"Well, this is most certainly a surprise, but a most welcome one of course." Mon Mothma smiled. She had been just as surprised as anyone else at the Jedi's somewhat less than expected return, but being a seasoned politician, she quickly adjusted to the new situation. "You will accompany us to Jord, I hope?"
Yoda nodded. "Honored would we be, Madame."
"Very well. We leave tomorrow. As for now, I suppose we had better find you somewhere to stay. I dare say you have found this… experience quite exhausting."
"Quite so," Obi-Wan readily agreed.
Mon Mothma rose. "I shall have someone fetch you as soon as your quarters have been prepared. Feel free to roam the ship in the meantime." She bowed her head in respect, and left the room.
"That went well", Han remarked, leaning back in his chair. "I thought she'd have a fit."
Luke gave him a quizzical glance. "Why would she? I mean, three more Jedi in the Alliance – that's good." He grinned at said three Jedi, and they returned his smile.
"Whatever you say, kid."
"Captain Solo is not overly impressed with the Jedi," Obi-Wan explained lightly.
"I wouldn't have guessed," Qui-Gon murmured.
"Hey, I'm not saying those Force powers don't come in handy every now and then – I've seen Luke here do some fancy stuff – but if you were so great how come you were defeated in the first place? There used to be thousands of you, right, and you couldn't stop the Emperor from taking over, so what's three of you gonna do to stop him now?"
Luke shifted uneasily in his chair. He had been wondering that himself – well, mostly he had been wondering how the hell he, all by himself, was going to stop the Emperor, when all the Jedi before him had failed. And then there was Vader…
Darth Vader who had led the destruction of the Jedi. Darth Vader who had once been Anakin Skywalker. His father. A good man, Ben had said. But Ben hadn't told him the whole truth back then, had he… Still, he had heard the stories about Anakin's heroics from others as well, had taken great pride in them, before he knew the truth. Once his father had been a hero, and now… he was not.
But Luke knew there were still traces left of the man he had once been. He had felt it on Bespin, felt it even as he plunged down to what he believed to be his death. But Ben did not agree. To him – and to every other Jedi as far as Luke knew – Anakin Skywalker was dead and gone forever.
Startled, the young man looked up and faced Ben who was standing in front of him, Qui-Gon Jinn at his side. "Oh. Sorry. I was thinking." He quickly rose, feeling sheepish.
"I just wanted to introduce myself properly," Qui-Gon said, a gentle smile almost disappearing in his beard. His gentle but sharp eyes sparkled with energy. "I have heard a lot about you, Luke." He paused. "I knew your father when he was a child."
"Oh yes. In fact it was I who first discovered his Force potential and brought him to Coruscant." The smile faded. "There are those who claim that was a mistake," he added, suddenly sounding sad and weary.
Luke glanced at Obi-Wan, who was looking at the other Jedi with an unreadable expression. The blonde youth had a feeling that the two of them had been discussing this very topic many times – discussed it heatedly. He felt uneasy, without quite knowing way.
"So," Ben finally said, looking away from Qui-Gon, "would you like giving us the grand tour, Luke?"
"Uh, I'd love to," Luke quickly replied, "but I have to go down to the hangar. I promised I'd meet with Wedge. Uh, he's a pilot in my squadron."
"Of course. We'll see you later then."
Luke nodded, and, feeling strangely relieved, left. Han quickly followed.
When three older Jedi were alone, Obi-Wan turned to face his former master, arms crossed over his chest. "Perhaps this is not the right time for that kind of talk," he suggested drily.
Qui-Gon raised his eyebrows. "Talk about Anakin, you mean?"
"Well… yes. It can only serve to confuse the boy. Steer him away from his purpose."
"To kill his father." Qui-Gon's voice was uncharacteristically flat.
"The man who fathered Luke is no longer alive. He died over two decades ago. No," - he raised his hand to stop Qui-Gon from interrupting - "I know you don't agree, but is it too much to ask that you keep these ideas of redemption to yourself?"
"It is too much to ask, Obi-Wan. Luke has the right to hear what both sides have to say – and decide for himself. You don't trust him to do that?"
Obi-Wan's shoulders dropped, and he looked tired, very tired. "I trust him. As I trusted Anakin. I don't want to make the same mistake again. I don't want to another apprentice, Qui-Gon."
The stern look on the older Jedi's face was replaced with sympathy. "I know. I know, Obi-Wan."
