A high-pitched roar startled Biggs out of his reverie, and he looked up in time to see half a dozen landspeeders shriek across the desert not fifty meters from him, dust flaring in their wake. Each one contained four or five men, blasters out, faces grim. A regal-looking white-robed woman rode in the passenger seat of the lead speeder, a determined expression on her face.
Biggs dropped the length of wire he'd been scratching at the dirt with and ran forward for a closer look. This looked like a far more promising way to avoid cleaning the vaporators!
He assumed the fleet of speeders would pass on by without slowing. After all, at the speed they were going, they had to be pursuing or fleeing something, and time would be of the essence. But inexplicably, the vehicles buzzed to a halt, and the woman in the white dress beckoned Biggs with a slim hand.
Puzzled, he stepped closer, peering curiously into the vehicle. Stretched out on the back seat was a weird midget of an alien with green skin, enormous ears, and soot-stained robes. Was the thing dead? Or hurt? It was hard to tell.
"Hello, young man," she greeted him. "Can you help us?"
"Depends on the help," he replied.
"Have you seen a group of men on two dewbacks passing by?"
She scowled slightly, then waved him away. "Thank you for your time."
He watched the speeders roar off. Weird. Who was she anyhow?
He was about to go back to work on the vaporator when another speeder pulled up. This one contained a much odder collection of creatures – a man in red robes and armor, a boy only a few years older than Biggs, a Wookie… and Boba Fett? He couldn't suppress a gape as he approached the speeder. The galaxy's best bounty hunter was here?
"Hey there!" the man in red shouted. "Which way to the Lars homestead?"
Biggs frowned. "Why do you want to know?"
"We don't have time for questions," snarled Fett.
The Wookie huffed warningly at the hunter, who glowered back.
"You know Luke Skywalker?" asked the man in red.
"Yeah, we're best friends," Biggs replied. "Why?"
"Do you know about his father?"
"There's a woman named Mothma," the man explained. "She wants to see Vader dead or worse. She and her men are after Vader, and we have to stop her."
Biggs felt his mouth go dry. "Um… did this lady have red hair? And white clothes?"
"Yes. You've seen her?"
"She just went that way!" Biggs exclaimed, thrusting an arm in the direction the speeders had gone. "Her and a whole bunch of creeps with guns!"
The boy kicked open the speeder door. "Get in, kid. We've got a crazy woman to catch."
Biggs hopped in between the Wookie and Fett, and they shrieked across the desert.
The homestead was nearly in sight when a blaster bolt tore the hard earth to Rocky's left, making him veer hard in the opposite direction. More bolts peppered the cracked ground, and the dewbacks bellowed their displeasure and pranced frantically to avoid the energy blasts.
"Stang it all, they've caught up with us," snarled Owen, bringing Sandy to a halt.
"Owen, Bail, go on ahead with Luke and Tarkin," Vader ordered, leaping from Rocky's back. "Obi-wan and I will handle this."
"That's just what she wants!" Bail countered. "We're staying."
"Dad, I'm not leaving you," Luke said forcefully. "Please don't send me away."
The speeders circled them, cutting off any possible escape. Mothma carefully exited her vehicle and addressed the men with a perfect calmness.
"For the last time, hand over Darth Vader," she ordered.
"And for the last time, I die before surrendering myself to you," Vader replied coolly. "I refuse to abandon my son again."
Her gaze moved to the boy, then back to Vader. "Whether you are a father or not, Vader, the fact remains that you have committed horrible crimes. You have proven yourself time and again to be a danger, not only to your enemies, but to your allies. I do not trust you. No one sane SHOULD trust you."
"I trust him," Luke interrupted. "And I'm plenty sane."
She ignored him. "I vowed long ago to make this galaxy safe again, Vader. I will do all in my power to ensure it remains that way."
"Interesting," Vader replied. "This coming from the woman who allowed a Jedi ally to wound my son and served as an accomplice to the destruction of the Anchorhead med center. It would seem that you are as much a danger to the galaxy as you accuse me of being."
"Those were unintentional…"
"Do you honestly think I intended to become a monster? I admit, I have blood on my hands – innocent blood, even the blood of children. That knowledge will haunt me for the rest of my life. But I am repentant. I seek no more bloodshed… except that necessary to protect my son." He felt his mouth twist in a grim smile. "A threat to Luke would be the only reason for me to shed blood now."
Mothma clearly understood the implied warning, but that didn't deter her. "We sought no harm against your son. We only wished…"
"To destroy me. You have made that abundantly clear. You will not rest until I have been eliminated." He nodded understandingly. "Your motive is no longer the safety of the galaxy, but revenge. A motive I know all too well."
