Darth Vader reached his quarters in record time, having used short cuts that only he knew, the countless hours he spent patrolling every inch of the ship coming in handy. Droids and startled crew were forced to leap out of his way less they be knocked down. Not that he was running, no. Sith Lords did not run. It was unseeingly for someone of his rank and station to be seen running down the corridor like a common ruffian. So he had strode in his usual ground-eating march, his legs moving swiftly. Upon reaching his quarters he hurried in and went immediately to his computer, the image of a letter burning in his mind. He hoped that Princess Leia was correct in her assessment of the situation, that he hadn't scared the boy off with his rash actions. If he had…
/I don't want to think about that…/
No, the idea of loosing Luke before he had properly met him, that was too terrible to even contemplate. Reaching out with a black-gloved hand, Vader switched the computer on. He tapped his boot impatiently on the floor as the machine went through its warm up cycle. The cycle was taking longer than usual for some odd reason and anxiety started to grow in him. His foot tapped the hard metal deck faster and his hands clenched into fists.
/What is taking it so long? Drat stupid thing!./
Didn't the computer know how important this was, that he might have lost his son forever and he just had to know? His breathing grew faster and more raged, his heart rate soaring. Leaning forward, he peered at the monitor closely to see if it had finished yet. To his dismay, he realized the thing had stopped running! In fact, the computer had frozen up on him!
Anger rapidly built within him like a volcano ready to blow its top and crew all over the ship glanced around uneasily, although they had no idea why. The Dark Side reigned and he felt like smashing the stubborn computer into a pile of broken bits. His hand tightened into a fist and he raised it high overhead, his vision turning completely red. His whole body, even the mechanical droid parts, felt as hot as a supernova as anger bubbled through his veins, his muscles quivering with his uncontrolled rage. Inside the mask, his nostrils flared wildly, like an animal. Just before he brought his fist swinging down on top of the monitor, a new thought popped into his head and he stalled his hand, pausing in consideration.
/But if I smash it, I'll never be able to get online!./
Breathing loudly, the Sith Lord got down on his hands and knees, his long cape trailing on the floor. With great difficulty due to the helmet and mask, he crawled under the table his computer sat on and yanked the plug out of the wall. Waiting a moment, he stuck it back in and backed up. Climbing to his feet, he wasted no time pushing the button to turn the machine on again. Just because he hadn't done maintenance on for a while it had crashed on him! This had happened to him a few times before when he had let things slide due to more pressing invents, but never at such an important moment. Luckily, his computer was designed to start back up in its original mode. As he hadn't been writing any report, no information would be lost from pulling the plug. Still, one would think that this day and age people would have the know-how to build a computer that didn't act this way!
The Sith Lord sighed loudly, the rush of hot air bouncing off the inside of his mask and rushing across the skin of his face. It was his bad luck again, the Curse of the Chosen One! Would it never go away? Things always failed him at the wrong moment or he arrived a few minutes too late. Glancing at the monitor, he sighed again when he saw the green line slowly moving across the screen, indicating that the system was checking the computer for errors.
/That will take forever!./
Vader began to pace his quarters, his long cloak trailing out behind him. His path followed the contour of the room and every time he passed the computer he glanced at it hopefully, his heart sinking when it wasn't ready yet. After what must have been dozens of laps around the room, the machine was finally ready and he called up the appropriate program. Within seconds he was on the Galaticweb checking his email. He rapidly scanned down the list checking for one particular email address and when he saw it, his heart leaped for joy.
His son had sent him another letter! Without the slightest hesitation, Vader clicked it open and started to read eagerly, his eyes scanning the long lines of text. Tears came to his eyes when he saw how sorrowful Luke had been about his suffering about the photograph. Blinking rapidly in a vain effort to push them back, his vision blurred. He still couldn't believe how caring Luke was, how innocent, helpful and kind. How did he ever end up with such a loving child when he himself was so bad? All the little things touched Luke's heart and his feelings were expressed so clearly in his letters. It was just so enduring and touching, to know the boy cared so much about him. Why had he worried so much about his appearance, that his scarred visage would bother the boy? The letter made it very clear it hadn't.