Yoda said nothing, just hummed and looked at the two of the with half-closed eyes.
Darth Vader could not decide whether to feel satisfied, worried, puzzled, suspicious or just happy. As he undressed to take a shower, after ordering his aides to find him some proper clothes – the ones Piett had brought had been far too small – the Dark Lord pondered the Emperor's reaction. Perhaps it had been unwise to simply show up like that in the throne room without warning. For some reason, Palpatine had not seemed very pleased to find that his apprentice had been healed.
This was quite strange, considering how disappointed he had been when Vader first was injured and lost more than half of his Force potential.
Sidious had seemed almost… scared upon spying Vader striding up to him, free of the black armor he had worn for the last twenty-three years. And he had reason to be afraid, Vader thought darkly, enjoying the feeling of hot water splashing over him. Sidious had betrayed him, and in time he would pay for it.
However, he would prefer it if Palpatine did not fear him for the time being. Vader was not ready to take control over the Empire just yet, and he had a feeling that if the Emperor decided that he was a danger his position would be uncertain indeed.
The Dark Lord reached for the soap and sighed. It was such complicated business, Sith relationships. Loyalty was valued, while betrayal was encouraged, fidelity praised as treachery was being planned.
Survival of the fittest.
The corridors of Vader's castle on Coruscant were dimly lit, and that suited the Sith just fine. There had been some confusion over his identity when he emerged from his shuttle, but a swift demonstration of his Force choke had quickly convinced the present stormtroopers that the blonde stranger in black really was their Lord Vader.
The Dark Lord frowned as he rounded a corner. They had reached the capital world just half-an-hour ago and would leave again in another three. The Emperor had ordered him get a few 'aides' and then join him at the Palace.
A few aides? Well, he would take Piett, of course. The man was not a politician, but Vader trusted him, and valued his opinion whenever the man wasn't too respectful – or afraid – to offer it. Who else? Maybe he could suggest that the Admiral bring one of the young cadets with him. He was sure Piett would make a wise choice, and Vader would not have to worry about it anymore.
He stopped outside his quarters and waited for the doors to open. He stepped into the darkness and walked up to his bed, frowning. Bed… if you could call it that. It was more like a sleeping tube, connected as it was to a mass of wires.
The Sith slowly surveyed the room, feeling oddly depressed. Dark, safe, sterile. Once it had felt like a fortress, one of the few places where he could truly relax. Now –
- now he longed for open space far away from any closed chambers. Vader sighed. He would have to change some, or all, of the furniture. Perhaps it would be easier to simply move to new quarters. Yes… He would arrange for that as soon as he returned from Jord.
He sat down in front of his desk and turned on the holoscreen. After a few moments the nervous junior officer appeared. "Lord Vader," he said with a military nod, his youthful voice trembling slightly.
Words of Vader's new looks had spread quickly on the Executor had spread quickly then. Probably it would be the same down here on Coruscant. Good. He did not have patience enough to prove his identity by choking someone every time he wanted something. "I would speak with Admiral Piett," he told the officer.
"At once, my lord."
The officer quickly disappeared and in less than a minute Piett's solemn face filled the screen. "My lord."
"You know about the up-coming negotiations on Jord." Vader paused briefly, and Piett nodded. "I would have you accompany me there", the Sith continued.
For a moment, the Admiral looked stunned. He quickly hid his surprise, though. "Yes, my lord."
"I would also have you choose one of your more promising cadets to join us."
"As you wish, my lord. There are a few that might – "
Vader waved his hand in dismissal. "I shall trust your judgement, Admiral. Choose quickly, though. I need you here in two hours."
Piett bowed and Vader turned off the screen. Pleased, the Sith leaned back in his chair. That was that taken care of. Only… Perhaps he ought to bring someone a bit less… conventional as well, should the need arise for a more hand-on approach than the Admiral, formidable as he was, could offer. Hesitantly, Vader picked up his comlink. Of course, bringing this particular man to a political gathering might prove unwise. Then again, bringing Vader to a political gathering was unwise, and that hadn't stopped the Emperor.
With a slight grin, Vader made up his mind.
"… 'lo?" The voice was husky, as if its owner had been asleep. Or was drunk. Or both.
"Jix. I want you at my castle. Now."
Wrenga Jixton threw a quick glance over his shoulder. No one seemed to have noticed him. He grinned. Well, no surprise. He was the best, after all. Of course no one would notice him.
