind his back and stared darkly out of the viewport at the front of the bridge. It was half an hour before Piett dared to approach him.
My lord, shall I submit our incoming reports from the exercises to Admiral Drean? he said briskly.
No. Send them to me. Though the vocabulator couldnt convey it, Piett could sense his superiors frustration.
Certainly, my lord, he answered tactfully. Shall I condense them for you prior?
The Dark Lord turned to look at Piett, seeming abruptly thoughtful. That will be acceptable, he finally responded. Carry on, Captain.
Vader swept into his quarters, his black anger somewhat assuaged by Pietts refreshing competence. Thank the Force there was at least one good officer in the blasted Navy!
Unfortunately, he could not long avoid replacing Ozzeland then there would be the matter of the Emperor. Palpatine largely left him to deal with the Navy as he wished, turning a selectively blind eye to his handling of certain officersbut killing a high ranking admiral over a mishandled exercise well, he had been wrong. He ground his teeth admitting it, but hed been wrong. Regardless of how irritating and incompetent the man was, he could not have achieved so lofty a rank without being squarely in the Emperors favor. His master would not be pleased.
But he had known and considered that factor before wringing the life and breath out of the odious admiral. At the moment, it had simply paled before his overwhelming anger and frustration. Neither of which had had all that much to do with Ozzelno, his black mood found its origin in another quarter entirely.
For the past month, there had been no sign of his young sonno sighting of the ship on which he had fled, nor of Han Solo, nor of the anonymous Rebel who had had the gall to lead the breakout. Not even Baranne could discover anything, though Vader well knew the man had been slaving tirelessly, leaving no crevice unexamined.
The pain of being so close, of actually touching his boy, of feeling wholeness for the first time since Padmes deathonly to lose it almost immediatelyit was easily as excruciating in its own way as his injuries on Mustafar had been. And besides his personal agony, the Dark Lord found himself absolutely racked with parental worry over Luke. The boy was wandering who knew where in the galaxy, in the highly doubtful companionship of the teenage Corellian Han Solo and a blasted nameless Rebel. There was no end to the traps and travails he could fall prey to
He had tried twice to banish that worrySith Lords did not worry, and certainly not this compulsivelyand twice had failed. He had not made a third effort to date. Force; he was beginning to be disgusted with himself. These days he was about as talented a Sith as he had been a Jedi; if there was anything Vader hated it was ambiguity.
But the worry clearly would not leave him until his son was again safely in his hands; in the meantime the Dark Lord sought desperately to find the child by one means or another. He searched as feverishly through the Force as he did in the physical realm, reaching out and calling for the boy, over and over, night and day though he knew that even in the miraculous event that the little one should hear him, there would be no response, and certainly not that re-connection he so longed for.
He seated himself in his hyperbaric chamber and waited while the chamber sealed and pressurized, and the machinery removed his mask and armor. In fact, if he thought about it, he didnt want their bond to arise again, not under these circumstances. Luke had only dropped his shields and drawn on the Force before because he was desperate to escape what he thought was mortal dangerobviously it was not to be desired that the boy fall into danger again.
The mask lifted away, and the cool air of the chamber brushed against his scarred face. Vader drew in a quiet breath, careful not to strain himself, and laughed bitterly to himself. What his enemies would say if they knew how vulnerable he really was! He found himself momentarily amused by imagining what, for example, Prince Xizors expression would be should the head of Black Sun view his mortal enemy right now. Then he rememberedfirstly that Padme had been the one to introduce him to those games of imagination, during that first flight from Tatooine to Coruscant; and secondly that his child was missing and wandering unprotected through the galaxy in terror of his own father.
Sobered, he stared down at his gloved hands, in his minds eye again holding his son.
After a time his reflections grew too wearisome; Vader turned to sleep. At least there were no longer any nightmares to disrupt him.
The outer rim, on Dantooine
Daddy, are we waiting for someone?
Leia stood impatiently beside her father on the landing pad, where he had ordered their shuttle delayed indefinitely.
Yes, he said simply. One of my acquaintances in the relief program has two relatives on Dantooine who were planning a trip to Alderaan. I offered to bring them with us. It seems theyre running a little late.
Leia sighed irritably. It was getting late and she was tired; she wanted to get up to the ship and go to bed, not stand around waiting for more guests. She was sick of being polite just now.
Her father glanced at her, but he didnt reprove her for her inhospitable attitude. He seemed very distracted. She thought he might even be nervous about somethingbut her father was a politician, very good at hiding what he felt, and she could hardly ever be sure. Eventually he sighed himself and stroked her hair.
I know youre tired, princess, he said. So am I.
They both turned quickly as they heard a door opening behind them; the lighting could have been much better, but Leia recognized her fathers security officer. Following the man were the two boys. The taller one was walking in front with a wary expression, carrying two plain packing cases; behind him the shorter one was hauling a backpack rather too large for his slight frame.
Senator, the boys, his officer gestured, bringing them up to Leia and her father.
Thank you, Raymus, Bail said. Hello again, Lukeand you must be Han.
Yeah, the older boy said, gripping her fathers hand with a look of the utmost reservation. Leia frowned to herself, disliking him already for not trusting her father, but her father either didnt notice or elected to ignore this Hans lack of proper sentiment.
Boys, he said, this is my daughter, Leia. Leia, meet Han and Luke Solo.
Both of them straightened up when they saw Leia.
Good evening, she said, much more politely than she felt.
The boys glanced at each other, and then edged into the light of the ships landing lights to shake her handand Leia started as she saw their faces for the first time.
They were the boys from her dream! The ones she had seen wandering alone, through the dark, shadowy city streets. And they were just as she had seen them so many times in her dreamsthe younger one, blond, wearing that worn-out green jumpsuit, and the taller dark one in his plain shirt and trousers.
She shook both their hands breathlessly, fighting not to betray that anything was amiss. Neither her father nor the taller boy Han nor the security officer noticed her inner distress. But the younger one, Lukehe was her agetheir eyes met suddenly as they followed the others up the boarding ramp, and she saw in an instant that he was as startled as she.
Han, Id like to speak with you, if you dont mind, Bail immediately announced once they were aboard the Tantive IV.
Uhsure, Han said, glancing back at Luke a little nervously. Bails opinion of him rose just a little bit. The boy might have all the hallmarks of a street rat, but he seemed dedicated to taking care of his brother.
Ill have one of my guards take Luke and your luggage to the guest quarters, the senator continued.
Ill take him, Daddy, Leia spoke up. Bail turned with a sinking sensation in his stomach. Of all times for his daughter to be struck with a spirit of contrition for her earlier irritability! The last thing he wanted was to leave the twins alone togetherhe had hoped that for the duration of the trip he would be able to keep them mostly separate. He had not the faintest idea what might happenno conception whatever of the dynamics which could be at work between Force-sensitive twins.
But what was he to say? No, Leia, I dont want you to be hospitable right now? Hardly. He put on a pleased smile.
Thank you, Leia, he said instead, praying nothing would happen.
Darth Vader was stalking the Executors bridge, trying to alleviate his black mood with the amusing pastime of terrorizing his crew, when he became aware of a growing bright presence in the Force. Could itsurely not
Brighter, brighterand suddenly a connection flared between the two of them.
Child! was his first thought, joy his first sensationbut suspicion quickly followed. There was something different about Lukes presence, something that struck him as distinctly unlike the boy. He seemed fierier than before, yet at the same time softer. It almost reminded him of the subtle differences between Sara and Sandras presencesso similar, but not quite the same.
But that of course was impossible! The very thought of the astronomical odds against the same two people producing two sets of twinsit was so remote as to be virtually impossible. This must just be a distortion, a side effect of the distance between them. And the boy was obviously at a very great distance, for he had not yet realized there was a connection, however faint. He might be precocious, but he had much yet to learn.
Abruptly Vader felt a flash of dread, fear that the boy might be distracted by some dangerhe stretched out quickly to check. But there was no indication of dangerin fact, he was receiving almost a sense of passiveness from the other end of the bond. Sleepiness, even.
Perhaps the boy had somehow lost control of his shields in his sleep?
Vader shook aside his ponderings. He was wasting precious timehe had to locate the child, as quickly as possible.
It did not take him long. Indeed the boy was very far awayin the Outer Rim. He strode briskly over to a control panel and brought up a galactic map, quickly plotting out the distance and trajectory
Dantooine. That was the systembut even as he decided on it, the distance between them began a rapid change. So on a ship, in hyperspace. But going where?
Fortunately, he could still sense that young presence. Luke must be asleep not to have noticed him by now. Wellhe would not hazard his contact with the boy with any deliberate action. He would watch from a safe distance and track Luke as long as he couldand follow.
Captain Piett, he snapped briskly.
The captain was prompt as ever, though decidedly nervous. Yes, my lord?
Get me Admiral Drean. We have a course change to make.
Less than a week later
Vader swept like black lightning into his quarters and sealed himself away into his hyperbaric chamber, switching on its broad holoscreen.
Baranneas hed been expecting since dispatching the man to Dantooine to see what he could possibly turn up.
My lord, the agent nodded, with all his usual equanimity.
I trust you have something to report?
For once, my lord, Baranne said wryly, flipping out his dossier. It had indeed been some time since the agent had met with any success. Your guess seems to have been correct. I have retrieved a security recording from the capital spaceport on Dantooine, firstly. He switched on a holoprojector.
There was not muchjust an overhead view of a uniformed man escorting two boys into the spaceport. But the shorter one made the mistake of glancing slightly upjust enough that Vader could see his profile and recognize the young face.
It was indeed his son.
This is the boy you are looking for? the agent asked.
For having nothing but Vaders description to go on, Baranne had certainly done well. It is him, Vader confirmed.
Baranne nodded. There were no other recordings that I could find, he continued. I was unable to trace the ship on which he might have departed; there were nearly thirty that night, due to refugee relief operations.
But Vader didnt need to know what ship it had beenthe boys presence had long been stationary, and he had tracked the new location. Were there any that departed for Alderaan? he rumbled.
Baranne snorted. Practically all of them. The relief organization was based from there. However, my lord, I have a more pressing discovery I would like to deal with quickly. At the spaceport, I located a YT-1300 matching the description of the ship that broke the quarantine at Coruscant. This ship is very shortly bound for Alderaan to be returned to its owner, who reportedly left it behind for repairs.
Vader stiffened, catching Barannes train of thought immediately. You think to let the ship lead us to the boy?
Baranne nodded. It would have to be carefully handled and there will be costs involved.
If the operation is to remain successful, we will require the cooperation of the original pilot, Baranne said slowly.
The pilot is of no concern to me. Vader remained silent for a time, pondering. If he handled this properly, he might be able to retrieve his son easily and quietly. But only if he was very, very careful and thorough he did not trust ordinary stormtroopers to deal effectively with a desperate young Jedi apprentice. There was no telling what the boy might manage to do. And neither did he wish to traumatize his son.
You have stormtroopers at your disposal? he said finally.
One squadron, my lord.
Get them quietly aboard the freighter, he ordered, and make sure you capture the pilot. We will discuss technicalities when you have secured the vessel.
Some time later, on Alderaan
The past couple weeks had done a lot to calm Hans nerves. He and Luke were now safely sequestered away in a fairly remote city on Alderaan, hidden in a Rebel safe houseabsolutely nothing had happened. Life was starting to settle down, and so was the kid. He had a feeling hed be getting real bored real soon, but for now he just planned to enjoy the general stressless-ness.
Besides, theyd be gettin a little bit of excitement today. His ship was due for arrival at the local spaceport. He and Luke had already been given the go-ahead to take a landspeeder out there to give the Falcon a once-over and pick up the rest of their stuff and fix anything that needed fixing and so on.
These Rebel fellows werent half bad, all things consideredbut Han would be sent to all nine hells of Corellia before hed take up their crazy cause. Nobody in their right mind went up against the Empire, not if they had a choice about it. Himself, now, he hadnt really had much of choice back there on Corellia. For cryin out loud, it wasnt like he could leave the kid to diewhich was what would happen to Luke if the Empire ever got its act together. Hed gotten nightmares about how close a shave theyd had back on Coruscant, with Vader.
Kreth, but that man was scary.
Anyway, aside from their crazy collective suicidal obsessions, the Rebels here werent stupid, especially not about security. They were pretty vigilant when it came to that. Since their arrival, Han didnt think theyd been let out of the safe zone more than twicehed gotten himself a sound lecture the first time he did it. That was going to get old fast. It was already getting a bit old, especially for two boys whod been used to gallivanting around the galaxy at random in their own ship. Which was why both of them were excited about the prospect of getting out on their own for a little bit.
As soon as the safe house received confirmation that the freighter had put down safely, and had passed all the password clearances, Han and Luke snatched the landspeeder up and set out. It was maybe twenty minutes to the spaceport, if you flew by the most direct pathbut of course they didnt do that
Here, kid, your turn, Han announced after they had taken a daredevil route skimming the treetops of a local park. See how close you can get without hittin the top.
Closer than you, he scoffed as they switched seats.
Oh, yeah? Prove it, kid!
It was, all in all, much longer than twenty minutes before the two arrived at the spaceport and slipped in to the proper hangar.
There she was, just as Han had reluctantly left her on Dantooine, all in one beat-up piece. The landing ramp was down; the pilot whod brought her had said that he would wait with the ship until they arrived. He must be inside.
Come on, kid, lets go make sure whoever it was didnt bang her up inside, Han said lightly, starting towards the ship.
But Luke hung back, with a strange look on his face. Han stopped and turned back around to him.
Whatre you waitin for?
Luke shook his head. I dont know. It doesnt feel safe.
Kid, its fine. The guys at the house know whoever was piloting. They double-checked voice signatures and everything. Theres nothin to worry about. Stop freakin out.
Luke sighed and reluctantly followed Han up the ramp.
Hello? Han called, heading through the rec room towards the cockpit. The pilot hadnt answered so far; but the cockpit was a ways off from the other parts of the ship, so it wasnt much wonder. And if the guy had any sense at all, hed be in the cockpit where he could control all the systems in case of some sort of emergency.
Han had just reached the sealed cockpit door when he realized that there werent any footsteps behind him. He spun around. The corridor was empty behind him.
Luke did not feel any easier of mind as he followed Han inside the ship, but his reason told him he had no cause for fear. Identities had been checked and double-checked. There was no danger lurking aboardand besides that, Jedi were not supposed to succumb to fear. So he went after Han through the rec room.
Waithadnt he left his data pad in the rec room? Yes, yes he had, on top of the game table. He glanced aside, reaching out for it
But it wasnt there. He frowned, stopped, and bent over to look under the table in case it had somehow slid beneath the benches. Sure enough, he could see it back beneath the seats. He lowered himself down smoothly onto his stomach and stretched out his arm beneath the bottom
There! His fingers found purchase on the edge of the device and he worked it back out from its nook. Slowly he stood, brushing motes of dust off the smooth shining face.
A frown worked across his features as he rubbed at the cover. There was some sort of smudge that wouldnt go away.
Waitit was moving
He whirled, but didnt have the chance to scream.
Han had just made up his mind to head back down the corridor and look for Luke when a shot rang out through the ship.
Luke! The young Corellian ripped his blaster from its holster, preparing to dash back down the corridor to the rec roombut a hand suddenly grabbed him from behind, and he whirled to find himself staring up at an unmistakable white helmet with black eyeplates.
Han swore a blue streak and fired dead center into the mans chest at point-blank range. The stormtrooper crumpled instantly, but there was one right behind himHan snapped his blaster back up desperately, and by a miracle got off his shot first. Terrified, he ducked and fired several more times through the cockpit doorbut that seemed to be all of them right here.
Han turned around and raced down the corridor into the rec room, just in time to see troopers heading his way.
Lots of troopers.
He got off a few more shots before the stun blasts hit him.
Baranne heaved a great sigh of relief as the freighter lifted easily back out of the hangar and up through the Alderaan atmosphere. They had taken some lossestwo of his men were dead, quite a high price for the capture of two supposedly helpless teenage boysbut such was the lot of a soldier, and if his employer felt the sacrifice worth it, then it was worth it as far as Baranne was concerned. The objective was accomplished; that was all that mattered.
He left the flying to the stormtroopers, as before, and set himself to personally keeping watch over the small inert form of the boy ostensibly named Luke Skywalker. He had administered a hypodermic as soon as the boy had been downed by the stun blast, to ensure that the child would not awaken quickly. It was Vaders explicit direction that he keep the boy unconscious; the Sith Lord had emphasized the danger the boys Force powers might present should he regain awareness.
Thoughtfully the agent studied his quarry of nine months. It was truly impressive that the child had managed to evade the Empire for so long, considering how scant his resources and knowledge were. What a pity that he should be Force sensitive. Baranne knew as well as the next man the Empires policy regarding such beings, and he suffered no illusions about the boys probable fate. Vader would pick the boys brain for anything he might know about hidden Jedi elsewhere, and then kill him.
It was really a great shame. He was such a clever, bold youngster.
But the boys fate was out of his hands. It was his duty to deliver this child to Lord Vader. What became of young Luke Skywalker thereafter was not his concern.
How long have I been asleep? Luke blinked slowly, onceand then his mind caught up with him. Quickly he closed his eyes again, holding as still as possible. There was a man standing over himLuke could sense himhe was watching. And Luke did not want to be hit with a second stun blast.
Instead he laid still and thought. His hands were not tied, his feet werent tiedsomeone had just stretched him out on a deck somewhere, on his back. He could feel a heavy thrumming through the deck platinga hyperdrive running. And not just any hyperdrive. He could tell them apartthis one ran at a high, strong pitch. It was definitely a Sienar beta drive.
But hed been shot by a stormtrooperthere was no telling if he was on the Falcon or on some Imperial shuttle. At least there couldnt be that many people aboard if it was a shuttleno more than ten, counting him. Cautiously, Luke stretched out with the Force to see how many people there were.
He felt a quick rush of relief as he recognized Han not far off, unconscious, but his exuberance was short-lived. There were nine other people on the ship. There was nothing special about eight of thembut the man over him radiated sharp intelligence and alertness. Luke wasnt going to be sneaking away from him anytime soon. Unless he could distract the guy
Baranne started at a sudden clatter from the corner. In spite of himself he glanced quickly to the side and saw
Saw a blur of movement right behind him only barely in time to turnonly just got his arm up fast enough
He stumbled as a painful kick hammered into his arm. There was a sickening crack from that general direction, but neither Baranne nor Luke stopped to pay it any attention. Luke was already swinging in another blow; kreth, this boy was fast! Baranne managed to catch the boys hand and wrench his arm down hard at a nasty anglehe felt something give and knew the boy had been hurt.
