A different plan finds a different end
"I need to talk to you." These words out of Wrenga Jixton´s mouth almost always meant trouble.
- "Concerning my son?"
- "How did you know?"
- "He wants to challenge you."
- "This does not come as a surprise to me, Jix."
- "Then why do I tell you?"
- "I really do not know."
- "Because he asked me to."
- "What? Can´t you keep even one secret? I am displeased with your efforts, Jix, I have to tell you that."
- "And what are you going to do about that challenge?"
There was a long pause, before the Dark Lord answered.
- "Tell him to meet me on Eol Sha in five days."
- "Sure. Care to enlighten me as to what you are planning?"
- "Just what I thought. Jix out."
Luke Skywalker looked up from the report on Hoth he had been reading, when the door to his quarters slid open, revealing Jix standing there. "Come in," the young man said and stood up from where he had been sitting on the edge of his bed. "What did he say?"
- "He´ll meet you on Eol Sha. And if I might add: You don´t know what you are doing."
- "Oh, I do alright. Jix, this is my chance to rid this galaxy of a monster, don´t you see? And if I fail, I will die knowing that I have at least tried it. Unlike you."
- "Kid, do you know how many Jedi Knights and Masters have fought Vader before? You won´t defeat him."
- "We shall see."
Jix left with a shake of his head. It was not that he feared for the kid - Vader would never harm him, he knew - it was his foolish self-confidence. A few weeks of Jedi training and Luke thought he could defeat a Dark Lord? In any case, he was in for a nasty surprise.
"Luke, I don´t want you to go," Leia pleaded, but he shook his head. "Jix has tried convincing me to stay too and I´ll tell you the same I did him: It is my duty to challenge Vader. It was him who killed my father." Leia started to say something, but she saw Jix, standing behind Luke, shake his head slightly. Tears sprang to her eyes: "Luke, just be careful," she whispered and watched him go.
- "Don´t worry, Princess. He won´t be hurt."
- "I know. But he is acting very strange. He was never one for blind revenge before."
- "Hey, if he wants to."
- "Shut up, Han. Don´t tell me you aren´t worried."
- "I am, your Highnessness, and that´s why I´m going after him."
- "No, you won´t."
- "But, you just said..."
- "He doesn´t need any protection, Han."
- "What do you mean?"
- "Nothing. But you are not going too. I need you here."
Eol Sha brought back bitter memories. Standing atop one of the rugged black stones dotting the harsh surface with it´s many geysirs and volcanos, Darth Vader let his mind wander back in time.
He stood facing Obi-Wan again, two pairs of blue eyes reflecting the glare of twin blue blades locked in deadly competition. Cuts and burns decorated both warriors, but Anakin Skywalker was losing. The reason for starting the fight was all but forgotten and this had long become a struggle for survival. Sweat poured down his face, the heat of battle and of the sulphurous gases surrounding them both. He didn´t even dare to blink his eyes, as they stared at each other, waiting. Anakin´s mind was racing: If he wanted to delay his defeat, he´d have to attack now, with all the strength left to him. The problem was that Obi-Wan knew that too.
A tiny voice in the back of his mind told him that he should never have challenged his former friend, that he was too proud to forgive. But it was too late to turn back now. He feinted left, then jumped over Ob-Wan´s head, cutting at his back as he came back down again. The sudden searing pain across his calves told him that he had misjudged his trajectory. A fatal error. His injured legs were unable to carry his weight and his knees hit the ground hard. Anakin bit his lower lip and let himself fall further to avoid the other´s next stroke. Rolled around and came back up. Obi-Wan´s blue blade rushed at him out of nowhere and Anakin very nearly panicked. As he threw himself backwards the lightsaber brushed his face ever so slightly, making him scream in pain. Then, suddenly, he was airborne and the heat was rushing at him, choking him. He heard someone call his name, terrified. Then it was over. No more Anakin.
Darth Vader heaved a deep sigh. He had chosen this location because it reminded him of his failure, his ultimate fall. Smiling at the irony of his own private joke, he suddenly became aware of the rushing of wind. Turning around he saw Luke´s x-wing touch down a few hundred meters away. The boy must be getting very good. He had never felt him arrive.
