Part I -- Innocence

Kenya Starflight

Rated PG for violence

Chapter 1


That was all Vader knew from the moment the Death Star exploded. First the screams in the Force as thousands of lives were brutally snuffed in an instant. Nausea overtook him, and he retched involuntarily. Any Force-sensitive, even a dark sider, couldn't be near such a large-scale mass murder without becoming physically ill.

Then his TIE was buffeted on all sides by twisted shards of broken metal, globules of radioactive fuel, and other shrapnel. The tiny craft was tossed and batted around like a hapless rodent in the paws of a sand panther cub. He wrestled violently with the controls, but he couldn't regain control of the ship.

Amid the chaos, his thoughts kept straying back to that X-wing pilot. Stang, he practically glowed with the Force! And he had been so distracted by that Force-strong presence that he had missed the freighter's ambush entirely. The pilots of both crafts would pay dearly, once he got his hands on them.

He pushed those thoughts aside. For now, survival was all that mattered.

A ragged slab of plating hurtled just past the viewscreen, shearing off one of his fighter's wings. Alarms sounded in the cockpit as another twisted fragment of the space station slammed into the craft, sending it spinning into Yavin IV's atmosphere.

There was only one option left, and Vader took it. He released the fighter's controls and went into a meditative trance, gathering his fury and indignation to fuel the dark side of the Force. With the aid of the dark power he managed to slow his descent toward the moon's surface. It would mean being stranded in Rebel territory, but it would also mean survival.

The control panel abruptly burst into flames. Sparks showered his legs and torso. His concentration broke at the critical moment.

A squeal of rending metal, searing agony as shards of metal and transparisteel pierced his armor, his head rushing toward the console...

And he knew no more.


Five kilometers away, a certain Rebel pilot was also in pain.


"Oh, stop squirming!" Alliance Doctor Forenze snapped as she continued working. "Honestly, you'd think he was the only person in the galaxy to be bitten by a glider lizard!"

"Well, you don't have to be so rough about it -- ow!"

The birdlike Fosh doctor simply shook her head and grumbled as she kept working, pulling tiny teeth out of Luke's left arm. The trademarks of the meter-long glider lizards were the webs of skin between their forelegs and back legs, which they used to glide through the jungle canopies, and their jaws containing thousands of teeth -- as well as a tendency to leave a dozen or more of them behind whenever they bit an attacker.

"Forenze isn't trying to hurt you, Luke," Leia told him from her seat nearby.

"I know, but -- ow!"

"Done at last," she huffed, slapping a syntheflesh bandage around the afflicted arm. "Now I can see to Captain Seul's brat for his vaccination update, and he'll be a pleasure after tending to Luke Skywhiner!" She stomped away.

Leia shook her head. "She's the best non-mechanical medic in the Rebellion. That makes putting up with her temper necessary."

"I almost prefer the droids," Luke muttered, rubbing his arm.

"What were you doing to get bitten, anyway?"

"Taking a walk. Why?"

She frowned. "Next time take someone with you. We can't afford to lose our best pilot, not after we've lost so many men already."

Luke sighed. He liked the princess a lot, but she couldn't understand how uncomfortable he was with his new-found celebrity. She had been a high-ranking leader all her life and so was used to attention. But he had gone from Tatooine farmboy to Alliance hero almost overnight, and he was having trouble adjusting to that. Especially when he had so much else to deal with -- namely, losing his aunt, uncle, teacher, best friend, and former life in less than twenty-four hours.

That was why, while the rest of the Alliance was celebrating yesterday's triumph over the Death Star, he'd spent most of today hiking in the jungle. He needed time alone to think.

"I'll see you at dinner, Leia," he told her, standing to leave.

"Where are you off to?"

"Does it matter?"

"At least go with someone."

"All right," he conceded. "Come on, Artoo."

The cheeky astromech, who had been waiting just outside the med center ("I won't have greasy machines mucking around in here!" Forenze had griped), whistled happily and set off after him.

"Not who I had in mind, but that works," Leia said amusedly. "And you can always talk to me if you need someone to listen, Luke."

He smiled. "I'll take you up on that sometime. But not right now."

"Stay out of trouble," she encouraged.

Together the odd duo of droid and man left the ancient stone temple that housed the Rebel base and walked down a scout path into Yavin IV's jungle.