She flushed as red as her hair. "This is not about revenge…"
"Then why go to so much trouble to see a repentant man dead? Why stoop so low as to allow the Empire to take lives in the hope that my life will be among them? Why waste time here when your energies can be better spent in other areas of the galaxy, aiding the oppressed and war-torn there?" He shook his head. "I pity you, Mothma. You may hate me, but all I feel for you is grief."
She did not reply, only glared.
"Can we pass by now?" asked Owen. "My wife'll be worried sick."
"Let them pass, Mothma," a rough, familiar voice urged. "Seek further harm we will not."
Mothma whirled as Yoda emerged from the speeder, limping badly but still gamely keeping his usual pace. He strode forward until he was face to face (or rather, face to knee) with Vader and gave him a penetrating stare.
"Anakin," he said quietly, "owe you an apology I do."
He might as well have punched Vader in the stomach. "What?"
"For failing you," he replied. "A gifted student you were. A great Jedi you could have become. But failed you the Order did. Share some blame you do, and share blame the Emperor did as well… but for our part in your fall, my apologies I offer."
Mothma gaped at the diminutive Jedi Master, an expression Vader knew was mirrored on his own face. Was this the same Master he had dueled just last night?
"Go in peace, Anakin. Seek more harm upon you the Order will not."
"Master Yoda, you can't just…" began Mothma.
"Vengeance, anger, hatred, the dark side are they," Yoda told her firmly. "Hate this man I shall not. Chose to forgive him I did. Do the same I suggest you do."
Vader stared, dumbstruck. For Master Yoda to admit wrongdoing, to seek apology, was too incredible for him to absorb immediately.
"Let's end this, Mothma," Bail suggested. "Enough lives have been lost. Let's leave the man alone."
But Mothma's eyes flashed, and Vader realized that she was in far too deeply to let go now. She had lost face and credibility before her men, she had been responsible for the loss of innocent lives… and she had to justify that loss somehow.
"You have exactly ten seconds to surrender, Lord Vader, or I order my men to open fire upon you and your friends," she ordered harshly. "One… two…"
A blaster bolt seared through the air and hit the speeder just behind Mothma. Stunned, she fell to the ground to dodge the blast, and the gathered rebels opened fire at the intruder. Vader took advantage of the distraction to grab Rocky's reins and haul himself aboard, and both dewbacks broke into a frenzied gallop.
"What the stang was that?" demanded Owen.
Vader craned his neck about. A lone speeder had plowed into the midst of Mothma and her men, its occupants firing for all they were worth. He recognized Zevul, Chewbacca, Han, and Fett, Mothma's former underlings… but who was the boy among them…
"Biggs!" screamed Luke. "We've gotta go back!"
"We can't go back," Bail told him. "They'll kill your father, and possibly the rest of us as well."
"We have to help Biggs!"
Vader jerked Rocky's reins, turning him around.
"Vader, what are you doing?" demanded Owen.
"Rescuing Luke's friend," he replied, kicking Rocky into a run.
The boy was fighting gamely alongside his more experienced compatriots, but his inexperience with a blaster was making him as much a danger to himself as to his enemies. Vader brought the dewback to a halt beside the speeder, saber out to deflect blaster fire even as he grabbed Biggs by the back of his shirt and hauled him across the dewback's shoulders. Biggs struggled only for a moment before he realized who had him, then dropped the blaster and clung tightly to the saddle.
"Lord Vader, get out of here!" shouted Zevul. "We can take care of… AUUGHH!"
Rocky backed away with a dismayed bellow as Zevul was thrown violently from the speeder and to the sands by a close-range blast. The mercenary who had gunned him down next turned his weapon on Vader, but a swipe of his lightsaber sliced the weapon in two.
A blast struck Vader's arm, shredding the elbow joint, and his fingers spasmed before going limp. His lightsaber fell, useless, to the sands, and before he could retrieve it the now-panicked Rocky stepped on it, crushing it underfoot. He wanted to scream his outrage. Why did no good deed ever go unpunished?
He turned just as Obi-wan flung his own weapon at him. Vader extended his good arm, and the saber smacked into his palm, igniting as he did so. Just in time, for a renewed volley of blaster fire came his way, and it took all his concentration to block the blasts one-handed.
Mothma bent down and picked up Zevul's blaster. She leveled it at Vader's unprotected back.
"Away put your weapon, Mothma…" ordered Yoda.
"You're a fool!" she screamed at him. "You lost everything to this monster! Will you really just stand back and watch him escape?"
Yoda didn't flinch. "Yes. Let him go I shall. Let go of my hatred I shall. And let go you shall to."
"I refuse to let go, Master Yoda. And you cannot stop me."
"Stop you I will not," Yoda acknowledged. "Another's task that is."
