by Valerie Vancollie
valeriev84 (at) hotmail (dot) com
Note: This story was published in the Dark Side fanzine "Imperium" in the spring of 2001. This story has also been illustrated. To see the illustration, please visit my website, the URL for which can be found in my profile.
Also, I'd like to apologize for the use of lines between scenes but the adjustments thesite staffhas made to the upload won't allow me to put any space between scenes or to mark a change in scene with a special star or so. If anyone knows how to achieve this, PLEASE let me know!
Luke awoke slowly from a deep, dreamless sleep. The first thing he became aware of was the softness of the mattress beneath him and the way it seemed to cradle his body. Mumbling incoherently, he shifted into a more comfortable position even as he absently wondered where he was as the Alliance couldn't afford to provide such luxurious mattresses for its members. Nor such expensive bed coverings, he realized as he ran a hand over the soft sheets.
Finally opening his eyes as alarm bells began to go off in his head, Luke saw that the sheets were actually made of satin and silk. Frowning, he looked at the ornately carved wooden backboard of the bed. Instantly he jumped to his feet as he caught sight of the emblem carved in the middle of the backboard. It was the Imperial symbol.
Looking down, he saw that the soft floor covering he felt beneath his bare feet was a deep, wine red carpet. Scanning the rest of the bedroom he saw various pieces of expensive artwork decorating the walls, the top of a shelf, and the nightstand. Completing the circle, he caught sight of a pair of drapes in the same rich color of the carpet. Walking forward, he pulled back the drapes and gasped at the sight before him. Having been raised on Tatooine and then having moved around with the Alliance, he had never seen anything like the spectacle displayed before him as all of those planets had been sparsely populated.
Even as Luke looked at the amazing assortment of buildings before him, some part of his brain realized that he was on Coruscant. Leia had described the city-planet to him not too long ago, and there was no doubt that this could be any other planet. Not with all the skyscrapers and the fact that there were no signs of vegetation or empty space nearby. He was on Coruscant, the black heart of the Galactic Empire which he fought so hard to destroy.
Luke stepped away from the window and sat down on the foot of the bed. This couldn't be happening to him! The only way he could have ended up on Coruscant was if he had been captured. Closing his eyes, he tried to remember just exactly what had happened and how he had gotten here. He clearly recalled being summoned to the Command chamber on the Hoth base where he, Wedge, Hobbie, and Dack had been told that they were going to be flying as the escort to a shuttle carrying a strike team. Once they arrived on the planet Vilso, which they would do unnoticed by approaching the planet from behind one of its many moons, they would assist the strike team in attacking a small Imperial outpost there which contained a large supply of laser canon parts that the Alliance desperately needed. Everything had gone smoothly until they had approached the outpost itself. . .
"Group three is in position and ready," Luke said into his com as he, Wedge, Hobbie, and four members of the strike team reached the spot where the strike team commander had ordered them to go.
From their location at the edge of the lush orange forest that grew all around the Imperial outpost, they overlooked the landing pad of the base. They had been given the task of securing three of the shuttles and getting them ready for takeoff. Which was why Luke, Wedge, and Hobbie had been sent with this group. Although the strike team had pilots, they were better suited for this job considering the fact that they would more than likely be fired upon during takeoff. While they took the shuttles, the rest of the strike team and Dack would attack the base from three points and capture the parts. Once they had them, they'd bring the parts to the landing pad, get them onto the shuttles, and take off. Then they would fly the shuttle back to where the four X-wings and Alliance shuttle were waiting. At that point the strike team pilots would take control of the shuttles while the members of Rogue Squadron got into their X-wings to fly as escort once more. Shifting into a more comfortable seat on the ground, Luke waited for the other groups to get into position. The one advantage of the forest's peculiar color was that he, Wedge, Hobbie, and Dack hadn't needed to get out of their flight suits since they helped them blend into their surroundings. "Which shuttles do you think are best?" Luke inquired softly as he leaned towards Wedge and Hobbie. Although he was in charge of the members of his squadron, he liked to get their opinions as well. "Well, the ones on the left are clearly being repaired, so we'd better stay away from them if we want to get off the ground," Hobbie quipped with a smile. "True," Wedge agreed. "The one closest to us and the two standing side by side on the right corner of the pad seem to be the biggest of the remaining shuttles." "My thoughts exactly," Luke stated as he motioned forward one of the strike team members and pointed out the shuttles they needed to secure. "Great," the man said with a smile. "We'll get them for you and you guys get them warmed up. We can't have any delays." "You do your part and we'll do ours," Luke promised before he frowned as he felt a strangely familiar ripple flow through the Force. "What's wrong, Luke?" Wedge inquired as he caught his friend's facial expression. "I'm not sure," Luke admitted, frustrated with his inability to understand the Force. Ever since Ben had died on board the Death Star nearly three years ago, Luke had done the exercises the Jedi had taught him practically everyday, but he could hardly see any signs of improvement. Unless, of course, one counted the few random times that he had done, or known, something he shouldn't have been able to do or know. He was certain that he needed a teacher to instruct him in the ways of the Force, but he didn't even know if there were any Jedi left alive. More than one person had told him that they had been surprised to learn that Kenobi had still been alive as they had thought the Jedi to be extinct. He desperately hoped that this was not so, that there was at least one more Jedi alive out there who could teach him, but he couldn't be sure. Besides, if this were so, then wouldn't they have contacted him by now? Or didn't they know? "The Force is trying to tell me something," Luke explained when he saw his friend raise an eyebrow questioningly. "But I'm not sure what." "Well, I can't help there," Wedge replied, feeling slightly uncomfortable as he was reminded of the various times his friend had done things no human could do. "Just relax, maybe it will come to you. All the times that you've used the Force you were relaxed and didn't expect it." "True," Luke agreed. "But we don't have the time for that now, and I feel that whatever the Force is trying to tell me is important." "Group three," the strike team's commander's voice suddenly said over the com. "Report." "Group three here," Luke replied as the others crowded close to hear. "We're in position," the commander stated. "On my signal, attack." "Understood," Luke said as the strike team members with him checked their weapons and turned the safety measures off. Pulling out his own blaster, Luke made sure that his father's lightsaber hung at his belt where it was easily accessible. He never knew when he might need it for, although he hadn't completely mastered how to deflect blaster bolts with it, it would come in handy for close range combat. And besides, minimal protection from blaster bolts was better than none at all. If worse came to worse, he could still try to keep the deadly energy from the stormtroopers' blasters away from him. "You guys stay back," one of the strike team members said as he turned to Luke, Wedge, and Hobbie. "We need you guys to do some fancy flying to get us back to our own ships." "Oh, I don't think you need to tell us twice," Hobbie commented as he scratched his chin. "There's something called self-preservation and if you don't want us up front, we won't feel obliged to go there." "As if you'd let anyone else have the fight," Wedge said as he chuckled, slapping his friend on the back. "Get ready," the commander's voice cut in, instantly silencing any further banter as the strike team members each chose a target among the stormtroopers patrolling the landing pad. "Attack!" Waiting until the others had fired, Luke quickly aimed his blaster at one of the stunned stormtroopers and fired while the strike team members took advantage of the enemy's surprise and rushed them. About to follow them, Luke felt another tremor in the Force and turned to the left to see a platoon of stormtroopers emerging from the forest behind the outpost. Catching sight of them Luke instantly knew what it meant: this was a trap and they had just walked right into it. "Retreat!" Luke called into his com, moving further back into the forest for cover. "It's a trap, run!" "What?" the commander demanded before Luke heard startled screams over the com and all noise died. "Damn!" Luke cursed as he fired off his blaster once more. "Run, Luke!" Wedge called out as he reached his friend and tried to drag him to his feet. "We have got to get out of here." Seeing more and more stormtroopers arrive on the scene, Luke got to his feet and began to move off into the forest. Casting a last backwards glance, he saw several members of the strike team that had been in his group reach the cover of the forest as well. He didn't want to think of those that hadn't. "Where's Hobbie?" Luke demanded as he looked at his friend. "He went down," Wedge replied as he continued his headlong rush into the undergrowth, fighting back the pain at having lost yet another close friend to the Empire. Luke was just opening his mouth to reply when several stormtroopers burst into sight on their right. "Where did they come from?" he questioned instead as he aimed his blaster on them. "I don't know," Wedge returned as he veered to the left. "But I'm not going to find out." Following his friend, Luke spared a glance back and was dismayed by the sight of a good number of stormtroopers on their tail. "We can't outrun them," he said. "Split up." With a last glance in his direction, Luke saw Wedge dodge left while he ran into the undergrowth on his right. It was only several moments later that he felt a sudden pain in his back as the force of the impact knocked him forward and into the dirt. Knowing that he couldn't give up, Luke tried to get to his feet to at least give the Imperials a fight with his saber. However, he quickly found that he couldn't even move his toes. 'Stun blast,' he realized as fear began to settle in the pit of his stomach just as he became aware of dim voices around him. Unable to comprehend what was being said, he tried to figure out why he had simply been stunned when the stormtroopers had been firing to kill back at the compound.
He was still trying to come up with a logical explanation when a pair of white hands moved into his range of sight. Harshly, Luke was turned over onto his back. Looking up, he felt a sudden flame of anger and hate crackle to life within him as he caught sight of the figure standing over him. Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, the man who had murdered both his father and his teacher. Frantically, he fought for control of his own body so that he could have the revenge he had dreamt of having ever since laying eyes on the black-clad warrior, but it was no use. All Luke could do was watch as a black-gloved hand reached down and took his father's lightsaber from his belt and examined it. The Sith Lord then made a few gestures at which the stormtroopers sprang into action a second before his world went black.
From their location at the edge of the lush orange forest that grew all around the Imperial outpost, they overlooked the landing pad of the base. They had been given the task of securing three of the shuttles and getting them ready for takeoff. Which was why Luke, Wedge, and Hobbie had been sent with this group. Although the strike team had pilots, they were better suited for this job considering the fact that they would more than likely be fired upon during takeoff. While they took the shuttles, the rest of the strike team and Dack would attack the base from three points and capture the parts. Once they had them, they'd bring the parts to the landing pad, get them onto the shuttles, and take off. Then they would fly the shuttle back to where the four X-wings and Alliance shuttle were waiting. At that point the strike team pilots would take control of the shuttles while the members of Rogue Squadron got into their X-wings to fly as escort once more.
