Author's Note: Sorry for not updating this in over a month. I got going on my new fanfic "Chance for Atonement" and was on a roll. I sort of ran into a mental block with this story; but I think I solved a few things.
If you haven't read "Chance of Atonement" yet, I hope you will consider taking a look at it. There is no time travel involved; but there is a whole different twist to the Anakin Skywalker redemption story. :)
Thank you to all of those who have given such positive reviews for "Early Redemption". I'm glad you are enjoying this fanfic, as I have had a lot of fun writing it.
So on with the story...
Executor – Orbiting Over Hoth
The doors to the bridge opened and Piett stepped off the lift to see the tall, dark form of Darth Vader standing in front of the view port with his hands folded across his chest. He noticed that Vader was deep thought as he watched the ships that were carrying the land walkers descend to the surface of the planet. "Lord Vader." Piett addressed him as he came up and stood to his left.
Vader turned to his right to look down at Piett. "Piett... I trust that everything is in order?"
Piett nodded. "Yes, my Lord. Your shuttle is ready and everything you asked for has been put on board, sir."
"Thank you, Piett." Vader said with gratitude just as he noticed Mara Jade also arrive on the bridge. "Mara Jade, have you come to witness the Empire deal a crippling blow to the Rebel Alliance?"
Mara walked closer to where Piett and Vader were standing, briefly looking out the view port and then turned to look at the two men as she stood to Piett's left. She crossed her arms in front of her and looked at Vader intently with her piercing green eyes. "Yes." She started to say as she looked at Vader with suspicion. "I have always wanted to see you in action, Lord Vader. I'm sure the Emperor will be very pleased if this battle is successful and it brings an end of the rebellion. I, for one, would be happy to be present when that happens."
"I find that very unlikely, Mara Jade, as they were already alerted to our presence before we arrived." Vader reminded her with irritation in his voice. "But we most certainly will do our best to weaken their defenses."
Mara Jade raised her eyebrow hiding her fear as she remembered how Vader Force choked Admiral Ozzel right in front of her. "Of course." She paused. "Admiral Ozzel failed us when he came out of hyperspace too close the planet. How could I forget." It was more of a statement than a question. "Tell me, Lord Vader. Do you always kill everyone who makes a mistake?"
Lord Vader looked back at Mara Jade with suspicion from behind his mask, also sensing her fear, just before she managed to block her mind from him. "Yes." He told her. "If they commit one as critical as Admiral Ozzel did, then the penalty is death. There can be no room for error if we are going to finally crush the rebellion once and for all." He told her as he made a fist with his right hand. "I will stand for no less than perfection."
"If that is the case, I am surprised you have anyone left alive aboard this ship." Mara prodded him as Vader continued to hide his ire from her.
But Vader was more upset with the fact that she was there at all, as she would be a hindrance in his goal to fool the Emperor that he is still his loyal servant while still helping the rebels. "I'm sure you will have plenty to report back to the Emperor, Mara Jade, once this battle comes to an end. It won't be a total failure, I can assure you." Vader told her. "If you will excuse me..." He said with a bow and then turned to Piett. "You have the bridge, Piett."
"Yes, sir." Piett replied with the nod of the head.
"Where are you going, Lord Vader?" Mara asked him as she turned to watch him walk back towards the lift and push the call button. "Aren't you going to stay and watch all the fun?"
"That is really none of your concern, Mara Jade." Vader he told her as he turned back to look at her. "As I see it, I am in charge of this fleet and you are just a mere guest on my ship. Therefore, I will only reveal to you what I feel is necessary. I do not need to report my activities to you."
Mara looked back at him with ire. "I was sent here by the Emperor himself, Lord Vader, and given his full authority. Therefore, I have every right to know what you are doing."
"Is that so?" Vader asked. "Well I, too, am here with the Emperor's full authority and HE put ME in charge of this fleet." He paused. "The only reason you are still alive, Mara Jade, is because my master would be very displeased if I killed his best assassin." He paused again. "So unless you want to end up in the brig, I suggest you mind your own business."
"You wouldn't dare put me in the brig!" Mara retorted as she put her hands on her hips.
The lift arrived and Vader stepped onto it, turning to face them. "Try me!" He challenged her as he punched the button to close the doors.
Mara just turned away with a huff crossing her arms in front of her again as the doors to the lift closed in front of Vader.
Whew! Vader thought to himself as the lift descended to the hanger bay of the ship. If I'm right, she won't dare contact the Emperor without having any proof of my treachery. I just hope Piett can manage to keep her distracted from what I'm doing. He thought to himself as the doors opened and he walked out of the lift.
