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Power Lust

Part 1

Chapter 1: Disappearance

By SJ and Tatiana 09-05-00/13-04-01
Suggested and co-written with Tatiana (aa354105@econophone.ch)

Disclaimers:  Nothing in the Star Wars Universe belong to me; everything belongs to George Lucas.  I'm only writing stories for fun. See my homepage for more details.

IMPORTANT Note about the story's copyrights: All the rights related to the basic idea of Mon Mothma's scheme and the ensuing alliance between Luke and Vader belong to Tatiana, and so do Vader's personality and the Sathed history.  The rest of the story is a fusing of our imaginations since we've passed the story back and forth between ourselves :)

Special thanks to my shy, secret beta-reader and best friend, Adrianne, for her help with the final editing of my new stories. Thanks for giving me some of your precious time, my friend :)


One month after Bespin
Coruscant, Imperial Center

In a conference room which was far from any prying eyes, Vader was meeting with the Emperor as well as a plethora of high-ranking officers.

Ever since he had come back from Bespin, he had remained on Coruscant. At first, his unusual behavior had puzzled the higher rankings of the Imperial government, but at the moment, his reasons were all too clear to the admirals and moffs who were present in the meeting hall.

The Emperor was losing his sanity.

"A Death Star... Oh, yess... The death of those rebellious fools..." Palpatine hissed and smiled at the men who were in the large, gray, cold conference room.

"Our last victory caused them great losses, my Master," Vader's voice floated up, as emotionless as a steel wall. "The Rebellion will soon be crushed."

"Master... Yes, your Master I am, Vader," the despot nodded in satisfaction.  "I am the master of all the Empire, and I will soon be the Master of Death itself!"

The Emperor smiled again then laughed. The laugh, however, was loud and awkward; it chilled to the bone the men who were sitting at the conference table; the Dark Lord, for his part, remained undisturbed.

As usual.

"Yes... The Master of the Death itself..." Palpatine half-whispered as if he had just been through a moment of great clarity--- "My star must be constructed!" he suddenly snapped as if he meant to wake up his audience. He somewhat managed to since the gathered men, except Vader, startled at his sudden, high pitch of voice. "With it in my hands, those rebellious planets will be little more than bits of dust before me. "

"As you wish, my Master," Vader bowed obediently.

"Begin the construction at once!" the other repeated, as if Vader hadn't agreed with him.

"The works will begin as soon as this order is signed," the dark giant informed him as he produced a data pad and an electronic stylus.

The Emperor looked at it and saw an order for the construction of the lethal weapon which he had just envisioned. He signed it.

While he was doing so, an aide in a violet robe came inside the room and bowed.

"Your Highness, lord Karder has arrived and is requesting an audience."

"Very well, take him to the small council room. I'm finished here."

Palpatine stood up; the nine other men were immediately on there feet, standing at attention. Not paying them any attention, the Emperor left the conference hall, leaving a heavy silence of bemusement and confusion in his wake.

Perhaps five minutes later, the silence was broken.

"Lord Satal Karder?" Moff Jerjerrod inquired nervously.

"He is the best specialist of cerebral illness in the whole Empire," Vader explained seriously.

"Awful," a general grimaced in disgust.

"Master Targen" Vader said, suddenly sounding slightly tired. "Finish the formalities."

The five Moffs and three generals signed the data pad which had just been signed by the Emperor.

The text's title was "Testament and My Last Will".

Once everybody present had signed the document, Vader made it clear to the present men that this little procedure had to remain a secret from anybody who hadn't been present to this meeting.

Otherwise, he warned them, their quiet take over wouldn't come to work and the Empire would be doomed thanks to the Emperor's folly.

2 years later:

 It was now two years since the events of Bespin and the ensuing rescue of Han on Tatooine.

The fight against the Empire was still going on, but, strangely enough, Luke had the unusual feeling that the Empire was not willing to participate anymore.  Lately, the only fights which had been reported had been when his rebel comrades themselves had engaged the Imperials.

Otherwise, they had been and were still left alone.

In fact, throughout the last year-and-a-half, only five Imperial attacks had been recorded and each one of them had been the answer to the destruction of Imperial military bases.

No new zones of influence were gained or lost for either part.

In short, Luke reflected seriously, an awkward calm was now reigning on the Galaxy.

However, he had the feeling that it was the calm before the storm, a feeling that was shared by his sister and her boyfriend. The three of them simply knew that something was not right anymore, but, he pondered yet again... what could it be?

As he tried for the hundredth time to come up with a possible answer, he reminded himself that the last time that he had seen his secret sister, she had seemed to know a bit more about the situation than they did, but she hadn't been ready to share her hindsight with him.

In fact, he admitted, she had looked jumpy as of late, as if she were burdened by a great secret which she couldn't share with any living soul.

He slightly pouted his lips at that; didn't he just know how that felt, he asked himself sardonically. He had been living like that ever since Bespin... constantly dreading the moment when he would have to reveal the fact that Vader was his father... When he would have to face his friends' scorn and disgust.

Up to now, they hadn't questioned him, and Vader hadn't chased him for quite a while either. While it was strange, it also allowed him to be at peace for a while.

Now, he thought glumly, he could only hope that his inner peace would last for as long as the galactic imitation of peace would.

As for his sister, he reflected, getting back on his initial track of thoughts, she had never pried him too much about his secret, so he decided that he would return the favor.

He wouldn't pry her for information either.

As he thought about her though, about seeing her again, he admitted to himself that he couldn't wait for her to return from her mission; he really missed her all of a sudden.

Forcing down his sorrow and strangely foreboding feelings, he pushed away from his chosen bay window and headed for his X-wing. He was due for a patrol.

 'Cold. Darkness. Pain, sharp and clear. A scream, so loud that it tore lungs apart, yet was soundless.

"Please, please, please, anybody! Please..."'  

"Leia?!!" Luke gasped in horror as he jerked awake. He had dreamed of Leia, and--- no, not dreamed, he corrected himself as he remembered the details of his sister's presence in his mind. It had been an undirected scream of despair coming from a Force-sensitive mind--- his sister's mind!!  'Sith do I have a 'very' bad feeling about this,' he thought as he instantly, almost reflexively jumped to his feet. He now 'knew' that his sister was in horrible trouble and that she needed his help.

Not caring at all if he were only wearing his pajama pants or his full uniform, Luke ran out of his quarters and barreled down the deserted corridors as fast as could; his direction was the Falcon and his friends.

 "Han!" he called the moment that he was aboard the ship.

As if also sensing that something amiss, the smuggler was instantly awake and in the hatch of his quarters.

"Leia's in trouble," Luke explained grimly.

 After a very short discussion with Han and Chewie about his dream, the two men gave themselves five minutes to get dressed before meeting just outside the High Command meeting room.

Five minutes later, Luke had barely rejoined Han that the other almost plowed through the doors of the high command room thanks to his hasty pace. Luke was right on his heels.

"Where's Leia?" the smuggler demanded immediately.

As if waiting for them, Mon Mothma, Admiral Madine and Admiral Ackbar were sitting at the meeting room despite the late hour of the night; they calmly gazed at them and Luke understood that they knew had somehow heard about his sister's predicament.

"I'm afraid that Princess Leia is missing, Captain Solo," Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebel Alliance, explained soothingly. "We unfortunately don't know where she is, nor what exactly happened. The last we heard from her team, they were under attack---"

"Let me and Luke go after her," Han interrupted seriously. "The Empire is probably behind this."

"I'm sorry, but it is impossible," Mon Mothma answered calmly.  "We need both of you here to help us bring about our New Republic."

"What? And just abandon Leia?" Han gaped in disbelief.

"No way." Luke rejoined, speaking up for the first time since he had walked in.  "Leia has never given up on any of us; I'm not about to abandon her."

"May I remind you, Jedi Skywalker," Admiral Madine cut in, "that Princess Leia has gone to great length to convince us of your trustworthiness as a Jedi Knight. It would be most unfortunate if you were to prove her wrong with any rash action."

"But I can't sit here and wait when my best friend is in danger," he argued earnestly with the harsh officer.

"You don't know that," Mothma interjected.

"I do know it, Madam," Luke stated adamantly. "Even now, I can feel that she needs us, that she is alive and in torment."

For a long moment, the matriarch gazed long and hard at him, as if pondering the truth of his words.

Han interrupted the moment. "The Hell with it, I'm going. I'm not bound by any promise or anything, and ain't anybody who's gonna stop me from finding Leia," he stated defiantly.

"General!" Admiral Ackbar called in rebuke.

Han threw his general insignia on the table. "Independent Captain Solo," he corrected him. "Come on, Luke. Let's leave this gang of bureaucrats to their games."

He turned on his heels, his frustration clear to anyone who was watching him.  Luke briefly bowed his head in deference before he followed him.

He walked silently besides Han, all the way to the Falcon. All of a sudden, both knew better than to talk in the open about their real plans. However, it was clear to them both that the High Command would not keep either of them from looking for Leia.

Once inside the Falcon, Luke spoke up.

"I'm going to look for her too, Han," he stated seriously. "I've already begun what they call a Jedi search; I'll just keep my eyes open for my sister while I'm at it," he smirked conspiratorially.

As he did so, he saw a mental flash of when he and Leia had told Han about their twin ship. It had been after Luke had had to explain why Leia and he seemed to share too many odd similarities and even seemed more linked than Solo and Leia were through their love.

Han and Chewie had never betrayed their secret, he remembered from his memory; he knew that he could trust them with 'any' secret.

"There ain't nobody alive who's gonna keep me from saving her," Solo growled in anger.

"Okay, but you know how you have a way with people," the young Jedi seriously warned him. "just try to be a bit more tactful about that one."

Han gave him his lopsided, self-confident grin. "Hey, it's me."

Throughout the following weeks, both Luke and Han began their secret investigation. Since Luke was supposedly looking for other Jedi warriors, the High Command hadn't even tried to make him change his mind about leaving.

However, he quickly admitted that looking for other Force sensitives was somewhat easier than finding traces of his secret sister.

Although he knew that she wasn't dead, he felt as if she had completely disappeared from the galaxy.

 Taking a moment of respite from his intensive search, the young Jedi sighed and rested his elbows on the top of his cantina table. He took another swig of his tea.

Three weeks now... three weeks since he'd felt his sister's pain from across the galaxy... then nothing.

And if he couldn't feel her anymore, then it could only mean that she was d---

No, he placated himself, he couldn't give up. Not on his life. He simply wasn't searching in the right places...

Sighing in frustration, he looked around the tavern he was in. Things certainly didn't change much from one bar to the other, he reflected wryly. As usual, he was surrounded by the same ragtag assembly of smugglers, outlaws, and honest citizens who had gome there to forget their problems.

As his gaze roamed across the crowded room, he found it drawn toward a man who was flipping a coin as if it were a great prize. Luke frowned as he felt a sudden guidance through the Force; he took a closer look at the man. The Force was trying to tell him something, he realized, but what?...

Then, before he had focused, he saw an enhanced image of the coin.

He was instantly on his feet and on his way toward the other. The two men noticed his approach but dismissed him as being inconsequential--- until his hand shot out and caught the coin while it was flipping in the air.

"Hey, who do you think you are?" the other asked, more than a little upset.

Luke glared at him, wordlessly warning the other that he had better not threaten him. The other seemed to understand him; he subsided. With this threat was dealt with, Luke turned his attention to the coin.

It was Leia's lucky charm all right, he identified. Unlike the other pieces of credit, it was one of the last pieces from Alderaan as well as unique one. It had escaped the destruction of the planet because Leia had been carrying it in her pocket as a lucky charm at the time. It had also been the only coin ever forged with two metals.

'A special gift from a loving father to a beloved daughter,' she had told him when she had shown it to him for the first time... after the battle of Yavin.

He turned toward the man who was still glaring at him.

"Where have you found this?" he inquired seriously, almost threateningly.

"None of your business, Kiddo. Give it back or I'll take it back."

Luke stared the man down. "That coin belongs to a very dear friend of mine. Either you tell me where you got it, or I'll assume that you are behind her disappearance and I'll bring you in."

The other seemed to consider; meanwhile, his friend tried to take hold of his weapon but a sharp look from Luke discouraged him.

"None of that," he warned him. "Keep your hands where I can see them." He turned back toward his quarry. "Where?"

The other grumbled unintelligibly until he shrugged in frustration. "Oh, what the heck. One of the pilots over there had a bet with me. He lost."

Luke turned in the indicated direction, aware that the man wasn't lying.

"Thank you," he told him before he returned to his table.

Unlike his first approach though, he kept a low profile as he studied the raucous group.

The first thing he noticed was that they were pirates, not smugglers, the second, that they were quite inebriated; it would make tailing them easier, he reflected seriously.

 It was late at night when they finally decided to leave the bar. He himself had left the bar a few hours ago to take position in the streets near the bar.  When they came out; he discreetly followed them.

Their destination soon became obvious: the spaceport.

'Those guys wouldn't try to fly in their state, would they?', he wondered uneasily, suddenly worried about the safety of the inhabitants of the city.  He made a note to incapacitate their ship if they showed any sign of lifting off.

Careful to remain out of sight, he watched them as they boarded a large ship, which was bearing the same weird symbol than the one he'd seen on the arm of one of the pirates.

Feeling his hopes sore as he understood that he had finally found a link to his sister's kidnappers, he reached out to search for her presence.

Seconds later, he reintegrated his senses, somewhat disappointed. She wasn't anywhere nearby, but he could feel that he was on the right track.

He decided to take a look inside and see which information they had in their logs about Leia's location.

The ship was naturally guarded but for a Jedi, he knew that it would be easy to slip past their sleeping defenses. Focusing his senses on himself, he skulked closer to the berthed ship. Slowly, he approached them from the shadows of the nearby ships, then silently walked toward the boarding ramp.

By the time that he had reached it, the guards were nodding off sleepily. With a little Force-enticement, they kept doing it while he slipped aboard the ship.

Once inside, he hugged the walls, his blaster in his hand and set on stun.

'Pirates,' he thought in rare disgust as he looked around himself.

There were bodies slumped in every room he passed by, their capacity to absorb alcohol obviously ignored by what served as brains in their heads. Of course, he conceded, alcohol was probably the least damageable drug that they had taken that night.

He finally reached the cockpit--- where a pirate was snoring loudly, his heavy body sprawled in the pilot's chair. Luke took a moment to put this one under a veil so as to not awaken him during his search, then called up the navcomp readings and prepared himself for a long struggle with login and password.

To his pleasant surprise, he discovered that the computer was still logged-in. The Force was obviously with him tonight, he reflected while he set to work. He had had about one chance in a million to find it still logged in, for even the craziest fool in the galaxy who cared about his survival would not leave a comp logged in...

But then again, perhaps the pilot 'was' the craziest fool in the galaxy, he thought with a smirk.

The list finally opened without any other difficulty. His first discovery was that the pirates had been to many places, both inside and outside the known- territories; they called themselves the Massacres.

He had finished to study this information and was wondering what to check next when he felt a renewed tug in the Force; he began to call up directories.

He was waiting for them to come up when a sound came from the opened corridor.  He whirled around, his weapon ready to bear on any bypasser---- only to discover that the source of the sound was merely a small rodent which had decided to pay a visit to the bridge during the night.

Letting out a breath of relief, Luke refocused on the loading computer.  However, having learnt his lesson about being careless, he made sure to keep his senses alert to sense danger if it came nearby.

The directories finally came up on the screen.

'Interesting,' he thought as he leaned closer. They weren't only independent, but were also for hire.

He called up the list of their contracts.

The Force was still with him, he smiled. Most were identified, Leia's included- -- so he had been right, he thought in sudden aggression and worry. They 'had' hurt his sister.

