Author's Note: This is a re-post of the original stories in my 'One Missed Strike' series, collected together along with the inter-episode oneshots in one edition for the sake of reader convenience. While I have made some revisions - mainly for clarity of plot and improvement of wording - I have not made any major changes to the plot, or added new scenes. Believe me, I was tempted in a few places, but ultimately I decided to settle for minor tweaks and mostly leave it as it was first published. Personally, I believe in improving by moving on to new and better stories, not by obsessively reworking your existing works the way certain bearded, bespectacled, flannel-wearing, marvelously imaginative but also tremendously frustrating people do, even when most people like them just fine the way they were.
I'm also leaving the original versions up, mainly to preserve the reviews. Speaking of, reviews are most welcome, whether you're a long-time fan reading this again or a new reader discovering this story for the first time.
One Missed Strike
The universe is an ever-expanding web of choices, of paths created by every decision ever made, every event balanced by equal chance. According to some theories, the universe itself splits at each of these divergences and follows both paths, creating endless variations of reality.
Sometimes both paths closely parallel one another, but other times, the paths branch off so widely that one could swear the people and places in both paths had never been the same, had never been the exact same atoms and molecules until one choice or one chance event split them apart and sent them off on their separate ways.
The universe diverges constantly; it has diverged infinite times in the past, and will diverge infinite times in the future. It diverges right here and right now, and also diverged a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
(A New Hope)
The halls of Tantive IV were normally pristine and white, simple but elegant, typical of Alderaanian design. Except for the occasional console or instrument readout, stark black or red against the white paneling of the walls, the hallways were virtually spotless.
Not so today. Today, ugly black burns dotted the formerly pristine white walls, left by the blasters of Imperial Stormtroopers as they invaded the diplomatic vessel. The corpses of the defenders had been left where they fell, checked only to make sure they were dead before the Imperial troops moved on to secure the rest of the vessel.
Trooper TK-421, also known as Tyraj Kolos, waited at attention beside a half-dozen of his fellow stormtroopers, nervously anticipating the arrival of Lord Vader, who was coming to check the captured vessel himself. As Commander-In-Chief of the Imperial military, Lord Vader preferred to take an active role in ruling his empire, leaving the bureaucracy to those more inclined to it.
Heavy footsteps announced Lord Vader's coming, and Tyraj made a valiant attempt to straighten even further, the rifle he held across his chest clicking against his breastplate as he moved.
Within his protective white shell of armor, Tyraj moved only his eyes as Sith Master Darth Vader strode onto Tantive IV. Tall and broad-shouldered, Vader filled out a slightly more decorative version of a standard black Imperial officer's uniform quite impressively, looking every centimeter a grown-up version of the hero he'd been in his youth. The man that had once been known as Anakin Skywalker was the perfect example of Imperial standards and discipline; his black uniform was free of wrinkles, every crease stiff and sharp, every buckle polished and gleaming, his short dark blond hair precisely combed straight back from his forehead.
Vader's cold blue eyes swept over the bodies of the Rebels with a passive, vaguely disgusted expression, and his gaze briefly met Tyraj's before he moved on, his long, wide cloak fanning out behind him from the speed of his stride.
TK-421 hurried to match his commander's pace, trying to hide his excitement at being here. He'd only recently been selected for the 501st, and was doing his best to live up to the incredible honor of being one of the troopers under the direct command of the Emperor himself. Lord Vader despised weakness and incompetence, so to be chosen to be part of his personal legion said something impressive about each member of the 501st.
If Vader could sense Tyraj's thoughts - as he was rumored to be able - he didn't show it, paying no attention to the stormtroopers marching in step behind him. He moved with single-minded determination down the hallway of Tantive IV, only the back of his head and the top of his high collar visible above his cloak. Tyraj could practically feel the intensity of the Sith Master's ice-blue gaze boring into the target ahead of them, a petite, dark-haired young woman dressed in white, flanked by four more 501st troopers and a black-uniformed officer.
Lord Vader's irritation was almost palpable, and quite understandable, since only the most serious of matters could draw the attention of the Emperor himself. Tyraj did his best to seem intimidating, knowing he could never match up to the imposing figure of his commander; he could at least reinforce Lord Vader if nothing else.
"Where are they?" Vader demanded of the young woman, arms crossing over his chest as he came to a stop in front of her.
