He's Falling Again
He's falling again, and, in many ways, he's afraid to wake.
Grey walls stream past, flecked with red-orange orbs of light. His arms and legs are extended, the grey of his clothes melding with the blur of the passing walls. The wind hurtles. His skin is cold. There is no sound.
That's what he remembers. The silence.
A tunnel looms, black edged with glistening grey—
The wind sucks him into the hole, and as he is swallowed by the black, he thinks he hears somewhere on the edge of hearing, a mechanised voice, echoing in emptiness: "No."
Join me, Luke, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son…
… as father and son.
It is your destiny.
He lands in a room filled with blackness. Its every surface gleams. The walls are dark and metallic, rising to a ceiling high above. Pillars rise periodically, worked with strange patterns that seem to writhe. A narrow strip the colour of blood runs from the wide arched doorway at the far side of the room to the raised throne at the top of a dais at the room's head. A round window beyond shows a blackened night sky.
The floor glints faintly in the pale light seeping through the window, a kind of fabric Luke has never seen. Something lavish, with a liquid gleam that holds the moonless light.
Figures are strewn across the floor in the darkness before the throne. Some overlay the strange strip of carpet, shapes of blackness shadowed against the darkened red.
Luke steps to the nearest shape and turns it over. He steps back.
Leia's face stares at him, gleaming and white in the gloom. Her eyes, the clear brown eyes he has admired so often in life, are flat and dull like mud. Her hair is dishevelled.
The body rolls back into its facedown position. His hands unsteady, Luke moves to the next, pushing it to see the face.
Han's eyes are like mud as well, blank and unseeing.
Luke's heart is hammering in his chest so hard it seems to echo through the empty room. His breath comes roughly, loud in the silence.
He hears footsteps and whirls.
The shape is striding through the door, along the strip of lush red carpet. It is clothed in rich darkness, from its cloak to the black gloves on its hands and on to its gleaming boots. It strides over the bodies, moving with the fluidness Luke has come to associate with men used to killing. It pays no heed to the corpses strewn at its feet.
It ignores Luke as it strides past him. As he turns, staring.
It pauses only over the two bodies nearest the throne, a small figure caught in a wreath of blackness and a larger figure splayed under a cloak. They lie together awkwardly on the stairs that lead to the throne. The standing figure laughs, looking down at them. Raising a booted foot, it pushes first one, then the other body off the stairs. They tumble to the floor, tangled in their respective cloaks. Luke steps near, and looks down at the corpses of the Emperor, and Sith Lord Darth Vader. Both have lightsaber wounds, holes through their chests. Vader's eyeholes are empty. The mask seems accusing.
Luke raises his eyes to the figure spreading its black cloak and settling itself on the elaborate throne, and sees himself. His lips, smiling in dark satisfaction. His eyes, surveying a room full of corpses. His gloved hands, caressing the ornate arms of the throne with the savour of longing finally sated.
The figure is him.
Luke steps backwards, stumbles, and falls. There is a splash, and he feels wetness: he looks at his hands, and finds he has landed on the carpet that leads to the throne. Only it is not carpet. It is blood. A river of blood, gleaming in the half-light, trailing from the galaxy to the foot of the dark throne before him.
Clambering to his feet, he whispers, "Is this my destiny?" The figure on the throne, staring about in lustful satisfaction, makes no reply. "Is it?" Luke demands of the room, of the corpses, of himself, sitting there blood-slicked and oblivious.
"No," says a soft voice from behind him. He whirls. In the thick shadows at the edges of the room, black walls are fading to darkened mist. In the mist, he sees figures: a man with long hair, brown and silver, wearing robes of the Jedi. A woman with long dark hair, pale-faced and dark-eyed, her lush robes strangely colourless. Both are watching him. He sense that there are more, others, waiting just beyond the darkness.
It is the woman that has spoken. Luke steps towards her. "No, Luke," she whispers again, a pale hand rising, and she and the other figures withdraw into the spilling dark mist.
"Wait!" Desperately, Luke throws himself after them. The mist billows to envelope him.
Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father…
He told me enough. He told me you killed him!
No. I am your father.
He is in the Lars homestead, before the table at which he ate meals for eighteen years of his life. It should be blackened, charred and lifeless. But it is exactly as he remembers it, from the patterns faded almost to obscurity to the scratches marking its surface.
His aunt and uncle sit, eating. Their mouths move as if they are speaking, but he can hear no words. Luke steps backward, uncertain.
In the air by the table, he glimpses a flicker. A young man, dressed in Jedi robes, unusually dark in colour. Luke watches. The man turns–
The man flickers and vanishes.
Luke's aunt and uncle sit, eating, mouths moving without words.
"Is it true?" he whispers to them. "Is my father Darth Vader?"
The man flickers into being again. This time, he is a child, perhaps nine or ten years old, dressed in the worn, light-coloured clothing of native inhabitants of Tatooine. His blue eyes are wide and filled with tears as he stares at Luke. There is no sound.
The child vanishes.
"Is my father Darth Vader?" Luke repeats. His aunt and uncle sit on either side of the table, eating their meal. The amount of food on their plates has not changed.
"Was he lying?" Luke demands. "Answer me!" He knocks the plate from in front of his uncle. No flicker touches the older man's bearded face. He continues to eat, his fork dipping into empty air and rising to his mouth.
"Answer me!" Luke shouts at him.
The air across the table ripples and darkens. Vader appears there, towering, a gloved hand rising to point at Luke. Suddenly the room is engulfed in brilliant flames, and the stench of burning flesh fills the air, sharp and sickening.
Search your feelings,Vader's voice rumbles. You know it to be true.