Keeping himself from even looking at the nearby pirate to glare hatefully at him, he asked for the details of this contract to find out who was after his sister. Unfortunately, that's where the Force stopped helping him.

He only found a bank-account number.

Carefully memorizing it for further use, he turned off the computer and made his way out of the ship.  

 As he walked down the main corridor, Luke kept himself on a tight 'leash' and reminded himself that killing those cruel men and aliens wouldn't be worthy of a Jedi, but he had to admit that he would feel damn good about doing it this one time.

They had attacked his sister's ship, he wanted to remind the Force; they had captured her and brought her somewhere, probably outside the galaxy.

And to do what? he wondered as he gazed in his back and inside the ship that he had just exited. What had they possibly done to his princess? And why?

While he and his sister were both known for their heroics, they had long since gone down in the most wanted list. In fact, the Empire had completely stopped hunting them down almost two years ago.

So if the Empire wasn't after them, he pondered, then who? He and his sister didn't have that many enemies... and especially not Leia.

It was another story for him since he was a Jedi Knight now, but Leia...

And yet, those pirates had taken a contract on her. Why?, he asked the unseen Force.

Why her and not him?

As he hid once again in the surrounding shadows near the main engines of the ship, he reflexively drew his lightsaber and slashed at the engine pods. They would live some more, he thought at the pirates, but they would not be going anywhere soon either.

By the time that the sleepy guards had woken up enough to attack him, he was long gone.

Chapter 2: Truce

After reporting the presence of dangerous pirates at the spaceport, Luke returned to his ship to get some much needed sleep.

Cold. Burning pain. Blind darkness. Cold fire----- A cold touch. A black mask, hovering over her. A reflection of her face in the empty lenses. Burned darkened ruins of a temple----.'

Luke awoke yet again with a gasp, the third time since he had gone to sleep, and once again, he sat bolt upright on his bunk, startling his faithful droid from his own rest.

Artoo whistled an inquiry to his master.

"No, I'm okay... Just nightmares," he muttered as he forced his heartbeat to slow down.

Artoo fluted something degrading about a certain dark lord.

"Thanks a lot, Artoo," Luke grumbled as he fell back on the pillow of his narrow bunk. "I really needed you to remind me of 'him'," he muttered as he covered his eyes to shoo away the thoughts that were suddenly invading his mind.

Vader cutting off his hand... Determinate to destroy his soul... And now Leia...

He tried to go back to sleep, to forget everything... but he couldn't.

Two things were not leaving his mind: Vader, and that unknown account number. Had Vader sent the pirates after Leia? he wondered as he sat up once again, this time with a sigh of tiredness and worry. Had he discovered about their relationship? Why not come after him instead of his sister? And why the heck would Vader give that job to the scum of the galaxy when he could take care of that himself? Last time that he had dealt with the cruel dark lord, the other had been more than able to handle his own affairs with anybody he chose to torment.

Unable to stand the idea of his father hurting Leia again, he stood up and went into the cockpit, his droid following him right on his heels.

"I'll get to the bottom of this thing," he promised him, sitting in the pilot's seat.

His droid fluted in agreement, although Luke had the feeling that Artoo didn't exactly know what he was talking about.

Wordlessly, the young Jedi turned on the main computer, established a link with the all-knowing imperial holonet and typed the number that he'd memorized aboard the Pirates' ship.

A series of possible banks came on screen. He scrolled down the list, then took a deep breath and trusted the Force to pinpoint the guilty one.

It did.

Since the account was numbered though, the owner's identity was naturally protected, but Luke had been with Artoo far too long to ignore his talents of hacker. He plugged him in and told him to find the identity of the mysterious nemesis.

It took the little droid a long, long time to find the data. A time during which Luke couldn't leave the planet without disturbing his search.

Hence, he tried once again to catch up on his recent lack of sleep.

Three days later, and little sleep for the Jedi, the data search was over.  Luke, who had once again gotten up from his bunk after another vain attempt to sleep, felt his heart stop in his chest as he read the results. He sank in the pilot chair, his knees giving under him in horror.

The woman had given another name, but the biodata didn't lie; Artoo had taken the liberty to compare them with the medical databank which registered everything about every citizen as soon as they were born.

Mon Mothma?.. he gaped in utter denial. No... no, it couldn't be. Mon Mothma was one of Leia's best friends. The two women had been in the Senate together, had founded the Rebellion together and had fought side by side at the worst of the war---

"There must be a mistake," he commented out loud as he typed in a request to produce further proof.

Artoo double-checked. Now that the information had been found, it came up much faster than he expected... and still confirming him that there wasn't any mistake.

"Then it's been forged," he told the droid, hanging onto that last hope that something was wrong.

Artoo gave an electronic sigh, set to work again, with the same results.

It hadn't been forged either.

Luke slumped back in his seat, drained from any strength to sit straighter.

The woman whom everyone looked up to... The woman who had led them in war... The woman who was presently in charge of the Rebellion... was an assassin. At least, he conceded glumly, it explained why she had vehemently opposed his leaving to search for Leia. Somehow, she must have known that his Jedi talent would eventually lead him to this discovery.

Which now left him with one question: what could he do now?

He couldn't go back to the Rebellion, not after this discovery--- and suddenly understood the woman's reason for her actions: Mon was trying to destroy the Emperor to take his place, taking out anyone who could stand in her way... even Leia.

Normally, he didn't believe such mean judgments, but now, with this last piece of the puzzle setting into place, everything was horribly clear: the Rebellion was in fact Mon Mothma's private army against the private army of the Emperor... and if Leia had also figured this out...

Then it explained why the other had had his sister kidnapped even though they hadn't been close to defeating the Empire.

So, he too had now 'awakened' from Mon's lies, he thought glumly, but that still left him with the question as to what to do.

He couldn't tell Han 'that' truth; the poor man would go berserk and die before he ever got to Leia. He also knew that he couldn't contact anybody in the Rebellion; they would tag him as the traitor the moment that he would mention Mon's secret.

That... left only one person in the whole galaxy whom he could call for help.

The last person he ever wanted to see again.


No, he argued with himself, swiftly standing up on his feet as if to add belief to his denial. He wasn't that desperate... was he? He wasn't going to call for the help of the man who was responsible for his artificial hand, his nightmares about his family and all the other horrors which had happened to him throughout his first three years with the Rebellion.

No way.

And yet..., he reminded himself, slowly sitting back in his seat under the bemused eye of his electronic companion, Vader hadn't come after either Leia nor him for almost two years now...

He himself knew all too well that the Fleet was still out there, but Vader hadn't tracked them for a while, since... Bespin in fact.

The thought of that cursed place brought back memories of despair, of horror, of loss... and of hope... from the man who had said that he was his father. Vader had hoped that he would come off his perch, had in fact wanted him at his side...

And ever since that day, he finally admitted to himself, the cunning dark lord had not tried to recapture him even once... It was not as if he couldn't have tried or even managed it, he reflected grimly. He himself knew far too well now that Vader was extremely powerful in the Force.

He had no doubt that he could overcome him anytime he chose.

And yet, he hadn't.

And then there was his dream, he remembered. He had assumed that Vader had been meaning to hurt his sister, but... What if it had been a vision of the Force?, he pondered warily. What if Vader was truly going to help him save Leia?

Far from reassured by his train of thoughts, he worriedly rubbed his forehead, then ran the same hand through his sleep-tousled hair before settling it on his jaw as he kept pondering his decision.

He finally made up his mind and hoped that he wasn't making a mistake.

Sitting up, he began to type the code which he had learnt despite himself when he had found out about Vader's personal calling box.

Artoo, who had remained silent during his bout of reaction, suddenly noticed what he was doing and squeaked in alarm.

"It's okay, Artoo, I know what I'm doing."

The droid didn't seem to share his opinion, which wasn't as confident as it Seemed anyway. He hesitated before punching in the last numbers, then finally completed his call.

'May the Force be with me,' he thought fervently.

The box opened instantly, no welcome of any kind at its opening. Luke hurried to type in his message, not trusting his voice to remain steady if he spoke.

'Meet me on Saccoria in four days. Come alone. L.'

He knew that Vader didn't need more clues. If he came, He would find him.

He ended the call and looked at his little companion. "Well, there's no turning back now."

Artoo whistled mournfully at that, as if foreboding some bad event. Luke conceded that he was probably right as well as the wisest of them both at the moment.

 Approximately 2 hours later, on Coruscant. Emperor's Palace:

It had been two years now since Vader had officially proclaimed himself the Emperor's heir and Palpatine's representative.

Unofficially, he was now the Emperor.

Palpatine's state was now stable but absolutely hopeless since his mind was in ruins; he had lost all his faculties, all his powers and almost all his memory. Once an almighty ruler, he was now just a pawn in the hands of his servant.

Having waited for this for almost twenty years, Darth Vader surprisingly didn't feel any joy.

In fact, he felt nothing about either his nowadays position, nor about the Emperor's state. Perhaps any joy he might have felt had run away when he had seen how much needed to be done, he reflected seriously as he made his way to his quarters.

He had always known what an enormous task it would be to revive the Empire, but never had he imagined that its present state would be so desperate... However, gathering his determination and will, he had worked like a crazy man, days and nights, sleeping less and less as the time had passed.

Eventually, he had also blocked any other feeling, emotion, or thought that was not linked with the task at hand, trying to make the Empire's future his only goal in life.

It has been so for two years now.

Even now though, he wasn't completely able to resume his previous state of mind of 'before' the events of the Death Star.

Before the princess. Before the knowledge that he had a son, then a daughter. Before Bespin. Before his children's hateful glances. Before these feelings had begun to make a difference to him.

Forcing down his regret once again, he coldly reminded himself that he had to succeed to forget them. That was why he was working so hard.

His now firmly-entrenched workaholic attitude was making him feel cold and empty besides the growing tiredness. That was good, he thought as he entered his personal rooms in his castle---

He checked his message box--- and was in for a rather rude surprise.

He found the message in amongst the rest of the trash which he normally deleted without a second look, but strangely not tonight.

Even stranger, he momentarily felt an unusual peace settle over his senses as he noticed who had sent it; his son had contacted him... then it was gone.

No, this wasn't a nice surprise, he argued with himself. It was most unexpected and almost unwelcome since it was already destroying all the barriers which he had built around his heart and mind; in the end, it was painful to feel something, to feel so much after two years of self-enforced coldness and stillness.

He felt joy, and this joy felt as if it were burning his soul. He also felt a strange peace, the peace that was not stillness but Life.


And all these feeling refused to die as his cold mind tried to soothe them back into apathy.

After a long moment of warring with himself, Darth Vader sighed and admitted the existence, and the right to be, of all these feelings.

So, he thought, refocusing on his message, his son needed him.

What for? Perhaps it was a trap, he began to consider, then shook his head to himself. Improbable, unless Luke had assured to the Alliance that the dark lord would come, but for this, he would have had to explain why the Emperor's 'henchman' would do such a foolishness... and to do so, he would have had to reveal his parentage.

Most improbable, he calculated.

He knew Luke; he knew that the boy could barely reveal such a matter to his friends since he felt deeply ashamed of their relationship. Thus, he strongly suspected that he would not reveal it to the Alliance government.

Not to Mothma.

Still, he admitted, the probability of a trap existed, but it was very slim, which led to only one possible conclusion: his son truly needed him.

He had called to him, ignoring the danger, the hatred and shame... because he was desperate, he realized.

He then grew aware that he himself wanted to hear why his son needed him so much; he also wanted to help him--- even if this would not change anything about how Luke felt about him, he sternly reminded himself.

Well, he told himself, as long as he himself would have some kind of relationship with the flesh of his flesh...

He would go, he decided.

Four days later, Saccoria. Abandoned temple of the Sun:

Luke remained in the shadows, following the dark presence of his father through the Force.

Had this been a good idea? he asked himself for the hundredth time since he had arrived at the temple. If it weren't, it was kind of too late, he sarcastically reminded himself. No choice but to wait for the events to develop.

The other finally stepped into view.


Luke remained behind his column, hiding from the dark lord. "Don't come any closer," he warned him, cursing himself for feeling afraid. After all, he reminded himself, he had debated long and hard with himself before contacting the dark giant.

He had also come to realize that Vader hadn't hunted him down for quite a while now. Surely he wouldn't be menial enough to do it here, under the strange circumstances, he tried to reassure himself.

Meanwhile, Vader stood still, a dark silhouette which seemed to float above the softly-lit, white marble of the temple.

"Very well," the other nodded agreeably. "Why did you call me?"

The temple was broken but the acoustic was still good; the Dark Lord's already rich voice filled the building. Luke shivered as he suddenly felt small, alone with the dark threat. Perhaps this entire meeting had been a mistake...

He cursed himself again, then boldly stepped away from the illusory protection of the column.

"I need your help," he stated as bravely as he could.

Vader seemed surprised by his quick admission. "A most unexpected turn of events, indeed. Why would a Jedi Master need the help from a Dark Lord of the Sith?"

There was a bitter irony in the voice, Luke noticed as he stared at the dark figure. "I'm not a Jedi Master." Was he trying to start a fight? he wondered... And suddenly understood. The other wanted him to admit the truth, to not beat around the bushes. "I need help from my father," he admitted, forcing the last word out of his suddenly strangled throat.

However, he knew that the strangling sensation had nothing to do with the dark Lord; it was his own doing. Forcing himself to focus back on his... father, he saw Darth Vader acknowledge his statement with a nod.

"Very well, my son. What do you need my help for?"

How could he explain everything which had happened in the last month in two or three sentences? he wondered. "My sister, your... daughter... has been kidnapped," he finally managed.

He considered that it was a rather good summary.

"Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan?" Vader queried seriously.

'As if I had 'many' sisters,' Luke thought sarcastically--- then he understood what the other meant. Who would kidnap such a persona and risk a fight with all the Alliance?  "At first, I thought that you were behind it," he admitted, feeling a slight blush of shyness creep up his cheekbones.

"I assure you, Son, that had it been the case, you would have known 'for certain' that it was me," the other stated with a harsh and cold voice.

"Yes, I'm rather aware of it, 'father'," Luke indicated, restraining his shiver as multiple scenarios of what might have happened played out in front of him.  "I also know for sure that it's not you," he added seriously.

"Thank you." The irony in the voice was palpable. "So, you know who is  responsible of her disappearance."


"Why do you need me then? You are not a green-horned boy anymore," his father stated, obviously referring to their last encounter from which he had survived.

"It's Mothma," Luke said simply, dejectedly.

A small silence.

"I see," was the only answer.

"You don't seem surprised," Luke frowned, crossing his arms in front his chest in an attempt to straighten his composure.

"I'm not," the black-clad giant nodded in agreement. "In fact, I should've understood it much earlier."

"She is a very good actress..." The truth was painful, even now that he'd learnt to accept it.

"She always was... And she always was ambitious to the extreme," his father commented, locking his hands behind his back as a teacher would. "That's why she left the Senate after she was refused the Prime minister's seat. At that time, everybody was surprised. It was impossible to imagine her out of politics."

His father's accounting made him frown. "You seem to know her well," he observed doubtfully.

"Indeed I do. We used to work together."

Luke scolded at that. "Worked? She said that you forced her to leave the Senate because of ideological differences."

A chuckle. "Well, she made up quite a scandal to quit the Senate with dignity when her prospect was denied. It didn't fool anybody who knew her well though, and there really were some 'ideological differences' between us at the time concerning the methods, but not the goals. She too wanted a strong Empire, so I was rather surprised when she started that Rebellion thing--- but even I never doubted her earnestness."

Luke was flabbergasted by his father's revelations. Mothma had wanted the Empire? She had wanted to rule it??