"Simply knocking is never and option for you, is it?"
Jix spun around and stared at the tall human carelessly leaning against the wall a few meters away. Uh-oh. Well, so perhaps he'd gotten a little too confident, but not matter. He could deal with this. The blonde man, wearing a strangely smug grin, might be taller than he was, but Jix was certain he could take him. He squinted at the other, sizing him up. Somehow he seemed familiar, which was rather puzzling as Jix was pretty sure he had never seen him before. He would have remembered a pretty boy like this.
Jix shrugged. "So you managed to sneak up on me. Bad luck, fella."
The blonde smiled. "Don't even think of it, Jix. You don't stand a chance."
He knew Jix's name? This was getting stranger by the minute. Better put a quick end to it before it got out of hand. Jix raised his blaster, but before he had time to fire it, the weapon was snatched out of his hand by some invisible force.
"I told you you didn't stand a chance", the stranger commented mildly, lazing fingering the blaster.
What the hell… And then he got it. Sure, it was impossible, but then again impossible never really seemed to apply to the Dark Lord. "Bloody hell."
"Not the words I would have chosen, but I am pleased that you are so quick on the uptake."
"Oh yeah, whatever, you've had your fun, can I have my blaster back? Or keep it. I can steal a new one." Jix crossed his arms over his chest.
"You may have this one back. As long as you don't aim it at me again."
Jix did not bother to answer, just took the weapon and put it back in his belt. "Well, you wanted something? Or you just called me to brag about your looks?"
"I have a new mission for you. A… special sort of mission."
"Special? Like in 'no murder'? That's a first."
The Dark Lord glared at him – ah, now the situation started to feel familiar – and then seemingly decided to ignore the remark. "We're going on a trip."
Luke could not fall sleep. He was exhausted, but his mind was far too busy to be able to relax properly. Perhaps it was not so strange. For all he knew, master Yoda might be having the exact same trouble. Even a Jedi master might find it hard to sleep after suddenly being brought back to life.
Not that Luke was a Jedi master yet, not even a knight. But he would be, someday, of that he was sure. He could… feel it.
Yoda had put him through a series of tests during the afternoon, and he thought he had done quite well. Obi-Wan had commented on his progress, and Qui-Gon had told him that he would make a fine Jedi. And Yoda had said that he knew all that he needed to know, back on Dagobah. Of course, that was just before he had died.
And before the Jedi had returned. Watching them, Luke had realized how much he still had to learn, before he could consider himself their equal.
Well. He would learn, learn everything they wanted to teach him. For some reason he had a feeling he would need it.
Jix leaned back against the wall, eyes on the approaching shuttle. Vader had told him that Admiral Piett – a man whose name Jix had heard mentioned, but had never met – and one other would be joining them for the mission.
He smirked. The mission, yeah. After hearing about it, Jix was far from sure that he had been correct when assuming that he would not be asked to kill someone. He was curious as to why Vader wanted him to come to Jord, though. The Sith had provided no explanations, and Jix had not bothered to ask. Sooner or later, he would know.
The shuttle landed and two men emerged. They walked up to Lord Vader, standing in the middle of the landing platform, and bowed. "Lord Vader," the shorter of the two men said, indicating his younger companion, a brown-haired man with a big nose, "this is Sergeant Gand."
The Sith nodded. "Very well, Admiral. We will leave at once."
The Admiral's blue gaze drifted towards Jix. Vader noticed, and smiled thinly. "Ah, yes. Admiral Piett, meet Wrenga Jixton."
For a moment, one could detect a faint hint of something akin to alarm passing over the Admiral's face. Jix grinned. So the man had heard of him, then. He straightened from the wall, approaching the others.
Vader did not comment Piett's reaction, though he certainly must have noticed it. Instead, he turned around and strode away, and the three other men hurried to follow him.
"I would strongly suggest, Jix, that you keep that enormous mouth of yours shut while I speak with the Emperor."
Vader's voice was calm, but there was just enough of an edge to it to remind Jix what usually happened to people displeasing the Dark Lord. But the Corellian was far too used to the Sith's threats to be intimidated. "Whatever you say."
Jix considered making a sarcastic reply, but decided against it when spotting the Emperor's delegation waiting for them at the other side of the hangar. Lord Vader walked up to them and knelt in front of the Emperor. "We are ready to leave, my master."
