Chapter 14: Freedom
"I don't understand it," Luke said, "How did he get through the atmosphere? He's not a pilot!"
Luke glanced towards his father, who was standing in the shade of a nearby tree. They had retreated to the far side of the island, where they could observe the Emperor from a distance. The situation was somewhat familiar to Luke.
"Technologies do exist, which are capable of shielding a ship against the toxic atmosphere, or even creating a hole through which safe passage can be obtained."
"That would make for a very slow approach, wouldn't it?"
"The Emperor has never been one for impatience."
"I did it at full throttle."
Luke grinned, shrugging.
"One day," his father, said, coming closer, "I hope you have a son of your own. Then you will know what you put me through."
"Quiet," Luke said, "He's landing. It's an Imperial shuttle."
"I can sense he is searching for us ... but he hasn't found us yet."
"Get down!" Luke said, waving his arm behind him, "Someone's getting out. Wait ... it's ... I don't believe it! He's brought a squadron of royal guards!!"
"Six I think," Luke said, adjusting the focus on the macrobinoculars, "Okay, he's getting out now. He's walking down the ramp ...ha!"
"What is it?"
"I can see Fode and Beed. Beed's running forward - Beed looks like he's going to attack him!"
Luke was silent for a moment.
"And?" his father prompted.
Luke gasped in shock, "One of the guards has hurt him! I can't see him anymore ... Fode is flying away! Go on, Fode, get out of there!"
"Where is the Emperor now?"
"He's gone inside," Luke said, "Three guards have gone with him. I only hope Artoo had enough sense to hide himself."
"The Emperor will not bother with your droid. He will likely send the guards out to hunt for us."
"Bring them on," Luke said. "They're no match for us."
"Brave words, Son, but a confrontation with the guards will serve nothing. I have an idea."
"I'm listening," Luke said, putting down the macrobinoculars.
"We will capture one of the guards, and send him back with a message, saying we will meet with the Emperor on the southern shore. We will tell him you have turned to the Dark Side, and are willing to swear allegiance to him. I will go there and wait for him. Meanwhile, you will double back to the building, take a ship and leave the planet."
"Then what about you?" Luke said, "I'm not leaving you alone to face the Emperor. He'll kill you!"
"He will not kill me. I am still his apprentice."
"And when he realizes you've tricked him and I've escaped?" Luke said.
His father didn't reply.
"No," Luke said, shaking his head in disbelief, "Too much has happened, Father. You are not his property anymore!"
"This is not open for discussion. You are leaving. Return to your friends, they will offer you some protection."
Luke folded his arms, stubbornly.
"Luke! Do as you're told for once!"
"No," Luke said, "I'm not going to leave you here. We're in this together, Father. Together!"
"We are not in this together. Becoming a Sith was my decision, and mine alone. You will not suffer because of my choices."
"It's too late for that," Luke said, "It was too late for that the day I found out you were my father."
"It is not your destiny to die here," his father pleaded.
"Maybe it is," Luke said, shrugging.
His father turned away, and Luke felt a wave of anger from him. It soon faded into a weary acceptance.
"If you stay, you must promise me that you will not attempt any misplaced heroic sacrifices."
Luke replied with an unintelligible mumble and then spoke up. "I've got an idea myself. You distract him, and I'll sneak up and knock him unconscious. Then we both escape in his ship."
"You think he would fall for that? You must defeat him in an equal challenge, or not at all."
"I'll be electrocuted!" Luke said.
"Exactly. Which is why you will not be taking him on. If you learn nothing else from me, I want you to remember this. Never get into a fight with someone who is clearly your superior."
Luke gazed up and down at his father's mostly artificial body, and saw his point.
"Then what are we going to do?" Luke asked, "When he finds us, he'll kill me, and probably threaten to kill you as well."
"The future is not always so immutable, Son."
"What do you suggest, then? That we simply wait for him to show up and see what happens?"
"Yes. But not here. Come with me, I know a better place."
The 'place' his father had referred to, turned out to be a dark, damp looking cave behind a waterfall. His father used the Force to hold back the water, and then both of them entered the sinister looking cavern. Once the water began to fall again, the cave fell into darkness. His father turned on his lightsaber, causing the walls to light up with a dull, reflected red glow.
"I don't mean to sound negative," Luke said, looking around at the slimy walls, "But I don't think this is an ideal setting for a confrontation."
"We are not staying here," his father said, walking forward. "Follow me."
"There's more?" Luke said, watching in curiosity as his father raised his hand, causing a boulder to roll away from the wall. Underneath, there was a rusty trap door.
"I hope you are not claustrophobic," his father said, lifting the trap door and lowering himself down, "We will be traveling deep underground."
Luke swallowed. "Well let's just hope I'm not."
After the initial grime-filled, dripping cavern they had entered, Luke expected their surroundings to get steadily worse. Instead, the rock soon turned pure white, and the walls and ceiling glittered with hundreds upon hundreds of precious jewels. He turned on his own lightsaber, adding to the shimmering sparkle that surrounded them.
There was very little conversation between them during the first part of the journey - Luke was too preoccupied with the dancing light of a hundred minerals. Han would faint from pure ecstasy if he saw this.
"Father," Luke said, as they began to walk down yet another steeply sloping tunnel, "How many people know about this?"
"You and myself," his father said, shortly.
"How did you discover it?"
"A note left by the previous resident of the retreat."
"What did it say?" Luke asked, "'Oh, by the way, there's a mine with a billion, trillion credits worth of jewels behind the waterfall?'"
"No. It was a log entry left by a Sith apprentice, who said his master has gone down here to explore, and was killed when the water rose through the tunnels."
"The water comes through the tunnels?!" Luke asked, looking behind him in shock.