"She is an excellent actress, is she not?" his father asked in the silence.

Luke could only nod in agreement. "Even Leia believed in her," he whispered.

"She's also understood her game."

That was not a question. "Yes. And Mon's made her disappear. I wonder..." he began hesitatingly, then licked his suddenly dry lips. "I wonder why she is still alive..." he admitted.

His father didn't even take a moment to consider, showing him how well he indeed knew the woman. "Mothma undoubtedly has plans for the Princess of Alderaan."

"And that's why I need your help," he reminded his father. "We have to find her before Mon initiates any plan she has in mind."

Now that he had spend more than five minutes with his father, he began to notice how his mask seemed to carry out his facial expression. Right now, even though it hadn't shifted in any way, he could almost see the man raise his eyebrow in slight challenge.

"You need my resources?" he asked him tauntingly.

"I need, 'Father', your help to find my sister," Luke answered with all the power of persuasion that he could muster, tired of their little game of admitting the truth.

He glared at the black mask, forgetting all his fears this time. No matter how he felt about this man, this dark lord of the Sith and Emperor's right hand... he was his father... he 'was' his father. That 'had' to matter, he wanted to shout at him.

A muffled, short laugh came from the darkness that was his father. He realized that he was aware of his annoyance. "Very well, Son. I will help you find Leia- -- but keep this Correlian of yours out of my way," he warned, waving a leather- covered finger at him.

"I will," Luke promised, letting out the breath that he had been holding. "Thank you."

"For nothing at the moment. I'll contact you myself when I have news. You still have a box?"


His father nodded, then without another word, turned heels and left.

Luke leaned against the closest column. Now that he was alone once again, he felt as if all his strength had been drained from him yet again. He took a deep breath to recover them.

The dices were thrown now, and his father hadn't tried to capture him, nor deceive him for that matter. Instead, it looked like he could really trust him. It naturally bemused him, but he accepted his feelings as truthful and, somewhat, reassuring. For the moment, he wouldn't have to worry about Vader.

However, he had to take Han and try to find another track than his father's to find Leia. As he considered the Dark Lord's admonition, he dimly wondered why the other felt such annoyance toward his friend. He filed the incident for later analysis. For the moment, he had to rejoin Han. Solo was a smuggler who had once had dealings with pirates; with his help, they would find a way to backtrack the pirates to find some clues as to where Leia was kept.

It probably wouldn't be as fast as Vader's direct search concerning Mon, he conceded, but it would at least be something.

And now came the touchiest part, he scowled. He had to report to the rebel fleet about his Jedi Search without giving away the fact that he knew the real motivation behind the rebellion's military enterprise.

He knew that the most normal thing to do would be to run away, but it wouldn't do any good to the galaxy since Mon would still be fomenting her little personal war. No, he sighed tiredly, he had to keep up his charade, keep up an innocent appearance--- and foul her evil plans.

To do that though, he had to find his sister.

His dreams were now assaulting him relentlessly at night, yet they never gave him any clue as to where she could be kept.

If only he could feel her through the Force, he thought in frustration as he pushed himself away from his chosen column and made his way out of the temple.

Chapter 3: Searches

Back in his shuttle, Darth Vader allowed himself to relax in the pilot chair. This had gone better than he had thought it would, not to mention that it had been much different too.

His son had grown up, he smiled to himself. Luke was much more emotionally balanced and in control than he had been two years ago. He had also come to accept his parentage... at last.

Whatever feeling that the boy had concerning his father, he was now able to deal with them calmly; to not let them influence his behavior.

Yes, he nodded wistfully, Luke had definitely grown up.

The fact that he hadn't spat names at him, hadn't threatened his life, nor tried to turn him or even contradict him in any way had also immensely pleased him.

It had also confirmed to him that, as he had originally thought, his son had truly been asking for his help, nothing more, nothing less.

However, even more important for him than all those details was that Luke had expected that help to be given simply because he was his and Leia's father. There hadn't been any doubt in the boy's mind and heart that he would help him... He had 'believed' in him... somewhat.

He had to admit that this greatly pleased him ; it was good to know that his son was now thinking of him as having feelings for his children.

Of course, he himself was perfectly aware that neither Luke nor Leia, and especially Leia, would ever accept him as part of their family. He knew that his children would never care for him... that they would perhaps hate him forever, but, he shrugged to himself, it did not matter anymore.

They could accept at least something from him because his son knew that 'he' cared.

He could live with this, he decided. A very long time ago he had understood that sometimes, it was better to be content with little because willing to get everything could very well destroy the very thing that one was longing for.

Some lesson that Mothma had never understood, he suddenly reflected with a sneer.

Mon Mothma, he paused on his thought... He knew her well.

------Much better that he had led Luke to think. They had almost been friends at her earlier times in the Senate, appearing to everybody as hateful enemies. Most of the time though, they had been secret allies in hundreds of internal plots.

Mothma, he remembered grimly, had especially shone in plots. She had always been an ambitious, strong woman, not exceptionally beautiful, but undoubtedly charismatic. She had also always been very clever.

He himself had sort of liked her, he then conceded. Observing her had always been very enjoyable because nobody, including himself, had been able to predict her actions.

With time however, his sympathy for her had changed to ... almost disgust for she had been clever and strong, but she had fundamentally lacked the purpose.

Her prime objective had always been power for itself; she had never understood that the power was nothing but an instrument to reach one's goal. A goal which she had never had; she had never had any ideals nor moral imperatives.

In a way, it made her even worse than Palpatine since not even the 'Emperor' had not been as immoral as that woman was. When she had started the Rebellion, he himself had felt both surprise and relief that she had left the Empire. They had already been enemies at the time, but he had mostly been relieved that she couldn't ruin the Empire anymore.

And now, his son had confirmed that the Rebellion had been a lie all along.

While not surprised, he was as badly shocked as Luke was by that truth. He himself was a monster, he admitted. He had no delusions that he was not, but, he shivered slightly in disgust at the woman's sheer depravation of mind, he could not imagine himself starting a civil war to merely satisfy his personal ambitions.

Plot, assassination, anything, he could understand--- but a war? It was even more evil than what the Death Star had done to Alderaan, he summarized in rare horror. Mothma simply had, and still, used millions of people to reach her ends.

She had used Organa's family, the soldiers of the Rebellion--- and now she dared use his children!??

Leia was the image of the Alliance, he realized, clenching his fist in anger as he understood why she had been targeted. The princess was the Rebellion's Soul. With her in danger, the other could fuel the body to save that 'soul'.

Luke, for his part, was its hero. The Last Jedi.

Now that Leia had been coldly removed, he had the most unpleasant premonition that Luke was also in danger. Jedi or not, he could feel that Luke would need help if the woman were to throw a contingent of pirates or outlaws at him.

It must have been how she had gotten Leia, he mused angrily. From what he knew, his daughter was also far from helpless; she had been trained to survive just about anything.

Except perhaps... betrayal.

Vader suddenly felt a wave of cold rage fill him at the thought of how deceitful the vile woman was; the feeling was so strong that it was barely controllable.

'You dare touch my children!' he growled dangerously, almost reaching out to strangle the evil woman from a distance.

However, he calmed himself with an effort. Emotions would not be of any help now, he reminded himself.

Once he had recovered his composure, he refocused on his previous thoughts.

What he couldn't understand, he admitted seriously, was why Leia was still alive. Why had she been kidnapped and not just killed? Mothma wanted to use her, that much was clear. But for 'what'?

The response came by itself: to restart the war even more powerfully than if the Princess were merely dead. The actual stalemate probably did not satisfy Mothma, nor would she ever be content with the present Empire. Hence, to make sure that the war would last even though the Empire wouldn't want to fight, she needed a strong catalyst... Like saving Leia in extremis from an Imperial base...

Even though this thought was only an hypothesis... it strangely felt right to him, filling him with renewed anger. If Leia were found in a base's detention block and that there were evidences of torture- any peace talks would became impossible for a long, long while.

And even more so if Leia were to die soon after she had been found... If that ever happened... the Rebels would make her a martyr and would wage a new war in her name.

That hypothesis felt eve more awfully right than the previous one, he thought with a definite shudder. Not even the Emperor had ever been this machiavellian.

But if it were true, he reminded himself, then there was almost no time left... The next base under attack 'might' be the one. He supposed that the timing depended of Leia's condition.

Refocusing on his new duty to save his daughter, he decided to contact some of his agents in the Alliance to know the time and destination of the next attack as well as make them investigate Mothma's contacts.

He also decided to dispatch a few of those agents to find the rebel princess before any true Rebel did.

With his plan taking shape in his mind, he leaned forward and tapped a request for his intelligence service, then sent it.

In a few hours at most, the search for Leia would officially begin.

It took Luke three days to rejoin the Rebel Fleet, three days during which he prepared himself for the best cover-up job that he had ever done.

He and his droid in fact.

Artoo now knew about the evil woman... and Luke couldn't risk his ruining everything. Thus, he had erased that part of the droid's memory, but not before apologizing to him before doing it. The little droid had understood and encouraged him to proceed.

Now though, it was his turn to hide the truth, he reminded himself as he brought his shuttle down in the Rebel hangar bay.

Techs hurried over and secured it in place as he stepped down the hatch.A sergeant snapped to attention. "Welcome back, Commander Skywalker. The High Command has asked for you to report as soon as you arrive."

Luke saluted him. "Thanks, Nike. How's the gang?"

"They're fine, if a little bit tired to be out of action. You would think that the Imperials have gone fishing or something, huh?"

"Yeah, you would," Luke agreed quietly.

"Have you seen any action yourself?"

"Nah, not much. Just a couple of goons in a bar."

"Still beats cleaning up the vents," his friend smiled.

"Sure does, well, I'm better head forth if I don't want to make them wait too long. So long, Nike. Say hi to the guys for me."

"Good luck, Luke," the other smiled as Luke walked away from him. "Are you sure you won't take back your piloting station?"

"Yes, I am," Luke answered , his eyes suddenly darkening as he was reminded that he had once been part of those who were fighting for a cause which they thought was just.

He walked faster toward the nearest lift, trying hard to not lose his composure. He couldn't lose it yet, he sternly reminded himself.

Minutes later, he straightened his stance before he entered the conference room. He couldn't let them suspect anything, he reminded himself grimly as he made sure that he had his commander insignia in his tunic. As he touched the piece of metal, he took one last breath to gather his courage, then walked forward; the double doors opened. He walked until he stood at the end of the meeting table.

"Welcome back, Commander. How was your search?" Mon Mothma asked.

"It has gone well, Madam, but has unfortunately turned up dry. The leads that I was following were all false."

"Then what will you do next?"

"I will continue to search, Madam. I know that I am not the only Jedi descendant in the galaxy. It is impossible," he stated as calmly as he could.

"When can we hope to see you back on the front, commander?" a general asked him.

Luke, who had been waiting for such an opening, pulled out his insignia and setit on the table in front of himself. "If I do, Sir, it won't be out of obligation anymore. I hereby resign my commission as commander in the Alliance."

The leaders were shocked, to say the least.

"May I ask why?" Admiral Ackbar asked.

'Because the woman we follow is worse than the Emperor,' he thought vehemently before calming down. He took a moment to clear his voice and senses from any aggression. "I have decided to devote all my time to the Jedi Order, Sir. I don't want to deprive you of an officer because of this decision."

"But you will still be affiliated to us, won't you?" Mothma inquired, betraying her slight, very slight tension.

Ooh, she was more than good, he admitted reluctantly; she was an excellent actress.

"If you want me in your group, yes, but I will also be independent from you," he stated with finality.

"Thus not having to report to us?" Madine queried.

"Yes. Jedi matters can only be understood by Jedis, with all due respect," he explained with a short bow of his head. "Of course, if something serious were to happen, I intend to be here and at your side," he reassured them mock-earnestly.

The leaders discussed between themselves. Luke noticed how Mothma kept throwing suspicious looks at him; he didn't allow her to find anything incriminating. She finally acquiesced to the others' demands.

He on the other could now feel the deceit in her mind. It was a wonder that he had missed it before.

"Very well, Jedi Skywalker," she nodded as if she were being magnanimous whereas she was barely trusting him to not discover the truth, but she couldn't say so to anyone; she had no choice but to let him leave. "You are now free to search for the Jedi descendants or to join us, whenever you wish. We shall continue to provide you with any transport you may need, or any other resources it the need arises," she informed him.

Thus keeping him dependant on the Alliance, he realized, and hoping to make him feel as if he owed them. "Thank you," he nodded as smoothly as he could, then bowed his head. He left them.

Whew, he breathed in relief once he was in the corridor. It was over and he was still alive. Now, he had to find Han and go after the pirates. He suspected that his father would search for Mothma's connections, so he estimated that searching for the pirates themselves should put enough distance between the two men so as to not give away his secret alliance with Vader.

Vader leaned back in his plush chair as he read the first reports regarding his search. A new attack was planned in a month.

It could be worse. Judging for this report, he surmised that Leia's state was not sufficiently bad for Mothma's plan... and that wasn't a happy thought for his daughter, he scowled unhappily.

As for Mothma's connections, there was much information, but at the same time, almost nothing.

The list of personal contacts was enormous and made of political contacts. However, he knew enough about politics to not suspect that those contacts were just front-windows.

Starting a new search of his own, he focused on the organizations that were behind those people. He thus discovered that Mothma had contacts or was the leader of many rebellious cells but almost all those organizations had already been either destroyed or integrated in the Alliance. In short, there wasn't much under that category either. Everything even seemed legitimate.

Annoyed by that lack of results, he drummed his fingers on his armrests while he fought his slight frustration. There 'had' to be something to find, he thought in growing irritation.

Then he conceded that what he had already found was at least a beginning. He also knew for sure that the traitors weren't in the Rebellion because if Mothma had used rebels, they would surely have come out false through his son's senses.

One less option to consider then, he heartened himself. He focused on his other option.

So what if Mothma had called upon the services of her old acquaintances? While the cells of her old groups had all been destroyed or dissolved one way or another, it was well known that those groups always led to another group someday.

Yes, he decided, he would continue there.

Perhaps one of them either guarded Leia or knew where she was imprisoned.

Somewhere in the Ategan system, Luke met up with the Falcon. He hooked his X-wing in the belly clamp of the pronged-shape ship, then space-walked to the outer hatch and joined his friends inside.

After a warm reunion, the two friends exchanged their findings.

Han hadn't found much, except that there were plenty of contracts on high members of the Alliance, Luke and himself included as well as on a few other people who hadn't been part of their ranks for a while now.

Luke for his part didn't talk about his truce with Vader, but told him about finding the pirates. He gave Leia's coin to his friend.

"Are you sure that she wasn't aboard their ship?" his friend asked him glumly.

"Yes. I checked it thoroughly," he nodded seriously, then felt his voice catch in sadness before he could continue: "I have a lot of trouble finding her, Han, as if she weren't in the known galaxy."

Even though he had grown used to the fact that he couldn't contact his sister, it still made him flinch in sadness every time that the subject came up.

"I thought that distance didn't affect you," Han observed critically.

"They don't," Luke agreed, "but it is well known that the unknown regions have always deterred the Jedi Knights because the 'laws' of physics are somewhat different in them."

"Yeah, and it's also a pirates' nest," Solo grumbled--- then turned his gaping features toward him. "Are you telling me that this is where we're going?" he asked him in disbelief.

"No," he shook his head. "I think that we should first find the rest of the Massacres' group."

"And do you know where to start?" Han asked somewhat eagerly now.

"Nope, but you're the old pirate here," he teased him, his mood suddenly lightening as he ribbed his friend. "I thought that you might have an hunch about that."

"Huh-huh, right... let me think for a sec here..." Solo answered, exchanging a gaze with his co-pilot.

