NOTE: This story does have a sequel, which is called Burnt by the Sun, and it will take us into the original trilogy (and, finally, you will get Han and Leia and everyone else!). But I'm going to take one fic to go through what was three movies, so it is going to be long. And I will not post chapters as I write them; in order to make sure that characterization is constant and plot lines are tied up, and all that, I will be sending it to my betas only after I have finished it, and you will start getting it only after that.
This means, basically, do not expect the sequel any time soon. If I'm even done with the fic before this time next year, I will be quite pleased with myself, and even after that, each chapter will have to be betad. Yes, it's a time-consuming process, but only because I am determined to give you guys the best I have. The fic is started already, and I'm having lots of fun with it so far, but there's a lot that I'm going to be doing with it, and that takes time. So, please, be patient with me.
Darth Vader hated trying to be subtle.
He just wasn't very good at it.
"I understand you are...less than happy with some of the Emperor's policies."
Kier Jonas, Captain of the Imperial-class Star Destroyer Venomous, immediately grew pale and pasty-looking, and his small sense in the Force radiated the fear that Vader was about to kill him for disloyalty. Vader wanted to sigh, both because the quality of officers was clearly deteriorating and because even his subtlety was too blunt not to scare.
But the man was still the captain of an Imperial Star Destroyer, and would be useful to have on his side, and so Vader would both put up with him and convince him that he was not about to be killed.
"Lord Vader, I assure you, my loyalty to the Empire is absolute, I have never even considered other options," the man babbled, a few beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. Did he realize that he was digging himself deeper into a hole with every word of supposed assurance he spoke? It was good for him that it was not Vader's goal to root out treason towards the Emperor right now.
"Calm down, Captain. I am not about to kill you," Vader snapped with impatient annoyance. "At least, assuming it is the Empire that you are truly absolutely loyal to."
Now the man looked baffled. Damn subtlety anyway. He wished he didn't have to use it, but if the Emperor ever asked him about this conversation, at least before Vader was ready, then Vader had to be able to tell him the content with some degree of truthfulness, and so asking for outright sedition would be a less than good idea.
"I have always been a loyal son of the Empire," the captain said cautiously, his face regaining some color. Vader hoped he was regaining some backbone as well.
"Yes," Vader agreed, and the captain relaxed; or at least, relaxed as much as he could in the presence of a superior officer. "But change must come to all things, lest they rot from within and decay." A lesson the Jedi had learned too late.
Jonas frowned. "My lord?"
"The Empire cannot remain as it currently is forever," Vader said. "For the sake of its survival, change must eventually occur. Do you not agree, Captain?"
The confusion in the man's eyes began to clear: he was starting to understand. Maybe subtlety was not so difficult. "Stagnation must be avoided," Jonas said.
"Both of us, then, are committed to keeping the Empire from stagnating?"
The captain nodded. "Yes, my lord," he murmured respectfully, the clear light of understanding in his eyes. He wasn't just saying yes to an abstract statement, and there was Vader's victory.
The conversation over, Jonas saluted, and Vader nodded in acknowledgment and left. He was done here. It was not an overt declaration of support, but a declaration all the same. And now he had an appointment with the Emperor to keep.
On his way from Coruscant's--he never could think of it as Imperial Center, after having known it as Coruscant for almost thirty years, and the name change was still recent--main military base to the Imperial Palace, Vader considered his latest supporter.
Captain Kier Jonas, a man in his forties who tried to keep a code of honor, yet was willing to bend it enough to gain high position in Palpatine's Empire. He disliked slavery, but went along with it because he would be executed as a traitor if he spoke out against it. He thought taxes were too high, even though some of the credits from those taxes paid his wages, and it was to his benefit to keep them high. Like many military officers, he disliked and distrusted politicians, and was old enough to be aware that Palpatine had been a very successful politician before he declared himself Emperor--and was aware, too, that a politician Vader would never be.
He was not the first officer who Vader had been cautiously--or at least with more caution than was his warrant; it wouldn't do to have Palpatine become aware of his actions too soon--sounding out; nor was he the first to accept Vader's unspoken proposal. But all the others had been captains of lesser ships than an Imperial-class Star Destroyer, captains who were eager to gain favor in a new system by promising support. Vader was gradually working his way up the ranks, and soon he would move on to generals and admirals. Of course, not everyone was receptive to his suggestions, and he couldn't kill the ones who weren't without alerting Palpatine, but so far at least three-fifths of the men that he'd talked to did not seem averse to change.
His steps slowed as he drew nearer Palpatine's throne room, and he took a moment to clear his thoughts. Palpatine must not know anything of what he was planning.