Shifting into a more comfortable seat on the ground, Luke waited for the other groups to get into position. The one advantage of the forest's peculiar color was that he, Wedge, Hobbie, and Dack hadn't needed to get out of their flight suits since they helped them blend into their surroundings.
"Which shuttles do you think are best?" Luke inquired softly as he leaned towards Wedge and Hobbie. Although he was in charge of the members of his squadron, he liked to get their opinions as well.
"Well, the ones on the left are clearly being repaired, so we'd better stay away from them if we want to get off the ground," Hobbie quipped with a smile.
"True," Wedge agreed. "The one closest to us and the two standing side by side on the right corner of the pad seem to be the biggest of the remaining shuttles."
"My thoughts exactly," Luke stated as he motioned forward one of the strike team members and pointed out the shuttles they needed to secure.
"Great," the man said with a smile. "We'll get them for you and you guys get them warmed up. We can't have any delays."
"You do your part and we'll do ours," Luke promised before he frowned as he felt a strangely familiar ripple flow through the Force.
"What's wrong, Luke?" Wedge inquired as he caught his friend's facial expression.
"I'm not sure," Luke admitted, frustrated with his inability to understand the Force.
Ever since Ben had died on board the Death Star nearly three years ago, Luke had done the exercises the Jedi had taught him practically everyday, but he could hardly see any signs of improvement. Unless, of course, one counted the few random times that he had done, or known, something he shouldn't have been able to do or know. He was certain that he needed a teacher to instruct him in the ways of the Force, but he didn't even know if there were any Jedi left alive. More than one person had told him that they had been surprised to learn that Kenobi had still been alive as they had thought the Jedi to be extinct. He desperately hoped that this was not so, that there was at least one more Jedi alive out there who could teach him, but he couldn't be sure. Besides, if this were so, then wouldn't they have contacted him by now? Or didn't they know?
"The Force is trying to tell me something," Luke explained when he saw his friend raise an eyebrow questioningly. "But I'm not sure what."
"Well, I can't help there," Wedge replied, feeling slightly uncomfortable as he was reminded of the various times his friend had done things no human could do. "Just relax, maybe it will come to you. All the times that you've used the Force you were relaxed and didn't expect it."
"True," Luke agreed. "But we don't have the time for that now, and I feel that whatever the Force is trying to tell me is important."
"Group three," the strike team's commander's voice suddenly said over the com. "Report."
"Group three here," Luke replied as the others crowded close to hear.
"We're in position," the commander stated. "On my signal, attack."
"Understood," Luke said as the strike team members with him checked their weapons and turned the safety measures off.
Pulling out his own blaster, Luke made sure that his father's lightsaber hung at his belt where it was easily accessible. He never knew when he might need it for, although he hadn't completely mastered how to deflect blaster bolts with it, it would come in handy for close range combat. And besides, minimal protection from blaster bolts was better than none at all. If worse came to worse, he could still try to keep the deadly energy from the stormtroopers' blasters away from him.
"You guys stay back," one of the strike team members said as he turned to Luke, Wedge, and Hobbie. "We need you guys to do some fancy flying to get us back to our own ships."
"Oh, I don't think you need to tell us twice," Hobbie commented as he scratched his chin. "There's something called self-preservation and if you don't want us up front, we won't feel obliged to go there."
"As if you'd let anyone else have the fight," Wedge said as he chuckled, slapping his friend on the back.
"Get ready," the commander's voice cut in, instantly silencing any further banter as the strike team members each chose a target among the stormtroopers patrolling the landing pad. "Attack!"
Waiting until the others had fired, Luke quickly aimed his blaster at one of the stunned stormtroopers and fired while the strike team members took advantage of the enemy's surprise and rushed them. About to follow them, Luke felt another tremor in the Force and turned to the left to see a platoon of stormtroopers emerging from the forest behind the outpost. Catching sight of them Luke instantly knew what it meant: this was a trap and they had just walked right into it.
"Retreat!" Luke called into his com, moving further back into the forest for cover. "It's a trap, run!"
"What?" the commander demanded before Luke heard startled screams over the com and all noise died.
"Damn!" Luke cursed as he fired off his blaster once more.
"Run, Luke!" Wedge called out as he reached his friend and tried to drag him to his feet. "We have got to get out of here."
Seeing more and more stormtroopers arrive on the scene, Luke got to his feet and began to move off into the forest. Casting a last backwards glance, he saw several members of the strike team that had been in his group reach the cover of the forest as well. He didn't want to think of those that hadn't.
"Where's Hobbie?" Luke demanded as he looked at his friend.
"He went down," Wedge replied as he continued his headlong rush into the undergrowth, fighting back the pain at having lost yet another close friend to the Empire.
Luke was just opening his mouth to reply when several stormtroopers burst into sight on their right. "Where did they come from?" he questioned instead as he aimed his blaster on them.
"I don't know," Wedge returned as he veered to the left. "But I'm not going to find out."
Following his friend, Luke spared a glance back and was dismayed by the sight of a good number of stormtroopers on their tail. "We can't outrun them," he said. "Split up."
With a last glance in his direction, Luke saw Wedge dodge left while he ran into the undergrowth on his right. It was only several moments later that he felt a sudden pain in his back as the force of the impact knocked him forward and into the dirt. Knowing that he couldn't give up, Luke tried to get to his feet to at least give the Imperials a fight with his saber. However, he quickly found that he couldn't even move his toes. 'Stun blast,' he realized as fear began to settle in the pit of his stomach just as he became aware of dim voices around him. Unable to comprehend what was being said, he tried to figure out why he had simply been stunned when the stormtroopers had been firing to kill back at the compound.
He was still trying to come up with a logical explanation when a pair of white hands moved into his range of sight. Harshly, Luke was turned over onto his back. Looking up, he felt a sudden flame of anger and hate crackle to life within him as he caught sight of the figure standing over him. Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, the man who had murdered both his father and his teacher. Frantically, he fought for control of his own body so that he could have the revenge he had dreamt of having ever since laying eyes on the black-clad warrior, but it was no use. All Luke could do was watch as a black-gloved hand reached down and took his father's lightsaber from his belt and examined it. The Sith Lord then made a few gestures at which the stormtroopers sprang into action a second before his world went black.
He was still trying to come up with a logical explanation when a pair of white hands moved into his range of sight. Harshly, Luke was turned over onto his back. Looking up, he felt a sudden flame of anger and hate crackle to life within him as he caught sight of the figure standing over him. Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, the man who had murdered both his father and his teacher. Frantically, he fought for control of his own body so that he could have the revenge he had dreamt of having ever since laying eyes on the black-clad warrior, but it was no use.
All Luke could do was watch as a black-gloved hand reached down and took his father's lightsaber from his belt and examined it. The Sith Lord then made a few gestures at which the stormtroopers sprang into action a second before his world went black.
Closing his eyes at the memory, Luke felt his anger begin to grow within him. So close. He had been so close to Vader and had been unable to do any of that which he had planned to do if he ever met the Sith Lord again. After seeing Obi-Wan murdered by the masked warrior, he had sworn to kill him to avenge both Ben and his father. Instead of doing that, he had been completely helpless and would have been an easy prey for the Dark Lord should he have chosen to kill him too then and there.
Luke groaned aloud as he thought of this and realized why the Imperials had kept him alive instead of killing him on Vilso. The Battle of Yavin. The Empire wanted revenge for the shot that he had fired which had led to the destruction of the Death Star. Although the Alliance had done its best, they had been unable to keep his name a secret from the Empire. Only a couple of months after the battle, he had been added to the Imperial list of the most wanted men in the galaxy. Upon questioning a reluctant Leia, he had learned that, if captured, he would probably be publicly executed to set an example for the citizens of the Galactic Empire.
He flopped back onto his bed as he wondered how many of the others had been captured or had died in the battle. Had anyone gotten away? And what had the Imperials done with the prisoners? Killed them or kept them alive for interrogation? While he hoped for the first, as he knew from what Leia had told him that interrogations were more like tortures, he knew that it was probably the latter. But how had Vader known that they would attack the outpost? After all, it was more than clear to him that the Dark Lord had been expecting their attack. The stormtroopers wouldn't have hidden in the forest otherwise. So how? Was there a traitor in the Alliance? A spy? Or was the whole thing a setup from the beginning? Had Vader purposefully let word get out about the fact that the parts would be there?
Knowing that this train of thought was useless at this point even if he did come up with an answer, Luke turned his thoughts to another puzzling fact; namely the way he had been sedated on the trip over here. A single stun blast was by no means enough to put him under for the entire trip from Vilso to Coruscant, a trip which took a little over a week. He knew that it wasn't standard procedure to sedate prisoners. Indeed, normally they were interrogated as fast as was possible after capture. So why was he being treated differently?
Luke sighed as he frowned. This wasn't making any sense. Nor did his present accommodations for that matter. It was the norm, both in the Alliance and in the Empire, to lock up prisoners in small bare cells, not in luxurious bedrooms with silk and satin sheets, thick carpets, and expensive artwork. Getting up, he walked to the wall where a beautiful painting of snow-capped mountains and flower-covered meadows hung, the whole scene awash in brilliant colors. It was so realistic that he half expected to be able to smell the sweet scent of the delicate blooms.
Turning around, Luke focused his attention on the room's two doors. One was clearly a closet door which could be opened with the controls on the wall next to it. Doing so, he gasped at the outfit that was arranged on a hanger. The shirt was a deep emerald green with blue jewels sparkling at the cuffs and collar, while the pants were midnight black. Attached to the outfit with a red and purple jeweled pin was a dark blue cape. Underneath the outfit stood a pair of knee-length, black boots. Reaching forward and touching the delicate-looking fabric, he was stunned to find that it felt exactly like Leia's Tarelle sel-weave dress - the one which she had said she should sell as it would bring in some much needed money for the Alliance, enough to buy at least two X-wings. So why was this here? For him?