/I should have known such things wouldn't be important to Luke…/
Luke simply wanted his father and nothing else mattered to him; not even the fact that he was an Imperial. The boy wanted to help people and do good in the galaxy.
/Just like I did all those years ago…/
Leaning back in the chair he sat in before the computer, Vader remembered the long forgotten dream he once had. He had wanted to run off to be a Jedi, to free all the slaves and to visit every star in the galaxy. Well, he had accomplished two of those dreams. Being a Sith Lord and working for the Empire had brought him to hundreds of worlds if not thousands. Perhaps it wasn't every single one but it was as close as anyone ever got. And he had been a Jedi. That only left freeing the slaves…
But in many ways he himself was still a slave and in fact he had never stopped being one. If it wasn't to Watto then it was to the Jedi Order or to the Empire. He had called people Master his entire life. And now he was a slave to his own badly ruined body, being forced to wear this dreaded suit of armor. Reaching up, he carefully removed the mask and helmet so he could wipe his eyes dry. Once his vision was clear again, he leaned forward once more and continued to read. A bout of fatherly pride and satisfaction swept through him when he saw Luke had admitted that he might be right about the Rebels. A smile swept across his face, the unaccustomed expression painfully stretching the scars on his face. This he ignored, as it was of no importance. He'd gladly suffer more pain for his newfound son. His eyes reached the third paragraph and he paused.
/So Luke has asked me about the attack on Hoth…/
The boy suspected that he was behind it or involved, anyway. How should he answer such a question? Doubt chewed at his mind and the smile soon changed into a frown. His heart pounded quickly within his repaired ribcage and Vader was undecided on how he should reply. He could tell him the truth that he had tried to rescue him from the Rebels…
/But one does not generally stage a rescue that involves shooting with ATATs…./
That fact alone may prove a tad difficult to explain, even if it were the truth. Would Luke believe him? Or would the boy grow more distant because of the attack? He had been so sure that he would manage to catch his son that he never planned ahead. He was growing sloppy and there was no excuse for it at all. His carelessness may very well alienate the boy for good. Rereading the paragraph, Vader noted Luke's tone of voice didn't sound angry and he sighed with relief. In fact, the boy seemed very unsure of himself as if he was almost scared to ask the question.
/This must be more awkward for Luke than I thought…/
According to what Leia had told him, writing to an Imperial was taking its toll on Luke. This was something that Vader could understand all too well. He too had been in such a situation long ago and it had torn him apart in the end. It was how he had ended up on the Dark Side. Everyone had wanted different things from him and he had grown confused, being pulled in too many directions at once. Palpatine had asked things of him, so had the Jedi and then Padme…
/I must make sure Luke does not suffer like I had…./
It was clear he needed to get the boy and quickly, before the duel nature of his unusual predicament tore him apart. One couldn't be on both sides at once. Either you were loyal to the Empire or you were a Rebel. There was no middle ground. It was as simple as that. Thinking about the attack on Hoth, Vader quickly decided that the truth was the best policy. He had gone there to rescue the boy and he didn't want to start lying to him now. That would be extremely foolish. He wanted Luke to trust him and how could you trust someone that lies? The simple fact is you can't.
/And if Luke ever catches me in a lie then I'll loose him for sure…/
So the truth it would be.
That decided, Vader moved on to the next paragraph but then paused; his eyes on the last sentence of the third paragraph.
/Why does Luke think he is a coward?./
That was another subject he'd have to deal with apparently. Running was an ingrained survival instinct and nothing to be ashamed of. Didn't he know that? And if the building was collapsing as he had claimed then fleering was the only practical choice. Even with a lightsaber you can't fight a building falling on your head. If you were foolish enough to stay, well, you risked being crushed to death. Even the Force could do only so much in such a situation and with Luke being untrained…
/This is the Lars' fault!./
Luke's real problem was a severe lack of confidence. No doubt his Uncle had browbeat him so many times that he was unsure of himself and questioned everything he did. And by the letter, he was also afraid to ask questions; worried he may write the wrong thing or upset someone. It was good to think of others, yes, but when it went too far it could cripple you as well. Vader had never suffered this problem but that didn't mean he didn't understand it. Scanning downward, his jaw literally dropped open.