The doors in front of him opened. He strode in.
"Welcome, Lord Vader."
At the foot of the dais the throne stood on, Vader stopped and knelt, bowing his head. "My master," he replied. "What is your will?"
There was a slight pause, then the Emperor replied, "Only to talk to you, Lord Vader."
That was not good. Of course, it was better than the thought that Palpatine had summoned him to make him explain his conversations with the various Star Destroyer captains that he'd been talking to, but lately whenever Palpatine just wanted to "talk", the topic always seemed to be Luke.
It made Vader very suspicious, but there was nothing he could to about it. Soon, at least, Luke would be out of Palpatine's reach.
Palpatine's next words surprised him as much as they concerned him.
"Have you ever thought about grandchildren, Lord Vader?" the Emperor asked suddenly, thoughtfully.
"Grandchildren, my master?" Vader repeated, stalling even as his brain seemed to work overtime in trying to think of why Palpatine had asked.
He'd thought of grandchildren, but only briefly, and soley to ensure that his son was taking the proper precautions against their existence. Luke had blushed and stammered his way through a loud and vehement affirmation, saying that both he and his lover--how strange it still was to think of his Luke with a lover; he could remember his thirteen-year-old son asking in disgust why anyone would want one--were protected against the possibility of children.
"Yes, Lord Vader, grandchildren," the Emperor said, with patience. Though the Emperor was always patient, Vader couldn't help but think of it as a bad sign.
Well, it shouldn't hurt his plans to tell part of his thoughts on the subject. "Only briefly, my master, and just to make sure that they will not happen until my son is ready," Vader said slowly.
"And your son has reassured you that they will not?" There was something strange in the Emperor's tone. Something oily. Slippery. Vader would never be an adept at subtlety, but Palpatine was far and away a master, and Vader could not tell what was going on. He remembered Luke saying that Palpatine told him not to get Mara Jade pregnant. Was this just to make sure that Luke was following that order?
"Yes, my master," was all he could say.
"Good," Palpatine said, and this time something else came across in his tone, a sort of "I know something you don't know" taunting. Vader felt his anger begin to rise, and wanted to yell Why are you asking this? What is your game? at his master, but he kept a hold on his anger and stayed his voice. Palpatine did not like being questioned, and Vader did not want to give the impression of being someone who was questioning.
Well, perhaps one question would be all right. "Why do you ask, my master?" he said, and raised his head slightly to observe Palpatine's reaction.
The Force was with him; the Emperor looked indulgent instead of angry. Even after thirty years of knowing him, twenty of those knowing him as a Sith Lord, his master could still surprise him. "The Force is strong in your family," Palpatine said finally, after a long pause.
There was another stretch of silence, and in the hopes of prompting the Emperor to continue, Vader said, "Yes, my master."
It was true, after all. Vader and his son were the strongest Force-users in the galaxy, bar none. Palpatine was well aware of that, though Vader knew he didn't necessarily like it. He never liked the idea of someone surpassing him in something, even when he could use that person, as Vader had been used.
But the time of Palpatine's dominion was almost at an end, and to Vader, that end could not come fast enough.
Vader thought Palpatine done with revelations for the day when Palpatine spoke again, a hint of satisfaction flavoring his feeling in the Force. "Perhaps when your son and my Hand are older, they shall...gift you with a Force-strong grandchild."
Vader unconsciously stiffened in understanding, but showed no other outward signs of surprise. That was what Palpatine was after? It made sense. It made a disgusting amount of sense. Vader didn't like it at all. The very idea of it, what Palpatine was insinuating, was enough to make him angry.
But he kept a hold on his ever-increasing rage, and said, "Perhaps, my master."
He hoped Palpatine would release him soon. He wanted desperately to go kill something. It would not, of course, be the person whose throat he really wished to be crushing in his hand, but even throttling an incompetent stormtrooper was a good enough outlet for his anger.
But it seemed to be the day for Palpatine indulging him, and soon enough he was making his departing bow. It was as if Palpatine knew exactly what effect the statement about grandchildren would have on him and was amused enough by it to let Vader go and take his fury out on something that didn't matter. And it was not surprising that Palpatine knew him so well, but it was also not making him hold his temper any better.
His distemper must have been obvious, for he saw few people as he walked through the Imperial Palace's corridors, and fewer still once he reached his own home. But he was infamous for killing people even when he wasn't annoyed, and he was sure that no one wanted to chance him in a rage. He was avoided.