But it didnt stop himLuke spun and struck out with another athletic kick, landing it squarely against the agents skullthe world immediately went black.
Luke staggered back as the gray-eyed man collapsed unconscious to the floor, reaching up to his right shoulder as the pain began to come. He didnt know what had happened to the arm, but hed felt something wrench the wrong way, and it hurt.
Suddenly the noise of footsteps came to him from the cockpit corridor. Stormtroopers! Luke dashed out of the rec room and into the first door he could lockthe bunkroom. He sealed the lock and leaned trembling against the door, the pain in his arm already forgotten. What was he going to do? There wasnt anywhere he could hide on the ship, not for long. And the only spare blasters were kept in the cockpit.
Despairing, Luke cast his gaze around the bunkroom. There was only one of their cases inside, sitting on top of a bunk. Maybe thered be something heavy he could throw inside it. He eased across the room, keeping as silent as possible, and eased the lid off. He very nearly burst into tears when he saw what was inside. ClothesObi-Wans.
And data chips and a training remote.
Wellmaybe he could throw the training remoteand there was a heavy-looking container. Luke reached out and hefted it; it wasnt that heavy. But it might disorient a stormtrooper if it hit him hard in the helmet. It might
Absently he pressed the biometric lock with his thumb, not expecting anythingbut miraculously, the lock spun into the open position. Luke quickly flipped up the lid
Thank the Force! It was a lightsaber! There were some other things inside the container, paper he saw, but he didnt have time. Luke whipped the lightsaber out of the box with his good arm and flicked it on at full power. Immediately a full-length ice-blue blade ignited, sending off its lethal hum. Luke could have wept tears of relief. Experimentally he flicked it towards a wall. Just as it was supposed to, the blade sliced a cauterized slash through the bulkhead plating.
Open up, boy! Pounding started on the bunkroom door.
Luke snapped the lightsaber up into a classic guard. Lets see who hits who with a stun blast, buster!
Baranne groaned as the world spun back into focusbefore his eyes a blur of black and white swam lazily. There seemed to be a sort of mumbling going on
right, sir? His ears had finally begun working again. In fact all his senses were coming to, and the next thing he noticed was a very, very bad headache, followed by the throbbing pain in his arm.
Serve that blasted boy right when Vader got hold of him.
Are you all right, sir? the voice repeated. Wincing at the light, Baranne looked upa stormtrooper was bent over him, one hand offered. He took it with his good arm.
Well enough, he said dourly. There would be no fixing his condition until they got to the Executor. The sound of blaster fire came to his ears. Whats happening?
The boys got himself barricaded in the bunkroom, another trooper reported from across the room. My men are blasting out the door.
Just make sure you dont kill him, Baranne said irritably. What about the other prisoner?
Still out, sir.
Keep him that way. One boy was plenty to keep them busy without throwing another hothead into the mix. Kreth if this wasnt starting to feel like Krytoa again except thus far, Luke Skywalker was doing a much better job of resisting arrest than Owen and Beru Lars had managed.
A minor explosion went off down the back corridor.
Stun only, stun only! somebody calledshots fired
Panicked shouts suddenly broke out, and Baranne stiffened as he saw several stormtroopers come retreating down the corridor. Target is armed, repeat, target is armed
Armed with what? Baranne demanded of the squad leader.
Sir, it appears to be some kind of terminated laser beam, the stormtrooper in question responded.
Terminated laser beam? What in the galaxy ?
The troopers regrouped and the commotion quietedand as the noise decreased, a new sound became prominent a low, ominous hum.
Baranne swore under his breath. Of course. Its a lightsaber, he said darkly. Chaos take the child, was there no end to the tricks he could pull out of his sleeve? The ship had been searched for weapons twice over!
How much longer till we rendezvous with the Executor? he asked, bringing himself rigidly back under control.
Five minutes, sir.
Good. Inside of ten minutes, Vader could be aboard to handle this wild, unpredictable Jedi youngster. They only had to contain him for a short while.
Keep him penned inside that bunkroom, Baranne ordered. Dont let him near any critical machinery. And keep clear of that lightsaber.
Vader paced impatiently back and forth on the bridge. Due to the sensitive nature of this operation, he had not been willing to risk any communication between himself and Baranne until the freighter was safely in the Executors hangar and the warship had leapt back into hyperspace.
As per their plan, Baranne had taken control of the freighter on Dantooine, and convinced the pilot to cooperate with his troops. If all had proceeded properly, the pilot would have gotten them smoothly down to the destination on Alderaan, where Baranne would have promptly disposed of him, and when his son and young Han Solo appeared to reclaim the craft, Barannes men should have stunned both, collected them safely aboard the ship, and immediately left system. Vader was waiting with the Executor a very brief jump away, no more than half a lightyear.
They could be arriving any minute. There was no telling how long it might take once the freighter reached Alderaan for the boys to make their appearance at the ship; conceivably he might be waiting days
Sir, unidentified freighter has arrived in system, a voice sang out from one of the crew pits. Commencing challenge.
Almost the same moment Captain Piett appeared. My lord, a communication from the freighter. Your agent requests to speak with you.
Vader made quick time to his bridge console. Barannes harried visage promptly flickered onto the screen.
My lord, Im afraid we have something of a situation on our hands, he said without his usual preamble. It will be necessary for you to meet us immediately at the hangar. We have an armed Jedi apprentice on the loose, and quite frankly hes wreaking havoc.
Yes, my lord, hes managed to scrounge up a lightsaber from somewhere on board, Baranne all but growled. My men are trying to contain him in a corridor and keep him from the escape pods.
Vader whirled to Piett. Tractor that freighter into our fore hangar bay, quickly, he ordered. I want a squadron standing by. The minute that ship is aboard, take us back into hyperspace.
Yes, my lord.
Vader cut the communication and sped to the fore hangar bay, which was closest to the bridge. He was just in time to see the freighter being towed in for a smooth landing. There was no outward indication of the turbulent atmosphere within the shipbut Vader could sense the commotion. And more importantly, he could sense his desperate, frightened, determined son within.
As the landing ramp extended, the hangar gates sealed; Vader felt a shudder through his bootsoles as the great Star Destroyer leapt back into hyperspace. Increasingly impatient, he was halfway up the ramp before it had even touched the deck. Following the leading of the Force, he turned down the left corridor and met Baranne leaning against the bulkhead in an open recreation cabin.
Hes down that corridor, the agent said, rubbing the side of his head.
Did you not drug him? Vader snapped in annoyance.
I did. Apparently it doesnt last nearly as long on him as it should.
A string of Huttese curses flashed through the Dark Lords mind. Of coursehe should have expected it. Padme, as a significant political figure, had been immunized against such standard drugs and poisons (one reason why bounty hunters had resorted to such creative assassination methods as the insectoid kouhouns). Naturally something of that immunization would have been passed on to her son. He was an imbecile for not foreseeing that.
Well, the damage was done. He had hoped that their meeting would be much quieter, such as being with his son when the boy awakenedhe especially had wanted to avoid meeting the boy with ignited lightsabers between them. But it seemed there was to be no avoiding it.
Pull your men out of the ship, Vader ordered. I will deal with the child myself.
Baranne gave a wry half-smile. I was hoping so, my lord.
Luke edged up a little from his defensive crouch as the blasters ceased to fire at him. There was one trooper lying stunned in the hall outside, but other than that all of them had retreated. Why did they leave?
He knew that the ship had come out of hyperspace a few minutes agowas there a chance he could make a dodge now for an escape pod?
Nothat was a bad idea. Han was still on board, for startersand then there was the fact that the pods didnt even have so much as a laser pointer, whereas the ship he would be trying to get away from had two quad cannons and a tractor beam. He was better off where he was
That was when his danger sense went off. Tingles went down his spine, his stomach did a flip, he knew all the signs much too well. Dreading, he stretched out with the Force
Terror flooded him, turning his muscles into goo, as he realized just why the troopers had fallen back. In another second, the ominous hiss in, hiss out of Darth Vaders respirator came clearly to his ears.
Whimpering softly, Luke backed further into the bunkroom. He had nowhere to run to, not unless he tried slicing his way through the bulkhead, which would take too long. Not that it would probably matterif Obi-Wan hadnt been able to survive a lightsaber duel with this monster, a thirteen-year-old half-trained apprentice with a bad sword arm and an unfamiliar weapon didnt have a prayer.
Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan Father Father, help me, Father
Vader stopped just before the doorway, sensing his terrified son ensconced within, hearing the hum of the lightsaber he had found. What would be the best way to approach the child? He wanted to avoid any occurrence of conflictand of course he must be very careful not to harm his precious son
Father help me Father
The cry came strongly to him through the Force, laden with terrorand pain. Vader stiffened. Was the young one injured? If so, someones head would roll for it
Son, Im here, he called back gently. Im here. Its all right. Dont be afraid.
A soft, disbelieving curiosity answered himfor the first time his son reached out to him. The boy immediately recoiled as he realized who had spoken to him, though. Vader was surprised to feel a surge of frustration and rising anger from the boy.
It was time to end this stressful suspense. Vader moved forward into the doorway.
Luke was there, all right, back in the scant open space of the room, crouched down with his lightsaber held up in a standard guard position. He was shrewd to stay low, but in the end it would not matter. There would be no fighting. Vader did not reach for his lightsaber. Very, very carefully, the Dark Lord moved into the room.
He noticed the boy trembling slightlywhether with adrenaline or fear he could not tell. More telling was the fact that he held the blade with only one handand his left one, at that. Was the right arm injured?
A fresh cry of fear burst from his son in the Force, stark contrast to his defiant posture. Father!
It was becoming clear that the boy did not know who, precisely, his father wasotherwise he certainly would not have continued crying out to the very object of his terror. Luke, its all right, he rumbled, as gently as he could. You are in no danger, child.
Luke didnt answer. He clearly regarded the words as a ploy to lure him into lowering his guard.
Vader went so far as to raise his hands. I will not hurt you, Luke, he said. Turn off the lightsaber.
Luke shook his head fiercely from behind the shimmering blue blade.
Vader sighed and reached for his own lightsaber. Luke tensed sharply, ready to blockbut Vader tossed the hilt behind him out into the corridor. I am unarmed, young one, he said, spreading out his hands to show that he was hiding no other weapons. I do not want a fight. Turn off the lightsaber.
The blade lowered just a little, but Luke was nowhere close to turning the thing off. What do you want? he asked softly.
The blade immediately snapped back up. Youre going to kill me, came a whisper of deafening certainty.
No. You will not be killedor hurt.
I know what you do to Jedi, came the accusing response.
Vader sighed. This could take a long, long time. You are different from the other Jedi, little one, he answered. You are the son the son of Anakin Skywalker.
Luke tensed upVader felt that surge of anger again. My father, the boy snapped furiously, was a Jedi, and you killed all the Jedi. Why am I different?
Vader tightened. The boy thought he, Vader, was responsible for his fathers death? The perverseness of it all sickened him. He was this boys father! The only thing that assuaged his fury slightly was the realization that Luke only thought this to be true; the boy wasnt certain. It was probably a logical conclusion the boy had drawn from what little he knew.
Child, I did not kill your father, he said, fighting to keep his demeanor as calm and soothing as possible. Your father is not dead.
Liar, the boy said, very matter-of-factly.
Search me, Lukeam I lying to you? Vader challenged him. The boy started a little behind his lightsaber; but, curious, he took Vader up on the offer. After a moment his eyes widenedas though he barely dared to hope that this could be true.
Hes alive? the boy whispered. He was tremblingbut certainly not with adrenaline or fear.
Yes, child, Vader said, seeing an opening. I I know your father very well.
Where is he? His sons tone was one of deep pleadingthe kind of tone Padme had used on Mustafar.
He is here, Luke, Vader answered. Right here.
The boys face remained blank. Enough of this beating about the bush, then.
Luke, I am your father.
Shock roiled the boys Force presence, came into stark evidence on his face. Youre lying, he whispered.
Search your feelings, son, Vader urged him. You know it to be true.
The strength of the outburst startled the Dark Lordbut more startling was the sudden dash towards him the boy made. It took Vader a moment to comprehend the lad was actually attacking him. But he was not too late to sidestep the strike and catch the boys wrist. In another second he had twisted the hilt out of Lukes hand and spun the boy back around, pulling the young teenager against his chest and pinning him.
His son struggled violently, kicking and twisting, but to absolutely no avail. Vaders grip was resolute. Careful, of course, but resolute. He held Luke securely with one hand, and hooking the lightsaber to his belt settled the other on the boys head soothingly. Calm down, son, he rumbled. Calm down.
But he was shortly forced to accept that Luke would not be calming down anytime in the near future. And come to think of it, that would make his exit with the boy appear all the more unsuspicious to both the cameras and the men. He did not relish his sons fear, but if it couldnt be gotten rid of, he might as well make use of it.
He began the tedious business of dragging Luke kicking and screaming out of the freighter. He could only pray that such behavior was not typical of teenagers.
When Han at last regained consciousness, he soon found himself wishing he hadnt. He woke up to being dragged off of the Falcons boarding ramp by a cohort of stormtroopers, out into a vast hangar practically crawling with Imperials. They stopped a short distance from the ship, apparently waiting for somethingHan turned his head around in all directions, searching for a sign of Luke, but the kid was nowhere to be seen. Krethkrethhe had to get the kid, had to get him out of here somehowdoggone it, where was that blasted Antilles when he needed him
Soyoure this Han Solo, a voice addressed him. Han spun his head back around to find himself staring at a sour-faced man with a scar and gray eyes, holding a cold pack to the side of his head. I hope for your sake youre not the one who taught your little friend all those tricks of his.
That sounded kind of promisin. Luke must have put up a pretty good fight somewhere along the line. Han hoped the kid had landed a hard one on this jerks skull. Somebody sure had.
There was an upwelling of noise from the direction of the freighterall heads turned towards the ramp. Hans heart sank into the depths of the Coruscant underworld as none other than Darth Vader made his appearance at the top dragging a kicking, thrashing Luke along with him.
Sith, kid, you got some kind of nerve, Han thought, awed that the youngster actually dared to hit and kick Vader. Equally mysterious was the fact that Vader never tried to stop Luke from struggling.
Han! Luke gave a desperate shout upon seeing him. Han!
Luke! Han lunged against his guards, but none of them was as lenient as Vaderthey clubbed him back with the butts of their blasters.
Enough, a spine-chilling bass voice spoke. Han shook his head dizzily to refocus. Vader had stopped in front of them, still keeping Luke tightly in his gripLuke had paused his frantic thrashing and was staring wide-eyed at Han.
Dont hurt him, Han gasped hoarsely. Kreth, dont hurt him, please.
Mysteriously, Vader settled his free hand on top of Lukes head, in a manner almost protective. He is your friend, child? the Sith rumbled down to Luke.
Yes, Luke whispered, looking up fearfully.
Vader looked back at Han for a moment longer before speaking. Captain, when the ship emerges from hyperspace, you will release Solo and restore his freighter to him, he finally told the squad leader. On the condition, of course, Solo, that you refrain from committing further infractions of Imperial law.
Kreth, please just dont hurt Luke, Han breathed, hardly hearing a word of anything else.
Luke will not be harmed, Vader said. As if to contradict him, Luke immediately started to kick and twist again. Vader tightened his grip, seeming almost like an exasperated parent. Hold Solo here until he can disembark, the Dark Lord said shortly. And with that, he started to march Luke off again.
Han! The frightened cry rang out one more time through the hanger as Luke was dragged offHan flinched at the last sight of the terrible fear in his young friends eyes before the doors sealed behind Vader.
It was a long, tiresome trek through the ship to Vaders quarters, with his distraught son digging in his heels almost every step of the way. But when they were about three quarters of the way there, the fight finally seeped out of the boy. Resigned at last that his struggles were useless, Luke stopped writhing and let his father take him the rest of the way in comparative peace.
Part of it had to be the boys growing awareness of his painthe sense of it had become much stronger along the way. It was definitely coming from that right arm. As soon as he had the boy inside his quarters, out of range of security devices, Vader began examining the limb in question.
Lukes emotional confusion was a twisting disturbance in the Force, but the boy stayed mostly quiet. He was in a state of shock, which together with the pain of his injury was strong enough to overwhelm the fear that still haunted himotherwise the boy would surely have fled to the opposite side of the room the moment Vader let go of him. As it was, he stood still while his arm was checked, watching distantly.
He didnt react as Vader checked his lower arm and moved on past the elbow, but he whimpered and shifted on his feet when his upper arm was reached. It must either be a dislocation or a torn muscle.
What happened to you? Vader asked, trying to distract his son from the pain as he felt carefully around the small shoulder.
The boy glanced up at him, biting his lip. Itit got wrenched.
How? The arm was not dislocatedthe muscle, then. He shifted his attention appropriately.
Luke hesitated, then yelped as his fingers pressed too hard at a particularly sensitive point. There it wasVader immediately took the boys left hand and squeezed to distract him again. How did it get wrenched? he repeated.
Trying to get away? Vader suggested. Luke hesitated, but finally nodded.
From the man with the gray eyes, he said.
Vaders hold on the boys hand tightened. He did this to you?
Wellhe was trying to keep me from socking him, Luke mumbled. And I kicked him first. And I knocked him out after.
Good boy, Vader said firmly. Baranne was a shrewd and useful man, but no one hurt his son with impunity. It seemed that Luke had made sure the man paid for the mistake.
Luke frowned. Good? I think I broke his arm.
He tore the muscle in yours, son, Vader said dryly. It seems to be a fair exchange. He straightened. Youll need to see a medic.
Despite his situation, Lukes response was classic. Do I have to?
Would you rather wait several months for the muscle to repair itself?
No, Luke said quickly. Vader summoned his personal medic up. The two of them were left to wait in extremely uncomfortable silence for the mans arrival.
Do you have any questions, son? Vader asked him finally. He could sense rampant confusion from the young one; perhaps some of that turmoil could be alleviated.
Lukes eyes flashed defiance and he backed away a few steps. Im not your son.
You are my son, Vader told him flatly. I will have the medic run a blood test if you desire.
Anybody can fake test results.
Quite true. Vader sighed wearily, but his sudden awareness of the approaching medic put a temporary stop to his efforts at finding a convincing argument. He strode quickly towards the boy. Luke, fear renewed, scrambled backwards, but he didnt get enough of a head start. Vader caught him by his good arm and pulled him in swiftly.
Behave, he ordered when Luke started to struggle again.
Unfortunately, Luke had far too much of his father in him to do things the easy way. In the end Vader had to lift the boy entirely in order to restrain his thrashing. He quickly regretted it when a fresh stab of fear burst from his son; the fierce struggling gave way to worse trembling. Gently he lowered Luke back to the deck, unwilling to frighten him that muchstruggles were preferable.