/Luke thinks he won't be a good Jedi?./
The idea was shocking and Vader just starred at the monitor in a slightly dazed state.
/How can this be? He's the son of the Chosen One!./
Then the answer materialized in his mind and he ground his teeth together, his hand forming a fist. This was Luke's lack of self-confidence again showing itself! His teeth ground together fiercely and he slammed his fist onto the table, the keyboard bouncing wildly.
/That drat Owen! If he weren't dead I'd kill him myself!./
It was painfully obvious that Owen had bossed Luke around so much that now the boy lacked all initiative and his opinion of himself was at an all time low, even with all the achievements he had done recently. His comrades called him a hero and he dismissed it. He fought a snow beast and won, chopping its arm off according to Princess Leia. He was one of the best fighter pilots in the galaxy and he described himself as just a 'lowly fighter pilot'. And now he even doubted he had the skill to become a Jedi!
/What a problem this is…./
The Sith Lord massaged his temples, which were starting to ache something awful. How could he convince the boy that he would be a great and powerful Jedi? And would he even believe the words or just think he was saying it because he was his father? Perhaps he just didn't want to deal with the deaths he would have to face? Command wasn't for everyone but then he wasn't asking Luke to command a Star Destroyer but to be a Jedi. Death was something he'd run into no matter where he went. It was one of the constants in the galaxy and it visited everyone. Even stars themselves died. Nothing-escaped death. Of course, this was a problem best dealt with in person and Vader hoped once he stared to train Luke that his self-confidence would emerge. A lot of Luke's problems were also caused by a lack of knowledge of the Force, as the very next paragraph showed.
Reading further, an icy cold shot through his body as his eyes fell on a few words.
/A few more unpleasant things, what does he mean by that?./
Quickly reading on, Vader broke out into a laugh when he learned the truth of Luke's 'unpleasant' questions.
/So you were worried to ask me if I'm Darth Vader, were you?./
A chuckle escaped his mouth, the sound strange to his ears from so many years of not laughing. It was almost like his body had forgotten how to make the sound and it came out grated and rough. Relief swept through him and in truth he was immensely glad that Luke had somehow worked up enough guts to ask that question. It freed him the trouble of trying to figure out how to tell the boy the awful truth.
/So, Solo has proven his worthiness to me once again…/
It was clear that the smuggler was the one who had figured it out. Left to his own devices, he could write Luke letters for years and the boy would never even dream of the truth. The young man was far too naïve for his own good, yet Vader couldn't help but love him for it as well. It was his innocence that made him so endearing and why so many others risked their own neck for him, Solo and the Princess included.
/I will just tell him the truth, that I am Vader…/
Would the answer shock Luke? The Sith Lord had no idea.
/I just hope it won't scare him away…/
Reading further, he got to the paragraph about the Princess. It came as no surprise that Luke wanted his friend back. That had been his plan all along and he had hoped that it would work. A smug feeling of satisfaction flowed through him when he read that Luke would be willing to do an exchange. He had hoped for something along these lines and here it was staring him in the face. Then he continued to read, his eyes halting, backing up and rereading again.
/He blushes at holding hands with a girl…./
Vader sighed and shook his head sadly. Luke was turning out to be a hopeless case, like a droid that needed a complete overhaul. In retrospect, he supposed he shouldn't be surprised, not really. Girls went with self-confidence and with Luke's lack of it he was sure to be girlfriend-less.
/And I suppose the Lars' farm wasn't exactly the best place to meet a girl…/
No, Luke just was like a young teenager with zero experience blushing at the slightest thing. Knowing the boy, he probably thought the handholding had been very scandalous. But the fact that he admitted it in the letter showed his trust and this pleased the Sith Lord. Pleasant warmth flowed through him and he closed his eyes for a moment, basking in it. Only Luke's letters could make him feel this way and he exalted in the rare warm feeling.