Vader continued down the hall until he walked through the hanger bay doors to see his shuttle waiting for him. A squadron of stormtroopers saluted him as entered. "At ease." Vader told them as he continued to walk across the hanger bay in front of them and then stopped in front of the squad leader. "Be ready to embark on my orders." He told him. "But when you get to the surface of the planet, I want all of your blasters set on stun. I don't want to take any chances that one of you will kill a key rebel who I want to take as a prisoner and interrogate." He paused as he pointed his right index finger at the leader. "Do you understand?"
"Yes, Lord Vader." The squad leader said and then turned to his squadron. "Set all your blasters to stun." He commanded the rest of the squad and they all complied with one loud click as they all changed the setting at once.
"Good." Vader paused. "Now wait here until I give you the signal." He told them as the squad leader nodded.
Vader then turned and continued his way towards his shuttle. As soon as he reached it, he immediately went up the ramp and then closed it behind him. When he got on board, he went up to the control console in the cockpit and sat down, flipping some switches to turn the shuttle on. The shuttle hummed to life as he then continued to pilot the shuttle up off of the hanger bay floor, turning it towards the opening. He then piloted the shuttle out into open space as the two side wings lowered into the down position.
As soon as he was out of range, Vader set the shuttle on autopilot and proceeded to the back of the ship to make sure everything was in order as Piett had promised. When he reached the storage closet, he opened the door and noticed Admiral Ozzel still sound asleep on the floor. He was still hog tied and gagged and leaning up against the right side of the closet. He smiled underneath the mask as he then peered into the back of the closet to see if the two stormtrooper uniforms he requested were also there. Good. Piett is as good as his word. He thought to himself as he noticed the two white, armored uniforms sitting on the floor behind Ozzel. Now sleep a little longer, Admiral. Soon you will have a new home. He thought to himself with a smirk behind his mask and then shut the door.
Rebel Base – Hoth
A Rebel transport and its escort raced away from the white planet, closely followed by two red energy beams that had been shot from a large ion cannon.
Vader just missed being hit himself in his shuttle just as he saw a rebel transport race passed him directly towards one of the Imperial Star Destroyers. He watched in awe as the Imperial Star Destroyer was hit by the red bolts which caused an explosion and allowed the transport to escape.
Whew! That was close. Vader thought to himself as he continued to fly towards the surface of the planet. He thought at this point it was best to alert the rebels of his arrival on the surface of the planet so he opened the coded comm channel he had used earlier when he warned them of the impending attack. He removed his helmet and mask just in case the transmission was picked up by any of the Imperials. "Security code 426. Echo Base, this is Aaron Skywalker. Do you read?" He said into the comm but was met immediately with static instead. "Echo Base, do you read?"
"This is Echo Base. I thought you were going to make this easy for us." Came Leia's familiar voice over the comm.
Vader sighed. "Leia, is that you?" He asked with apprehension.
"Yes, this is Leia. We're a little busy down here. Any other tips you can give us to get us out of this?" She asked sarcastically.
"Leia, I'm sorry. I told you there is only so much I can do." He told her. "All I can really tell you is that the land walkers should be arriving at any moment and that ground troops will be just behind them. So be ready!" He paused. "Listen, I'm en route to you in an Imperial shuttle. I have a plan to help get your father out of the Kessel Mines, but I'm going to need as much help as I can get. Where are Luke and the others?"
"Luke is on his way to a snowspeeder as we speak, so are the others." Leia informed him.
"Echo Station Three-T-Eight." Leia heard over another channel. "We have spotted Imperial walkers! Imperial walkers on the north ridge."
"Affirmative! The land walkers are already here." She told Vader. "Get to the surface as quickly as possible, and I'll alert everyone to your presence so they don't shoot you down."
"Understood. I'm on my way to you. And be careful!" Vader told her. "Skywalker out."
"Echo station Five-Seven. We're on our way." Luke said into his comm as he fastened his helmet.
"Luke, this is Leia." She commed from the command center.
"Yeah, Leia, this is Luke. What's going on?" Luke replied to her as his gunner, Dack, jumped into the seat behind him and Luke started up the engines.
"Luke, Aaron Skywalker is on his way to the surface of the planet in an Imperial Shuttle. Make sure no one shoots him down him, ok?" Leia told him with concern.
"Will do, Leia." Luke complied as the canopy closed and he flew the ship out of the hanger. "Did you hear that boys?"
"Yes, Rouge Leader." He heard a group reply to him in unison. "All right, boys, keep tight now."Luke said into the comm as he turned the snowspeeder towards the Imperial land walkers heading their direction.