There was no one to be seen in his palace. No one he could kill. No one he could throttle with the Force, watch as hands tried to pry away invisible fingers and failed, because he had power and they did not, he was everything and they were nothing.
He headed for his dueling room, and the droids that awaited him there. They were nothing, not a challenge, but he could destroy them too, and he craved destruction.
He activated two at once, set to their highest difficulty level. But it was not difficult enough; these droids were not produced by someone who knew all the nuances of lightsaber combat the way that Vader did, and the droids could not use the Force. He made short work of them.
But it did not ease his anger. Instead his fury grew, a living thing, a dragon that had lived inside him for decades, one that wasn't appeased by the demolition of nonliving matter. The dragon wanted something sentient for its meal, something that cared about whether it lived or died. Having the ability to completely destroy a droid was nothing; anyone could do that, because droids were made to be subservient and to be eventually recycled. The ability to destroy another person, however...there was power.
He activated more droids, four this time, in the hopes that twice the droids would be twice the difficulty, but it wasn't to be. His red lightsaber lopped off mechanical hands and head with ease, leaving bits of useless machinery strewn about him on the floor.
None of it diminished his anger.
Palpatine wants your son to breed for him, the dragon whispered inside him, fanning the flames. Breed Force-strong children for him to twist as he wills. Their mother would be his Hand, after all, and she would probably give them to him before they ever saw a cradle. He didn't have you straight from birth, and he didn't have your son, but he could have your grandson, or granddaughter. Use them as controls on you and Luke, and make Skywalkers betray each other.
Vader activated droid after droid, and let devastation reign.
He wished Luke had never met Mara Jade, no matter that his son was happy with her. If Luke had never met her, she could not betray him.
Something inside him, something not the dragon, whispered that he wasn't being fair to her. Perhaps she would not betray Luke. Perhaps she would not want any child she bore him to be raised by Palpatine. But he stopped his ears and did not listen to this whisper, because he had learned long ago that life did not respond to optimism.
Killing Mara Jade was not an option--his son would not understand, and would be hurt, and Vader would not hurt his son if it could be avoided. Not to mention what Palpatine would do if Vader should kill his Hand for what seemed such a trivial reason.
He could not kill her, but he could watch her. She was dangerous, had the potential to be even more so, and therefore he would keep an eye on her, and make sure that she did not do anything that might hurt his plans.
When they were older...but Luke would be gone soon, away from Palpatine, and away from Mara Jade and opportunities to get her pregnant. He would be safe. Vader would not be a grandfather yet, and his grandchildren would not be used against him.
(Father?) a familiar voice spoke into his mind.
Luke. Luke was contacting him. He finished off the last droid and shut down his saber, closing his eyes behind his mask and trying to regain some measure of calm. Talking to Luke while angry wouldn't help.
(Yes, my son?)
(Father, I felt your anger. Is something wrong?)
Vader might have smiled, if he hadn't still been angry. His son, who would do anything to help those he cared for. It was one of the first things he'd noticed in his first meeting with his son, the boy who gave himself away to protect his aunt and uncle, and Luke was not so far into the Dark Side as to have lost that protectiveness.
(It is nothing, my son,) he sent, and felt a brief shiver of regret that this mental contact was all he had. He would take what he could get, of course, but he always preferred seeing his son in person.
(It didn't feel like 'nothing',) Luke persisted--a thing that would likely have gotten him killed had he been anyone other than Vader's son. (I haven't felt you that angry in a long time.)
Vader sighed. His son was too perceptive at times. (You and Jade are still taking repress medications, are you not?) Vader asked, just to make sure.
There was a moment of mental silence, then Luke said incredulously, (Please tell me that that's not what's making you angry. Of course we're still taking the repress meds! We have no desire to be parents right now.)
(But later?) Vader asked, suddenly suspicious. How deeply did his son's feelings for Mara Jade run?
(We haven't discussed it, beyond making sure it couldn't happen right now,) Luke replied, sounding taken aback. (Besides the fact that we're just having fun, I'm leaving soon, and I might never see her again. Children always seemed a moot point.)
There was something concealed, some suppressed feeling that resonated along their link. Were they 'just having fun', as Luke put it? Was there something more? Surely Luke didn't feel as deeply for Mara Jade as Vader had felt for Padmé; they'd only known each other for a couple of years, and weren't even fully grown.
You told Padmé you were going to marry her not five minutes after you met her, a small voice in the back of his mind reminded him. And you were only just over a year older than Luke is now when you finally did.
He told that voice to shut up. Luke was not Vader. Feeling so deeply for someone was dangerous in Luke's position, and so was fathering a child. There was Palpatine, always ready to turn a situation to his advantage.