"No. A river once flowed through here in the past, obviously, but the only way to get the water to rise, would be to dam the river mouth on the southern shore." They had entered into the largest cavern to date, and there was a jagged hole in the middle. His father gestured towards it. "Down there, you can see the river as it currently flows."
Luke looked down through the hole, and saw the fast flowing, wild river filling the cavern below.
"Come on," his father said, pulling him back, "We still have further to go."
Despite wanting to rest, Luke followed his father down yet another sloping tunnel. He could still hear the water bubbling below, for quite a way down the tunnel.
"If the water only rises when you dam the river," Luke said, "That previous resident you mentioned killed his own master."
"So I gathered."
"Are you sure that apprentice wasn't the old corpse? Sounds like something he would do."
"Actually, I believe it may have been his master."
"I guess we can safely assume that he met an equally grisly death, then."
"He was killed in his sleep."
Luke rolled his eyes, trying to resist the urge to say something derogatory about the Sith.
As they moved on, Luke became aware that the rock was no longer white. Large chunks of a smooth, glassy black type substance had been appearing occasionally, but now it was the only rock to be seen. Transparent, green veins intruded into the shiny, black walls, and Luke stopped to finger one, curiously.
"I recognize this rock," Luke said, "Is this what the retreat is built from?"
"Yes," his father replied, "The Sith have been mining this rock for centuries, due to its durability. A lightsaber blade is one of the only things it cannot stand up to."
Luke cringed, remembering the binders.
"Come on," his father called, further down the tunnel.
Luke ran to catch up, before he found himself skidding into his father's back.
"Whoops, sorry," Luke said, as his father looked around in annoyance. "You're hard to see down here! Why did you stop?"
His father reached down, and picked up a rock from the tunnel floor. He casually tossed it in front of him. Luke jumped back in shock as it exploded, coating them with dust. A heavy black barrier came rushing down, smashing into the floor with enough force to cause rocks to fall from the ceiling.
"Booby traps!" Luke gasped.
"Yes," his father said, "Set up to keep out Jedi, I'd imagine."
Luke studied the barrier thoughtfully for a moment. "Okay, I've got it," Luke said, "Our lightsabers can handle this door. It's probably not that thick ... maybe a meter or so. There's obviously some kind of laser system set up, designed to zap anything which moves ... we could get around that if we stand back to back and keep out lightsabers outwards. There's bound to be other little surprises ... but if we use the Force, I'm sure we can get through."
"We could do that," his father agreed, "Or, we could simply flick the off switch."
Luke watched as his father pulled open a panel in the wall, and entered a code in the security pad. A lever then appeared, and he pressed it down, causing the barrier to return into the ceiling.
"Okay," Luke said, feeling a little stupid.
"Do you honestly think someone would design such a lethal mechanism with no off switch?" his father said, walking onwards.
"Well, usually in the holovid shows, the heroes have to fight their way through to prove their worth," Luke said, following behind.
"This is reality, Son. Now come on, we need to move quickly."
Luke wondered why they were in such a hurry. It wasn't as though there was any need to save time - it could be hours before the Emperor found them down here. If that was his father's plan, of course. Luke stretched out to test his father's mood. He was nervous ... and worried ... but trying to shield it from him. He knew something he didn't, that was clear.
Luke glanced back up the tunnel, wondering if he could sneak away, and find out what his father was worried about.
"Don't even think about it," his father called.
"Well why don't you tell me what's going on?" Luke suggested, "Stop being so secretive."
"Like son, like father," came the dry reply.
Luke sighed. "I told you I was sorry about that."
There was only silence from his father in reply.
"You're taking it well," Luke added.
"I've had practice," his father said.
Luke grinned. "Which one was more of a shock?"
"You, most definitely. I had suspected Leia was related to your mother in some way ... the likeness was too uncanny to be a coincidence."
"Why didn't you ask Bail Organa about it?" Luke asked.
"He would not have told me the truth. Doubtless he was part of the whole sordid cover-up to begin with."
"What if he had?" Luke said, "What would you have done?"
His father was silent for a while. "I would have wanted a relationship with her, at the very least. One not based on hate. Why do you ask?"
"I was just thinking it would have been nice to grow up with her. It got lonely, just by myself. A sister would have been great."
"I was not in appropriate circumstances to raise one of you, never mind two."
Luke stopped walking, and faced his father in shock. "What?! What are you saying? That you never wanted to raise me?"
His father also stopped, and turned to face to him.
"I meant that the demands of my career and position in the Empire did not provide good conditions under which to raise children. You would have done better on Tatooine, with your aunt and uncle."
"That's not true, Father. I'd have died of boredom, if I'd lived there much longer."
"You could have had a normal life," his father said, "Now look at you. You're a Jedi."
"And I wouldn't have it any other way," Luke insisted.
His father studied him for a moment. "I wasn't there enough for you, while you were growing up. In fact, I barely remember you growing up ... one year, you were only this high -" His father placed his hand in the air, just above his waist, "- and now, suddenly, you're an adult. I find myself wondering what happened to all those years."
His father continued down the tunnel, and Luke followed, beside him.
"Well, I remember them," Luke said, "I remember you teaching me to fly a speeder -"
His father made an odd groaning noise.
" - and I remember you teaching me how to shave."
"Your uncle could have done those things," his father pointed out.
"Sure," Luke said, "But he couldn't have taught me how to duel with a lightsaber, right?"
His father glanced at him. "If you had grown up with him, you wouldn't have been placed in situations where such things were necessary."