Lukes fear eased, but he was enough affected that he did not resist any more.
The door hissed open to admit the medic, a fellow by the name of Silerno relation to the deceased admiral of the same name, luckily for his health. He raised his somewhat bushy eyebrows at the scene in front of him.
The boy, I presume? he said.
Yes, Vader said, directing his subdued son to the man. His right bicep is torn.
The medic nodded, but didnt address him again. Well, son, Im sure that hurts, he said, taking Luke by the shoulder and moving him over beside the bag. Vader watched cautiously, but Luke was as compliant as he could have asked. He let Siler sit him down in a chair and examine the wounded arm.
Its torn, all right, the medic announced shortly. Easy there, son. I know it hurts. Luke was shifting on the chair and biting his lip. Instinctively, Vader settled a soothing hand on the boys shoulder. His son glanced up with wide eyes.
Just give me a minute and Ill find some painkiller for that, Siler said, leaning down and rummaging through his bag. My lord, if you wouldnt mind, Ill need the sleeve to be out of the way.
Anybody elsewell, excluding Palpatinewould have gotten a strangling for addressing Vader thus; but Siler had been his medic for a long time, beginning shortly after Mustafar. He was one of the very few that Vader trusted. The Dark Lord reached down and unzipped the boys jumpsuit far enough to work his arm out of the sleeve. He had a shirt on underneath as well, but the short sleeve was easily rolled up out of the way.
Siler re-emerged from his bag with a long hypodermic needle in hand. This will probably hurt, he said, but the painkiller will kick in very soon, I promise. He gave Luke an encouraging smile. Vader tightened his grip on his sons shoulder as the medic moved to inject the painkiller.
Luke gave a choked whimper despite his best efforts at bravery. Vader could feel his heightened pain through the tension in his shouldersbut as promised, the painkiller went to work immediately. Luke soon relaxed as his arm went totally numb.
Is that better? Vader asked him.
Luke glanced up at him again. Yeah, he answered hesitantly.
Siler was pulling on gloves and whipping out sanitizers, daubing the boys arm clean. Now, what Im going to do is pull your muscle tissue back together, he said briskly to Luke. Weve got a bonesetter here to do it without slicing your arm open. Once everythings lined up properly, the bonesetter will fuse the tissue back together, and Ill give you a couple more injections to help the muscle heal up. All right?
Luke nodded firmly, but Vader wasnt fooled. He could sense the childs nervousness.
It wont hurt, Luke.
His sons anxiety spiked anyway when Siler picked up the bonesetter to begin work. That instinctive cry went up again in the Force. Father!
Im here, my son.
Well, at least that time he wasnt lying, Luke thought afterwards as the odd medic made his exit. He glanced down at his bandaged arm. There was a long, thin wound through his arm underneath the bacta wrap, left by the bonesetters fusing laser, but he hadnt felt anything at all.
I told you it would not be painful, his captor rumbled at him. Luke shivered. He could almost feel that deep bass voice in his spine.
Stop reading my mind, he whispered despairingly. He thought tiredly about trying to raise his mental shields againbut there was no point in hiding any more, and it would take too much effort, and he felt like the Falcon had looked the first time he saw the decrepit thing sitting in its hangar on Corellia.
He shuddered as a heavy black hand settled down again on the shoulder that wasnt numb. I am not reading your mind, child, the Sith denied. You are broadcasting your thoughts.
Crap. Was he really that tired? Obi-Wan had gotten on him so many times for not being careful about containing his thoughts, that now he could even do it when he dreamed. He must be really, really tired to be messing up now and not even realizing it. Luke gave a heavy, resigned sigh.
Youre tired, Vader said, tilting his helmet at him.
Luke thought about protesting, but he was too worn out to come up with something to say. It was easier to just nod.
You have had a hard day, Vader continued. The other big, heavy hand reached up to brush his hair back out of his eyes where it had fallen. Come. It is time you slept.
Luke felt the hand move around and down and press on his back, coaxing him forward. He didnt have the strength left to struggle again. They wound through a couple of doors and cabins until all of a sudden there was a cot in front of him. Luke needed no further prompting to curl himself up on top and hope that when he woke up, all of this would be a bad dream.
It was harder than hed thought to fly this crate by himself.
Han Solo sat numbly in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, staring at the vacant copilots chair next to him. He couldnt look anywhere without wondering where Luke had gone, and that made him remember thingsand dear krethin Force, he didnt want to remember anything. Especially not the look on Lukes face or his desperately grasping hand. Especially not that, because it made him think about what was probably happening to his young friend now.
Force, anything but that.
Han tried to take some reassurance from what Vader had said. Luke will not be harmed. And Vader hadnt been hurting the kid, at least not thenLuke hadnt even been handcuffed, and Vader had set his hand on top of the boys head almost protectively. The more Han thought about it, the more it looked like Vader had actually been very careful to not hurt Luke.
But why in the galaxy would Vader want him, then? The kid was a Jedihalf a Jedi, anywayand Vader was the guy who killed Jedi, no matter how old they were. Han couldnt think of a reason for him to want to keep a Jedi apprentice alive and healthy. Did it have something to do with the old man?
Kreth, kid, I have to get you out of there, he thought helplessly. But how could he manage that? The only person he knew was Lando Calrissianand fat chance of him asking that jerk for help a second time. The last time hed tried, it had landed them in a detention block on Coruscant getting interrogated by Darth Vader.
Theres the Rebels. Han immediately rebelled himself at the idea. Messing around with the Rebellion had gotten Luke where he was now!
His conversation with Bail Organa that first night on the Tantive IV came back to him.
If you ever need anything, Han, ever need any help, please dont hesitate to ask me, the senator had said, very intensely.
Bail Organa, the senator from Alderaan now that was the biggest gun Han could get his hands on. And he sure as heck needed help if he was going to try and rescue Luke.
Alderaan it is. Han reached grimly for the nav computer.
Vader felt much as though time had been rewound almost three years to that first night when he had stayed up watching his newborn daughters sleeping soundly in their crib. He withdrew to the other side of the small room until Luke fell asleep, so as not to disturb or unsettle him; it was only a few minutes before the connection between them grew vague and fuzzy. Carefully Vader crossed back to the side of the cot, and even more carefully bent down to touch the boy.
He was definitely asleep.
Vader straightened and watched his son for some time. He must remember to get that dye out of the boys hair later, when he woke again. And to feed himchaos take it, he should have done that before putting him to sleep. The boy was surely hungry, if he was anything like Vader remembered himself being as a young teenager. Neither could his son wear that jumpsuit forever. He would have to find clothes that at least approximately fit, until he could get the child safely to Bast Castle.
He sighed. These were only minor considerations. Yes, he had his son safe and wholebut what was he going to do with the child? He would hardly endear himself to the boy by locking him up. Yet if the child was not restrained, he would most likely run. The only way he saw out was to keep Luke with him at all times; but that was infeasible.
Well, if the boy was going to run, he did not dare entrust him to Miyr. The woman would not be able to control Luke as she could his sisters. Bast Castle was out of the question; Luke would have to remain here aboard the Executor with his father. Yet Vader didnt know how long he could keep the boys existence a secret from his master.
Perhaps he should not try? After all, it was not as though he had been sneaking this little one around behind Palpatines back. The child had existed well before Darth Vader had sworn any fealty to the Emperor. Any guilt of deception belonged to Palpatine, not to him.
But would his boy be safe if his existence became known to the Emperor? What would Palpatine do? The thought crossed Vaders mind more than once that it might his own life that would be endangered more than his sons; Palpatine could easily decide the child was more manageable and malleable, and that his father could be dispensed with as too great a risk. Or he might decide that the young, energetic, strongly Force-sensitive boy was too great a threat to his own aging person and order the boy destroyed.
Either of which would force Vader into action he did not yet want to take. He was not yet formidable enough to be sure of success in attacking his powerful master; but if Lukes life or his was at stake, he would be compelled to take his chances. And if he fell short all three of his children might die for the sins of the father.
No. It was too great a risk to reveal his son. He must keep the boys survival a secret. Decisively, Vader tightened his powerful shields around Lukes bright presence. Luke had done quite a spectacular job of shielding himself, for being so very young, but he could not take the chance that his son might slip. Besides, this way Luke would still be able to use the Force to a degreea limited degree, but he would be able to practice and advance in his training.
As soon as he was sure he had won his son over, he would send the child to the safety of Bast Castle, until the boy had grown enough to pass for a crewman on the ship. That would be at least four or five years in the future. In four or five years, then, he could begin preparing in earnest to overthrow Palpatines sadistic rule.
Sleep soundly, my son. All will be well.
He stroked his son once more before leaving the boy to his rest.
Leia could tell that her father was very, very upset about something. As usual, they were eating dinner togetherwell, not quite as usual, since Leias mother was away at the moment. Normally this was when her father would relax and stop thinking about work for an hour, and when she would stop thinking about school.
But for once Bail was breaking the rule he had imposed upon the rest of his little family. He kept trying to remember to smile at her and talk to her about what had happened during the day, but every few minutes he would forget and sit staring disturbedly into his glass, swirling the wine absently without seeing it. Politely, Leia didnt bring it upbut every now and then his stare switched over to her instead. She was beginning to wonder if she was what he was worried about. But she couldnt imagine why that would be. She hadnt even been bothered by nightmares since coming back from Dantooine.
There was a knock on the door. Usually disturbances at dinnertime made her father irritable, but not this time. Come in, he said quickly. One of his aides entered.
Senator, security has apprehended that ship you asked us to watch for, the aide said. Theyve brought the passenger to the palace as you requested.
Her father leapt up from the table in a flash. Im sorry, Leia, he said tightly. But this is very important.
Its fine, Daddy, Leia said softly as he pulled his coat on rapidly. Can I see you later?
Hopefully, her father said. He stopped and kissed her on the top of the head before striding quickly out of the room.
Young Han Solo was standing in the corner of Bails office under the watch of two security officers when Bail arrived in it.
Dismissed, Bail said without preamble. The officers offered military bows and left. Bail locked the doors of his office and gestured Han into a chair; he sat down opposite after switching off the security recorders from the desk.
Your ship took off earlier today and leapt out of system, ignoring warnings, he said tightly. Perhaps you think our efforts to protect you are to be taken lightly? Do you have any idea how many lives you may have risked?
I wasnt flying, stang it! Han shouted, jumping angrily out of his seat. And I wasnt the one who let stormtroopers sneak onto the ship before she got to Alderaan! You sithin Rebels pulled that one!
Bail sucked in his breath. His anger died immediately of the dread that flooded him.
They stunned both of us and they musta flown my ship out of system with us on it, Han raged on, pacing in helpless fury around his chair and gesturing wildly. I dunno what all happened but when I woke up they were draggin me out into a big hangarandand Vader was there.
Well, Bail thought, at least the news cant get any worse from here.
Hes got Luke thanks to your people, Han finished, stomping back into his seat and clenching tightly at the armrests of his chair. Then, to himself, softly, Krethin sithspawn, hes got Luke
And he just let you go? Bail said sharply.
Han nodded blankly, his anger spent. Luke was screamin at me whenwhen Vader dragged him out, and the guy stops and asks Luke if were friends an he says yes, and just like that he tells em to let me go with my ship.
Did he really, Bail murmured.
He told me that he wasnt going to hurt Luke, Han added. Kreth, hes lying though. You gotta help me find him fastsith, theyre going to kill him, I know they will!
Bail leaned back. And why would they kill your brother but not even restrain you?
Han was speechless. Hed totally forgotten about their story.
Bail laughed bitterly. Han, its all right. I know the two of you arent brothers.
Youyou know that?
And I know that Luke was Obi-Wan Kenobis apprentice, Bail continued.
How do you know? Han said hoarsely.
Its a long story, young Han, but I think you need to hear it, Bail said. Youre a part of it now. But what I am going to tell you, you must never repeat to anyonenot even to Luke should you meet him again. Do you understand?
Good. Settle down and relax.
Han did his best to comply.
Now. Youre afraid Vader will kill Luke. I have every reason to believe from what you told me that Luke is in no physical danger. The boy was in several other kinds of danger, but they need not fear his death.
What are you talkin about? You know what the Empire does to Jedi!
But not this one, Bail said quietly. This one is very special. Han, Lukes father was a powerful Jedi.
Han jerked upright. You meanthat Skywalker guy from the Clone Wars? he said, intrigued.
Yes, Anakin Skywalker. Youve heard of him, I see.
Just that he could fly. So that was where Luke got his talent from
Anakin Skywalker was formerly the apprentice of Obi-Wan Kenobi, whom you met watching over Luke, Bail continued. He paused for a dramatic moment. Han, Darth Vader was also once an apprentice of Obi-Wans.
Han tried to piece everything together. So Vader aint gonna hurt Luke cause what, he was best pals with this Skywalker guy?
Bail considered for only an instant before equivocating. They were very close, he said. But...differences of opinion drove them far apart from each other during the Purges. Anakin was loyal to the Jedi and the Republic. Vader sided with the Empire. In the end, Anakin was destroyed with the rest of the Jedi.
Han stared. And you think Luke is safe because of all that?
Obi-Wan and I didnt know what Vader would do should he ever learn that his former friends son was alive, Bail continued. It depended on what he chose to remember. If he remembered only their conflict, yes, Luke would have been doomed. From what youve told me, though, of Vaders treatment of Luke, I suspect his reaction has gone the other way.
How do you know he wasnt just gonna kill him as soon as I was gone? Han demanded.
He let you go, Bail said simply.
What does that prove? Han snapped.
If he intended to kill Luke, as he has the rest of the Jedi, he would have ordered you shot or imprisoned for protecting him, Bail argued. Youd be guilty of consorting with enemies of the Empire. But he let you gowith your ship and your hyperdrive.
Han mouthed an oh, remembering the stolen Sienar drive. And the illegal quad cannons.
That practically amounts to a thank-you gift for taking care of Luke, Bail continued. He would not have released you as he did if he didnt see you as a friend of a child he wished to protect. He also promised verbally that he would not hurt Luke, and I have never known him to lie.
Change his mind, yes lose his resolve in a fit of temper such as had happened to Padmé, yes. But the point right now was to reassure Han and keep the boy from getting himself killed going after Luke. The only individual who could possibly have a chance of getting Luke away from Vader now was Master Yoda, and Bail fully intended to alert the Jedi Master to the alarming situation as soon as he could.
But Han had to be discouraged from trying anything. His loyalty was impressive, but if Vader planned on keeping Luke, hed kill anyone who tried to take the boy without a second thought, whether they were a friend of Lukes or not.
Han was relaxing just a little. Bails efforts seemed to be working. I will alert my intelligence agents about Lukes situation; they will tell us if anything happens to threaten your friend. Perhaps you should remain on Alderaan in the meantime?
What if youre wrong? Han whispered. His voice was full of such despair that Bail could not help but empathize.
If Im wrong, then Luke is already dead and we cant do anything, Bail finally said. There was no gentler way to put it; but he leaned forward and put a hand on Hans shoulder. But Im certain thats not the case.
He was so scared, Han whispered, staring at the opposite wall. Kreth, he was screamin for me anan I couldnt do anything.
Hell be all right, Han, Bail said firmly. Im sure he was very frightened, but Vader means him no harm. He wont be frightened for long.
Han didnt seem to hear him. Keep him away from the Empire, he mumbled. Thats what Kenobi told me. An I didnt.
Han, look at me. Slowly Hans eyes refocused on him. No one could have done more than you did to protect Luke, Bail said. It was my men who failed at some pointnot you. The important thing is that Lukes life is not in danger. In fact, Vader can probably keep him safer than anyone else can.
Han noddedfiercely he reached up to rub his eyes, brushing off Bails hand. Krethin dust, he muttered.
Bail smiled just a little. The boy might be an ex-street-rat, but he had a good heart. Han Solo would do very well indeed.
He just prayed that Luke did as well.
Aboard the Executor
It was in a state of unusual peace that Darth Vader had retired to his hyperbaric chamber to sleep. His son was restored to himthe gaping wound in his mind was finally healing, and there were no nightmares to plague him anymore. All were banished now; and for the first time he found he could think of his beloved wife without the excruciating agony of guilt. It was still painfulbut no longer tortuous.
All in all, he fully expected a peaceful, uninterrupted slumber.
But he didnt get it. Screams woke him some hours later. Vader woke as though hed been shot, head whirling to locate the source of the awful cries. It took him a moment to realize that he was not physically hearing the shrieks; rather, they were coming to him through the Force.
Hastily Vader donned his mask and left his hyperbaric chamber, making short work of the distance between it and the small room in which he had put his son to sleep. The door was lockedhe hadnt been able to think of a way to avoid it short of chaining Lukes wrist to his beltbut he could now hear soft moans from inside, in addition to the terrified cries in the Force.
He unlocked the door and stepped rapidly inside, switching on the light with a flick of his finger. Luke was huddled on the floor at the foot of the cot, sobbing quietly and clutching his pillow. His eyes flashed up fearfully as he saw Vader, and with a choked whimper pushed himself further into the corner between the cot and the wall. Mindful of the boys fear, Vader settled down cross-legged in front of him. He didnt speak or make any move to touch his son; gradually Lukes fear settled and the cries in the Force grew silent.
What is it, my son? he asked finally.
Nothing, the boy said with shaky obstinacy from behind the shelter of his pillow.
I heard you screaming, child. It was certainly not nothing. Luke looked away.
Just a nightmare, okay? he said at last, attempting to sound indignant.
Jedi dont have nightmares.
I heard you.
With an inner shudder of his own Vader pushed the memory away. What was in this nightmare? he asked.
Lukes hands suddenly twisted into his pillow. Obi-Wan used to ask that, he whispered softly, staring past Vaders shoulder.
Vader stiffened with lingering resentment and some anger at the mention of Obi-Wan, but he suppressed the emotions immediately. Luke did not yet understand the truth about the man; of course Kenobi would have presented a friendly, caring persona to his son. Suddenly it occurred to him that Luke must be thinking of Corellia.
And did you tell him? Vader finally said, controlling his tone carefully.
The boy nodded.
Then surely you can tell me, young one.
A very unhappy pair of green eyes met his gaze. I dont want to. He could hear the boys thoughts as clearly as if they had been spoken.
He had a long way to go in winning his sons trust.
Be patient with him, he reminded himself. Perhaps you would rather show me? he tried.
Luke shook his head, tightening his arms around his pillow. Vader sighed, knowing the vocabulator wouldnt pick the sound up. What was he supposed to do with the boy?