(Father,) Luke said, bringing Vader's direct attention back to his son. (Why were you worried? I've told you before that we're both on the meds.)
(Stay that way,) Vader warned, instead of answering Luke's question. He didn't need to worry his son with thoughts of Palpatine's plans for Luke's as-yet-not-conceived child.
Suspicion flowed along their link, but Luke was apparently accepting Vader's reluctance to share the true reason for his anger. Then Luke changed the subject.
(I talked to the Emperor recently,) he said, (about a visit to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on Tatooine.)
Vader's attention sharpened; this was the first stage of their plan, about to be set in motion. Luke should be able to find some sort of contact on Tatooine, hotbed of crime and conspiracy and rebellion as it was, or so they'd reasoned. (And his reply?) Vader prompted.
(He is less than happy with my attachment to them,) Luke said. (He was very reluctant to grant me leave at first.)
(But you changed his mind, did you not?)
(I did, eventually.) Luke sighed, an exhalation of breath that Vader felt through their link despite their physical distance. (But it is good that I am leaving soon. I think this is the last time that he would indulge me by letting me see them. He already insinuated that attachment to extended family is unbecoming of someone my age, and that I should be beyond such childish things.)
So similar to Vader's memories of the Jedi. Different words, different reasoning, but the same sentiment--it seemed that everyone was conspiring to keep Skywalkers away from their family. Vader had to concede that it made sense, considering that the Skywalkers were the most powerful family in the galaxy, but sense did not preclude resentment.
And to think that he had once thought Palpatine would be an improvement on the Jedi, in regards to family. He had been a fool, but his time of foolishness was ended. He was aware of Palpatine's true nature now, and would not fall for his lies again.
(How soon are you leaving?) Vader asked.
Luke seemed to hesitate. (In two days,) he said. (The leave is supposed to be two weeks, though that doesn't matter.)
Two days. He would have his son for two days, and then not see him again for the Force only knew how long.
But he would see his son again, before he had to say goodbye. (Would you like to spar tomorrow?) Vader offered, and hoped Luke would accept. He surely had much to do to get ready.
But Luke sent a brief pulse of gratitude along their bond. (I would like that, Father,) he said. (1400, in the sparring room at home?)
Vader couldn't help but note that Luke still referred to Vader's palace as home, and was glad for that. He sent a wordless affirmation, and then Luke cut the link.
Even though Luke hadn't gone anywhere yet, Vader was already starting to feel alone.
The two days had passed quickly, much more than Vader would have preferred. It seemed no time at all before Luke contacted him and told him that he was about to prepare his ship for departure. But it was at least early in the morning, and it was doubtful that there would be many people around the Emperor's private hangar bay, and so Vader thought he could chance seeing his son off.
He arrived to see Mara Jade saying her own goodbye to Luke, and Vader turned away, to give them a bit of privacy. Luke, who had seen him enter, sent wordless thanks. Vader turned back to face his son just as Luke and Jade separated, reluctance in every line of their bodies. Luke brushed a hand along Jade's cheek, casually intimate, smiled and murmured something that made Jade smile in return.
Then she turned and walked away, head held high and back straight. She looked at Vader, and met his eyes for a moment, and something passed between the two, some sort of fellow feeling, and Vader knew that she did at least care for Luke. Though her eyes filled with cool indifference soon after, Vader had seen leftover warmth flickering like flame. Putting aside his ambivalence towards her momentarily, Vader nodded at her, and she nodded in reply.
They had something in common, after all, even if it was only Luke.
And Luke was smiling at him, he could see once he focused on his son again. He strode forward, and put a hand on Luke's shoulder, wanting to touch his son just one last time before he left.
"I will not be able to contact you often," he said, as quietly as the vocoder would allow, which wasn't very but was enough.
"I know," Luke replied, his voice much softer than Vader's. They'd gone over this before, but Vader just wanted to make sure. "Nor I you, without raising suspicions. But we will keep in contact, even if infrequently."
Vader nodded, and paused. What to say? What could he say, to this son who was about to go out into the galaxy and help make their dreams reality? "Look after yourself," he said, finally.
"I will," Luke said seriously, as if Vader had not told him that so many times before that they'd lost track.
"May the Force be with you," he said, and squeezed Luke's shoulder gently before letting go.
"And with you," Luke replied, smiling one last time at his father before turning away and striding up the ramp into his ship.
Vader watched him for a long moment, before turning away himself. He had his own job to do, and Luke was now out of his hands.
