This is my first posted Star Wars fic, but the concept has been stewing in my head for quite some time. I've always thought that the movies portray Vader's discovery of his betrayal by Palpatine as being a really mild reaction, like he was just nudged towards the Light Side. In this story, Vader is much more affected by his emotions, which is how I've always seen Anakin/Vader. Learning about Luke is more like a kick in the pants this time. Any dates or time intervals like weeks that appear are in accordance with the Galatic Standard calendar, which has ten months (each 35 days or seven weeks long), three festival weeks, and three holiday days. Much of my background for Piett was drawn from the Wookieepedia, though the part about being a slicer is my idea. I don't own the characters, of course. I'm not Mr. Lucas, for Force's sake!

The Hero Strikes Back

Chapter 1

Captain Firmus Piett shifted the duffel's strap on his shoulder, nervous about his new post. He'd done a great deal of commanding at home, on and around Axxila, but this was different; this was the Executor, the brand-new flagship of the Imperial Navy.

Much of his Imperial service had centered on the Ciutric Sector and was therefore minor—at least in Firmus' eyes. After all, Rebels tended to keep their heads down in the Hegemony. He'd made it so that the pirates kept their heads down, too.

He'd had an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach ever since his orders had come through six standard months ago. Since then, much had occurred, and the changes made him even more jittery.

The cascade of events had started when Emperor Palpatine dissolved the Senate. The Rebels had retaliated, and then rumor spread that Grand Moff Tarkin was holding Princess Leia Organa captive. Just days after the rumor reached Firmus, the Moff had unveiled a gigantic battle station and destroyed Alderaan, the Princess' pacifist home planet. A week later, the Rebels had attacked the Death Star battle station somewhere in the Outer Rim, and by some miracle destroyed it before it could get them. The HoloNet News was keeping reports of the battle to an absolute minimum, but the death toll was undoubtedly massive; the station had probably housed well over a million troops and the civilians needed for support. Darth Vader was among the handful of survivors, due to the integration of a hyperdrive on his personal TIE, which he had used to get to a portion of the fleet.

Despite all of this turmoil, the galaxy seemed to be holding its collective breath. Piett had the feeling that something was going to trigger a massive change in the status quo, and soon.

The turbolift door hissed open and Firmus inhaled deeply. The Executor smelled strongly of paint, solvent, and ozone, and he suspected that the scent would linger for a standard year, or more. He loved that new-ship smell.

The only real drawback he saw in this berth was the man who would be in charge of the massive lady. Piett doubted that there was a single person aboard who wasn't intimidated by the commander.

Darth Vader was the ultimate authority on the Executor.

The first command staff meeting had been strained, to put the situation mildly. Because his service had been almost exclusively in the Ciutric Sector, Firmus had no reports to make. Evidently, the Hegemony was considered a "safe sector," and he would have to prove himself to the other officers before he was allowed to play. It was somewhat amusing to see such an attitude from men who were ten years or more younger than Firmus.

Feigning a respect he did not feel towards the younger officers, Piett listened, keeping one eye on whoever was speaking and the other on Lord Vader.

Three standard weeks passed before Lord Vader seemed to even notice Firmus. The captain was wandering, exploring the bowels of the Executor when the cloaked Sith Lord swept into view from another direction, his usual bodyguard of stormtroopers trailing him silently.

"Captain Piett." Firmus snapped to attention, his bootheels clicking. "Find everything you can on the Rebel pilot that destroyed the Death Star. You report directly to me until further notice."

"Yes, my lord!" His hand rose to his brow in a crisp salute and remained there, his entire being as still as cast duracrete. He maintained the position until he could no longer see the dark form, then he turned and sprinted for his quarters. He knew that the HoloNet terminal there was untapped, and that no one would be able to track where he went through it.

Naturally, it proved futile to find anything on the imperially-maintained public channels. Instead, Firmus turned to the illegal Rebel Alliance network he had found a few years earlier. He was glad that he'd created a permanent access point for himself on the channel, because working through the normal process would have taken ages. He simply didn't have the luxury of time.

