Disclaimer: The characters are not mine. They belong to George Lucas, Lucasfilm Ltd and Fox. I'm just borrowing them.
Luke Skywalker hung suspended in the bacta tank, listless. He still couldn't believe he had almost died out there or that he had been trapped in that glacial hell with his worst enemy, Darth Vader.
The name used to send chills of terror down his back and hot rage used to flow through his body at the sight of that black breath-mask. He had used to dream of killing Vader, of slicing through his ebony armor with his brilliant green blade. He would once again be the Hero of the Rebel Alliance and everyone would cheer his name. Him, Luke Skywalker, the poor farmboy from Tatooine! And it was supposed to be easy, just like blowing up the first Death Star had been easy. Besides, didn't Good always triumph over Evil? And who was more evil than the Sith Lord himself? But then the galaxy had played some vile trick on him and his X-wing had crashed to that mountain, having been shot down by none other than Darth Vader himself. The fact that he had damaged Vader's Tie-fighter at almost the same time was little consolation to the young would-be hero. Consolation, he rapidly discovered, didn't keep you warm.
How naïve he had been that first hour after the crash! The thick snow around the mountain's summit had acted as a cushion, cradling his X-wing and preventing serious injury. Brave and confident, he had popped the fighter's canopy and leaped out. The air was incredibly cold and his orange flight suit provided little warmth. Instantly his exposed skin turned an angry red and began pinching like crazy. Frostbite and hypothermia were serious threats, but he wasn't worried just yet. No, this was just a minor hiccup and things would soon straighten themselves out to the way they were supposed to be.
He was standing up to mid-calf in the whitest, powdery snow he had ever seen. That's when he discovered that his communications device had been destroyed and it was impossible to send a message. Nor did he know what planet he was on. He had been on his way to see Master Yoda on Dogobah when his ship had been rudely dragged from hyperspace. Before he knew what was going on, Vader had been hot on his tail. The man was obsessed with capturing him ever since he had told him those lies on Bespin about being his father.
Surely they had to be lies. There was no way his father could be Darth Vader, the second foulest man in the galaxy! Yet, he hadn't sensed that Vader had been lying when he had told him and that had worried Luke to no end. After much thought, he had decided it would be best to seek out Yoda and just ask him for the truth. The problem was, he never actually got that far. He was a hot pilot, but Vader was obviously better. The thought of the Sith Lord actually out flying him burned and held off the severe cold for the short amount of time he needed to examine his ship. Almost from the beginning, it was clear she would never fly again. On the right side a large portion of the S-foils had been either blown off by the laser blast or had broken off during the crash. Even as he watched, the snow that had been partly melted from the heat of his engine was hardening into solid ice. He kicked the ship in rage and pounded a gloved fist on its hull, but all that accomplished was to give him a sore hand.
Things like this weren't supposed to happen to him!
Luke soon realized that he couldn't stay with his broken ship, to do that was to invite death. The place was colder than Hoth and he needed to find a way out of here quickly. Taking the meager supplies from his ship and sticking them into a sack, he trudged off through the deep snow. The summit appeared to be within reach and he was determined to get a look around to better ascertain his situation. But within moments he found himself gasping for breath. The air was meagerly thin and the physical activity he was engaged in required more oxygen than what was available. Determined, Luke inched up the steep slope one step at a time. Each step was agony, for his boots kept sliding on the slick snow and he was forced to dig his fingers into the snow itself. Sometimes this worked well but other times the hold gave out and it took all his concentration to stop himself from careening wildly down the mountain's surface. By the time he reached the top, a mere half hour later, Luke's lungs were burning and black spots danced in front of his eyes.
But the view was worth it. He just hoped to live to tell someone about it.
"Oh, this is just great! How am I going to get down from here? I must be like 30,000 feet up in the air!" The sky was a cold crystal blue and clear to the horizon with not a hint of clouds to be seen, something the young Jedi was thankful for. A storm at this extreme altitude would surely mean instant death and it was bad enough the way it was. The view went on for countless mile upon mile with jagged mountain peaks capped with snow and distant green valleys so far down only the mute color was visible. The height was enough to make him dizzy and he was extra careful to stay away from the edge, for it was a sheer drop thousands of feet. The idea of accidentally slipping off the edge into a free-fall that would end with smashed bones and a red smear on the white snow was enough to make him back up several steps. It was obvious that there was no way off the mountain this way, so he'd have to head back to his ship and continue down on that side. With any luck, he'd find a safe route down until he reached a warmer elevation, one preferably with green plants and something to eat. He had almost reached his ship when he spotted a familiar black shape hovering near his X-wing.
