Chapter 4

Chapter 4

They were at a dead run now, Lando panting to keep up with Chewie and Luke. Leia? Luke called as he felt a massive disturbance in the Force. There was a moment of silence. Then a quiet answer. I'm finished. He... He's gone Luke. Luke didn't know what to do. He couldn't bring himself to laugh. Leia would hate him if he wept. Luke didn't even try to check if his father lived through the force. He knew if he attempted he would not be able to stop the tears.

Someday perhaps his sister would understand what he had lost. Someday her bitterness would die, and take her lack of remorse with it. He only hoped that one day she would morn him. They screeched to a halt at the doors of his father's personal shuttle bay. He ran his ID card through quickly.

"Leia, where are you?" He muttered. The door's gaudy light flashed red. "Entrance denied." Chirped the unfeeling monotone. Luke went pale. He had though that, like every other door on the ship, the bay would open with a clearance as high as his. But if it opened only to his father... Luke began to panic, pacing.

"Will blaster bolts overload the door controls?" Lando asked, trying to help. Luke shook his head. "That only works on the cheap stuff, this is high grade. We can't even get in! And where's Leia? What else could possibly go wrong?" Visions of being executed for killing the Dark Lord filled his head. Palpatine turning out himself to make surely it was fittingly full of agony. Shoved into space without suits to freeze or asphyxiate, whichever came first. Stop it. He ordered his frantic mind. This won't help you.

Leia rounded the corner, in extreme disarray and heaving a blaster over each shoulder. She tossed one to Chewie. "I ran into a squad of troopers." She said by way of explanation. "There were about twelve of them, I fired from behind cover and barley made it." She smirked. "They look worse than I do, though."

She looked over his shoulder at the door. "Having trouble?" She asked, voice mild but face intent with worry. "The controls won't give us clearance. We're having lots of trouble." She scrutinized it carefully. "I can handle it." Get them out of here, I'll have to use my saber pretty precisely, I can't risk telling you what to do on a thing this complex and explanations to Chewie for that one would take too long. She thought.

"Chewie, Lando, run up and scout for troopers coming our way." They nodded curtly and walked cautiously, guns at the ready, out of the alcove. Leia took her light saber out of her carrying pack, gingerly slicing off the covering, exposing a maze of wire. She studied it carefully.

"I think I can keep it from killing us as we go through If I trip this. But with the computers dead, I don't know how we'll budge it open." "Leave that to me." Luke said calmly. She nodded. She trusted Luke. If he said he could do something, then she respected his judgment. Taking her blaster, she fired through the wires and cut the safeties. Pulling off another panel, she cut the backup flows.

"Thank the maker we planned for this and studied systems." She muttered just to break the tense, worried silence. With a final violent buzz and snap of energy, the door lost power. Leia tucked her saber back in her bag before Lando and Chewie, returning at an ominously fast pace from their watch, saw it and asked questions about its origin.

"We don't have much time, there's two squads approaching from the bridge, and they've spotted us. They're on their way." Without pretence, Luke smoothly cut around the doors edges and pushed it in. A shot rang close, and the group hurried to the lone ship. With a show of telekinesis Luke heaved the slab back into place.

Throwing herself through the door, Leia sat in the navigator's chair. Luke seated himself as the pilot and started punching at the controls. A look of horror swept his face. "Leia, Leia, nothing is working!" Chewie growled darkly upon hearing the dire words. "What?" She screeched. "That's impossible, it's supposed to be ready to fly at all times! He executes the staff if it isn't! I checked it! I checked everything!"

"Whether he does or not, I still can't get power!" They swung their chairs to face each other. "You don't think he-" "Survived? That's impossible! But-" They swung back to the controls, Leia trying aimlessly to find the malfunction, Luke testing the Force. Lando and Chewie looked on in bemusement. Luke and Leia had always worked well together, but now it was like they were different sides of the same person. They never had to ask what to do next, or what the other thought. It was an unnerving, implacable similarity.

"Someone go check the drive, the thrusters, someone do something! Anything!" Leia shouted. She'd never felt like this. Hysterical, lost, and above all afraid. In a sadistic way it reminded her of the death emotions. Almost as if they were connected. Chewie and Lando pushed and scrambled to get out of her way.

Leia looked up. "It's no normal malfunction, but there's defiantly something wrong in the ion drive. I've never heard of anything remotely like this before. Have you?" He shook his head, raised his eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Leia, you must know why that is, there's no other explanation." "No." She whimpered. "Please tell me that's not what you found! Luke, tell me!" He didn't speak, just looked at her face, which she turned sideways so her features could not be seen, his steely blue eyes unreadable. "He's alive." He finally spoke. She turned, slowly, farther away from his emotionless, accusing eyes. She hung her head.

