Chapter 1 - Into the Fire

He stared out of his cockpit window, not knowing what he saw, nor caring to understand. Outside was darkness and cold, broken by only occassional glimmers of light from distant and pale stars. He should have been protected from this void through the thin metal that stood between them as a barrier, yet it was there, inside of him. The same darkness, cold, and feeling of loss pervaded his consciousness, and chased him down the hallways of his thoughts. No matter what he did, he could not shake the feeling of dread and anguish that had been there for the past two months.

Luke Skywalker sighed, and tried through a pure act of the will to return his thoughts to the present. It was no easy task. There had always been a feeling of loneliness in Luke's heart, as if part of him were missing. After the death of his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, that hole inside of him had become bigger, with only Ben to keep it from consuming him. Then, Ben had been taken from him, snatched by the claws of Vader and sent to who-knows-where as he vanished before Luke's eyes. With him vanished the last person Luke could consider family.

The hole had become a rift, and Luke had nothing to fill it with, except a busy schedule and a purpose. Luke would volunteer for extra duties, and work furiously to stay busy. Yet there came a time every day, if only in the time it took him to fall asleep, when Luke was forced to stop and think. He had never thought in his wildest dreams that thinking could be so painful. Only eighteen, he had his whole life before him – a life which promised to be full if struggle, pain, and death. He had destroyed the Death Star and saved countless lives, yet how many had died by his actions? How many widows would live without their husbands? Even though Ben had not taught him much of the force, Luke had felt every single death aboard the Death Star like a stab of pain. At first he forgot it in his joy and relief, but time continues to wear away at open wounds which are not easily closed. He could not forget; all that remained was to remember.

To leave the base he would do anything, or at least, so had he thought. The reality of being faced with hours of travel time trapped in his cockpit with his thoughts was becoming overbearing. If only he could scout his target quickly and return, he could continue his haunted life, resting so firmly on the depths of his inner strength that had been forged rapidly through death and conflict.

"How's the scope look?" Luke queried of his astronomical droid. The little thing beeped mechanically in the negative, a sound so unlike the whimsical tones Artoo produced. Artoo was safely back at the base, assisting Leia.

Leia – his light in the darkness, his star in the night.

Suddenly the droid began beeping again speedily. Luke glanced quickly at his HUD screen, and quickly saw what lay before him. Instantly as his eyes caught sight of the vessel that had caused such a commotion, his expression turned to one of disbelief, and then anguish. Coming out of his shock, Luke muttered a curse under his breath as he reacted, moving his hands rapidly along the controls.

They had told him it was going to be a frigate! A lone, small frigate, hypering in! Observe it and get out of there, they said. No one had said anything about THIS.

There was no frigate. A squad of TIE fighters had just appeared from around the nearest planet, and was approaching. On the edge of his scanners Luke detected a capital warship approaching lackadaisically. Luke's hands danced over the controls as he skillfully steered his ship beyond and away, trying to put as much distance between him and his attackers. Luke quickly ordered his droid, "Plot a course!" It mattered little anyway, he wasn't going to be able to shake the fighters long enough to enter hyperspace.

One came around from behind him, firing rapidly trying to hit Luke's X-wing as it danced before him. Luke banked as hard as his nimble craft would allow, which was more than the TIE pilot could do. Pushing his craft to the limit, Luke came out of his maneuver with a shot at the TIE, and fired. It exploded in a brilliant ball of light, but Luke didn't dare catch his breath in relief. He had now only one proton torpedo left, and there were more TIE fighters closing fast. He was facing them now, and Luke raced towards them nearly headlong, before diving quickly as they fired upon him. Two fighters now dived with him, and Luke put his craft into a wild spin to make it a more difficult target.

Pulling out of the dive, he was confronted with a TIE directly ahead of him. Luke fired quickly, and scored another kill. To gain the shot had required staying relatively steady for long enough to take a clear shot. The TIE's behind him availed themselves of the opportunity by firing upon him. His shields absorbed the first shot easily, but the second caught his droid. Over his comm, Luke heard the droid scream out before static claimed the line.

He'd hold out, Luke told himself, and then when he got back to his base he'd have Wedge paint all those TIE's on his X-wing's side, to decorate the Death Star already residing there. At that moment, Luke almost wished to cover his painted trophy on the X-wing's side. Certainly the TIE's in pursuit would not take kindly to the symbol!

