by Valerie Vancollie
(valeriev84 at hotmail dot com)
"Who? What?" Wedge muttered sleepily as he woke up with a start.
"Sithspawn!" Luke cursed for having woken up his friend yet again.
It wasn't until he'd uttered the word that he realized what he'd said. The swear was a common one among pilots and he'd picked it up shortly after he'd joined the Alliance. It wasn't until now that he actually gave any thought to what it really meant.
"Eh... Luke?" Wedge mumbled, clearly still half-asleep. "You okay?"
"Yes," Luke replied, rubbing his forehead before he got excited again.
He had to tell Leia! It was a crazy idea, but it could work.
"Did you have another nightmare?" Wedge inquired before he heard movement below. "Luke? Lights on, dim."
Slowly the lights in the room came on until a soft glow diffused the small space.
"Thanks," Luke said as he blinked before grabbing his pants and pulling them on.
"What in the Lady's name are you doing?" Wedge demanded as he rose to one elbow and observed the Jedi-in-training.
"I've got to talk to Leia. I may have a plan to get an Enigma cipher machine!"
"You do?" Wedge questioned, coming fully awake and glancing at his chrono. "Luke, it's the middle of the night cycle!"
"So? Leia probably won't be asleep, she gets more nightmares than I do."
"Yes, but think of her reputation."
"Oh for..." Wedge began. "What do you think will happen if someone sees you sneaking into her quarters at this time?"
"I won't be sneaking," Luke replied, though he paused with his shirt halfway to his head.
"That won't make any difference to the rumor mill."
"But... you're right," Luke admitted, putting the shirt back.
"Now, how did you come up with a solution at this time of night?"
"Leia!" Luke called out as she finally walked into sight, speaking with General Rieekan.
He'd tried finding her at breakfast before he'd moved to the corridor off of which the Council chambers were located.
"Good morning, Luke," Leia said as she reached him.
"Good morning Leia, General," Luke replied, nodding at Rieekan. "I think I know how we can get hold of an Enigma encryption machine."
"What?" Rieekan demanded, eyes widening in surprise.
"It came to me last night."
"You should come inside with us," Leia said. "There's a Council meeting right now, though I'm sure we can push that back a little for this."
"Are you sure its viable?" Rieekan asked as he looked at the younger man.
"With a little work, yes, Sir," Luke replied, straightening.
He'd always respected the man, both for his impressive record with the Alliance and for the way he treated his people. On Hoth, he had always done his best to provide for them and had been very open with Luke and included the squad commanders in all the important defense discussions. The man had also been an ally when he'd returned to the Alliance after Bespin.
"In that case, I believe we should do as the Princess recommends."
"Thank you, Sir."
"If you're right about this, then I shall be the one who needs to thank you," Rieekan stated as they crossed the short distance to the Council chambers and entered.
"Give me a minute," Leia said before she walked up to all the other Council members who were already present.
Since he was already receiving less than friendly looks from General Madine, whom he'd never really gotten along with, and the new Admiral Ackbar, who had disapproved of showing him leniency after he'd left the Alliance with no warning to go to Dagobah, Luke stayed put near the door. He could see the startled look cross Mothma's face as she glanced up at him as Leia told her why he was here. A quick discussion followed with Generals Rieekan and Xa'tresh as well as Councilor Kwerl before Mothma nodded and seated herself at the semi-circular Council table.
"Luke," Leia called out, motioning for him to approach as she took her own seat.
"What is going on?" Madine demanded as Luke halted before them.
"Commander Skywalker has a plan on how we may acquire a cipher machine," Rieekan informed them.
"And how did he learn of our need for one?" Kwerl questioned, his fur rippling.
"I informed him of it," Leia admitted as she looked at the Bothan.
"And what makes you think that we haven't already considered this option and discarded it?" Admiral Ackbar demanded.
"It's highly unorthodox," Luke replied calmly, sad that he had gotten off on the wrong foot with the Mon Calamari. He'd have hoped that the time between his return to the Alliance and now would have cooled the alien's opinion of him, especially considering how Rogue Squadron had so recently managed to save three defecting Mon Calamari ships from a pursuing Imperial attack force. "I do not believe anything like this has ever been attempted before."
"Oh?" Rieekan said.
Luke risked a quick glance at Leia and saw that she was attempting to hide a smile. No doubt due to his unorthodox comment. It was well known that he and select other members of Rogue Squadron often utilized unusual tactics. It had helped them throw off TIE fighters on more than one occasion and he saw no reason to stop.
"It actually came to me as I was thinking about Vader," Luke continued. "It occurred to me that he could get his hands on an Enigma machine quite easily."
"And how does this help us?" Madine demanded.