"We lost. I failed." No one spoke, she didn't seem to care. "I can't believe this, I won't believe any of it." She was frightening now, her control having gone the way of their ion drive. "It isn't true. And nothing was ever true." "Truth," Luke said quietly, "Is only some twisted soul's point of view." Leia looked up at him, saddened by his loss of faith.

"You believe that? You used to be so idealistic, you always believed in people! I've never realized how young you were, how very young we all are. We are children, fighting this war, killing other children. Forgive us." She whispered to the air. He stood, and she grabbed his hand. "I'm not going out there." She said through gritted teeth. "He can not be right. He hasn't come, he's forcing us to crawl back to his darkness. I will not." "Leia, we have to come out some time-" "It doesn't have to be now!" He sighed. "What will this accomplish?" "We'll have a small victory, everything counts. He'll be forced to come in here and fetch us. Luke, I know you. You have pride, and you want to give in?"

She was determined. She was always determined. And if his father had a mind to execute them for their insolence, he would at least humor her one last time before she died.

It had been four hours. The storm troopers stranding outside the door with him were fidgeting. One started to sit down in the middle of the corridor, but a cutting glance from his lordship sent him back to his feet with a jaunty salute. Watching this through the opened door, Lando and Chewie chuckled. The sergeant of the small force fumed as the Rebel alien and human made unseemly rude gestures at him form the ship's protection, almost willing to risk his superiors wrath to respond in kind.

An hour later found the four run always seated in the control room, tense and not speaking. Lando, wanting to meet his fate and be done with it, crept towards the door. "Don't even think about it!" Leia shrieked and the leather chair creaked ever so slightly at his movement. Chastised, Lando moved away from the door. "Leia, maybe we should just-" Luke began. "No one is going anywhere! Except the Sith, and he'll be breaking very soon indeed." Chewie growled something mutinous, but his life debut, which included the great Princess along with his fondness for her kept him from fulfilling that promise.

Outside the officers still stood, now milling around bored. Vader was not patient. He never had been. But this was a battle of sorts, and no matter the battleground, he did not loose. He had lost once, and the price still left a tangible durasteel weight to bear. He would not make that mistake again.

It was morning. Chewie had long since abandoned his post to sleep at Luke's insistence, but Leia's red-rimmed eyes struggled to retain alertness. Finally Luke snapped. "This is ridiculous!" Storm troopers awoke from their standing sleep, intrigued by the loud argument. Vader smiled. So much for sibling tolerance. "How long are you going to have us sit here and delay the inevitable? I've had it, I'm going out there, and if I were you I'd keep my further dark side symbolisms to my self!"

"DON'T YOU DARE GO OUT THERE!" She screeched." "Watch me!" He stomped through the shuttle, ignored the door, slammed through the durasteel wall beside it with a hand motion and an angry thought, and, marching up to his father, yelled "I've had it! You're the parent, DEAL with this!"

"Certainly." The Dark Lord answered with irritating calm. "LEIA!" He bellowed, vocal tuners at their loudest. Troopers started to rub their helmets, ears pained by this rude interruption from their tired haze. "What? You wish to gloat, no doubt." Snapped Leia, flanked by an extremely nervous Calrissian, mumbling apologies, and a chortling wookie who could appreciate irony on the worst of situations.

"Of course not." Vader supplied, as if his dignity had been offended. "Have a pleasant flight, little one?" Her face turned fuchsia. she had failed and he dared to throw it in her face. She shook with rage, and he observed her. She glowed, literally emanating a light haze of power from her body.

Luke looked ashamed. He was a poor student, he could not be light nor dark, was forever pursuing emotion and the wills of others when he should be acting on the Force. He was furious with no one, save himself, the stupid, gawky, unwanted young man. And there is no hatred like self-hatred. The enmity of a galaxy cannot compare to the utter loathing of despising oneself. He missed the motion swirling in the corner of his eye. Leia had swung with all her tiny might at her tormentor, actually forcing the distracted Dark Lord back a pace.

She was proud of herself for the fleeting moment before her unconsciousness, as the thought of how futile that had been crept in with the blackness of unconsciousness. Luke dived under his sister as she fell, cushioning her descent. Her hand was an unpleasant sight; reopened scar from previous torture, charred burns of a scabbed, mangled tissue and exposed bone. That was the natural reaction, even for Jedi, to punching multiple inch durasteel with bare hands. The troopers were plainly in shock.

"Take the two prisoners back to their cells, select double shifts of guards, and find someone to fix this damn door!" He shouted them into action, hefting Leia into his arms. "Come." He snapped to Luke, and the younger man walked twice his normal speed to follow his father.

Inside the Medical Bay, Officer Dran gazed at the Princess' folly in horror. "What in all- and she- she did this how?" He sputtered.

"Let me elaborate. There is a new fissure in my durasteel mask." Luke gave a low whistle.