Before she could ask what the stang that meant, a small but powerful body smashed into the small of her back. Her shot went wide, hissing past Vader's damaged arm and doing little more than scorch the leather. She hit the ground face-first, her mouth filling with sand, wiry legs astride her, fists pummeling her shoulders and back.
"Don't hurt my father, you witch!" Luke shrieked.
Yoda waited a few moments before reaching out and taking Luke's wrist in his hand. "Let her alone, young Luke. Learned her lesson she has."
Luke glared at him. "Don't make me hit you too! You tried to kill my dad, and I'll never…"
Yoda silenced him with a stern look. "Mothma, order your men to cease fire. Lost the battle you have. Admit it graciously you should."
She raised her head and gave him a sour expression. "Never."
"Over it is," Yoda informed her. "Let go of your hate."
"We will go down fighting," she vowed. "We have sacrificed too much to quit now…"
Yoda sighed. "Do this the hard way we must." He ignited his lightsaber and held it before Mothma's face.
She gave him a look of horror. "You wouldn't…"
"I would not," he confessed. "But know that your men don't." He raised his voice. "Hold your fire!"
It took a few seconds for the order to take effect, but eventually the sounds of pitched battle tapered off.
"Drop your weapons," Yoda ordered, "or strike I do."
Slowly, each soldier dropped his or her weapon and backed away.
"Take Mothma with us we shall," Yoda announced. "Go back to your homeworlds you will. Rethink your lives you will."
A dull expression crossed the face of each and every soldier, and they muttered vague agreements and scattered aimlessly, some returning to the speeders, others simply strolling off.
Luke gaped. "How'd you do that?"
Obi-wan bent down and helped Luke up. "The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded, Luke."
"Wow," he breathed.
"Your father will have to show you that someday," Obi-wan told him with a smile.
Vader turned to stare at his Master. "I thought I would not be permitted to train my son."
Yoda frowned. "Approve of that I do not. Forgive Vader I do, but trust him with the training of a Padawan I do not."
"Simply because you do not approve does not make it wrong," Vader retorted, glaring at Yoda. "I know you considered the old Order to be above reproach, but there are many parts of the Order that desperately need changing before it can be brought back."
Yoda's expression didn't change, but his eyes sparkled amusedly. "If hear you the old Jedi Council could, accused of blasphemy you would be."
"Good," Vader replied, unrepentant. "The old Jed Council could have used some shaking up."
Yoda smiled at last. "Discuss the Order we will at a later date. For now, begin training Luke his father will, with Obi-wan's guidance. Agreeable is that?"
Vader nodded. "Agreeable it is."
Luke whooped and punched the air with his arm, then winced. "Ow! When's this chest thing gonna go away anyhow?"
"Soon enough," Vader told him.
While the Jedi discussed Luke's future, Bail and Owen busied themselves with binding Mothma's hands and feet. Once she was secured, they tossed her onto Sandy's back alongside Tarkin.
"You can't do this!" she cried indignantly.
"I most assuredly can, Mothma," Bail said without remorse. "Your actions have proven you unfit for the office of Senator. You're hereby under arrest. Chandrila will have to elect a new Senator." He turned to Han, Chewie, and Fett. "Thank you for your aid. It is most appreciated."
"Just doing what I was paid to do," Fett growled.
Han kicked aimlessly at the dirt. "What happens now?"
"What do you mean, son?"
"I really don't have anything to go back to on Corusant. Mothma agreed to pay me for my help, but now that she's in custody…"
Bail smiled kindly. "Let it never be said that the Royal House of Alderaan ever turned away someone in need. Perhaps, young man, I can find you employ in my palace as a page or server. It won't be a paying job, as that would be breaking several child labor laws, but you'll have room and board, as well as an opportunity to attend school."
A hopeful expression crossed his face. "Where do I sign up?"
Before Bail could reply, a groan came from the fallen Zevul. Chewbacca growled softly and lifted the man carefully.
"Get him on Rocky's back," Bail ordered. "We'll get him first aid as soon as we reach the homestead."
Owen had known this day would come eventually. It didn't make it any easier, of course, but at least it wasn't a complete shock. As much as he liked to deny it, he had known, on some level, that Luke would someday leave Tatooine, possibly permanently. He just hadn't known it would be in the care of his father, a crazy old wizard, and a senator. Not that it made a lot of difference. In fact, with two Jedi and the Chosen One looking out for his welfare, he would probably be the safest boy in the galaxy.
It had been agreed that, for now, Alderaan was the safest possible place for Luke and Vader to go. Luke would have access to expert medical care until he had fully recovered from his injuries, as well as to some of the best schools in the galaxy. Leia would have a chance to be close to her biological father, and the Order would have a safe refuge until they could take their rightful place in the galaxy once again, hopefully stronger now that they had learned from their past mistakes.