The hooded man nodded slowly, gesturing for his servant to rise. "Good." He looked up, and for the first time Jix stared into the yellow eyes, suddenly feeling very uneasy.
"Yes," Vader replied. "You have met Admiral Piett. This is Sergeant Gand, a young promise. And," he added, sounding completely indifferent, "the Corellian is one of my agents, known as Jix."
Jix noticed that, unlike when he had been introduced to the Admiral, Vader had used his nickname, rather than Wrenga Jixton. Could have been a coincidence, but he did not believe that. Vader was not big on coincidences.
So. Could it be that the Dark Lord was not keen on his master learning just whom he had chosen to bring to Jord? After all, Jix was a condemned criminal, cast out of the army and sent to Kessel.
"Excellent," the Emperor said, his voice a mere whisper. "We shall leave then."
Jix allowed the delegation to walk past him, before joining Piett and Gand at the rear of the procession. The young Sergeant looked as if he was about to faint, and even though Piett seemed composed enough, though. Well, he was used to being around Vader, and no matter how bad, the Emperor could hardly be worse than his Dark Lord, could he?
But then Jix remembered how cold the air had suddenly seemed when Palpatine looked at him, and was not so sure. He was not afraid – he was never afraid – but he decided to be careful when in the presence of the Emperor.
After all, the old man must have something, if he could make someone like Darth Vader kneel to him.
Of course, as long as he kept away from the walking corpse, there might still be some fun to be had. Jix grinned, and as if Vader had felt it, the Dark Lord turned and stared at his agent. He did not say anything, but he then he did not really need to. The cold blue eyes said it all. Jix stared back, innocently widening his eyes.
Vader just sighed, and shook his head. Jix's grin grew even wider.
"Hi, Han. Still working on those repairs?"
The older man, his chin smudged with oil, looked up at Luke and shrugged. "Yeah. Since the big battle was cancelled, I thought I ought to fix that hyper drive once and for all. Chewie's taking a nap, though."
"I thought we'd taken care of that before we picked you up at Tatooine."
"Picked me up, huh? Now that's one way of putting it… Anyway, I bet Lando's the one who 'fixed' the drive, and it'll work for some time, but sooner or later it's gonna break again. Might as well do it properly now that I've got some spare time…"
Luke seated himself on the ship's floor, next to the hole Han had disappeared into. "So this is where you've been hiding for the past few days then. I'd started to wonder if you were trying to avoid me."
"Well, you've been busy. Didn't want to disturb your training."
"I haven't been training, really. Just talking to Ben and Qui-Gon…"
"Well, if you wanna kick Vader's ass you better start training. Listen kid, I've got faith in you, but Droid Man's gonna chop you up real good if you don't start practicing your moves."
He was grinning, and Luke returned the smile uneasily. "I'm not sure…" he mumbled.
"Huh?" Han's voice was a little muffled. "You said something?"
"What?Oh…no. Just thinking. And, uh, I better get going. Master Yoda promised he'd tell me about the old Jedi order."
"Sounds like a fun way to spend the voyage."
Luke only nodded, though his friend could not see it. "See you later then."
"Later… How long before we're there?"
"Another twelve hours. You better get some sleep."
"Yeah, sure. Take care, kid. Don't let the muppet bully you."
"I won't." Luke walked out of the small hangar as quickly as he could, feeling dejected. There was no escape. He did not want to think about Vader – certainly not about 'kicking his ass'.
The young Jedi sighed. Even though the masters had not exactly said it, he knew what they were thinking: that his father was lost to the Dark Side forever. And that Luke was the one destined to kill him. Everyone just took it for granted, somehow. Even Han.
Luke stopped, and leaned against on the white walls. He was alone in the long corridor, but being alone never eased his mind. When no one talked to him, he could hear his own thoughts even more loudly… Of course, whenever he was around people, sooner or later someone would mention Vader, and then –
And soon he would be facing the Dark Lord again. He was not ready. Not by far. For a moment he wished he could talk to Leia –
Leia. His sister. How could he ever tell her? Not that he thought she would be very upset about having him for a brother. But their father… Still, she had to know, sooner or later. But not now. He was not ready for that either.
Vader awoke with a start. For a moment he wondered where he was, accustomed to waking up in his special breathing-tube of a bed. Then he remembered. Smiled slowly. Oh, yes. He was whole again. "Time?" he demanded as rose and strode over the floor in his new, spacious chambers aboard the starship.