Yavin's heat was nothing like Tatooine's. On Tatooine you could taste the heat, dry and dusty like a mouthful of sand. But on Yavin, you felt the heat, smothering you like a hot damp blanket. Luke had worked up a sweat in no time, even though he was only strolling and wore shorts and a sleeveless tunic.

Artoo chirped as a fearless bird alighted on his dome. Luke smiled despite himself. If his uncle hadn't purchased the strong-willed astromech and his prissy, paranoid counterpart Threepio, he would probably still be cleaning vaporators back at the farm. Or, he realized, dead at the hands of the stormtroopers who had raided the homestead and slaughtered his caretakers.

But their deaths had affected him in many ways, not all negative. For while he mourned their demise, it had given him new resolve, a reason to fight the tyranny of the Galactic Empire. Before he had been somewhat ambivalent toward the regime; now he had aligned himself firmly against it.

Artoo halted, wailing electronically to get his attention.

"What is it?" he asked.

The droid rocked back and forth anxiously, continuing to babble. Luke wished he could understand Binary.

"Is something ahead?" he asked finally. Artoo's sensors must have picked up on something.

Artoo beeped what sounded like an affirmative answer.

"Can you tell what it is?"

He moved his dome from side to side to indicate no.

Luke drew his blaster. Many large predators lived in Yavin's understory. He had yet to encounter one, but there was always a first time for everything. He carefully pushed aside a curtain of hanging moss and peered into the forest.

A huge dark form crouched in the trees. Luke almost squeezed off a nervous round before he recognized it.

"Ah, it's just a shipwreck," he told Artoo. "One of the TIEs from the battle yesterday..."

Artoo continued to ramble insistently.

"What's the problem..." he began. "Oh stang."

It was the crook-winged TIE fighter that had drawn a bead on him... and killed Biggs. His last glimpse of it had been as they fled the exploding Death Star. It had been tumbling toward Yavin's atmosphere, out of control. The Alliance had worried that the pilot of that ship would make his way to Imperial space and alert the Empire of the base's location. Well, one less thing to worry about, he figured.

"We'll report it to Mothma," Luke assured the droid.

He wouldn't be quiet. Something else must be wrong, he decided. He looked back at the battered freighter. It was lodged in the trees a few meters above the ground, missing one wing and several pieces of plating. Had the wreck been booby-trapped at all?

Something stirred behind the cracked transparisteel.

The pilot had survived! Luke ran toward the craft. No being could endure that crash without sustaining serious injury. And if this ship had truly crashed yesterday, that twenty-four hours could have compounded the injuries. Forget that this was an Imperial -- he had to do something to help the man.

"Hold on in there!" he shouted, bending down to grab a thick branch.

A deep moan issued from the darkness of the fighter's interior.

Luke climbed up a nearby tree until he was level with the TIE's viewscreen, then clubbed the transparisteel. After several blows, the framing gave way, allowing him to climb inside.

At first, he could see nothing. A few lights blinked in the gloom, but he wasn't sure if they came from the pilot's flight suit or were part of the TIE's hardware. He felt around for a glowrod or other emergency light source. He knew Rebel pilots carried them in case of a forced landing, but he wasn't sure if Imperials did...

Artoo whistled from the ground.

"Not much you can do," Luke called down. His hand brushed the familiar shape of a glowrod in a knocked-open compartment, and he flicked it on.

And proceeded to scream.

Darth Vader had been piloting the TIE.

/Vader betrayed and murdered your father./ Obi-wan had said that not long ago. Luke clenched his jaw in mounting hatred. Vader had murdered his father, his Jedi Master, and his truest friend. This beast who had once been a man was responsible for thousands of deaths and so many atrocities. And he had tortured Leia and forced her to watch as her homeworld was destroyed.

But now he hung limply in the pilot's seat, held upright only by his flight harness. He was barely conscious -- indeed, barely alive. And he was helpless.

Luke tightened his grip on his blaster. He could do it now. He could kill Vader. He could ensure that the Emperor's right-hand man shed no more innocent blood. His father's death and the deaths of so many others would be avenged.

Almost without realizing what he was doing, he raised his weapon arm, planting the muzzle of the blaster against the cracked helmet, squarely between Vader's eyes.

/Is this necessary?/ a small voice asked.

/He's a murderer!/ Luke railed. /He killed my father!/

/And what will it make you if you shoot a wounded, defenseless man, whether or not he is a murderer?/

He paused, pulling the blaster away. "Ben?"