"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean, Your Majesty," replied Princess Leia Organa, Senator for Alderaan. Her expression was somehow both respectful and haughty at once; she appeared to be insulted that her ship had been stopped and boarded by Imperial troops, yet wary of the Emperor's infamous temper. "We are nevertheless honored by your presence."
Vader stiffened, his expression hardening. "Do not lie to me, Princess," he said threateningly. "I know they are aboard your ship."
Tyraj sneered at Organa beneath his helmet for trying to deceive the Emperor himself. The nerve!
"Every person aboard this vessel aside from you and your troops is either a part of the crew or a member of my team, my lord," Organa said calmly. "We have no unauthorized passengers."
Lord Vader clasped his hands behind his back beneath his cloak. "Of that, Your Highness," he said sardonically, "I have no doubt." He raised a gloved hand to point at her. "Given your family's barely concealed sympathy for the Rebellion, the fugitives are certainly welcome on your ship."
The Sith Master took three steps closer, then crossed his arms again. "I will give you one more chance," he said gravely, staring balefully down at Organa. "If you do not tell me where you are hiding the fugitives, I will destroy your ship and everyone on it."
TK-421 grinned smugly behind his helmet. He felt doubly proud that he would be here at this, the completion of the quest that had absorbed Lord Vader for the last twenty years. Princess Leia was hiding on her ship the last known Jedi, the last pathetic remnants of the Order Lord Vader himself had once been a part of, before he discovered their true nature and destroyed them. Tyraj knew he would achieve great prestige for just having been a part of this mission.
Organa kept her calm - an impressive trait under the withering glare of Lord Vader, Tyraj thought. "With all due respect, my lord," she said, "I am afraid you may be mistaken. I harbor no fugitives. I am a loyal member of the Imperial Senate, and I-"
"You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!" Lord Vader snapped, interrupting. He turned to look back at the trooper on his other side, gesturing contemptuously with one hand. "Take her away."
"Yes, sir," the trooper said, his voice filtered through his helmet. He and the four troopers who had been with Organa formed a circle around her and marched her back in the direction of the hatch. Tyraj watched out of the corner of his eye, noting that Organa's regal bearing did not waver a millimeter as she was led away.
He glanced back ahead to see Lord Vader looking directly at him. Tyraj consciously willed himself not to flinch, chagrined at having broken discipline, if only slightly.
"Come with me," the Sith Master said, either not noticing Tyraj's indiscretion or simply not caring. "You other men, fan out and begin a thorough search for those Jedi. They'll not escape us."
The other troopers saluted smartly and moved off to begin their search. Tyraj fell into step behind and to the left of his commander as Lord Vader set off down the hallway again. The black-uniformed officer accompanied them for a short way.
"My lord, holding her could be dangerous," the officer ventured. "She is well-liked in the Senate. If word of her capture gets out, it could generate sympathy for the Rebellion."
"Nevertheless, she is my only link to the Rebellion," Lord Vader replied. "She knows the location of their secret base."
The officer pursed his lips and shook his head slightly, perhaps a bit sympathetically, as he considered the princess. "She'll die before she'll tell you anything," he said. "My lord," he hastily added.
Vader turned upon him a slight, sinister smile. "Leave that to me."
The officer nodded once, then held a hand to his ear as information was relayed to him through his earpiece. "Preliminary scan reveals no additional life-forms," he said. "Our troops and a few remaining prisoners are the only beings aboard this vessel."
"Were any escape pods jettisoned during the fighting?" Lord Vader asked.
The officer nodded, consulting a datapad. "One, though scanners revealed there were no life-forms aboard. That section was damaged during the boarding action; it was likely a short-circuit."
Lord Vader seemed about to say something, then stopped, a thoughtful expression crossing his features. "Yes," he said distractedly. "Ignore the pod; it is of no importance. The Jedi are still onboard." He pointed back down the hallway. "Seal off all exits and secure any remaining escape pods." He met the officer's eyes. "Tell the men not to engage if they see them. Keep the Jedi away from the exits, and drive them toward my position; I will deal with them myself."
"Yes, sir," the officer said, saluting quickly before moving off.
Lord Vader resumed walking down the hallway, gesturing for TK-421 to follow him. They walked in silence for several minutes, both men on the lookout for the fugitive Jedi.
"In some ways, this is worse than the Clone Wars," Vader remarked, glancing over his shoulder at Tyraj. "At least then, the enemy wasn't spreading propaganda."