Oh, Padmé, you would have known what to do. They sat in silence for a while. Vader finally reached out to touch his sons shoulderbut Luke drew back sharply, still fearful.
Luke, I will not hurt you, Vader said in frustration.
You did before. Why is everything different now?
His frustration quickly died to his guilt. I did not know who you were at that time, he said finally. If I had known, none of that would have happened.
So you only treat people well if theyre your son? the boy challenged angrily.
Then you accept that I am your father, Vader said quickly.
Luke fell silent. No, he said after a pause, none too convincingly.
Silence reigned again.
In time, you will learn to accept the truth, Vader finally rumbled, standing. He offered Luke his hand. Not surprisingly, the boy didnt take it. He clambered up on his own and back onto his cot, still hugging his pillow closely. With another sigh, Vader waited as Luke slowly stretched back out.
We will speak when you awaken, Vader said to his reluctant son. He began to leavebut turned back at the door. How is your arm? he asked more gently.
Lukes gaze flicked down. It hurts some.
A little uncertainly, Vader moved back beside the cot and bent down enough to touch the boys right arm. With an expert stroke of the Force, he quieted the ache that had begun to grow again in the injured muscle, and took a moment to check that the bandage of bacta wrap was still secure. It should be fine until you awaken, he told Luke, straightening. Sleep now.
Luke woke very slowly, his senses coming back online one at a time. It took a while for him to remember where he was and why he had fallen asleep in his jumpsuit and boots. As soon as he did he moaned and buried his head in his pillow, feeling despair and confusion and fright and a million other indescribable emotions pouring down on top of him. It was several minutes before he felt a little like himself again.
Gotta see if I can get out. Luke eased off the cot and towards the door to see if it was locked. To his delight, it hissed open as soon as he touched the control
Revealing a certain Dark Lord standing with his hand on the control on the other side. Too startled to be actually afraid, Luke yelped and nearly fell over backwards. Vaders hand flashed out and caught his jumpsuit, saving him the embarrassment.
I see you are awake at last, he rumbled.
Luke couldnt think of anything to say but At last?
You have been asleep for nearly a full day, the man who was not his father informed him. Are you hungry?
He surprised himself by glancing back up eagerly at the mention of food. Come to think of it, he was really hungry.
I expected so, Vader mused. Come with me.
Luke hung back initiallybut he was really hungry. Cautiously he followed a few steps behind, wondering in spite of himself what Vader would do if Luke were to accidentally step on his cape. He wasnt quite bold enough to try it yet, though
Vader led him through a couple of cabins into a plain room that had a long table lined with formfitting chairs. Sit down, young one, he gestured. I have sent a droid for your meal. Luke sat down hesitantly into one of the chairsand immediately relaxed, because it felt almost like being back on the Falcon in the way-too-big copilots chair. Vader took the chair on the end of the table, beside Luke.
Hed sure fit good into Lukes copilot chair. Sadly Luke wondered if hed ever even get to see the Falcon again.
You are upset? Vader asked him.
Luke glanced down at the table top. I miss my ship, he muttered finally.
YT-1300s were good ships, Vader told him. I am surprised, though, that yours was still functional.
Well, we had to modify it, Luke said, swiveling his chair around a little nervously. The cockpit couldnt even read data chips when we got it.
I am told the ship had a good hyperdrive, Vader said.
Luke glanced up, very nervously, remembering about the stolen Sienar drive. Fortunately, the door hissed open at that point and the droid came in with his breakfast, precluding the need for Luke to come up with an answer. Hastily he dug into the food, not even noticing what it was for several bites.
Vader waited silently while Luke ate, which made him uneasy, but Luke was hardly about to start a conversation. As soon as he was done, Vader spoke up again.
I asked you before whether you had any questions, son, he rumbled. I am sure that you do.
Luke sat silently for a while, wondering what he should ask. What are you going to do with me? he asked at last.
For the time being, you will remain here on my command ship, Vader answered. I am having some rooms prepared for you in my quarters.
Are you going to lock me up?
Vader hesitated. That is not my wish, he said finally. But firstly, it is necessary that your presence on the ship be kept secret. Secondly, I cannot allow you to run away. You will not be able to wander the ship.
Were in hyperspace. I cant run away. Luke could feel the hyperdrive engine sending a deep thrum through the deck.
We will not always be in hyperspace, Vader rumbled. But while we are, I will allow you to move as you wish through my quarters. They are fairly spacious. There is room for you to exercise. You can explore when we have finished speaking.
So youre gonna lock me up whenever we drop out of hyperspace?
Child, you are not going to be thrown into a cell, Vader said, with a touch of exasperation. If you earn my trust, you will be permitted as much freedom as I can give you safely.
Whos going to hurt me? Luke demanded.
The Emperor may see you as a threat to him, Vader said slowly. If he does, he would not hesitate to kill you. I will do everything I can to protect you from him, my sonbut I cannot always be here watching over you. I have duties to perform. If he were to learn of you, he might send an assassin.
Luke was a little sobered by this new information. So he doesnt know about me?
No, my son.
Luke shifted uneasily under the my son.
What ship is this? he asked finally.
This is my flagship, the Executor.
Where are we going?
We are rejoining the rest of Fifth Fleet, my command.
The Akmadia system.
You ask a great many questions, Vader observed.
You told me to, Luke fired back hotly.
He caught a sense of amusement from the Sith Lord, who leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. I did, he agreed. Akmadia is on the Outer Rim, fifteenth sector.
Luke was quiet for a little while before another question came to mind. Did you let Han go?
Your friend was permitted to disembark in his freighter at our last vector alteration, eighteen hours ago.
You better not be lying, Luke muttered, mostly to himselfbut Vader heard him and soon a big black hand was grasping him around the chin, lifting his head. Luke fought down a flash of terror and memory, and realized he was being held very gently. Not at all like Coruscant.
Little one, you have my word that I will never lie to you, Vader told him firmly.
What if thats a lie?
Vaders hand tightened a little in exasperation. Are you determined to believe that everything I tell you is a lie?
Luke didnt answer. He didnt know what he ought to believe.
Vader let go of him at last. You have your mothers stubbornness, my son, the Dark Lord said rather ruefully.
His mother? Luke didnt know anything about his mother.
Would you like to hear about her? Vader asked him.
Luke bolted up out of his chair. Stop reading my mind!
I am not reading your mind, my son.
Dont call me that!
Vader was getting angry, Luke could sense it. You are my son, the man said evenly. I will call you as I see fit.
My father was a Jedi
not a murderer
and you killed him!
Enough! Vader thundered, standing to his full heightand Lukes terror kicked back in full force. He scrambled away for the door at the other end of the room, but halfway there an invisible giants hand snared him, and Luke was left immobilized by thin air to wait for Vader to reach him. The force freezing him vanished as Vader pulled him against his breastplate, allowing him to tremble all over. Force, Force, hed made him angrywhat were you thinking, Luke?
Vader had indeed been angry with the obstinate child, especially considering how difficult it was for him to offer to speak of the boys motherbut his anger died quickly as Luke began to shake. Again he had terrified his son, despite all his resolutions to the contrary after the incident of the nightmare. He tucked his son underneath his right arm in a less intimidating hold and patted the boy with his free hand. Within the safety of his mask, he gave a despairing sigh. How long would it take his son to adjust? Months?
Slowly, Lukes trembling began to ease as he sent waves of reassurance to his son. That was somewhat encouragingLuke must accept the truth on some level if he would allow his father to quiet him.
But though the physical manifestation of Lukes fear was leaving, the fear was not. It might be best to leave his son alone for a time before attempting further interaction. He had been overhasty in trying to urge conversation. It seemed that was too stressful for the boy at present.
What was necessary, what was critical, was for Luke to accept the truth of his parentage. Vader would get nowhere until Luke acknowledged him as his fatherbecause until that point, he would be the enemy, as per the age-old rivalry of the Jedi and the Sith. Yet how could he convince the child?
Perhaps an attempt at meditation would be advisable. Whether he excelled at the detested exercise or no, this was a serious matter, very serious. It deserved nothing less than his best efforts to find a resolution. Besides, that would give Luke time to calm down.
When the boy was physically calm enough, Vader guided him back out of the conference room to the small cabin where he had left the little one to sleep before. You need time to calm yourself, he announced, depositing his son on the cot. I will come back for you in a few hours. Does your arm pain you?
Luke nodded silently, not looking up. Vader repeated his pain-nullifying procedure of the previous night and left the boy with a pat on the shoulder that he hoped came across as friendly, locking the door behind him. Hopefully he would enjoy more success in meditation than was typical of him. Indeed he hoped so, for Lukes sake.
Luke cast a blank, depressed gaze over the small room he had been left in once more. Locked up again. It seemed like everybody wanted to pen him up these days except for Han. And Han was gone.
Obi-Wan never penned me up. Miserably Luke thought back to those two or so years with the Jedi Master. Come to think of it, maybe this wasnt too much different from when hed woken up and found himself on the ship with Obi-Wan, far away from everything familiar. Except Obi-Wan had never, ever done anything to terrify the living daylights out of himObi-Wan had never grabbed him or held him still with the Force.
I miss you, he thought achingly. And Aunt Beru. And even Uncle Owen. And Han.
Why did all of this have to happen to him?
I know its not fair, Luke, an ethereal voice said aloud.
Luke started clear off the cot and stared wildly around the room. Thatthat sounded like
Obi-Wan? he breathed as a ghostly blue form appeared opposite the cot.
Obi-Wan smiled and nodded. Yes, Luke, its me.
Butbutyoure deadarent you?
I believe we went over this on Coruscant, Obi-Wan said mildly. There is no deaththere is the Force.
Butbutstang, I didnt think you meant that literally!
Language, Obi-Wan warned sternly.
Luke glanced down in reflexive shame. Sorry.
Thats what I get for sending you off with Han, Obi-Wan sighed, shaking his head as he moved a little closer. In any case, Luke, I didnt come to discuss metaphysics with you.
Obi-Wan waved a hand dismissively. Never mind. You have more important questions, I think.
That sounded a bit too much like what Vader had said not long ago. Obi-Wancant you get me out of here? he pleaded. Please?
Obi-Wan gave a ghostly sigh and sat down on the cot next to Luke. Luke, I know youve been very afraid, he said sympathetically. And I know this will not be easy for you right now. But we need to discuss your father.
Luke tightened up. Its not true, he said softly. Hes lying isnt he?
Obi-Wan looked down. No, Luke, he isnt. He is your father.
Something in him nearly shattered. Butwhy didnt you tell me that? he whispered, torn apart with the betrayal. Youyou knew and you didnt tell me.
Obi-Wans voice was very heavy when he spoke. It was a hard decision to make, Luke, he said slowly. I wondered many times whether or not it was time to tell you the truth about your father. It is a very painful and difficult tale, one I thought you would understand better when you were older. But circumstances prevented me from protecting you that long.
You let me think he killed my father, Luke whispered tremulously.
From a certain point of view, Luke, thats true, Obi-Wan told him. When your father turned to the dark side, he ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.
Luke sat staring at the floor in stunned silence. What am I supposed to do? he asked finally.
Obi-Wan took quite a while to thinkand when his response came, it was quite lengthy. Because of what your father had done to the Jedi, I hid you from him when you were born, he began. I feared that he might have fallen so far into the dark side that he would kill you as well. That was one of the reasons why I took you from your uncle and aunt three years ago. I was afraid your dreams might cause a disturbance in the Force and attract his attention.
But I have been watching both of you since Corellia. On Coruscant, when you dropped your shields, your father recognized your Force presence. Obi-Wan paused. I have not sensed such joy from him since since before he turned to the dark side. He loves you, Luke. He has been badly tainted by darkness, but he has enough light in him to care for you. Obi-Wan turned earnestly to Luke. Young one, you are the last hope in this galaxy that your father has. It may yet be possible to draw him back to the light sidebut you are the only one who can do it. He needs you, Luke.
II cant! Luke cried. I dont know how, I dont know what to do!
Just be yourself, Lukeand hold to the light. He will see.
About three hours later, a frustrated Darth Vader finally gave up on his attempt at meditation. It simply wasnt working, no matter how hard he tried, no matter how he spurred himself on with thoughts of Luke. There were some things, it seemed, that even the Chosen One couldnt do, not if his life depended on it.
Resigning himself, he left his hyperbaric chamber, heading through his quarters towards his sons room. He did not relish the thought of another stressful confrontation with his distraught, uncooperative sondoubtless it would provide more hindrances to their relationship than helps. But leaving Luke locked in a small room for hours on end would not improve the situation either, so he doggedly resolved to give it another try.
Luke was at the head of his bed, arms wrapped around his legs and his chin resting pensively on his knees. He turned quickly as Vader entered. The time apart seemed to have been good for him. There was uncertainty in his demeanor, but only a little fear.
He surprised his father by softly saying, Hello.
Vader stopped inside the doorway, wondering at the boys apparent change of attitude.
Hello, son, he finally rumbled back. Are you calmer?
Luke nodded slowly. A little hesitant, worried that he would alarm the boy once again, Vader approached his son and settled a hand on his shoulder.
Then perhaps you would like to explore the rooms, he suggested.
He was pleased to see Lukes eyes light up just a little. Clearly the boy was enticed by the chance to get out of his small, confining bedroom.
Vader stepped aside out of the door. You may go and look, then, he said. Luke seemed to be in a much more reasonable mood than he had exhibited heretofore. So long as Vader stayed in the front chamber and ensured his son would not get out through the only entrance into his quarters, it should be safe enough to let the boy explore about. There is a hyperbaric chamber in one of my personal rooms, he added as Luke got up. That and my office are the only places I ask you not to disturb.
Luke nodded and edged past him, still a little wary, but clearly curious. In another moment the boy had wandered out of sight through another room.
Relieved by the boys new subdued behavior, Vader retreated to the front chamber with his datapad and went about the business of trying to find some effective hair-dye remover aboard the ship. He had Doctor Siler hunting around the star destroyer while he himself examined the ships inventories, but to date hed not discovered anything that met the requirements. Perhaps he could concoct something from the chemical stores in the med bay
The door hissed open almost without warning, and Siler came in with a look of reserved triumph on his face and a container of some sort in his hand. I believe this should serve nicely, my lord, he announced, handing the container to Vader.
Vader only needed one look at the bottle to know it was trouble. It was pink. Very, very bright pink.
One of our female crewmembers had it in her private stores, Siler explained.
Deluxe Fem Spa Hair Treatment System: Super Strength Dye Remover
With Delicate Infusions of Magnolia and Arralute.
This would not go over well.
Leia was getting uncomfortable already. Not a good sign, considering that she was going to have to live with this costume for several more hours. But like it or not, she had to grow up one of these days, and her parents had finally decided thirteen was old enough for her attendance at formal occasions to be expected. That was the big downside to being a princess on an influential world at one of the biggest intersections of the galaxys hyperlanesthere were plenty of important guests coming through, all the time, and therefore plenty of those formal occasions.
Today was an especially odious occasion. Shed already been to some of these ceremonial greetings and state dinners, enough to not be very nervous about them anymore and to know what was expected of her. But today the guest of honormore like dishonor, in Leias considered opinionwas an Imperial Moff. Not just any Moff, either, but the universally disliked Moff Tarkin.
Grand Moff, actually, she reminded herselfthe promotion was quite a recent one, and Aldera had only barely received word of it in time to make appropriate alterations for the reception of the guest. Whether she hated the nasty old man or not, shed better not embarrass her father by forgetting his proper title.
Leia hated having to get stiffly dressed up for any reason, but she especially hated doing it when she didnt even like the person all the bother was about. But she didnt have a choice, so here she was decked out in a stifling formal white gown, with her hair braided up as elaborately as her aunts could contrive, wearing her least favorite pair of shoes in the whole galaxy, counting down the hours and minutes until she could ditch the whole ensemble. Behave yourself, she chanted over and over. Watch your manners and smile and be very polite and hell probably be polite back. Politicians are always polite.
She was waiting with her mother in the royal reception chamber of the palace; soon her father would arrive with the Grand Moff, theyd all introduce and chit-chat politely and then go on to the formal dinner with all the appropriate officials and trappings. When that was over, then she could make her escapeshe knew the routine by now.
A chime went off. They were coming. Her mother smiled a little wryly at her and stood up, smoothing out her dress. Are you ready, Leia? she asked.
Yes, maam, she replied dutifully, getting up. Her mother checked her appearance cursorily and nodded.
The door opened across the room, and her father entered just ahead of a tall, wiry, grim-faced man in a bleakly-colored Imperial uniform. He had wire-gray hair, insofar as he had hair, and high cheekbones with coldly hollow cheeks below. And he had the hardest eyes of any man Leia had ever seen.
Governor, my wife, her father was saying, taking Breha by the hand.
Lady Organa, Tarkin nodded sparsely.
Welcome to Alderaan, Governor, her mother answered smoothly, inclining her head.
Her fathers gaze turned to her. And this is my daughter, he continued, gesturing to Leia to come forward.
She came with her head high, and curtsied just a little, as her mother had said she should.
The hard eyes swiveled onto her. So this is the little princess, Tarkin said, with an air of some calculation. I hear she is a promising child.
Leia felt a stab of annoyance. He didnt have to talk as though she was some kind of household pet!
Thank you, she said a bit haughtily before her father or mother could speak up.
Tarkins eyes narrowed. And it seems rather spirited, as well.
Well, Bail said quickly, children often are. He gave Leia a warning glance, and she knew shed better not say anything more to express her irritation.
But she was an inventive sort of person. There were plenty of other ways to get back at this horrid fellow for his disdainful treatment of her. If she couldnt get her revenge with words .well shed just get another way. And she had a feeling it would be a whole lot more fun.
For her, that was.
A few hours or so later
Han had been at the Royal Palace for about a day. Of course, that wasnt long enough for the senators agents to have heard anything about Luke, but knowing that didnt ease Hans fear that the news would be bad when it came. Kreth, hed never forgive himself ifif
He couldnt finish the thought.
He was slumped in the shadow of a balustrade column right now, on the hallway outside his room in the private section of the palace. Hed thought about going down to the garden instead, but there was some kind of fancy-pants party or other going on at the palace, which was exactly the sort of thing Han detested. So he was staying where it was nice and quiet.
Suddenly he perked up a little as the silence was broken by a soft, light step towards the end of the hall. Somebody was coming. And they were coming as quiet as they couldthey didnt want any attention, that was for sure. Now whod be sneaking around the royal palace without being up to no good? Han eased a little farther back into his shadow. There werent any lights on herehe should be able to see whoever it was when they came without being noticed as long as he was quiet, and maybe get the drop on them. He didnt much like the idea of anything happening to the Organas. They were decent enough people, even if that princess had a case of general stuck-up-ness.