The whole craft shook as another laser bolt crashed against the shields, brining them dangerously low. Grimacing, Luke killed his engines quickly, and rolled left, only to gun it and swing back around in a loop. He fired at the nearest TIE with his last torpedo. It tore apart the TIE, and sent its twin companion reeling away with obvious signs of damage. Luke fired with his lasers at the second TIE, and it too met its fate.

Now another TIE began to approach Luke, and the others suddenly backed off. Luke was puzzled, but glad for the odds. The TIE approaching his was of an irregular design, and Luke could almost swear he caught sight of hyperdrive modifications on it before he took evasive maneuvers. The other pilot was good, and stayed on Luke's tail. His TIE was obviously not outdone by the X-wing's superior maneuvering. This would be tough.

"Use the force Luke." That his was Ben. Before Luke had heard him at the Battle of Yavin, and he had helped him then. He didn't understand how, but Luke trusted that Ben was in a way speaking to him.

And that was all the time Luke had for musing. He stretched out, navigating without aid of the computer. His flight stick became part of his hand, as Luke stretched out to the other TIE, to feel what the pilot was going to do next.

And then he was thrown back! It was like hitting a wall, something that had never happened to Luke before. It shocked him so much that for a split second he lost his focus, and a laser from the TIE struck him and depleted the remnant of his shields.

Gritting his teeth, Luke returned his focus to his opponent. It was just the two of them in that great big void, like lost children wandered too far away from home. They came at each other headlong and fired. The panel in front of Luke crackled, and he had to move his hand quickly to quell the burst of flame that arose. A red light flashed on dying control panel indicating his lasers were no longer functioning. He looked around desperately for his attackers, expecting at any moment to be destroyed. Yet the other fighter also appeared damaged! Smoke was pouring out of its engines.

Luke looked around him quickly, and spotted the nearest planet. He thought he could limp his way there before the capital ship could approach, as long as he didn't pick up any new TIE fighters on his tail. Then...goodness knew what.

As he headed towards the planet, Luke could sense the problems in the modified TIE fighter he had fought. It was not very stable for sure, and the pilot didn't seem inclined to stick around and wait for the capital vessel to come to its rescue. Instead, it chugged along to the planet behind Luke. Luke quickly secured his lightsaber, in case he was forced to fight once he crashed onto the planet. Assuming he survived.

The clouds of the planet's atmosphere came none too soon and yet far too soon for Luke. His craft would hold out, but could he manage the landing? Luke fought with his flight stick for control as the land approached faster and faster, and tried to slow his descent.

"Stretch out through the force."

Luke did, feeling the ship and the ground and everything in between. He closed his eyes, and tried to slow the ship down with his mind as well. He felt the ground come closer and closer, felt himself slow down, and then everything shook and heaved around him, and there was only blackness in his mind.

When Luke recovered himself, he was bent over the dashboard of his fighter, surrounded by smoke and the ruins of his fighter. Sitting up, his vision blurred, and as his hand went to his head he discovered a large gash. He was sore all over, but Luke was thankful he seemed to have suffered very few other injuries. For such a horrific crash it was surprising, but the force had protected him.

Now he had to deal with survival. Luke grabbed his supplies of ration bars and water. They would last him for awhile, but the more pressing need was finding somewhere to hide on the planet before the Imperials came and found him, and then finding some way to get off the planet and back to his base. The last one would be far harder.

Luke carefully stepped forward into the juggle growth surrounding his crash site. He winces as he placed his weight down upon his foot. Telling himself the pain and stiffness would go away, Luke continued on. There was no particular direction to head in. Luke saw that to his left a ways away the land began to rise above him, and chose to stay far away from there. He would be too exposed anywhere that open, instead he needed to find the darkest lowest place on the planet and stay there.

As Luke walked forward, he thought he heard a twig crack behind him. Luke stopped dead in his tracks, concentrating with what little force skills he had. 'Any ideas Ben?' Luke thought, but there was no reply from his teacher. A strange sensation ran down Luke's spine, and he shivered despite the heat of the day. Without a second thought, his hand went to the lightsaber upon his belt, and he spun around to face the intruder.

No one was there. Luke tried to quiet his heavy breathing and listen. He could detect nothing; it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. Luke turned back around, and his blood froze.

A large black figure was blocking his path like a wraith. A blood red lightsaber protruded from the beings hand, pointed menacingly towards Luke. He knew who it was from the many holovids he had seen, but still Luke was shocked.

"Vader." He said, his voice throbbing with anger. Here was the man who had taken away not only his father, but his teacher.

"The force is strong with you, young Skywalker." Vader hissed back, pacing forward slowly.