Few people in the galaxy had ever known of his teenage years as a professional slicer. Of course, those who had dealt with him then had never known his age or real name. He'd kept his skills sharp even after he "retired," and the effort had rewarded him more than once. It was how he'd found the Rebel network in the first place.

When Lord Vader summoned him two days later, Firmus had printed out a half-centimeter stack of flimsy with the data he'd found, the original copies saved to his personal datapad and erased from the ship's databanks. It contained the entire life histories of five beings, the only survivors of the thirty snubfighters and one freighter that had assaulted the battle station in order to destroy it.

When he arrived in Darth Vader's "office," Firmus locked his knees to prevent them from trembling. Long habit had him mentally cataloging the room's contents, which were few: a desk with a console and hoverchair, a glass urn of sand, and a group of tiny model starships that seemed to cover every type of vessel in the Imperial Navy. When his commander folded his arms across his chest, he began his report.

"One Y-wing and two X-wings survived the attack, as well as a Corellian freighter. The data I gathered indicated that one of the X-wings fired the fatal torpedo, and the pilot's name is Luke Skywalk-" Firmus was cut off by a wordless roar erupting from the Sith Lord. The urn cracked open, spilling sand that began to spin through the air. The shelves of miniatures crashed to the floor, the tiny ships whirling through the small sandstorm.

For five terrifying minutes, Piett was surrounded by madness. The sound from Lord Vader was almost painful, and it was a struggle not to cower and shield his head. Still, he remained upright as Vader paced to one wall and hit it with a gloved fist. The impact left a five-centimeter deep dent in the metal. This seemed to trigger the end of the storm, as the sandstorm shrank, sweeping all the sand and models into a corner. Vader resumed his seat, then gestured for Piett to continue.

"He is eighteen, raised on Tatooine by an aunt and uncle until their recent deaths. At that point, he vanishes from Imperial records. He came up in the Rebel network, hailed as 'the hero of Yavin,' and I was able to pull this holo from their records." He placed a small holoprojector on the desk, where it displayed the young man with three others; a Wookiee and two men who looked Corellian. Skywalker was clearly identified by his tanned skin and suns-bleached hair. The older of the other two, the one with the Wookiee's hand on his shoulder, wore ceremonial bloodstripes on his trousers. While the third man did not have the stripes, he was obviously battle-tested, as he and Skywalker both wore the orange flightsuits of Rebel pilots.

"You have his Imperial record?" Lord Vader asked. A gloved hand reached out.

"Yes, milord. Also, those of the others in the image and the Y-wing pilot." Piett placed the scant findings in the waiting hand, then stood at ease.

Firmus waited with a patience born of long experience as the records were visually scanned. Finally, Darth Vader shifted in the hoverchair.

"Keep an eye out for news of the boy, Captain. Inform me of any developments."

"Yes, milord." Piett saluted, recognizing a dismissal when he heard one. As he returned to his quarters, something about the boy's surname began to nudge at something in the back of his mind. He found the sensation incredibly annoying, and he was blasted if he wasn't going to find out the reason behind it.

As soon as the office door closed behind Captain Piett, Vader stood and hurled the hoverchair against the wall.

He lied to me! His fury twisted the chair into unrecognizable scraps, and the sand and models began to fly about again. He said I'd killed my Angel and the baby, but now I find out our child—our boy—yet lives. I'll tear the old manipulator limb from limb! Then, as suddenly as the rage had appeared, it vanished without a trace.

I almost killed my own son… If it hadn't been for that pirate freighter, I would have. He sank to the floor. The last of my Angel, all that's left of her. Force protect him, please.

An old memory arose, one he'd thought lost along with the man that had been Anakin Skywalker: talking with his beloved, choosing their child's name. She'd chosen Luke, in case it was a boy. Had she lived long enough to name him, or had she told Obi-Wan of the choice? He would probably never know, with the old man dead.

Firmus had finally dug up the source of his knowledge of the Skywalker name. Now he had two holos projected on the surface of his desk. One was the group shot he'd shown Lord Vader. The other was nearly twenty years old.

How could he possibly have forgotten his teenage adoration of Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker? It had taken almost two hours for him to turn to his personal files, including his old slicing logs.