Chewie growled something about being eager to be on their way.

"Yeah," Han nodded, "I'm eager too to get to the fighting part; I want so much to beat the crap out of those guys," he finished angrily.

It made Luke wince in sympathy even as he admitted that he understood why his father had asked him to keep Han out of his way.

"Uh, Han? How about doing it quietly?" he suggested as he stood to his feet. "Let's not raise their attention unless we have to. There might be bigger fishes involved and we don't want to scare them away," he reminded him.

"Right... Okay, Kid, now buckle in," he smiled lopsidedly as he stood to his feet.

"Where are we going?" the young Jedi inquired.

"In the rings of Farlax," the experienced smuggler answered grimly. "If we're indeed dealing with pirates, that's where they'll be."

Luke followed him all the way to the cockpit, then decided that he had to contact a certain Dark Lord before he couldn't do so anymore thanks to their transition into hyperspace.

"Can I borrow your holonet receiver?" he queried as innocently as he could.

"Sure," Han shrugged while he checked gauges. "Make yourself at home."

Luke waited to be completely alone before checking his box. Just like he knew his father's box, he had no doubt that his father would know how to find his. Luke could even feel that he had already made some discoveries.

He waited for his box to load. There was indeed a message from his father, asking him to set a rendezvous point. He told him that he would be in Farlax in four or five days, then sent his message, wondering what his father had found.

Aboard the Shadow Spear, his personal corvette, Vader smiled but his satisfaction was short-lived when he realized that his son would be with his Solo friend 'and' exactly in the same place where he himself had sent agents to investigate before he furthered the search.

While he tried to suppress his anger, he conceded that Luke had been right to think that they would manage to stay out of the way there, but the youth had obviously not considered the speed with which his agents might uncover the actual identity of Mon's former group.

He now knew that she was even still their leader. Their last known base had been in Farlax, hence his current destination.

'You had better keep your trigger-happy friend away from me,' he wrote, then sent the message to his son.

Four days later, Luke walked beside Han and Chewie as they entered the base of the rings of Farlax. As Luke approached it, he became aware that it wasn't exactly a base but more like a refuge for the outlaw elements that visited those parts. However, since they were armed to the teeth and checking everybody, he conceded that it could also be labeled as a base.

He himself had changed his typical blacks to look more the part of a crew man aboard Solo's ship. He was also wearing a blaster in a low-slung holster, something which hadn't happened for a while now. Finally, he had concealed his lightsaber under his utility vest.

As he followed Han inside a local tavern, he reflected that he almost felt as if he were back in the Rebellion after Yavin.

"Hey, Solo!!!" someone greeted from their left. "Long time no see, man, where've you been??"

Solo and his group walked closer. Luke scanned the man with his senses. Nothing devious there.

"Oh here and there. How'bout you, Tanb? Still smuggling spice?"

"Nah, there ain't no future in this anymore, not since the Empire has practically destroyed Kessel and the mines of the other funny spices."

"Yeah, I've heard about that."

"Say, I heard you were with the Rebs."

"Nay, that ain't true," Han slurred happily. "I was just there when they needed my service. They paid me for everything that I helped them with."

"Got a new crew too. My, you've changed," the other scoffed.

Luke introduced himself. "I'm Deak."

"How did you get hitched with this looser, Kid?"

"Oh, got kicked out from my pirate group," Luke answered nonchalantly, "and Solo was kind enough to provide me transport in exchange of services. I've been with him ever since."

"Pirates uh?" the other frowned. He turned toward Solo who had plopped down in the seat across from his friend. Luke and Chewie also pulled two chairs over and sat on them.

Han smirked when he noticed that the 'Kid' had sat backward on the chair, throwing his forearm over the back of the chair as if he were a real no-care youth.

"If I were you, Solo, I'd offer him a decent salary cause you're in the right place to lose him," the other warned him. "Coupla gangs are recruiting here."

"Which ones?" Luke asked, as if suddenly interested.

"See? Told ya."

"Come on, Kid. You ain't gonna drop me, are you?" Solo complained.

"That'll depend what you offer me, Solo," Luke answered as greedily as he could manage. "So, which ones?"

"There's the Black Stars, the Wiloug, and a couple of others. There's also that new one, the... Massagers, messengers. Something like that anyway," the other finished, waving his hand in front of his face in dismissal.

"The Massacres!" Luke turned toward Solo, as if intent on negotiations. "You ready to discuss my keeping, Solo? If the Massacres are here and looking for new members, you'll have to offer me more than you do now to keep me."

"Let's discuss this between ourselves, Kid. Tanb doesn't need to know about our arrangements, right?"

"For the moment."

They continued their smuggler-oriented conversation before walking out in the port once again, ten minutes later.

"Great play, Luke," Han praised him. "You really had me fooled."

"That comes from hanging around with you, old pirate," he smiled teasingly.


"So, we try to find where the gang hangs out? Or do we try something else?" he inquired, feeling ready for some serious spying.

"Do you feel up to reading their minds?" Han suggested. "I don't think that we can track their ship; they'll have a detector set for any homing beacon."

Chewie agreed with him.

"Unless we try to see their files," Luke offered.

"Sure, but I don't think that they'll file their secret base," his friend pointed out. " Even 'I' never did that."

"Oh," Luke nodded, understanding that no one was dare-devil enough to risk being uncovered like Alliance bases had been in the past. "then let's go for the mind probe. I'd do anything for Leia anyway," he shrugged.

"So would I," Han reminded him with a sideways glance.

Chapter 4: The Quadra Zone

As Luke and his friends came closer to a building, which had been indicated to them as a place where they could give their names to be crew members, Luke stopped dead in his tracks as he felt another Force presence very close by.

Unfortunately, before he could warn his companions of a change of plans, Han spotted the white armor of a stormtrooper and charged in.

Oh no..!  "Han!" Luke called, instantly running after his friend while drawing his lightsaber and blaster and taking stock of the situation.

Chewie was already on Solo's heels and the building's windows could not exactly hide the fact that a firefight was going on within its walls.   As he tried to catch up with his friend, Luke saw Han rush head first inside the building where the pirates were defending their lives against the imperials; the young Jedi reluctantly followed inside, aware that he had failed to keep Han away from his father.

The moment that he stepped inside, he spotted his friends, who were trying to save at least a few pirates for their own plan, then reflexively turned toward his father's black-clad presence who was busy interrogating someone, seemingly undisturbed by the ongoing battle.

At first, Luke didn't know what to do exactly, then his danger senses flared---he defended his life.

He had already deflected a good dozen of bolts and had injured a few enemy troops, imperials or not, when the dark lord seemed to noticed his presence and walked closer to him, as if intent on getting him next.

*Fight me, Son.  We can communicate through the Force.*

Bracing himself for a double play, Luke holstered his blaster and focused his mind on split concentration.  *Why are you here?* he asked his father.

They exchanged a first, vicious slash, as if two enemies who had finally released their pent up hatred of each other.

*I tracked Mothma to the former rebellion group here.  You?* "You will be mine this time, Skywalker," he snarled out loud.

*I found out that the Massacres had the contract on Leia.*  "Never," Luke spat defiantly.

*It seems that these former rebels contacted them.  Anything else?* his father inquired seriously.

Meanwhile, the Jedi and the Sith Lord parried and exchanged a flurry of dangerous strokes, making it look as if Luke was defending his life with all his heart.

*No.  You?* he queried.

*The rebel's group main base is in the unknown regions, somewhere near the Quadra Zone. The Massacres had no other bases than this one.*

*Will you go there? In person?* Luke asked his father.

Another slash. Vader's' blade almost touched Luke's head--- or rather where his head had been a second ago.

*Yes, we are running short on time.  Besides, it's possible that I'll be needed there.  It is a an Ancient Sith territory.  One of the First Space before the Great War.*

Luke riposted, making Vader step back to prevent him from injuring his arm.  *A ...What?!* he mentally gaped while he tried to retain his physical expression of defiance and determination.

*It doesn't matter,* his father shook his head, then attacked again, forcing him to keep up their charade.  *Be careful if you go there yourself.  'Anything' can be possible in that area.*

Vader suddenly attacked again. In order to move out of his range, Luke sidestepped and almost fell.  *We'll be vigilant,* he mentally nodded--- then fell on his backside.

"Luke!!!" Han exclaimed and aimed at Vader.

Vader whirled around and blocked the bolts that would have added ventilation holes in his helmet.  As if fighting against his deadly enemy, Luke used the opportunity to move away.

*Now,* his father warned him seriously, *take your friend away before I can't restrain myself and kill him with a ricochet,*

*Right.  Sorry,* he sent as he scurried to his feet.

He then sent a heavy table flying in his father's path; it crashed hard against his back, forcing him down for a moment or two.  The young Jedi didn't waste time, as if saving his life, and ran toward his friend.  He grabbed his arm on his way out, then pulled him toward the exit after him, not giving him the chance to take another shot at his father.

"Come on, Han," he urged him, "let's loose ourselves before he can recover.  Chewie!  Come on!" he called to the Wookiee who was busy butting heads, imperials and pirates alike.

Han didn't resist too much, but he kept firing at the dark giant until they were out of the building and running toward the Falcon.

Once aboard the ship, they lifted off in record time.

"I thought that you could feel him when he's close," Han grunted as they sped away from the rocky formation.

"Unless he shields his presence," Luke defended himself.  "He must have known that we were after the Massacres."

"How would he know?" Solo frowned, turning toward him.

"Your friend perhaps," Luke suggested mock-grimly.

Han snorted; Chewie agreed with him.  "Wouldn't even surprise me.  So, have you had time to find the information that we were looking for?"

"Yes.  Head for the Unknown Regions, Quadra Zone."

"The---" Han gaped, suddenly frozen and speechless in horror.

So, Luke thought seriously, even Han, who was as daredevil as they came, had never even entertained the thought of challenging the mystical horrors of this zone.  He himself could only hope that his sister hadn't had to deal with any of the rumors that he had heard about.

When he didn't comment on his reaction, Solo understood that he was serious; he barely nodded and programmed their destination in the navcomputer.  Chewie threw him another look, then muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

"I hope you know what you're doing, Kid," Han agreed with his co-pilot.

Luke couldn't argue with them, except that he hoped that his 'father' hadn't been wrong.  He hadn't even considered asking him more questions while they had been keeping up appearances, but now that he could think----

"Say," Han asked, cutting in his thoughts, "why didn't you kill Vader?"

"Because we would still be fighting if I hadn't run away," he lied.

He couldn't tell Han that Vader was his father; not yet anyway.  However, he conceded that he kind of wanted to.

And then, he also had to admit that the dark-clad man was becoming quite an interesting puzzle; while they had been talking through the Force, he had felt his love for his children.  When this would be over, he reflected, he would have to consider having a heart-to-heart discussion with the dark lord... but preferably from a distance.

Their actual truce might not last forever, he reminded himself.

Shortly after Luke and his friends left, Vader boarded his personal corvette once again.

Since he had known that it would be suicidal to go in the Outer Rim alone, he had left Coruscant aboard his personal ship, a middle sized corvette with no insignia-- much more discrete than a Star Destroyer but surprisingly no less powerful.

Ever since he had selected the ship to make it his personal craft, he had always found great advantages to have it at his disposal in particular circumstances.  His actual mission to rescue his daughter was one of those.

The greatest advantage with his choice was that unlike his Super Star Destroyer which was his command ship, this mid-size corvette was 'his' ship.  He had known that as the new Emperor, he would sometimes need a discreet means of transportation, one that would go unnoticed if he so chose.

Thus, the Shadow Spear had come to be.

He had first had the ship outfitted with powerful engines, an array of weapons that could compete with that of a Star Destroyer except for the fact that they were not meant to be used in an aggressive fashion, then he had equipped it with a cloaking device that was rendering it invisible to radar.

Its crew and TIE pilots had also been carefully chosen after an attentive study of countless files. He had personally chosen them all because they never discussed orders and were faithful to him.

They naturally knew that they were outside the normal ranks, but they didn't mind in the least since they had the honor of being his personal troops.

Yes, he nodded to himself, more than the bulky, huge Executor, the Shadow Spear was his flagship.

With that thought, he closed his eyes and tried to relax in the tank that was his bed.

Instead of sleep, darkness and silence, the images of Farlax came back, full of lights and noises.

Then, the images of his mock battle with his son came too. His mind, bright, alive--- searching, asking, teasing.  His heart, a tornado of emotions: rejection and remnants of hate, but also an interest, a need to know, to understand his father.

This revelation made him smile slightly in the beginning of relief.  To discover anything besides hatred was already more that the Dark Lord had ever dared to hope.

"I don't have much to give, Luke," he said out loud, wishing that his son would hear him, "but if you're willing to take, I'll give you anything I can. All you have to do... is ask."

Approximately two days after leaving Farlax, the Falcon reached the mostly unexplored part of space that was known as the Quadra Zone.  Luke and Chewie were manning the quad guns while Han was trying to keep them out of radar sight.

Once they were well inside the unknown region, Luke scanned the sector for his sister's presence.  She was there all right, he sighed in relief, but he still couldn't pinpoint her just yet.  The only thing that he knew was that she was somewhere ahead of them.

"Straight ahead, Han.   She's further inside the zone."

"Joy," the Corellian commented, dead-pan.

Luke wholeheartedly agreed with him.  He wouldn't complain when they would return in normal space.  His Force senses where somewhat muffled in this part of space, so he couldn't rely on them as much as usual.  It made him quite uneasy.

As he scanned the purple and deep violet space outside, he wondered what was causing that color instead of the normal black of deep space.  Perhaps it was some effect of that secret war that his father had mentioned, he reflected seriously before refocusing on his dampened Force-scan.

They flew past planet after planet, with no signal whatsoever---- when a sudden warning managed to work its way through the mental inhibition that was permeating his mind. He frantically looked around, trying to find what had triggered such a powerful warning.

The thing found them first.

What they had thought to be a smaller planet had been, in fact, some kind of huge birdlike monster, which was now coming after them.

"Han! Floor it!" he yelled to the Corellian as he and Chewie opened fire on the thing.

The bolts hurt it, but it was too big to be incapacitated by their shots.  The two rebels continued to search for a weak spot to hurt while Han tried wildly evasive maneuvers, to no avail.

"Can't the Force guide you this time, Kid?" the pilot shouted in frustration in his mike as he pulled them out of yet another tight turn.

"Afraid not!" Luke answered back even as he let loose another volley of fire.

They had tried to fire at its eyes, chest, mouth; anything that looked vulnerable. They still hadn't got any results.

"Chewie, any other spot a predator would try?" Luke inquired to his companion.

He suggested the wings.  They both aimed at the wings, piercing their membranes.  It slowed it down but just a tiny bit.

"How about a torpedo?" Solo suggested.

Luke gaped at him.  "Are you suggesting to use a torpedo on a living being?" he asked in disbelief.

He didn't like that plan one tiny bit.

"We don't have much other choice, do we, Kid?" Solo grouched, obviously not interested to argue morale when their lives were hanging in the balance.

Luke fired again as he considered their options.  They were indeed limited.  "All right, but can you pull it off?"

"Watch me,"  the pilot muttered darkly.

The Falcon turned about, coming from an angle that the bird couldn't hope to duplicate in time, then the three of them fired at it.

Han's torpedo disappeared inside its body.

"So much for that," the Corellian grumbled dejectedly while he hurried to veer off, barely avoiding the snapping mouth.

Luke turned his seat again and refocused on the creature.  That's when he became aware that it seemed to be larger than a second before--- then he understood.

"It's gonna blow! Get us---"

The creature popped like a huge balloon... a balloon which threw the Falcon in a stern-to-bow tumble thanks to the blast of its explosion.

