Summary: This is part of the Force Bond series, an AU where Vader raises Luke, but is a complete story unto itself. It is set between FB2 and 3, and after Force Bond Christmas. Luke is thirteen. Luke becomes obsessed with a Holovid show, which stirs up memories his father would rather forget.
Completed: This fic was completed and posted on the lukevader yahoo group in July 2003.
Modified: 26 March 2008
It was nearing midnight, Imperial City time, and Darth Vader was taking advantage of the peace and quiet to read his mail. Typically, most of it was a waste of his time and patience, but if he didn't go through it, he might miss the one or two important messages within the mix of invitations, offers and petitions.
As he browsed the vast list, one subject line caught his attention. It was the newsletter from the solo-fathers HoloNet group he was an anonymous member of. He'd signed up once in a moment of desperation - and had been surprised to find, compared to others in the group, he was actually fairly knowledgeable when it came to parenting.
He opened up the message and read the topic heading. Bedtime - when is the right time, and how to stop the arguments. The words caused Vader to feel a flood of relief that Luke was well past the age of fighting over bedtime. One less thing for them to argue about was always a good thing.
He was about to read on, when the main doors slid open with a loud hiss. A bright blue pajama-clad Luke came skidding in, carrying a pillow and a rolled-up portable hover-mattress.
"Can I sleep in here tonight?!" Luke gasped in a single breath.
Vader shut down his mail inbox, and swiveled his chair around to face his son. "Why?"
"What is wrong with your bedroom? Has the rubbish finally risen up in rebellion and ousted you?"
"Oh, very funny," Luke said, unrolling the hover-mattress.
"You can't sleep here," Vader said, standing up and stepping out of his meditation chamber. "I am trying to work. Besides, this is my private room. Go and sleep in a guest room if you need a change of scene."
Luke turned slightly red, looking away. "I ... uh ... I just wanted ... some company."
"You had a nightmare?"
Luke shook his head. "No, it was just ... have you ever watched The Galaxy's Scariest True Stories?"
Vader released a slow breath. "Luke, you are far too old to be scared of the dark."
"It wasn't the dark that was scary on this episode!"
Vader stepped forward, and passed the hover-mattress back to Luke. He then pointed firmly in the direction of the door. Luke bowed his head and shuffled reluctantly towards the exit, with Vader following closely behind. Once they reached Luke's bedroom, Vader stood with his arms folded, until Luke had crawled back under the covers.
He was about to leave, when he paused, sensing genuine fear from Luke. Whatever idiotic, mindless HoloNet show he'd been watching, it had clearly rattled him.
Vader reluctantly pulled up a chair.
"I will stay until you fall asleep," he suggested.
Luke nodded, and turned over, pulling the blankets up around his neck. Vader used the Force to switch off the bed lamp, leaving only a flickering blur caused by his respirator lights.
After a few minutes of waiting, he decided to accelerate the process a little. He relaxed until he could distinguish the parent-child bond within the Force energy that surrounded him. Sleep ... it was a simple command, and in Luke's current drowsy state, it had an immediate effect. Soon, the sensations on the other end of the bond became cloudy, and rhythmic breathing could be heard from the pillow. Vader stood up as quietly as he could, and slipped out the door.
He almost smiled to himself as he walked down the corridor towards the balcony. Another parenting task completed successfully. The pleasant feelings soon gave way to confusion. Luke wasn't a baby; there was no pride to be taken in getting him to sleep. So why did it produce such feelings within him?
He rested against the balcony for a few minutes, taking in the vast cityscape and trying to turn his thoughts onto a subject more appropriate for a Dark Lord of the Sith. There were those interrogation reports to review. Perhaps he should get to work on those.
He turned swiftly, making his way back to the meditation chamber. Upon opening the door, he took two steps forward, only to find himself one centimeter away from tripping on an occupied hover mattress.
"You won't even notice I'm here!" Luke insisted, fattening his pillow.
Vader was about to argue, when he suddenly waved a dismissive hand, and walked around Luke's makeshift bed.
"Very well, but only for tonight. And sleep over there." Vader pointed towards a corner.
Luke pushed his hands against the floor, floating the mattress over to the wall.
Vader switched off the meditation chamber lights, deciding that if Luke was going to sleep here, he may as well meditate. The interrogation reports could wait.
"Sleep well, Son."
Luke was somewhat embarrassed the next morning. The thoughts and feelings that had left him unable to sleep alone in his room seemed silly now, in daylight.
He didn't think about it again, until Ben brought up the HoloNet show when they were walking home from school.
"Did you see that new episode of Scariest True Stories?" Ben asked, "It was awesome!"
"It was okay," Luke said, fidgeting. He felt uneasy, as though there was someone following them, and the mention of the HoloNet show wasn't helping.
"Speed Gambit was good too - I like the new opening credits."
"Speed Gambit?" Luke asked, grateful they could talk about something other than Scariest True Stories.
Ben gaped at him. "You've never seen Speed Gambit? You have to watch it - I'll give you all the episodes I've got on datatape tomorrow."
"What's it about?" Luke asked, looking over his shoulder. The feeling of being watched was getting worse.
"A group of racers, who ... well, they race. You'd like it."
Luke suddenly pushed his friend towards a nearby building entrance.
"What is it?" Ben asked, as Luke joined him.
"It's the media - I saw one of their speeders. They're trailing us." Luke drew back behind a large pillar.
Ben scanned the overhead traffic lanes. "I don't see any ... wait, there's a Coruscant News Network speeder ... they've landed over the other side ... hey, that's not a landing pad!"
Luke looked desperately through the transparent doors of the building. It appeared to be a hotel.
"Come on," Luke said, pulling Ben towards the doors.
They ran through several sets of revolving glass doors, causing reception droids to protest loudly. They didn't stop until they were inside an elevator. Luke pressed the button for the top floor, and leaned back against the wall, panting.
"Where are we going to go when we get off?" Ben asked.
"We'll figure that out when we get there," Luke said.
"That's always your plan for everything," Ben sighed.
As it turned out, they didn't have much of a choice. The doors slid open at the top floor to reveal a man wearing dark eye shades and a hands-free comlink.
Luke groaned, and slammed his hand down on the elevator buttons. Nothing happened.
"That isn't my name," Luke said, "You have the wrong person." He continued to press the floor buttons, until he realized the man had his arm across the door, preventing it from closing.
"Caz Baxter, Holoworld Entertainment Inc producer. How are you today, Luke? Did you have a good day at school? That's great."
"Go away," Luke said, "I'm not answering any of your questions."
"Questions? No, I'm here to extend you an invitation," Caz babbled, talking like a speeder-salesman trying to push a deal, "The Larita show, ever seen it? We're doing a special on the sons and daughters of the powerful. How they cope, what their ambitions are, whether they drink regular or diet, you know the kind of thing? Of course you do. It's going to be out of this galaxy - a ratings smash! Would be even better with your participation."
"Hey, I've seen that show," Ben interrupted.
"You watch daytime talk shows?" Luke asked, looking at his friend in surprise.
"No," Ben said, looking embarrassed, "I was channel hopping and I happened to see Jabney from Galactic Bandits on it."
"Sure," Luke said, smirking.
"And apart from the fame and glory, we would of course be offering you a substantial sum of money," Caz continued. "Credits, the hard stuff ... a bright young boy like yourself would make good use of that."
"How much?" Ben asked, curious.
"Name your price and we'll fix something up right now."
"Wow, Luke, you should do it!"
Luke buried his head in his hands, sighing. Caz took that as an invitation to join them in the elevator.
"Your friend has the right idea. What do you say, Luke? Time waits for nobody. Neither does money, for that matter." Caz pulled out a datapad, "All we need you to do is press your thumb right here and we're all set. We'll send you the details about when and where to show up, and -"
Luke raised his hands. "Stop it! I can't sign anything with asking my father first!"
"Your father? Come on, a young man of your age doesn't need his father's permission to say yes to earning some money, now does he?"
"Yes, he does," Luke said, firmly, "Have you met my father, by any chance? Really tall, dresses in black ... in a permanent bad mood?"
"Sure, I get it, I understand completely. Here, I'll give you my datacard, so you can comm me when you agree to accept."