"She cracked the thing? I never knew she packed such a punch." Luke paused. "Then again, I've seldom seen anyone that angry." Leia made a small noise, and they rushed to the cot. Her eyes opened on her brother.

"What happened?" She looked curious about the change of scenery and her oddly bent limb, but little more in her delirium.

"You hurt your arm." The drowsy girl frowned.

"Obviously, my darling astute brother. To him, I mean?"

"Ummm, not all that much. I think I can see a little crack in the mask though..." He added perkily to bolster her falling face.

"Oh good." She murmured happily, dreamily. "Now I can-" And she was asleep again.

"She held off exhaustion to ask you that?" Vader questioned, bewildered.

"Apparently," Luke countered defensively as he smoothed a light blanket over her, "It was important."

She was swirling, falling short distances over and over, not in short jolts but in unending pattern. The only concrete thing was the feeling in her sword arm. Something was wrong.

It was very late when he stirred. The devoted Officer Dran fetched everything for her, fretting over his daughter. It wasn't easy to miss his admiration of her, Dran's, as Amidala would have termed it, innocent affection. Infatuation, more like it. Had she had this affect on Rebel crew? No wonder they were so fiercely loyal under interrogation. They placed all hope in her, their living goddess who fiercely believed they could win this war.

Standing and taking a step towards the door, her hand shot out and firmly clutched his arm. She writhed uncomfortably in sleep. "Stay." She begged, fear of unknown shadows taking over her rational mind, and perhaps his. He sat back down, fully aware that she was delusional and still asleep. That didn't matter; she needed him, pleaded with him to help her. A smile flitted across sleeping lips, and her pale hand drew cryptic circles on the black leather of his palm. "Thank you Daddy." She murmured to the apparition in her head and the touch at once. That sealed his fate. He stayed all through the night at the side of a girl recovering from trying to kill him. Irony, Amidala was fond of saying, is everywhere.

When she recovered all words were brief. He almost longed for her to sleep, for her unconscious released her essentially kind nature. He just happened not to be on the receiving end of it. The girl he had met that night gave him hope that one day he could speak to his daughter with her eyes firmly open in all ways.

Luke had been as eager to please as Dran. Seldom did a twenty year old bring breakfast in bed to his sister instead of his love. That had begun to worry Vader. Luke had been popular with the females of Rebellion. Leia taunted to her shamefaced sibling frequently, recalling several lovely young techs and pilots sobbing over Luke's gentle 'We just aren't cut out for each other.'

"Luke was always heart breaker. Every woman wanted to date the conquering hero, and he had a talent for picking the shallow ones that lasted, say, five minutes. He finally figured out he wasn't the meaningless fling type, but it took him long enough."

Do not break people as if they don't exist, Luke, he thought fiercely, it would always end in them breaking something precious to you in return. Believe me, I've learned. What he took from this was that Luke wasn't likely to have any long-term relationship interrupted by his abduction. If there been, of course, he would have fetched the girl. A prospective bride to be could certainly be treated to this lavish and empowered captivity. He respected Luke's wishes, though he couldn't bring himself to extend that to Solo, The lack of such a girl wasn't normal. Vader was interested in beginning the production of Skywalkers as soon as possible, so Luke's lack of ties was beneficial. It meant no capturing a certain soldier he had his heart set on, and he could form an alliance in court.

He'd enjoy seeing the twins settled, in love, as happy as he had been, even, he supposed, if she insisted on dragging home that damn smuggler. But whereas Leia had erected a Corellian blockade to be overcome, he was sure, with a suitable partner, Luke would be less difficult. Vader knew several young women who would gladly be introduced.

"Sir, we've made conduct with Priority One Orbital Docking Facility. Bay 6 is clear for our arrival. The Lieutenant's voice emerged from the corner of the room, his face obscured by a large headset used for communication through the heavy broadcast interference that shielded the planet. The Emperor's palace had a system engineered to utilize the clearest path available, but the rest of the military had not been so lucky.

"Excellent." Leia crossed her legs, hiding her nervousness. She occupied a chair that the pit crew had placed for her, long hair captured in a single braid. Silently she informed her family that they had arrived. Cutting off this communiqué, she spoke to Piett. "I presume they won't divert more than a few shuttles for a hours?" He sighed.

"They never do, it's priority based. Don't worry your highness, you'll get a speedy transport." "I realized that. I'm sorry to delay your shore leave, actually. After such a long run, I understand your eagerness to be home." He blushed slightly at her bridging an unmilitary topic. "Yes, your highness."

"Do you have any family, Admiral?" She asked, in an offhand way but appearing concerned with his answer. "I am married, my lady. I have two children, daughters. One six, the second three." She smiled at him. "You must be proud. Having a brother, I'm of the opinion that daughters are far superior." He was taken aback. Here he was having a casual conversation with the Princess of the Empire.