None of them had time to brace themselves before they collided hard into the nearest bulkhead.

When Vader's ship reached the Quadra Zone, even her emotionless captain appeared disturbed for a second, then he restored his blank mask and addressed the nearby Dark Lord.  "My Lord, we've reached the destination."

"Continue further inside the zone," he ordered him.

"Yes, my Lord"

The captain turned toward his subordinates.

Even without this announcement, Vader reflected while he watched the familiar sight of the unknown regions, he wouldn't have missed the entry in the Quadra Zone.

Or as it was also sometimes called: the Sith Hell.

The power swirled around him, mad, incurring, intoxicating.  The memories of a long dead race, of a long ended war.  So much power was here that even the always stable Force flow was perturbed.  For him, who was a Sith, it didn't matter; this awesome power was his, he merely needed to ask to use it.

But for Luke, he reflected more somberly, it had to be awful.  With that thought, he reached out and checked the Zone.  He had barely reached out that a flow of images was hurled into his mind.   It took him some time to sort it out, having lost the habit to deal with the Sith Hell's surges of knowledge.

Luke was here, all right, he finally understood, and was not in danger, or not anymore, he amended.  He and his friends had apparently been attacked by one of the mad guardians, but they had survived the shock wave of its destruction.

That relieved him since he knew that the said shock-wave was comparable to the one caused by the destruction of a Star Destroyer's reactor.  As he remembered this detail, he admitted that it was quite a wonder that Solo's tin can had managed to survive it.

While he didn't care much about Solo, he could admit that his ship really intrigued him.  Eventually, he promised himself that he would take a look at it and study its secret.

Refocusing on the here and now, he felt that his son's team was now progressing toward the center of the zone where the rebel base was.

Where Leia was.

Recovering his full awareness, he stepped closer to the map table and studied it.  The targeted planet was only marked by a number. At first, he dismissed the detail as inconsequential, then noticed the pattern of the planets around it and frowned.  After a few seconds of unpleasant reflection, he addressed his captain once again.  "Proceed toward object 167390. There is a rebel base on the surface; activate the cloaking shield."

As usual, the captain did not appear surprised. "At once, my Lord," he bowed in obedience.

As he refocused on the map, Vader admitted to himself that he did not like this turn of events at all. This planet was not unnamed.  It had a forgotten, old name in a old and forgotten language: Arsharel'an skal.

On its surface, where the false rebels had established their base, stood the temple of Arsharel's, as dark and oppressive as ever...  and Arsharel was the Sith god of death.

For a Jedi to obtain entrance to his temple, he knew that the said Jedi would need to offer a very dark sacrifice.

So would his son...

Luke and Han landed in the desert of the planet, making sure to not be detected by the security of the base that was up in the mountains, then began their long trek toward their target. Chewie stayed with the ship, waiting for their call. Neither said anything, aware that they were in enemy territory as well as close to their goal.

After a long trek and a long climb while being careful to not trigger any alarm system, they were finally able to study the base from a closer point of view.

"Are you sure that this thing is the base?" Han asked his friend, looking at the 'thing' in question.

The closest wall was at least twenty-five meters away from them, down a very steep rocky slope.

"I'm positive," Luke told him, his voice unwavering.

Leia's senses were centered in this building.

The base was a black fortress... and strangely misshapen.  The longer he gazed at it, and the more Luke admitted that the architecture was unlike anything he had ever seen; the only thing that he could say for sure about it was that it was not human.

He wondered if it was even humanoid at all... and why it was giving him the creeps as much as it was doing at the moment.

Beside him, Han hunched down once again, dissimulating himself behind the cliff while being careful not to sprain his bad finger.

Fortunately for him, Luke thought, the climb had been a very steep walk upward instead of a real, hazardous climb.  Otherwise, he himself might have had to go after Leia alone.

He refocused on their target.  The base definitely felt strange, he reflected uneasily.  Not evil, just ... different from anything that he could remember... and really creepy.  There was a danger within those walls, but it was a passive one--- like a danger of a mechanical trap---

"Do you feel her?" his companion inquired seriously.

"Yes." Luke shuddered. "It's almost the only thing that I can feel at all..."

"OK. So ,what's the plan of attack?" Solo inquired, getting back in business.

"Well...How about finding a back door?" he suggested with a shrug.

"Hmmm..."Han frowned.

He lurked back over the top of their hiding rock to look at the fortress.

*LUKE!* Vader's voice suddenly screamed through the Force.

It startled the young Jedi.  *Father!* he gasped in surprise, then reached out to locate the dark lord. *Where are you?*

He put an end to his effort when he became aware that Vader was probably shielding his presence; he couldn't feel him anywhere.

*Behind you, and above,* his father answered his question.  *Don't even think to go in there by yourself.  I mean it,* he then warned him grimly.  *Don't underestimate the warning.*

Luke couldn't help but think that he sounded a lot like a patronizing father at the moment.  *What's the matter?* he inquired.

*It's a temple of Arsharel, the Sith god of death and destruction, and you're a Jedi. Arsharel will not let you enter... alive.*

Luke blanched as his father's words struck home.  He looked at his friend and made sure that he wasn't going to attack those walls by himself.

*You speak as if he really exists,* he then commented in naive dubiousness.

*Of course he does! It would be foolish to be priest of a non-existing god, don't you think?* his father asked matter-of-factly.

*I... I don't understand.*

*Twelve thousand years ago,* the Sith Lord seemed to sigh, *there was, in this part of the outer rim, a civilization called Sathed. To simplify it very much, they had 2 gods: Arsharel and Letane, death and life, or Dark and Light parts of the Force. Priests of Arsharel were called Sith and of Letane- Jedi.*

*Huh?!* Luke frowned.  That really didn't fit with what Yoda had taught him.

*What you might have read was written many years after the Third Great War. The titles of the priests were kept, but the significance was lost... The Sathed were also destroyed in the Third War. The only remains of their civilization was preserved in the religions of some of the peoples of the Outer Rim.*

Luke was thoroughly lost now, but his father continued, as if this were very important for him.

*Some four or five generations before Palpatine, there was an effort to restore the Sith brotherhood and the cult of Arsharel, but the Jedi destroyed the Sith before it was done.*

*So you're a priest of ...this god of death?* he asked, trying hard to make sense of what his father had just told him.

*No, but I'm one of the Circle. I know about him and respect him.*

*You've lost me,* he commented truthfully.  *The Circle?*

*The symbol of memory, among other things,* Vader said, then cut him short before he could ask more questions.  *If we survive this, Son, and that you still want to know the answers to your questions, I'll try to explain everything to you, but it will take several hours, if not days... And now isn't exactly the right time to discuss History.  I have merely told you this so that you know what we are going to deal with inside those walls.*

*Got it. What do we do now?* he nodded, mentally clearing his mind of questions. Not that he had understood much anyway.

*Answer to your Correlian friend, and act natural,* his father instructed him.

*What are you going to do?* Luke asked uncertainly.

*You'll see.* came the cryptical answer.


Chapter 5: Rescue Team  

'Damn you, father!' Luke cursed reflexively. He didn't like to be kept in the dark, especially when it involved the Dark Lord of the Sith who had just told him that the Jedi Knights were in fact priests of some kind and that their gods were alive and---

Somehow, he had a feeling that he wouldn't like his father's plan.

"Hey, Luke! Are you all right?" Solo asked, shaking him out of his mental rummaging.

"Uh?" he groaned, recovering his full senses, "yeah... sorry. Didn't hear you," he tried to explain as naturally as he could.

"You tried to check it?" Han inquired, throwing another look at the temple.

"Huh? Ah, yes, yes," he nodded, getting back in gear. "I felt nothing. It's rather disturbing..."

"I told you not to rely this much on this mumbo-jumbo--- Oh, Sith!" the smuggler suddenly exclaimed, jumping to his feet.

Han fired at the descending shadow, but Vader was faster and easily blocked the shot. He had barely landed beside the standing man that he effortlessly took hold of Solo's arms and locked them in his back with the help of his own right arm, leaving his left one free to heft his lightsaber if necessary.

Luke's lightsaber finally came alive when the new play became less of a blur for him.

"We meet again, Skywalker," Vader rumbled.

The young Jedi waved his lightsaber threateningly, taking a step sideways as if looking for a better angle of attack.

"Let him go, Vader. This is between you and me," he defied.

"I'll break you friend's neck if you try to attack me," Vader threatened him, his voice as calm and cold as a desert's night.

"Luke, the hell with me!" his friend gritted, his arms held tightly and painfully.

Luke flinched at the pain in Han's voice.

"You want to see your friend die?" Vader offered suavely.

Luke knew that his father had merely created the best of excuses for him to 'surrender', yet the other hadn't told him what his plan was. He opted for playing the defiant, yet beaten rebel.

He put away his weapon, his face one of disgust. Vader pulled the unlit lightsaber to his hand, then tossed Solo's blaster to the far rocky outcrops.

"Good. Now we'll talk." He wedged Luke's lightsaber in Solo's jaw.

"What do you want?" Luke snapped. *Father?*

*Silence. Perform your part.* "Your sister," he answered in his coolly modulated voice.

"What?!" Solo gaped in disbelief.

Luke tried to catch up with him on that reaction. He forced his eyes to bulge in horror. "What... What sister? I don't know what you mean," he fumbled awkwardly.

"Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, Skywalker. Don't play with me; she is in this base and you will take me where she is. Only your bond can find her in this hellish place. If you will not obey, your friend will die."

"Rather clear," Han said, cutting in the conversation while he tried to escape the dark lord's iron grip. "But there's one problem, your Lordship."

His arrogance earned him a tighter grip which put a painful strain on his shoulders; it didn't escape Luke's notice. *Father, let up a bit,* he demanded warningly.

He was ready to play along with whatever Vader had in mind, but he wouldn't let him hurt Han. The dark lord held the smuggler very still for a while longer, then relented and simply kept the pilot in an inescapable grip.

Meanwhile, Luke caught a flash of annoyance in his father's mind and thus realized, not with some amusement, that the dark lord didn't approve of his daughter's choice in the matter of a lover.

So that was why he had asked him to keep Han away from him, he nodded to himself. The dark lord didn't want to hurt Han, thus hurting Leia in the process, but he didn't like the Corellian for whatever he had done to melt his daughter's strong heart.

He imperceptibly shook his head before he promised himself that when he would have a chance, he would have to straighten this matter with their father.

Vader addressed the recovering Solo. "You were saying?" he inquired tauntingly.

"We don't know how to enter," Han answered shortly.

"That's not a problem, Solo. I know the entry."

He locked his dark gaze with the youth. Luke sighed. "All right, you win."

"Luke, you can't!" Solo exclaimed.

Luke gazed deep into his friend's eyes. "We don't have any other option, Han." He couldn't fight, even in mock-battle, against his father, nor could he escape.

"But Leia..."

"Move, " Vader interrupted----

And took a rough Force-hold on his son's arm before he pushed him hard down the steep slope. Luke reacted quickly to this unexpected move and set his feet so that they slid down the rocky surface--- but couldn't help but collide hard against the stone wall at the end of the slope. As the stars invaded his mind in reaction to the impact, he dimly wondered if his father had considered the possibility that they had just alerted guards.

*Of course I have. There are no guards on this side of the building for the moment,* Vader told him, obviously feeling mildly indignant that his child thought so little of his strategy abilities.

A second later, Vader and Han came up behind him---- and a door opened in what had seemed to be solid rock.

"Sith Hell," Solo swore.

Luke barely had time to draw back in shock before he was shoved inside the darkened entrance.

The Dark Lord and his prisoner followed him.  

*Father? What was this all about?* Luke inquired as he relented to his 'captor's' push.

*How do you enter in a temple? How do you make a god see that you're not his enemy?* his father answered cryptically.

*Er..." He suddenly remembered his father's warning. "By making some offers?*

*Exactly, and in this case, a sacrifice. For Arsharel, the best sacrifice is death, the second, emotions. Any strong emotion will do, but the best is hatred.*

Luke fought his urge to turn and gape at his father at that, aware that it would alert his friend that something fishy was going on. *You just made Han hate you more then ever to open a door?!* he began in disbelief.

*To 'sacrifice' this emotion and open a door,* his father corrected seriously.

*He won't like it,* Luke warned him. *Even I don't like it. What if the sacrifice hadn't worked and it had required a life?..*

*It doesn't matter, it didn't happen,* his father replied coolly.

*I guess so...* Luke grudgingly agreed. No matter what the dark lord used to represent or do to him, he had to admit that he was wise in his own way; he also was much more complex that he had thought he was.

They walked down corridor after corridor. Luke kept expecting trouble, especially given Han's constant muttering and fighting as well as his father's trademark breathing; his eyes were literally peeled for any signs of patrol.  However, the corridors around them remained empty---

Then they ran into a group of six pirates.

The outlaws instantly drew their blasters and fired at them. Luke, who was walking in front of the dark lord, instinctively raised his hand and deflected the shot away, then he turned toward his father to call for a lightsaber.

Neither his nor Vader's were available. His father was using his green blade to deflect the bolts that were coming too close to him, and since he was tightly pressing Han against himself, his friend's weight was keeping him from drawing his father's lightsaber to his hand.

A hot bolt suddenly burnt the air near his right ear. Luke reflexively whirled around, jumped and tumbled out of the way, ending up very close to the outlaws... then he didn't have to think anymore.

He kicked a first outlaw between the legs, then rammed his knee against his nose as he bent forward. Next, he straightened up, stepped out of the way of another bolt, and cut his other attacker's breath with a bladed hand in the throat, breaking his neck that way.

He then jumped out of the way again and barely landed before he jumped again, this time from a location almost in front of the remaining alien. He spun in the air and extended his leg--- and hit the alien with a powerful side kick that tore his neck off of its supporting structure.

When he landed back on his feet, it was over and Han was gaping openmouthed at him.

For a few seconds, Vader was unable to formulate a coherent thought, too astounded by what he had just seen. His son had just fought as well as any assassin he had ever seen. How had his child learnt those techniques?

As he tried to understand what had happened, he noticed that Solo, who had failed to escape his grip during the brief fire fight, also seemed awed by what his son had just done.

"I didn't know you could do that, Kid," the smuggler barely whispered.

Luke brushed a stray hair out of his eyes and smiled shyly. "Neither did I.  I only did that once, against Guri on Coruscant."

Vader put two and two together. Of course, Arsharel had allowed the Force to guide his son during those deadly movements.

One thing was sure, he grudgingly conceded: his son truly was full of surprises.  When he refocused on him, he noticed that the Jedi was checking the state of their victims.

"They're dead, Skywalker, thanks to you," he told him.

The child glared at him. "Thanks to me?! You have done the deed," he defied.

Plan or not, Luke decided that he wouldn't take the blame for this.

"If you hadn't fought my projection, we wouldn't have run into any trouble," his father merely commented.

"Fought your projection? What do you mean?" he frowned.

"Uh, Luke, it isn't the best of places to ask about Jedi stuff," Han cut in, strangely reasonable for once.

Then the young man realized that trapped as he was, Solo couldn't really relish the idea of another firefight.

"Solo's right for once," Vader agreed. "Now walk, and let me send them all away."

"No," he mock-argued. "I can get Leia by myself if I can do it my way."

"You forget that you can't use the Force here, Jedi. I can," Vader ominously pointed out. "Now, walk, and don't think. Focus on finding your sister."

Luke grumbled something about bossy darksiders, turned around and walked toward the end of the corridor.

*Luke* his father's voice said in his mind.


*It was truly impressive.*

He couldn't suppress a shy smile. *Thanks.*

*But you didn't have to risk your life,* the Dark Lord slightly scolded him.