/I know he has hurt you, Luke/ came Ben Kenobi's calming voice. /But a Jedi feels no anger, no desire for vengeance. He does, however, feel compassion -- even to those seemingly undeserving of it./

He reluctantly holstered his blaster. Ben was right. If he killed Vader, he'd be no better than him. And he refused to sink to that level.

The Sith moaned in pain. He tried to lift his head.

"Hold still," Luke urged him. "I'll have you out of there in a second." He searched his belt for his vibroblade.

"Who... are you?" The bass voice he had heard in so many holobroadcasts was no longer powerful and menacing. It was hesitant, weak, and even those three words left him gasping for breath.

"Luke Skywalker," he replied reflexively. "And don't try to talk." He gave up looking for the blade. He must have left it back at the base.

"Skywalker," Vader said softly. "I know... that name..."

"Don't talk," Luke repeated, grabbing a shard of transparisteel. He slashed through the harness straps, and Vader slumped forward. Luke struggled to haul him out of the wreck, but he lost his balance and fell to the forest floor, the Dark Lord's body landing heavily on top of him.

"Ugh," he groaned, wriggling from underneath Vader. "That was bright."

Artoo bleeped worriedly.

"I'm fine, Artoo," Luke replied, rolling Vader onto his back. "But he's not." Indeed, his leather armor was in shreds, and the rents exposed cadaverously pale skin and a multitude of gashes, though they appeared to have stopped bleeding. Luke wasn't sure, but he thought there might be a lot of internal injuries as well. It would take an experienced doctor to be sure.

"Skywalker to Massassi Base," he said into his comm. "You're not going to believe this."

"Try me," the communications officer on the other end replied.

"I found a crashed TIE just south of the base. The pilot is alive but critically injured."

"We'll send a med squad out to bring him in..."

"Hear me out. The pilot is Darth Vader."

Silence. Then a stern "That's not funny, Skywalker."

"I'm telling the truth! Listen!" He held the comm unit next to Vader's mask so the officer could hear the mechanical breathing.

"By the galaxy!" the officer exclaimed. "How did he... isn't a Sith supposed to..."

"You believe me now?"

"Yes, I believe you! Med squad's on the way, and we'll inform Dodonna of this at once! Stay where you are!"

He turned off the comm. It was a pretty unbelievable situation. Everyone viewed the Sith Lord as, if not invincible, very close to it. How could a crash landing leave him in this shape?

Artoo chirped.

"If you're saying coming out here was a bad idea, I'm starting to agree with you," Luke replied.

Ten minutes later, six Rebel soldiers arrived with a medkit, a stretcher, and weapons at the ready. Princess Leia and General Dodonna followed. Leia looked genuinely frightened, but Dodonna wore a skeptical expression.

"All right, Skywalker," Dodonna barked, "let's have a look at this TIE pilot you captured. And explain what possessed you to pull such a sick prank. The entire base is in hysterics over the rumors that you just captured Darth Vader."

"General Dodonna, Skywalker is not a prankster," Leia shot back. "He's much more mature than you give him credit for."

"Where is he?" one of the soldiers asked eagerly.

Luke gestured to where the Dark Lord lay.

"Oh stars!" he exclaimed. "You were right!"

Dodonna paled behind his beard. "I apologize, Skywalker. It just seemed so... incredible."

"I know," Luke replied. "I couldn't believe it myself."

"Let's put 'im out of his misery," growled one soldier, a Zabrak.

"That's too good for him," said another, this one human. "Leave him here to rot."

"No," Dodonna ordered. "We take him back to base. He is our prisoner. And we will question him as we would any other prisoner."

"General?" said Leia, straining to keep a calm demeanor. "This is an extremely dangerous man we're talking about here. He has control over strange powers and no qualms about using them to murder or torture..."

"I highly doubt that even a Sith can use the Force at full capacity after being involved in a nearly fatal crash," Dodonna replied. "Soldiers, take him to the med center immediately. Princess Leia, inform everyone of the details and try to restore some semblance of order. Luke, you will accompany me."

"Why me?"

"Because we need a first-hand witness to explain the situation to the Alliance High Command."

Luke groaned nervously. He'd rather have a tooth pulled without anesthetic than go before the High Command.

"Dr. Forenze is going to go into conniptions when she sees who her next patient is," a soldier noted as they hoisted Vader onto the stretcher.