Luke reluctantly accepted the card, just as the elevator began to move down.
"Can I be on the show?" Ben asked, "My father is a royal guard."
Caz didn't look at Ben. "Maybe if we were desperate, kiddo," he said. "Luke, while I'm here, do you want to make any other opening statements? The kind of thing we can use on the promos and billboards - "
"I haven't made any statements," Luke said, annoyed.
"Sure you have. That stuff about needing your father's permission is great - I'm already getting a vision of the spin we can put on you - the tragic tale of a boy living in the strict confines of an oppressive father who -"
Luke banged a floor button in frustration.
"Although, on the other hand, that might not make it past the censors," Caz said, waving his hands around, "Okay, scrub the oppression stuff ... let's make out your father is just a regular citizen when he's at home ... the kind of person everyone can relate to."
Ben burst out laughing. "Luke's father? You've got to be kidding - one of his hobbies is chopping up droids with his laser sword."
Caz smiled like someone had just given him a million credits.
"Ben!" Luke said, pushing his friend "Shut up!"
"No, carry on, this is great stuff - you know, maybe we can put you on the show ... what did you say your name was again?"
While Caz had been talking, the doors had slid open and he'd stepped out, obviously anticipating they were going to do the same.
Luke quickly dived at the door close button. Caz was just a fraction too slow to stop him. The elevator moved on, leaving him far behind.
Ben laughed. "Nice move."
"I wonder how he knew we were going to the top?" Luke asked.
"You know what they're like - they've probably staked out half the building. They figured you'd run in here when you saw the speeder land."
Luke rubbed his forehead. "Maybe I should call home for a ride."
Ben pointed at one of the button labels. "I've got a better idea. Let's go to the mall - there are thousands of people there, he'll never find us."
Luke brightened. "Good idea."
The elevator stopped, and they stepped out into a transparent overpass, leading over to the nearby Imperial City mall. They were soon lost in the crowds commuting between the hotel and the vast shopping center. Luke let out a sigh of relief. They were safe for now.
"So, do you think you'll go on the show?" Ben asked, as they pressed against a wall to let some exceptionally hairy aliens pass.
"Are you kidding? My father wouldn't let me do that to save my life."
"Neither would mine," Ben agreed, "No matter how big the pay was."
"I can't even ask him," Luke said, "I'm not allowed talk to the media at all. If he finds out I said one word to that guy, he'll probably make the entire company disappear overnight."
"As long as Speed Gambit is still on - and Scariest True Stories, of course - I don't care what your father does to the media."
"What is so great about this Speed Gambit show?" Luke asked, as they made their way to their favorite part of the mall. "You were starting to tell me before the media turned up."
"Everything about it is great," Ben said, "- and that reminds me. There's a new store which just opened nearby. Nebula Nest. It sells toys from Speed Gambit, and other neat stuff."
"What kind of stuff?"
"All kinds. You'll like it."
As it turned out, he did like it. It was a small shop, by Imperial City Mall standards, and was filled with all kinds of knick-knacks and merchandise, most of it from various entertainment franchises. Everywhere he turned there was something interesting, from holographic trading cards, to model vehicles of a type he'd never seen before.
Luke picked out several holo-comics to add to his collection, before spotting a shelf filled with boxed action figures, one of who looked very familiar.
He picked it up in disbelief, not convinced until he actually read the label.
"Ben!" he called, "Look at this!" He held up the box. "It's the Emperor!"
"Oh yeah, there's a whole line of products based around him," Ben said, "My cousin had a chrono with his face on it, once."
Luke tucked the box under his arm, and started looking through the rest of the figures.
"Grand Moff Tarkin? Never heard of him," Luke said, tossing the box back, "I've never heard of half these people."
"There are senators as well," Ben said, pushing some of the boxes aside, "You've just got to look carefully ... there's people out there who collect all of them, and they buy up all the rare ones then sell them over the HoloNet at inflated prices."
"What in space is this?" Luke said, pulling out a different shaped box. It wasn't an action figure, but a model vehicle. Luke couldn't place it though - it didn't look like anything his father had in his collection. There were two huge engines, hooked up to a tiny rear cockpit by a couple of tow cables. The label insisted it was a podracer, whatever that was.
"Wow," Ben said, snatching it from him, "That's Seety's racer from Speed Gambit! I've been looking for one of these - thanks!"
"Anytime," Luke said, losing interest. He turned the Emperor box over, looking at the picture of other figures in the line. "Where's my father?"
"They don't make him," Ben explained.
"Why not? If they make all the senators and Grand Moffs, they should make him! I suppose they asked him and he threatened to have the company destroyed ... he can be a real killjoy sometimes."
Ben suddenly picked up a box from the back of the shelf. "Hey, look! A royal guard! I never knew they made these!" Ben held up the box to show Luke. Inside, was a perfect miniature replica of a red-robed, red-masked royal guard.
"Well, I've got my father," Ben said, grinning. "I can't wait to show him this."
Luke sighed. "I guess I'll have to make do with this Emperor."
"I thought you hated the Emperor?"
"I do. I can hang this one upside down from my ceiling. Or maybe I can melt it down, and poke a stick through it."
"Are you sure that's worth paying for?" Ben asked, as they lined up at the checkout.
"It's priceless!" Luke insisted.
Five thousand channels. Five thousand. And yet there was absolutely nothing on. Luke poked the remote button repeatedly, becoming increasingly frustrated. Was there anyone who was actually interested in all this trash?
Luke paused on a scene showing a couple of engines dragging a cockpit across a snowy landscape. He recognized it immediately from the toy model he'd see in Nebula Nest - this must be Speed Gambit. Luke leaned closer, amazed at how fast the vehicle was traveling. They didn't look so strange now ...
Luke was about to turn up the volume, when his bedroom doors hissed open, causing him to sit up to see over the side of the pillow he was draped across. His father stepped into the room, causing Luke to glance around quickly, making sure the Emperor action figure was well hidden. He'd be in big trouble if his father saw that. Luckily, it was still in its wrapping.
"I have to leave Coruscant," his father said, "Will you be able to sleep on your own tonight?"
Luke nodded. "I'm okay."
His father pointed at him. "No watching mindless holovid shows."
Luke nodded, while surreptitiously pressing the off button on his remote. His father was currently standing with his back to the projector, and so was unaware it was on.
"Especially anything with the word 'scariest' in the title. And eat properly, and get to bed on time. I will ask my PAs to keep an eye on you. Remember, you can always contact me on my private frequency."
"Going anywhere fun?" Luke asked.
"My mission is classified."
"That means yes, right?"
"It means curious teenagers will have to wait until I get back to find out," his father said, moving to leave, "Now, behave yourself."
"I'll try not to," Luke said, frowning at the patronizing tone.
After the doors slid closed, Luke clicked the holovid projector back on, and shuffled forward.
The characters were discussing racing. The tall green guy had come second, but he was telling the others about his sabotage suspicions ... Luke leaned back, deciding this was his kind of show. Good way to pass the time until he felt sleepy, at least. Luke yawned, deciding that time wouldn't be far off. What, with the media stalking him one moment, and Emperor toys the next, it had been a busy day.
Three days later, Vader stood in the middle of a deep, rocky cavern, waiting for the last stormtrooper scouts to return from the cave entrance before him. Yesterday, they had attacked from the air, flushing out the Rebel spies with a fleet of TIE Bombers. Then, Vader had entered the base from the ground. By the time darkness fell, all the Rebels had been accounted for.
Today's visit was simply to strip the base of supplies and evidence, a task Vader found tiresome. He was impatient to return to Coruscant, and report the victory to the Emperor.
The last two stormtroopers returned, carrying a crate of droid parts between them. Vader followed them to the nearby troop transport shuttle. As he boarded the ramp, he turned around to survey the area one last time. If there were any more Rebels hiding in this cavern, they were invisible to the Force.
"Get us underway," he said, sensing the pilot waiting at the top of the ramp.
Once on board, Vader pressed the button to retract the boarding ramp, and then made his way to the passenger lounge. He may as well take the time to check his messages.
After he had completed the verification procedure on the terminal, he was surprised to see two recorded holocom messages from Coruscant.
The first one loaded, and Luke's face came into view. He looked nervous, and Vader immediately became worried.