"It doesn't matter," Luke said, "I needed you. You're my father. And I still need you. Maybe not to teach me how to fly a shuttle, and why jumping out of moving speeders isn't a good idea, like when I was younger, but I need you, all the same. When my uncle was looking after me ... he was only trying to act like my father ... an approximation, if you will. But you don't need to act - you're the real thing. Why would I want a substitute when I can have you?"
"Because a substitute would have done a better job," his father said.
"How could I possibly have turned out better than I have?" Luke said, smirking.
"You did so despite of me, not because of me."
"I wish you'd stop running yourself down," Luke said, "You were a wonderful father. You weren't perfect - but who is? You cared for me, that was enough."
"I wish you would stop being so forgiving," his father said.
"You know," Luke said, "I bet you've been doing this you're whole life. You thought you were a bad son, a bad Jedi, a bad Sith, and now you think you're a bad father. Can't you focus on the positive for once?"
"It is too late for anything to change now," his father said.
"No, it's not," Luke insisted, "It's never too late for change."
His father paused for a moment, seemingly staring off into space.
"I've always thought I was a very good pilot," he admitted, eventually.
"There's a start," Luke said.
His father suddenly looked back up the tunnel, as though he had heard a noise.
"What is it?" Luke asked, stretching out with his Force sense.
His father didn't reply, and they waited in silence for a long minute. The only sound Luke could hear was the river in the far distance, and the only lifeforms he could sense were himself and his father.
"Come on," his father said, suddenly, pulling Luke on, "We are nearly there."
"You still haven't told me where 'there' is," Luke said, moving quickly to catch up.
The tunnel curved around, and both of them emerged into a vast cavern. His father held out an arm, to prevent Luke from moving past him. Luke was mildly irritated, until he saw the reason his father had held him back.
"Wow!" Luke said, gazing around in awe. They were standing on a shelf, above a perfectly circular pit. The din of squeaking and scuttling noises filled the air, causing Luke to lean over to see what lay at the bottom of the vast crevasse. Down below, a sea of climbing, squirming four-jawed crabs made a carpet so thick, Luke could not see the bottom. They were wet, so he could only assume there was water down there somewhere.
He looked up, and saw a single natural bridge crossed the pit, passing through a flat circular island, which rose up from the middle of the chasm. There was a black altar in the center of the island, with strange pyramid symbols carved around the edge. The same symbols adorned the walls, leaving no doubt in Luke's mind that this had been a Sith temple at one stage.
Luke rubbed his arms, feeling uncomfortable as he looked back down at the crabs. "How did those things get down there?"
"Washed up with the river, no doubt, and then became trapped when the river flowed through a narrow gap."
"Disgusting," Luke said, "They're eating each other."
"Yes, starvation will do that to a species. You would be wise to avoid falling in."
"Thanks for the tip," Luke said, eyeing the crumbling shelf nervously.
"I had no idea this place had eroded so much," his father said, gazing around, "It has been longer than I thought. There used to be a path around the outside, but it appears this shelf is all that is left."
Luke shuffled carefully along the shelf, until he reached the area where the bridge met the edge. He extended a leg and tested the bridge with his weight. It was narrow, but it seemed solid enough. "I can see a door on the other side," Luke said, pointing past the altar to the opposite edge.
"It leads to a cavern full of ancient Jedi artifacts," his father said.
"Really? Come on, let's go and have a look."
"I wouldn't want to test the bridge. You can look, but be careful. I will wait here."
Luke nodded, and stepped out onto the bridge. It creaked, but still held his weight.
"Wait," his father said, walking along the shelf towards Luke, "Come here a minute."
Luke was puzzled, but he stepped off the bridge and joined his father back on the shelf.
His father stretched out, and pulled Luke into an embrace.
"What was that for?" Luke asked, blinking as his father released him.
"Because I want you to know something," his father said, seriously, "But I am not comfortable saying it. So I would rather show it."
"Okay, I understand," Luke said, grinning, "But why now?"
Luke frowned, and stretched out again, checking for the Emperor's presence. There was nothing, he had to be a long way off yet.
"I'll be right back," Luke said, still watching his father, curiously, "Wait here."
His father gave a quick nod, and Luke began to make his way across, testing the bridge before moving forward. Once he had passed the island at the center, he ran the rest of the way, causing rocks to fall on the crabs below, much to their annoyance. He skidded through the door on the other side, and came to a halt.
The room was stacked full of artifacts - they filled the floor, walls, and some even hung from the ceiling. This had been somebody's storehouse, long ago. He rubbed his head, feeling a strong sense of darkness. It reminded him of the Emperor's throne room. There weren't only Jedi artifacts here, but Sith relics, as well. He stepped forward, not certain if he wanted to touch any of the objects which were causing such a sensation.
He pushed an old book away, and picked up a scroll. It quickly unraveled, falling to the floor. It had been defaced, so Luke assumed it had been stolen from a Jedi. He shifted aside an old Jedi robe, and picked up an ancient painting. Amazing ... the figures portrayed were holding lightsabers ... but the date under the signature was over four thousand years before he was born. He had an eerie sensation for a moment ... a sense of the millions of Jedi who must have gone before him ... and now he was the only one left. So much rested on him ... a way of life that had existed for millennia would die unless he survived to pass it on.
He gasped, dropping the painting in shock. He wasn't alone in here ... there was a creepy sensation in his stomach, and it was growing stronger by the second. He turned around, and found himself staring at a solid black coffin, propped up vertically against the cavern wall.
Luke took a deep breath. He could leave, or he could open that coffin. Given those two choices, leaving seemed like a pretty good idea. But he was also curious.
Curiosity killed the jawa , he reminded himself.
In the silence, he could hear a strange sound, coming from within the coffin. It took him a second to recognize it - footsteps. Maybe it wasn't a coffin, but a door. Typical of the Sith to make a coffin shaped door.