Tyraj nodded sharply. He'd seen a few of the pirate holo-transmissions himself, crudely faked security recordings of Lord Vader cutting down a roomful of children in the old Jedi Temple, with the superscription, "By Any Means Necessary" in bold letters. As if the noble leader of the Empire would stoop to killing children! The very preposterousness of the idea was enough to make the stormtrooper hate the Rebels that much more. Couldn't they come up with something a little more credible?
"Have you ever fought a Jedi, trooper?" Lord Vader asked, turning to walk through a nearby door.
Tyraj followed him through, into another long white hallway. "I have not, sir," TK-421 answered. "But I'm hoping to have the pleasure today," he said, holding up his blaster rifle for emphasis.
A shadow of a smile flickered across Vader's face for a moment. "You may yet, trooper," he said, an expression of suspicious concentration slowly coming over his face.
As Tyraj watched, the lightsaber hanging from the Sith Master's belt suddenly leaped into its owner's hand. Vader's eyes flicked toward a door two meters away, and he ignited the lightsaber, sending a meter-long beam of scarlet energy stabbing into the wall next to the door. The overload of energy fused the controls of the door, effectively sealing it shut.
TK-421 brought his blaster rifle up into firing position, knowing their targets were nearby. He would of course let Lord Vader handle the Jedi, but, he thought, if he could get a lucky shot in, he might actually be able to earn Vader's respect.
With a hiss of sparks, a blue blade erupted from the wall on the other side of the door and cut in a quick rectangle. As Lord Vader pulled his saber out of the wall, the wielder of the blue lightsaber kicked the section of wall into the hallway and sprang out of the shielded compartment, leaping at the Emperor with uncanny accuracy.
Vader met the Jedi with his own saber, his long cloak swirling about him as he surged forward, slashing repeatedly. The Jedi, a forty-ish human man about Lord Vader's age with long dark hair, narrowed his green eyes as he and the Sith Master locked blades. The glowing, humming beams of energy formed an X between the two men.
"Traitor," the Jedi grunted, his teeth gritted with effort as he attempted to push the taller Vader back.
Vader said nothing, his face an expressionless mask. He did not even show effort as he shifted his feet for greater stability, muscles flexing beneath the sleeves of his uniform. Slowly, he forced the crossed lightsabers back towards the Jedi, who redoubled his efforts, groaning with exertion.
Suddenly, Lord Vader stepped aside, pushing the now-unbalanced Jedi's lightsaber into the wall with his own. He lashed out with a booted foot and caught the Jedi in the stomach, knocking him away.
The Jedi rose with an agile spin, bringing his lightsaber up to guard against Lord Vader's heavy overhand slash, but in the next second Vader twisted his scarlet blade around the Jedi's and neatly impaled him through the heart. The Jedi slumped silently to the deck, but Vader was already busy with another of the traitorous mystics, a young man who jumped out of the hole in the corridor wall.
This one had short blond hair and wielded a green blade. He was much younger than the first Jedi, probably a student. It sickened Tyraj that these mystics were still able to convert new recruits to their perverted magics, but he reminded himself that Lord Vader had once been a Jedi, before he saw the truth.
Vader made no sound, issued no words of challenge or threat; he simply moved into a guard stance against this new Jedi, who was perhaps half his age. The younger Jedi looked down at his fallen master with a sorrowful, then outraged expression. He brought his lightsaber up, glaring at Lord Vader.
The Emperor slowly circled around to the left, and as he moved, Tyraj watched his facial expression move from impassive to slightly inviting, his cold blue eyes locked on those of his opponent.
"You are powerful, young one," Vader said. "More powerful than your master. He was holding you back; I can sense it. You are ready for so much more."
The young Jedi said nothing, keeping his lightsaber carefully in position as he and the Sith Master circled one another.
"Come with me," Vader invited. "Let me show you the way the Force is meant to be used. You would make a very powerful Sith."
"Keep your teachings to yourself, traitor," the young Jedi spat, unable to resist responding. "You disgust me."
Vader shrugged, smiling slightly. "Your choice," he said casually.
In the next instant, he took one hand off his weapon and unleashed a powerful torrent of crackling blue lightning from his fingertips. The young Jedi caught it on his lightsaber and held it back, effort wracking his features.
Still pouring lightning from his fingers, Lord Vader advanced and slashed horizontally. The young Jedi moved to intercept the Dark Lord's ruby blade, and in so doing left himself open for another burst of lightning. The force of the impact hurled the young Jedi against the wall, and before he could get up, Vader stabbed him cleanly through the heart, just as he had the master.