*I'm sorry that I disturbed your concentration,* he apologized in turn.

*Don't do it again.* he answered simply, then added: *By the way, Arsharel is very pleased with your offer.*

*My what?!* Luke gaped, barely keeping himself from whirling toward the darksider.

*Their deaths were a really pleasant sacrifice,* his father explained.

*I ... I didn't...* he mentally fumbled, horrified by the idea that he had just turned himself into a servant of---- . A mental chuckle. *Don't be so worried, Son. Any death inside the temple will be a sacrifice in his honor,* his father reminded him.

*I'll never serve him,* he stated with finality while he sighed inwardly in relief.

*Who is asking you to? You are a Jedi, and it's fine with him as long as you behave yourself inside his temple.*

*Oh... OK. Father?* he inquired again.


*Why did you need us- me and Han- here? Arsharel would've told you were Leia is since you're a Sith, right?*

*Wrong,* Vader corrected. *First, I'm a Sith of the Circle but not his. Second, Leia has a strong Force potential; her suffering is a great offer for Arsharel. He would never let me get to her. You're a Jedi, so he cannot influence your bond with your sister; in fact, it is so strong that even an almost total Force blindness is not disturbing it.*

*Why is he not trying to stop us if he wants to keep Leia in here then?* Luke queried seriously.

*Laws. I'm a Sith. He has no right to oppose me directly with no fault from my part... And there were none.*


*Now, if you excuse me, I need to concentrate.*

*Sorry,* he apologized contritely before refocusing on his sister.

They kept walking down empty corridors, even in the detention quarters. Luke could hear pirates here and there, but they were never anywhere in sight.

When they reached the detention quarters, Leia's presence seemed to react to his own and grew brighter in the Force.

"She's in one of those rooms," he informed his 'captor', indicating the doors of the cells.

"Go get her. I will wait here, but no tricks, Skywalker, or Solo will pay," he warned him ominously.

Han had long since then stopped arguing, having been Force-silenced by Vader.  However, he still expressed his displeasure at the situation via furious pulls against his hold.

"She's not well. It will take more than a minute to get her out."

"You have five minutes," the darksider declared.

Luke walked down the corridor, keyed the door opened, then took a deep breath to steel himself before he finally stepped inside his sister's cell.

She was laying on her side on the rough ground. Her clothes were torn up, as was her milky-white skin. It broke his heart to see her in such a state. Then he gasped in horror.

Her face...

*What?* his father asked him.

*I... She......* he tried, then finally allowed his father to see through his eyes.

He felt his father's instantaneous anger. *Take her out, Luke. I will restore her features, don't worry.*

Luke reverently knelt beside her wounded, unconscious body, carefully slipped his arms under her shoulders and knees, then drew her off the floor and into his arms. She didn't even give him any sign that she was aware of his presence, merely hanging limply in his arms.

Luke rejoined the two men in the still-deserted corridor. Han drew a sharp breath when he saw what had been done to her beautiful face.

"Well done, young Jedi. Now, we're getting out, no tricks, no focus on the Force," Vader reminded him.

Luke walked past the imposing silhouette of Vader who was still holding Han, exchanging a sad look with his friend as he did so, then he led the way out of the detention area.

They had barely disappeared around the corner when he heard someone shout an alarm that the prisoner had escaped. He panicked and began to think about what would be waiting for them.

*I told you not to do that,* his father warned him, accompanying his admonition with a mental pinch which cut off his focus.

*Ow!* Luke complained. *Hey! You didn't have to do that.*

*Yes, I had. Your focus is strong, Son. It can destroy the effects of mine.  Do you really want to run into trouble on our way out?*

*No.* he admitted, subdued. *Father, what are we going to do with Leia? She's barely alive.*

*I will make sure that she lives, Son,* his father cryptically answered him while they continued to make their way out of the temple.

As his father had told them, they didn't run into anymore trouble on the way out. It was often a close call, but Luke, and even Han, noticed that the outlaws seemed unable to see their little, definitely suspect-looking group.

They finally made their way outside the temple and down a secret rocky corridor which took them many meters down and away from the temple. While Han was still forced to silence, the young Jedi was absorbed in his own thoughts. Nobody spoke until they exited the secret passage to emerge on a large ledge.

Luke cradled his sister closer, unsure as to what would happen next. His father still hadn't told him what his plan was.

"Hold," Vader commanded.

Luke obeyed, then turned around to face his 'enemy'. "Now what? I give you Leia and you let go of Han? Why do you want her in----"

Vader interrupted him. "You are all coming with me," he stated flatly.

Luke couldn't help but take a step backward in uncertainty. Sure, things had gone well with his father up to now, but he had never considered the possibility of actually leaving any place in his father's custody, or company, or whatever the appropriate word was now.

Han struggled even more against the dark lord.

"I have enough of you, Solo," Vader proclaimed, then knocked him out with the Force. The tall man slumped in his hold. "How you two have become friends with him will always escape me," his father commented more coolly now that they were between themselves once again.

"I could say the same about you turning to the dark side," Luke rejoined, still unsure about his father's plan.

Overhead, a shuttle began its approach.

"Don't worry, Son, I haven't helped you this far to merely capture you afterward, but after the stunt that we pulled here, going back to Mothma would be the least advisable choice, and I'm afraid that she will find you wherever you go."

Luke's lips moved as if he wanted to argue the point.

"You'll be safer with me, all of you," his father commented with finality.

The young Jedi shut his mouth, speechless. He simply couldn't find any argument against his father's logic, no matter how uneasy he was with his plans.

Meanwhile, Vader threw the tall Corellian on his shoulders, then took hold of his son's biceps.  

"For appearance's sake, we better pretend that you're my prisoner... just in case one of my people isn't as trustworthy as I like them to be."

Luke silently pursed his lips but reluctantly agreed.

As the shuttle came within boarding range, he dimly wondered how far this 'fake' prisoner thing would go.

He could unfortunately still remember the last time that he had been in his father's claws, and he wasn't interested at all to repeat the experience.

The flight to his father's ship went uneventfully; he and Han were both locked in the prisoners' compartment while Leia was set on the sole bunk of the shuttle where Vader kept an eye on her.

Once aboard the main ship, the men were taken to the detention block, but not before hearing Vader order the capture of the Falcon as well as the complete destruction of the 'rebel' base.

The also heard that he would keep Leia with himself.

As Luke sat on his hard bunk, he finally took some time to consider what he had witnessed and felt from his father ever since their little cooperation had begun.

His father was a darksider, yes, but he was also human. He had feelings like the rest of them, even love and care, for his children at least, and... Luke thought with a smirk, he was unhappy with Leia's choice in her love-life.

This, he chuckled in amusement, had to be the least expected feeling coming from the dark lord.

He turned serious once again. Now, if he considered his own relationship with the dark lord, Vader had not attempted to turn him to the Dark Side either, unless he was keeping it for now... but if he never tried it... what would it mean?, he wondered.

Now that the Rebellion was over, for him at least, he had nowhere to go. He could always fly around with Han and Chewie, who had just been brought in a cell besides Han's... or he could work for a while, then buy himself his own ship and roam the galaxy in search of Jedi students, perhaps with his sister's help, or... and here again it was something that he had never thought that he would someday consider... he could stay with his father and have the family life that he had never had.

Of course, he conceded that his father was not exactly the epitome of love and family values, but at the same time, he truly cared about him and Leia, and he didn't wish them any ill fate... the question being if he was able to distinguish ill fates for what they were, especially when talking about dark side seductions.

He sighed and settled in to wait. He had no doubts that his father would send for him, sooner or later, and that they would have a chat, if not a fight. It was unavoidable.

He closed his eyes and tried to find his sister's waning presence, hoping to reinforce her.

Burns, fractures... the list of injuries went on and on, all of them graver than their predecessors.

"She will never walk again" was the conclusion of the medical droid. "She will never speak again. Her arms' mobility will be very restrained. She will be invalid for the rest of her life."

Vader looked at the monitor without seeing the lines.

'Invalid for the rest of your life...paralyzed... attached to the life support system... never walk, never speak, blind and deaf.'

In his case all those crow cries had been proven wrong, but nobody knew what pain he had had to endure to make the miracle possible. Countless operations, implantation to make him able to breathe, see, hear and speak.

Nobody knew what it was like to lay in dark silence, for months, with his Force sensitivity blocked by drugs while suffering from post-effects of brain surgery.

There, in the black void, he had first seen the Circle; it had saved him from madness.

He had survived. He had been able to resurrect from the ruins...

Leia's case, he sighed inwardly in relief, was fortunately less grave that his had been, but she would have to endure a similar hell to be able to live again.

Weeks of hell, he calculated, perhaps months.

He only hoped that she would be strong enough. He also hoped that she would be able to set aside her hatred of him, at least for as long as the treatment would take.

After all, he calculated, she would have no choice but to live in his Coruscant castle for the duration of her recovery. Only there would he be able to provide her, in perfect and necessary secrecy, the treatment she needed.

Vader sighed again, then called his aid.

"Have Skywalker brought to me."

"At once, my Lord."

Chapter 6: The Offer

Even though Luke had been locked away in the detention area of the ship, he had naturally heard the medic's report through his link with his sister's mind. Hence, while his father had retired to think, he himself worked on his sister's subconscious, encouraging her, telling her that the Force was more powerful than the droid.

However, working and succeeding were two different things, and especially where his sister's optimism was concerned. As he met yet again with a flat refusal to believe in him, he wished that he could use the Force again and attempt to heal her even slightly to prove her wrong---

And became aware that he had been so focused on his thought that he had failed to hear the betraying clatter of approaching troopers.

Thus, he barely had time to prepare himself for their arrival before his door swished upward--- and a stun blast hit him full in the chest.

He crumpled to the floor, perfectly unaware of it.

Vader watched his troopers as they brought the inert form of his son in his quarters. Since he had known that they would control him, he had mentally suggested them to stun the Jedi to avoid any painful retributions for him.

"Leave us," he ordered them.

They unceremoniously dropped the unconscious Jedi on the hard floor, then turned on their heels and left.

Once alone, Vader locked his room, then knelt by his son's side and delicately lifted him in his arms. He then carried his limp, slim form in his office.

Once he had sat him down in a chair, he set about awakening him, careful to not enhance the aftereffects of the stun blast.

Luke groaned as his senses came back to him. Slowly, he became aware that he was slouching rather heavily in a chair, but other then his disorientation, he was fine.

He then noticed that his father was straightening up beside him.

"Sorry about that stun, Son," the dark lord apologized coolly, "but I thought that it would be better than getting a beating or whatever they might have had in mind if you had resisted them in any way... or not."

Luke brought his hand to his head, then slowly pushed himself upright. For a fleeting moment he had really feared that his father had tricked him, but apparently not... yet. "You could have warned me," he complained, rubbing his stinging ribs.

"Yes, I could have," his father agreed. "However, your surprise left no doubt that you were my prisoner, not my guest. What better way to convince my troops that everything is normal?" he inquired in his maddeningly wise voice.

Luke pursed his lips. He didn't like the other's reasoning, but once again, he couldn't argue against it either. "I guess," he conceded.

He looked around himself. He was in a small, austere room. A computer terminal, a desk, which was covered with data disks, and two chairs; he was obviously in his father's office.

He then reflected that he had never even imagined that his father had such a room. In fact, he pointed out to himself, he had never thought that his father had any regular quarters at all, as if he spent all his time on the bridge of his ship, ordering the Fleet.

He should've known better, he snorted inwardly. Since his father remained silent, he continued his quiet survey of the office.

There was a painting on the wall which was made of a strange, silvery sign against a black backdrop. Intrigued by it, he spared an extra second to study it further. Thus, as he looked at it more closely, he got the impression that the sign was three-dimensional while slowly revolving on itself.

It was a beautiful illusion.

"It's not an illusion," his father commented from his location in his chair.

As Luke refocused on him, he became aware that the other was now sitting behind the massive desk, sitting slightly beside the computer; except for his chest plate, he was almost invisible in the shadows.

"It's not?" the youth queried, turning his attention back toward the design.

"No. It's an original Sathed writing," Vader identified for him. "All their symbols were meant to be three-dimensional."

"What does this one mean?"

"Inside is as great as outside. One's feelings can shape the universe as simply as the universe can shape one's life."

"All this in one sign?" Luke gaped, now unable to tear his eyes off of the mesmerizing writing.

"It's not a mere 'sign'," his father corrected him. "If you look more carefully, you will see that there are many, interlaced."

Luke looked more carefully and indeed saw an infinity of silver bands, crossing and twisting over each other. It took him a supreme effort to detach himself from this hypnotic sight. He turned back toward his father.

"In reality," the other continued, "the meaning is more complex, but it is difficult to translate it in any other language. Sathed were not like us at all."

"Then why are you following their religion?" he inquired in genuine curiosity.

"They were the race who knew the Force better than anyone possibly could," Vader explained simply. "For them, feeling it was as natural as it is for us to breathe."

"And how do you know this if they've been dead for thousands of years?"

"The Circle," the other answered simply. "It's a memory of all living things, linking the dead Sathed with the living beings who are open to their teachings. Thus, as a Sith, I know what they knew."

"I don't understand," Luke frowned in confusion. "And I'm not really sure that I 'want' to understand at all," he added quickly before his father could begin a more detailed explanation. "Besides, I don't think that you've had me brought here to discuss a religion."

"You're absolutely right, Son." Vader took a pad from his desktop. "This is the medical report on Leia's state. Read it."

Luke took the pad and read it.

He did so three times.

After the third time, he looked at his father, finally understanding why his sister's spirit was so resistant to his attempts to cheer her up; his face was currently wrenched with pain, but he didn't care.

His sister...

"Invalid for life?.." he breathed in horror, dreading his father's answer.

"No," Vader assured him. "I can heal her, but only in my Coruscant estate; it will be time-consuming, two months, perhaps more."

"I see," Luke answered in a neutral voice. He was too numbed by the news to really react to anything.

"Your friends are my main problem, Luke," Vader commented with just a note of rebuke in his voice.

The youth forced himself to focus on his father's words. Han and Chewie...

The dark lord continued. "I don't think that they'll be able to appreciate my hospitality for such a long period of time."

"I don't think they would," he agreed. Luke couldn't help but smile slightly upon imagining Han's reaction to Vader's offer. "But we could always tell them..." he began.

"About my relation with the two of you? Captain Solo's reaction is rather unpredictable," his father commented, his voice now mildly harsh at the mention of Han's name.

"I see your point..." Luke nodded. "Anyway, it must be Leia's decision."

Vader leaned back in his seat. "Granted, were she able to do so, but she won't be conscious for a long while... and the faster I will begin to heal her, the better she will be." He let him consider his words, then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his desk, lacing his gloved hands in a conciliator's stance. "I could release them, Luke, if I could be sure, if only for Leia's sake, that they won't go to Mothma for support. 'You' could guarantee that," he finished, pointing his big index at his shocked son.

"Me?" Luke blinked, totally confused yet again by his father. He was surprising him at every corner now. He worked some moisture in his throat, then asked, very slowly: "If I do that, you'll release us... including me?"

"Yes," Vader nodded instantly, leaving no doubt about his intentions.

Luke was stumped. What was going on?... Was he trying to trick him or did he really mean it?...

"Why?" he inquired in disbelief. "I mean, why would you release me? Now that you have very good..." he stopped, suddenly aware of what he was suggesting.

"Continue. Very good means of pressure, was that what you wanted to say?"

"Yes," he blushed slightly, ashamed to admit this to his father who was currently showing him good intentions. "You... You've always wanted to have me at your side, haven't you? To turn me to the dark side."