"Hi, Dad. Listen, Lev said he was going to contact you, but I told him he didn't need to, because this is all a misunderstanding. I never promised I was going to do anything - I said I'd ask you, that's all. I only said it to get the guy to leave me alone!"
There was the sound of something crashing to the floor, and Luke turned aside. "No, Artoo, that doesn't need fixing!" Luke disappeared off-screen for a moment, leaving Vader with a view of his bedroom. A few clothes came flying past the screen, as if Luke was looking for something.
Vader tapped his fingers impatiently, until Luke came back into view.
"Sorry about that. I'd edit it out, but I don't know how." Luke poked at a few controls, causing the image brightness to increase. "Oh, so that's what that button does!" Luke said, "I always wondered."
Vader felt relief that he was the only one in the room. If anyone else saw this ...
"Anyway, as I was saying, this was all a mistake. Please don't be mad! I hope you're having a good time, wherever you are. Bye!"
The image turned to static, leaving Vader puzzled. Hopefully the second message would shed some light on the matter.
An image of one of his PAs, Lieutenant Dorany, replaced the static.
"Sorry to disturb you, sir, but you told me to inform you if there were any problems with Luke, no matter how trivial. Today a producer called claiming Luke had agreed to go on a holovid talk show. I informed him that verbal contracts with minors were void under Imperial law, and then he told me there was something in it for me, if I agreed to cooperate."
Vader clenched his fingers together, imagining what he would do to media producers who offered bribes to his PAs.
"I was concerned for Luke, so I told him he couldn't leave the building without a contingent of stormtroopers, until you were able to sort this out. He said ... well, he wasn't open to the idea, sir. But we managed to reach an agreement - I agreed to take him over to Ben's apartment to pick up some more holovid data tapes, and he said he would stay home if he had enough to keep him going. I will keep you updated if there are any further developments."
The message cut out, and Vader quickly moved to send a message back to Luke.
It took a few seconds for the signal to connect, and then the Imperial Logo appeared. After thirty seconds had ticked away, the image dissolved into a view of Luke's bedroom. There was no sign of his son.
Vader was confused, until a flurry of beeps and chirps sounded over the comm. Then the view angle was lowered, until Artoo Detoo came into focus. He beeped in a questioning tone.
"Where is Luke?" Vader asked, impatiently.
Artoo launched into a long, detailed explanation, none of which was intelligible to Vader. It was cut off when the bottom half of Threepio came into the frame.
"Artoo! Who are you talking to!? You can't use the holocom, you idiotic waste of circuitry!"
Threepio tilted the viewer upwards, and started when he recognized Vader.
"Oh, hello, sir. Luke has gone to a friend's home to pick up some datatapes, but he should be back very soon."
"Tell him I said that he is not to leave the building until I get back," Vader said, "Under any circumstance."
"Very well, sir."
"And make sure he gets to bed on time," Vader added, before cutting the call.
The next day, Vader arrived back on Coruscant. All thoughts of reporting victory to his master had disappeared, under the more pressing concern of making certain his son was safe and unharmed.
The first thing Vader noticed, as he opened Luke's bedroom doors, was that his son appeared to have redecorated his room. There were little plastic models everywhere; hanging from the ceiling, stuck on the walls, even dangling from the doorframe. The shapes seemed familiar somehow ... two engines, connected to a cockpit by thin strands of wire. Podracers!
"Hi, Father," Luke said, from the floor in front of his holovid projector. "Have a good trip?"
Vader didn't reply, he was still staring blankly at the models.
"Do you like them?" Luke asked, "They're from this awesome new holovid show called Speed Gambit! It's about this group of racers ... it's set in the past, so they race these weird machines called podracers. They're so fast!" Luke gestured at the moving figures on the projector. "This is last night's episode, I'm watching it again. Velos - he's the main character - nearly got killed in a race, so Seety - I think there's something going on between those two, even though they're different species - she's suggesting maybe it's time to give it up and get real jobs but ..."
Vader finally tore his gaze away from the models, and focused on Luke.
"Did you stay home like I ordered you to?"
"Sure," Luke said, "I've just been sitting around watching Speed Gambit. Ben lent me all his recordings of past episodes. I'm so addicted to this show!"
Vader cleared some space on Luke's bed, and sat down. He raised a hand, and the holovid clicked off.
"Hey, I'm watching that!" Luke protested.
"You were watching that," Vader corrected, "Now, you are explaining how a media producer was under the impression you had agreed to appear on a holovid show."
Luke groaned. "I was hoping you'd have forgotten."
"Well," Luke said, sitting next to Vader, "Ben and I were walking home from school, and a media speeder started following us ... we ran into a hotel, and took the elevator, but a man was waiting at the top. Caz ... something ...Caz Baxter. He started jabbering on at 100 kilometers an hour about this talk show ... eventually, we got rid of him. But I never agreed to anything ... I said I'd ask you, just to make him shut up. I didn't know he was going to call back ..."
Vader was fuming. "This is completely unacceptable," he said, angrily.
"I'm sorry," Luke said, shifting away in fear.
Vader turned to his son. "You did nothing wrong. This is a case of harassment and invasion of privacy. I will make my displeasure known to them. This will not happen again - if it does, you must tell me immediately, then I can track down the culprits and have them arrested."
"Isn't that a little extreme?" Luke said, "They're annoying, but -"
"Extreme would be omitting the arrest and going straight to the execution," Vader said, slamming his hand against the bed surface. His gesture caused a databook to bounce into the air, and Vader caught it. "Which is what I will do if this continues," Vader added.
He studied the databook for a moment, and then sucked in a sharp breath. The Galaxy's Greatest Pod Racers.
"That's a book I found in the library," Luke said, sounding relieved to move the conversation away from executions, "I wanted to find out more about this podracing sport. It was so dangerous it was illegal on most planets! I can see why it died out, but it looks so awesome!"
Vader concentrated on keeping his breathing steady and even, and then stood up to leave.
"Wait, where are you taking that?" Luke called, "I was reading that first!"
"You can have it back later," Vader said, distantly.
Once he was out in the corridor, he pressed the page forward button until his fears were realized in the form of a shimmering hologram. A young slave boy, standing next to a blue-striped podracer, waving at a cheering crowd. The caption read: Annikan Syhalker: the only human podracer, winner of the Boonta Eve classic.
Despite the misspelling of his old name, it would not have fooled his son. He would have discovered the truth - not only about his youthful love of dangerous racing sports, but also his shameful origins. Knowing about the racing would be bad enough - he'd never hear the end of the questions and the badgering for details - but knowing about the slavery ... he would never burden his son with that knowledge.
In the privacy of his meditation chamber, he plugged the databook into a terminal and waited for the contents to download. It had been a while since he'd attempted any similar engineering feat to the one he was about to do, but there shouldn't be any difficulty. It was just a matter of adjusting the security circuit to allow some minor tampering of the data, and then relocking it, to dispel any suspicions.
Twenty minutes later, Vader unplugged the databook from the terminal, and cycled through the pages, making sure his changes had taken affect. He'd removed all pages relating to 'Annikan Syhalker', and adjusted some that mentioned the name in passing. The winner's list of the Boonta Eve Classic was a concern, but he finally decided to make Ben Quadinaros the winner. Despite these events belonging to the lifetime of another man, he still couldn't bring himself to write Sebulba as the winner, even though he was the most logical choice.
Vader couldn't help but feel a certain amount of relief as he stood up to return the databook to Luke. It felt like another ghost from the past had been put to rest. Luke had a uncanny habit of stirring them up ... he was a ghost from the past unto himself, of course ... but this time, he had analyzed it and dealt with it, with no great drama or emotional conflict to suffer through. His master would have been proud.
Luke glanced up to see his father had returned. He tossed the databook back on his bed.
"I know," Luke said, turning back to the holovid. "Did you ever see a podrace when you were a Jedi?"
His father was silent for a while, before offering an elusive "Maybe".
The episode of Speed Gambit he was watching came to a close, and Luke flicked a button to pause the display. "They show stats about real life pod racers at the end of each episode," Luke explained, coming closer to study the words in the display, "Some of these guys must be still alive ... I wonder if they're still racing?"