The light footstep came closer, and Han got ready to jump out with his blaster to stop the guy, whoever it wascome on, just a little closer
The step stopped. After a pause Han leaned cautiously out, just enough to peer past the pillar
Suddenly he felt a sudden distinctive pressure in the small of his back, and flung his hands up quickly. Dont shoot! he yelped.
Someone snickered softly behind him. Youre Han Solo, arent you? said a familiar female voice.
Han whirled around to face none other than Princess Leia armed with nothing but a couple of pointed fingers. Whatre you sneakin around for, Your Royalness? he demanded angrily.
Her brown eyes flashed; she crossed her arms irritably. None of your business, she said.
Look, you go around scarin people, youre gonna have to answer questions, Han argued back. Or else Ill tell your dad youre sneakin around when you oughta be in bed.
You would not!
Wanna bet, Your Princessness?
Leia glared at him. Fine, she said. Im pranking somebody.
Han grinned. You, little miss perfect, playing pranks? Maybe she wasnt all bad news after all.
You believe it, she said defensively.
She scowled. The guest. He has no manners.
Anybody Id know about?
Grand Moff Tarkin.
Han perked up. Hes an Imperial, aint he?
Yeesss she said slowly.
Whatever youre planning, I want in on it, Han said.
Leia cocked her head. Whatd he do to you?
Its more like a down payment for the Empire in general, Han said grimly. This ones for you, kid.
You promise never to tell? she demanded.
Whatever you say, sweetheart. He stuck out his hand. Shake on it, huh? Partners in crime?
She looked at his hand a bit disdainfully before finally shaking it, as if she were afraid he was contagious. Come on, then. Ill show you the way.
Bail was rather relieved that everything had gone as smoothly as it had. Leia had fortunately managed to regain control of her temper after that first awkward scene, and dinner had gone quite well all things considered. And now Leia was gone to bedthe adults had continued the ceremonial festivities in the formal garden. The evening should be smooth sailing from here on out. There might be a few rough spots for him to navigate through but he was used to handling that sort of thing.
Just now Tarkin was on the other side of the fountain, conversing with one of his retinue just beneath the balcony. Bail could only feel relief that the Grand Moff had momentarily switched his attention to someone other than himself.
His relief was short-lived, though. Just as Bail turned back around to continue his conversation with the Minister of Finance, a splash and a shout rose from behind him, quickly followed by gasps from the guests. Bail spun aroundto find both the Grand Moff and his officer glaring, drenched, and dripping.
And not with water, either. Whatever liquid that had been, it was bright purpleand Bail had a sinking suspicion that it was not going to be coming out of either uniforms or skin anytime soon.
It seemed the sailing would not be so smooth after all.
Force, but his daughter was going to be sorry.
Both Leia and Han made a quick dash off the balcony, going down the vine on the wall opposite the garden until they landed on the roof of the library and could make their way to the maintenance entrance they had used.
Not a bad plan for a princess, Han told her as they slipped back into the private section of the palace.
She eyed him sideways, and decided she might as well take it as a compliment. Yeah, but the dye concentrate was a good idea, she said. I was just going to use water.
Han shrugged. Call it brilliance, sweetheart, he said. This your door?
As close as youre getting to it, she shot back.
Oh, a touchy one, Han snorted. Well, sleep it up, Your Worship. He meandered away towards the guest rooms. Leia stuck her tongue out at him behind his back and slipped back to her bedroom, as silently as shed gone out. Last time I hang around with that jerk, she vowed before crawling into her bed and switching out the light. I wouldnt marry you if you were the last man in the galaxy, Han Solo.
Back on the Executor
Son, we are through arguing about this.
I am not rubbing a bunch of girl goo in my hair!
Vader sighed inside the mask. Lukes reaction was, unfortunately, understandable for a thirteen-year-old boy confronted with female hygiene products, especially considering that he had probably spent the last three years strictly in the company of males. But it wasnt as though there was another option. It is only a dye remover, Luke.
It is not! Luke pointed to the curlicue-plastered label on the offensive container. Ill smell like a bunch of flowers!
That is an exaggeration. Now take it.
Luke stuck his hands adamantly behind his back and retreated several steps. No way am I touching that thing.
Vader thought about it for one second further. Very well. You dont have to.
Lukes eyes brightened triumphantly.
Ill do it, Vader continued.
Horror quickly replaced the triumph. You wouldnt.
Vaders only answer was to move towards the boy. Luke tried a dash around his advancing father for the corridor, but the maneuver was no more effective than it had been to date. Vader snagged him by the collar and hauled Luke up over his shoulder, starting towards a refresher.
Believe me, son, if I have to strip you and scrub you down in the shower myself, Ill do it.
This is practically torture! Luke howled at him.
Would you prefer to do it yourself?
I am not gonna walk around smelling like a girl!
Vader shrugged. Have it your way. He lugged his writhing son into the fresher and began peeling off the boys jumpsuit.
All right, all right! Luke finally yelped when he realized his father meant business. Stop it, Ill do it myself!
Good boy. Take out those lenses too, Vader added before leaving the fresher. He felt Luke scowling at his departing back.
Half an hour later, Luke emerged once more, wearing the most sullen expression in his repertoire and rubbing his wet hair vigorously with a towel, as if hoping he could somehow sponge the smell out of it. I stink, he complained irritably upon seeing his father waiting outside.
You will not be aware of it for long, Vader told him. And there is no one here to notice. Now come here.
Luke complied hesitantly, his obedience still coming only through great reluctance. Vader lifted his sons chin. Gone was the green gaze; two brilliant blue eyes now stared back at him, as though he were looking into a mirror. There was one feature still the same between the two of them. He held the eye contact for some seconds before finally letting go and turning his attention to the boys tousled, damp hair. It was still too wet for him to tell if there had been a change of color. He took charge of the towel and began briskly drying off the boys head.
It had been quite a long time since hed had occasion to towel off any hair. Thirteen years, to be exact. His touch grew gentler with memory.
After a time he finally lifted the towel upand, almost reverently, smoothed the damp but now recognizably blond locks underneath. His lips came up in a secret smile, not minding the pain of the straining scar tissue.
You are indeed your fathers son, my young one, he murmured. Now the child before him resembled the little ten-year-old of those first imagesthough the three intervening years had done much to refine the childs features into something more closely approximating an adult.
Luke shifted a little uneasily. But there was none of the loud objection that previous references to their relationship had elicited. It was strange that his attitude could have changed so quickly in so short a time but Vader was hardly going to complain about the mysterious improvement. He turned his attention instead to the rest of the boy. Luke had left the jumpsuit off, and was only in his undershirt and shorts and socks. He looked to be a slight but tough child.
His fathers instinct quickly drew his gaze to the boys bandaged arm, though. He ought to have Siler come and check the injurys progress. For now, Vader settled his concerns with making sure the bandage had not come loose or unsealed in the shower. It had not. He straightened back up, wondering what he ought to do with his son now. The Executor was still in hyperspace, and would be for another four hours; his attention was not required to manage the ship until then.
Discussion didnt seem like a good option yetVader did not wish to jeopardize the boys current, mostly cooperative attitude by bringing up difficult topics. Perhaps he should take the boy to his dueling room and let the child demonstrate what he knew thus far about the Force.
Yesthat sounded like a fairly safe route to take.
Come, Luke, he rumbled. His son followed a short distance behind himjust far enough to be out of reach. Still fearful, then.
Vader unlocked the dueling salle and showed the boy inside. He was pleased to sense his sons abrupt rush of enthusiasm. Sothe boy recognized the purpose of the room. Vader sat down in the center of the floor and gestured Luke to copy him. Luke seemed a little more at ease as he settled down cross-legged opposite his father. This felt familiar to the child, it seemed.
How long did Obi-Wan teach you? he asked.
The answer surprised the Dark Lord. Two years.
Only two years? When the boy had been within Obi-Wans reach for twelve? Why had the Jedi not begun training Luke much sooner, as per the traditions of the Jedi Order? Starting when you were ten?
That was even later a beginning than hed had, later by a year. Why had Obi-Wan waited so long? Vader made a note to ask his son more about what had happenedbut for now, he felt that conversation was best delayed until a more fitting time. They would focus on assessing Lukes skills for now.
Then you cannot have learned much, Vader mused aloud. I presume you know basic telekinesis.
Vader decided a demonstration might serve his purposes better. He took his lightsaber from his belt and set it on the floor between them. Can you lift this?
Oh, that, his son said sagely. Quickly the lightsaber sprang up into the air and flew graceful circles around their heads, bouncing up and down, and even sailing through a series of elaborate victory rolls before returningnot to the floor, but precisely back to its hook on Vaders belt.
Vader was very pleased with the high level of control his son was already exhibiting, despite only having about three years of experience behind him. That was very good, he said.
Luke just shrugged wistfully. I used to practice with my starfighter models, he said.
Obviously, you can maintain good shields, Vader continued. Luke glanced down; Vader sensed a strange stab of unhappiness. Did you learn anything about mind-reading?
Luke nodded promptly.
What am I thinking? He held a single, neutral thought carefully in mind for his son to find.
Do you like to fly, Luke said after only a couple seconds.
And youre wondering if I was going to take long, Luke added.
Vader paused, impressed with the boys dexterity at picking past the obvious to the more difficult background thoughts. Excellent, he said thoughtfully. Have you learned anything else?
It was not likely that Luke had, especially considering how much he had advanced in those few areas. But to his surprise Luke nodded. About stopping dreams, he said softly. But thats really hard still.
Do you have dreams often?
Luke nodded. I cant stop the bad ones as well, he said.
That explained some of the boys distress earlier, following his nightmare. It seemed his son took after him in a variety of waysbut he had hoped his son would be spared this curse. I will continue to help you, he told the boy. But not all dreams can be stopped, my son. Some are too strong.
Nowhave you had any practice with the lightsaber?
For the first time, Lukes eyes lit up brightly. He nodded, trying to contain his eagerness. Yes.
Vader suspected the boy must have, from their first discussion in the museum and their third encounter on the Falcon. I thought so, he said aloud. He took his lightsaber from his belt again and handed it to his son, much as he had that day on Coruscant. The similarity was not lost on Lukethe boys eagerness faded somewhat, and he hesitated before taking the lightsaber. His tension quickly faded, though, as Vader began asking him questions.
Where is the activation switch?
Luke turned the hilt over and found the control almost immediately.
The activation plate?
The boy proved that he knew what he was doing with a lightsaber by only touching the edge of the plate, and not foolishly placing his hand over the whole top, which had gotten more than one hand accidentally skewered throughout history. Vader immediately approved him for it, and actually got a bit of a smile in return.
The intensity gauge?
Luke pointed to the base of the hilt.
Good. Do you remember what I said the grip was made of?
Prexlyne, Luke said promptly. So it cant slip.
Smart boy. Do you remember which two forms this blade is especially suited for?
Ataro and and its D-something, isnt it?
Djem-So. Very good. Vader watched while Luke fitted his hand experimentally around the grip, as close to a proper hold as his small fingers could get.
Can I turn it on? he asked abruptly.
Vader considered. Yes, but do not use your right arm. And turn the intensity down to the middle.
Luke fiddled with the control for a second before switching the hilt dexterously into his left hand and igniting the humming blade out to the side. He slashed a few times at the airVader realized he was testing the balance of the weapon. The boy quickly frowned and glanced back at his fathers belt. Can I see the other one? he asked shyly.
The other ? Suddenly Vader remembered the lightsaber he had taken from his son on the freighter. Sure enough, the weapon was still hanging at his belt where hed put it. He reached down to give it to the boyand glanced down sharply as soon as his fingers closed around the grip. Startled, he practically tore the blade from his belt, holding it before him with both hands.
Did Obi-Wan give you this? he asked shakily after a long pause.
Luke shook his head. Not really. I found it in his caseafterwell, after.
Distantly Vader noticed the waver in his sons voice, dimly he sensed the resurgence of old pain.
Can I see it? Luke repeated after another pause. Slowly Vader handed the boy the lightsaber, watching as his son switched off the red one and turned on the blue one, repeating his series of slashes. Finally Luke turned it off and fixed a suspicious gaze on his father. They feel almost exactly the same, he said.
They should, Vader answered. He was certainly a clever little one. The blue blade was once mine also, before you were born. Before Mustafar. I lost it in a duel with Obi-Wan. Along with much else.
Lukes eyes widened curiously. Is that when you got hurt? he asked softly.
Vader exhaled even more heavily than usual. Yes.
Do you want it back? Luke finally asked, holding the hilt back out to him.
Recollections spun wildly in the Dark Lords mind as he took the saberthe mayhem of the Clone Wars, the battle aboard Grievous flagship, the fateful confrontation in Palpatines office the Jedi Temple Mustafar. So much history, though it had only hung at his belt for three years. So much memory
His decision was so sudden it startled him. I will take it for the moment, Vader said. When you are ready for practice, it will be yours.
It was stingingly difficultto give up something that symbolized so much all that had happened to him, all his reasons for hating Obi-Wan and the Jedibut the look on his sons face was well worth it, he decided. You mean it? Luke breathed excitedly.
Yes, son. Vader could not repress a slight upwelling of pleasure at his sons obvious delight. Surely Luke would not be so excited about the blade if he didnt accept his father at some level. We will begin practicing when your arm is healed. Speaking of that arm, he needed to have Siler check it and likely change the bandaging. The bacta needed to be refreshed in order to be most effective.
Come, he said. It is time the medic saw to your arm again.
Luke made a distasteful facehe definitely shared his fathers pre-Mustafar disdain for medical treatmentbut he stood and followed.
On a very, very remote planet on the Outer Rim
The sudden, cheerful chime of the communication unit quite nearly sent the owner through the low ceiling of his home. It was only through the good will of the Force that his pot of soup did not also go airborne. The owners surprise was understandablenot for thirteen years had he received any communications from anyone. Nor, indeed, had he even been around any items capable of so synthetic a sound as an electrical chime. It took the poor occupant a few seconds to remember first what was making the noise, and another few to remember where hed put the communication unit all those years ago. Finally he hobbled over and discovered it sitting inconspicuously on top of its power generator behind the chair.
When the screen switched on, it took him another moment to recognize the somewhat changed face in the projector as Bail Organa.
Senator Organa, the owner of the com unit greeted. Unexpected, this is.
Master Yoda, the senator nodded, his expression noticeably tight. Im afraid I have some bad news.
The wizened old Jedi Master settled grimly back into his chair. News of your daughter, is this?
No, Master, noLeias fine, thank the Force. But Im afraid I cant say the same for Luke.
Yoda braced himself, expecting the worst. His expectations were not disappointed.
Luke has been captured by Vader, Bail continued.
Discover the boy on Tatooine, did he?
No, Master. Its rather a long story, Im afraid, but Master Kenobi removed Luke from Tatooine about three years ago. Nine months or so ago, Vaders agents tracked Master Kenobi to Corellia.
Sensed Obi-Wans death, I did, Yoda nodded sorrowfully.
Luke managed to escape Corellia, Bail continued, but information concerning him somehow came into Vaders possession. He encountered the boy briefly on Coruscant, but a Rebel pilot somehow contrived to free Luke and brought him back to our headquarters. I retrieved him and brought him to one of our safe houses on Alderaan, but it seems Vader was able to track him. The boy was kidnapped a few days ago, along with a companion who has been with him since Corellia. I think it is significant to note that Vader released this companion as soon as he had Luke.
Released him, did he, Yoda mused thoughtfully. In the employ of Vader, was this companion?
I sincerely doubt that. Bail paused. This companion reported that Vader promised him no harm would come to Luke.
Yoda furrowed his green brow and rubbed his gimer stick thoughtfully. Think the boy is in danger, you do, he decided perceptively.
I very much fear that, Master, the senator said with a look of deep concern. Even if Vader does not intend to harm the boy
Yoda nodded at the unspoken reference to Padmés fate.
I think, Master, that the child must be retrieved, Bail said firmly. It is not merely physical danger that the boy is in. You do realize that.
Realize it, yes, yes, Yoda agreed. But judge too hastily, you must not, senator. Assessed, the danger must be.
You propose a reconnaissance of the situation?
Watch, we must, Yoda continued. If move too quickly we do, harmed the boy may be. Not helped.
Bail breathed in deeply. Conceded. You will come to survey the situation?
No, no. Too dangerous, that would be. Alert, Vader is, dangerous. Intelligence agents near Vader, have you?
Not that near, Bail snorted. He kills them if they get close enough to see anything of value.
Yoda frowned. Perhaps send a droid, you could.
Bail took on a considering expression. That might be possible. Ill see what I can do.
Yoda sat meditating for a long, long time after the connection was ended.
Some time later
For the first few days, the sense of a childs bright presence had lent an unaccustomed feeling of lightness to Vaders spartan quarters. But this marked the end of the Executors eleventh day in realspace. For eleven days, Vaders every waking hourand a good many that he should have spent in sleepinghad been consumed with such unpleasant business as explaining Ozzels death and the Executors unannounced detour to the Emperor, finding a new admiral for Fifth Fleet, and handling the Rebellion not to mention all the other sundry duties that came with commanding the largest military force the galaxy had ever seen. He was away from his quarters as much as twenty hours of every day. And when he was gone, he did not yet dare to let Luke out of the few rooms that had been set aside for the child.
As a result, Lukes spirits had dropped to their lowest point since hed come kicking and screaming aboard the star destroyer. Instead of bright, the boys presence was heavy and morose; in fact, the boy was bordering on depression from being penned up for so much of his time. It was, he acknowledged, quite a shocking adjustment for the boy to make, considering how freely Luke had been wandering for the past several months. And just to exasperate the child further, his still-healing arm prevented him from most activities that could alleviate his restlessness.
Vader did not like the situation at all. It was frustrating to both of them that he could not be there more oftenand besides that, it was unhealthy for the boy. He had been racking his brains for a remedy every spare second, but until today nothing had occurred to him
But now he entered his rooms for the first time in eighteen hours with a sense of definite triumph. Hed come up with something, for one. And for another, Luke had recognized his approach through the Force, and the little ones anticipation was singing to him eagerly through its ebbs and flows. He smiled slightly beneath the mask. At least this situation had made Luke eager for his fathers company, which was a marked improvement over his early dread.
Quickly the Dark Lord moved through his quarters to the room where he had left his son. Inside, the lights were out, but the helmets photoreceptors allowed him to discern that his son was sitting up in bed, eyes on him alertly.