"Luke, I have no approach vector. I'm not set." Dack said from behind him through the comm.
"Steady, Dack. Attack pattern delta. Go now!" Luke commanded as the entire group of snowspeeders closed in on the lead land walker and the cannons mounted on the walker started firing on them. They could see the other walkers looming in the background.
"All right, I'm coming in." Luke yelled into the comm as he turned the speeder and headed directly at one of the walkers, flying towards its legs. He banked the speeder and then flew between its legs. "Tobin, you still with me?"
"Yeah, I'm with you, Luke. Lead the way." Tobin replied back into his comm as the two speeders raced directly at the head of one of the walkers and then split, flying past it. The other two walkers marched onwards towards the base as rebel troops fired at them and the snow exploded around them.
One of the Rebels banked their speeder through and away from the legs of a walker. Two other speeders, both flown by two of the Jedi padawans, flew passed the first speeder from the opposite direction just as another Rebel craft raced just above the icy plain. One of the walkers, swiveled its head and fired at it, striking another snowspeeder flown by an unknown rebel, hitting it straight on and causing it to explode into a ball of flames.
Luke's flew his speeder towards the lead walker, driven by General Veers and banked in from the side of the walker. He headed straight for its view port, firing at it with full force causing an explosion as he hit the walker's window. But it caused no damage. Luke then pulled up and roared up and over the walker to avoid a collision. He looked back at the walker as it was getting smaller behind him. "That armor's too strong for blasters." He said out loud to himself as he noticed another walker on the horizon and banked towards it for another run. Luke then turned on his comm. "Rouge Group, use your harpoons and tow cables. Go for the legs. It might be our only chance of stopping them." He yelled into the comm as he then addressed his gunner. "All right, stand by, Dack."
"Luke, we've got a malfunction in fire control. I'll have to cut in the auxiliary." Dack said into his comm back to Luke as he tried to prepare the guns.
"Just hang on. Hang on, Dack. Get ready to fire that tow cable." Luke tried to encourage him as Dack was being jostled around in the back seat. Dack struggled to get his harpoon gun ready as Luke swung around and headed back towards one of the oncoming walkers. The walkers were firing back at them as Luke continued to maneuver the speeder to keep from being hit either head on or in the crossfire.
Luke and Tobin flew their snowspeeders in a fly in tight formation toward their intended target as laser blasts were exploding around them. After sustaining a hit, Luke turned around, concerned for his gunner, to see if he was ok. "Dack? Dack!" When there was no answer, Luke's heart sunk as he sensed Dack's life Force leave him; but he tried not to let it affect him as he continued on his run.
One of the walkers continued towards the Rebel base as one of the speeders exploded near its legs. It continued firing and hit one of the main guns for the rebel base, causing it to explode as all the walkers continue to advance forward.
Veers and his pilot looked out the cockpit window, noticing the power generators coming into view. It was then that a hologram of Darth Vader, who had since put his mask and helmet back on, appeared in front of them. "Yes, Lord Vader." Veers started. "I've reached the main power generator. The shield will be down in moments. You may start your landing."
"Very good, General. Continue to keep me apprised of your progress." Vader replied.
"Yes, Lord Vader." Veers said in reply.
Once he was done talking to Veers, Vader immediately cut signal and then opened the secure signal to the rebel base command center. "Security code 426! Echo Base! Echo Base! They are targeting the main power generator! I repeat. They are targeting the main power generator!" Vader said into the comm with his mechanical voice.
"We read you. Thanks for the warning!" Leia replied through the comm and then turned a knob so she could use the main combat comm channel. "The main generator is being targeted! Stop them if you can!" She yelled into the comm.
"We read you Echo Base!" Elena's voice replied over the comm as she and the other Jedi padawans flew their speeders towards the other two walkers, shooting at them, trying to damage and/or distract them.
"Rouge Three." Luke yelled into the comm link.
"Copy, Rouge Leader." Wedge replied into the comm.
"Wedge, I've lost my gunner. You'll have to make this shot. I'll cover for you. Set your harpoon. Follow me on the next pass." Luke commanded.
"Coming around, Rouge Leader." Wedge complied as he turned his speeder around to join Luke.
"Steady, Rouge Two." Luke cautioned Tobin as he also advanced upon the walker, firing at it trying to distract them as Wedge started his run.
Wedge raced his speeder through the legs of one of the other walkers as he turned to his gunner. "Activate harpoon." Wedge commanded into his comm as his gunner, Janson, reached out and fired the harpoon. The harpoon hurtled towards the walker and instantly became embedded in one of the walker's legs. "Good shot, Janson." Wedge then raced their speeder around the walker's legs, trailing the cable behind them as he flew around the walker's giant legs. "One more pass."