"How many episodes of this entertainment have you viewed?" his father asked, suddenly sounding tense.
Luke stared at him, feeling a little confused. "About fifteen so far. I've got another five here," Luke said, patting a pile of holo-storage devices.
"Spending all this time staring at a holovid screen in unhealthy," his father said, pointing at the pile of storage tapes to retrieve them from the floor.
"First my book and now my tapes!" Luke said, annoyed, "Honestly! I had them first ... you can get your own if you want to watch them."
"I have no interest in your mindless entertainment," his father insisted, forcefully.
He then turned swiftly to leave, carrying the stack of tapes. On the way, he awkwardly dodged a cardboard model of a Vulptereen, hanging from the ceiling.
"I don't know why I give you an allowance, when all you spend it on is this frivolous rubbish," he breathed.
Luke sighed as the doors slid closed after his father. He was a real mystery sometimes. Although he really should look on the bright side - he may have confiscated his tapes, but he hadn't noticed the Emperor doll, despite its place of honor, hanging by one foot from the center of his ceiling. He really should move it to a more discreet location.
The next morning, Vader was pacing up and down in a conference room, trying to figure out a solution to this irritating problem. He'd been through all the tapes he'd found in his son's room, and none of them mentioned his past self in their little educational segment.
But for all he knew, there could be hundreds of episodes of this mindless entertainment. How could he possibly go through all of them?
He would have to go to the source of this holovid show, the source of what was quickly becoming the bane of his life. It would be an unusual visit for a Dark Lord of the Sith, but then, nothing had been particularly usual in his life since Luke had entered it.
He pressed a button to summon one of his PAs and within a minute, a lieutenant had entered the room.
"Sir," he said, coming to attention.
"I have a somewhat unusual request," he replied, deciding pretending everything was normal was pointless. "My son is addicted to some entertainment show called Speed Gambit."
"Oh," the man replied, "I know the one. It's very popular, sir."
"I wish to talk with the producers of this show. I want you to arrange a meeting."
"No. I will go to wherever they are based - I may need to inspect some of their archives."
"What time would be suitable for you, sir?"
"As soon as possible."
"Very good, sir." The man saluted, and turned to leave.
Within half an hour, he received confirmation - the producer of Speed Gambit would meet with him in two hours, at the Imperial Media Corporation production offices. Now all he had to do was work out what he was going to say.
"Have you finished with my tapes yet?" Ben asked, as he and Luke walked down the corridor towards the cafeteria.
"No. I'm really sorry, but my father has a few of them. Don't worry though - I'll get them back soon."
"Why did he take them?"
"I wish I knew," Luke said, shrugging. They chose a table, and sat down on either side. "He's been acting weird ever since he got back from some classified mission yesterday."
"Maybe he was abducted and replaced with an imposter," Ben suggested, taking out his lunch.
"Ben, that is the stupidest thing I ever heard."
"Hey, it's happened before! It was on Galaxy's Scariest True Stories last night!"
Luke groaned. "I hate that show. Besides, if it isn't my father then they found someone exactly his size who knows how to use the Force. That would be quite hard, don't you think?"
Ben shrugged. "What's wrong with him then?"
Luke looked thoughtful. "I don't know. He just seems ... rattled about something. Calm one minute, all tense the next. Maybe he just needs a vacation."
"Maybe," Ben agreed. "By the way, I've got some news for you."
"Just a little piece of information I read on the HoloNet last night."
"What, Ben?! Tell me already!"
Ben grinned, annoyingly.
"It's about Speed Gambit, isn't it?"
"Okay. They're opening the new technology exhibit at the Imperial City museum next week," Ben explained, "Guess who's going to be there as a guest?"
"Someone from Speed Gambit?"
Ben nodded. "Bik Vorshy."
"You know he's really human?" Ben said, "I saw his picture on the HoloNet. They just use makeup to make him look ... whatever species his character is supposed to be."
"Tarsayian," Luke supplied. "So can anyone go to this event?"
"No, it's invite only. But you could wait outside ... that's what a lot of the fans are going to do, in the hope of getting his autograph. That's what I'd do, but my Dad said no."
"When is it?"
"In a week. It's at night though ... that's why my father wouldn't let me go."
"I doubt my luck is gonna be any better," Luke said, gloomily, "Considering the way my father's been acting lately."
The IMC production building hadn't changed much. The last time he'd been here, was a good twenty years ago, when he and Obi-Wan had come to interview a suspect in a case they were investigating. It wasn't called the Imperial Media Center then, of course, but Vader couldn't help but cynically speculate that it was just as controlled by the government then as it was now.
But then it had been subtle ... the only signs were money exchanging hands in some dark corner - bribes from senators to portray them in a good light. Now, it was very much in the open - every door and wall had the Imperial Logo stamped into it, leaving no doubt as to whom the master of this giant corporation was.
He came alone, deciding that any kind of contingent would only intimidate his host further. This wasn't an intimidation meeting, after all. Yet, at least.
He entered the reception area, and was approached immediately by a man wearing eye shades and a loud shirt. He flicked them off, and hooked them into his belt.
"Lord Vader," he said, offering a slightly shaky hand, "Caz Baxter, I'm the producer of Speed Gambit. It is an honor to meet and be acquainted with you."
"Caz Baxter?" Vader repeated, not bothering to accept the offered hand, "So you are the one who harassed my son."
The man stepped back, holding up his hands. "I was assured by your assistant that this was a completely, entirely unrelated meeting."
"It was," Vader said, pointing at the man, "But it is no longer."
"I would have gone through the boy's agent, but he didn't have one, so I figured he was new to the celebrity scene, and was looking for his first big break -"
"My son is not a celebrity," Vader interrupted, "He is anonymous, to all but those he interacts with in his private life. It is going to stay that way. Under no circumstances will I allow my son to be exploited for your commercial gain."
"Exploited?! No, not at all, I love your son, so ordinary, a regular kid and good looks to boot - he'd earn enough to make him a billionaire by the time he's shaving. And think about what his publicity could do for your reputation ... let's sweep away that heartless killer fallacy, and -"
"What makes you think it is a fallacy?" Vader asked.
"Anyone who loves his son as much as you can't be all bad, right?" Caz asked, chuckling nervously.
"You are either very brave, or very stupid," Vader said.
"That's how I got to where I am today," Caz said, starting to fidget nervously at Vader's menacing tone.
"If you ever come near my son again, I will have you arrested," Vader said, "Or killed, depending on my mood. But if I were you, I would not count on it being a good one."
"Ah ...I ... uh, I see ..." Caz mumbled, starting to sweat. "Point taken."
"Good. Now, I have something else I need to discuss with you concerning your show, Mr Baxter."
The man stared blankly for a few seconds, before recovering. "Sure, of course. Best if we speak in my office, in private."
The reception area was deserted - the staff had probably heard of his imminent arrival and taken an early lunchbreak - but Vader humored the man.
"I was very, very surprised when I heard you wanted to talk to me about Speed Gambit," Caz continued, as he entered his office. It was large, spacious and spotless. The walls were decorated with holo-posters of various entertainment products. "I knew the show was an out of this galaxy, amazing success, but I didn't know we'd made the holovid screens of the Imperial court."
"I am not interested in your product," Vader said, staring at a gap on the wall, where it was obvious a poster had been hastily removed. He wondered what had been considered inappropriate for him to see. Probably something of an adult nature. "However, my son has taken an excessive amount of interest."
"Ah, if I only I had known he was a fan, I would have -"
"Yesterday, he informed me about a historical information segment which screens at the end of each episode."
"Profiling real life pod racers, I know the exact part you're talking about," Caz added, helpfully.
"Yes. I am concerned about the possible promotion of one particular historical podracer ... one who went on to become a Jedi."
"Oh, yes, I know the exact one you mean ...the human one ... from that backwater desert planet. Jedi, you say?" He looked up suddenly, seeming to catch on. "Speed Gambit is a quality, family show - we consider the Imperial Media Charter of utmost, extreme importance, in everything we do here at Holoworld. We practically worship the media charter." Caz pointed at a pink sheet pinned to the wall. "See, there it is, right where I can read it every single day. There's no risk of any Jedi featuring on our show, not while I'm producing it."