"What is Vader?" Luke replied, answering the question with another question.
"What is Vader?"
"Darth Vader is a Sith Lord and the second-in-command of the Empire," Kwerl stated.
"No, no, not who, what," Luke clarified as he turned to face the Bothan. "What is Vader?"
"Luke, no one is sure what Vader is," Leia said. "He's probably human but we can't be certain."
"He is human," Luke declared, startling the Council with his confidence. "But that's not what I'm getting at. What I mean is-"
"How can you be so sure?" Ackbar interrupted. "You sound like you know for sure."
"I do," Luke replied, a little flustered. How was he to explain this without giving away his secret? "I can sense it with the Force."
"Different species have different minds and slightly different Force auras. Yours is different from any human's as our aura is different from that of Council Kwerl's or General Xa'tresh," Luke explained. "Vader's Force aura is human."
"If his race isn't what you were getting at, then what is?" Rieekan asked, steering the conversation back to the topic at hand, his face furrowed in concentration.
It was an expression Luke instantly recognized from all the meetings he had attended with the other squad commanders on Hoth. The general was trying to figure out where he was going with this and he was intrigued.
"What is Darth Vader? How do we know someone is Vader?" Luke expanded.
"His physical appearance?" Leia guessed.
"Yes and no," Luke responded and hurriedly continued as he sensed exasperation permeate the air. "With anyone else it would be facial features or some other physical characteristic that is unique to an individual. With Vader that's not the case."
"The suit and mask," Rieekan stated, understanding suddenly dawning on his face along with a hint of admiration.
"By the Force," Leia uttered as she too got it, sharing a look with Rieekan who sat to her left. "Can we do it?"
"It would take some work as we don't even know how it's made, but then that wouldn't really matter as it just needs to look and sound like it's real."
"What are you going on about?" Kwerl quickly interjected.
"Darth Vader is his suit and mask," Luke explained. "Both of which can be replicated. We just need to create our own copies of them and we can have someone pretend to be the Dark Lord."
"And he could enter any Imperial base, demand the Enigma encryption machine and walk out with it," Mothma finished slowly, stunned and clearly still processing the idea. "That's just daring enough to work."
"The timing could be a problem," Madine warned, though Luke could sense his rising excitement. "Should Vader appear on the holonetwork while our actor is on the base, he would be captured and killed."
"Vader rarely appears on the network directly," Kwerl stated. "The news normally shows prerecorded clips of him."
"Besides, his location often isn't certain as he likes to command from the frontlines," Rieekan added, hitting on one of the few things Luke could admit he admired about his father.
He didn't rule his troops from afar, generally going out into the war zone himself.
There was a brief silence as the Council members contemplated the idea and Luke remained still, feeling more confident about the plan than he'd been since he'd lain back down in his bunk and seriously thought through the logistics of it in the middle of the night.
"There may be one problem," Xa'tresh hissed, speaking for the first time in Luke's presence.
"What?" Leia asked, hoping it was something they could overcome.
"Darth Vader or not, I doubt the Imperial commander in charge of the facility we choose will be willing to part with the machine. It is an extremely expensive and important piece of equipment."
"Vader overrides his authority," Rieekan pointed out.
"That is not my concern," Xa'tresh replied, waving a clawed hand in a dismissive gesture. "I am rather concerned with Vader's response. He does not take even the slightest disobedience lightly."
"He would kill the man," Ackbar agreed solemnly, his mind wandering back to his own encounters with the Sith. "By choking them from a distance with the Force."
"Can you do this, Commander Skywalker?" Mothma suddenly asked after a moment of silence.
"Ma'am?" Luke replied.
"You are a Jedi Padawan, are you able to manipulate the Force in this manner?"
"I... I don't know," Luke admitted, startled at the suggestion.
"What do you mean you don't know?" Madine demanded. "You claimed to have deserted to learn Jedi tricks."
"Force choking is not something my teachers taught me," Luke explained, forcing his voice to remain even as he tried to calm himself. "I have also never attempted it before. It is, however, possible that I could... uh, figure out how to do it given a little time."
"Time isn't an issue," Rieekan said. "It will take a while to create the costume and train someone to properly imitate Vader."
"We'll need to collect all the footage we have of Vader as well as anyone who has spent time near him," Ackbar stated before he looked to Luke once more. "We shall need your experience with him as well."
"Not that I'm not willing to do so, but I've only really encountered him in combat situations," Luke replied. "And only Force ones at that. I don't think I've got any relevant information to impart for the situation. The substitute's not going to be fighting."
"Regardless, you have seen him move, act and command. You shall be able to say whether or not the actor comes off as convincing."
"That I can happily help with," Luke admitted, watching as Rieekan and Madine spoke softly together, the latter already making notes on a datapad.