"Being a son, I'm not sure I agree." She laughed quietly. She had a lovely laugh, high and reminiscent of the bells his rural church had once been so proud of. That was before a rebel raiding group, desperate for food, had chosen the sleepy town and it's defensible stone sanctuary as their headquarters and burned the Imperial loyalist priest for his objections. How he would have loved for his daughters and wife to see the Amirta he was raised in, but he was ashamed of the fire burned rubble, riddled with bullet holes that it now was.

Leia heard this. The admiral was no longer a faceless enemy, over her short spans of commanding this bridge she had been shown he was a good man, hadn't joined the Empire for meaningless reasons at all. Everyone has a story, she thought, giving him a mournful sigh. "I'm sorry for your loss, Admiral." She murmured so that no one overheard.

Of course she knew, Piett fought shock. The Princess was, after all, not quite human. Many on the ship were of the opinion that her family were mythical creatures, returned from the graves of the past to wield power. "It's nothing, my Lady." He shut his eyes. "Everything," she corrected, "Is something. Every man is something. I hope you build a new Amirta in this life, Piett. Your children deserve to see it."

With that she turned back, and announced that all personnel were free to travel with the extent of at least a month's leisure, and not to return until receiving further orders under the heading of new code Blue Rendezvous. Yes, he thought distractedly, now totally loyal to the woman in front of him even if hell itself dared to touch her, no one can take from me the memories I hold.

Luke shoved his things inside the leather satchel while Jemmis was admiring the collection of exotic parts on the dresser. "In a month you managed to amass more rare junk on this thing than I have on mine in a year. Good work!" He broke into tears. "My widdle Imperial heir, I'm so proud!"

"My eyes will not bestow the benefit of a role." He pronounced formally, flicking his hand at the offender. "What do you think? That sounded emperor worthy to you, right?" He hated Palpatine, of course, but that didn't require him making an idiot of himself in front of court. And his father…

He hadn't believed Leia had been allowed to dock the Executor. He'd gladly relinquished the opportunity after manning the nightshifts in space, but this was more complicated. If she returned to the self destructive frenzy that reigned when her goal slipped away, Lelian Vader would rid the world of her enemies, and her self, and take the whole vessel with her. Luke knew better, she wouldn't endanger the lives of innocents except in utmost desperation, or spend so much time that went unobserved and unreported to her father gaining the trust and learning the expertise of the crew.

He extended his hand to Jemmis. "Will I see you again?" He asked softly. Jemmis grinned. Unless you intend on never setting foot off the planet. I've been promoted. You have the privilege of gazing on the personal pilot of the esteemed Prince Lucian. I know, I know, you're honored." Jemmis bowed mockingly. "Your father asked, and I jumped at it. I mean, now this is prestige! Plus, he liked that we're already friends, though he mentioned you could fly whenever you wished." "It's only prestigious if ye live, Jemmis." Luke corrected. "The Emperor may dislike my hair or something and 'puftg!'" "'Puftg?'" "Yes, Jem. That would be the sound of a Prince going splat." "Too good for regular splat, are we? I'm not worried. Your parlor tricks are nothing compared to the things you do with a saber, and the tricks were amazing. What would he do with Vader? You think a father remains loyal when his legacy dies? Guess again. I think I'll be about for a while Luke." Skywalker shook his head at his friend. "Believe me, I hope you're right."

"All personnel, this is your commanding officer. We are soon to loose our tow ship crew and be inserted into the Maglocks. Please brace if necessary, and enjoy your leave." Leia's calm voice cut through normal operation like butter. Determined to do this by the book to be completely right, Leia had performed by the book. What she had hated to factor was their surprise over a female voice. As long as no one was curious enough to annoy the bridge crew into talking, they should remain fine.

"I can't stress enough," she advised, flicking off the intercom with an elegant hand, "How important to me your secrecy is. To All of us. To your Empire." She hated using that word, but loyal high officers and technicians nodded solemnly, convinced that they had single handedly saved the world by tightly sealing their lips. "Thank you, oh how I would hate to be disappointed by such fine soldiers." Appealing to their pride, fear and chivalry all at once, she was masterful in the art of command, subtle and layered.

As the shuttle scraped against the landing pad of Vader's intimidating home, Luke was thankful for his father's slight squeeze on his shoulder. It brought the paranoid son to Earth. Quite simply, they were Skywalkers. If his father sent that all would be right then it would be. Perhaps this, if only for a while, was a home to be proud to return to. It wasn't how he'd expected to go to Coruscant, it wasn't what a farm boy, pilot or Jedi had glimpsed in his life. But as the razor reflection of a metal building caught and held Leia's slight smile, he knew that it couldn't be all that bad.