Luke winced as he looked down at what he was currently wearing and saw the multiple tears in the now dirty jumpsuit he had been wearing beneath his flight suit. He wasn't surprised that the Imperials were giving him a new set of clothes, seeing the condition his current ones were in, but a jeweled Tarelle sel-weave outfit? And, looking at the various other dark-colored items in the closet, he saw that they were all jeweled and made of similar expensive fabrics. Not to mention the fact that the boots and other footwear all looked handmade and were highly polished. The closet probably contained at least eleven times more than his uncle could ever have hoped to own in his entire life!
Knowing that he might not get this opportunity again, Luke quickly changed into the outfit, having a little trouble with the cape as he had never worn one before. He might as well look good when the Imperials decided to do what they had in mind with him. Once dressed, he turned his attention to the second door, wondering if it would open or if he was a prisoner in this room. Not that he'd mind too much, not in this exquisite environment which was totally alien to him. He was used to having to hang onto every single credit that came his way, even in the Alliance things were tight.
Luke was relieved when he reached the door and it slid open soundlessly at his approach. Stepping into the sitting room, he stopped to survey it. Off to one side there was a door that led to a green, gray, and pink marbled bathroom. At the other end of the room there was another door. The carpet and drapes in this room were a deep green in color which matched his shirt. Various pieces of furniture including a couch, desk, table, and upholstered armchair, stood scattered around the room. The furniture was all made of a dark brown wood which had an ever so slight red hue to it. The couch and armchair were also done up in black cushions, while on the table stood an amber-colored vase with a bouquet of purple and yellow flowers.
Walking over to the closed door in this room, Luke quickly found that, unlike the other one, it was securely locked from the outside. Not that he had expected anything else. Turning around to face the sitting room, he decided that he might as well do a good search of his fancy prison.
Three hours later, Luke was sitting on the couch, coasting through the channels on the holoset he'd found. However, he quickly discovered that there wasn't much for him to watch as, this being Imperial Center, all the news and entertainment shows were strongly Imperial-oriented. But it was better than simply sitting around. While looking at the view out of the window had been entertaining, it hadn't held his attention for very long. Even observing what had to be the Royal gardens down below, with the amazing assortment of plants, flowers, and carved statues that there were, had quickly gotten old as he grew increasingly restless.
Other than the holoset, Luke had also found a few blank datapads, styluses, and a datachip containing all the Imperial law and history. In the bathroom, he had not only discovered the necessary toiletries, but also an extensive array of scented gels, soaps, foams, and other luxuries. This had only mystified him further because, even if he hadn't heard of how horribly the Empire treated its prisoners, he would have known that something was terribly amiss.
Another thing that worried Luke was the fact that he had yet to hear anything from his captors. On the one hand, he was glad that no stormtroopers had come along to drag him away to some torture chamber, but on the other hand, it unnerved him greatly. After all, why would they keep him alive if they weren't going to use him? Or were they simply keeping him until the public execution? Yet he hadn't come across a mention of such an event on the news channels, and he knew that it would be as it would be since such an execution would be considered a victory for the Empire. So what were they playing at here? Did they want him to do something specific and were they thus watching him? During his search he had been unable to find any observation equipment, but that didn't mean that they weren't there. He was by no means an expert when it came to espionage.
Figuring that he might as well keep up with current news, Luke flipped to the galactic news channel, INN (Imperial News Network). Listening as the human male reporter talked about both past, present, and upcoming events at court, he suppressed the desire to roll his eyes. Countless people across the galaxy were starving or suffering due to poverty and here they were casually discussing parties in which tens of billions of credits from taxes were wasted annually to entertain the galaxy's upper crust. The news then went on to talk about the 'petty rebellion against His Majesty's great order.'
"Please," Luke muttered.
"It has also become known that while Lord Vader was briefly on Coruscant, he left two days ago on yet another campaign against the Rebel terrorists," the reporter stated.
Left? Vader had left the capitol planet when he was still here? Shaking his head, Luke tried to figure out why the Dark Lord would leave him here after having hunted him for so long. Simply thinking about the price on his head made his mind reel. He'd be lucky if he ever even possessed a seventh as much in his entire life. It had definitely shaken up both him and the Alliance High Command, so much so that they had grilled him endlessly for any information or insight as to why the Sith Lord wanted him so. Unfortunately he had been unable to help them there. He was just as much in the dark as they were.
Turning his attention back to the holonet, Luke saw that they were now talking about how, in only two years, it would be the Empire's twenty-fifth anniversary and how, even now, plans for the party that would take place were being organized. Among the many planned decorations would be a larger-than-life ice statue of the Emperor. Unable to take it anymore, he turned off the holoset and stiffened when he heard boots echoing off the non-carpeted floor outside in the resulting silence. Looking around once more in a futile effort to find a suitable weapon, he steeled himself for whatever was to come when the footsteps halted outside the door to his rooms.
Soundlessly, the door opened and Luke gasped as two scarlet-clad Sovereign Protectors entered the room. Although he quickly wiped any emotions off of his face, his mind was racing. Why were the Emperor's personal bodyguards here? Actually, he had a pretty good idea as to why, but what he didn't know was why Palpatine wanted to see him. He had never heard of any pilot or Rebel prisoner being brought before the Galactic Ruler, no matter what they had achieved. Indeed, only political and military leaders MIGHT be brought before him. But even that was rare. So why him? The Death Star incident? The fact that he had had a few Jedi lessons?
"Come," one of the two warriors ordered as he indicated the door through which they had entered.
Momentarily, Luke hesitated, but then he looked at the stun poles they carried and reminded himself that only the best of the best got the 'honor' of personally defending the Emperor.
"Where are we going?" he questioned as he stepped out into the marble hallway.
"Silence," one of the guards replied as one walked before him and the other behind.
Deciding to obey for now, Luke followed the lead guard and quickly realized that he was being kept in the private area of the Imperial Palace not far from the Emperor's private quarters and throne room. Quietly, he thanked Leia for having taken the time to show him the blueprints the Alliance had of the Palace. No doubt there were tons of secret passageways and hidden compartments that weren't displayed on that particular plan, but at least it was something. Something which could be very handy to him now if he managed to either get out of his rooms or away from the guards. Not that that appeared extremely likely at the moment, but any chance was better than no chance. Besides, if one had no hope, then one would break so much faster.
His thoughts were soon confirmed when the guards led him into a dead-end hallway. The guard before him reached up and pushed a special part of one of the elaborately decorated lights and, instantly, a hidden door swung open. Following the guard into the narrow passageway, Luke felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. The fact that they were using these passages meant that it wasn't planned on his leaving this planet alive. And the fact that they didn't want anyone to see him meant that they had probably given the impression that all the Rebels that hadn't escaped had been killed during the raid. At least he hoped that some of his friends had gotten away. Wedge and Dack for instance. No matter what had happened to them, he knew that he couldn't expect to be rescued if he was thought dead.
After a few twists and turns in the passage and descending a flight of stairs, Luke was just about to ask where they were when the lead guard opened one of the many doors that lined the walls. Stepping through the doorway, he found himself in a room so lavish that his looked poor by comparison. He didn't need to be told that this was the Emperor's private living room. All the furniture and chandeliers screamed credits to such an extent that it had to be Palpatine's rooms, or Vader's, as Leia had told him that the Dark Lord wallowed in money as well. Stepping through another door, he now found himself in an equally elaborately decorated dining room.
Scanning his surroundings once more, Luke's stomach growled as he caught sight of a carved wooden table set for two. He hadn't realized until now just how hungry he actually was. But then, he hadn't eaten for Force-knew-how-long. No doubt the Imperials had given him nutrient injections or he wouldn't have been able to get up and walk around the way he was doing now, but it wasn't the same as real food. Catching motion out of the corner of his eye, he turned to see the leader of the Empire he hated enter the room.
"Ah, welcome young Skywalker," Palpatine stated as he walked forward, leaning on his cane for support. "I see you have decided to accept my hospitality," he continued as he indicated the clothes Luke wore as one of the Royal Guards pulled out a chair for him.
Luke stiffened at the words even as he tried to get over the shock he had received upon seeing the Emperor's appearance. All the images he had seen of the ruler had shown him as being an elderly man with light blue eyes. The man before him was beyond old, his whole face looked as if it were decaying already, while his eyes were a shade of bright yellow. Obviously what he had seen were images created by the Emperor's men to hide the ruler's true condition. If only he could get back to the Alliance now! He had been awake for only a few short hours and already he had a wealth of information the Alliance could desperately use. Briefly he wondered if it had been a good choice to change clothes. But then, it was a decision which didn't harm him while letting his captor think that he was more willing than he was, which could be used to his advantage.
"Come, sit," Palpatine said as he seated himself.
After a moment's hesitation, Luke complied with the older man's wish. Right now defiance would achieve nothing but punishment. Besides, he needed nourishment if he was to remain strong, and he doubted that he'd get any food if he refused to eat at Palpatine's table. Not to mention the fact that he wouldn't learn what the Emperor was after. With the royal treatment he was getting, he was curious and beginning to doubt that he would be tortured if he behaved. He wouldn't give any information or anything else that could harm the Alliance, but to uselessly resist over trifle matters was pointless.
"Good," Palpatine continued as Luke sat down opposite him. As he gestured to one of the servants who had entered the room with him, he studied the boy before him. So young and yet so powerful. "I knew that you were smarter than to resist. Most of your Rebel comrades are so foolish, resisting everything."
"At least it shows independence," Luke retorted, bristling at the Emperor's words. "As it shows that we will not submit to your uncreative tyranny."
"Ah yes, your streak of stubbornness," Palpatine observed. "The source of your rebelliousness."
Luke was just forming a reply when the servant reentered the room with an open bottle of wine. Quietly he approached the table and poured some of the wine into one of the three crystal glasses before him. Now that Luke actually looked at the tableware before him, he saw that the utensils were made of solid gold, inlaid with jewels, and the plates of porcelain had delicate, hand-painted designs.
"I'm not that stupid," Luke declared when the servant simply stood back instead of pouring any of the wine into Palpatine's glass.
"Cautious," the Emperor commented, motioning at last for his glass to be filled before taking a sip of it.
"What do you want from me?" Luke demanded after a moment's silence during which he too tasted the wine, savoring its richness. "Why this special treatment?"
"Straight to the point," Palpatine said as he laughed. "Very well, I can do that too. I want you."
"Me?" Luke asked, unsure of what the ruler meant.