"Skywalker will need to be disguised," Xa'tresh suddenly declared, drawing the attention of the other two generals.
"Indeed," Rieekan agreed. "Commander Skywalker is too well known among Imperials now. But I am sure we can adequately alter his appearance."
As he entered the main hanger bay of Home One and made his way towards the assigned landing area for his squadron (near the exit so that they could quickly rush out in case of a surprise attack), Luke slowed. He kept to the shadows of an A-wing as he stopped to regard his squadron. Techs were either perched upon or swarming under most of the X-wings while his squadmates were supervising them or explaining any minor problems they'd noticed.
Wedge was standing slightly off to the side with Hobbie near the latter's X-wing with the chief technician. They were deep in conversation, no doubt discussing the sudden inexplicable power failures Hobbie had experienced in their last dogfight. It was a testament to the Ralltiirian's piloting skills and the quick reactions of his wingman that he'd even survived.
As he watched the Corellian keep a subtle eye on the whole squadron even while dealing with the most critical issue, Luke had to smile. Wedge was quickly turning into an excellent leader and was all but ready to command his own squad full-time. Not that he believed the man would willingly leave Rogue Squadron. They had simply forged bonds that were too great to voluntarily leave behind. Yet the ease with which he stepped in when Luke was needed elsewhere, the lack of briefing he needed at those times and the fact that Luke could give him that control with no hesitation, proved that it was nearly time for Antilles to get his own squad.
A sudden string of familiar beeps and whistles drew Luke's attention from his second-in-command to his own X-wing and the blue astromech droid standing beside it. Artoo was fairly vibrating as he tried to convey something or other to the tech standing next to an open panel on the craft's belly. Without his golden companion, however, Artoo's attempts at communication weren't working as well as he'd like. A smile tugged at Luke's mouth and he decided to go help his little friend as soon as he made sure everything was in order.
The smile instantly vanished from Luke's face as his father reached out to him once more. The man was persistent if nothing else. Briefly he wondered what the Dark Lord would have to say if they managed to pull off his plan. He probably wouldn't be pleased. Perhaps Vader would leave Luke alone after he saw that he'd taken part in the charade? That would definitely be a nice side effect of the plan.
"Are you sure that there's nothing else you can tell me about what happened?" the lead technician asked Hobbie and Wedge.
"No," Hobbie replied.
'I know you can hear me, child.'
"Will you be able to fix it or will you need to gut the X-wing?" Wedge inquired, causing Luke to wince.
Each craft had its own little quirks and completely replacing a ship's innards altered them. Hobbie would need to do some extra flying to get a feel for his craft if such drastic measures were necessary. Under perfect conditions such quirks were minor, but the Alliance wasn't able to provide perfect conditions for its men or ships despite their best efforts. As a result, the possible quirks were greater and, while not major, they could be big enough to cause a nasty surprise in a dogfight.
"I can't say at the moment," the technician stated.
"When will you know?" Luke asked, not wanting Hobbie to fly Blue Seven's X-wing for patrols longer than necessary.
"Commander Skywalker!" the man declared as he turned to face him. "Perfect timing, I was hoping you could give me some additional information on what happened with the X-wing."
"I was quite a ways away when it happened," Luke stated, the dark look crossing Wedge's face as soon as the technician's back was turned told him exactly what kind of man he was. "Besides, Lieutenant Commander Antilles knows all that I do about the situation and Lieutenant Klivian, of course, is the one best able to inform you of all the relevant information."
"Ah, yes, Sir, of course, Sir. It shouldn't take us more than a day to see how bad the damage is," the man replied stiffly before he rushed off to shout at one of the technicians working on the troublesome craft.
"You couldn't have come back any sooner?" Wedge asked, glaring at his commander.
"Sorry," Luke replied with an apologetic smile. "Think of it as training."
"Training? For what?"
'Do you not wish to end all of this bloodshed?'
"The responsibilities of squad commander," Luke replied innocently, turning to look at the man again as he clenched his fist and pointedly ignored his father.
"He would have made it far in the Empire," Hobbie commented as he followed his commander's gaze while trying not to smile at Wedge's startled expression.
"Huh?" Wedge said.
'Answer me, child.'
"All that simpering and flattering of superiors. Those were definitely the people that moved up the ranks the fastest in the bureaucracy at the Imperial Academy and on the Star Destroyer I was on."
"All the better for us," Luke stated as he had a brief flash of Biggs who had served the Empire with Hobbie before defecting to the Alliance. Biggs, whose life had been snuffed out by a shot of his father.
'Son, let me complete your training.'
Please let me know what you think of this part! Leave a review or send us an e-mail.
I shall have the next part up as soon as I can.