Almost laughing at himself for imagining a skeleton, or a half decomposed Jedi living in this cavern, he stepped forward and pulled open the door.
And found himself staring at the Emperor.
Vader paused as he reached the first barrier, taking a moment to rest. He would need his strength in the near future; that was a certainty.
He turned to the wall, and slid open the access panel. The barrier slammed down beside him as he flicked the switch, and the lever sunk down into the rock. He then took out his lightsaber, and fried the controls into oblivion.
There. It was done. There was no way his master was getting to his son now.
He continued his journey up the tunnel, keeping his lightsaber ignited and in his hand. The Emperor was nearby - he could feel it. And he would be the one to face him, not his son.
"You!" Luke yelled, stepping back and igniting his lightsaber in one swift movement.
The Emperor did not waste words on a greeting; he simply raised his hands in a movement Luke was already familiar with. He was ready for it though; he flipped backwards, and moved out onto the bridge.
"Father!" he called, not daring to take his eyes away from the doorway.
When no one answered him, Luke risked taking a look behind him. The shelf where he'd left his father was deserted.
"Father!" Luke called, louder. His voice echoed around eerily, but there was still no reply.
A cackling sound caused him to turn immediately to the doorway. The Emperor emerged, shaking slightly with laughter. "Your father has left you, young Skywalker. He's left you as a present for me."
"That's not true!" Luke yelled.
"Don't tell me you actually believe he cares about you!" The Emperor continued to laugh, "We arranged this all along. Young fool!"
"You're the fool if you think I'm going to believe your lies," Luke said, raising his lightsaber.
Without warning, a flurry of rock poured down from the ceiling, and Luke covered his head. The bridge he was standing on began to shake, and Luke took a desperate leap towards the central island.
The rockslide stopped, and Luke dragged himself back to his feet, keeping his lightsaber in front of him.
"Your father is dead," the Emperor taunted. "I have already killed him - and now I will kill you."
"You liar," Luke yelled, testing the bond, desperate for reassurance that he had not failed his father. But all he could sense was the Emperor's presence ... it filled the space around them, crushing any attempt he made to break its hold on him.
Maybe, this time, he was telling the truth.
The Emperor raised his hands, and a bolt of blue electricity surged towards Luke.
Vader came to an abrupt halt when he felt Luke's call, surprised at the intensity. He expected Luke to be angry when he found himself trapped down there, but this wasn't anger, it was more -
Vader whirled around, rushing back to the barrier. He hacked at the wall in frustration, causing a shower of sparks.
It was no use. His son couldn't hear him, he was too busy fighting for his life. In his attempt to outwit his son, his own master had outwitted him. Another entrance to the cave, a Force-trick, Vader didn't have time to figure out how the Emperor had got past him.
But it was too late now. He would never get through this blocked tunnel in time to save him.
He had failed his mother, and he had failed Padmé. He had failed Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and the entire Jedi Order.
And now he had failed his son.
Vader sunk to his knees in despair.
Luke managed to block the first assault with his lightsaber. He faced the Emperor, not daring to take his eyes off his opponent.
"I can feel your anger," the Emperor hissed, "You are the perfect image of your father, young Skywalker. Proudly carrying on the Sith tradition."
"I am not a Sith!" Luke protested, "And neither is my father. You failed. He was never completely yours, and I never will be! Do you hear me? You failed!"
His words angered the Emperor, and the altar he was sheltering behind suddenly exploded, sending Luke flying backwards. He grabbed the edge of the rock just in time, and dragged himself back up, shaking off a crab that was hanging off his foot.
"I'm still here!" Luke called.
The Emperor snarled in anger, and another flurry of rocks fell from the ceiling. Luke raised his arms, and used the Force to deflect the incoming avalanche. Only one slipped through, which he ducked to avoid.
"You're a coward," Luke called, "If you wish to kill me, then get a lightsaber, and defeat me in an equal contest."
At this stage, the Emperor was obviously frustrated. He stepped out onto the bridge, moving forward slowly.
"Why would I bother with the effort, young Skywalker?" he replied, "When I can crush you so easily with a just a flick of a finger."
To demonstrate, he raised his hand and sent Luke sprawling to the ground with a flash of Force lightning. Luke tried to stand up, but found he couldn't move. All his muscles were twitching, shaking with spasms. His lightsaber fell from his hand leaving him unarmed and helpless. Luke felt a flash of anger, and strained to gather the Force to resist the attack.
The Emperor paused to laugh. "The supposed Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker, hero of the rebellion, reduced to nothing when faced with the power of the Dark Side. Young fool!"
The Emperor stepped closer, raising his hands and delivering another volt of the deadly lightning. "You are nothing more than my plaything, young Skywalker. Mine to torment and torture at my whim. Just like your father."
Luke could only moan in response.
Another powerful sense of his son's pain caused Vader to make another frantic attempt to break down the barrier. It was useless though ... he needed to repair those controls. But there wasn't enough time for that.
Vader paused, momentarily, suddenly hearing Luke's earlier words echo in his mind. Can't you focus on the positive for once? Vader brushed it aside in frustration - positive thinking couldn't help him now.
Another voice echoed in his mind, this time one he remembered from his youth. You're focusing on the negative, Anakin. Use the Force.
Vader took a deep breath, and cleared his mind. The Force was trying to show him something.
He glanced upwards, curiously.
There, directly above him, was a trap door, set into the ceiling so it was almost invisible.
Vader reached up, and used the Force to push it open. A tunnel - it had to be. Someone had cut a tunnel through the rock, as a way to avoid the traps.
He gathered the Force around him, and levitated up into the passageway.