The Sith Master turned to look at the first body. He leaned down to pick up the fallen Jedi Knight's lightsaber, and in so doing, revealed to Tyraj that another form stood behind him in the hole the first Jedi had cut through the wall.
"Sir, look out!" Tyraj said, bringing up his blaster rifle and firing even as he spoke.
The third Jedi, this one a young woman with short dark hair wielding a blue blade, brought up her weapon and deflected Tyraj's blaster bolt back at him. The trooper tried to dodge out of the way, but the searing lance of plasma hit him in the shoulder, at the place where his breastplate and shoulder pauldron met. He stumbled back against the wall, willing himself not to cry out.
Through the pain-induced fog, Tyraj thought the young woman's face seemed oddly familiar to him, and he wondered where he could have seen her before.
Meanwhile, Lord Vader ignited his lightsaber again and exchanged a quick series of strikes with the female Jedi, their blades crashing together at least seven or eight times within the span of only a second. Her dark eyes burned with fury at seeing her comrades slain on the floor, and Vader actually smiled at this.
"That's it," he told the young woman. "Use your anger. Your emotions make you stronger."
Unlike the other two, the female Jedi said nothing, struggling to keep her calm as Vader pressed his advantage. He forced her back, making her leap over the body of her fellow student to avoid tripping. Surprising both Vader and Tyraj, she spread her fingers and called the other young Jedi's lightsaber into her hand with the Force, igniting it as soon as the hilt touched her palm.
Breathing deeply, the female Jedi whirled her sabers through a complicated pattern of strikes, actually forcing Lord Vader to take a step back under the fury of her assault. Smiling grimly, Vader moved his lightsaber into the exact positions necessary to deflect the strikes of both glowing blades wielded by his opponent, not seeming even slightly at a disadvantage.
Tyraj could only watch the battle, and much as he would have liked to have aided his commander in the fight, he could not. The Jedi's deflected bolt had struck him in his dominant arm, and he was having trouble focusing over the searing pain in his shoulder.
Quickly, Lord Vader leaped in a sudden somersault right over the female Jedi's head, moving with superhuman speed and agility. The young woman whipped her green blade around to deflect his first strike as she spun to meet him, then crossed her blades to hold back a powerful two-handed overhand slice. This proved to be a mistake, as Lord Vader pressed down with his greater height and strength, forcing the Jedi to hold her position to keep his scarlet blade away from her neck.
Finally, Tyraj succeeded in grabbing his blaster with his good arm. Trying to block out the pain, he raised the blaster rifle to point at the Jedi's back, drawing Lord Vader's attention.
The Sith Master nodded slightly, pushing forward suddenly. The Jedi redoubled her efforts to keep Lord Vader away, and thus left herself wide open for Tyraj's shot. TK-421's thoughts locked into the precise patterns drilled into him at the academy, and he sighted down the barrel momentarily before squeezing the trigger.
With Lord Vader holding her attention from the front, the Jedi had no chance. The blaster bolt struck true, and her lightsabers dropped from suddenly nerveless fingers as she slumped to the deck. Vader deactivated his own saber, and the ruby blade withdrew into the black hilt in his gloved fist.
At an idle gesture, the other three lightsabers in the hallway flew into the Sith Master's hand, and he tucked them into his belt beneath his cloak as he moved toward Tyraj. He clipped his own lightsaber to his belt as he stopped before the injured stormtrooper, and he looked down at Tyraj with a concerned expression.
"Your actions were commendable, trooper," he said, a hint of respect in his tone. "I will see to it you are rewarded. Do you require medical assistance?"
TK-421 shook his helmeted head, gritting his teeth against the pain as he slowly dragged himself to his feet. "No, sir!" he said, attempting to ignore his burning shoulder.
"Go back to the Executor and get that wound looked at," Lord Vader said. "I can finish searching this section myself. I doubt there are any more Jedi aboard, but if there are, I can handle them."
"No doubt, sir," Tyraj said, gesturing with his blaster at the three Jedi lying around them.
Vader's mouth quirked in an almost-smirk as he nodded once and moved off, his cloak billowing out behind him. Tyraj watched him go, pride swelling in his heart to serve with such a man. Pressing a gloved hand to his shoulder, the wounded trooper set off back in the direction of the boarding hatch.
"He's here. We must be cautious."