"Good," Vader said, "So this ... podracer has not featured on any episode to date?"
"No, absolutely not, I am one hundred percent certain of that fact."
Vader could sense the truth behind the man's words. "That is all I needed to know."
"Before you leave ..." Caz walked over to the cupboard behind his desk. He pulled out a box full of something Vader couldn't quite place. "Just to make sure there's absolutely no hard feelings about the whole talkshow business - here's a box of limited edition Speed Gambit merchandise for your son."
Vader accepted the box, somewhat reluctantly. Furthering his son's obsession was the last thing he wanted to do, but then, he would seem like a heartless parent if he said no, and that was one notorious image he didn't want associated with him.
After school, Luke came straight home, hoping to get the datatapes of the Speed Gambit episodes back from his father. Or, at least, a better explanation as to why he had taken them. He threw his school pack in his bedroom, collected a snack from the kitchen droids, then went in search of his father.
He found him working in a conference room, near the ship hangar.
"Hi," Luke said, barging into the room and slipping into a seat opposite his father, "Can I have those datatapes back?"
His father let out a slow breath, and leaned back to survey him. "I left them in your room," he said, eventually.
"Oh," Luke said, feeling slightly stupid for not checking.
"Along with a box filled with Speed Gambit marketing debris you might like."
"Marketing debris? You mean ... merchandise?"
"Where did you get it?" Luke asked, suspiciously.
Luke stared at his father, in puzzlement. Maybe Ben was right, and his father had been replaced by an imposter.
"You went shopping?" Luke asked, his tone heavy with disbelief.
"No, of course not," his father said, continuing to read a datapad, "They were given to me."
Luke leaned back, thinking. Suddenly, he sat forward, pointing at his father. "All right, I've figured it out. The databook, the tapes, the merchandise ... I've figured it all out."
His father looked up, his posture suddenly tense.
"You're a big fan of podracing," Luke said, "You saw lots of pod races when you were younger, but you just don't want to admit it to me. It clashes with your Sith Lord image."
His father didn't reply, but he seemed to relax slightly.
"Wait, but that still doesn't explain the merchandise," Luke said, looking aside, "Who gave it to you?"
His father flexed his hands together, as if in two minds about telling him. Finally, he relented. "Do you remember Caz Baxter?"
"Yes. I was speaking with him today. Coincidentally, he also produces Speed Gambit. I happened to mention that you were a fan of the show, and he gave me the items in order to make amends for harassing you the other day."
Luke grinned. "Do you think he'd let me be on it as an extra?"
"Do you think I would let you be on it as an extra?" his father asked, pointedly.
Luke sighed, shaking his head. He picked up a nearby datapad, curious as to what his father was doing. "What's this?" he asked.
His father didn't reply, as he had gone back to his work.
Luke scrolled through the items on the datapad, realizing it was a list of invitations, all addressed to his father.
"You get invited to a lot of things," Luke observed, idly.
Luke suddenly gasped, spying something in one of the invites that pushed him to the edge of his seat.
"What is it?" his father asked, sounding weary.
"The new technology exhibit! You're invited!! Bik Vorshy is a guest!!"
"He plays the main character on Speed Gambit," Luke explained. "Father, we have to go to this!!"
"I can't go by myself, the invite is only addressed to you!" Luke stared pleadingly at his father, hoping desperately he could sense how much this meant to him.
"Luke, I am not going to some tedious function, just so you can further your obsession with some mindless entertainment. I am becoming truly tired of hearing about it."
"- and I am trying to work. Go and watch your tapes."
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity!" Luke said, standing up and leaning over the table, "It wouldn't take that long, I swear!"
His father stood up, and began to walk around the table, on a direct line towards Luke.
"It's in one week!" Luke continued, turning to face his father, "Can you please, please, please make sure you're free!!"
"I already gave you my answer, Luke," Vader said, stretching out an arm to grab Luke by the collar.
"But this is really important to me!" Luke tried, as he was dragged towards the exit, "Please!! I'll do anything!!"
His father's only response was to push him out the door, leaving him alone in the corridor.
"But Daaaaad ..." Luke tried, turning to re-enter the room. The doors remained tightly closed.
Luke sat down against the wall to wait. His father had to come out of there sooner or later, and when he did, he'd be ready. His father would give in eventually, even if he had to nag at him for the entire weekend.
As the sun rose on a clear Coruscant morning, a week later, Vader couldn't help but feel pleased with himself. Tonight was the opening of the technology exhibit, and he had managed to resist Luke's begging for an entire week. Two days ago, his son had given up pleading with him entirely.
Vader wasn't sure whether that was because Luke had lost hope, or because he'd banned him from his presence - you could never be entirely certain with Luke. It didn't matter now, anyway. For once, Luke hadn't managed to manipulate him to get what he wanted.
He let out a slow breath as he surveyed the clogged rush-hour speeder lanes from the balcony. He had a lot to do today, as he did every day. He should make a start.
As he was about to turn, he heard footsteps behind him. Luke stepped on to the balcony, holding a datapad.
"Don't you have school today?" Vader asked.
"It's the weekend," Luke said.
"Then go and do your homework," Vader said, pointing at the door.
"I did it yesterday at school," Luke said, "And I've got something to give you."
Vader studied his son, wondering what he was up to. Luke reached out to give him the datapad. Vader accepted it, but did not lower his gaze from his son. Eventually, he looked down and switched on the screen.
Vader read aloud. "We, the undersigned, hereby agree that Luke's father should take him to the opening of the technology exhibit, so he can get Bik Vorshy's autograph."
He looked back at Luke. "A petition?"
Luke nodded. "There's fifty signatures on there."
Vader was tempted to toss it over the balcony, but he resumed reading out of curiosity. "Artoo-Detoo. See-Threepio. UH-764. BN-234." Vader broke off and continued to scan the list of signatures. "These are all stormtroopers and droids!"
"Their opinions are worth just as much as anyone else's!" Luke insisted. After a few moments of silence, he spoke again. "Well, there would be other people, but the tech staff and PAs were all too scared of you to sign it, but they were supportive!"
"You told my PAs we were having personal differences?!"
"They had figured that out anyway. Ben would have signed it too, but he said it was illegal to petition a government official."
"He is right," Vader said, still amazed his son had gone to so much trouble, "I could have you arrested for this." A name at the end of the list caught his eye. "UCOMPACT-12 - isn't that the serial number of the hangar bay trash compactor? I was not aware that it could hold a lightpen."
"Well, I asked it if it supported the petition, and the control panel gave a positive beep, so I signed it for it," Luke explained.
"Son, this is truly pitiful," Vader said, passing the datapad back to Luke, "I have already said no. Move on with your life."
"And I believe I said you are banned from my presence."
"Because I am tired of listening to your whining," Vader said.
"No, I mean why won't you take me? It means a lot to me! It wouldn't hurt you - we wouldn't even need to stay very long -"
Vader let out a weary breath.
"- you could get me through the security, and I'd go in and get the autograph, and then we could go home, and you could go back to being alone."
Vader turned, deciding to head back to his meditation chamber, where he could work in peace. Luke, predictably, followed him.
"It's not as though I'm asking for something for nothing!" Luke said, "I'll earn it! I'll do anything you want."
An idea began to form in Vader's mind. He suddenly turned back to his son, who came to a surprised halt.
"Very well. I was in the ship hangar yesterday, and I noticed you have not done any of your chores."
Luke shrugged, looking aside. "I was meaning to - but I had homework, and then I was watching Speed Gambit."
"Then why are you standing here? Go and finish your chores. When you are done with those, the Corellian Sleetster needs cleaning and polishing, the fuel pumps on the Zynanz-L need re-calibrating, and you can lube all the doors on the standard-issue speeders. One of them has an irritating squeak."
Luke nodded, eagerly. "And then you'll take me to the technology exhibit tonight?"
"If you do the work to my satisfaction."
Luke grinned, and ran off down the corridor. Vader stared after him, sighing with relief. That should keep his son busy for the rest of the day.
It was an exhausted Luke that went in search of his father, as the late afternoon turned into early evening. Not only had he done everything his father had asked, he'd also cleaned and polished all the astromech droids, and repaired a rattling door. It was all very reminiscent of his farmboy days, during harvest season. The chores had been quite different, of course, but the feeling of accomplishment was still the same.