Son,> he called, Hold on. I will be there soon.>
Luke had been a victim of the dark power of Force Lightning before. But it had been nothing like this. The first time it had been merely to torment him, this time it was to kill him.
He was dying, he could feel it. There was a soft, welcoming light at the edge of his senses ... it was so inviting ...
Don't even think about it, Luke!>
Father?> Luke opened his eyes in shock.
Vader had reached the end of the tunnel. He looked down through the hole and saw a horrible sight. The Emperor stood in the center of the bridge, slowly electrocuting his son to death, as he lay writhing on the central island.
Vader didn't waste time; he jumped through the hole, using the Force to levitate down. He landed on the bridge, halfway between Luke and his master.
The Emperor stared at him in surprise for a moment, and then raised his hands.
"Father," Luke moaned, weakly, trying to stand up.
Vader glanced at him, wanting to go to him, wanting to help him heal and wanting to embrace him, one last time.
"Move or I'll kill you too!" The Emperor said, clearly having reached the end of his patience.
Vader shook his head, suddenly feeling a great clarity. "I no longer obey you," he said, "I am no longer your slave. I am free."
"You are dead!" The Emperor raised his hands, spouting vicious bolts of pure Dark Side energy towards him.
Vader didn't bother to resist them; he had a different plan. He let the electricity run over his body, shorting out circuits and searing what was left of his flesh. Instead, he picked up his lightsaber, and switched on the blade.
Father!> Luke called.
Vader glanced at him, cherishing the sight. Goodbye Son, he called softly, across their bond.
"No!" Luke yelled, struggling to his knees.
It is the only way. I will not let him kill you.>
"Father!" Luke called, trying to crawl towards him.
Vader plunged the lightsaber into the bridge, cutting it free from the island. As he fell down into the pit below, the last, weak connection he had to his physical life disappeared, and he joined himself to the Force, ready and willing to become one with it.
The soft light welcomed him home.
Luke could hardly believe his eyes as he watched the bridge disintegrate.
"Father!" he yelled, pulling himself forward and reaching out a desperate hand. Down below, he saw his father fall into the sea of crabs, disappearing from sight.
With one final effort, Luke gathered the Force, reaching out to his father. A mass of crabs exploded upwards as he guided his father out of the pit and over to the edge. He was bitten in a few places, but he was in one piece.
Luke let out a weary breath of relief, and sunk to the ground. Far below, he could see the last remains of the bridge, rising and falling as they sank slowly from sight. He saw one glimpse of the Emperor's cloak, rising briefly to the surface, before piles of snapping jaws began to devour it.
He raised his head, suddenly worried. He couldn't feel his father's presence.
"Father!" Luke called.
When no response was forthcoming, Luke stood up, and didn't even bother to think about whether the ten-meter gap was safe to jump. He had to get over there, right away; there wasn't any time to think. He took a run up, and leapt the distance across, using the Force to help him.
As he skidded onto the ledge, he fell forward, and then crawled to his father's side.
"It's okay," Luke said, brushing dirt away from the respirator controls, as he dragged his father up against the wall. His hands were becoming sore and numb, but he ignored the pain.
Luke sat back in silence for a moment, shaking his father gently. He was vaguely aware that his father was not breathing, and the lights on his respirator had all gone out. But that didn't matter now ... the Emperor was dead. His father would recover; he just needed to rest a moment.
Luke weakly shook his father again, nearly overcome with exhaustion himself. He was running only on adrenaline now, all other energy had long since burnt away. Becoming frustrated, he hit the respirator. It compressed inwards, causing Luke to draw his hand away in shock. In a sudden flash of anger, he lifted away the mask.
Nothing. The armor was empty. The Force had taken his father.
"No," Luke said, looking away and shaking his head, "I saved him ... I pulled him out of there!"
The minutes continued to pass by, and slowly, the reality of what had happened began to sink in.
"I'm not ready," Luke mumbled, "I'm not ready for this! I ... I didn't even say goodbye!"
There was no answer from the Force, not that Luke expected one. Only a calm, quiet, finality.
Luke felt very much alone.
It was late, and pitch dark by the time he finally made his way back to the retreat. He carried two items. One, a container, in which he'd placed the ashes from the funeral pyre, and the other was his father's lightsaber.
He'd left the Sith Temple through the tunnel the Emperor had arrived by, which led out into a cave along the beach. While the sun had set, he had built a funeral pyre, and given his father the traditional funeral ceremony of a Jedi. He hadn't been able to shed a single tear - he just felt numb. He glanced down at the objects in his hands, studying them.
It was impossible to believe that was all he had now. He half expected to find his father waiting for him at the retreat, wanting to know where he'd been and why he hadn't told him he'd be late home.
Instead, as he entered the main lobby, he found a collection of tired and bored looking guards. Luke raised his hands in peace when they stood to attention.
"I am Luke Skywalker," he said, "Son of Darth Vader. Both my father and the Emperor are dead."
They watched him silently for a few seconds, and then ran back to the shuttle. Within minutes, it had blasted off, leaving him completely alone.
He made his way up the stairs, wearily. He was tired. Every last reserve of strength had been used up long ago. Now he simply wanted to crawl into bed and escape into sleep. At least that would give him a few hours relief, although he dreaded the thought of waking up in the morning. He knew he would wake up, and his first thought would be that today had all been a horrible nightmare ... then the truth would settle in, and ...
Luke turned, hearing something in the depths of the corridor. It was a low whimper, of an animal in distress. He turned on his lightsaber, and immediately two glowing eyes were illuminated. It was Fode. He had pressed himself against the door of his father's old room, obviously seeking out the comfort of his former master.
Luke was overcome with pity. He dropped to one knee, and extended his hand.
"Come here, boy. I'm here ... come on."