"This is all your fault!" Luke screamed in rage as he pulled his lightsaber off his belt and ignited it. Hearing his words, the distant figure turned to face him. Recklessly, Luke charged down the steep and slippery rise, his snow-covered boots often sliding out from underneath him. Luck was with him and he managed to stay on his feet until he reached the more level surface where his ship had crashed. This, he knew, was the opportunity to rid the galaxy of evil and there was no way he was going to let it slip past him. More importantly, he wanted revenge for the numerous wrongs in his life. For it was Vader that had taken his hand, had frozen Han in carbonite, blown up Alderaan, killed Ben and had done so many other abominable evil things.
It was his destiny to kill Vader.
"I hate you!" Luke bellowed. A little voice inside his head reminded him that hate was wrong, that it was of the Dark Side but at the moment he didn't care. If it weren't for the Sith Lord, he wouldn't be stuck here on this mountain freezing to death. The green blade of the lightsaber wavered before him as he charged at his hated foe. And this time he would be the victorious one!
"Luke, be careful!" Darth Vader warned his son. This was no time for Luke to be having a fit of anger at him. "Do you want to bring the entire mountain down on our heads? You could cause an avalanche shouting like that."
The younger man gasped, then collapsed into the snow face-first. The lightsaber tumbled from his outstretched hand and automatically turned itself off. Weakly, Luke rolled over onto his back and coughed. He could feel a tight invisible band around his chest, squeezing the breath out of his body. Vaguely he realized the mountain, the high elevation and lack of oxygen caused this. And his mad dash towards Vader had only made it worse. He lifted a numb hand and roughly brushed the snow off his face and eye lashes.
Vader knelt down next to his son. "Luke, if we're to get off this mountain alive we must work together."
"I'll never work with you!" Luke gasped, his blue eyes glaring at the hated mask. "You're evil and disgusting and vile! And you're everything I detest!"
"I can not let you freeze. That was not my intention". Vader replied as he gripped his son and yanked him to his feet. "I only wished to disable your ship so I may capture you."
Luke glanced around for his dropped lightsaber, and then spotted it on Vader's belt. He frowned in disgust. "So I'm your prisoner. Fine. Then take me to your ship. At least I'll be out of this cold."
"You disabled my ship."
"You mean we're stuck here?" Luke coughed again, his body shivering. And then it hit him. This mountain was going to kill him. He had always thought he was invincible, he, the hero with the magical, mystical powers. Hadn't he survived the wicked curves of Beggar's Canyon back home at careless speeds? Hadn't he survived countless dogfights in the depths of space, often going up against superior numbers and bigger vessels? Was fate so cruel to let it all end here amid this ice and snow on this nameless peak? "But you called for a transport, right?"
"The communications equipment was fried in the crash." Vader pointed down the mountain's slope. "I suggest we get moving before night falls."
Luke frowned, but did as he was instructed. It was what he had planned anyway. Perhaps an opportunity to escape would present itself along the route. His boots crunched loudly on the packed snow, each step sounding like loud gun blasts. Sometimes his feet broke through the hard outer skin and he sunk halfway up to his knees into the softer snow that was underneath. Within a short time, he was gasping again and his throat felt raw. He felt Vader touch his arm and he pulled back in revulsion.
"Drink this." Vader held out a drink skin to him.
"I think not." Luke eyed the break proof container warily. Perhaps Vader had lied to him and he did have a shuttle waiting somewhere, hidden. Drugging him would be the easiest way to get him onboard without a struggle. Once there, he would be manacled and the Empire could do anything they wanted with him.
"Luke, its just water." Vader shoved the container at him again. "You need water at this altitude. Don't be stupid, Son. I'm not trying to kill you or drug you. Feel my emotions and you'll know that it's true."
The pain of his raw throat made the decision for him and he eagerly took the skin of water. Luke had feared it would be filled with a chunk of solid ice, but to his delight it was actually warm. The heat felt wonderful to his frozen hands and he just held it for a long time, allowing the pleasant warmth to sink into his body. When his fingers had thawed out enough, he unscrewed the cap and took a small swallow. He winched at the pain, and then took a second drink. How wonderful modern technology was, to invent a container that kept water liquid and drinkable under these conditions!