/Of course, by the time I was Luke's age I was married already../
Had he told Luke that? Not that it was really important. The age he married at was immaterial really. They were two different people advancing at different rates. The important thing now was to boost the boy's feeling of worth and he vowed to do that the best he could. Everyone should feel good about himself or herself no matter who they were and Luke was a good, honest person so he deserved it the most.
Reading on, Vader's jaw dropped open once again. The ideas that came out of Luke's head was amazing and he was forced to reread the statement three times to make sure he had read it right.
/Leia a Jedi, how absurd!./
It was one of the wildest things he had ever heard in his entire life! No, it wasn't because she was a woman as the Jedi Order had plenty of female Jedi. It was her status as a Rebel. Was Luke serious? Of course he was serious. He just didn't know how outrageous it sounded is all. He saw the Princess as his best friend and he admired her regal upbringing. She was everything he was not or so he thought. The letter made it very clear why he admired her and Vader supposed that it was just natural that he would think she would make an excellent Jedi.
/As if I were to train one of the most troublesome Alliance members as a Jedi!./
Vader rolled his eyes and was about to mark it off as one of Luke's harebrained ideas but for some unknown reason the thought refused to leave him alone. The thing is, he could picture her easily with a lightsaber and he had no clear idea why. He certainly didn't want her with a lightsaber! She was enough trouble the way it was, wasn't she?
/But she was nice to me earlier…./
The Princess had turned out to be far different than he had always thought her to be. Before she had been a constant pain in his side but now, now she was more of a friend. She had held his hand and had shown him compassion; even though he had held her while her home world of Alderaan had been blown to bits. That couldn't have been easy for her. She had hated him before with an all-consuming passion very similar to the Dark Side that ruled him but she had released it somehow. Why? The Sith Lord considered that for a moment and came upon a simple answer.
/She grew to know me through the letters I had written to Luke…/
Nor had her feelings been an act. The Princess had meant what she had said. So perhaps they were no longer enemies anymore? Vader certainly knew he couldn't harm her or Luke would never forgive him. But if the Princess wasn't his enemy, than what exactly were they? They weren't exactly friends…
/This is troubling…../
Shaking his head to rid his mind of the troubling thought, he massaged at his forehead again. With all the trouble he had with Luke, he didn't need more on his plate.
/She is your prisoner and nothing more!./
Firming his mouth into a grim line, Vader leaned back in his chair and stared at the screen.
/But she looks so much like Padme…./
Vader growled in frustration and leaped out of his chair. His mind refused to leave him alone and kept thinking up thoughts he didn't want to hear. So what if she looked like Padme? His beloved was dead long ago and nothing would change that! He would do anything to have her back but it just wasn't possible! Dead was dead for all time and he would have to accept that. He didn't understand why her ghost has been haunting him recently. She had never haunted him before. Stopping in the middle of the room, he sighed and released the built up tension. He felt it drain out of him and he allowed his shoulders to slump in defeat. Tilting his head backward, he gazed up at the plain ceiling. "What do you want? Why are you haunting me like this? Are you even here or am I driving myself crazy?"
He felt incredibly stupid talking to an empty room and he was incredibly glad no one knew what he was doing. If they did, they would haul him away for being a loony. A weak smile crept across his lips, the edges turning upward ever so slightly. He knew he could always claim it was Sith business and no one would be the wiser. The common crew knew nothing of the Force and that lack of knowledge could allow him to get away with lots.
/That and they're terrified I'd kill them…/
Could it be that Luke was right? Did the Princess have the Force? The test was simple enough and would only take minutes to do. He wouldn't even have to tell her what he was searching for but say it was a routine medical exam. And if she did have the Force, then what would he do?
/I will deal with that when and if it proves to be true…./
Feeling better, Vader returned to his chair in front of the computer and seated himself. He had reached the end of his son's letter, his heart soaring at the warm loving words that ended the letter.
/How could I have ever doubted that he loved me?./
Sometimes it amazed the Sith Lord how incredibly stupid he could really be. Flexing his droid fingers, he prepared to write a reply.