Hello, son, he greeted, not moving any farther in than the doorway. Luke was much easier around his father now than he had been, true, but he was a far cry from bouncing around Vaders boots like his little sisters would have done. The boy was still very nervous when his father came near; although he had learned that Vaders presence meant he could get out of his few rooms, there was always a soft undercurrent of fear to be found in his young mind.
With time and familiarity, that fear would go, Vader was sure. In the meantime, he tried to soothe it by maintaining space that belonged strictly to his son. Luke was not to disturb his hyperbaric chamber or office, and in return he did not disturb his sons rooms. The tactic seemed to be working fairly well; Lukes nerves were quieted with the knowledge that he had a zone of safety to retreat to if needed.
Hello, Luke said softly.
Come, little one, he said, beckoning. I have something for you.
Luke perked up immediately and extricated himself from his tangle of blankets. It was a task, especially considering that his sleepwear had been commandeered from the ships clothing stores and even the smallest sizes were too big for him by half; the oversized shirt and trousers tended to get caught up in the sheets. But eventually the boy got himself detangled and padded over barefoot.
What? he asked curiously.
I have something for you to do when I am gone, Vader said, gesturing for the boy to follow him.
Luke trotted a little faster to keep up with his fathers long strides. What sort of something? he said dubiously. Then they turned a corner into the front chamber, and Vader turned back around in time to see Lukes expression suddenly light up all over.
I can have them?
Yes, son. They were intercepted carrying Rebel information and will require some repair work.
Although he did not erupt into childlike squeals of delightanother phase of his sons life that he had missed, Vader reflected a bit bitterlytheir mental bond was bright with excitement as Luke edged his way up to his fathers solution to the problem.
I can provide you with components and tools, a pleased Vader continued, watching as the boy examined his present. They should occupy you for some time.
I dont see their serial numbers, Luke frowned as he circled around, examining.
They are C-3PO and R2-D2, Vader informed him. The numbers were not printed on the two droids, not anymorebut he would have known them anywhere. It hadnt taken more than a couple of seconds for him to recognize the droids that had been intercepted by his agents.
It was rather foolish of the Rebels to send their intelligence reports with a pair of droids. Still, had there not been a fortunate leak of information to his agents, the droids would likely have gotten through to their destination without difficulty. Unfortunately, they hadnt been able to discover what that destination wasthe droids had been programmed to erase the information from their systems in the event of capture. The intelligence report had been retrieved, but it was all stolen Imperial information and did not offer any further clues towards rooting out the Rebellion. He had had the command systems of the two droids cleared, but didnt have the heart to destroy either. Like the lightsaber, they held many memories for himArtoo particularly, as he had been a wedding gift from Padmé.
So, like the lightsaber, he had decided to give them to his son. Luke could rebuild the minimal component damage to the pair and reprogram their command systems. The work would keep him occupied for a time, and after that they would provide at least a form of companionship for his lonely boy. It must have been the will of the Force that these droids had once again appeared.
After a while
Artoo! Artoo! Are you all right?
all systems operational. stop blowing your circuits.
Well, huffed the fussy gold droid, you neednt be cheeky.
Hey, you work! Luke exclaimed delightedly, settling back on his heels.
Oh, my goodness, Threepio said, swiveling his photoreceptors onto the boy. I beg your pardon, sir, I did not notice you. Im afraid my situational response circuits have been under some stress recently.
Yeah, mine too, Luke muttered, thinking back over the last fourteen days.
Oh, Im so sorry to hear that, sir.
You can just call me Luke, Luke said.
Certainly, Sir Luke.
Luke shot a horrified gaze up. Uh-uh, just Luke, he said emphatically.
Oh, but that would process incorrectly, Threepio argued. I am a protocol droid, after all.
Luke resigned himself. I thought so. Youre kind of an unusual model, though.
I believe I may have been somewhat modified, sir, but I cant say for sure. My memory banks record one wipe.
I dont know why I was ever concerned about you in the first place, Threepio sniffed at the astromech droid nearby.
Whatd he say? Luke said curiously.
Hes being quite insufferable, as usual, the protocol droid said, giving a good impression of a glower despite his total lack of mobile facial features. May I ask where we are, sir?
On the Executor, Luke answered him, tinkering a little more with Threepios elbow joint.
That sounds rather ominous, the droid mused. Is it a Rebel ship?
Luke snorted. No, its the opposite. Its an Imperial ship.
Imperial? Threepio cried in distress. Oh, my! Artoo, well be melted for scrap metal! Sent to the spice mines of Kessel!
oh, shut down.
No, you wont, Luke countered. Youre mine now. Nobodys going to melt you down. I just finished fixing you back up.
Fixing me back up, sir?
Yeah, you two got kinda banged up when they intercepted you, I guess. And they cleared out your command systems, so I had to put some of your programming back in. But you should be fine now.
Thank you very much, sir, the protocol droid said, clearly rather soothed. Are you quite sure well be fine?
Yeah, they already checked you out for all your Rebel information, I guess, Luke said. So my father gave you to me.
He seems like a very considerate man.
Luke abruptly put down his tools, mumbling something incoherent.
I beg your pardon, sir?
I said, hows your arm working now?
The protocol droid stretched his arm. It seems quite functional, sir.
as functional as you ever are.
And just what is that supposed to mean? Threepio huffed.
Luke frowned at the warbling astromech. Gonna need to learn that beeping thing or something. How about you? he asked Artoo.
like i said before, all systems operational.
He claims to be fine, sir, Threepio answered. Frankly, I think hes a bit rattled. But I dont believe you can do much about that.
ooh, smart guy.
Threepio primly ignored the sarcastic twittering from the other droid. Might I ask who your father is, sir? he inquired.
It was then that the door to Lukes bedroom hissed open, revealing the person in question without.
Oh, my! Threepio cried in renewed distress. Master Luke, run!
Luke eyed the droid before turning to his father. Are all protocol droids like this? he asked.
This one is rather worrisome, Vader conceded, crossing his arms. I have met with it before.
Go, Master Luke! Ill distract him!
Im fine, Threepio.
cool your circuits, Artoo chimed in.
Oh, no, sir, were all in terrible danger! wailed Threepio, turning around distractedly.
The power switch is beneath his head, Vader advised. Luke reached up and switched the protocol droid off. I see you have them both functional again.
Mostly, Luke nodded. He glanced down as Artoos dome spun alertly, flashing a couple of lights. I dunno what hes saying now.
You will probably develop an ear for astromech code within a few months, Vader said. Come now, little one.
Luke glowered at him as he stuck his tools back in their box. Im not little.
Would you rather I call you son?
Luke hesitated. Vaders jaw nearly dropped inside his mask when the boy said, Yes.
It was a moment before he could answer, such was his surprise. You would?
Luke nodded, looking back down at his toolbox.
Very well, Vader said slowly. Come, my son.
Luke came. On impulse, Vader settled his arm on the boys slight shoulders, and for once was not greeted with a shudder. Imbued with a deep satisfaction, he gave an approving squeeze with his hand and a caress with his thoughts. With pleasure he felt his sons shy response in the Forcealmost completely free of fear!
He guided Luke to one of his personal rooms and began checking his young ones arm. To his further satisfaction, he found that the damage was almost completely healed now. By tomorrow the boy should be able to begin using it again safely and rebuilding the muscle; Luke was quite happy to hear it.
But he was even happier with Vaders next piece of news. The Fleet will be jumping into hyperspace tomorrow, he announced as he retied the bandage. We have a two-day jump to make.
Lukes eyes brightened with anticipation.
As soon as the ship is in hyperspace, you have my permission to move anywhere within my quarters, excepting my chamber and office, Vader continued, though Luke knew that already. I will be here much of the time.
Luke shifted rather uneasily at that information, and Vader was reminded that there was still a long path to be traveled before his son could truly begin to be easy around him. The boy might have decided to allow Vader to call him son, but that was not the same as saying father, which he had not yet done.
Careful not to alarm Luke, Vader reached out purposefully towards his mind to probe the complex emotional structure that had been slowly metamorphosing ever since the child had been restored to him. The young one stiffened up sharply at the first contact, fright flooding back into his eyes. In another moment his sons impressive array of mental shields flashed back up, knocking him away and immediately severing the bond between them. Vader tensed, expecting a resurgence of the pain that had haunted him for thirteen yearsbut when it came, he was surprised to find it much diminished.
He refocused on his son. Luke had scooted back from him, and was trembling slightly. Vader spent several moments debating the proper method for handling the little ones recalcitrance. He understood that Luke needed time to adjust to his new circumstances, that there was a history to be overcome. But a balance needed to be found between understanding and firmness. Was this the time to press the boy for obedience?
Yes. Yes, he would press this time. Child, do not block me, he commanded.
The boy tensed defiantly. It seemed that neither of them cared to back down. But whether Luke liked it or not, he was Vaders child, and he must learn obedience at some point. Firmly he reached out and took hold of his son by the chin, preparing to push at the walls around the young mind
But all of sudden the walls collapsed, under a torrent of raging emotion from within the child. Luke gave a choked cry, and as soon as Vader realized why he let the boy go, regretting his decision to press with every fiber of his being. This reminded his son of Coruscantthat was why he was so upset. Of Coruscant, and of how his father had treated him there.
Easy, child, he tried to soothe. I will not hurt you again.
Not surprisingly, his answer was a rapid series of remembered images and sensations over their restored bond, fraught with the terror and pain Luke had endured that regrettable day. Tiredly the Dark Lord reached out to grip the boys shoulder in hopes of steadying him, but Luke scrambled back quickly, up onto his feet and out of the room. Vader stood and followed swiftly, catching his son just outside of the boys room.
Luke he began.
Let go of meplease
And for once in his life, Vader decided to let go.
Luke didnt waste another second dashing into the safety of his room.
Luke did not emerge until the next morning, giving his father plenty of time to consider the course of action he should take. Finally, wishing he had more of an affinity for these delicate matters but accepting he did not, he decided the best strategy was to sit the boy down as he had the first day and deal with the childs concerns and emotional baggage in one fell swoop. Accordingly, he waited until Luke wandered out in search of breakfast.
Luke, come with me, he said, and took the boy into the dueling salle.
Im hungry, Luke objected quietly.
Food can wait, Vader said tersely. Sit. His son complied, subdued by his sharp tone. You have been here for two weeks, the Dark Lord began when the child was settled. You have had enough time to settle down. It is time we discussed more difficult matters.
Luke glanced up, but hurriedly returned his eyes to the salle floor.
We both have questions we wish to ask, Vader said. Answer mine, and I will answer yours. He proceeded to drill his son with questions about the boys life to datewho he had lived with, where he had lived, what he liked. At first Luke was very hesitant, but as they went his answers began to come more easily. He seemed to sense that his father was genuinely interested in the answers. After a while, he even dared again to look up when he spoke.
The answers Vader got were confusing. Luke had grown up with Owen and Beru Lars on the same Tatooine moisture farm where Vader had met them all those years ago, the same place where his mother was buried. He listened as Luke spoke softly of his few memories of Cliegg Lars, who it appeared had died when the little one was still very little indeed. Yet while he remembered Cliegg from his youngest years, he could not recall ever having met Obi-Wan, no matter how Vader pressed him to rack his memory.
He used to live way out past the Dune Sea, Luke said, gesturing to indicate the great distance between his home and Kenobis. I didnt hardly ever see him except a couple times in Anchorhead.
This made no sense whatsoever.
Uncle Owen didnt like him, Luke continued. I dont know why.
Vader couldnt imagine why either. You had no training in the ways of the Force? he pressed, bewildered.
Luke shook his head. Didnt know about it, he said.
When did he take you? Vader finally rumbled.
After I turned ten, Luke answered. I had a nightmare, and I thinkI think you were in it. And I told Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and I went back to bed, and when I woke up I was on the ship with Obi-Wan. He shrugged a little, playing with his fingers and staring down at the floor.
So Obi-Wan had not taken Luke away until the boy began dreaming of his father? He must have feared Vader would sense the boy, to have removed him so abruptly from his home. But why had Obi-Wan not simply kept Luke in the first place, and begun training the young one from infancy as per Jedi practice?
The Dark Lord continued to press his son with questions about his time with Obi-Wan, driven with the need to know the old mans hidden motives. So focused was he on his purpose that he failed to notice Lukes increasing agitation until the child abruptly drew his knees up, hugging himself tightly, biting his lip, blinking fiercely.
Child? Vader asked, confused by the young ones sudden display of distress. What is wrong?
His son shook his head hard. N-nothing, he insisted.
A blatant lie, but Vader was warned from previous experience not to press his son for the truth. They sat in silence for a time.
What happened to Obi-Wan? Luke whispered finally into the stillness. His gaze moved back up from the floor to Vaders mask.
Vader was suddenly struck by the sheer pain emanating from his son, and at last he realized the cause of his sons anguish. Whatever the relationship between Vader and Obi-Wan, Luke had lived with the man and had been protected by him; and their separation on Corellia must have been sudden, the loss shocking for his son, especially after removal from his uncles care. Being drilled by questions about Obi-Wan must have forced the child to recall many bad memories.
Well. It was always his opinion that the truth was the best route, and surely Luke knew this truth already. He is dead, Luke.
As expected, the information did not startle his son. Did you kill him?
Luke frowned. Then what happened to him?
He killed himself, Vader said, unable to repress a twinge of rage at the memory.
I dont believe that!
What a surprise, Vader thought rather causticallybut he suspected that the boys violent denial covered deep hurt and shock. He was right. After a painful silence, Luke looked back up with fresh tears in his eyes.
Why? he asked desperately. Why?
The child had much, much more than Obi-Wans suicide in mind.
Vader reached across to touch him as an overwhelming tide of all the stress and pain the boy had endured over the last several months came crashing suddenly through their bond. Oh, my son
Luke didnt resist the contact; he buried his face in his knees, trying to hold back sobs. Vader sat uncomfortably, his hand resting on the boys shoulder, while his son struggled for control. But Luke had been caging up these tears for months now, and he could do it no longer. In a few seconds he gave up the battle; his small shoulders heaved unrestrained beneath Vaders broad palm.
Neither Anakin Skywalker nor Darth Vader had ever felt so inept as he did for nearly the whole next minute, so completely awkward. But then Luke began to cry out, and every trace of awkwardness vanished in less than a heartbeat.
Vader quickly shifted his bulk over to sit alongside his son, rather than opposite him, drawing the boy under his arm just as he would have had it been Sara or Sandra after one of their nightmares. There was suddenly no difference between this child he did not know and the two he had seen born.
Hush, Luke. Im here.
His son huddled against him, ignoring the cold, hard armor and the stiff leather. Father, it hurts, it hurts! his spirit cried instinctively; equally instinctively the father reached out to send waves of soothing, trying to wash away the pain. He had not realized how much the boy had sufferedfrom the ache of childhood longings for his father, through the strain of leaving his family, losing Obi-Wan, losing his family, fleeing the Empire, right up until now; every repressed hurt was pouring out from the place where it had been hidden away from sight.
It was a long time before his son finally grew quiet again. The heaving shoulders slowed to a tremble, and at last became still. Drained, Luke leaned silently against Vader.
There was no fear.
That was the first thing Vader realized when the wild, swirling black pools of emotion in the Force calmed. The boy at his side was no longer afraid of himand he had called him Father. Deep joy swept through his scarred body and soul.
It felt too good for him to care about how completely un-Sithly the emotion was.
On Alderaan, a couple of days later
Han had to admit he was pretty impressed by Her Little Highnessness dye-dunking operation. Though the word was running around the palace that she was in unofficial disgrace, she hadnt left any proof of guilt behind them, and Han had it on good authority that shed endured two interrogation sessions from her parents without cracking. Unable to prove his daughters guilt, Bail Organa had been forced to concede her innocence, and no punishment had been issued. Theyd gotten clean away, though obviously she would be in some measure of disfavor, especially given that that Imperial flunky whats-his-face was still on retreat at Castanta.
Meaning, of course, that the bright purple dye concentrate hadnt vanished yet. Han grinned wickedly as he fiddled away on one of his hyperdrive gauges. Sith, but it felt good to give the Empire a hit for a change, even one as minor as that. He hoped that governor or whatever he was stayed stuck at Castanta for a year.
Han, however, did not plan on hanging around Alderaan to see how long it took the guy to restore his dignity. Hed wait until Senator Organa found out about Luke, and then hed be off. Han didnt have any krethin idea what he was going to do with himself, but this blasted palace was getting on his nerves. That spunky princess might not be afraid of dirty fingernails, but the rest of them were another story, one Han didnt care to hear.
Besides, it was high time he got Calrissian back for that whole debacle on Coruscant mark up another one for the kid.
With a sudden, heavy sigh, Han set down his tools and flopped dejectedly down on the deck, staring wearily at the gauge hed been rewiring. Luke wouldve had this thing fixed in no time, blast the kid
So this is your ship?
Han whirled around, brandishing his hydrospanner, his mind flying back to the kidnapping incident of a couple weeks agobut it was just the princess in another one of her white dresses.
You ever walk up and say hello like normal people instead of sneakin around? Han demanded irritably, picking himself up off the deck.
Her Royalness crossed her arms and scowled at him. Hans irritation vanishedthe kid would have looked at him just like that.
Its not my fault you didnt hear me coming, she retorted. I wasnt being quiet.
Well, maybe he should have heard her. But hed been thinking about Luke. He muttered something that might vaguely have had an apologetic tendency.
So, Leia repeated, looking around, this is your ship?
Han nodded. The Millennium Falcon.
Leia raised her eyebrows archly. Han was reminded of all the times he and Luke had bantered on about the name. Thats unusual, she said. It looks like a pretty old ship.
YT-1300, Han said. Pretty old, all right, but we revamped her, so she flies great.
Leia nodded. You and your brother? she asked.
Han nodded past his tight stomach, anticipating the next question. She didnt disappoint.
Where is your brother?
He, uh, hes with relatives, Han managed, lamely trying to remember the story theyd come to Alderaan using.
Oh. Here in Aldera?
Uh, yeah. Aldera.
Leia nodded again. Han breathed a sigh of relief. Well, its good that your ship got here safely, she said.
His stomach clenched up again. Yeah, he mumbled. Real good. To forestall any further questions along that line, Han demanded, Whatre you doing here anyway?
I was just trying to be hospitable, she said in exasperation. You can be a real nerf-herder.
Hey Han began angrily, but Her Princessness was already marching irritably off the ship. Han ran after her down the ramp, dashing in front of her and pointing his finger. Look, Princess, I got a lot on my mind, okay? he snapped, backpedaling to keep up her pace. We dont all have it as cushy as you do.
Leia stopped suddenly, crossing her arms and regarding him. Like what? she asked him challengingly.