Fode eagerly walked forward, pushing his head into his hand. Luke wondered if he was sick. And for that matter, where was Beed? With a shock, Luke remembered what had happened to the green-tinged gargoyle. Injured by a shock from a pike, and he gathered he hadn't lasted long after that.
Luke let Fode come closer, and wrapped his arms around him. "So, you've lost your father too, huh?"
Fode whimpered slightly in response.
It wasn't long before Luke had collapsed onto the floor, having no energy left. He slept there all night, with Fode standing guard loyally, keeping him warm, and nuzzling him whenever nightmares struck.
It was the start of a new week, a month after his father's death.
Luke was in the library, starting to sort through some of the books, deciding which ones he wanted to keep, and which ones were better burnt. This was his home now, and it was time he started making it that way.
It hadn't been easy. But he was starting to feel comfortable with his life again. He was self-sufficient here ... there were plenty of sources of food, and always somewhere new to explore when he needed a walk.
Artoo, Fode and Jaytee were good company when he needed it. They would willingly listen whenever he felt the need to talk about his father's death, which admittedly, hadn't been often. Talking about it just made it seem so ... real.
This morning, he'd been feeling almost happy. Perhaps he would even go for a walk up to the cliff this afternoon ... get some fresh air.
As he walked down the space between the shelves, carrying a stack of books, he caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. It was transparent-blue, resting on a chair in the center of the shelves. Luke frowned, feeling his mood drop. Obi-Wan, come to lecture him about following his destiny, no doubt.
"Go away!" Luke called, "Go and find a ghost nightclub, or something, and leave me alone."
"Is that any way to talk to your father, young one?"
Luke dropped the stack of books in shock, and turned around. His father ... his father. He squinted at him, not knowing whether to believe it. This father wasn't the one he remembered, this one was dressed as a Jedi, and looked ... ageless. He had a boyish grin, though, which was vaguely familiar. He was smiling at Luke now, enjoying his confusion.
Luke stretched out nervously, not knowing how this apparition would register on his Force sense. Immediately, he was overcome by a sense of familiarity. The presence filled every longing in his soul, made him feel joyful, despite the tears which had begun to run down his face. This was how he knew his father ... not by the black Sith uniform, or by his pre-injury appearance, but by his presence. And this presence was far stronger than he had ever felt it when he was alive.
"You liar," he managed to say, despite the emotion, "You said you'd never come back as a ghost."
"I had a change of heart," he said, shrugging in a self-deprecating manner.
Luke crossed the distance between them, before he'd even known he was moving. He sat beside his father, and stretched out a hand, experimenting. As he suspected, his hand passed straight through the apparition. Luke turned away, feeling angry.
"Why didn't you come earlier? Don't you know how much I've missed you?"
"You had to grieve, Luke, it is only natural. You could not reach an acceptance if I had bothered you too soon."
"It's not a bother," Luke said, "How can you say that?"
"You may change your mind when I start lecturing you about following your destiny," his father said, pointing at him.
Luke groaned, burying his head in his hands.
"But before I start that, I can sense you have some questions for me."
"I just don't understand ... why you did what you did. Why did you have to die so that I could live?"
"I haven't died Luke ... there is no death. There is only the Force. I am with your mother now ... she has been watching the two of us for a long time. She sends you all her love."
"Why can't she come as well?" Luke asked, longing to see his mother.
"That is only possible between two Jedi, such as me and you."
"Jedi?" Luke said, surprised.
"The Sith died with Palpatine. With no master, and no apprentice, the chain has been broken."
"You do feel different," Luke said, "And I don't just mean that you're a ghost. You seemed different when you came to save me, in the temple."
"Let me put it like this," he said, "I had to choose between serving Palpatine forever, or truly being your father. Up until then, I had foolishly imagined I could do both. I am sure you have figured out which one I chose."
"Obi-Wan and Yoda believed it was impossible for anyone to shake off the grip of the Dark Side," Luke said, "I'm glad they were wrong."
"Yes, they didn't count on the influence of a son like you."
"What do you mean?" Luke asked, "I did nothing."
"The Dark Side feeds on one's own self ... it eats at your very soul. Once you have given yourself over to it entirely, there is no longer any of you left. There is only the Dark Side."
"Like the Emperor?"
"Yes. Like the Emperor. However, when I turned to the Dark Side, it wasn't a complete turning. I did so because I wanted more power, not out of greed, but in order to do, what I saw in my own way, as good. Of course, it did not stay like that ... as the years went by and I spent more and more time with Palpatine, these goals slowly eroded away, and I began to die. But when you came into my life, Son, you had the opposite effect on me. You brought out my true self ... the self that was trapped in the grip of the Dark Side."
"Me?" Luke said, "But I didn't do anything. I was just a child when -"
"You were more than just a child, Luke. You were my son. You meant everything to me ... even in my darkest moments, I could never kill you. I tried to convince myself I could, but it was all lies. You made me feel something which drove the Dark Side away like a flame drives away the darkness."
"What was that?" Luke asked, curious.
"Love, of course. I loved you ... I loved you from the first moments I knew you were my son."
"You never told me," Luke said, almost speechless with surprise.
"Of course not. A Sith Lord couldn't admit to feeling love ... even when it was so strong, it had to be constantly kept in check."
"I think I always knew anyway," Luke said, "Deep down."
"I hope you did. That wouldn't make up for it, but at least it would be something."
"So," Luke said, smirking, "I think I'm beginning to understand. All those times you grounded me ... that was the influence of the Dark Side, right?"
"No, that was me."
"That time you forced me to go to the dentist?!"
"Me, most definitely."
"When you threw away my biology project?"
"A genuine accident. And I thought you said you had forgiven me for that."