"Yes," Palpatine confirmed with glee as he lightly probed the youth before him. Since the child had only had a few Jedi lessons, his mental shields were pathetic at most and easily bypassed so that the boy wouldn't even be aware of the mind probe. "I want you and your Force abilities. I want you to join the Empire and to kneel before me."
"Never!" Luke declared with conviction even as he hid his surprise. He had always thought that the Imperial leader wanted him dead for his powers. It had never entered his mind that the old man wanted to control him and his power. But then, it made a kind of twisted sense considering all he had heard of the ancient man.
"Are you really that certain?" Palpatine inquired as the servant came back with two porcelain bowls of soup, setting the first one before the Emperor before giving Luke his. "Never is a really long time."
"I'm sure," Luke stated as he tasted the soup, letting its alien flavor roll on his tongue even as he wondered whether or not there was a hidden threat in the other's words.
"And why is that?"
"Because the Empire is Evil," Luke explained. "You rule through fear and tyranny, enslaving and killing innocent people for no reason."
"And how do you, an ignorant farmboy, know this?" Palpatine demanded, guiding the conversation to where he wanted it and smiling as the young Rebel before him was angered by his words. The fact that he did nothing to suppress that anger confirmed his suspicions that Kenobi hadn't had the time to explain the Dark Side to him. This would make his conversion so much easier. "Is it because Kenobi told you? Or because the Rebels told you? Do you believe all that you are told?"
"No," Luke denied. "But I saw enough to confirm what they said when I saw the remains of Alderaan and what you would have done to Yavin IV. You proved to me then that you are a monster as you killed millions of innocent people for nothing."
"It was your so-called Alliance that condemned them to death when they hid among them and used Alderaan's peaceful history as a shield," Palpatine responded as he finished his soup.
"It was your decision," Luke countered. "You killed those people."
"And you personally killed the millions of men on board the Death Star," Palpatine pointed out, reveling in the sensations of pain and guilt that washed over young Skywalker as he flinched and paled.
"T. . . that wa. . . was dif. . . ferent," Luke stammered as he struggled to regain his composure as images of the nightmares that had plagued him for months after the Battle of Yavin returned.
"How was it different?" Palpatine questioned, knowing that he had found one of the boy's pressure points and he intended to squeeze it as much as he could. "Just like with Alderaan you killed millions with one shot."
"It was in defense," Luke responded as he closed his eyes and repeated what Leia had told him when she had learned of his nightmares. "It was them or us."
"If you believe that justifies what you did, then why are you trembling so?" Palpatine inquired, noting how the child put his hands under the table to try to hide it. "What you did was no different and you know it. Two million men are dead. Do you realize how many of those men were husbands or loved ones? How many parents, wives, and girlfriends mourned them? Not to mention how many of them were fathers," he cruelly pressed, carefully examining Luke's reaction to this last. The pain and longing he felt pleased him immensely. If he played this game correctly the young Jedi-in-training would be his. "How many children will never see their father again? How many will never know him?"
"I. . . I. . ." Luke began, faltering as his guilt flared to life once more, stronger than ever.
"You what?" Palpatine asked, licking his lips at the child's discomfort.
Looking up at the older man, Luke could see the pleasure lurking in his yellow eyes. Seeing this he determined not to let the Emperor manipulate him so easily. Burying his guilt as best he could, he took another sip of his wine and turned his attention to the many art objects and paintings decorating the room, trying in vain to distract himself.
"That one is done by the same painter as the one in your room," Palpatine informed him after a short silence as he saw his guest's interest in a vivid painting of a waterfall and sunset.
"Who is he?" Luke questioned, surprised at the ruler's choice in artwork. It wasn't all as Dark as he had assumed it would be.
"Wiltor Vopins," Palpatine replied before the servant entered the room once more and placed the main course before him. "Moonglow," he continued as he saw Luke's curious glance at the blue colored food before him. "I figured that you had never had this before considering your poverty and the way the Rebellion only provides the bare minimum for its members."
"Moonglow?" Luke repeated with a surprised glance at the Emperor as he pointedly ignored the jibe directed at the Alliance. "Isn't that poisonous?"
"Only if it isn't prepared correctly," Palpatine stated as he began his dinner. "It takes a skilled chef exactly ninety-seven steps to prepare it safely, and I have only the best chefs."
"Even the best make mistakes," Luke countered, wondering how long it would take for signs of the poison to appear.
"True," Palpatine agreed, knowing that the food before him was safe as he always made the chefs eat it themselves before it was served to him. "But then you and Lord Vader aren't the only ones who can use the Force."
"You can use the Force!" Luke demanded, stunned. Quickly he reached out as Obi-Wan had taught him and checked his shields before he sought for the other man's presence.
Smiling to himself when the boy believed his shields hadn't been breached, Palpatine dropped his own shields and let the child feel the full power of his presence. "Yes, I can control the Force, the Dark Side," he confirmed. "You couldn't seriously think that Darth Vader, with all his power, would kneel to me if I weren't more powerful than him? No wonder you Rebels are all so easily misguided, you're idiots."
"Maybe," Luke replied as he gritted his teeth. "But at least we're individual and thinking idiots, unlike those mindless puppets which are your men."
"I would hardly call men like Darth Vader mindless puppets," Palpatine said with frustrated amusement. "He can be quite stubborn at times."
"Talking about Vader, I heard he left the planet. Why?" Luke questioned.
"Ah, so you won't give me any information, but you expect to receive it," Palpatine commented as he watched the boy gingerly begin his dinner. "That's not very fair, now is it?"
"Neither is five to one odds in dogfights," Luke needled. "Besides, what I want to know won't cause any harm. What you would want to know can and will cause harm when you utilize it. I'm just curious as to why he would simply leave after having hunted me for so long."
"Why? That's very easy. I ordered him to go," Palpatine explained. "As for the reason behind my doing so, he told me of your strong emotions before you were pulled under by the stun bolt's effects. Therefore, I felt it would be better for the negotiations if he weren't present."
"Negotiations?" Luke repeated incredulously as the servant took their plates. "I've said no already."
"You'll find that I don't give up easily," Palpatine stated with a smile as their glasses were refilled. "Your current rooms and clothes should prove as much."
"You're wasting your time," Luke insisted stubbornly.
"Only time will tell," Palpatine declared as his lips twitched in irony. "Perhaps after you see what the Empire truly is, you'll think twice about refusing my offer. After all, I could just as easily have you killed."
"And just what is the Empire then?" Luke demanded, ignoring the threat, as a porcelain plate with cake, ice-cream, and sauce was placed before him. "Other than a tyrannical government?"
"First off, the Empire has done a lot of things the Republic could only dream of doing," Palpatine began, knowing that now was the time to reach the boy and show him that some of the Rebel propaganda was nothing but lies. "I have united the entire galaxy under one leader, including all of the Outer Rim Territory planets. These planets were once controlled by crimelords or bickering and weak leaders during the Old Republic as its influence didn't reach that far."
"From what I've heard living on Tatooine, there is practically no difference between then and now," Luke retorted. "Much good you've done. The crimelords still rule there."
"But not to the extent that they used to," Palpatine countered as a servant brought them coffee which had been flavored with nanhol, another rare specialty. "There have been major changes. Human slavery and that of many other species has all but vanished, thanks to Darth Vader's efforts and persistence."
"Vader?" Luke questioned, caught off guard. He had always considered the Dark Lord as being just that: Dark. He had heard of his crimes and all the autocracies he had committed. Could there really be another side to the Sith that he knew nothing of?
"Yes," Palpatine confirmed. "Doesn't go with all they've told you, now does it? Vader has also been the driving force behind the move for better education in the systems outside of the Core. Not to mention his recent success in getting better medical care out there as well."
"Then why did he destroy Alderaan and all of its innocents?" Luke demanded as he thought of this new information. Although he had heard of those good points of the Empire before, he had a hard time picturing Vader as the man responsible for them. "What's wrong with him? Split personality?"
"No, he's simply a complex individual," Palpatine explained. "Much like yourself, actually."
"No!" Luke denied fiercely, only angered further as the ancient man laughed. "I am nothing like that. . . that. . . cruel, sadistic monster."
"No?" Palpatine questioned. "You are both Force strong, both of you began your training under the late Obi-Wan Kenobi, both of you are superb pilots, you both spent time living on Tatooine, and you are both considered uncaring monsters. For, in the Empire, it is you who are considered as the monster since you destroyed the Death Star. The mere mention of the name Skywalker is enough to provoke violent reactions of anger and hatred. There is a reason why I sent my personal guards after you and not stormtroopers; I want you alive for the time being."
Luke flinched upon hearing this. He had known that the Imperials would hate him and want him dead for what he had done, but for him to be seen to the Imperials as what Vader was seen to the Rebels hadn't crossed his mind. It wasn't a pretty thought. Leia would probably tell him not to listen to the Emperor's words. And normally he wouldn't, if not for his own doubts about the whole matter, or for the similarities that the Emperor had pointed out between him and the man who had murdered both his father and his mentor. To think that Vader had lived on Tatooine and had been Ben's student as well. . .
"As for Alderaan," Palpatine continued. "He was against it and came to personally complain about it to me afterwards. Vader joined me and the Empire because he hated the corruption, disorder, and resulting misery in the galaxy."
"He sure was blind," Luke replied as he finished his dessert. "He's only causing the galaxy more of the same."
"It is you and your fellow Rebels which are the source of the current misery and poverty," Palpatine countered. "For it is you who started this pointless rebellion. If you hadn't started up armed resistance, than not as much money would be funneled to the military and it would be used for other reasons."
"Yeah, for the pleasures of the Imperial elite," Luke stated with disgust. "For even more elaborate court parties."
"Overall, the percentage of tax credits that goes towards the pleasures of the Imperial court is very small," Palpatine declared. "Definitely much smaller than the sum of money the Imperial Armed Forces requires thanks to your so-called Alliance. You fight in the name of peace. How utterly ridiculous."
"We fight for freedom," Luke corrected. "Freedom and justice, two things you deny the people now. Peace will follow."
"But what is justice? What is just?" Palpatine needled. "There was a time, not so long ago, when the Trade Federation blockaded an entire planet and the senate of the Old Republic could do nothing as the Federation's actions were perfectly legal. It wasn't until the Federation actually invaded the planet that they could take action and yet they didn't. Is that what you are seeking to restore?"