"Luke Skywalker," he greeted the advancing figure, qiuetly savouring the sound of that name.
"Lord Vader," his son answered curtly. Without any preamble the boy ignited his lightsaber. It´s blue blade seemed like a bad omen to the Dark Lord. "I didn´t call you here to fight you," he told the boy. "But I did," Luke answered through gritted teeth and attacked. Well, he certainly isn´t wasting any time, Vader thought and side-stepped the first clumsy stroke.
Now I only need to get him to listen.
An hour later Luke was exhausted from chasing the Dark Lord around the rough terrain.
They were facing each other, standing ten meters or so apart. The boy had his blade lowered and was staring murder at the other man. "This is unfair," he said finally. "Is it?" Vader asked calmly, "Why?" - "You don´t even give me a chance to defeat you in a duel." - "You wouldn´t have a chance, son." - "Really? Then why don´t you prove it? Come on! Your lightsaber!" The Dark Lord looked at his red-faced off-spring, taking in his appearence, the blonde hair matted down with sweat, the heaving chest and the wild blue eyes. He looks just like I must have back then, he realized and slowly put his hand to the handle of his lightsaber. Unclipping it from his belt he saw Luke straighten and tense, raising his blade. And start in shocked surprise, when the Dark Lord threw the weapon to the ground, the clattering of metal on stone the only sound between them. After a long silence Luke asked, incredulous:"You are giving up?"
Shaking his masked head, the other started walking slowly towards him, a dark shadow come alive. The young Jedi retreated before him, not knowing how to react.
- "There is something you need to know, young Skywalker. It´s about forgiveness."
- "The very same."
- "What about it?"
- "I came here in peace. Put down your weapon so we can talk in peace too."
- "No. You only want to trick me!"
- "Very well," the Dark Lord stopped his advance, "Tell me why you came here."
- "To kill you, like you killed my father."
- "Ah, just what I thought. Did you knwo that your father died here? On this very planet?"
- "Is that why you set up our meeting here?"
- "To make a point. Your father died because he had not learned forgiveness. I don´t want that fate for you."
- "Forgive you? Never!"
- "Then I win."
When Luke´s face paled at hearing these words, his father knew that he had truly learned a lot under Master Yoda´s tutelage. Suddenly determination returned to his son´s eyes again and he deactivated his lightsaber, throwing the handle away, to join the Dark Lord´s on the ground. "Alright," he growled, "Let´s talk." Behind his mask, Darth Vader smiled. I wish Obi-Wan had done the same, he thought briefly, but the sudden gushing of superhot water not two meters away from the young Jedi interrupted his good mood. Fear gripped his heart when he saw Luke turn around in surprise, stumble and slip on the suddenly wet stones, his fall taking him straight towards one of the volcano pits. "LUKE!" Sprinting over to his son, Vader threw himself forward, grabbing Luke´s wrist just in time. But his own momentum carried him further and further, until his legs found purchase on the slippery ledge. His own terrified gaze was fixed on his son´s face, the boy´s eyes wide, the mouth opened to form a scream, but his throat choked by fear. Luke was dangling over the glowing abyss, the heat nearly unbearable. The sight confrontated his father with the fear and the feeling of betrayal he had experienced before plunging into the molten rock all those years ago. It paralyzed him for precious seconds. Only when he felt his body slide forward, his boots losing their hold on the ledge, did the spell break. Eyes grim and lips pressed tightly together, Darth Vader made his choice. Arching his back he threw Luke over aching shoulders, using the Force to carry his son further, into safety. The sudden movement sent the Dark Lord over the edge and on a headlong plunge into the past. He felt the lava close around him and his fall cushioned by it´s thick texture and laughed silently. Using the Force to shield himself on his steady descent to the pit´s bottom his mind was overwhelmed with happiness. Luke was safe. That was all that counted now.
- "Obi-Wan." The glowing spirit of his old master was smiling.
- "Are you enjoying yourself?"
- "Frankly, yes."
- "You did very well with Luke. Better than I did with you back then."
- "Glad you agree."
- "Well, I knew you would turn back in the end."