Luke Skywalker nodded, looking over at his Jedi Master. Obi-Wan Kenobi glanced over at his student with a grave expression, hands folded within the sleeves of his brown robe. The desolate, rocky landscape of Tatooine spread out around them, a cloudless blue sky above showing the orbiting starships in stark detail.
"Can he sense us from that far up?" Luke asked, gesturing to the menacing, dagger-like shape of the Executor, Darth Vader's flagship. It was tiny, barely visible from here, but to be readily recognizable as a Star Destroyer even at altitude, it had to be massive indeed.
"Darth Vader is a Sith Master," Obi-Wan replied, "and the most powerful Force-Sensitive ever to have existed. We will be very fortunate indeed if he does not already know we are here."
The younger Jedi nodded gravely, reaching up to brush some of his sandy blond hair out of his eyes. To maintain their disguise, Luke's hair was not cut in the traditional Padawan style, one of the many breaks from tradition in his training. Obi-Wan had attempted to train Luke as best he could in the ways of the destroyed Jedi Order, but he had had to sacrifice some things out of necessity.
Off in the distance, the Tusken Raiders could be heard howling at each other. It was unlikely the Sand People knew the two Jedi were here, but Obi-Wan saw Luke's hand moving closer to his lightsaber anyway, in preparation.
"Patience," Obi-Wan said, his expression still serious beneath his silver beard. "Do not draw upon the Force, Luke, or he will sense it."
"I wish you'd been able to kill him, Master," Luke said, looking back up at the Executor. "The galaxy would be a better place."
"If Anakin had died at Mustafar," Obi-Wan reminded his apprentice, "Palpatine would be the Emperor, not him. Vader is a tyrant, but his evil does not even approach the level of his Sith Master. The galaxy would be a much darker place under the fist of Palpatine, I assure you."
"It's hard to imagine," Luke said bitterly.
Obi-Wan laid a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder. "I know it is difficult for you," he said. "But Anakin was once a good man. Palpatine twisted him into what he is now. Even in the throes of the Dark Side, Anakin still holds himself to a standard of justice, perverted though it may be. He is at least not cruel for cruelty's sake. It took me a long time to see the depth of Palpatine's schemes, but I know enough about him to know that Anakin makes a better Emperor than his master would have."
Luke's expression hardened. "Anakin Skywalker died in the Purges. That monster just happens to have his face."
Obi-Wan frowned. They'd had this discussion before, and while it disturbed him that Luke was so willing to consider his father an enemy, he supposed it did make things easier. Only Luke was strong enough with the Force to challenge the Emperor.
He'd meant to hide Luke's parentage from the boy, to spare him the suffering of having to challenge his own father, but since Darth Vader was quite obviously Anakin Skywalker, his face the most famous in the galaxy, there was no keeping this from Luke. He'd sensed that Obi-Wan was hiding something from him the first time he'd questioned the Jedi Master about where he'd come from, and Obi-Wan had not been able to bring himself to lie to the boy, no matter how terrible the truth.
So, since there was no other alternative, and because Luke had insisted on it, he'd begun training the boy in the ways of the Jedi, doing his best to keep the two of them from attracting Vader's attention. Since the Sith Master was busy ruling his empire and hunting down the other remaining Jedi, they'd managed to escape his notice for at least this long. This was the closest they'd ever been to the Sith Master in all that time, however, and Obi-Wan feared that his former student would be able to sense them, anyway.
Obi-Wan looked over at the boy, seeing Anakin in his face, his stance, even hearing him in Luke's voice. But he also saw the boy's mother, especially when Luke was thoughtful or happy.
He patted his apprentice's shoulder comfortingly. "Your mother thought there was still good in him, Luke," Obi-Wan said.
Luke frowned, shifting uncomfortably. "Can we not talk about this, Ben?"
Obi-Wan nodded. "Very well," he said. "Perhaps we can discuss that instead." He pointed at a trail of fire streaking across the sky.
Luke brought up a set of macrobinoculars, peering at the leading edge of the streak of flame. "I'd say it's an escape pod, Master," he said, pointing at it himself. "It looks like it's going to land a few kilometers from here." He lowered the binoculars and looked over at his teacher. "Should we go check it out?"
The Jedi Master nodded. "Let's go."
"You couldn't have picked a worse spot to land if you'd been trying, could you?"
The blue and white barrel-shaped astromech R2-D2 issued an indignant series of bleeps and twitters at his companion, a golden human-shaped droid whose designation was C-3PO.