Luke stood his ground, and ignited his own lightsaber. He barely knew how to use the weapon, and it felt like a clumsy tool in his hands. "What are you doing here?" Luke asked, almost breathlessly.

"It appears we shot each other down." Vader stated, "You skill as a pilot is impressive. Your father would have been proud."

Those words renewed the anger in Luke. Here the black monster could talk so calmly about the man he had killed, "If you hadn't killed him." Luke came closer to Vader slowly, his lightsaber ignited and ready.

"A bold move," Vader responded, "but a foolish one. You cannot hope to win."

"You'll pay for my father's death." Luke told him, his eyes flashing.

"Revenge in not befitting of a Jedi." Vader answered cynically, "Or are you not so
weakened by their teachings?"

Luke tried to calm himself as his anger continued, "I'll never turn to the darkside." Luke himself took the initiative, and attacked Vader before he could respond. Vader seemed surprised at the boy's boldness at first, yet quickly composed himself and blocked Luke's blade with ease. He slashed at Luke, who barely managed to block the simple blow as he frantically tried to learn to fight with the unfamiliar weapon. The small training droids whose lasers he had parried were nothing in comparison to a Sith Lord.

"You are weak." Vader taunted, "Don't make me hurt you. Give yourself up." For a response, Luke tried to slash at Vader again, but Vader easily side stepped and stabbed towards Luke, grazing his rib cage. Luke grimaced and pulled back quickly, while Vader calmly stepped closer to him as Luke retreated.

Luke looked up from himself to Vader, shaking slightly but holding his ground. He tried to attack again, but Vader's blade met his with tremendous force, and it was thrown from his grasp. Luke jumped back and tried to grab it desperately, but it flew threw the air to Vader's hand. "You've grown stronger, boy, but you still have a lot to learn." Luke's lightsaber was hooked tightly on Vader's belt.

Luke glared angrily, seeing his father's lightsaber in the possession of his killer, "You've won Vader. Get it over with."

"As you wish." Vader said mechanically, stepping forward with his lightsaber before him. Luke closed his eyes and tried to focus on the force for his last moments. He heard Vader's steps and felt his presence come closer, but then Luke's ears caught the sound of Vader's lightsaber deactivating.

As Luke snapped his eyes open, Vader grabbed his hand roughly and placed a handcuff over him. Luke tugged away instantly and resisted him, but Vader used his grip on Luke's one shackled hand and pulled him closer towards him, where he grabbed him roughly. The man in black was much larger, and easily pinned Luke, succeeding in handcuffing the rebel's hands behind his back. That done, Vader gave him a shove forward.

"Walk." He told him tersely.

"What do you want with me?" Luke asked without moving, rather confused.

"You to move." Vader answered tersely.

Luke felt another hard shove to his back, but didn't budge, "Why haven't you killed me yet?"

For a minute all Luke could hear was Vader's mechanical breathing. Finally, he answered, "I have no wish to kill you. I don't suggest you give me one."

Luke saw no other option, and seeing Vader would say no more, walked forward. Lacking even a lightsaber, he really couldn't contend with Vader. Short of throwing a tantrum and hurling himself on the ground, Luke saw no way to delay his forced march.

As if knowing his silent musings, Vader prodded Luke in the back again, "Do not cause me troubles, child."

"Where are we heading?" Luke inquired hesitantly.

"To signal to my ship our exact location on the planet." Vader returned calmly.

"Then why are we heading back towards my ship?" asked Luke, perplexed.

"My ship's comm was destroyed and I need the parts from yours." Vader hissed, pushing Luke forward again. Luke continued walking, almost afraid to think for fear Vader would hear his thoughts. Yet in the back of his mind, he pondered. Vader would not be able to signal his ship for some time yet, and Luke would try every way he could to slow him down.

It was not a long walk back to the remnants of Luke's crashed ship. The smoldering ruins did not look too hopeful, but Vader was undeterred. He pushed Luke to the ground, and began inspecting the ship's control panel.

Luke eyed him carefully, wondering just how much attention the Sith lord was paying. He silently shuffled further away, and waited for a response from Vader. There was none. Wonderingly, Luke did the same thing again, and still Vader didn't react. Taking a big breath, he jumped to his feet to charge away. And just at that moment, Vader spun around and punched Luke hard in the ribs, sending him flying back as if he'd been hit by a wall.

Luke was left on his back, gasping for air. Vader towered above him, "Do not fight me." Luke had no air in his lungs to make a reply, and Vader returned to his work, leaving Luke to slowly get up. So much for that idea.