Disclaimer: I don't own Star Wars.

AS THE STARS FADE AWAY

Chapter 10

oOo

It had been almost too easy.

"Piece of cake." Luke flashed a smile at the reflection in the window he passed, taking a note on the dark grey outfit of Tsen'bar's guard he had snatched for himself after leaving Dana and her father. The uniform was a perfect camouflage. He nearly grinned another time as he slid though the corridors from a shadow to shadow, trying to remain out of sight from the livings, robots and the security cameras alike. Not that anyone he by-passer had paid any extra attention to him, but Luke didn't feel like taking too many risks.

He nearly snorted. Fat change, this wasn't one of those. Suddenly, sensing something, he stopped and took a few steps backwards, intensively staring at the T-intersection in front of him. He lifted his pistol, leaned against the grey metal wall and listened. It didn't take long; he heard crisp footfalls drawing near. Luke pressed his lips tightly together, realizing that should the approaching guards, based on the multiplied echo of their steps a few of them, were to meet him face-to-face, Luke's luck would make a U-turn. Despite he wore a regular soldier's cloth, it wouldn't take much to realize the truth behind the mask… That was more than likely to happen, if that group of soldiers would take a turn on the intersection…

His luck held. A number of grey caped guards passed straight ahead. He forgot to breathe, following from the shadows of the corridor the soldiers to walk away. Only when they disappeared from his sight, he realized the nervous fluttering of his heart and the tremble of his body. Whoah, talking about close calls... He let out a long exhale, feeling the tension to slightly lift from his shoulders. Luke shuddered and swallowed nervously before spring off to move.

The super-coder of Peter Dala and the holomap had worked as expected, if not even better. Once again his luck... Force, Luke hastily corrected his thoughts. Force had been on his side, not luck. The Force had led him to Peter and now it guided his steps to Han. It would also lead him in the future to avenge the death of his father, his aunt and his uncle. Silently, Luke vowed, he would even out the tables. The Rebels might have won their first victory, but it was a long fight they fought; and the war still raved. It would take a much more to overthrow the vicious Emperor and the man he held in his leach – Darth Vader.

He frowned disgusted, squeezing so tight the pistol his knuckles turned white, almost waiting to see the black-clothed Sith Lord stepping into his view behind the corner.

Even after all this time, the images from the Death Star woke him up. Memories of Ben's disappearance mixed with the image of a bright blast that lighted up the dark sky, haunted his dreams. Sometimes, Luke even dreamt Ben dying in his childhood home.

Uncle Own and Aunt Beru appeared in his dream, stretching their arms and pleading him to help. All around burned. A bitter stench of fire, burning flesh and smoke stung in his eyes. He tried to move forward, but then he saw Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi. The men clashed with their light sabers, fighting in the middle of the burning fire circle; and every time Darth Vader gained more ground. He drove the old, bearded man towards the firewall. Behind them, Luke stood, watching, unable to decide to whom he should help, knowing that he could not save them all. He took a step towards Ben; then turned to meet his family, but was never able to make up his mind.

The dream ended always the same. The firewall swallowed Owen and Beru Lars, and Vader lifted his blazing saber to strike down the old Jedi. Luke's heart nearly stopped. He cried out, and Darth Vader spun around his gleaming weapon still ignited. The mechanical hissing crowded about them, like a snake; and then the man moved. He strode towards the paralyzed boy, brought up his swords….

And Luke jolted up, wet from sweat in his dark room.

Luke exhaled loudly, and without noticing it, imitated the breathing of Vader at the same time. These memoirs; they still hurt. They scorched him like the twin sun of Tatooine on its vast, burning sand plateaus. Luke grounded his teeth and brutally shoved the thoughts at bay. Now wasn't a time to mull over them - but he would not forget. Some day, Luke vowed, he would meet Vader and make him pay for all those deeds he committed. The Sith Lord would pay the deaths of Luke's family, his mentor, and his friends. The Empire would forfeit for all the terror it had caused.

The thought made him feel a bit better.

Jerking, Luke fled from the way of another patrol approaching him. He chastised himself for not paying attention enough on his surroundings. He should remember his task to locate and rescue his friends; and after that, they would escape this wretched station before something worse showed up. Luke sighed and continued onwards, wishing Han and Chewie were alright.

oOo

Up until now, the trip in the Eight had been a total waste of time. The Corellian cursed under his breath both Luke and Selene in the deepest pits of Sith Hell. How on all skies Selene expected him to find her lost technician, if she hadn't succeeded herself?

The whole set up stunk worse than a nest of Banthas. Not that Han would have ever smelled one, but based on a single Bantha, it wasn't too hard to guess.

And whatever was the name of that technician...? Dana...something, Han crinkled his eyes, trying to recall the name Selene had mentioned. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders annoyed. Ah, he would remember it. Hopefully...