"I most certainly could have done better, if I'd had the programming to operate these sorts of things," C-3PO said, gesturing behind the two droids at the wreckage of their escape pod. Around them on all sides was a seemingly endless expanse of sand, which harshly reflected the light of the double suns back at them from a clear blue sky.
Artoo bleeped an insulting series of phrases back at him.
Threepio responded by kicking Artoo as hard as his servomotors could manage, a rather useless gesture considering he was only a protocol droid. "You take that back!" he exclaimed in his tinny, prissy voice. "I'll not tolerate that sort of language from you!"
Artoo swiveled his domed head back and forth, looking past his companion to an approaching object. He tweeted a half-hearted apology, indicating the object to Threepio.
The golden droid turned to look, leaning forward as if that would help him get a better view. "Whatever it is, it's approaching quite rapidly," he said. He looked down at Artoo. "I do hope it isn't hostile."
Artoo bleeped sarcastically.
"Don't be ridiculous," Threepio responded. "There aren't any predators here that eat droids." He looked back down at Artoo nervously. "Are there?"
The astromech burbled with electronic laughter as he focused his sensors on the approaching object, which now reflected the sun from something metal or transparisteel, making it likely a transport of some kind. He indicated this to Threepio.
"Oh, thank the Maker!" Threepio exclaimed. "We're saved!" He began waving his arms at the oncoming vehicle. "Help! Help!" he shouted, boosting the volume of his voice. "Over here!"
Moving rapidly over the sand, a landspeeder suddenly swerved to a halt only meters from the two droids, spinning a full ninety degrees from its original heading as it came to a stop. The driver was a young human male, dressed in simple tan and white clothes of the kind worn by most Tatooine settlers, a style Artoo recognized from his last visit to this planet more than twenty years ago. Another thing the droid recognized was the chrome-plated lightsaber hanging from the young man's belt, which flashed in the sun as he climbed out of the speeder.
Behind him came an older human man, wearing the same kind of clothing but in a looser style, a long brown robe over his clothes. A lightsaber hung from his belt, as well. If droids could be startled, R2-D2 was at that moment, as he recognized the older man. As the older man said something in an admonishing tone to the younger human, Artoo suddenly launched into an excited series of twitters and beeps, rocking back and forth on his stumpy legs.
"Calm down, Artoo," Threepio said, turning to his counterpart. "What are you talking about?"
Artoo bleeped excitedly, swiveling his dome between Threepio and the humans.
Threepio looked down at him incredulously. "How could you possibly recognize either of these men? We've never been to this planet before!"
"Hello there," the older human said politely. "What seems to be the trouble?"
"Thank you for stopping, sir," Threepio said. "My counterpart and I crashed onto this planet, and we feared we might never be rescued."
Artoo paused in his excitement to burble ridicule at his companion.
Threepio waved at Artoo to be quiet. "It doesn't matter how long we were here!" he snapped. "We're saved!"
"We saw your pod crash," the younger human said. "I'm Luke, and this is Ben."
Threepio shifted a few steps closer to the two humans through the sand. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Luke," the protocol droid said. "We are very grateful to you."
Artoo whistled excitedly at the older human.
"Oh, be quiet, Artoo," Threepio said. "He said his name was Ben, not 'Obi-Wan'. Enough of your nonsense." He turned back to the two humans. "I'm sorry for my companion. His circuits have been cooked by the suns, I'm afraid."
Artoo indignantly hooted that Threepio was the one with cooked circuits before he waddled closer on his stumpy legs through the slippery sand.
He could tell Obi-Wan recognized him now, and the younger human, Luke, peered curiously at him from beside the older man.
"How does this droid know you, Master?" he asked, hooking his thumbs in his pockets.
Obi-Wan stroked his silver beard thoughtfully. "We'll take them back to the house," he said. "We shall learn more there."
Darth Vader stalked angrily through the corridors of the Executor, irritated that Kenobi had not been among the Jedi hiding aboard the Tantive IV. He'd been hoping to destroy his old master today, the man who'd taken everything from him. His quest was not over until Obi-Wan died at his hand.
Vader glared a low-ranking officer out of his way, shoving him aside with the Force when he didn't move fast enough. He didn't stop until he was finally in his quarters, the only permanent home he maintained.
Once inside, Vader withdrew the three lightsabers he'd collected today and added them to the collection adorning one entire wall of the main room, a wide, square chamber decorated mainly in black. Dozens of lightsabers already sat in hooks on the wall, dating all the way back to Dooku's, though there was room for several more.