- "Did you talk to Yoda?"
- "So you two had all this planned?"
- "No. Actually our plan was very different. More...final."
- "I see."
- "But I am very glad it turned out this way."
- "Me too. I willl see you on the other side."
The sun was shining brightly into Emperor Palpatine´s private quarters. He was having alight meal and was deeply immersed in reading the most recent report from the front. The Imperial Navy was still the more superior force, but the Rebel Fleet was either getting better or extremely lucky.
Suddenly he experienced a strange feeling. Like a dark shadow filling his mind with dread. Looking up sharply he frowned and concentrated. There was something familiar about this. Like a deep bond breaking, like the death of part of his own self, like.... Like Vader dying.
Palpatine felt his scalp tingle. He had had just the same feeling when his first apprentice was killed. Just the same. "Give me Lord Vader´s head comm," he ordered the computer harshly. There was only static. Nothing. No trace of the Dark Lord in the Force. This could not be! Not Vader. Gone.
Leia and Han were bent over the Hoth report, making plans. The Liberty was prepared to leave her and the other ships´ hiding place in deep space and they were only waiting for Luke to rejoin them. "This cave seems big enough to serve as hangar for our fighters. And if we can build stable tunnels between these two, we get a command center and this one for communications. Yes?" Leia looked up, when her comm chimed. "Princess Leia, you asked to be notified, when Commander Skywalker arrived. His x-wing is just coming in." - "Thank you," turning towards Han she smiled, "Let´s go and greet him, shall we?"
They met their friend in the main hangar bay. He was just unloading Artoo from his perch when they arrived. It was Leia who was the first to spot the two lightsabers hanging at his belt. "What happened?" she asked, her voice cold with dread. When he turned to face her she took a step back. His eyes were troubled and he looked deeply hurt. "I...I don´t understand what happened. Vader said my father died on Eol Sha and that he died because he could not forgive. He never ever ignited his own lightsaber. Just...talked. I slipped and fell. He saved my life...." Grabbing his flightsuit Leia was shaking him roughly, hissing: "Where is he?" - "Dead. I think. He fell into the lava pit instead of me. It was..." Jix fist sent him flying to the polished metal floor. "You!" the Corellian shouted, red with anger. "Oh, Luke," Leia whispered and knelt at his side. "What´s wrong?" Han asked, frowning, "Vader is dead. What more could we wish for?" The venomous glares from both Jix and the princess shut him up. "Conference room," Leia ordered grimly.
When Luke and Han were seated at the table and Jix was grimly pacing the floor like a caged animal, Leia began her tale : "On Debelan, I was badly injured when pirates attacked the Imperial troops investigating their base. Vader was with those Imperials, as you know. He healed my injuries and saved my life twice, before we were both captured by the pirates.
Jix freed me, as you also know, but what you don´t know, and what I myself couldn´t remember until some weeks ago, Vader was with him. Jix is his agent, his best. You know that too. But this you don´t: Darth Vader is really a Jedi Knight who turned to the Dark Side, a man named Anakin Skywalker." - "Skywalker?" Luke´s eyes widened. "Your father, Luke. And mine. This is the short version. Jix has come here on Vader´s behalf to help us, as he himself was helping us, taking a very great risk." - "I don´t believe this." - "You´d better do, Han. I do not lie." Luke had stood up and slowly walked towards the princess: "You are my sister. Leia,
I ...I don´t know what to say." - "Then say nothing." - "I am sorry." She turned her head away, tears streaming down her face: "It is not your fault, Luke, you didn´t know. But I had hoped..."
She sighed and took a seat next to Han, who quietly took her in his arms. She welcomed his embrace and leaned against his shoulder, crying openly now. Luke was hugging himself, blue eyes staring into the distance, as if remembering something. "You know," Jix said suddenly, his voice rough, "This is really bad. Were are we supposed to get the fleet information from now? I can´t believe he´s dead. He just can´t die now. I mean, we are nearly there, I know it. But we need him. Who´s supposed to get rid off Palpatine? That kid there? I don´t think so." - "Jix, calm down," Han told him, "We can still make this work." - "Really? How?" - "We´ll find a way." Solo tightened his embrace and kissed Leia´s hair. "You aren´t mad at me?" she asked suddenly, her voice muffled against his shirt. "Why should I? I understand why you kept this secret, although it will take some time to get used to this. Your father? Wow." - "I love you, Han." - "I know."