"No," Luke responded. "We seek to bring back true justice."
"Oh," Palpatine commented. "And I was under the impression that the rebellion was 'the Alliance for the restoration of the Republic.' The situation I just described was the Republic's method of operating. Thus, logical thinking would conclude that that is what you and your fellow comrades are fighting to restore."
"We want to create a government that is ruled by the people," Luke explained as he sought the right words to use. He was a pilot, not a diplomat, that was Leia's specialty. "In restoring the Republic, we will make sure that its faults, its weaknesses, are removed."
"But one of its greatest weaknesses is the fact that many people can't come to an agreement easily," Palpatine stated before he took a sip of his coffee. "The senate used to take ages before it came to a decision on anything. Your goals contradict each other."
"So, what you're saying is that a better government would be one where a few, or one, individual rules," Luke concluded as he sent the ruler a pointed look. "You're saying that the Empire is the improved version of the Republic."
"It is," Palpatine declared firmly, smiling proudly. "Even you, who are not trained in diplomacy, can see it."
"I was simply interpreting what you had said," Luke replied defensively. "All this talk hasn't changed anything. I will not turn."
"Still you are so quick to decide," Palpatine scolded as he motioned for the two Sovereign Protectors that had escorted the young pilot in to approach. Inwardly, he laughed at the double meaning behind the boy's wording. However, due to the child's lack of knowledge of the Dark Side, he had no intention of pointing it out. It would be so easy to turn him to the Darkness if he didn't know that it was happening. "Take the night to digest all that I've told you. Then, tomorrow afternoon, we can continue our negotiations."
"What happened to my friends? The others that were on Vilso with me?" Luke demanded as he got to his feet, dreading the answer to his question.
"They were killed," Palpatine commented as if commenting on last year's weather as he too stood. "One X-wing alone escaped."
Feeling his stomach lurch in horrified dismay, Luke watched as the Emperor slowly made his way towards the door through which he had entered the room. They were all dead, all but one. Knowing that Hobbie had gone down early in the fight, he knew that the pilot of the X-wing had to be either Wedge or Dack. Briefly he hoped that it had been Wedge, but then he instantly shoved the feeling aside. Both men were good pilots. Simply because he had known Wedge longer didn't mean that Dack deserved to die. Indeed, the man had been an excellent gunner so far and he was, or had been, beginning to befriend him as well. The thought that one of them had died along with Hobbie. . .
"Tell me," Luke began, another thought formed in his mind when he sought to distract himself from the news of his friends' deaths. "If I'm so hated by Imperials, how do you expect them to accept me if I were to say. . . hit my head and decide to accept your offer?"
"That's very simple," Palpatine responded as he turned to face young Skywalker once more. "Change your last name as Vader changed his name as well when he joined me. There would have been serious consequences for him as well otherwise."
"So, you aren't only asking me to betray my friends and all that I stand for, but to give up my identity as well," Luke concluded as he glared at the other man.
"Would you really be giving up your identity?" Palpatine asked as he moved closer to the doorway. "Or finally finding it?"
"Huh?" Luke replied, but was ignored as the door closed behind the ancient man and his entourage of guards and servants.
Sighing, Luke followed the guards back to his room while he pondered the Emperor's last words. What had he meant in suggesting that he might be finding his identity in changing his last name? It could simply mean that he would create a new identity for himself, but somehow he doubted that was it. Something inside of him told him that there was more behind Palpatine's words than he knew. But, try as he might, he couldn't fathom what it was. The thing that annoyed him most of all this was that he felt as if he knew the answer, but that it hung just out of his reach, teasing him with its closeness. And what was this whole thing about Vader having had a different name before joining the Empire? Hadn't Ben said that he'd had a young pupil by the name of Vader? Was the Emperor lying to him or had the Jedi simply not told him the full truth? After all, the Alliance knew nothing of Vader's background.
Confused, Luke moved towards the couch and dropped into it as the door to his room closed and locked behind the guards as they left. It wasn't impossible that Obi-Wan hadn't said it, there could have been many good reasons for the omission. Perhaps it was a complicated story. Or, maybe, it was a painful subject and the old Jedi hadn't wanted to reopen an old wound. After all, by the time a relationship could go from the way his and Ben's had been to how Vader had mercilessly cut down his former mentor, something major must have occurred. Whatever the reason, he was sure that Ben had had his reasons for what he had done. But than, this was all IF what the galactic ruler had said was true, and it could very well be that it was all a lie.
"Lord Vader," Palpatine said as a miniature holo of the kneeling Dark Lord appeared in the air before him.
"Master," Vader replied, bowing his head lower. "The mission was a complete success. I rooted out the Rebel spies in the Kuat Shipyards."
"How many were there?" Palpatine demanded.
"Twenty, spread throughout various sections," Vader informed the Emperor. "That is clearly how they knew so much about all our ships' capabilities."
"Twenty," Palpatine repeated thoughtfully. "I shall have to have a word with the head of security there."
"Yes," Vader agreed and waited a second or two before continuing, wondering if the ruler would broach the subject himself or not. "How are the other matters proceeding on Coruscant?"
"As well as can be expected," Palpatine stated as he suppressed a smile, knowing all too well what his servant meant.
He hadn't been lying when he had told young Skywalker that the Sith Lord was a complex individual. The man was like a double edged blade. On one side, he was utterly ruthless, tracking down and killing the Rebels and his own men who failed him mercilessly. While on the other side, he had a deep sense of honor, belief, and, at times, sentimentality. His emotions and motives concerning Luke Skywalker were a perfect example of this second side. Vader wanted the boy not only to thwart Kenobi's plans, but also because the child was his. On some level, the Dark Lord felt a strong sense of protectiveness as well as possessiveness. The discovery of a son was awakening paternal instincts within him to a certain degree. He wouldn't let it interfere with his duty to the Empire, however. He had spent too long working on creating it and had sacrificed too much for it, but he wouldn't ignore it either.
Luke Skywalker's existence had relit the slowly cooling embers of ambition within Darth Vader. Palpatine had known that the constant warfare and death had taken their toll on his apprentice who had originally joined both him and the Dark Side to restore order to the galaxy. As time dragged on and the younger man didn't see his goals achieved despite his best efforts, he had begun to burn out. But that had all halted upon learning of his son. In Luke the Sith Lord saw an end to the war and thus a beginning of the order he had so long sought. Vader knew, as he did, that with another fully trained Sith Lord, one whom contained extensive knowledge of this petty rebellion, the Empire would swiftly bring an end to the Alliance.
"However, I am expecting to make some serious progress in the next few days," Palpatine added.
"I am returning as we speak," Vader announced after a slight pause. "I shall arrive late tomorrow evening."
"Good," Palpatine declared. "We shall be able to use your presence to our advantage at that point."
The room was filled with human men of all ages from eighteen to late sixties. All of them stood in neat, even rows much as stormtroopers did. All were facing him with identical expressions of accusation, pain, and anger. Their eyes boring into him as he desperately tried to turn away, to see something else, anything else! But all his efforts were in vain. Try as he might, he couldn't look away or close his eyes. No matter what he did, he saw their faces. Suddenly, as if the raw emotion in their eyes wasn't enough, someone in the back began to vocalize his thoughts.
"Murderer," the man cried, encouraging the others to call out as well. "Murderer! Monster!" he continued as more and more men joined the chant.
"Terrorist!" they screamed. "Fiend! Murderer! Killer!"
"No! No!" he denied as he tried to block out their cries. "That's not true!"
"You killed me," a younger man accused as he approached him. "I had so much before me, a fiancée, parents, a bright future. You took it all from me!"
"I. . . I didn't mean to," he replied, desperately trying to lessen the overwhelming guilt he felt. He had had no choice, he had been forced into a position where whatever he did would have had serious consequences. He had done what had been necessary.
"My wife, my children," another said as he began to cry. "I will never see them again! How will they live now? What will become of them?"
"It was self-defense," he countered. "You or us."
"My son is only two months old," came a man's words. "He will never know me. Never know his father!"
"Force," he moaned, feeling as if the world was being ripped out from under him. All the pain and longing he had felt in his life due to the fact that he didn't have a father came washing back over him. To know that he had condemned others to such a life as well. . .
"Monster! Murderer!" the chant continued, louder and louder. "Fiend! Monster! Slayer! Killer!"
"No! No!" he wailed helplessly. "I'm not. . . self-defense. . . Alderaan. . . you did same thing. . ."
"Nooooooooooooooooooooo. . ."
Luke jerked awake as he fell off the couch and landed on the ground with a loud 'THUD.' Gasping for breath, he realized that it was just a dream, a nightmare. None of it had really happened. Climbing back onto the couch, he found that his hair and clothes were sticking to his skin, drenched in sweat. Shivering as the perspiration began to dry, he tried to calm his racing heart even as the guilt rolled over him in fresh tidal waves. It had been months since he'd had a nightmare that was so bad.
Catching sight of the bathroom door, Luke got to his feet. He had never yet had a water bath and he might as well take advantage of the fact that he could do it here. It wasn't like he was going to be able to sleep tonight anymore anyway. He had learned from past experience that when he had a nightmare that was this vivid that if he went to sleep again, he would only see remnants of it over and over in a horrifying and endless cycle. It was far better to remain awake for the rest of the night.
As he caught sight of the datachip on Imperial law and history, Luke resolved to read it once he'd taken his bath. From his nightmare alone, he knew that the Emperor was getting to him. The man, if he could be called that, had found one of his greatest weaknesses and had exploited it. Palpatine seemed to know exactly what words to use to get to him. Briefly he wondered if this had anything to do with his Force talents, but then he dismissed the thought. If that was it, then there was nothing he could do about it, and he didn't want to think of being that helpless against the Emperor. He had better direct his thoughts and energy to how best to shield his other weaknesses in case the ruler knew of them, too. At least the information on the datachip would give him some better support in his arguments.