I'm very happy to hear from you again and to know that you are well. I have something awful to admit to you and I hope you will not take it the wrong way. I realize that the chances of you doing that are very high. You see, that was me that attacked your Rebel Base on Hoth. I am ashamed to admit that I panicked when I didn't hear from you and sensed you were in danger. I didn't know what I should do. I was torn between doing nothing and hoped that you were all right or going out and searching. I choose the later. My main goal was to find you and rescue you from whatever danger you were in.
But I failed miserably at that.
Still, I'm thrilled that you're safe and well.
You are NOT a coward for running, Luke. Never think that. Every living species has an instinct for danger. It is more commonly called the Fight or Flight instinct. Since the building was collapsing, you choose flight. You cannot fight a falling building and win, Luke. That would just be stupid. Your lightsaber would not really help you in such a situation. And although I'm disappointed we did not meet on Hoth, I'm pleased you are well and look forward to our upcoming meeting.
Where do you wish to meet?
Do not be hesitant to ask me anything, Luke. I appreciate you are concerned with hurting my feelings but be assured that will not happen. Yes, I'm Darth Vader. Does that shock you? Actually, I'm pleased your friend Solo figured it out as I was worrying on how I would tell you this. The last thing I want to do is scare you away. I know my reputation can be a bit intimidating, but don't let that stop you. I very much want to be your Father and have a relationship with you. But I can't do that if my image frightens you. I am extremely skilled in the Force and I'd be pleased to teach you. But perhaps you wouldn't want a Sith as your teacher…
I have your friend, the Princess. Be assured she is safe and unharmed. We had a very interesting little chat a while ago and she told me how you defeated the snow creature. I'm very impressed! You managed to pull your lightsaber free of the ice without being taught how to do it. That's a big achievement, Luke. You will be a great Jedi someday! Do not let your Uncle's words tell you otherwise. I know it must be difficult to see yourself as someone important after being just a moisture farmer for so long, but you ARE important. You are my SON. And you WILL be a Jedi.
I am surprised at the amount of compassion your friend Leia has shown me. Perhaps she is not as bad as I thought her to be. I am finding I must reevaluate her. And yes, I will test her for the Force. As of late she has been reminding me of my late wife, Padme, and I don't know why. She does look somewhat like her with the hairdo but I never noticed it before…
One can be tested for the Force with a simple blood test. Just a bit of blood is needed and the answer is available within moments. I will, of course, let you know the results of the test. I must admit without you asking me if she had the Force I wouldn't have thought of testing her. Perhaps I will have two apprentices to train… an unheard of thing in the old Jedi Order.
You do not need to be scared of girls, Luke. They can twist us in a knot, yes, but more often then not they will be happy to go out with you. It was a nerve-wracking experience for me to work up the courage to kiss your mother for the first time, believe me! I was half afraid that she'd sock me in the face or something! But she didn't. The only thing that really held her back was that rule the Jedi had. She didn't want to encourage me to break it, but it was far too late for that. I was already head over heals in love with her. And even if a girl does tell you no, its not the end of the world. There are plenty more girls out there and you will find one that's right for you. Yes, it may take time bit I'm confident you'll find her someday.
You asked how I could sense you were in danger. Well, Jedi can stretch their feelings outward and feel things. They can also form bonds with people. And since I care so much for you, is it really a surprise I can sense when you're in danger? Once you begin your training you'll understand this much better. I know it must be hard to understand as you grew up with no knowledge of the Force.
Once again I'm very sorry for my rash actions on Hoth. I never meant to scare you or hurt you. I just wanted to save you. I know it must sound incredibly stupid: trying to save you by attacking the building you were in, but it's true. I guess I just didn't think it through enough. Like you, I panicked and acted rashly. I'm just grateful you weren't killed or seriously harmed by my impulsive actions.
Oh, and tell your friend Solo that I'm eternally grateful for him saving you from freezing to death and he has earned a place in the Empire should he ever wish it. All his past indiscretions shall be erased from his record.
Looking forward to our meeting!
Satisfied with the letter, Vader pressed the button and sent it on it way.
To be continued…