Two hours later the Skywalker twins were standing alone, facing the viewport in Leia´s quarters. They were holding one another´s hands, sharing their grief in silence. Leia had told her brother everything about their father she knew. About Debelan and the way he cared for her, his strange sense of humor, his determination and the way he always had seemed to be invulnerable and in control. How he always turned to look at the stars when troubled.
"I can´t belive he´s gone before we had a chance to get to know him," Leia said quietly. Luke only nodded, still immersed in his memories from Eol Sha. "He called my name," he whispered. Kissing Leia´s forehead he took his hands out of her´s and turned to leave. "Where are you going?" - "I want to talk to Jix about...father." - "Do that. But he´s with Needa right now, telling him..." - "Then I´ll wait."
- "Lord Vader is dead?" Captain Needa looked devastated, "This is...unbelievable."
- "We have to face it nevertheless."
- "We are done for, you know? Whatever we do now, we don´t know wether we disrupt the flow of his planning. We could lose a lot without the right information."
- "But we can´t give up."
- "You are right, Jix. And I already have an idea. Tell the princess that we need to set up a meeting with the people I told her about. That way, we might be able to get part of the Navy on our side."
After some convincing, the Rebel High Command agreed on meeting with Needa´s fellow officers, who were dissatisfied with the Empire´s current situation. The talks took place on Dantooine, and Leia was in charge.
She was wearing the long flowing robes of an Alderaanian princess, feeling a bit out of place in the company of all these men in shiny boots and dashing uniforms. Leia smiled at them and motioned for them to take their seats. General Dodonna and Captain Needa had accompanied her on this mission and both men wore serious expressions.
"Gentlemen, let me welcome you on Dantooine. We owe this meeting to Captain Needa and I again want to thank him for his efforts in making this happen," she turned to Needa clapping her hands and was quickly joined by the whole assembly. After the applause had died down, Leia´s face became grave, " There is someone else we should honor today. Someone who in his own way has done a lot to help the rebellion. Lord Vader has died five days ago," she raised her hand to quieten the Imperial officers´astounded murmuring, "Please. Let me explain. He too saw that the Empire could not function this way anymore, that change is needed. He devised a multi-layered strategy to weaken the Empire, working together with an agent of his working undercover for the rebellion. We owe both many victories. Lord Vader´s death came as a surprise to all of us. We are shocked and we grieve for him like we would a friend, although we knew him only as an enemy. But we have to move on. By coming here you have signalled your willingness to help. If you join us, you will be traitors in the eyes of your fellow officers who chose to stay behind. But you will have done the right thing, the only thing that will bring us closer to our common dream: Peace and stability at last." After she had finished there as a short silence, suddenly filled by thundering applause. Leia knew that the talks would be long and strenuous, but the first step had been made. "You did very well," Jan Dodonna told her quietly and Captain Needa squeezed her arm in support, smiling, before he went to join a group of officers, friends of his, she could see. "There is a lot to do, general." - "But I know you will manage."
After five days of talking a quarter of the Imperial Navy had switched sides.
General Dodonna and Captain Needa worked together on the mission deployments and their efforts showed some successes. But many battles were lost because they had no way of forseeing what Darth Vader had had planned. Fortunately Needa knew his superior well enough to see through the tactics quickly after the initial firefight. But sometimes that was simply not quick enough. "If some miracle doesn´t happen soon, we´ll lose this war regardless," General Dodonna remarked after a particularly fruitless strategic session.
"Mara Jade," Palpatine whispered. The young agent looked somewhat relived to be finally called into the Emperor´s service again. "Master," she replied, pride shining through her voice.
"I have a task for you. You will track down Wrenga Jixton and bring him here. If you do not succeed this time I will regretfully have to end your services to the Empire. Is that clear?" - "Yes, master. I will not disappoint you." - "I very much hope so, Mara Jade. I have lost my most valuable agent already. And while you could never replace his services, I still have faith in your abilities. Now go. And, Mara, I think it would be best if you sued some reinforcements this time." The young Hand bowed deeply and left, red-cheeked and humiliated.