"Coming around. Once more." Janson said into his comm as he prepared to release the cable. "One more." He said as Wedge swung around and flew between the legs again. "Cable out! Let her go!"
"Detach cable." Wedge commanded as the cable released from the speeder.
"Cable detached." Jason complied as they zoomed away.
The Imperial walker then began to falter as its legs, tangled by the cable, were unable to move. It then fell to the side and crashed to the snowy ground below. Tobin then flew by and shot at the walker until it exploded.
"Whooha! That got him!" Wedge yelled into the comm triumphantly.
"I see it, Wedge. Good work." Luke complimented him. "You too, Tobin! Nice shot!"
"Thank you, Rouge Leader." Tobin replied with pride through the comm.
Rebel Base – Command Center
Meanwhile inside the command center, Leia, Mace Windu and General Rieekan flinched when large chunks of ice dropped to the floor as they were monitoring the computer screens.
"I don't think we can protect two transports at a time." Rieekan observed as he looked at Leia, then Mace Windu with concern.
"It's risky, but we can't hold out much longer." Leia told him. "We have no choice." Rieekan nodded and then turned on the comm. "Launch patrols."
Mace turned to Leia with concern. "Delaying any longer would be a mistake." He paused. "Might I suggest we evacuate now before it's too late. We are worth nothing to the Alliance if we are all dead. If we go now, we can live to fight another day."
Leia, respecting the elder Jedi Master's experience, nodded in agreement and then turned to an aid. "Evacuate remaining ground staff." She told them with sadness as she knew they were near defeat.
While all of this was going on, Vader decided the best course of action would be to fly the long way around to avoid the battle. He set down his shuttle at the south entrance and opened the ramp. After cutting off his transmission with Veers earlier, he had since given the signal for the squadron of stormtroopers from the Executor to head down to the surface of the planet to meet him. He knew if he didn't at least do that, Mara Jade and perhaps some of the other officers on board the ship, would become suspicious about his loyalties. But he was confident in the knowledge that the stormtroopers would at least have their weapons set on stun so no one on the base would be killed. And with the stormtroopers being so weak minded, he could easily manipulate their memories to remember what he wanted them to remember about their "occupation" of the rebel base.
So he wasn't too surprised when the squad leader approached him just as he reached the bottom of the ramp still wearing his mask and helmet. They are nothing but efficient. Vader thought to himself.
"Lord Vader." The squad leader started. "What are your orders, sir?"
"Wait here and guard the south entrance. I will alert you when you are needed." Vader told him in his mechanical voice as he then started walking off into the base in search of Leia and the others.
"Yes, Lord Vader." The squad leader said in compliance and they saw Vader disappear into one of the side hallways.
Meanwhile outside the battle continued to rage on. General Veers continued to look at his control panel reading various readouts. "All troops will debark for ground assault. Prepare to target the main generator." Veers commanded.
After eliminating one of the walkers, Luke and Tobin flew their speeders in formation, banking from right to left, trying to avoid all the laser blasts and explosions erupting around them. Luke glanced over at Tobin's ship as he noticed Tobin had managed to maneuver himself out of a near miss. "Rouge Two, are you all right?"
"Yeah. I'm with you, Rouge Leader." Tobin replied.
"We'll set harpoon. I'll cover for you." Luke told him as the two speeders sped across the frozen landscape towards one of the walkers.
"Coming around." Tobin said into his comm.
"Watch that cross fire, boys." Luke shouted into the comm.
"Set for position three." Tobin said to his gunner. "Steady."
"Stay tight and low." Luke suggested as he moved into formation with Rouge Two when this time Tobin's ship got hit, despite Tobin's attempt, by using the Force, to escape with a near miss again.
"I'm hit!" Tobin yelled into the comm as he veered away. "I'm going in!"
"Tobin!" Elena could be heard over the comm with fear evident in her voice.
"I love you, Elena!" Tobin told her over the airwaves as he continued to lose control of his ship, but then crashed with a spray of snow flying up into the air.
"Tobin! Tobin!" Elena's tear filled scream could be heard over everyone's comms as they were all just greeted with static in return.
Luke and Elena both flew over Tobin's downed speeder, trying to see if he was alright, and to their relief they saw Tobin emerge from the wreckage. He was uninjured. Although, sadly, it appeared that his gunner wasn't so lucky. Tobin waved to them as he pulled out his light saber and started making his way back to the base on foot. He then ignited his green light saber, deflecting shots fired at him as he went and rolling to the ground when necessary. His vulnerable situation was certainly putting his Jedi skills to the test.