Like findin myself a job, Han barked. And like takin care of my brother. Kreth, Luke, how am I gonna get you out of there? Cause I dont have rich politician parents to do it for me. Or any other kind of parents. Lots of people dont, sister!
To his surprise, Leias expression softened. Im sorry, she said softly. I didnt know.
Han shrugged, far more bothered about Luke than anything else. Now you do, he said, stepping aside with his hands shoved in his trouser pockets. Leia made no move to leave. The girl glanced down for a few seconds before looking back up.
My real parents are dead, she said abruptly. Im adopted.
Han was floored, and it must have showed, because Leia gave him a little smile. Maybe were not so different, she suggested.
Boy, that must have been difficult to say. Nah, Han objected honestly. I think we probably are.
She laughed, and Han was shocked to discover that it was the most beautiful laugh hed ever heard in his life. Sheesh, Solo, snap out of it! Shes what, thirteen? And bratty besides!
Probably, she agreed, starting out of the hangar again. Good luck.
Heythanks. Han shifted uneasily, working his hands in his pockets. He wasnt used to expressing gratitude. He rarely had occasion.
The princess smiled a little at him again before leaving.
Mightily distraught, cursing himself for liking the girl at all and especially for saying thank you, Han stalked back up the ramp to his gauge. His sole consolation was remembering that shed apologized and he hadnt.
Hed only been back at the hyperdrive gauge for fifteen minutes, however, before footsteps became audible down the hallway. Quickly Han jumped up, grabbing his hydrospanner againhe relaxed as Bail Organas stately figure appeared around the curve of the corridor.
Uh, hey, sir, he said, awkwardly trying to conceal the spanner.
The senator nodded to him. Hello, Han. Do you have a few minutes?
Well, of course he did when a senator was asking. He couldnt very well object to the ruler of the planet he was on Yeah, gimme a second to lock this down. Han turned back to the pressure gauge to neutralize the charges in the wiring so the blasted ship wouldnt start some freak fire.
I have word of your friend, the senator said when he turned back around, trying to clean his hands off.
Han instantly forgot about everything else. Luke? he breathed. Dear Force, something at last!
Yes, the senator said, and he smiled at Han. The teenage Corellian relaxed all the way down to his toes. Luke was alright. He was alright.
Luke is alive and healthy, the senator reported. I had agents sent onto Vaders flagship to track him. He is still on the Executor, apparently being kept in Vaders personal quarters.
Han felt a twinge. Poor kid, he couldnt be happy being cooped up in a couple of rooms like thatparticularly not with the galaxys most infamous Jedi killer ever.
I received some video of Luke, the senator continued, pulling a data chip from his pocket. Would you like to see it? Han nodded sharply.
Come on, I got a projector in the rec room.
The recording opened to show them a very close-up view of a blond, blue-eyed boy leaning over the camera with a grin.
Hey, you work! he said brightly. The recording gave the sound a slightly tinny quality, but young Luke Skywalkers voice was clearly recognizable, if the face had changed somewhat.
A brief conversation followed between the boy and the two droidsSee-Threepio could be heard in the background, though the recording was solidly kept on Luke. The child appeared to be unharmed, if his clothes were rather too big for him. He wore a Navy pilots off-duty jacket, without any insignia and with the sleeves rolled up so as not to overwhelm his short arms. There were tools visible as Artoo swept his recording eye around the room, which looked to be a reasonably comfortable bedroom.
May I ask where we are, sir? Threepio was heard to say.
On the Executor, came Lukes matter-of-fact answer. There was no fright evident in the child as he answered.
The droid fussed on for a while in the recording before the subject of Lukes father arosealbeit somewhat edited
my guardian gave you to me.
He seems like a very considerate man. Pause, mumbling. I beg your pardon, sir?
I said, hows your arm working now?
A little more dialogue, and then
May I ask who your guardian is, sir? A wooshing sound was heard as the camera swiveled around to focus on the doorwherein was standing none other than Darth Vader himself. Bail stiffened, despite having seen the recording before, as the protocol droids distressed warning came from behind the camera.
Are all protocol droids like this? Luke was heard to ask.
Vader answered in his deep bass, crossing his arms. This one is rather worrisome. I have met with it before.
Go, Master Luke! Ill distract him!
Im fine, Threepio.
The power switch is beneath his head, Vader spoke up againThreepios wailing quickly shut off. I see you have them both functional again.
Mostly. I dunno what hes saying now.
You will probably develop an ear for astromech code within a few months. Come now, little one.
Lukes tone grew irritated. Im not little.
Would you rather I call you Luke?
After a pause came a Yes.
You would? Very well. Come, Luke. Luke again appeared in the cameras scope going over to Vaderwho actually patted the boy across his shoulders as the two of them left.
The projector went black. Beside Bail on the rec room bench, Han slumped into the seat with relief. Looks like himself again, the teenager muttered.
Bail gave the boy another friendly smile, ruthlessly burying his guilt alive. Firstly, that wasnt the only recording hed received of Lukethere was another, much less reassuring glimpse of the boy tearing back into his room not long afterwards and locking himself behind a different door. He felt quite guilty about misleading Han.
He didnt feel nearly as guilty editing away all the references to the true relationship between Luke and Vader. It was an act of protection for Luke, and for Leia, and for himself and Breha.
As for the first piece of his deceptionwell, hed done it to protect Han from himself. For if Han believed Luke to be in any danger or pain, Bail was sure the youngster would go after his friend. Solos loyalty was incredible, given what Bail had learned during the last several weeks about the Corellians past, but it would be useless if it got him killed. The boy had promise, Bail felt quite sure of it.
Well, Bail said, we can conclude that Luke is in no danger, cant we? In fact, he seems fairly happy.
Yeah, Han mumbled. He does.
Han, its time you let go, Bail said earnestly, facing the young man. You did a very brave and honorable thing in taking care of Luke, but your job is done. I know that he is your friend and youre very concerned, but Luke will be safe now.
You better be sithin sure, Han said fiercely, punching on the recording again and watching.
I am sure, Bail said as the dialogue rambled on in the background. See, hes not afraid of Vader. And look at how Vader is treating him.
After studying the recording closely three times, Han finally conceded that Bail was right. Well, I guess thats that, the young Corellian said, with a note of despondency in his voice. He cleared his throat and sat back, crossing his arms and blinking stubbornly. Guess Ill be leavin.
You neednt leave, Han, Bail objected. Im very grateful for what youve done for Luke, and Id like to repay you as best I can. There are some good flight schools on Alderaan, if youre interested. I can arrange for you to be enrolled in one of them, and I can find a place in Aldera for you to stay. Youd be most welcome to remain.
But Han shook his head. No thanks. This planets a little too nice. He glanced around. Ive got the ship. Ill figure something out.
At least allow me to do something for the ship, then, Bail urged. My mechanics can upgrade, renovate, anything you like.
Han glanced up, and Bails stomach sank at the mercenary, mischievous gleam that had come into those brown eyes. Anything, huh? Han said sweetly.
Aboard the Executor again
Vader was very pleased with the progress his son had been making. Although Luke had been horribly embarrassed following his brief emotional collapse, and neither of them had referred to the incident since, the boy had continued to call him father. He generally refused to meet his fathers gaze whenever he said it, and often it was not much more than a whisper, but surely such inhibitions would pass soo
Just approaching the door to his office, he lurched backward all of a sudden, yanked by a force that had somehow fastened around his neck, and he had to arch his back sharply to help the servomotors in his bionic legs keep him upright. He spun immediately, searching for the cause, and sensed his son crouched behind the corner of the hall, radiating amusement. The amusement performed a rapid metamorphosis into alarm as Vader reached out with the Force to grab Luke and pull him out in into view.
Before fear could take hold, though, he levitated the boy a meter off the deck and flipped him upside down. He calmly proceeded to spin and bounce his son mercilessly in all directions. Luke yelped and writhed desperately in midair, fighting to escape, without success. Okay, okaystop!
Will you refrain from deliberately stepping on my cape in the future? Vader rumbled.
Yes, yes, put me down! Vader promptly released the boy, who of course landed hard on the deck
Ow! Luke rubbed fiercely at his head. Great. Now I have a concussion.
Well, if I die of brain damage, its your fault.
Vader stiffened all over, every scrap of amusement fleeing the situation suddenly. Are you all right? he inquired, helping the boy up.
Luke gave him a suspicious look. Yeah, Im all right.
The boy had clearly sensed his sudden change of mood. Not desiring to go into the particulars of why such a light, teasing statement should so drastically alter his mindset, Vader chose to brush it off instead. I would not wish to lose you again, son. He kept his tone as light as was possible for the vocabulator, but Luke wasnt fooled.
Falling a meter isnt going to kill me, he said, crossing his arms. Like his mother would have done, Vader noted a bit numbly.
Stranger things have happened, my son, he said aloud.
Luke looked as though he very much wanted to make a smart answer, but he wasnt quite that bold yet. What are you doing? he asked instead.
I have work.
Luke tried to lean around him and peek into the forbidden realm of the office. Do you do anything but work? he wondered aloud.
I do many things, child.
Luke glared at the word child. Like what?
Train in the ways of the Force, Vader rumbled.
Luke eyed him in disbelief. Thats it?
Most days, yes.
So all Sith Lords do is work, train, and sleep? Why the kreth would you want to be one?
Watch your mouth, Vader barked shortly. A curse upon that young Corellian for teaching his son such language! He didnt even want to think about what Padmés reaction would have been Too late he realized how curt and displeased hed sounded. Surely his headstrong son would not react well to that.
But he sensed no irritation from the boy. In fact, it was mild guilt that quickly flowed over their bond. Luke dropped his head so rapidly Vader thought it must be half a reflex. Sorry, he actually said softly.
He could tell the child meant it. Well, Kenobi had taught his son at least one lesson of which Vader could safely approve
Anyway, why did you want to be one?
His dejection certainly hadnt lasted long. Power is a great attractant, son, he finally answered. Lukes expression promptly switched to disapproval, and Vader felt a familiar stab of that resilient hatred for his old master. Kenobi had practically inundated his child with the skewed, arrogant views of the Jedi, blinding and corrupting his sons mind, training him against his own father. It would be years before he could eradicate all of the old mans influence
And having power makes you happy? a young voice broke into his ranting thoughts.
Vader began to answer with a firm yes, intended as the prelude to a corrective lecture on proper principles of government, but was forced out of honor to stop as the brightly smiling, identical faces of his precious little daughters rose before his minds eye, along with the bleak memories of life between Padmés death and the twins birth. It is one of a very few things that does, he amended.
What else does?
You do, my son. He touched the suddenly shy blond mop of hair for a moment, debating whether it was yet time to tell Luke about Sara and Sandra. But that would surely take time, and he was still abysmally behind in his work from those several months of recuperation
So before I got here you were just happy because you got to run the galaxy?
Yes, it was definitely time. Work would simply have to wait, difficult as it was for him to push it aside after all these years of being obsessed by it. No, child. Vader drew in a deep, bracing breath. Come with me, and I will show you the other reasons why.
Lukes Force presence lit up with intense curiosity as Vader brought the boy inside his office. He settled down in the seat his father gestured him to and swiveled it around to see everything he could of the office while Vader began unlocking the appropriate files on his computer. As you know, son, I have a residence on Coruscant, he began. I also have one on the world of Vjun, known as Bast Castle. It is quite remote, and likely in a few months I will move you there. You will feel less restricted.
So having a castle makes you happy?
What is at the castle does, Vader told him. Unable to think of a better technique for informing his son, he switched on the image projector, and smiled as Sara and Sandras bright little faces lit it up.
Luke stared for a few seconds at the holoprojector, trying to comprehend why it was showing him two little girls. Huh? he finally said, switching his gaze up to his father.
His father put a hand on his shoulder, and Luke felt his stomach sink. He only ever did that when he thought Luke was or was going to be very upset. These are your sisters, Luke, his father rumbled.
Luke turned numbly back to look at the holoprojector. I have sisters? he finally asked in a soft, blank voice.
His father nodded, pulling Lukes chair a little closer to the holoprojector. Sara is on the left and Sandra on the right.
Luke sat watching the picture for a few more seconds before the blank state of shock began to wear off. Suddenly his mind began to spin with questions and odd emotions. Where did they come from? How old are they? Do I have a stepmother? Are
One at a time, child, Vader said. They are almost two and a half years old. They have exactly the same parents as you do.
Thenmy mother ?
No, Vader said. Your mother died when you were born.
Confusion swirled through his head. Then how can they have the same mother as I do? Luke demanded.
I still had your mothers genetic records, his father continued. I arranged with doctors to have your sisters artificially born. It is a process used by many families with enough money to pay for it. Usually both parents are still alive, but that is not necessary, and I desired a child. He rubbed Lukes shoulders reassuringly. I did not then know that you were alive.
You didnt know about me?
Your mother was pregnant with you when she died, his father continued. I thought for many years that you had died with her.
Luke suddenly remembered how his father had reacted when hed joked about it being his fathers fault if he died from being dropped on his head. Do they know about me? he asked.
Not yet, young one. I have not been back to Bast Castle to tell them. When I return, you will come with me and meet them. Luke huddled up in the chair, staring again at the two unfamiliar faces in the holoprojector. He didnt know what he was supposed to say. It wasnt anything the same as when he had found out about his father. He hadnt ever thought about having little sisters. He didnt know if he liked the idea much, or a little, or not at all. His head seemed to be swirling and spinning like hyperspace, emotions getting all mixed up like the light from the stars.
So intensely confused was he that he hardly noticed it when his fathers mind brushed against his. But he did notice when his father spun the chair around so that Luke was facing him.
You are confused, his father stated. And upset.
Am I not supposed to be? Luke said rather bitterly. All of a sudden his emotions began to clarifyhe was angry and resentful and frustrated and jealous. Why didnt you tell me before? Why doesnt anybody tell me?!!! his mind screamed.
His father was rubbing him again, and Luke felt his mind touched again as Vader tried to placate his tangled thoughts; furiously he drew back, wanting an answer that wouldnt be good enough so that he could be mad.
You were having enough difficulty adjusting, his father said. It would have been insupportable to force you to handle further shock. You required time to recover, my child.
It was completely true and it made sense, but Luke didnt care, because he simply wanted to be mad, mad at his father and at Obi-Wan and at his aunt and uncle for never telling him the truth, and even more mad because all of them had good reasons for doing it and he shouldnt be mad at them. Its not fair, its not fair
Life rarely is, my son, his father said gently, squeezing his shoulder again. But it is not a bad thing to have sisters.
Luke shook his head in agreement, his angry emotions beginning to fade slowly. Why it couldnt be brothers, he muttered, still a bit resentful.
He caught a flash of rare amusement from his father. My condolences, Vader rumbled, patting him atop the head. You will learn to like them regardless.
Luke crossed his arms stubbornly. A girl was a girl, no matter how short or tall any particular specimen might happen to be, and the only girl hed ever liked was Aunt Beru, and she didnt count. No way was he ever going to like being outnumbered by his little sisters, even if they were only two. So do I have an older sister too that I get to find out about next year? he demanded crossly.
No, little one, his father assured him.
Luke felt a slight breath of relief.
However, his father continued thoughtfully, I believe that you do have two older female cousins on Naboo
Luke dropped his head atop the desk with a groan.
A couple of weeks later, on Alderaan
Unfortunately for the senator, Bail Organa was as good as his word. Hed said anythingand Han Solo, still a Corellian street rat at heart, had most definitely pumped that anything for all it was worth. Hed wrung a complete round of systems upgrades, a brand new state-of-the-art sensor suite, and latest-generation sublight engines out of Alderaanand even a specialized drop-down cannon that he could operate from the cockpit. Kenobi would never in a million years recognize that hunk of space debris hed given Han, if he could see the Falcon now.
In fact, Han was getting to be pretty darn attached to this crate, especially now that shed been properly spiffed up. Inside, that wasoutside, she still looked like a museum exhibit rather than something that had any right to be flying. But Han rather liked the character of the battered, mismatched hull plating on the outside.
That, and lots of the laser scorch marks reminded him of times with Luke. Kreth, but he really missed that kid. So much so, in fact, that he would find himself returning to the rec room holoprojector at least once or twice a day to watch that recording of Luke, again and again, reassuring himself that his friend really was okay. Part of him still couldnt believe how attached he was to the kid, especially since Luke was three or four years younger than him. But however the cards had been dealt, Luke had wound up being the closest friend Han could remember having, and Sith freakin stang it anyway, he missed the kid.
He tried to tell himself it was because Luke was a krethin good copilot, not to mention one heck of a gunner and a regular magician when it came to fixing things, and he wasnt likely to find help that good for free ever again
Hey, snap out of it! Organa said you gotta let go, and hes krethin well right. You dont go messin with Darth sithin Vader, buster! Darn right. He had everything he needed. Heres what you do, Solo. You go watch that clip of him one more time, and then you erase it clean outta the hard drives. And then youre gonna toss Organa a thank-you note, high-tail it outta system, and thats that.
He set his jaw in determination and marched up the ramp of his ship into the rec room, where he sat himself deliberately down in the seat and switched on the holoprojector. Despite his fierce resolve, he felt a twinge deep in his stomach as Lukes face reappeared.
Hey, you work!
Han sat dismally, indulging in one last bout of remorse and reminding himself of the reassuring story, about Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vaders close friendship and how it was now protecting an orphaned Luke. There, there was the line right now
My guardian gave you to me.
He seems like a very consid
Hans hand suddenly flashed out, pausing the recording as his eyes narrowed. Somethingsomething wasnt right. He didnt know what it was, but something hadnt been quite right. Quickly he moved the play point back to watch the scene over, eyes sharp for that something that was out of place.
My guardian gave you to me.
He seems like a
Frustrated, Han rewound the recording a second time. He still couldnt put his finger on that something that was out of synch. Kreth it, what was it that was catching his eye? Why hadnt this bothered him before?
Again and again Han ran the video back, searching the image sequence for some clue as to what was bothering him. Try as he would, he couldnt find it to save his life.
Must just be my eyes playin tricks. Han tried to shrug it off and just let the video play through, but at the last frame he resolved to go back once more.
My guardian gave you to me
Han suddenly sat up much straighter, bringing the play point back again. Yesyes. His eyes narrowed sharply. That was it.
Lukes mouth was out of synch with what he was supposedly saying. He didnt know exactly what his friend was saying, but it was only one word that was wrongguardian. He could tell because Luke was only mouthing two syllables, and guardian was three.
My something gave you to me.
Somebody had altered the recording.
But why? Han leaned back again, his brow furrowed. Obviously, Lukes guardian was Vader; he was talking about Vader. But guardian wasnt the word he had really used. So what had he called Vader that would have to be edited away?