Turning on the water and adding some of the scented bath foam, Luke felt repulsed at how quickly he began to doubt some of what he believed in. But if what Palpatine had said about the Old Republic was correct, then was what the Alliance wanted really the best thing for the galaxy? He honestly wasn't sure anymore. Shaking his head he tried to push those disloyal thoughts out of his mind. Even if that form of government had such big shortcomings, it was definitely better than the Empire. Besides, no government was flawless. But what about the similarities between himself and Vader that the Emperor had listed? For all he knew, Palpatine could have simply made all that up on the spot to drive his point home. There was, however, the possibility that it was the truth. . .
Luke sighed before he stripped and climbed into the bath, feeling his muscles relax as he did so. Simply because he and Vader may have some things in common didn't mean anything. It was one's personality and decisions that made people who they were, not how similar they are to one another.
Palpatine smiled the smile of a proud and possessive craftsman overlooking his ultimate masterpiece as he overlooked his personal gardens and the rich district of Coruscant. Hearing the soft rustle of fabric behind him and sensing the boy's presence, he turned around. "Had a pleasant night?" he asked, knowing that the child hadn't from the panicked and distressed Force tremors Luke had sent out while trapped in the clutches of his nightmare.
"Yes," Luke lied, not intending to let the other know how much yesterday's conversation had effected him.
"You lie," Palpatine stated bluntly, deciding to start displaying his superior Force talents so that the young Rebel got used to his power.
Flinching, Luke wondered how the older man knew. Was he that easy to read, or was Palpatine using the Force? Wishing he had had more Jedi training and trying to hide his uncertainty, he looked at the wrought iron table containing a delicate, porcelain teapot, two cups, and silver spoons and plates. Next to the table were two chairs which were also iron, but which held soft cushions. Now he knew why his lunch, despite being exotic, had been extremely small compared to the breakfast he had gotten.
"Come, sit," Palpatine offered, following his guest's gaze as he too sat down. As soon as the child had done so, he motioned for the servants to pour the tea and to get the food. "Have you considered my offer?"
"No," Luke replied before he took a sip of his drink to taste it as he was unfamiliar with it. "I haven't and won't consider it."
"I suspected, even hoped for, as much," the Emperor declared, smiling paternally at the other's startled glance. "If you were to join me after only what I told you yesterday, then you would very easily be persuaded to turn against me. What is your price?"
"My what?" Luke questioned, confused.
"Your price," Palpatine reiterated as the servants brought out various biscuits and cakes on silver platters. "What is it that you want? What will it take to get you to join me?"
"What will it take to buy me, you mean," Luke retorted as he took one of the biscuits. "I'm not going to join you and you can't buy me."
"So sure you are," Palpatine sneered as he looked out at the beautiful vista before him. "But is there nothing you want? After all, you spent your early life in near poverty on some backwater planet and then you joined the Alliance which doesn't have enough money to give its members anything but the bare minimum salary."
"I didn't become a Rebel to get rich," Luke explained. "I joined the Alliance because I believed, and still do belief, in what they stand for."
"I see," Palpatine said thoughtfully. "But everyone has a price, and I never said it had to be credits," he continued before he ate a little of one of the cakes, regarding the boy carefully as he did so. "It can be anything you desire. Absolutely anything."
"Anything?" Luke repeated, stunned and not quite believing it. "What if I wanted a whole sector?"
"You would get it," the Emperor stated and laughed gleefully at the boy's astonished and unbelieving expression. "Perhaps this will show you how much I want you."
"It does," Luke confirmed, even as he felt disgusted at how the Imperial ruler would give away whole systems to people he knew didn't have any political knowledge or background. No wonder there were so many corrupt Imperial officials out there. "But this simply makes me more determined not to do as you want as it would be a major advantage for the Alliance. Even if you have me killed as a result."
"But what about you?" Palpatine pressed on relentlessly. "I'm sure you don't want to die. And what about your wishes? What is your price? Money, power, influence, land, prestige, women?"
"No!" Luke exclaimed violently, both horrified and disgusted by the last option.
"And you claim that you aren't like Darth Vader," Palpatine laughed, having felt the strong emotions that had been provoked by the last suggestion, not by the ones before. "He is also a man who believes in having one woman."
"I would never have guessed," Luke commented sarcastically at the Emperor's continued comparison of him to the Dark Lord of the Sith.
"But what of the other options?" Palpatine inquired, already knowing the answer. "You have never had much control over your life. On Tatooine you were forced to work and now, in the Alliance, you need to fly. Don't you want power? Power to decide what to do instead of needing to follow orders, being near the bottom of the chain of command?"
"I'd still be under your command, and Vader's," Luke countered. "That would be much the same, and no doubt worse."
"How about knowledge than?" the Emperor offered as a servant refilled his cup. The fact that Vader's son was giving such logical and well thought out answers meant that he was at least considering the offers, which was definitely something. While not being enough to make him turn, they would influence him later on as they showed how much he could get. "There is, after all, no one else left, other than Vader, from whom you can learn to use your Force abilities."
"There might be," Luke replied softly, caught off guard by the tempting offer thrown his way.
"Then why haven't they come forward yet?" Palpatine questioned. "It has been nearly three years since Kenobi's death and yet no Jedi has approached you."
Biting his lower lip, Luke looked away from the ancient man. What he said made sense. Why would the Jedi wait so long if there was still one out there? The faster he was trained, the faster the Alliance would go after the Emperor and help destroy the Empire. The only logical explanation he could think of for this wait was that the Jedi didn't know of his existence, in which case he wouldn't be trained either. And here the Emperor was giving him a chance at fulfilling the goal, the dream, he had thought lost to him forever for nearly three years. When he had learned what he knew of the Force now, it was as if he had suddenly removed a blindfold from his senses that he hadn't even known was there. Everything had become so much clearer. What would it be like if he was able to use all his powers? But did he really want to be taught by the Emperor? The mere thought of what he would have to do to get that training and to then be. . . be possessed by the ruler nearly made him blanch.
"Maybe so," Luke admitted aloud. "But I want to be a Jedi, to use the Light Side of the Force. Not the Dark Side like Vader."
"But what is the Light Side? Or the Dark Side, for that matter?" Palpatine prodded, knowing that the child didn't have a clue.
"One is Good and the other Evil."
"What is Good and Evil?" Palpatine pressed, enjoying the frustration that washed off of young Skywalker. The lad wasn't used to such philosophical discussions and it showed. "They are nothing but labels our mind gives to actions, intentions, or ideas based upon our teachings, beliefs, and morals. You have called upon the Dark Side before."
"No, I haven't!" Luke denied viciously, trying to sort out all the older man was sending his way. Despite his best efforts, the whole conversation was making his head swim. He had never been trained in politics or to handle such situations and thus he was having a hard time stating his beliefs in such a way that the former senator didn't totally mow them down. The fact that Palpatine had made some valid points and poked logical holes in his beliefs didn't help much either. He was slowly crumbling under the other's brilliantly planned assault, and he had the feeling that the Emperor was saving his best weapon for last.
"You did, yesterday during our lunch," Palpatine countered with a predatory smile. "I felt it."
"No, I--" Luke began.
"How would you know if you did or didn't do it?" the Emperor snapped impatiently. "You don't even have the slightest clue as to what the Dark Side is."
Luke opened his mouth to respond but then reluctantly closed it as he realized that the Imperial ruler was correct and had won yet another point. Turning his attention back to his tea and food, he knew that while the older man might have won one of their verbal duels, that didn't mean he was any closer to accomplishing his goals. He wouldn't betray Leia, Han, Chewie or his other friends. The Emperor could offer him whatever he wished. There was nothing out there that would cause him to turn his back on his friends. "My response is still no," he finally broke the silence after he had finished his tea. "Your negotiations have failed, Your Highness."
"I wouldn't say that just yet," the Sith Master stated. "But I shall let you think about my offer for a while. Perhaps with some time alone you will see the value of what you so casually cast aside."
"Don't count on it," Luke retorted as he got to his feet.
"I shall see you tomorrow morning," the Emperor simply replied, dismissing him.
Entering the throne room, Darth Vader knew that his mentor wanted to train Luke nearly as much as he did. Otherwise the galactic ruler wouldn't be awake at this hour. "Master," he said as he knelt, anxious to get to his son, but he knew better than to display his feelings. "Did you get the information I sent you?"
"I did," Palpatine confirmed. "But neither of us is here to discuss your mission."
"Yes Master," Vader confirmed, deciding to push ahead now the topic had been brought up. "Has he changed his mind?"
"No, but it won't take much more," Palpatine stated confidently. "The boy is already thinking about what we've discussed. Yet I thought it best to wait until you had arrived before offering him his price. At the moment he still doesn't realize that everyone does have a one. Sometimes it simply isn't as obvious as to just what that price is and one must look harder for it."
"Which will give us the advantage," Vader concluded.
"Indeed," Palpatine agreed. "Tomorrow I shall commence with young Skywalker as I have done twice already, so that he won't suspect anything. Then, when the time is ripe, I shall call you and you can make your appearance."
"As you wish," Vader replied, eagerly awaiting that moment of truth in which he would reclaim the son Obi-Wan had stolen from him twenty-three years ago.
"It won't be long now, my friend," Palpatine predicted. "Soon young Skywalker will be one of us and we'll be able to rid ourselves of this pesky rebellion once and for all."
Luke wrinkled his nose in disgust as he Threw down the datapad with the Imperial law and history. Yesterday evening he had started it, but he had been unable to finish it. All the history was so twisted from that which he had been taught by Aunt Beru that it made him sick. Thinking back to his aunt and uncle, he felt his anger grow. Just how Palpatine expected him to drop all he stood for, all he was, and join the Empire after all the pain it had caused him so far; he didn't know. Although, he had to admit, that he was more than a little tempted to take the offer to learn more about the Force, the price was simply too high. He would have to give up too much, not to mention that he would be joining the killers of his aunt, uncle, mentor, father, and best friend. Still that didn't prevent him from wishing for more training.
As Luke leaned back in the armchair, he looked out of the window at the beautiful panorama before him. All the buildings had different colored lights coming from various windows and there were hovercars, spaceships, and other vehicles of every description weaving their way between the buildings. Even at night the city was still hustling with activity. Watching the ships, he wished he were out there, flying a ship of his own. After his uncle had bought C-3PO and R2-D2 things had transpired so quickly that he had hardly had a quiet moment to himself until after the Alliance had moved its base away from Yavin IV. Then he had thought matters over and had decided to accept the position the Rebels offered him, as he wanted to be a part of the Alliance. Thus the doubts and questions the Emperor had managed to raise, troubled him greatly. Never before had he ever bothered to waste time pondering whether or not the Alliance could win the war, or whether what they were doing was right. Things like that and the belief that Mon Mothma, Leia, and the other members of the Alliance High Command would set up the best form of government possible when they won the war were ideas he had always taken for granted. So why was he doubting those things now? Palpatine could well be lying to him.