With the two images side by side, the resemblance between Anakin and Luke was unmistakable. If he remembered right, the older holo had been taken when Anakin had been just a year or three older than Luke was now. Still, things weren't adding up completely. The Jedi Order had pretty much forbidden personal attachments, let alone the sort of liaison that would have lead to a child. At least, not the central core of the Order, the knights and masters that had trained and served from the great Temple on Coruscant. Even if the Jedi had simply satisfied the biological urge to reproduce, his surname wasn't likely to have been mentioned to the other party, let alone been given to the child without the Temple's say-so. Two, the younger Skywalker's birth record—and it was the most basic form, not even listing his parents—showed that he had been born almost a week after the Temple's destruction.

Firmus' best guess was that Knight Skywalker, a known rogue among those trained on Coruscant, might have had a secret, ongoing relationship with someone. Then, when the knight vanished from the records, the woman had stressed herself into labor.

Knight Skywalker's disappearance struck Firmus as being decidedly odd. There was no record of a body, a funeral, not even one of the brief notices that had been given for the Jedi slain during the Purge. And Darth Vader appeared some two weeks after the youngling's birth, clad in the black suit and mask that no one ever saw him without.

The timing seemed rather convenient.

Piett's comlink chirped, and he hastened to shut down his datapad securely as he answered.

"Captain, you have a high-priority message in the ready room."

"On my way," he replied, tucking the compact pad into the hidden pocket inside his jacket.

Within moments of entering the ready room, Firmus was on his knees before the image of the Emperor. Why the blazes am I being called on live holocomm by the Emperor?

"Captain, it has come to my attention that Lord Vader has designated you as something of a personal aide," said the heavily cloaked figure. "You are going to report to me on his actions and decisions, both on and off the bridge. Have I made myself clear?"

"Perfectly, your majesty." How could he have possibly answered otherwise? Still, he would not be a spy or a turncoat, not to his direct commander.

"Good. You will soon receive instructions on who to contact with your reports and when. You serve the Empire well, Captain." The connection terminated in a brief burst of static.

Spast! How am I supposed to tell Lord Vader that the Emperor has ordered me to spy on him? I'm farkled! There was no question of not informing Lord Vader. He knew the order of his priorities.

He left the ready room and strode calmly towards the office he'd left only hours earlier.

He'd rampaged through his quarters, destroying anything that he could move, whether or not it was bolted down. Anything fabric or upholstered had been shredded, save for the seat along the long viewport, recessed into the bulkhead. Now he sat on the floor among the wreckage, feeling utterly drained. The door chimed insistently, and he rose wearily before triggering the mechanism with a tendril of the Force.

"Milord, forgive my intrusion," Captain Piett blurted, stepping in just far enough for the door to close and dropping to one knee. Vader could feel mingled resignation, disgust, sadness, and a tiny bit of fear, all practically rolling off the man.

"What is the problem, Captain. You are not one to panic." The captain started at his observation. "I make a point of examining my officers' backgrounds… thoroughly."

"I… I have just come from a holocomm conversation with the Emperor. He wishes for me to spy on you." The Axxilan paused. "I am loyal first to those under my command, and second to he who commands me. My government is a distant third."

"In other words, you'd rather disobey Palpatine than me." Piett nodded miserably, and Vader became pensive. "So the old man no longer trusts his slave. And none too soon, since I know of his treachery." He glanced at the captain, still trembling where he knelt on the floor. "You have nothing to fear from me, Firmus Piett. Your mind is sharp, sharper than many of your 'superiors' on this vessel, and I know of your formidable reputation in the Hegemony. Stand up, man," he urged.

Piett hesitated momentarily, but obeyed. He seemed taken aback by the state of the office and the rooms it now opened into, with one wall retracted into itself.

"Is something amiss, milord?"

"Only that I have been deceived for two decades. Have you done any further research on Skywalker?"

"A bit, milord. Something about the name was familiar, and I found a reference in some of my old logs. I believe I have discovered who the youngling's father is." He withdrew a datapad from a hidden pocket—Vader recognised a very advanced model that had been further modified—and brought up a file with a few taps. "Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, 'The Hero With No Fear.' I recognised the surname, and there's no mistaking the resemblance between them."