After handing the container back to the Sith Lord, Luke stared at what was before them. They had reached the end of the level area and were now faced with a steep slope that appeared to end in open air. "How are we going to get down that?"
"We must climb." Vader replied as he reattached the water skin to his belt.
"But…" Luke protested wildly as he pointed. "It doesn't go anywhere! We'll fall right off a cliff!"
"Then we will climb down a cliff." Vader pulled another object off his belt, one that would prove most useful in this situation. It was his grappling hook, a thing he hardly used as Lord Vader. But it had proven its worth while he had been Obi-Wan's apprentice so he had kept it. He had learned long ago it was best to be prepared to face almost any situation. Pity the boy had no solid training in the Force or they could have just floated down the cliff, the Force breaking their fall. Vader had done this numerous times and found the sensation quite thrilling. Luke, however, wasn't ready to master that skill yet. Perhaps this would prove an ample training mission. "The Force is a powerful ally. Cliffs don't matter when you have the Force."
Luke cast a doubtful glance at Vader. Was he suicidal or did he know something that he didn't? Actually, the saying was reminiscent of Yoda's 'size matters not' and how he effortlessly lifted the X-wing from the swamp. Could Vader have actually known Yoda? The idea of a Sith Lord and Jedi Master knowing one another was ridiculous!
"In fact, I did know Yoda." Vader said as he dug a hydrospanner from Luke's bag and handed it to the boy. "Use this to help get down the slope. Jab it into the snow. It should work quite well in place of pitons. Just hang onto the rope with one hand."
"Stay out of my head!" Luke ordered angrily as he snatched the hydrospanner from Vader's hand. "I don't need your help! You'll just try to turn me into a monster like you are!"
"Luke, I am your father. And I'm not in your head. You're broadcasting your thoughts all over the place." Vader shot the grappling hook into a solid hunk of ice he had examined with the Force and determined it was strong enough to hold both their weights. "You are growing ill from the exposure and lack of air. If we don't get down quickly and get you to a medical facility you will die."
"That … that's not true!" Luke stepped backward, just wanting to be away from what he had been told. He had almost froze to death once before, but that had been almost peaceful and serene. But with Vader's dark presence it was anything but peaceful. Part of him still hated the Sith Lord and he wanted to hate him, but as the sub-zero temperatures sunk deeper and deeper into his bones it was becoming harder and harder. The truth was, he was slowly freezing to death.
"LUKE!" Vader shouted at his son, fear in his voice.
But it was too late. Luke's foot had backed over the steep edge and the young Jedi fell. The next second he was careening wildly down the steep snow hill, his body tumbling this way and that. Freezing snow was jammed up his pant legs and shoved into his face. Icy terror gripped Luke's heart as he grasped the fact that he was heading straight towards that cliff and the open air. If he didn't do something this very second he would be killed. Desperately he grasped at the rushing white surface beneath his body, trying to stop his rapid skid. Amazingly, he still had the hydrospanner in his right hand and he wedged it into the snow. He thought it wouldn't work, that he had acted too late but his mad rash began to slow and finally stopped.
/Don't move!/ Vader sent to his son through the Force.
Luke clung desperately to the hydrospanner, the only thing that was stopping him from falling off the edge. He was lying on his stomach with both arms stretched high over his head, one of them gripping the mechanic's tool. His face felt like it was rubbed raw from all the snow and his nose and mouth was packed with it. The Jedi snorted to clear his nasal passages and a sharp pain shot through his throat. His body was shivering uncontrollably, but he was unsure whether it was from the cold or fear at his precarious position. Taking a chance, Luke peered behind him to see where the cliff was and discovered it was about a body's length away from his feet. That was close, too close.
/Hang on. I'm coming./ Vader sent the telepathic message to his son as he slowly eased his way down the line he had attached to the hunk of ice. As much as his mind screamed at him to hurry, he knew he couldn't. The slightest vibration could send Luke hurtling off the edge and there was no way of knowing how far down was. It may be only a few feet but then it may be thousands.
/Hurry./ Luke sent to his father. Then he felt the icy ground underneath himself trembling, like a bunch of mini earthquakes going off. Little streams of snow started to rush past him, not a good sign.
Without warning, the entire slab of snow Luke had been resting on gave way and tumbled away. The Jedi's body swung out into the open air and his body collided with the hard cliff face. All the air was momentarily knocked from his weakened lungs, but he still stubbornly clung to the hydrospanner. He gasped for breath, struggling to pull any air at all into his chest. This whole situation was a nightmare!
To be continued…