The computer bleeped and answer, and he nodded to himself. Good. Two hours until they reached Jord. Enough time to take a shower and have some breakfast. Maybe he would go see his 'aides' before arrival as well. Piett and his young sergeant probably knew how to conduct themselves, but Jix might need a few reminders of just how painful things might become if he did not behave himself. Not that the Corellian would care – he never had before.
But Jix and Piett were both capable men, in spite of their differences. He would see to that they learned how to co-operate. Somehow.
Jix had just finished dressing and started thinking about breakfast when someone knocked softly on his door. Automatically, he reached for his blaster, but then decided to let it lay. Probably no one wanted to kill him aboard this ship. Probably.
Unless, of course, Vader was annoyed with the lack of someone to strangle on this little trip and had decided that his cheeky agent would be a good victim. Not so likely, though – and besides, if the Sith truly wanted to kill him, a blaster wouldn't help.
He opened the door and faced a young cadet, heavy tray in his hands. "Breakfast, sir," he said.
Sir? Jix almost grinned. Hardly. "Thanks. Here, I'll take it."
"Sir? Lord Vader wants to see you in half an hour. He will be expecting you in his chambers."
"Fine." He took the tray and the door closed. The food looked simply, but tasty enough. He had eaten worse. Slowly chewing some kind of hard bread, he wondered what the Dark Lord had to say. Probably just wanted to give him some last-minute instructions – boring things like don't talk, don't do anything I haven't explicitly told you to do, don't breathe.
Twenty-five minutes later he entered Vader's quarters. Piett and Gand were already there, and for some reason that annoyed him. He frowned, then decided to ignore them. Military men – not his kind. Not anymore.
Darth Vader stood by the far end of the room, legs wide apart, hands clasped behind his back. Classic Vader-stance. Yet, there was something different about him, as if some of the stiffness had disappeared. Coming to think of it, he had seemed more relaxed the last few days. Being out of the suit obviously did him good. Not that he was a new man – not at all. But there was something.
Perhaps a touch of humanity.
Jix had yet to decide whether he liked it or not. Of course, Vader couldn't care less about his opinion. Arrogant bastard.
"We'll be reaching Jord in half an hour," Vader announced. "The negotiations will take place in a temple."
Temple? Jix grinned. For a moment he had a vision of Vader sitting in front of an altar with a huge statue of some ancient god, discussing peace with Leia Organa. Didn't work at all.
Vader seemed to understand what he was thinking. Probably did, too, damn mind-leech. He gave Jix a cold stare. "Jord is a desolate and very sparsely populated planet. There's a small city, and a few villages. For a time it was famous for being one of very few places in the galaxy with hengas mines, but since the invention of kalka-sheets it has lost its importance, and the mines are now empty and abandoned. It is part of Moff Zaff's sector, but there is no Imperial presence on the planet – one of the reasons why it was chosen for this meeting." His mouth twisted into something akin to a sneer. "It is considered neutral ground. Religion is very important to the Jordians, and their High Priest is also their planetary leader." Vader paused, glaring at them with his piercing blue eyes. "You are aware of the fact that these negotiations are not for real. We shall sit there and listen to their talk while the Death Star is being repaired. That is all. Listen. Be polite. Do I make myself clear, Jix?"
"Certainly, your Lordship." Well, he knew how to listen. In fact, he thought Vader would find it far harder to obey these orders – straight from the Emperor himself, he was sure – than Jix would.
"Good." Vader did not seem all that convinced. "I think we are about to make the jump from hyperspace. We should join the Emperor and his delegation."
Vader could not quite explain the anticipation growing in him as he, followed by his three 'aides', entered the bridge where Palpatine was already waiting together with his small group of underlings. Sure, he was looking forward to seeing Luke again – he had to be there! – but there was something... more. Something he could not quite grasp.
The strange presence he had felt before was stronger now.
"Ah, Lord Vader. You are ready to meet the Rebesl, I suppose?"
"Yes, master." What else could he say? For a second he had considered mentioning the increasing feeling of foreboding, the feeling that something was not right, but had decided against it. Palpatine had not spoken with him since they had left Coruscant, and Vader had an idea that he had better keep a low profile for the time being.
Until Luke joined him. He carefully hid his smile. Soon, my son. Soon.