The event was due to start in just over an hour, and Luke was feeling restless with anticipation. He ran from room to room, becoming impatient as his search was not rewarded. He was just beginning to wonder if his father had gone over to the palace, when a patch of black appeared in his peripheral vision.
He ran over and came to a halt outside the doors to the dueling room. His father was clearly about to go in, and was holding his lightsaber handle in his right hand.
"I finished everything. You can go and look if you want."
"You calibrated the fuel pumps?"
"And you found the squeaking speeder door?"
"Yes. And I cleaned all the astromech droids."
"So are we going to the technology exhibit?" Luke said, "It starts in an hour!"
His father appeared to consider it for a moment, tossing his lightsaber from hand to hand.
"Well?" Luke said, becoming nervous at his father's lack of response.
"I have been thinking about this," his father said, "and I have decided it would be better for you if we did not go. You are already obsessed with this show - this would only encourage it. Besides, I do not feel like company tonight. I am behind with my dueling practice."
Luke could hardly believe what he was hearing. "But ... but we had a deal!"
"I am altering it," his father said, calmly.
"Altering it? You mean you lied!?"
"I did not lie. I have simply changed my mind."
Luke blinked, not knowing whether to kick the wall or break down and cry. "This is not fair! You can't just go back on your word like that! I kept up my end! What kind of example is this supposed to set for me?"
"It teaches you not to make deals without collateral," his father said, pointing at him.
"It teaches me that I can't trust my own father," Luke said, "I can't believe you!"
His father finally appeared to be slightly rattled. "Do not look at me with those eyes."
Luke turned away, folding his arms.
"Go and sulk in your room, if you must," his father said, waving him away, "But some day, you might thank me for this, Son. It is time you started living in the real galaxy. Everything is not going to go your way all the time. And I am not going to give in to your every whim just because you whine about it."
With that, his father disappeared into the dueling room, leaving Luke frowning at a closed door. He knew why his father had chosen this room - it was the one room he wouldn't follow him in to. He'd been scared to go in there, ever since his accident.
He turned, and trudged off towards the elevator, feeling tired and miserable.
Vader parried a low attack from his opponent, and then side-stepped, causing the droid to spin into a better position. It dodged his response attack, and feinted. Vader continued the duel for a few more bouts, before raising a hand and sending the droid falling backwards. He then flicked the off switch, causing it to power down and drop its lightsaber.
He holstered his own lightsaber, and turned away. Somehow, his heart just wasn't in it.
It was foolish and sentimental, of course. He shouldn't let Luke affect him like that. The boy was becoming quite spoilt. He shouldn't have given in and let him sleep in his room the other day - that's probably what started this attitude.
He left the room, and made his way to the elevator. Perhaps he should try some meditation - that would get Luke's pleading tone out of his head.
It was ridiculous, really. That meeting some person from a holovid show would be so important to his son. So important that he'd look at him like the galaxy would end if he didn't go.
He'd get over it by next week, Vader reasoned. He would probably be tired of the show by then, too.
The elevator beeped and the doors slid open, revealing their private living floor. Vader made his way down the corridor. He couldn't help but pause outside Luke's bedroom, sensing the miserable, disappointed young one inside.
He watched as his hand began to move towards the door release.
No, he argued, you're letting your own guilt over your absence affect your judgment. Give in to this, and you'll teach the boy that you'll give in to anything. Act like a Sith Lord!
His hand paused, hovering over the button.
Do you really want to suffer through a boring evening with company when you could be meditating alone?
He flexed his fingers a few times.
What would your master think if he could sense your feelings now?
Vader turned away, but his hand didn't follow suit.
What would Obi-Wan have done in this position? For that matter, what would Padmé do?
Suddenly, he pressed the button and stepped into the room. Luke looked up, surprised.
Their eyes met for a few silent moments, before Vader turned to leave.
"A deal is a deal," he said, gesturing to his son to follow. "Come on."
Luke grinned, jumping eagerly off the bed.
"Thank you thank you thank you thank you!"
Luke was nearly at the stage of bouncing up and down in the passenger seat, he was so excited.
"This is going to be so great!" Luke said, "This reminds me of the last time I met someone famous! On Tatooine, our only competitor in the Imperial Galactic Games came to our school. Biggs and I got his autograph."
"The last time you met somebody famous?" Vader enquired, pulling out of the traffic lane to overtake a speeder.
"You don't count," Luke said, "You're my father. Besides, you're more infamous."
"What about the Emperor?"
"He's an ugly old corpse," Luke said, "There's the museum!"
Vader pulled out of the traffic, diving towards the landing pad. "What have I told you about disrespect towards the Emperor?" he chided, taking one hand off the controls in order to wave a finger in Luke's direction.
"Sorry," Luke said, "Do you think I'll be able to meet Bik straight away?"
Vader dropped the speeder into a parking space, and cut the engine. "I hope so. After you have his autograph, we are leaving."
"Fine with me," Luke said. He pulled a datapad and light pen out of the glove compartment, and tucked them into his belt. "All set." He glanced over at his father, wondering why he hadn't stepped out. He was staring fixedly out the front window.
Luke followed his gaze, seeing there were two people, standing on the edge of the landing pad. They had their backs to them, and one appeared to be holding a holocamera.
"Who are they?"
"Media." His father moved to get out of the speeder, and Luke did the same. As his door banged shut, one of the men jumped slightly, and turned in surprise. It was Caz Baxter. His father walked over, and Luke followed behind, curious.
"Well, if it isn't my favorite duo!" Caz gushed, "Didn't expect to see you here tonight - what an extreme honor."
"What are you doing?" Vader asked.
The cameraman turned around in shock, and nearly dropped his holo-recorder at the sound of Vader's voice.
Caz pointed over the edge. "Quite a crowd down here - see for yourself. This is going on the next promo for Speed Gambit."
Luke walked over eagerly, his father close behind. Far below, a huge crowd had gathered outside the main entrance. Luke was glad for his father's Imperial City VIP parking permit - they'd have a hard time getting anywhere near the building, otherwise. The public landing pads below were a sea of people.
"Not bad, ay?" Caz said, "They're waiting for Bik."
"Is he inside?" Luke asked.
"Yeah, he arrived about an hour ago, in the midst of his usual extreme security ... a bit paranoid, that one, but then who could blame him? Not me."
"I am surprised the museum has not had this crowd dispersed," Vader said, "Unauthorized public gatherings are illegal in Imperial City."
As if in response to his words, three troop transports came into view, and stormtroopers began pouring out, blasters at the ready. The crowd instantly became a riot, with people screaming and treading on each other, in their desperation to get away.
Luke watched in wide-eyed surprise, until his father hastily pulled him back from the edge.
"Come on. I believe we are late."
"You're only late for the opening speeches," Caz said, "They put me to sleep personally - this whole museum puts me to sleep. Now, this, on the other hand," Caz gestured below, "This is going to make great holovid."
Luke watched as his father stretched out a hand, ripping the holo-recorder away from Caz's assistant. Once it reached his hand, he pulled it open and took out the data-tape. He then crushed both the recorder and the tape, leaving only a pile of wreckage.
Luke frowned. "What happened to freedom of the media?"
His father turned to him. "The media have the freedom to get out of my vicinity before I kill them for seeing too much."
Caz and his assistant hastily departed for their speeder, leaving Luke sighing in aggravation.
"Come on," Luke said, checking his chrono as he started walking towards the entrance. Hopefully Bik was still there.
Once in the lobby, they were greeted by several stormtroopers, who immediately stood to attention at the sight of his father. A bronze protocol droid approached.
"Welcome, Lord Vader and guest. Please proceed down the corridor to your left. Refreshments will be provided shortly."
"Refreshments?" Luke said, "You mean free food?"
"Yes, young sir."
His father quickly pulled him onwards. Once they were out of the stormtrooper's earshot, he leaned down slightly to speak to him. "Luke, try not to embarrass me. There is no need to act excited about free food. You are fed more than adequately at home."
"I know, but I'm hungry," Luke said, rubbing his stomach. "I was too miserable to eat earlier."