As he thought about it, Luke realized that it was not a matter of whether or not he believed that what the Emperor was saying was the truth, but simply that Palpatine's insistent questioning of his beliefs were causing him to go over and scrutinize them instead of assuming things. He was looking for the foundations of his way of thinking, so that he could build better arguments to Palpatine's statements, and he was discovering that he took a lot of things for granted. Sighing in frustration, he tried to push all thoughts from his mind. This wasn't his field. He was a pilot, a warrior, not a politician.
Vader walked through the halls of the Imperial Palace, approaching the chambers his son had been given. After having talked with the Emperor he had been forced to wait before coming here as Luke had still been awake at the time and he couldn't see the boy then. His reaction to him on Vilso had been proof of what he had assumed; namely that Kenobi had poisoned his child's mind. Who knew what the boy had been told about him? Nearing Luke's quarters, he reached out and cast a sleep net on the boy so that he wouldn't wake up. As he did so he caught the nightmares that were already beginning to invade Luke's sleep.
Walking past the guards, Vader entered the sitting room. Spotting the child asleep in the armchair, he paused. Clearly the boy hadn't expected to go to sleep this evening. The nightmare he had felt was more than likely the reason for it. Approaching his son, he strengthened the sleep net before reaching down and carefully lifting Luke out of the chair. Effortlessly, he carried the boy to his bedroom where he used the Force to pull back the sheets so that he could lay the boy on his bed. Then he pulled off the boy's boots and belt before covering him with the sheets.
Sitting down on the bed, Vader took the time to seriously study his son. On Vilso he hadn't had the time to do so with all the stormtroopers nearby, and after that, Luke had been in the medical center where the doctors could easily take care of him and give him his nutrient shots when he needed them. He had had holos of the boy before, taken from the surveillance holocameras from the Death Star before it had been destroyed, but that wasn't the same. The boy's features, piloting skills, and Force sensitivity were clearly his while the boy's build and height were clearly Amidala's. And, from what Palpatine had said, he had her stubbornness as well. Hopefully, he didn't possess too many of her other traits or there could be trouble. After all, she had gotten into far more trouble than she could handle at the end. . .
Vader shook his head, dismissing all thoughts of his late wife. Looking down at his son once more he couldn't help but notice how fragile Luke seemed in sleep. Fragile and innocent. He hadn't encountered such innocence in a long time. Ironic that it should confront him in his own son. His son, the one responsible for the death of two million Imperials and the loss of a formidable, if horrific, weapon. Already the child had fought in many battles and killed more than most ever would, yet a veil of innocence hung around him like a cloak. Strange, but he knew it wouldn't last long once his training began.
What amazed Vader most, however, was the fact that this. . . child really, would be the turning point in the war. It was he who had started off the Alliance's success period when he destroyed the Death Star, and it would be he who began the Rebellion's demise. The fact that his son played such a critical role on the course of the war, only proved his power and importance. There was no doubt in his mind that, if trained, his boy would be a formidable foe even for him. There had been no Jedi in the Old Republic who possessed the potential his child did. Indeed, it was a trait inherited from his own exceptionally high Force abilities. With his son at his side, he would be able to destroy the insurrection in no time. Then he would be able to install the reforms he had always wanted to do.
Stroking back a lock of Luke's hair, Vader smiled behind his mask. "Soon, my son," he whispered. "Soon we will be together and then we can help the Emperor put down this destructive conflict and shape the galaxy into what it should be."
Gradually awakening, Luke rolled over as his sleep-fogged brain slowly realized that the light on his face was that of the sun. He was just about to go back to sleep when he remembered where he was. As he did so he stiffened and bolted into a sitting position, trying to recall when he had gone to bed. Unable to call forth the memory, he pushed back the sheets and saw that he was still in his clothes from yesterday. Never before had he gone to bed without changing first. This, combined with the fact that he couldn't remember going to bed in the first place, caused him to worry. Just who had been in his room last night and why had they carried him to his bed? And why hadn't he woken when they had done so? Had he been drugged again? If so, what day was it? For all he knew several days could have passed since he had had tea with the Emperor. But then, Palpatine had said that he would see him the next day, hadn't he?
Calming his racing mind, Luke got out of bed and decided that he might as well get ready, as he doubted that his mystery guest had left behind any clues as to his identity. The Imperials had been too careful up till this point to make such a stupid mistake. It was clear from the fact that he had only been visited after he had gone to sleep and the fact that he hadn't woken up that the person who had come didn't want to be identified.
Luke changed clothes and ate the breakfast he found waiting for him in the sitting room, before he tried to prepare himself for the upcoming confrontation with Palpatine. He wondered just how long the ruler would keep up these 'negotiations' as he called them. There had to be a limit to how far he would go. The Emperor had an Empire to run and a war to fight and he knew that he couldn't be worth that much to take away a lot of Palpatine's time. All he had to do was keep him at bay and pretend that the other's arguments weren't reaching him in the least and he would wear the other down. During that time, he would look for a way to escape. Sooner or later a mistake in security would be made and he would be waiting for it.
He jumped to his feet upon hearing the door open behind him, and he silently followed the two Royal Guards as they motioned him out of the room just like they had the last two times. Quietly, they made their way to the secret passage and entered the Emperor's chambers. This time their destination was a large sitting room with many plush seats and couches.
"What? No food this time?" Luke quipped sarcastically when he saw the Emperor sitting in one of the chairs before a table that was bare save for a magnificent flower piece.
"No," Palpatine simply replied as he watched the boy sit down without being told to do so. He would learn respect later, but now there were more important things to be discussed. "Have you thought about my offers?"
"Yes," Luke admitted. "But my answer remains the same. No. I will not join the Empire. You might as well save your breath and stop asking me."
"Hmmm," Palpatine said thoughtfully as he leaned back in his chair. "Still you do not understand. I am not one to quit when things get difficult. Indeed, I enjoy a challenge from time to time, but in the end the results are always the same. I get what I want."
"How boring," Luke stated. "What's a challenge if you know you will win?"
"Seeing how quickly I am able to defeat or overwhelm my opponent, how quickly I can get that which I want," Palpatine explained. "I know that there is something you want that I have. It is only a matter of figuring out what."
"Very well," Luke stated. "Why don't you tell me when you've uncovered what it is. It'll be news to me."
"In the meantime, why don't you tell me why you hate the Empire so?" Palpatine suggested even as he motioned for all the guards to leave the room. He couldn't have them present when he told the boy of his relationship to the Dark Lord. They may be loyal, but the fewer who know the truth until he officially declared it when the boy had finished his training, the better.
"It's Evil," Luke declared, suspiciously watching the ancient man as the guards left. Something was up, he simply didn't know what. "You kill innocents and rule by terror and force."
"I've heard all that from you before," Palpatine informed him, steering the conversation in the direction he needed it to go. "But you seem to hate it with a passion. I can feel the anger and hate flowing through you now. Why? I would expect there to be some defining situations that led to these strong emotions."
"The destruction of Alderaan for one," Luke said even as images of his burned home and the scorched remains of his aunt and uncle came flashing back across his memory like lightning, accompanied by the memory of Ben telling him that it was Vader who had betrayed and murdered his father.
"And because of that you won't join me?" Palpatine demanded, seeing that the boy wasn't going to go any further. "I can give you a planet to control any way you like. You could create a New Alderaan should you wish to do so."
"No," Luke snapped as his anger rose. "You want to know why I won't join you? Your Empire is responsible for the death of my family. You killed those whom I held dear, those who raised me. You murdered my family, my blood."
"Ah, so that is it," Palpatine returned with a smile even as he called for his apprentice. Instantly, one of the doors behind young Skywalker opened soundlessly and Vader entered the room. The child was so wound up by now, that it was a small feat to make sure that he didn't hear the mechanical sound of the Dark Lord's respirator. "Your family. So you are the reckless boy who sets out on the idealistic quest to avenge the deaths of those he loved. How pathetic."
Glaring at the Emperor, Luke forced himself not to jump to his feet and strangle the old man in his seat. There was no doubt in his mind that the man was more dangerous than he seemed, and he wouldn't let the guards leave the room if he didn't have some method of protecting himself. He wouldn't be alive now if he was that stupid. There were too many people who wanted him dead for that to be possible.
"No comment?" Palpatine inquired with a cruel smile, looking at the Dark Lord as he did so. 'So he believes Kenobi's half brother and the man's wife to be his relatives.'
'If I had known all this, I never would have given the Jedi such a clean death,' Vader raged, trying to get a handle on his temper as he knew that now wasn't the time for it. If things didn't go smoothly now, all could be lost. They didn't know the details of what Obi-Wan had told his son about him.
"I have figured out what your price is," Palpatine suddenly declared.
"So quickly?" Luke questioned, surprised. "Why don't you enlighten me then?"
"Family," Palpatine stated firmly. "Family related reasons are what drove you to the Alliance. That is then your price."
"Oh, and what are you going to do? Resurrect my dead aunt and uncle? Or perhaps my dead parents?" Luke demanded sarcastically even as pain twisted within him at the thought of Owen and Beru and how he had always longed for a father. "I doubt that you can do that."
"I don't need to do it," Palpatine calmly replied, smiling at the emotions the child felt. With a little manipulation, this would go perfectly. "You see, whoever told you that your father is dead, lied to you. Your father is very much alive."
"What?" Luke exclaimed, impossible hope flaring to life within him before he tried to regain some form of control over his facial expression. But he couldn't control the hope and joy lurking in the depths of his ice-blue eyes.
"Your father lives, and is working for the Empire, I might add," Palpatine informed the young pilot. "Your mother also helped me in creating the Empire."