As Vader accepted the datapad and looked at the old holo, he was somewhat shocked. Had that really been his face once? But Piett was right; Luke was his spitting image, though not nearly so jaded as he had been.

"The Purge record on Skywalker is abnormally vague, though," the captain continued. "There aren't many like it. No notice, no funeral… it's like he just vanished into thin air, and I find it suspicious."

He sighed heavily, causing his vocoder to make a strange buzzing sound.

"Sit down, Captain." He gestured to the viewport seat. "You may find it difficult to believe what I am about to tell you. Including myself, you will make three living beings in the entire Empire who know this information. My life depends on it remaining secret." And so he told the captain about himself… about Anakin Skywalker.

Firmus had eyes and ears only for the black-clad man who paced the room as he spoke of a life nearly forgotten. His teenage role model was right here, was his commander! The very thought almost made him burst with pride.

Lord Vader finished, telling of waking from massive surgery only to be told by the Emperor that he'd killed his wife and child. Firmus was filled with fury and indignation on his commander's behalf.

"So… the truth comes out at last. I'm glad I came to report about the Emperor's orders, milord."

"As am I, Firmus." The masked man paused. "I temporarily assigned you as my aide, but would you mind my making it permanent? I need someone I know that I can trust."

The captain smiled and extended a hand. "I'd be honored, milord."

"Excellent." A gloved hand grasped his and shook it. "As for Sidious' spy games, let's play along. We'll feed him what we want him to know."

"We should get you out of that suit, too, sir. I wish there was a way to, I don't know, clone limbs and organs." The mask swiveled to focus on Firmus.

"There is. The cloners of Kamino have been providing the majority of the stormtroopers since the beginning of the Clone Wars. We call them stormtroopers now, but they were clone troopers then. There are only a few original people among them, usually in command positions."

"Then… couldn't they replace what has been damaged beyond your body's ability to repair? New limbs, maybe some of the more damaged organs?"

"I'd have asked them to do it years ago, if Sidious had not forbidden me to go to the planet. He swore he'd destroy me if I did. Before now, I've not had anyone I could trust to go in my stead without betraying me." Firmus grinned.

"I can go under the pretense that you want some modifications to your personal guard. If the data they need can fit in a small cylinder or a box about the size of my datapad, no one will know that I took anything beyond the list of modifications."

"Yes. We'll wait until you're contacted by Sidious' messenger. Meanwhile, I'll get what Lama Su will need."

Three days later, Piett received the promised message from the Emperor's staff. He recorded a brief response detailing his false mission, being brief and giving the impression that he knew nothing about the modifications yet. When Lord Vader looked over it, he seemed quite pleased.

"Take my fighter, Captain," he insisted. "It's the swiftest of the small vessels available, and there's no need for a copilot. There's an astromech hard-wired into its systems, and it can do most of the work."

"Thank you, milord. I'll return as soon as possible."

The distance to Kamino surprised Piett once he found out about it. It was even further out than Axxila and Tatooine, and in a region that required a roundabout hyperspace journey. All told, the trip took some twenty hours each way, even with the massive hyperdrive in the TIE Advanced. During the trip, he occupied himself by reading the files he'd loaded on his datapad, which contained information about many of the people his commander had mentioned as important figures in his life.

Many of the people he had named were dead. Senator Amidala's death and funeral had been well-documented. Representative Binks had been killed during a Senate riot only a few months later. Bail Organa had been on Alderaan when it was destroyed, but he had been survived by his daughter, Leia, who had taken his place as one of the foremost leaders of the Rebellion.

Wait… I think Leia was the name that they'd chosen in case the baby was a girl… Puzzled, Firmus pulled up holos of both Amidala and the princess, placing them together as he had done with Luke and Anakin's pictures. Again, the similarities were almost frightening. And Princess Leia had the same birthdate as Luke. The odds of her being unrelated while looking that much like Amidala, and being born on the same day… But why would someone separate twins, especially if they were Force-sensitive?

Wait until Lord Vader heard about this.