The corridor widened ahead, and Luke could see a small crowd gathered in a scattered manner around a stage, where an older man was speaking. As they came closer, Luke caught the last of his words.
"And now, on behalf of the Imperial Museum of Science and Technology, I would like to pronounce this display open!"
Loud applause followed, and the crowd began to disperse to look at the various exhibits. Luke suddenly caught a glimpse of Bik Vorshy, and ducked behind his father.
"Oh stars, there he is!!"
"Where?" his father asked.
"By the far wall ... wearing the silver tunic."
"The man with four bodyguards?"
Luke nodded, nervously.
"What are you waiting for? Go and get what you came for."
Luke fidgeted with the datapad, wondering how his father would react if he said he'd changed his mind. He was saved from finding out, however - a uniformed man, who Luke did not recognize, had approached them.
"Good evening, Lord Vader. I didn't expect to see you here tonight."
"I was commandeered by my son." He stepped aside so Luke was visible, and nudged him forward.
"Ah, so this is your young protégé I have heard so much about," the man said, offering his hand to Luke, "It is a pleasure to meet you at last, Luke."
Luke accepted the hand, a little taken aback at the enthusiastic greeting. Important people usually ignored him when he was with his father - but this guy even knew his name. Even better, he actually used it, instead of some invented variation on 'Vader junior'.
He glanced up at his father, hoping he would introduce the man, so Luke could return the favor, but he was now talking with the older person who'd been giving the speech when they'd entered.
"Um," he mumbled, turning back to the man, "my father talks about me?"
"Yes. I apologize - I should have introduced myself. I am Commander Vance Wray, chief engineer of Sienar Fleet Systems."
"So you're the one who's always sending us over those prototype ships to play with?" Luke asked.
Commander Wray laughed. "That's me, all right. You see, us engineers ... most of us have never seen any action in the field. But in order to know what makes a good ship, we need a pilot with some advanced engineering knowledge to test out the prototypes and suggest improvements. That's where your father comes in - he's invaluable to us. I've come in to work on some days to find entire blueprints on my desk after asking him if he had any ideas for improving fuel efficiency. And now, I understand, he's training you to follow in his footsteps."
Luke shrugged. "A little bit. I'm not as good as him, though."
"Seems you've had some good ideas now and then, though," Commander Wray said, "Your father has spoken proudly of them."
Luke blushed, wishing his father wouldn't boast about him to other people. Although, it felt nice to know he was proud - he'd certainly never told him that.
"So what attracted you to this event, Luke?" Commander Wray asked, "Was it the talk of a new miniature hyperdrive motivator? I'm interested to see that myself."
Luke suddenly wished he wasn't wearing his Speed Gambit shirt. "Ah ... yes, among other things."
"Well, I must go and look at the exhibits. It was a pleasure speaking with you, Luke - if you ever want a tour of Sienar Fleet Systems, drop me a message and I'll arrange it."
"Thanks," Luke said, grinning. "I'd love that - and it was nice to meet you, too."
Commander Wray smiled at him, and then disappeared off into the rows of displays.
Luke scanned the room until he found his father, and made his way over to him. As he came closer, he found his father was looking at a small, holographic projection of himself. When Luke walked up beside him, he appeared on the projector as well.
"Wow," Luke said, leaning closer to inspect it, "That's a full color hologram - with no distortion!"
"It requires hundreds of scanners," his father said, gesturing at the side of the display, which was coated completely with hologram converters. "Somewhat inefficient."
"Looks great though," Luke said. "I wouldn't mind one for my bedroom ... I get sick of looking at blue people all the time. Who decided holograms should be blue, anyway?"
His father shifted on to the next display, and Luke followed. On the way, he took a quick glance around to see where Bik Vorshy was now.
He wasn't hard to spot ... over on the other side of the room, speaking with someone else. He was still completely surrounded by the grim bodyguards.
"This is fascinating."
Luke turned to the new display, curious as to what would incite a rare display of emotion from his father. It was a scale model of a new ship design. The engines were placed in front, and hooked to the cockpit by a couple of tow cables.
"Looks like a rip-off of a podracer to me," Luke said.
"Inspired by the design, yes," his father said, picking up the accompanying thesis, "But adapted to space travel."
"I preferred the hologram," Luke said. He glanced back at Bik again, seeing he wasn't talking to anyone now. He could go over and ask him for an autograph ... he could, so why didn't he? What was making him so shy? He wasn't normally like this.
"Can we go now?" Luke asked, suddenly, deciding he'd rather leave. Meeting Bik had been a good idea, but somehow he'd lost his nerve. Better just to go now, rather than torture himself over it all evening.
"After I have finished looking at this," his father said, distantly.
Luke glanced at the thesis. Judging by the size of the databook holding the information, it was very long and very detailed.
"They'll probably give you that one to take home if you ask," Luke said, frustrated.
His father glanced at him. "Did you get your autograph?"
Luke looked at the floor. "No," he mumbled.
"I don't know." Luke glanced over at Bik. "I'm a little shy, I guess. He's a big holovid star and I'm just ... me."
"Luke, after whining at me for a week to come to this event, you better go and get something."
"But what if he thinks I'm weird?" Luke said, "Or he thinks I'm some crazy fan?"
"I am sure you will find him cooperative," his father reassured him, "People like him depend on their admirers for their continued employment."
Luke considered it. Maybe his father was right - after all, Bik must have met thousands of fans. He'd be used to it.
"Okay, I'm going," Luke said, taking a deep breath.
Vader was surprised when he happened to catch sight of a chronometer. Nearly forty minutes had passed since he'd last seen Luke.
It wasn't surprising he had lost track of the time, however - he was distracted with this surprisingly innovative ship design. He hadn't expected to see anything of this expertise. Even more surprising was the designer, who turned out to be a young graduate student from the First University of Coruscant. After the museum curator had introduced them, they had quickly started talking engineering.
Commander Wray approached them, interrupting the student's description of the cooling systems.
"Ah, the ship design everyone is talking about! I've been saving this until last."
Vader scanned the room briefly, becoming concerned when he could not locate Luke.
"Commander, have you seen my son?" Vader enquired.
"I saw him leaving a while ago, actually. He seemed in a hurry."
"Leaving?" Vader turned to go and investigate, discarding the thesis. Most likely, his son had found the refreshments and was making the most of them, but he would still like to be sure, just to allay some of his nagging parental fears.
He followed his sense of Luke's presence across the exhibit hall, and into the main reception lobby of the museum. It was somewhat deserted here, with just a few chatting guests and stormtroopers guarding the doors. No sign of his son, however.
Vader began to feel nervous, hoping his son hadn't decided to go exploring. If he had become lost, he could follow the exit signs and end up in the middle of that riot.
Vader moved faster, turning his head from side to side quickly, attempting to pinpoint Luke's location. The trail led him through an expansive hall full of reassembled skeletons, a vast holographic display of ancient Coruscant, and down a corridor lined with antique droids. At any other time, he'd have paused to look, but locating his son was more important right now.
His search was rewarded when he stepped into a room with a vast, domed ceiling, which was constructed to resemble the night sky of Coruscant. Luke stood in the middle, listening to an educational holographic display about Tatooine.
Luke turned, surprised.
"What are you doing in here?"
Luke shrugged. "Just thought I'd see what else was here, that's all. Look, it will tell you about any planet in the galaxy."
Vader switched off the display, which was about to start describing tusken raiders. He could sense something was wrong with Luke.
"Nothing," Luke said. He turned away, pretending to gaze at the ceiling. The datapad and lightpen were hanging untouched from his belt. "Can we go home now?"
"Did you get your autograph?"
"It doesn't matter," Luke said.
"Yes, it does. What happened?"
Luke sighed, and reluctantly turned to face him. "He said ... he said he charges fifty credits for autographs. And he said he doesn't sign datapads - only licensed merchandise."
"What?!" Vader felt the loose grip he had on his temper vanish in a heartbeat. He had endured much over this stupid HoloNet show - this was beyond belief.
He swiftly turned, heading back to the technology exhibit hall.
"Father, no!" Luke yelled, "Wait!"
Vader ignored him. He clenched his hands together as he walked, in anticipation of some imminent asphyxiation.
On the way, he nearly bumped into the protocol droid, who was carrying a tray out of a nearby room.