"Palpatine wanted me to turn you," his father explained coolly. "He wanted to 'feed' you to his god: the Chaos. The result is most fitting though... He was observing me at Bespin, and lost control, and was eaten himself. Now, you can forget him. As for me..." Vader sighed, stood and began to pace with his hands behind his back. "After Bespin I lost any hope that any of my children would ever be Siths. You've chosen your god, and it is fine with me. I will not interfere with your religious decisions as long as you will not interfere with mine. And yes, I've always wanted to have you," he admitted, then quickly added: "To have you at my side; nothing more. However, it's absolutely understandable that you don't share my opinion on this matter," he conceded, gazing straight at his son, "but if you think that I'll force you to stay with me, you're wrong. You and your friends are free to go, if you can assure me that all of you will be alive and well in two months or so."

For some time Luke looked at his father speechless; things were not developing at all as he had expected.

Slowly, it deemed on him that he didn't know his father at all. All those years, he had only known the monster who had served Palpatine for years... but underneath that, an interesting, caring if cool character had been hiding and seemed ready to reveal himself, at least to his children.

But now was not the time to wonder about this.

Later, he told himself.

For the moment, he had to decide on a course of action. And one thing was sure about Leia's destination: Han wouldn't want to abandon Leia. He would be constantly trying to rescue her, which left them only one other option, to go with her... and Vader.

However, after what the dark lord had done to Solo in the pirates' base, Luke had no doubt that his friend would deem him for crazy for even considering such an option, but... on the other hand, his friend's irrational love and protectiveness gave him no other choice...

Han's love for Leia..., he mused. There was the key to convince Han to 'behave'.

"I guess," he began thoughtfully, "that if we escape your custody, we're going to have our hands full with rebel attacks and problems of all kinds, right?"

"That is why I am asking you if you can guarantee---"

"I think I could," he nodded hesitantly. "But if Mon throws everything she's got at us... I can only do so much."

"Which leaves us which option?" his father asked him, leaning his hands on the top of his desk.

"To go with you," Luke answered shortly... earnestly.

If his answer surprised his father, the dark lord didn't show any outward nor emotional sign of it. "Are you sure?" he asked him, straightening up slowly.

"Yes," Luke replied with a steady voice.

"What about your friends?"

"Chewie is not a problem: once Han will make a decision, he will stick around and do what he can to keep him out of trouble," he explained.

"The problem still remains though," his father pointed out. "How do you plan to convince Solo to not attempt any escape?"

Luke shifted in his chair, crossing his arms. "Like I've suggested previously. We tell him everything about the situation, except for our family secret. Once he knows that Mon is a traitor, he won't think about going back to the rebels, and I know that whatever the situation, he will do anything for Leia."

Vader unconsciously mimicked him by crossing his arms. "In short, you are suggesting to challenge the depth of his love for your sister," he surmised.

"Yes. I know Han; he will be stubborn until he is convinced that there is no harm done with the situation, then he'll distrust you but won't bite anymore."

"Unless he thinks that he can influence the situation..." Vader mused seriously. "How will you explain my sudden interest for Leia? Or your too easy acceptance of my offer for that matter? He will probably think that I'm messing with your mind," he pointed out seriously.

"Well..." Luke began. "I could always explain to him that it's a Jedi thing and that being a Jedi makes it much more difficult for you to do so... He knows me and he'll trust me," he finished, feeling confident that Han would 'behave' for Leia's sake.

"Perhaps. But he will most probably think that you're influenced."

Luke tilted his head in agreement. "What else do you propose then?"

"Let him think what he wants," his father coolly answered.

"What?" Luke frowned at his father. "Why?"

"Let him think that I need you and Leia alive and well for some plan against Mothma and to destroy the rebellion. I must admit that I'd like to do so..." he added in a slightly lower tone of voice, then continued: "Let him think that you're influenced by me. It will be easy since he'll think about it anyway. Then, if I understand him right, he will accept my offer for two reasons. First, to keep an eye on Leia, and to attempt an escape when she is well enough. Second, to keep you from succumbing to my influence."

Luke pursed his lips in unhappiness. "I don't like your manipulative plans, Father," he stated meaningfully.

"This isn't manipulation, Son," Vader corrected "merely suggesting misconceptions."

Luke could suddenly bet that the Dark Lord was smiling behind his mask.

"It's up to you to decide," the dark lord told him as he leaned back in his chair, his manners still as non-belligerent as before.

Luke took a moment to ponder his thoughts, then a slow smile crept on his lips, one of unexpected amusement at his father's cool humor. "Are you 'sure' that you're not messing with my mind?" he asked him.

"Like you said yourself a minute ago, it's not easy with a Jedi..." his father reminded him. "And no, I am not and I never will. Besides, it is not necessary: your good will is doing all the work for me," he then commented, both teasing him and scaring him with the truth.

"Yeah, I've already heard that," Luke sneered at himself.

With an heroic effort, he kept himself from laughing out loud after this comment. Surprisingly enough, he was really enjoying this weirdly teasing conversation with the Dark Lord of the Sith.

His father was dangerous, and he knew it, but he also knew that he was completely safe with him.

A really strange feeling indeed, he reflected.

"I'll think about your proposition," he finally told his father.

"Thank you. The question remains though, how do you plan to keep Solo in line?"

"I will be there with him, remember? And if you allow him access to Leia once or twice every day, he will be very happy to just keep an eye on her. It should also occupy him enough to keep him from thinking about too much mischief," he finished with a slight smirk.

"Very well."

"Thank you," Luke nodded at his father, then considered his own part of the plan. "We'll need hard data to prove Mon's betrayal."

Vader picked a red disk from his desk and tossed it to him. "Will this do?" he asked him as he himself caught the card in his right hand.

Luke loaded the disk on his discarded pad. It was what his father had found; it showed without any doubts Mon's links to the Massacres.

"Yes, it will. Can you have him brought here too? Gently?" he reminded his father.

He felt his disgruntled mood, but heard him give orders to bring in Solo, unmolested.

Luke was watching his sister's stabilizing bacta treatment when his father brought Han in the small observation room. The dark giant unlocked his friend's cuffs, then left them alone without a word.

"Good riddance," Solo snarled before the door was completely closed.

Then, they were alone. The mask of defiance became one of worry and he walked up to the observation window. "Do you know how she is doing?" the pilot asked him, concerned.

"Yes..." Luke nodded sadly. "They can't heal her here... she will need very advanced treatments..."

Han remained silent, his eyes never leaving the indistinct features of his lover. Luke saw the glints of tears in his eyes, then Han angrily brushed them away with the back of his arm.

"Sith, Luke... why did they do that to her?" he asked as he turned toward his friend. "What could they possibly gain with such cruelty?"

"I... I can't tell you----" Luke began as if trying to hide something.

Solo instantly lost his temper and grabbed the Jedi's shirt. "The hell with that crap, Kid. You know; that black monster told you, so tell me."

Luke took hold of his friend's wrist while locking his eyes with his. "Han, I will tell you, but the situation is much more complex than Leia being kidnapped. You'd better take a seat."

Han was about to retort that he didn't need a Jedi babysitter when he registered the look of loss and despair in his friend's eyes. He let him go but didn't sit down.

Vader, he understood. "What has he done to you this time?" he growled angrily.

Luke shook his head. "Vader has nothing to do with our unhappiness this time, Han... we've been betrayed, all of us."

"Yeah, to him."

"No. The betrayal is more than physical..." the younger man began forlornly. "someone has played with the hearts and feelings of thousands of men and women for the sole purpose of a private war... someone we all know very well... Someone we would never have suspected..."

Solo's brows were crossed in a furious frown. "What the heck are you talking about, Kid?" he asked in frustration.

Luke turned back toward his sister's unconscious form. "Leia must have discovered the truth, and instead of risking her future throne, the betrayer set the Massacres loose on her."

It then dawned on Han that Luke's crushed feelings were coming from the loss of delusions more than from the loss of a concept such as freedom. Luke was trying to tell him that the betrayal had come from the Rebellion...

"Who?" he asked, his voice suddenly sounding like a predatory growl.

Luke gave him his datapad. "It's Mon Mothma," he sighed.

Too shocked to answer, Han took hold of the pad and read it, asking it to deny what his friend had just told him.

"Artoo has uncovered similar information during my search, Han. Mon has been playing us all for fools from the beginning."

"How do you know that it hasn't been forged by the Empire?" the pilot asked him seriously.

"It wasn't. Artoo checked for such manipulations himself, but in the end, the fact remains..." he explained glumly. "I could also feel it when I last saw her... It's her, Han... I wish it were different, but it isn't."

Han was speechless now. He stuttered: "But... I mean... How--- What..."

"What are we going to do about her?" Luke supplied.

The young Jedi shrugged, suddenly feeling wearier than he had ever felt in his entire life. The Rebel dream was truly dead now, not only because Mon Mothma had been using them, but also because the Empire was also dead, in a way.

He had never felt so very confused in his entire life.

Han continued to gape in disbelief and horror at him. Luke pursed his lips in understanding. "Quite honestly, Han, I don't know what to do about it just yet... my only concern for the moment is Leia."

"What is going to happen to her?" Solo scowled, turning back toward his lover.

"Vader will bring her to Coruscant and will personally see to her tending. She will be fine."

Han's eyes grew darker in hatred. "Like Hell he will. I'm not letting that fiend touch her anymore than he already has; he won't use her for some twisted plan of his either."

Luke turned toward him. "You mean that you want to stay with her?" he offered. This might be even easier than he had thought.

"Nothing is going to separate me from her," Solo growled, throwing an askance look at the door that was behind them.

His threatening, ill-disposed mind came clearly through that glare.

"As a matter of fact, Han, Vader has offered us to stay with him until we have dealt with Mon. He knows that she will throw everything that she's got at us."  

Han meant to snicker until he saw how serious Luke was about the offer.

He scolded the Kid. "No, don't tell me that you're thinking about accepting, Luke. No way, we're not staying with him," he warned darkly.

"He doesn't mean us any harm, Han," Luke defended.

"Sure, he's just tortured Leia once, then you, frozen me, cut off your hand, and tried to do many other things that we're just glad we escaped from," he sneered, then turned dead serious. "Can't you see that it's just another trap to keep you in his claws?!"

Luke's temper flared slightly. "It is 'not' a trap," he stated adamantly, then took a deep breath and forced himself to relax; he had to remember that Han didn't know the truth between Vader and himself. "Many things have changed in the Empire, things that Mon Mothma knows about but won't reveal to anybody else," he finished in a calmer tone.

"Oh yeah, like what? Vader doesn't destroy entire planets anymore?" he sneered.

"Like the Emperor is senile and insane," Luke cut in. "Vader's in command now and he's slowly deactivating the imperial war machine, but he can't do it completely because of Mon."

"Sure, and he is also growing flowers in his garden," the Corellian sneered contemptuously. "Luke, I can't believe that you believe any word of what you've just said. He is a monster and you know it. You also know that he wants us for some plan of his and that after this plan is ended," Solo mimicked a shot, "We are as good as dead."

Luke forced himself to relax. Hearing his friend speak of his father in such terms was strangely painful and were provoking an urge to defend him. However, to make Han agree with his decision, he needed a cool head.

"I know that he is a monster, yes," he agreed, "And I know that he wants our help to deal with Mon. I don't know what you think, but in this matter I agree with whatever he has in mind."

"Yeah, all right, but..."

"And he will heal Leia. Han, I'm not talking about joining the Empire nor Vader," he reminded him. "All I'm saying is that for Leia's sake, we have no choice but to be his... 'guests', for the moment. He assured me that he would let us see her, just like right now, and that he will let us go once she's better. His quarrel is with Mon, not us. Besides, once Leia is better, we'll have more... options, don't you think?"

There, he had said everything. He couldn't argue anymore without repeating his arguments, and he could only hope that he was right about Han.

His friend looked at him--- and suddenly snickered. "You really believe in this, huh, Kid?"

Luke half-glared at him.

Solo sighed, ran his fingers through his hair then turned back toward Leia. "We don't have many great choices, do we? and I bet that he knows it as well as we do."

Luke nodded but remained silent, letting Han work things out by himself.

"We are in his hands and Leia... What a mess. Are you sure that he is not lying about healing her?" Solo asked him, not taking his eyes off of his lover.

"Yes. I can feel when Vader tells the truth or lies; he isn't lying this time."

"Yeah. If he is not messing with your mind..." Solo ran his hand along his jaw, continued to study his injured girlfriend, then sighed yet again. "I don't like it, but there's no option. I just hope that you're right, Kid, or you'll answer to me and Chewie."

Luke playfully held his hands up at that, as if warding off his friend's warning. "No need to bring out your super star destroyers, Han," he joked half- seriously. "We'll be fine, trust me. 'She' will be fine."

"I sure hope so, Kid, 'cause once will be there, it will be difficult to find a way out."

"Don't worry, Han."

Solo unexpectedly whirled back toward him and warningly waved his finger at him. "No, I will worry. And one more thing; don't expect me to be nice with our 'host'."

Luke smiled at him. "Don't worry. I don't think that he'll expect it from any of us."

And thus, strange events were about to take place, Luke reflected. Here they were, sworn enemies to the Empire and its minions, finding refuge in the private castle of their arch-nemesis.

Destiny sure brought about strange twists of fate.

As if sensing that the dilemma was over, his father came back in the small observation room a few minutes later. Han's first reaction was to move on the dark lord, but Luke set his hand on his shoulder, wordlessly telling him to not attack him.

"What is your decision?" his father asked them.

"Do you guarantee that you will let us go once she is better?" Luke asked rhetorically.

"Yes," The dark lord turned slightly toward Solo. "Do you agree with him, Solo?"

Han waved his finger at the dark lord, just like he had done with his son, Luke refrained from smirking. "If I see the slightest sign that you are playing with either Luke or Leia, I swear that you will regret taking us in, Vader."

"I would expect nothing less from you, Captain Solo." Vader said in his coolly-modulated voice. "I remind you though that for the sake of secrecy, I will restrain you to a certain area of my castle."

"As long as I can see Leia..." Solo growled.

"You will, all of you," Vader nodded, turning back toward the Jedi. "Now, I will have to send you back to your cells for the time being. We should be on Coruscant in a little over three days."

Luke and Han exchanged a look, then shrugged. They knew that free prisoners wouldn't look normal aboard an Imperial vessel.

While he followed the dark lord out of the observation room, Han swore to himself that if Luke displayed even the slightest black and blue, aside from his already healing one, Vader would have a taste of his boot's heel in a judiciously chosen place.

The two men accompanied the tall man into the anteroom of his quarters.

"Sorry," Vader suddenly said from behind them, then nothing.

Troopers came in and collected their inert bodies.

Chapter 7: Refuge

*Luke, Luke, wake up... Luke...* his father's voice droned in his head.

The barely conscious youth groaned, then brought his hand to his head and rubbed  his temple.

What was going on now? he grunted to himself.

Slowly, his senses returned to him; the darn voice continued to buzz in his  mind.

Finally, he became aware that he was laying on his stomach, on the hard platform  of his cell, his head hanging off of it and toward the floor.  And his father  was trying to contact him.

*Okay, okay... I'm up,* he complained drowsily.

Well, he was not completely up, he corrected himself, but his mind was awakened  now.  He weakly pushed himself up in a more normal lying position, then laid his  head back on the cool steel, not feeling up to any more strenuous action for the  moment.

*Are you okay?* Vader asked him.

*I've felt better.  What have you done this time?* he slurred while he continued  to fight against his urge to sleep onward.

*I kept you and your friends unconscious for the remnants of the trip.   We're---*

*You've what?!?* Luke exclaimed, his eyes snapping open in reaction; he  immediately regretted his loud outburst.

His head was now throbbing from the effort.