Especially one, he thought to himself. He stripped the glove off his natural hand and ran his fingers through his military-short hair, remembering a time when he'd worn it long and tousled.
He was just a boy then, he thought. Young and stupid.
He angrily pushed aside the memories that tried to surface along with those thoughts. Scowling, he sat down in the large throne-like chair that dominated the opposite wall from his lightsaber collection and stared at the three newest acquisitions.
The two men were dead, but the young woman had somehow managed to survive the blaster shot that had dropped her. Sensing her potential, Vader had ordered her to be treated in the infirmary and kept heavily sedated until such time as he could begin her training. It would take time to purge her Jedi training, but someone of her talents could be a great asset.
Suddenly, Vader's private comm beeped in a distinctive pattern. Only one person had this particular access code, so the Sith Master instantly knew who was calling him. He touched the key to accept the transmission, not even waiting for the hologram to finish forming before he spoke."What is it, Lord Nova?"
Slowly, a human shape flickered into view, cast a bluish shade by the holoprojector. A human man in his late twenties soon became discernible, his dark hair shorn close to his skull, his eyes piercing even through the distortion of the transmission. His clothes were tight-fitting and dark, and a lightsaber hung from his belt.
As soon as his image was clear, the man bowed, dropping to one knee. "I have news, my Master," he said, looking up to meet Vader's gaze.
"Rise," Vader said. "I sense you have had a victory."
Darth Nova nodded, crossing his arms as he stood. "I have, Master. The target you assigned me is dead - as are all witnesses."
"Well done, my apprentice," Vader said. "Return to Coruscant and make sure the bureaucrats are doing as they should. I will be a few more days on my own mission."
Nova nodded once. "Did you find Organa, Master?" he asked.
Vader also nodded once. "She was indeed harboring Jedi, as your intelligence indicated. I killed two of them, and may be able to convert the third."
Nova smiled grimly. "Very good, my Master. I will report again when I reach Coruscant."
Vader inclined his head in acknowledgment, then cut the transmission. Then, with an adjustment to the controls, he called the Executor's bridge and ordered the massive ship to set course for Alderaan. The Organas had been a thorn in his side long enough. Perhaps a demonstration was in order…
Leia Organa glared at the Imperial medic as he none-too-gently shoved a needle in her arm and collected a blood sample.
"What are you doing," she demanded, "making sure I'm good and healthy before you kill me?"
"What Lord Vader does with you is his business," the white-coated medic said. "Your health is mine." He looked down his rather large nose at her. "I am simply checking your blood for infections."
Leia arched an eyebrow at the way he said 'infections', as if somehow being a suspected Rebel was a disease. As the medic applied a small bandage to her arm where he had jabbed it with the needle, Leia looked around the rest of the infirmary.
On the other side of the long, clinical green room sat a stormtrooper being treated for a blaster wound in his shoulder. He'd removed his chest armor, and his helmet sat at the foot of the bed, looking like some kind of insectoid skull. His dark eyes glared at her, as if he was offended to be treated in the same infirmary as a Rebel. The harsh fluorescent glowpanels reflected off his short dark hair, which he'd slicked back with some kind of oil.
Typical Imperial jarhead, Leia thought sourly, glaring right back. He probably thought his 'fearless leader' was just as much a hero now as he was in the Clone Wars, and obediently filed any and all atrocities under 'any means necessary for the glory of the Empire' like the rest of the fools in this galaxy.
And no wonder, she thought, spotting a propaganda poster on the wall near the trooper's cot. The poster depicted Vader at perhaps her own age, leading armored clone troopers up a hill on an alien world, lightsaber held high as he charged toward a group of battle droids. However, despite the poster's apparent Clone Wars setting, the illustrated young Vader wore a black uniform, had short hair, and wielded a red lightsaber. At the bottom, in bright red letters, were the words, 'As it was then, so it is now. Serve With Honor!'
Leia's lip curled with disgust. Honor had died with the Republic; Anakin Skywalker had killed it, like so many other things, the day he became Darth Vader.
The princess watched as the medic ran her blood sample through one of his beeping machines, then looked past him to the far end of the infirmary, where a young woman lay shackled to a bed on her stomach, a large bacta patch on her back. Her head was turned away, but Leia recognized one of the Jedi who'd been aboard her ship. She thought a silent apology at the young woman, sorry she'd been unable to keep her out of the Empire's clutches.