When Vader returned to his main office, he saw that he had a text-only message marked Urgent! on his comm console, from the governor of Toprawa. With a strange anticipation running down his spine, he opened the message.
Lord Vader, it read, Rebel spies have stolen our facility's plans for the Death Star and transmitted them to an unidentified Corellian corvette, which escaped to hyperspace. I believe that they have a contact high in the Imperial hierarchy who might try to use his influence to get the plans to the Rebellion. I felt it my duty to inform you, and await whatever punishment you deem fit. Ever your servant, Governor Gerracht
Such a short missive, but no less important for its brevity. The Rebels had the Death Star plans...quickly, on a hunch born of the Force, Vader accessed the records for senators who had left the planet in the past week. There was one senator, a very new and very young, idealistic one, who he'd been keeping his eye on...
Ah, there it was. Senator Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan, a girl no older than his son, had recently left Coruscant in the diplomatic vessel Tantive IV, which was registered as being a Corellian corvette. There was no possibility of coincidence--Vader had spotted her as a likely Rebel the moment she'd stepped up to her new position as the senator of the world her father ruled as viceroy. Luke had once suggested talking to her, but Vader had vetoed it: there was no way that she would give herself up as a Rebel to an unknown boy who said he wanted to join, and he would have just brought suspicion on himself.
So, Leia Organa was going to run the Death Star plans to the Rebels, who would likely try to destroy it--though they had little chance of success unless his son had already joined them; Vader knew the Death Star's weakness, as did Luke, and the two of them were probably the only people in the galaxy with sufficient piloting skill, not to mention talent in the Force, to pull it off.
Well, this was a development that he could not avoid telling the Emperor about; the Death Star was his toy, after all. Quickly he keyed in a request to see the Emperor at his earliest convenience, and spent the time until the summons reading and responding to the rest of his messages.
He did not have long to wait; before an hour was up, the incoming message light on his holo-terminal was blinking, and Vader quickly arranged himself in the subservient kneeling position demanded of him by his master before pressing the receive button with the Force.
"What is so urgent, Lord Vader?" the Emperor snapped as soon as the holo appeared, not even bothering with pleasantries.
"The Death Star plans have been stolen from the facility on Toprawa," Vader said immediately. "I believe Senator Leia Organa of Alderaan is involved."
The Emperor paused for a moment, and thoughtful silence filled the air. Then, slowly, a smile crept across the Emperor's decrepit face. "This sounds like the perfect opportunity for something I know you have been waiting for, my friend," Palpatine said.
"Master?" Vader queried cautiously. What he had been waiting for...there were many things, but surely Palpatine was not about to give him what he most anticipated. That was too much to hope for.
"Yes," the Emperor said. "An end to the bureaucratic nonsense, as you put it once, I believe, that was left over from the death of the Republic. The senator of a trusted, influential planet in the Core turns out to have been corrupted by the Rebellion, and who knows how many of her colleagues she corrupted in turn...few will dare to argue when I tell them that it is for the good of the Empire that I must regretfully dissolve the Senate and turn direct control of their systems over to the regional governors."
Dissolving the Senate! A thing that had been in existence for millennia, soon to be as dead as the Jedi Order... Vader had to admit, he had been looking forward to such a thing. The Senate had always been large and unwieldy, and, to him, completely ineffectual. The dissolution of the Senate had been one of the first things that Vader had been going to do once Palpatine was out of the way, but at least Palpatine had saved him that step.
"But in regards to the Death Star plans," the Emperor continued, "you will go retrieve them from Senator Organa, and then you will take her to the Death Star. It is ready to be unveiled to the galaxy, and the young senator will enjoy a front-row seat. Once on the Death Star, you will report to Governor Tarkin, to whom I have given control of the station."
"Yes, my master," Vader said, and the holo of the Emperor nodded to him and winked out.
He stood and went back to his computer terminal, intent on plotting out the senator's perceived course. She left three days ago, heading towards the Arkanis sector. If he left immediately, and at the top speed of his Super Star Destroyer with her ship traveling its fastest as well, then they should rendezvous at...
Well, wasn't this interesting. If the senator continued along her current course, then they would rendezvous above Tatooine.
Tatooine, the planet to which his son was already en route. The Force was truly with him and his son now.
But he would not ask Luke to catch Senator Organa in his place. Rescue, on the other hand...it would certainly make her, and her Rebellion, trust him. And then, if he were to destroy the Death Star for them...
His son Luke, Darth Umber, the second in line for the Imperial throne, would turn out to be a hero of the Rebellion.
Completely aware of the irony, Vader laughed out loud, and couldn't wait to watch it all play out.