Chewie interrupted his thoughts, growling at him low, and Han nodded in agreement. He pursed his lips together, while answering,

"I know, buddy," he grunted, glancing behind his back and noticing the shadow that had trailed after them for some time by now. "They are still following us…" He scowled, listening to Chewie as the Wookie barked again. "Yeah, I too wonder if they are after us, or that technician," Han agreed. He briefly glanced behind his back. And most importantly, who was behind it - the Empire, Selene or the mob of the Eight? He shuddered involuntarily, or, which was likely, maybe them all?

The man sighed, knowing the answer was bound to become clear more than enough. His priority remains - find Luke first. Really, Han sighed once again, he couldn't fathom how the kid had developed this knack for falling into trouble and drag all around him with him? When Han found the kid, they would have a long talk about this…

oOo

Vader started to feel annoyed. Being annoyed was nothing new, but, nevertheless, it didn't mean he would tolerate it. Under any normal condition, he would have extended his hand, focused his mind and reprimanded the one causing his annoyance - and at the best case, maybe even eliminated. Vader wasn't a gentle man, and he firmly believed that only with an iron fist one could maintain an order around him. The members of the Star Destroyer Executor had been multiplied replaced, and, over time, evolved in two different categories - those who knew how to please Vader; and those who did not. For unexpected reason, the latter group renewed itself with a rather fast phase.

This time the problem remained - this wasn't any normal condition, and for it, he had to control himself. The mask hid his expression as Vader clasped his teeth tightly together, feeling the hate surging inside him. He stared at the hologram of a tall woman projected in front of him. The dark hair cascaded around her face, emphasizing her pale skin and dark alien-like eyes.

Another Galactic trash… He thought, well-aware of the criminal connection the woman had. Lady Selene, as she insisted to be called. Vader nearly snorted at the self-chosen title. With her connections to the Hutts and the Black Sun alike, A Trash Lady would have suited her better. Even more disgusting, the woman had the guts to trying to woo the Emperor by providing the troops a place to amuse themselves out of charge; the reason he was now forced to endure her presence. Vader let out a sizzling mouthful of air and cursed the woman under his breath. Force knew how she had obtained the information, and how many spies had lost their heads afterwards. Even Prince Xizor from the Black Sun denied being in contact with her. Vader didn't trust in the lizard man, but this time felt the criminal lord had spoke the truth.

"Lady Selene," Vader snapped unfriendly. "My ship has reached the solar system. Expect us there within two standard hours." He kept an intimidating pause. "Be prepared to hand out the prisoner as soon as I arrive."

Her smile didn't waver, but Vader sensed her tensing.

"Is there a problem?" Vader inquired half-carelessly, waiting - no, demanding her answer.

"No, my Lord Vader." Her voice remained as calm and dark as before, but something was off. A subtle change, nothing visible. Oddly, it came through Force. He focused on the feeling, welcomed the vision Force offered him. A Surprise. It was more like a sentiment - a foreboding of the future. Something he didn't expect was abound to happen.

Vader pondered fast. He didn't like surprises, knowing they had a nasty tendency to blow up on his face. He had learnt that in his youth. No, Vader no longer valued the unexpected. Too often they had turned against him. So, the question was what should he do about it? He could always force the woman to tell what worried her, but on the other hand, Vader had also learnt through all these years, after his bitter mistakes, that sometimes it was better to wait.

The Emperor would be furious, were he not able in catching that engineer. Vader nearly snorted again while thinking of the new toy of his master. Truly, hadn't the man learnt nothing of the previous Death Star? But, he remained silent. The Emperor was his maste, and it wasn't his duty to repriment him. Which, on the other hand, meant Vader had to satisfy with his present task of an errand boy.

The thought made him wiggle inside his armour. If only the Emperor had given him free hands, Vader would have reclaimed Peter Dala and returned to Coruscant eons ago; and would now be conducting his own research that would lead him to that young rebel who destroyed the earlier Death Star - Luke Skywalker, his mind fast reminded him.

The rhythm of his breathing didn't change, even when the thought made him feel nearly…excited. A funny sentiment in itself. The Dark Lord of the Sith didn't remember when was the last time he had felt so. A flash appeared in his mind of a boy with blue eyes and brown hair - an overzealous one…

Sometimes he felt so young and ignorant; afraid the others might see it. Eager to please… Always worrying, always going somewhere so that he wouldn't have to stop; wouldn't have to realize how much he doubted himself…

Yes, he hissed. Anakin had been impatient. He would have demanded Selene to explain herself. But he was Darth Vader, not any adolescent, petulant child. He could afford to wait. And if it should happen so than the Emperor's target succeeded once again to flee… Vader squeezed his fists tightly together and snapped,

"Good. The Emperor is not used to be deceived after such a daring promise..."

The holograph deactivated, and Vader stayed on his place, staring at the empty table. Suddenly, his breathing sounded louder than usual. He spun around to look out the window at the dark abyss spreading in front of him. Something - a nagging voice of sorts, nearly familiar, gnawed in him, devouring his confidence. Resolutely, Vader vanquished these thoughts. He had no reason to doubt himself. And if Lady Selene, for some reason, would fail in her promises, she would pay it with her life.

The thought didn't make Vader feel even the slightest of remorse.