Hopefully, Artoo and Threepio had landed safely and would soon find the old Jedi general on the planet below, keeping this day from being a complete disaster.
Leia glanced over at the stormtrooper to see that he was still glaring turbolasers at her, and she thought something at him that would have made her mother blush. Knowing Imperial troops, he was probably thinking a variation of the same thing back at her.
The medic punched a final series of buttons on his console and withdrew the vial of blood. He dropped it into a medical waste container as if disposing of a dead rodent, glancing at her momentarily before gesturing to the stormtroopers who stood guard on her other side. "Take her to her cell," he said.
Leia stood before the trooper could grab her arm, glaring at him haughtily. As if she was going to let some Imperial grunt push her around! She allowed the trooper's companion to lock the cuffs back around her wrists and indignantly marched off, making the stormtroopers have to jog to keep up with her.
She smiled inwardly at her show of defiance. The battle might be lost, but not the war.
"Now, what's this about a message?" Obi-Wan asked the shorter of the two droids. The four of them sat in the main room of the old Jedi Master's humble abode in the Jundland Wastes, the bright light of the dual suns filtering in through the shades and scattering small beams of light throughout the well-worn room.
Luke sat on one of the chairs next to the protocol droid, who silently watched as his counterpart trundled up to a low table and leaned over to project a bluish holographic beam onto the flat surface.
An image of a beautiful young woman about Luke's age appeared on the table, dressed in a long white gown with her dark hair pulled up in two elaborate braids on either side of her head. Luke thought momentarily that she seemed somewhat familiar to him, but he couldn't remember ever meeting her.
"General Kenobi," the image began, "years ago you served the Old Republic and my father in the Clone Wars. Now we have need of your help again. I came to Tatooine to bring you out of your exile, but unfortunately, Lord Vader's flagship has captured my vessel and my mission has failed."
The young woman paused, looking somewhere off-camera before continuing. "Vader will board my vessel soon, and I fear he will take me prisoner and hunt down the Jedi I hoped to keep away from him." She straightened, looking at the camera with a pleading expression. "Please, use the information contained in this Artoo unit to find your way to the rest of the Rebellion. We need your leadership now more than ever. Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are our only hope."
The sound of a blaster shot rang out from the image, and the young woman hastily leaned down and manipulated something out of sight. "Go, Artoo!" she said urgently, and the message ended suddenly.
"Who is she?" Luke asked, leaning forward with a concerned expression.
"She is Princess Leia Organa of the Royal Family of Alderaan," C-3PO recited. "She sent us here, or more precisely, she sent Artoo, since I knew nothing of all this."
Obi-Wan frowned thoughtfully beneath his beard, his thoughts unreadable. He reached up and stroked the lower edge of his silver whiskers as he stared at the space where Princess Leia's image had been moments before.
"Well, what are we waiting for?" Luke demanded of his master. "We have to go help her!" He gestured vaguely upwards, the direction of space. "If Vader finds out she's a member of the Rebellion, he'll kill her!"
The Jedi Master nodded slowly. "I agree. But, we must think this through first. We cannot simply fly up to the Dark Lord's flagship and storm our way through to the detention area; his vessel is far too secure."
Luke leaned against the rough stone wall and drummed his fingers against it impatiently. "Well, there must be something we can do," he said, trying to think of something, anything they could do to help Leia. He'd never met her, and yet, he felt some sort of connection to the young woman. Perhaps the Force was telling him she was important.
"We will go to Alderaan," Obi-Wan said finally. "Vader will bring her there so that he can make an example of her and her family. He knows that support for the Rebellion is growing, and he will try to head it off by showing what happens to those who go against him." He stood, his expression grave. "He'll declare them traitors and then formally strip them of their titles before publicly executing the entire Royal Family."
"How are we going to get to Alderaan?" Luke asked thoughtfully. "We don't even have a ship!"
Obi-Wan smiled in that slightly mischievous way of his. "That, young Luke," he said, "is a problem quickly solved. Mos Eisley spaceport will have one that will suit our needs, and a pilot to match."
Luke cocked a playful eyebrow. "The 'wretched hive of scum and villainy'?" he asked teasingly. "I thought you hated going there."
The Jedi Master smiled wryly. "Fortunately, this will make the last time." He turned and picked up his robe from where it lay on the back of his chair. "Gather your things, Luke," he said, shrugging into his robe. "We are leaving this planet behind us."
Luke headed off to his room. "Good riddance."