Of course, knowing that this was best for his nephew and stepbrother didn't make letting them go any easier. If anything, knowing they had little choice in the matter only twisted the knife deeper.
Owen embraced the boy as tightly as he dared, careful of his injured chest. "Be careful, Luke."
"I will," Luke vowed. "I'll come back someday. I promise."
"We'll look forward to it."
Luke let go of Owen and hugged his friend. "Say goodbye to the other kids for me," he murmured. "Oh, and take good care of Sandy and Rocky."
"Count on it, Wormie," teased Biggs.
Beru knelt and embraced Luke as well, tears in her eyes. Owen knew she considered Luke to be a son… the child they were never able to have on their own. This was hard on Owen, of course, but Beru's heart must be breaking now.
Vader stepped forward and extended a hand solemnly. "I am indebted to you, Owen, for all you have done for my son and me. I promise to repay you someday, somehow."
"Don't worry about repayment," Owen said dismissively, clasping the hand. "That's what family does, brother. They look after each other."
Vader's head cocked at an amused angle. "This brother business is going to take some getting used to, isn't it?"
Owen chuckled softly. "I'd be honored to call you brother, Anakin Skywalker."
"And I would be honored to call you brother, Owen Lars."
Owen nodded brusquely in the direction of Bail's ship. "You'd better go. The day isn't getting any longer."
"May the Force be with you, Owen."
"You too. Take care of Luke."
Owen watched, wistful, as his stepbrother took Luke's hand and walked slowly toward the waiting space yacht. Part of him longed to go with them, if only to see what adventure lay in store for them beyond Tatooine. But part of him also knew that his fate lay here, in the desert farmlands, while theirs was written in the stars. Their paths went separate ways, and while they might intersect again someday, for now parting was necessary.
"We will return," Obi-wan assured Owen. "Give us some time to get things settled down, then we will come back. Luke needs contact with his family. Even Master Yoda sees that now."
Owen's gaze moved to the ship. "What about the others? You brought back quite the menagerie…"
"Zevul needs medical care, and Tarkin and Mothma will be transported to a detention block as soon as possible," Obi-wan replied. "The boy, Han, is Bail Organa's ward for the time being; we will see if he is beyond any sort of reform. Chewbacca has agreed to take on employment at the Royal House of Alderaan, and Fett…" He shook his head. "He was always his own man. He departed for Ord Mantel the minute we placed Mothma under arrest."
Owen smiled. "Sounds like you have your work cut out for you, Obi-wan."
"It will be worth it."
"May the Force be with you, you crazy old wizard."
"And with you, Owen."
Owen felt very old all of a sudden as the ship rose in the air and shrieked away.
Luke pressed his face to the window, watching Tatooine vanish and the stars become blinding streaks as they penetrated hyperspace. "I wonder when we'll be back."
"You have only been gone for five minutes, Luke," said Vader, placing a hand on his son's shoulder.
"I know." He shrugged. "I just have a funny feeling. Like I'm never going to see this place again. I know it was a dirtball, but… it was home."
Leia took his hand. "We'll all go back someday, Luke. I promise. I'd like to go back someday."
"I wouldn't," Han complained, brushing something off his shirt. "Too much sand for my tastes."
Luke turned to face the older boy. "You get used to the sand after awhile."
Han shrugged. "To each his own. Give me the streets of Corusant any day."
Vader just smiled beneath his mask. "What you are in for under Bail Organa's care, young Han, is a far cry from the streets of Corusant. A far cry indeed."
Some readers may have noticed that the summary for this story changed partway through. That's because the story itself took an abrupt turn as I wrote. No longer was it about Luke and his father dealing with the ghosts of the past. Instead, it was about a galaxy suddenly gone unstable in the aftermath of the Emperor's death… and the only thing the warring factions had in common anymore was their desire to have Vader out of the picture for whatever reasons.
Going back and re-reading earlier chapters, I realized that I had forgotten to take travel time into account while writing this story. Most of the action takes place during the course of two or three hectic days. Apparently a ride from Corusant to Tatooine is just a jaunt to the store? Joking, of course, I know it must take much longer. Color me inattentive for not paying attention to that detail.
I'm aware that my characterization of Mothma made her almost more of a monster than Tarkin, but then again, I've never been a big fan of her character (see my blog for details). Yoda's character began the same way, yes, but I hope he redeemed himself sufficiently.
Zevul Lodestar is an original character, and his first name is the Hebrew word for "exalted abode." His last name is an actual word – according to the Webster's dictionary, "lodestar" is any star used for the purposes of guiding and navigation, especially a polar star such as the North Star.
And yes, I took great liberties in the lives of the canon characters, but hey, this is an AU.
Thank you for your time, and may the Force be with you.