"Excuse me, sir."
"Where is this HoloNet actor?" Vader asked, "The one named Bik Vorshy?"
The droid gestured at the room it had just left. "In there, sir."
Vader pushed the droid aside, and entered the room. He was there all right ... drinking some expensive alcoholic beverage and enclosed in bodyguards, as though he were the most important person in the galaxy.
"Did you find your son, sir?"
Vader turned. Commander Wray was standing nearby, eating a biscuit.
Luke burst into the room behind him, saving him from answering. "Father, don't! Please!"
Bik Vorshy, his bodyguards, and Commander Wray all turned to stare at the sound of Luke's shout. Fortunately, they were the only occupants of the room.
Vader ignored his son's pleas, and instead spoke to Commander Wray. "I am about to do something I do not want my son to witness. Take him outside, and see that he stays there."
The commander nodded instantly, and hastily moved to comply. Luke protested until the closing of the door cut off his words.
Vader turned, and walked determinedly towards Bik Vorshy. As he came closer, the four, muscular bodyguards blocked his path.
He simply folded his arms and stared at them. They stared back, for a brief instant, and then they ran for their lives.
He was left with the object of his displeasure, who dropped his glass in fright. It shattered against the floor, causing glass to crunch under Vader's boots as he stepped closer and used the Force to raise the man to his eye level. He held a partial grip on his throat - tight enough to let him know he could kill him at the mere whim, but loose enough to keep him alive, for now.
The man shook his head until Vader squeezed slightly, and then he quickly nodded.
"For some reason unfathomable to me, my son watches your mindless entertainment product religiously. Is it unreasonable to expect you to repay the favor by taking a few seconds of your time to sign an autograph?"
The man didn't reply, so Vader tightened his grip momentarily.
"Is it?" he repeated.
"No ... Lord ...Vader ... sir."
"Why does he have to embarrass me like this?!" Luke moaned, pacing up and down in the corridor.
Commander Wray stood beside the door, watching him carefully for any attempt to re-enter the room.
"What did the poor man do?" he asked.
"I just wanted him to autograph my datapad - he said he only signs licensed merchandise, and I'd have to pay!"
"Did you tell him you were Lord Vader's son?"
"No! I'm not a name dropper!"
Commander Wray sighed. "Well, I hope he has a twin brother, or there's going to be a lot of disappointed fans out there."
"What do you mean?" Luke asked, turning to look at him. "He wouldn't hurt him!"
Commander Wray was about to reply, when the doors slid open, inviting them to enter. Luke skidded into the room, seeing his father was standing next to Bik.
"Son. Your friend here -" he pushed Bik forward slightly, "- has just agreed to provide you with a complimentary autograph."
The man nodded, looking slightly pale.
"He has also agreed to answer all your questions, no matter how inane and technical."
"Absolutely," Bik said, faintly.
"I will wait outside," Vader said. As he walked past Luke, he had to fight the urge to smile to himself, in response to the somewhat disagreeable way in which his son was glaring at him.
"I can't believe you did that," Luke complained, for the tenth time since they'd started their journey home.
"Did what, son?" Vader asked, shifting the speeder into the fast lane, "I merely explained to the man why he should give you his autograph."
"You know what I mean," Luke said, glaring at him.
"Unfortunately, my young, naïve son, that is the only way to deal with people like Mr Vorshy. Besides, you got your autograph."
Luke studied the datapad. "Yeah. He was actually really nice after you left. He said he really pitied me. I don't know why."
Vader pulled out of the traffic lane, and guided the speeder down into the hangar bay. He reversed it into a space and cut the engine.
"Although," Luke said, as he undid his seat restraints, "I think I'm going to give this datapad away. Maybe I could donate it to one of those people who were arrested on the public landing pad."
"You mean you are not going to encase it in a diamond display cabinet?" Vader asked, with a tone of sarcastic surprise.
"No," Luke said, climbing out of the speeder. "I don't know ... the show has really been demystified for me, now."
Vader joined Luke, and they made their way to the elevators.
"After Bik answered all my questions, everything started to seem fake! It's all done with droid doubles and holographic-reconstructions. They don't really go to all those places - it's all recorded right here on Coruscant. And Bik said he doesn't even have a current speeder license, never mind knowing how to fly a podracer."
"Were you under the impression it was real?" Vader asked, entering the elevator.
"No," Luke said, stepping in beside his father, "I don't know ... maybe it's not that at all. The show has taken a bad turn recently ... ever since Velos and Seety got together ... now it's all about their romance, instead of the racing and explosions."
Thank the Force, Vader thought. With Luke's next words, he realized his relief was too soon, however.
"I'd rather just read the library book I found about podracing. It's more fun to find out about the real thing. You know racers used to die all the time? And often there were no rules, so people just used to cheat and ..."
Vader tuned out Luke's chatter, thinking back to his own podracing days. Not his, he reminded himself, Anakin Skywalker's podracing days.
It was really time he put that past to rest, once and for all.
"Luke," he interrupted, as they stepped out of the elevator, "There is something I want to give you."
"A present?" Luke asked, surprised.
"More like ... an heirloom."
Luke was packing some of his Speed Gambit merchandise away into his closet, when his father entered his room. He looked up, curious as to what his father was going to give him. He was carrying a folded sheet of blue and white material.
"This was given to me while I was living on Tatooine," he explained, handing it to Luke.
Luke unfolded it, studying the blue and white pattern. "A flag?" Luke enquired.
"A podracer's flag."
"You mean a real life podracer?!"
"Yes. There were no droid doubles or holographic reconstructions involved. Although he was too young to hold a current speeder license, he certainly knew how to fly a podracer. Enjoy it." His father turned to leave.
"Wait!" Luke said, "What was the podracer's name? Maybe he's in my book."
His father was silent for a long moment, before finally answering. "I no longer remember."
"Oh," Luke said, disappointed. He then brightened up, seeing a newly cleared blank area on his wall, where he'd just removed one of his Speed Gambit holo-pictures. "I think I'll hang it right here."
"One of the few clear areas left," his father said, "Everywhere I turn, there is junk."
"It's not all junk!" Luke insisted, pinning the flag against the wall, "It's just bits and pieces I've collected."
"What is the purpose of this?" his father asked.
Luke turned, and found his father holding a certain doll, which happened to be hanging upside down from the center of his ceiling.
Luke froze. "Ah ... that's just ... ignore that, it's not important."
His hesitation caused his father to give it closer inspection. "This almost looks like ..." he started, idly.
Luke felt a sudden darkening in his father's mood. He detached the figure from the string, and looked up to meet Luke's gaze.
"It's not what you're thinking!" Luke said, stepping backwards and bumping into the wall, "That's not the Emperor - it's someone else."
"Then why does it say 'Emperor Palpatine - official Imperial merchandise' on the bottom?"
"Misprint?" Luke suggested, smirking. His smile soon faded as his father continued to glare at him.
"It was just a joke!" Luke said, "I'm not in trouble, right?"
"Only if you do not consider having your HoloNet access cut for a week being in trouble."
Luke frowned for a moment, before accepting it. It was a small price to pay for the fun he'd had torturing that action figure. "Okay. But why don't they make one of those action figures of you? I think you'd make a good toy - I'd buy one!"
"I think I will make that two weeks," his father said, pointing at him.
"Not fair!" Luke protested. "That was a compliment!"
"You are pushing for three."
Luke sulked for a moment, until his father reached over to ruffle his hair. "Goodnight, son."
Luke tried to resist, but he couldn't help but break into a grin. Displays of affection were all too rare from his father. He couldn't help but smile at the strange times he decided to show it.
"Thanks for taking me tonight," Luke said. "Sorry about the nagging, the whining and the illegal petition."
"You are welcome. In all truth, I think I had more enjoyment from the experience than you."
"I noticed," Luke said. He looked down at his father's hand, which was still holding the action figure.
"Can I at least have my Emperor doll back?" Luke asked.
"Goodnight, son," his father repeated, turning to leave the room.
"I'll be nice to it!"
His father paused, and glanced back at him. "I will give it back to you, in two weeks, on one condition. That you provide the Emperor with a likeness of yourself for him to play with."
Luke held up his hands in shock. "Pass!"
"I thought so."