*I saved you the boringness of being locked up for days.  Would you have  preferred to be awake during three days?* his father inquired meaningfully.

*No,* Luke admitted.   He scratched his head and tried again to sit up.  He  managed to push himself up to his elbows.

*As I thought,* his father commented.  *We're coming up on Coruscant now.  In an  hour, guards will come for you and your friends.  I need your help to pull off  this part of the masquerade, Son.  I have no doubt that Mothma has posted spies  nearby, or else she has means to know what is going on around me. If I were in  her boots, I would.*

While his father was talking to him, Luke slowly adopted a sitting position,  fighting his dizziness all the way through, then refocused on his father's  request.

It was obvious to him that he wanted him and Han to act like prisoners for a  while longer.  *All right, what do you want us to do exactly?* he inquired  seriously.

*Put up a fight,* came the surprising answer.  *The guards will have the order  to mildly stun you if you're raucous.  However, to any spy, it will look as if  you truly are prisoners here.  Warn Solo and the Wookiee to not push it too much  though.*

Luke, who was still gaping in disbelief at his father's order, fought to answer  him in a coherent way. *Huh... Okay. What about Leia?* he then asked in worry.

*She's stabilized for the moment, but she hasn't woken up yet,* his father told  him briefly.  *Once we will be alone, I will allow you and your friends to see  her.*

*I'll tell that to Han, then.  It will motivate him to not give you too much  trouble.*

*I believe so too.  I'll see you---*

*Father?..* Luke called before his father could cut their mental link.


*Would it be possible to send some food our way?* he inquired hopefully.  *I'm  sure that Han and Chewie are as starved as I am.*

At this very moment, thanks to his lasting link with his father's mind, Luke  felt something that he had never though his father capable of: Vader shied in  foolishness.

*Sorry about that, Son...* he apologized almost contritely.  *I had forgotten  that you wouldn't get any food for so long... I'll send you something.*


The link was cut.

Almost immediately, a ration bar dropped from the food slot of his wall and onto  the hard floor of his cell.

Well, he sighed as he carefully bent down and retrieved it from the floor, it  was better than nothing.

Once he was done eating his 'meal', he contacted Han and Chewie through the  Force and told them what the plan was.

Throughout the mental contact, Luke felt Han's resentment that was directed at his  father for keeping them unconscious.  No matter how Luke tried to justify his  action, there was no changing his friend's mood.

In the end, Luke accepted that Han and Chewie were going to be truly 'dangerous'  rebels until they would be controlled.

While Luke waited for the troopers to collect him, he reflected that Chewie  hadn't been too hard to convince to go along with the plan.  He supposed that it  had to do with the fact that Han had agreed to cooperate in the first place.

So, he surmised grimly, they were about to be taken inside his father's castle,  the last place that he had ever wanted to even have nightmares about, and they  were going to hide in there until Leia would be better and that they had worked  a plan to defeat Mon Mothma.

With or without Vader's help.

He shook his head ruefully.

He was definitely losing it since he now thought of his father, Lord Darth  Vader, as an ally.

The sound of clattering steps tore Luke out of his light trance.  He opened his  eyes just in time to see his door open.

The Imperials trained their weapons on him.

"Stand up," one of them ordered.

Luke glared at them but obeyed.  One of the soldiers stepped inside and secured  his wrists in cuffs, then shoved him toward the short steps.  The goal might  have been to make his fall face first in them, but Luke managed to retain his  equilibrium despite his shaky legs.

He was still very hungry.

In the corridor, Han and Chewie were already on their way toward the waiting  turbolifts.  Han turned toward him, threw him a conspirator look, then he was  forced to turn away from him.

However, it had been enough for Luke to understand that they would act in the  turbolifts.  After all, he too calculated that it was the best possibility to  attempt an escape; that was also why they would be separated in them.

The vicious push of a blaster's nuzzle in the small of his back convinced him to  walk toward the remaining lift.  

Inside, the troopers kept their blasters trained on him.  Luke studied his  options.  He had to make this look like a real attempt, he reminded himself.   Thus, the legs would be the most efficient choice.

He waited for a sign that the troopers were less wary about him--- then acted.

He kicked out on the right with his right foot, aiming for the knee of his right  guard.  He hit his goal--- but by the time he could turn toward the other guard,  he was already unconscious.

Or rather incapacitated.  Since he wasn't unconscious yet, he felt pain when his  head hit the hard deck; he weakly yelped in painful reaction, then again as the  troopers kicked him hard in his unprotected midsection.


"Rebel scum," his companion spat venomously as he nursed his knee.

The signal that they had reached their destination saved Luke from more hits.   They roughly hauled him up and dragged him by his arms toward the hangar bay.

Luke wanted to alleviate the strain on his shoulders, wanted to recover his  senses, but he couldn't; the mild stun blast hadn't worn off yet.

Thus, he was very glad when the troopers shoved him on the bench of the prisoner  compartment and locked him up.

When he recovered his more aware senses, he noticed the presence of his  unconscious friends.  "Han, Chewie!" he called.

His friends didn't steer.  He reached out to check on their status.  They had  been sedated.

Mildly outraged, Luke called his father.  *I thought that you'd said mildly  stunned,* he growled.

*I did, but your friends managed to kill a few men.  The troopers made the  decision to keep them under for a while.  We'll talk later.*

And with that, his father cut off their link.

'You bet we'll talk,' Luke thought darkly.  He had agreed to play along with his  father's charade, but getting hurt had never been part of the bargain.  His  father hadn't controlled his troops like he had said he would.

He then craned his neck and took a good look at Solo.  A telltale bruise was  already spreading under his left eye, and he himself could feel some abused  tissues near his friend's midsection and neck.

Having nothing to do but wait, Luke decided to heal his friends as well as clear  the drug from their systems.

By the time that he felt the ship land, Han and Chewie had begun to stir.

Lord Vader didn't interfere with his son's decision to wake his friends up.   In fact, he even agreed with him that his troops had pushed it when they had  chosen to drug them.

Of course, he couldn't argue with the fact that the smugglers were  troublemakers, but a stun blast would have sufficed.

He turned back toward his daughter's stasis unit.  Her face was covered with  bacta bandages now to control the pain, but unlike for regular injuries, he knew  that this treatment would not be sufficient to complete her healing.

As he gazed at her covered features, he reflected that the disfigurement was  much too large to justify it by any other means but revenge.

How much Mothma had to hate "the Soul of Rebellion" to do such things to her, he  reflected in growing hatred of his own.  How much she had to hate the Princess,  who was everything that she herself was: intelligent, charming, strong, but who  was also so much more.

Unlike her evil counterpart, Leia had the gift of a heart as bright as the  Light.

Yes, he reasoned sadly, it was a fitting reason to hate her if the bearer of the  hatred had a heart as dark and cold as the deep water... a fitting reason to try  to kill this Light forever.

He sighed and rested his gloved hand on the glass cover of the unit, then  reached out for his daughter.

He was met by a swirl of emotions, blue, gray and white; ice where heat  usually was.  The only flame that was inhabiting her at the moment was black,  burning but cold.

Hatred, he realized.  Mothma had almost been successful in her goal, even now  that Leia wasn't in her claws anymore.  The betrayal, the pain, the sojourn in Arsharel's Temple, they hadn't gone unnoticed for the Princess's psyche.  She  had almost lost her light, she had been eaten by hatred--- her hatred for him,  her father.

It was, he realized in slight sorrow, the only remaining stable point in her  life.

Even her love for her smuggler was ...corrupted; instead of being a strong  heat, it was barely warm---

And suddenly, he understood why she was losing her heart.

She was preparing herself for the loss of his love as well as the loss of  everything that she cared for because of her link with him; she was ready to  lose any trust that she had ever earned.

*What did they tell you, my lost child, these voices in the dark night?* he  inquired softly in her mind.

Surprisingly enough, she answered him.  *My legacy is pain,* Leia's bitter voice  told him coldly.  *My blood is poison--- you're the poison.  You're the pain.  You're in me. I hate myself. Everybody hates you, so everybody hates me.*

Strangely enough, she hated him so much that she almost seemed to care for him  now.  Then he realized that it was only because he had to be there, to be alive,  so that she could hate him, hence stay alive herself.

*Hate me,* she ordered him.

*I love you,* he answered instead.

*No!* she defied, her feelings flaring like a firework made of thousands of red- hot stars.  *There's no love.*

*I love you, child of my blood,* he sent her with all his care.

*You're lying... You're lying,* she moaned in despair.

*I love you, Leia. Let me help you,* he begged with her.


*Let me lead you to the Light.*

*There's no light. There's no way. There's no love.*

*Trust me,* he entreated her, trying to breach through her moat and touch her  soul to comfort her.

*There's no trust.*

*I love you. Let me in your fortress, Daughter.*

*I hate you. I will not let you in, Father,* she defied him.

*Leia, please, I love you,* he begged desperately.

He could feel her slip through his fingers now.

*I HATE YOU!* she screamed angrily, then the 'door' was shut.

"Mothma," Vader growled lowly as he recovered his full senses, "you'll pay for  this..."

He needed Leia's acceptance to be able to help her.  She would have to bear with  many operations; the Force healing, while not all powerful, would be of a great  use, but only if he could contact Leia's core.

He didn't want her to spend a year in treatment; not if there was a possibility  to accelerate her regeneration so that the same treatment would take only a  couple of months.

But he needed her trust to do so.

Even more important, 'he' needed her to trust him because he was the only one  capable of performing such a healing. Luke wasn't knowledgeable enough about the  very advanced techniques nor had he ever had to heal himself for months; he  himself had.

And finally, Leia's hatred was killing her soul; he couldn't let that happen.

He knew all too well that restoring her body would mean nothing if her spirit  would be lost.  Someone 'had' to be able to make her trust again, he then  reflected earnestly.

Someone who could make her believe, that she was loved.

In the end, he understood that he would need Luke's help after all for who else  but her brother could reach Leia's soul?

The shuttle began its landing approach.

A trooper came inside the small medunit.

"We'll be landing at your palace in five minutes, my Lord."

"Excellent.  Have the Princess transferred to my personal medcenter; lock the others in the high-security cells, then you'll leave me alone and return to the  ship."

"Yes, Lord."

Darth Vader walked out of the room and took a look at the awakening pilot who  was in the prisoner compartment.

What in the Force had Leia seen in him? he wondered yet again.

His son seemed to feel his wondering; he threw him a quick look.  *In time,  Father, you'll see him like we do,* Luke told him.

Vader didn't reply, merely shrugged his large shoulders.

The ship settled down on the landing platform.  The ramp lowered immediately;  the dark lord walked down from the ramp even as it completed its descent toward  the platform.  He took a moment to look around himself.

Located high on his castle, his private landing platform allowed a fantastic  view of the surroundings.  The setting sun was once again glinting on the window  panes of the countless aircars that were composing the traffic lines while the  skyscrapers were punctuating the horizon with their elegant glories.  Behind and  around those, the red-gold color of the sky was glowing, giving a special hue to  the sight of the bustling capitol.

He was home.

Curses and sounds of fight attracted his attention back toward the shuttle.

"I want to see her!" Solo was arguing, straining against the troopers' hold.

Luke was also trying to free himself, but he wasn't giving his troops as much  trouble as his friends were.

Vader noticed that the troopers were also about to hit his 'prisoners' again.

"Hold," he ordered.

Luke looked up just in time to see his father's gesture.

'Here we go again,' he thought--- then his senses eluded him once more.

Once his guests were locked up and that the troopers had left the castle, Vader  entrusted his daughter to his best medics, who also happened to be his personal  saviors if he could call them that.  The first reunion concerning the treatment  had been scheduled for the evening.  Until then, the medics had to properly  install Leia and stabilize her condition.

He, for his part, decided to free his guests.

Since he had no doubt that Solo would jump him the moment that he would be  awake, he decided to wake his son first.

He keyed his cell open.  The Jedi was still unconscious.

A new sound invaded the Jedi's quiet environment; it tore him out of his torpor.   His first reaction was to start awake.

"It's okay, it's me," his father said from a position right beside his head.

The young Jedi slightly calmed down, but not much.  He glared at his father. "Was that necessary?" he asked him as he forced himself to a sitting position.   Dizziness once again assaulted his senses, as if in a repeat of his awakening  aboard his father's ship.

"As a matter of fact, Son, yes, it was," his father answered seriously.  "You  are here, safe, and nobody knows the truth.  Sometimes, the means are harsh, but  the end always justifies them."

"Oh, you think so, huh?  You told me that we wouldn't be hurt," he complained  even as he rubbed his temple to alleviate his slight headache.  Meanwhile, his  stomach complained once again from the beating that it had taken.

Vader tilted his head in what was probably confusion until Luke brought his hand  from his head to his stomach.

Then, and only then, a light seemed to turn itself on in his father's mind.  He  set his hand on his shoulder as if in apology.  "I'm sorry about that, Luke, but  I can't predict how my troops will act."

"Sure," he grumbled and shrugged his hand off in obvious resent.

As if in new apology, his father offered him a food bar.  Luke noticed that it  wasn't the average, tasteless ration bar.

"Here, I thought you'd still be hungry," he commented in the silence.

Luke didn't hesitate.  He took the food and ravenously ate it.  His father  remained silent for a few minutes, then he finally spoke again.

"I can assure you that nothing similar will happen anymore, Son," he reassured  him.  "We'll collect your friends and bring you to more adequate quarters.   There, we'll get you all as much food as you can eat."

Luke glared up at him, then softened and finished his food.  As always, he  sighed in annoyance, his father was right even if he himself didn't like his  reasoning.  As long as they were all safe and Leia was better...

He stood up by himself, feeling his strength return faster than the last time  that he had been knocked unconscious.

"Can I ask you something?" he said, looking up at his father.


"Don't knock us out again."

Lord Vader chuckled, a sound which really sounded weird to Luke's ears.  "I give  you my word.  You understand though why I did it so many times."

"Yeah, I understand," Luke nodded, resting his hand back over his painful  stomach.  He'd have to take a look at that soon, he promised himself.

"Allow me," his father offered.

Before Luke could complain, the dark lord barely rested his hand over his,  focused on the Force--- and healed the bruised and broken tissues in less time  than Luke would've thought possible.

The youth gaped at him.  "How?---"

"It's a question of practice.  I'll show you, if you want.  Now come."

Luke followed silently, too awed to do anything else.  He had always known that  his father was a powerful Jedi, but he had never thought that he could do this  much.  A new, true hope began to shine in his somewhat heavy heart: Leia would  be all right.

"She will be," his father agreed with his unspoken thought, "but it will not be  an easy task. The Force is far from almighty. Or benevolent. And, by the way, I  am 'not' a Jedi," he finished, sounding irritated by the word Jedi.

"Sorry," Luke apologized automatically. A second later, he frowned: "Why are you  eavesdropping on me?"

"I'm not. You're not controlling your sending."

"You can hear all my thoughts?" he gasped in disbelief.

"The Circle save me!" his father exclaimed in annoyance, "No, only when you  open yourself to me. You seem to have problems controlling your barriers," he  almost scolded him, but not quite.

It was more like criticizing, he admitted.

"You don't seem to know what it is," his father then observed, all anger gone  from his voice.

"I don't," Luke sighed reluctantly. "My training was .. fragmentary to say the  least."

Vader took a moment to consider this revelation.

"I have a rather complete library on the subject, if you're interested."

Luke meant to remind him that he would not study dark secrets, but his father  beat him to it.

"'Jedi' books," he specified.  "not Sith, so no need to worry."  He seemed to  smile ironically behind his mask.

"Thank you," Luke nodded ruefully, "Yes, I'm rather interested."

"Good. I'll show you in the evening."

Part 2

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