"How about that time you tortured my friends at Cloud City?" Luke said, feeling an old itch at the memory.
"The Dark Side, of course. But that is not an excuse for it, by any means. I'm sorry Luke, but if I apologized until eternity, it would never make up for it."
"I forgive you," Luke said, quickly.
"I did many, many evil, vile things under Palpatine's orders, things I'm never going to forget. But with the help of everyone ... I've learned to accept myself and accept forgiveness. And Son ... that is something you must learn to do yourself. Harboring guilt drives many people to do worse and worse evil. Whenever you find yourself in a situation where you feel guilty, take a moment to acknowledge your imperfection and forgive yourself. If I had done that myself when I was a young man, this would never have happened."
"And there is something else I must tell you, before I go," his father said.
"Before you go? But you just got here! I have more questions."
"Luke, time is running out. You must leave this place. You cannot fight your destiny."
Luke buried his head in his hands. "Not that word!"
"Yes, your destiny. You have been grieving here too long. There is a galaxy out there which needs you, son of mine. You have an immense task ahead of you. The Jedi Order must be restored, and a free government restored."
"I can't do all that alone," Luke pleaded.
"And no one expects you to. You have many talented and strong friends, Son, who you can trust. Make use of them whenever you can. And you have a sister ... a sister who has inherited the Force. Train her first, then she will help you in your task to restore the Jedi. Yoda and Obi-Wan will watch over you, help guide you to find new candidates to train. And Luke ... I promise you I will never leave you. From now until you join us here in the Force, I will always be there when you need me."
Luke nodded, feeling stronger.
"Your sister is waiting for you, Luke. She has questions of her own that need answering ... and you are the one who will answer them."
"I'll go immediately then," Luke said, realizing how much he'd been missing his sister. Not only her, but Han and Chewie as well. He had a family who needed him. He paused to look at his father, not wanting to let him go, in case he never appeared again.
"Father ... this won't be the last time we talk like this, will it?"
"No. But I must leave now. And you have somewhere to be."
Luke stood up. "Thank you for coming. This has meant a lot to me."
"And Luke, when you reach Coruscant, don't let the power go to your head."
"What?" Luke asked, confused.
His father's blue form had begun to fade.
"I don't understand," Luke said. "Father!"
"You'll understand soon enough. And by the way ..." his father stopped fading for a second. "I liked it when you called me 'Dad'."
He grinned at Luke, and disappeared.
Luke grinned back, and set off for his room. He had things to pack, and places to be.
When his X-Wing emerged from the atmosphere, and into open space, Luke found his scopes immediately bombarded with warning lights and sensor readings.
"Artoo?" Luke called.
Artoo whistled from the back of the ship.
"Try and make sense of these readings, will ya? Because I sure can't!" Luke rotated the ship, and scanned the area visually. "It doesn't look like there's anyone here ... wait a minute." Luke felt his mouth fall open. "Forget whatever I said, Artoo. It's the Executor!"
A few thoughts darted through Luke's mind as he stared at the ship in front of him. Why would the navy's flagship have remained here so long? Were they waiting for his father? The Emperor? Unless those royal guards had gone awol, they should have received the news by now.
The incoming hail light began to flash, causing Luke to look away from the giant starship.
Should he respond? He really should get out of here before his ship was caught in a tractor beam. Luke hovered his finger over a button for several seconds, before finally giving in out of sheer curiosity.
Static flowed over the channel, until a clear, young voice spoke. "Un-identified X-Wing, this is the ISSD Executor. Please identify yourself."
Luke glanced at the navigation readings. He might just make it to hyperspace ... if he kept them talking.
"I don't see anything worth attacking, Executor. Why are you in this system?" He pushed the throttle up to top speed as he spoke, hoping the X-Wing could handle it.
The channel was muted for a moment. Luke assumed someone was conferring with a superior. Abruptly, a new voice sounded over the channel. "This is Admiral Piett. Luke? Is that you?"
"Hello, Admiral," Luke said, inferring from Piett's tone that he wasn't about to be blown into shrapnel.
"We've been trying to contact you for weeks."
"Contact me?" Luke said, "Why? I told the guards what happened. Did they not pass on the message?"
"Yes, they did."
"I suppose the Grand Moffs are at each others throats over who gets to be the next Emperor," Luke said. He hadn't really given much thought as to the political situation until now - his mind had been occupied with other things.
"Luke ... perhaps you should come on board. We need to talk privately."
"About what?" Luke said, curious.
"The successor to the Imperial throne."
"Why, who is it?" Luke asked.
Artoo brought the ship to a screeching halt before Luke had even registered the news.
Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids were sitting in a VIP viewing area, staring out over the gigantic senate chamber. The new Emperor Skywalker was about to make his first speech.
More than half the boxes were empty - either they hadn't been able to send representatives in time for this occasion, or they wanted no part of what they perceived to be yet another dictatorship. But Leia had a feeling all that was about to change with this speech.
"Okay, can someone please explain this to me properly?" Han said, beside her, "How did the kid get to be the new Emperor? They must be out of their minds! He can barely take care of himself, never mind the galaxy!"
"Well," Leia said, "Vader was the Emperor's legal successor. So, upon Vader's death, they turned to Vader's will, which stated Luke as his legal successor and sole heir. It's as simple as that."
"I guess Vader must have felt something for the kid, despite it all," Han said.
"I guess so," Leia agreed.
"I wish Luke would hurry up," Han grumbled, "We've been sitting here for half an hour."
"Quiet, Han," Leia said, reaching down to gently squeeze his hand, "There's a lot of procedures to be completed, first."
"If I ever become a politician," Han said, "Please shoot me."
Chewie roared in agreement.