All of a sudden, Hans certainties about Lukes situation vanished. Whatever his friend called Vader was the key to figuring out what their relationship was like. Han felt it was a safe bet that one way or another, that relationship must be a lot different than hed thought. The word that had been taken out couldnt be that close to guardian, or no one would have wanted it gone. All he could be sure of was that there was something very important going on between Luke and Vader that he didnt know about.
Maybe Luke wasnt all that safe.
What the crap am I gonna do? he thought wildly. Finding no other way to vent his battling emotions, Han swung his fist down hard on top of the game table, succeeding only in bruising his hand. Kreth it!
The only thing he could decide upon was that, one way or another, he had to find out what that missing word really was. Again Han switched on the recording, killing the sound, focusing on the movement of Lukes mouth to try and figure out what his friend was saying, but he couldnt interpret it no matter how many times he tried
He started sharply when an actual voice spoke not far off. Whats that? a very definitely female voice demanded curiously. His head shot up to see none other than that blasted snooping princess in the entrance to his rec room.
But he couldnt afford to get madhe had to think of an explanation fast. Its, uh, one of my cousins, he said quickly, pausing the recording. Got some holo-letters.
Oh, thats nice, she said cheerfully, crossing towards him. Does your cousin build droids?
Oh, yeah, Han lied smoothly. His favorite hobby. All of a sudden he got a brilliant, brilliant idea. But, ah, the sound files got screwed up in transmission, he continued. I cant quite figure out what hes saying right here. Carefully, he rewound the recording and pressed play
My father gave them to me, Leia said promptly when he stopped the recording.
Han was in awe. Whered you learn to do that?
Politicians are good at reading lips, she shrugged. Its just a skill we have.
He snorted. Youre not a politician.
Im going to be, she retorted. And Ive practiced in the royal court.
Well, just dont forget about us normal people when youre shakin hands with the Emperor, Han muttered, switching off the recording before she fastforwarded it to Vaders entrance or something. That might raise a few more questions than he cared to try answering
The shrimpy princess looked more than a bit ticked, but she didnt snap at him. I came down because I heard you planned on leaving today, she said. Where are you going?
Im, ah, picking up my brother and were headin back to Dantooine, Han fibbed, working hard to remember the proper storyline.
Oh. Well, maybe Ill see you again if I come back to the relief projects with my father, she suggested politely.
Yeah, maybe, Han hedged. Good luck with that whole politician thing. He tried to keep the disdain out of his voice and expression.
Thank you, she said, in a tone chilly enough that he knew he hadnt quite hidden his feelings about politicians. Have a good flight. In a few more moments she was gone.
Han instantly slumped in the seat with the weight of the shock he felt.
My father gave them to me.
No way could Luke still be talking about Vader, no way! That made no sense!
But Bail had said that Anakin Skywalker, Lukes Jedi father, had fallen out with Vader and died in the Purges. A Jedi would definitely not be hiding aboard an Imperial warship, for sure not on the same warship as a Sith Lord! No way in this galaxy would Darth Vader be protecting a Jedi! Taking care of the kid of one who used to be his pal and had died was one thing. Hiding an actual living, breathing Jedi was completely another.
No. Luke had to be talking about Vader, not a Jedi skulking around on board the Executor. But that only left two choiceseither Han Solo, Corellian street rat, had been babysitting the kid of the galaxys second most powerful being, or Vader had tricked Luke.
The first possibility was too insanely outlandish to even be considered, so steep were the odds against and so bizarre was the idea of Darth Vader being anybodys father. Which meant Luke was being tricked by Vader. Yeahthat had to be it.
Grimly Han switched off the recording and marched towards the cockpit, starting up the engines. He was darned if he knew when, how, why, or where, but one way or another he was by the Force going to rescue Luke!
About four and a half months later
There was only one other occasion in her entire life that had driven Miyr to a state of nervousness so severe as to border on panic. It had come nearly three years ago, the stressful day that Lord Vader had summoned her up into his personal chambers and interviewed her for hours. This wasnt quite as badnot yetbut she sensed definite potential for emotional strain.
Lord Vader had contacted Bast Castle personally last week, announcing his imminent arrival. A fairly rare incident in the time that shed been serving at the Dark Lords holding on Vjun, even when his daughters were there to attract his attention, but that was certainly not enough to really ruffle Miyrs theoretical feathers. The problem was, he had also announced upon arriving in system an hour ago that the castle security devices were to be deactivated immediately and that all personnel, military or household staff, were to be cleared from a designated route that went from the hangar to Vaders personal chambers.
The Dark Lord was now within his personal chambers and had ordered the security systems reactivated. Hed been in the castle for a full forty-five minutes and none of the castles caretakers, not even Miyr or Captain Landre, had seen him. Never before had Vader behaved so mysteriously towards her. His behavior was severely disconcerting. Miyr had no idea what he expected of her now. She had finally retreated to her personal quarters, making sure the communication lines to her were open and attended, and was now sitting in her favorite chair wondering when she would be given any orders. She was especially concerned about Sara and Sandrashe had been about to feed them and put them down for their much-needed nap, necessities which she could hardly expect their father to recall given that shipboard time was probably far different from their time zone planetside
Her com buzzed. She snatched it feverishly, hoping it would give her direction.
Five minutes later
Well, direction she had but her nerves were no less soothed. This was only the second time she had been summoned directly to Lord Vaders private chambershis private chambers, not the sections of his quarters which were reserved for the twins. Reminding herself sternly that everything had turned out perfectly fine last time, Miyr announced her arrival over the quarters intercom. The door to Vaders inner sanctum promptly swished open, revealing the imposing figure of her employer within.
Miyr, he said, inclining his helmet just a little in greeting.
She steeled herself for whatever straining ordeal awaited. Welcome home, my lord, she answered, successfully banning a waver of uncertainty from her voice.
But he was aware of her emotions, as always. You may rest at ease, he informed her. I will be on Vjun for one week. When I depart, your duties will assume a new aspect. I have summoned you here to explain these new duties.
She felt a soft, soothing flow of relief taming the butterflies in her stomach. I am at my lords service, as always, she said.
Vader turned from her and gestured slightly at an opposite doorway.
Never in a millennium, not even after her first meeting with Sara and Sandra, had she expected Vader to throw her such a completely unforeseeable curve ball. Out of the doorway, a slightly built blond boy edged slowly into the light of the room, his blue eyes flicking back and forth between Miyr and Vader.
Surelysurely this boy wasnt
Miyr, this is Luke, Vader rumbled. My son.
Luke was more than a little nervous himself. This Miyr person was quite different from any other female hed ever known. She was a far cry from Tatooines worn, sand-weathered housewives. She was pretty, for onenot drop-dead gorgeous, like the painted-up women in the magazines hed seen around, but her features had a fineness to them, and she had big, pleasant brown eyes. Her eyes reminded him of somebody, he thought, but he couldnt remember who. She wasnt tall, but she was slender, wearing a smoothly draping dress of dark blue, and where Aunt Berus hair had always been pinned up in a bun, Miyrs fell over her shoulder in one elaborate braid.
He listened as his father introduced him, and watched as Miyrs already-big eyes widened even more. It was several seconds before the lady could say anything. Her shock stirred a myriad of strong sensations in the Force. Luke, being at exactly that uncomfortable point where he was trained enough to be highly sensitive to such sensations without yet knowing how to handle them, shrank back from the discomfort. His father steadied him with the firm mental touch of experience.
Hello, Luke, Miyr finally said, regaining control and reaching her hand out to him. Luke shook it strongly, remembering Obi-Wans insistence on meaning handshakes. As Miyrs surprise eased away, he began to feel more confident.
Hello, he responded, soft but clear.
Luke will be remaining at Bast Castle, his father continued. I will see to it personally that the necessary arrangements are made for his accommodation prior to my departure. Before I leave, I expect that you will be well acquainted with him.
Miyr straightened up in front of him, turning back to his father. Certainly, my lord. Are there any arrangements you desire me to manage?
Yes. You will see to it that a suitable wardrobe is procured for him. If I find I have any further requirements, I will notify you. Prior to my departure, I will ensure that you understand all my expectations for his care fully.
I will see to it immediately, my lord. May I have his measurements?
Luke watched curiously as his father handed Miyr the chip hed put together a little while ago on board the Executor. That will be all for now, Miyr. I will notify you when I have need of you again.
The elegant woman bowed slightly. As you wish, my lord. Good evening, Luke. She gave him a smilethe first one hed seen since coming to live with his fatherand departed the quarters. Luke watched her go, fascinated despite his declared disdain for the opposite gender.
The aforesaid disdain was quickly recollected, however, when his father took him by the shoulder and announced, It is time you were introduced to your sisters. They are most anxious.
Luke felt familiar twinges of dread. Though hed had a long time to get used to the idea of having twin sisters, he hadnt really managed it yet, and his dread of the coming encounter had been building steadily throughout their journey to Vjun. They were still just a theory to himnot real, not yet. He could think and suppose about them all he wanted, talk about them with his father all his father wanted; yet as long as he didnt see them, they might as well not exist. But that was going to change now
His father led him up to a door, and Luke instinctively knew that as soon as that door opened his life was going to be drastically altered yet again. A sudden anticipating fear gripped him out of the blue, and his feet seemed to grow roots through the floor.
Vader turned in surprise as Luke stopped in his tracks. The boy had not behaved this way in weeks, not since hed been somewhat traumatized by that incident in the salle, with the dueling droid and the cleaning solvents and the not-quite-empty tibanna gas cartridge.
Its all right, my son, he reassured his boy, as he had when trying to coax Luke back into the salle after that particular episode. I promise.
Trust was still a shaky thing between the two of them, but with a little more coaxing, Vader was able to bring Luke up to the door and open it.
The shrieks of delight were immediate, as was the stampede. Almost as quickly Vader forgot his concern for Luke in the onslaught of Sara and Sandras pure exhilaration at seeing their father again. He knelt to touch them, wondering at how much they had grown already. They were nearly three now!
Daddas home, Daddas home! they squealed, dancing all around him and bounding into hugs that now could reach above the tops of his boots.
Yes, he told them. And there is someone for you to meet. He gently directed their attention to the right of the door, where Luke had retreated to watch the proceedings from a safe distance.
Both Sara and Sandra went still as they noticed at the newcomerthe first stranger they had seen in their nearly three years of life. The twins scooted closer against him, retreating to peer out from beneath the safety of his heavy black cape, inquisitive and slightly frightened blue eyes fixed on Luke in something like awe.
Dadda, whos that? the somewhat bolder Sara finally found the nerve to ask.
This is Luke, Vader answered, motioning for his son to come down towards the twins level. Luke dropped slowly into a crouch, his eyes never leaving his little sisters. Sara, Sandra, Luke is your older brother.
Luke trembled visibly at the reminder, but the twins reaction was far less burdened by the emotional stress that troubled their sibling. You didnt say we had a big brother, Sara observed a bit cheekily, looking up at him with more than a hint of disapproval.
I lost him a very long time ago, Vader told them, opting for the simplest form of the story. It took me many years to find him again. I didnt think that I ever would find him again, and that was why I didnt tell you about him.
The twins switched their gazes back to Luke in unison, still showing signs of uncertainty although they seemed to accept his much-abbreviated story. There were several seconds of uneasy silence as the three children studied each other. Vader could not suppress a hope that his son would make a move towards his sistersthat he would give some sign of willingness or acceptance. But Luke stayed squarely where he was, his back to the wall, his whole posture reminding Vader of some trapped animal.
Perhaps he felt trapped. A touch of reassurance might be wise. Vader let go of Sara and gestured to Luke. Come closer, Luke, he told the boy.
He was pleased to see his son obey, if hesitantly. Luke slowly edged up within his reach, and Vader immediately placed a hand on the boys shoulder in the manner that he had discovered would usually quiet the childs distress. Sure enough, Lukes Force presence quickly acquired a more serene feel.
However, he was still unsettled enough that Sara began tugging on his cape insistently. He doesnt like us, Dadda, she whispered in concernnot softly enough that her brother didnt hear her. Lukes emotions whirled strangely as Vader answered her.
He is only nervous, he responded. He has never had sisters before.
Luke opened his mouth as if to speak, but didnt. He looked helplessly up at his father instead.
Luke, this is Sara, Vader announced briskly, trying to banish the discomfort of the situation. He patted the corresponding twin. Sara, say hello.
Sara, ever the more assertive of the pair, waited for several impertinent seconds before finally complying. It did not help matters that he had to prod Luke into returning the courtesy after a second lengthy pause.
When hed finally gotten the first exchange out of the way And this is Sandra, he said, caressing his more fragile daughter.
Hello, Sandra said, without having to be told. Luke seemed to open up a bit more at his youngest sisters demonstration of goodwill.
Hi, Sandra, he said, without prompting, his voice a little stronger than it had been.
How old is he? Sara suddenly spoke up again, looking up at his mask.
You should ask him.
Sara was not, apparently, so interested in the answer as to be willing to directly address her brother. She scowled and ducked further back beneath her fathers cape. He could tell already that she was rather upset at the thought of having to share him with a stranger.
How old are you? Sandra piped up, much less shy than hed expected her to be.
Thirteen, Luke answered. Two pairs of blue eyes widened in awe at this information.
Dadda, thats a lot, Sara whispered to him.
Thats almost grown up, Sandra added her whisper.
Hes lots bigger than us!
Yes, he is quite a bit older than you are, Vader nodded to them. I will come back and stay with you later, but right now I have work to do. Luke will stay here and keep you company until I come back.
Dread immediately filled all three of his childrens gazes; son and daughters alike focused pleading blue eyes on him. But he had determined not to be dissuaded. The plan of leaving the children to their own devices for a short time had come to him during the journey here, and he had had time to consider it at length and determine it was the best way to set them at ease with each other. Ignoring their dislike of the idea, he stood and left, locking the playroom door behind him.
The door shut firmly behind his fathers sweeping black cape. Luke stared hopelessly at its blank face for several long seconds before finally looking back at Sara and Sandra. Sara was still glaring at him; Sandra was watching the door forlornly, looking as if she intended to keep her vigil until their father made good on his promise to return. Luke decided to just ignore the problem and check out the room instead.
Ignoring the problem was a little harder than hed thought, mostly because Sara was following him around the room and scolding whenever he touched something. He finally gave up, finding nothing to interest a teenager in a room prepared for toddlers. Irritated, he marched across the playroom and flopped himself down in the big armchair in one corner.
Sara instantly tore over, not happy at all. You cant sit there, she lectured him. Thats Daddas chair.
Luke gave her a scowl of his own. Oh, he definitely was not going to like having little sisters. Hes not here, he pointed out. Must be patient
But its Daddas chair, Sara insisted. Nobody else can sit in it.
Sandra appeared hesitantly alongside Sara, nodding agreement.
Luke glared at both of them. Is there anything I can touch in this room? he snapped, making no move to exit the chair.
Sandra burst into tears.
Luke felt a heavy burden of guilt land on him immediately. He was thirteen, for crying out loudeven if he didnt really want to have little sisters, he was stuck with them, and just because he didnt like them didnt mean he had to make them cry. Okay, okay, Im sorry, he said, rolling out of the chair. Lookdo youum He cast a frantic gaze around the room Do you want to build something? he finally said, his eyes landing on the box of snap blocks. We could build a ship or something.
Sandra sniffled a little. Okay, Sara said warily. Only if you be nice.
Well, you gotta be nice too, he grumbled, prying the box out of its stack. He twisted the lid off and shook the blocks out into a great disorganized mess on the carpeted floor. The three mismatched children gathered around the pile, intent on transforming the disaster into a triumph.
In a rather sleazy cantina, on the infamous moon of Nar Shaddaa
Back again, Solo? wheezed the overweight green Twilek who ran the bar of the Rancors Den. He chuckled thickly. The usual, I suppose?
Nah. Make it a Remote Terminator this time, Han said glumly, sitting himself down at the bar. Randomized.
The Twilek froze mid-drink-mixing, eyeing Han askance. What, did Corellia blow up or something?
Han scowled. Hey, I pay, you serve. He slapped a few credits down on the counter.
The Twilek shrugged and finished his order. Your brain cells, Solo.
Han threw back a deep, burning swallow of his drink as soon as he had it in hand. Kreth! Maybe the Twilek had been right about that brain cell thing. He had a feeling this stuff might be vaporizing a few of them right now. Kreth, but this drink really was as strong as all the spacers and smugglers had said
Eh, that was okay. He needed to get his mind off of things just nowand if the only way he could manage that was by destroying brain cells, oh well. Still, he had to blink back tears at the sharp burn of concentrated whiskeys. The Twilek grinned in vindication, but Han got rid of him with another nasty scowl.
Four and a half months. Hed been tryin to find the Executor for four and a half months now. Han could no longer remember all the information brokers hed gone to, hunting for some clue as to Fifth Fleets whereabouts. The only time that hed gotten an actual location, hed been too late, arriving a day after the destroyers had hypered out of system. Four and a half months. And every day he spent was another day that Luke was trapped with that conniving, lying, trap-laying Sith Lord.
He hadnt thought it would be so hard to find the Executor, but apparently Fleet whereabouts was classified information. And Han didnt know anybody who could get their hands inside the restricted information vaults on Coruscant or tap into NavNet. As a matter of fact, he didnt think anybody could get into NavNetsomebody had told him it worked on co-operational wavelengths, whatever the freakin heck that was supposed to mean
Hey, Han! a cheerful voice rose out of the crowd behind him. Han turned slowly around on his seat to see none other than Lando Calrissian, coming towards the bar out of the scattered array of tables. A feral grin rose on his face. Finally! He hadnt seen Calrissian since before going to Coruscant with Luke this guy had had payback coming for a long time. Might not help him find Luke, but itd sure as heck make him feel better, better than this blasted drink was
You got some kinda nerve, Calrissian, he said with that predators grin.
Calrissian paused, his smile slowly fading. Something wrong? he asked rather weakly.
You can stang well bet it is, Han agreed, angry enough to drink a swig from his drink without really noticing it.
Calrissian glanced around. Hey, wheres Luke?
Thatd be whats wrong, Han growled, totally losing his façade of cheer. His mind suddenly went haywire, and without thinking about it at all he swung out and cracked Calrissian with the hardest roundhouse punch he could manage.
Calrissian stumbled back, staggered, clutched at his nose, groaning. Kreth it, what was that for? he demanded.
Luke! Han hurled what was left of his drinkquite a bitinto Calrissians gaping mouth, and while the guy was still sputtering attacked without reserve, shouting incoherent accusations and Huttese invective at the top of his lungs, swinging wildly at the guy
and suddenly everything went to dark nothing.