"No! I don't believe you!" Luke raged as he got to his feet, glaring down at the other man, as he felt his hopes die painfully. For a fleeting moment, he had actually believed the man, believed that he might be able to be held by his father, to be taught by him, and to simply be with him. All that vanished now, replaced with an empty void. "You lie. You're only saying this because you want me to join you! My father is dead, betrayed and murdered by Darth Vader years ago. And my mother would never have helped you!"
'That explains the anger and hatred for you,' Palpatine commented as he felt his servant brittle at his son's words. 'Betrayal and murder, the perfect combination to ensure his hatred for you so that he would destroy you.'
'Far too clean a death,' Vader simply muttered as he observed his child and how he eagerly kept his flame of Dark emotions burning bright, fueling it with more and more anger and hatred. How instinctively one used the Dark Side if not told what it was.
"Vader would never hurt your father, young Skywalker," Palpatine told the angry youth when he finished laughing at his words. "What I tell you is no lie, and I will prove it to you," he continued as he pulled out a special datapad and two new syringes. "Here, DNA will tell you that I speak the truth. Put a sample of your own blood into the datapad and we will have your father do that same. Then you can ask the computer to analyze both samples. You will find that the similarities are that of a parent-child relationship."
Luke stood frozen in place, looking from the Emperor to the two syringes and the datapad he held in his hands. His emotions were torn. He desperately wanted his father to be alive so that he could be with him and do all that he had dreamt and wished of doing with the man. But he didn't want what the Emperor said to be true. He didn't want him to be an Imperial, to be working for the Empire and everything that he had fought so hard to destroy. But what if it was true? What if his father WAS an Imperial and always had been since the rise of the Empire? And what if his mother had also supported it and worked for it, as Palpatine had said? Was he really trying to undo all that his parents had worked hard to create? But the Empire was so Evil! Yet here the Imperial ruler was offering to prove that which he said.
"M. . . my father's alive?" Luke stuttered, unsure of what to do now. He had always believed that his father would have supported him in his fight against the Empire as he had believed it was the right thing to do. But if his father worked for the Empire then. . . he suddenly wasn't so sure of anything anymore. How could he continue fighting for the Alliance if he knew that his father was alive and on the side he was shooting at? Knowing that every Imperial he killed might be the man who had sired him? The man who had given him life?
"Yes," Palpatine confirmed softly, knowing from the turmoil in the other's mind that everything was going according to his plan.
"Vader would never hurt my father?" Luke repeated what he had been told knowing that if this last was true that his father was high up in the Empire and thus immensely invested in it. Would he even want his Rebel son? Although his father might be all that he hated, all that he stood against, rejection would still kill him emotionally. He had spent too long longing and wishing for the man for it to do anything else. No wonder Owen had always ordered him to quit daydreaming. Owen, had he known? Had Beru known, or Ben? But why had they all lied to him if they knew? Didn't they want him to know of or be with his father? The thought hurt, but it was the only explanation if they had known. Absently, he understood the Emperor's comment of learning his identity by changing his name. No doubt he meant when he took on the name his father now used as it definitely wasn't Skywalker, or he would have heard of it by now. Was Skywalker even a real name with some family meaning? Or had they simply given him that name?
"Never," Palpatine responded with extra emphasize. "You see, Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, IS your father."
"WHAT!" Luke exclaimed in total disbelief. "No. You lie, this is all a lie!"
"No, it isn't," Vader declared as he stepped forward and placed both his hands on his son's shoulders.
Luke jumped, yelping with surprise, and twisted around to face the unknown presence behind him. When he saw who it was, his eyes widened in shock as he instinctively back-pedaled, falling to the floor as his foot connected with the edge of the low marble table. Letting out a small cry of pain, he remained where he was, his mind frozen with the implications of what the two men were saying. Darth Vader, his father. Could it be true? Could he actually be the son of the Sith Lord? Of the second most powerful and wealthy man in the galaxy? Of a figure that represented terror? Of the man whom he'd seen as his greatest enemy? The man who had killed Ben? Ben, he had said that Vader had killed his father, was that true? Or had Ben been lying to him? Shaking his head he wasn't sure who to believe anymore.
"You lie," Luke reiterated, not wanting it to be true for all the implications it carried with it.
"I'm not, and I can prove it," Vader stated as he called the two syringes to his hand and offered one to his son. When the boy refused to take it, he put one on the corner of the table, well within the child's reach, before he injected the second one into his skin by piercing his padded arm. As he let it fill with his life liquid, he could sense his son's eyes on him, watching his every move. Using the Force, he called the datapad to him hand, knowing that the casual use of his power would both show his power and display what Luke would later be able to do when properly trained. He put his blood into one of the four outlets before putting the datapad on the table next to the syringe and taking a step back.
As Luke looked from the masked warrior to the Emperor, he felt a coldness blanket his heart. This was the moment of truth, the moment where he learned whether or not his father was still alive. All his life he had imagined what it would be like if his father was alive, what it would mean to be reunited with him, but none of the various scenarios he'd come up with had been even remotely like this. Shakily sitting up, he looked at both men once more before taking the syringe in his hand and studying it. Closing his eyes briefly, he pushed aside all thoughts before plunging the needle into his arm and drawing a sample of blood. Following the Dark Lord's example he then put it into one of the datapad's outlets.
Upon seeing the boy's questioning glance, Vader realized that Luke didn't know how to operate the DNA analysis program. Stepping forward, he knelt next to his son and placed one hand on his shoulder, ignoring how the child flinched. "First, the computer needs to look at both samples of blood," he explained as he used his second hand to press a series of buttons on the datapad. "Then, you open a new program and input both sets of data. Now all you have to do is ask it to compare the two," he continued as he indicated what button the boy was to press to do this.
Luke looked into the scull-like mask and hesitated. He couldn't make up his mind on what he wanted the datapad to find. Did he want Vader to be his father? Would he rather have his father be dead than him be the Dark Lord? He was torn as his sense of right and wrong completely contradicted all that he knew he would probably do if the Sith Lord was his father. He suddenly had the impression that this was the reason Obi-Wan had lied to him, so that he wouldn't have to decide between what he had been taught was right and his family. But the old man had had no right to make such important decisions for him! It was his life!
As he looked towards Palpatine, Luke wondered if the Emperor had known of his relationship to the Dark Lord from the beginning. It would definitely explain his treatment and the fact that he hadn't been instantly killed upon capture or publicly executed. But why had they waited to inform him of this? Why those long and ultimately useless talks? Had the Emperor been testing him in a way, seeing just what kind of a person he was? If so, why hadn't his Vader been placed in charge of that? Thinking about it, he realized that his reaction had probably been the deciding factor behind that decision.
Turning his attention to the datapad, Luke pressed the button and waited while the small computer compared the two sets of blood. It seemed to take forever before it completed the task and displayed the results. Looking at the screen, he felt no emotion whatsoever as he took in the words 'parent-child relationship.' It wasn't until Vader squeezed his shoulder that he sagged back, defeated. "It was you last night, wasn't it?" was all he could say as he looked up at his father. "You were in my room."
"Yes," Vader confirmed with a nod.
"You see," Palpatine began and waited until he had the attention of both father and son. "Everyone has a price. It is simply a matter of finding it."
Luke opened his mouth to respond, rebelling at the thought of joining the Empire and that the Emperor had been correct, but found that no words would come out. Deep down he knew that he could not continue fighting for the Alliance, knowing that he was combating his father and all the man had worked to build. He didn't know all that much about the Dark Lord, but he did know that the man had been at the Emperor's side, helping to create the Empire since nearly the beginning.
"Mother was for the Empire as well?" Luke inquired softly.
"She got me the position of Chancellor of the Old Republic from where I could lay the foundations of the Empire," Palpatine replied, knowing that it was far too early to tell the boy of Amidala's opinion of his New Order. "It was Kenobi who took you from your parents and hid you on Tatooine. He kidnapped you to use for his own goals."
Hearing this and seeing his father's confirming nod when he glanced at him, Luke felt as if the weight of the galaxy had settled over him. Everything he had ever been told about his family and the Empire had been a lie. They had been deceiving him so that he would do what they wanted him to do. Briefly he wondered whether his uncle and aunt had known about this, but then realized that they must have as they had told him his father was dead and had been a navigator. Not to mention the fact that Owen had always punished him whenever he tried to learn more about the man that had sired him. They must have known the truth. They had purposefully helped in keeping him from his father.
"Luke," Vader said, feeling the turmoil within his son. "I never even knew of your existence until the whole Death Star incident. Ever since then I have been looking for you. I want you, Son. We've already been deprived of over two decades together. Join me, and Palpatine, and we can be together. The Rebellion is only causing poverty and misery throughout the galaxy. Let us end this destructive conflict and work on bringing order."
Wishing that he could see his father's face, Luke was forced to study his mask instead. He was surprised at the sincerity he heard in the other's voice. From the works the Dark Lord did, according to what the Emperor had said, his father did want to help the people. Even if his methods of doing so were radically different from his own. Although, he had to admit, some of the older man's goals were the same as his. But what choice did he even have? He couldn't fight his father, the man who had given him life. After all his dreaming and wishing, he couldn't make himself simply walk away from him, not when the man was offering him a place at his side. Technically his decision had been made the moment he had read the result of the DNA test.
"I. . . I will," Luke declared softly and was startled when he was swept into the Dark Lord's arms. Realizing what was happening, he relaxed and returned the hug.
Palpatine watched father and son embrace and nodded his head in satisfaction. In getting young Skywalker to change sides he had solved two problems at once. He had eliminated the threat the boy could have become if he had managed to develop his powers and use them for the advancement of the Alliance's cause. But he had also solved the problem that had been beginning to affect his servant. Although Vader had been fully behind the Imperial cause, the fact that the order and peace he had promised him hadn't occurred had resulted in the dimming of the stamina that used to drive him. He had seen this problem occurring a while ago and had attempted to halt the further deterioration, but had been unable to find something that would even slow it down. Now, however, he could see that fire being rekindled before his eyes by the new hopes the boy brought with him. He would have to be careful to make sure that Vader got to do enough of his reforms so that he wouldn't let himself burn out again.
But that was for the future. Palpatine knew that he would first have to put in the time and effort needed to train young Skywalker before the boy would start to be the asset that he knew he would be. But at least the trickiest part of all was already taken care of. Luke Skywalker was now his.
Finished: August 2000