"I was a politician, Han," Leia said, turning to gaze at him.
"A rare jewel among a sack of stones," Han said, leaning over to kiss her.
Leia leaned away. "Did you get that from Lando?!" she asked.
Han stopped his advance, and frowned. "Are you saying I couldn't come up with that myself?"
Leia rolled her eyes, and then pulled Han into a kiss. He gladly returned it.
General Solo, Princess Leia," Threepio said, sounding flustered, "Master Luke is about to make his speech!!"
Both of them sat back immediately, and leaned forward for a better view.
"Give 'em hell, kid," Han said, quietly.
Luke's voice sounded over the speakers. "Greetings, fellow citizens of the galaxy -"
Artoo whistled at the sound of Luke's voice. He was too short to see him.
"Quiet, you irritating little -"
"Shut up, Threepio! I'm trying to hear the kid!"
"Quiet Han!" Leia said.
" - my first act as Emperor, is to declare this Empire dead and buried. In its place, I will oversee the creation of a new democratic Republic -"
Luke's next words were drowned out by cheers from the gathered senators. Outside, applause could be heard from the massive crowd of citizens gathered outside.
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Han said, "The kid's been given just about everything a person could be given and he's just going to throw it all away!"
"You never change, Han, you never change," Leia sighed.
" - as of now, the galactic senate has been reinstated. It is reconvening for its first official meeting tomorrow morning -"
Han pulled Leia into an embrace. "I can think of one senator who might be otherwise occupied," he said, playfully. "Sorry Luke."
" - and finally, to ensure this galaxy is never again enslaved through darkness and despair, a new order of Jedi Knights will be created, dedicated to guarding peace and justice in the galaxy."
Another round of cheers erupted from the crowds, this one far louder and longer than before.
"Oh, this is wonderful!" Threepio said, "This is the happiest day I can remember!"
"Mine too, Threepio," Leia said, resting happily in Han's arms. "Mine too."
As the speech came to an end, Leia stood up, and beckoned for the others to follow her. They left the VIP box, and walked around the top level, just in time to meet Luke as he stepped out of his own box.
Leia hugged him, warmly.
"So, how did I do?" he asked, as Leia released him.
"It was all right, kid," Han said, shrugging, "But I don't know why you want to give up all this power. Think about the good you could do - this galaxy needs a strong leader."
"You know, Han," Luke said, "That's how my father started out."
Han's eyes widened. "On second thoughts, kid, you did the right thing. Congratulations."
Chewie roared in agreement, pulling Luke into his own hug.
"Arg! Chewie!" Luke complained.
Chewie let him go, and rubbed his hair, playfully.
"I've got to go now," Luke said, brushing the fur off his clothes, "I've got to sign some things, and some other boring stuff. But I'll meet you guys back at my home tonight, and we can start making plans."
Two official looking people had begun to pull Luke away.
"Bring some champagne!" Han called after him.
"Why?" Luke said, he paused for a moment, causing the advisors to complain in annoyance. "Wait, don't tell me. You two are engaged."
"How did you know?" Han turned to Leia. "How did he know? Did you tell him? It was a surprise."
Leia shrugged. "He's a Jedi, Han. You can't keep things from a Jedi."
"Congratulations!" Luke called, now almost out of sight, "I can't wait to be an uncle!"
Leia would have done anything for a holocamera, at that moment, to take a picture of Han's face.
"Did he just say uncle?"
Leia nodded, smiling. "Come on, Han. We need to have a talk."
Anakin had watched from a distance as Luke and his friends had celebrated long into the night. They had much to celebrate - the end of the war, a new era of peace, and a bright future ahead. Finally, at two in the morning, Luke had turned in for night. He had gone back to his old room, the one he had slept in while he'd been growing up. It was difficult for Anakin to be here - this was a place he had inhabited as Vader, and the memories were still in the back of his mind. But the need to watch over his son had been too strong. Still, he did have company.
"You know, Obi-Wan," Anakin said, "There is something I don't think I'm ever going to understand."
Obi-Wan looked at Luke's sleeping form, and then back at Anakin. "And what is that, my old Padawan?"
"How he managed to grow into someone so warm, so loving, so good-natured, when all he had was me as an example."
"You were a wonderful father," Obi-Wan said.
"No I wasn't. I wasn't there for him enough. I was cold, unfeeling, and -"
" - and you loved him," Obi-Wan said, "All parents have their faults, Anakin."
Anakin turned to Obi-Wan, incredulous. "You consider being a Sith Lord a fault?"
"Some more than others," Obi-Wan admitted, "But as long as there is love, you cannot give your child a greater gift."
"You know," Anakin said, "Before I knew about Luke, I used to pity the doting parents I saw around me. I thought they were the unfortunate victims of some cruel biological trick. Yet as a father ... I was worse than any of them."
"Irony is a wonderful thing," Obi-Wan said, with a small smile. "Now come on. The others are waiting for you. Luke is an adult now ... I'm sure he can sleep through the night without his father standing over him."
"I will come," Anakin said, "I just want to stay here ... for a little while longer."
"Very well," Obi-Wan replied, disappearing into the Force.
Anakin shifted closer to his son, just close enough to see him, without alerting him to his presence. "You always manage to look so innocent when you're asleep," he said, softly. "Probably because you are," he added, as an afterthought.
Luke stirred slightly, and rolled over. Anakin drew back, deciding it was time to leave. He had been here too long already. He shook his head slightly, in disbelief. Redeemed by his son. Who would have known? Saved from a fate he couldn't even begin to contemplate, all because of love.
"Goodnight, Son," Anakin said, and disappeared back into the realm of the Force.
Luke opened his eyes, slightly, staring at the place his father had been standing. "Night, Dad," he called.