"That's impossible!" Luke shouts the words, but he's falling, falling to his knees, watching his aunt and uncle become the skeletons that are his last memory of them. As their flesh turns to bone, they continue to eat, hands rising and falling, mouths moving…
Luke whispers, his throat thick as though full of sand, "That's impossible."
Hands take his shoulders, small and cool. "You will find nothing here," whispers the woman who spoke to him before. Her voice is voice soft and gentle, a voice he doesn't know – a voice he should know. "Leave this."
"Is he?" he whispers to the encroaching mist.
"Yes," his mother whispers, and he's falling again.
You don't know the power of the dark side.
He's standing on a balcony at the edge of the sky. It's not a sky he knows, nor one he's ever seen before. It's neither the endless blue of Tatooine, nor the cerulean of Yavin IV, the eye-searing whiteness of Hoth. It's a sky of civilisation.
Buildings sprawl below as far as he can see in all directions. Lines of traffic hang like cobwebs across the sky.
This is Coruscant. A world he's never seen. A world that no longer exists. The Empire absorbed the hub of galactic civilisation, creating of it a place called Imperial Center.
A ship docks on the balcony. He is unfamiliar with the make. Older than those he knows, but cleaner and more flowing, with a sense that seems more refined than the blankly utilitarian design of the ships he flies for the Rebellion.
A young man crosses from it before him. He has dark hair, unruly, almost touching his collar. A young woman bursts from inside. Her hair spills over the shoulders of her elaborate gown. The young man seizes her, laughing, and swings her around.
Luke stares. The young man kisses the woman (his lover? wife? girlfriend?), a gloved hand rising to cup her cheek, his touch very light – as though he fears his own strength. His fingers sink into her hair.
The young man pulls back after a moment, and looks over his shoulder. He has blue eyes, the colour of the sky, of Luke's lightsaber, shining as it fell away into the darkness of the abyss. Luke knows him. He is the young man who stood in Vader's place in the Lars homestead… he is the boy who cried…
The young man flickers, turns again, looks over his shoulder. Flickers, turns, looks over his shoulder. Flickers, turns…
His eyes look straight though Luke as he turns, again and again. But Luke feels a coldness that prickles over his body, icy, so sharp it hurts.
Though the young man's face is light, filled with joy, a darkness lurks beyond his eyes. It ripples about him as though he stands underwater. Luke can see it, can feel it. The woman, standing before the young man, holding the front of his brown tunic and peering at him with the light of the world in her eyes, appears not to.
Then there is darkness, the mauve-edged shadows of night. The man and woman stand close together, winds tugging at them. The woman's hair streams against the gleaming light that spills into the black sky from buildings below.
They speak – the man reaches for her. There is fear in his gesture, and darkness ripples along his arms as he pulls her to him. Luke wonders if she sees the shadow…
A voice screams somewhere in the night. The couple don't appear to hear. Luke whirls and sees a great hall, littered with bodies. A figure of darkness stands amidst them, its head bowed, cloaked and hidden in shadows that writhe.
Luke turns back. Instead of the balcony there is a platform above living fire. Vader stands there, dark cloak rippling, its edges burning with flames the colour of blood. The woman glides backwards, becoming transparent… Vader reaches a black-gloved hand, but it plunges through her, and something pulsing and pure-white and beautiful is in his fist when he withdraws it. Vader tries to hold it, to preserve it, perhaps realising what he's done – but his mechanical limbs are too slow, and it slips from his fingers, dispersing.
The woman collapses.
Vader becomes the boy again, wailing. The young man, on his knees, screaming.
Then nothing, as he turns, cloak billowing behind him.
Vader walks away.
"I don't understand," Luke says, as the woman's limp body fades.
"This is the true power of the dark side," a voice to his left whispers. A male voice, warm and quiet. "Its only power."
"To destroy," whispers the another voice, to his right.
This voice he knows. The woman's voice…
Luke turns, and there is nothing there. Only the mist.
He walks into it, and it swirls around. It is not cold, but warm, warm forever…
"Part of him lives, Luke. Part is untouched by the darkness. There is light still.
"Remember that, my son, if nothing else…"
… there . . . is good in him. I know there is ... still . . .
He's falling. Today he lands, waking with a gasp in a bed with white sheets and crisp pillows that smell starker than the walls.
"Leia…" he whispers on waking, not sure why he does so. Perhaps because he knows she will be there, in a way he can't explain, just as he knew to call her when no one else would come.
There is a movement by his bed. Leia leans over him, and for a moment, her chocolate-dark hair and warm eyes hold a glimmer of a memory, a waking knowledge… but it is a flicker only, gone.
"Luke," she breathes, and hugs him. "How do you feel?"
He feels raw, stretched thin, bloodied and battered. He feels deeply and strangely bereft. He feels alien in his own body, uneven, off balance.
"Vader," he whispers. He didn't expect it, but somehow the memories are there. There is no jolt of realisation, no shock of discovery. Fighting… his hand… father… The knowledge, somehow, is too great and terrible to forget even in unconsciousness.
"We're back at the base, now," Leia says. "Vader's gone. You're safe, Luke."
"I know," he says softly. "I know."
She squeezes his hand that is still there – though he can still feel the other one, tauntingly real and whole to the part his mind that hasn't yet realised – and he smiles at her faintly.
"I'm glad you're here," he murmurs, and goes back to sleep.
Alone in the semi-darkness of his chamber, Darth Vader breathes.
The rasp of his breathing reminds him always of the hiss of lava, orange and red lava, the colour of burning suns. The colour of living, searing death…
"It is only the beginning, son," he says aloud. "I will find you."
The empty chamber echoes the words back at him, and they sound hollow. Only one word stands apart.
He sleeps, because despite Imperial rumour and Rebel propaganda, he is still human, and his shell of a body has demands. And he dreams always of lava and fire and burning...
…only this time, somehow, the image of a young man falling intrudes.