Luke, upon being distracted by his 'cousin's' crash and scared for his safety, didn't see one of the walkers turn it's head and fire up on him until it was too late. He veered to the left but he was hit in the right wing of his speeder anyway, reducing his ability to steer. He struggled with the controls as a feeling of terror and dread washed over him. His speeder started to fill with smoke and then electrical sparks started jumping around the cockpit. "Elena, I've been hit!" Luke yelled into the comm.
Rebel Base – Command Center
Vader continued his way through the maze of hallways towards the command center. If Leia was anything like her mother, he knew she was probably still on the base putting the safety of everyone else before her own. And he was determined to make sure she left there before additional Imperial troops arrived. Along his current path, Vader noticed cracks had appeared in some of the hallways where pipes had broken and steam had started to pour out of them. The command center was in shambles when he arrived, but there were still people at their posts giving out orders and giving instructions. A giant cave-in almost obliterated the room as he entered where he saw Leia and 3PO near one of the control boards.
"Leia! Are you alright? Why are you still here? You need to leave...now!" Vader bellowed at her, not believing his eyes that she was still on the base as it was about to collapse and be overrun with Imperials.
Mace Windu looked up in shock as Vader entered, as he, too, was determined to get the Senator to leave and soon. "I keep asking her the same thing." Mace interjected causing Vader to look at him with shock as he hadn't quite been informed of his reappearance yet.
"Master Windu? You're alive?" Vader asked in continued shock.
"Yes, I am...Vader. But never mind that now." Mace replied. "We have more important things to attend to."
"Of course." Vader said in reply as he pulled himself out of his shocked state. "And do not worry. I am alone." Vader paused. "Except for a squadron of stormtroopers I left at the south entrance as to not raise suspicion."
"Vader." Leia started pulling their attention back to her. "I need to buy some more time for the last transport to get away. Can you do anything for us?"
"Not too much without raising any suspicion." Vader replied with sadness. "I am sorry but my hands are tied."
"Senator Outlander, we must take this last transport. It's our only hope." 3PO stated as the three of them just looked at him in disbelief at him stating the obvious.
Leia sighed in resignation and turned to one of the staff members. "Send all troops in sector twelve to the south slope to protect the fighters." She told them just as a blast shook the command center, throwing 3PO backwards and into Vader's arms.
"Imperial troops have entered the base." They heard an announcer say over the loudspeaker as everyone immediately looked towards Vader for help.
"Follow me." Vader instructed as he pushed 3PO back up onto his feet. "I will make sure you all get out of the base safely."
Leia turned to the staff again. "Give the evacuation code signal. And get to your transports!" She instructed as the staff nodded back at her and rushed out of the room. Leia then looked back at Vader. "Lead the way."
"This way." Vader replied as they followed the 'Dark Lord' in a rushed manner into the hallway.
"Oh! Wait for me!" 3PO yelled after the group as he trailed behind.
As they continue to follow Vader through the maze of hallways, they could hear the evacuation code signaling through the base and echoing off the corridors. "K-one-zero...all troops disengage."
"I never thought I'd be doing this." General Rieekan said as he watched the tall, dark figure of Darth Vader walked in front of them down the hall. "Trusting Lord Vader with my life."
Vader turned his head to look back at Rieekan. "Nor did I." He paused. "So the feeling is mutual."
"Yeah...well...we just need to get out of here and quickly." Leia interjected as they felt another blast shake the structure. "I just don't understand why you can't do any more to help this situation."
Vader quickly looked back at Leia. "A woman named Mara Jade, who the Emperor trusts, has been sent to spy on me since my return. I am taking a great risk just by being here helping you escape." He explained.
"I'm sorry." Leia apologized. "I had no idea you would be so distrusted by the Emperor."
"I have never been fully trusted by the Emperor." Vader explained. "It is the way of the Sith that one day the apprentice will overthrow the master." He sighed. "We must hurry. My shuttle should be able to accommodate all of us." Vader informed them as another blast shook the hallway they were in, causing some of the snow from the ceiling to fall to the floor and Vader to pull Leia out of the way just in time as a snow bolder crashed to the floor right where she had been standing.
"That was too close." Leia said as Vader held her close to him from behind in a loving fatherly embrace as the reality of what could have just happened sunk into their consciousnesses.
The touching sight of Vader holding Leia in his arms didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the party with them.
"We must keep moving. It's not much farther." Vader said as he released Leia and then started moving down the hall again. But then he stopped in his tracks as a thought occurred to him. "Where are Sarah and Ben?"