Vader´s death had come as a surprise to everyone. And in the wake of this bad news, the defection of part of the fleet had hit the still reeling Empire like a hammer blow. Palpatine did his best to calm everyone, including himself, but if he could not show some successes soon, the people would lose their fear in the Empire´s power. Where to start? This was threatening to get out of hand and he would do his best to prevent that from happening.
Mara was bent over the cmputer terminal in Lord Vader´s private office. She felt bad about this, coming into a dead man´s house and snooping around in his private files. The Emperor had given her the Dark Lord´s general code and she took it, slightly surprised that her master knew it. But, well, better not to ask.
They were mostly files on battles, tactics, battle groups, particular officers and, on the other hand, loads of files on ship blueprints and records of technical experiments.
No sign of Jix. She tried another path and whistled in surprise, when the computer asked her fo another password. Another password? This was it, she kust knew it !But...Activating her commlink, she waited for Palpatine to answer. "What is it?" - "The computer is asking for another password." - "Another password? Well, since we are dealing with very sensitive information here," there was a long pause," Try `Padme´." - "Ok." Mara typed in the five letters and waited, "It worked," she finally announced. "Good. This shouldn´t take long," he broke the connection, leaving his agent staring hard at the screen. How did he know? That was the big question. She had searched the files for about two minutes, when she stumbled over one report that mentioned Wrenga Jixton: It was about a mission to the planet Aridus. Vader had planned this to become a trap for someone called Luke Skywalker. Wait, wasn´t that the rebel who had destroyed the Death Star? Apparently the trap had back-fired, leaving Vader badfly injured. Jixton had rescued him and they had formed a truce. Jix would work for Vader and the Dark Lord would in turn keep the Empire away from Aridus, whose natives had offerd Jix shelter and their friendship after his flight from Kessel. Good. So there was something on that planet he did treasure. An ideal bait. Downloading the file into her data pad, she shut the computer down and left.
"Good work, Emperor´s Hand. You will take a legion with you to Aridus and I am sure the traitor will come to you. Bring him here as soon as you have captured him. And take care."
Mara nodded and left, striding along the huge corridore, thinking. So, she would lay the trap and hopefully, Jix would walk into it. This should not be too difficult. At least with a legion of stormtroopers by her side she had a chance. Smiling grimly, she rounded a corner and headed for her own quarters.
"Jix!" Leia called after the fuming Corellian as he stormed off the bridge, "Wait!" Sighing deeply she went after him. "Where do you think you are going?" He turned to face her, blue eyes flashing:
- "Listen, princess, if the Empire thinks they can massacre the people who gave me shelter and their friendship when I really needed it..."
- "Jix, this is very likely a trap."
- "I know."
- "And you are still going?"
- "I can´t just stand by and let that happen. I know the fleet is committed elsewhere, so I´ll do this on my own."
- "At least ask Hand and Chewie if they are willing to come along. I mean, how are you going to get there anyway?"
- "You are right. I´ll ask them. And when all this is over I swear I´ll take some flying lessons. Will you be okay?"
- "Of course."
- "You know, Leia, I didn´t mean to tell you this, but you are much like your father. Leadership comes natural to you. And you have a strong will and determination."
- "Thank you, Jix. I feel honored."
- "You should."
The next morning Han and Chewie were already waiting for their passenger.
- "Aridus suicide commando all on board," Han announced solemnly.
- "Han, Chewie, I really appreciate your help."
- "No problem, brother. By the way: Luke´s coming too."
- "What? Does Leia know?"
- "Sure she does. Now let´s get going.
The Millenium Falcon was pretty crowded with the four of them on board. Han and Chewie took their usual places, while Luke and Jix strapped into the passenger seats. The lift-off was smooth and soon the freighter was heading into space.
"So, how are these chubbits?" Han asked, once they were in hyperspace.
"They are small reptoids, pretty stocky build. They don´t have much technology. And they are really friendly." - "Sounds good. So they won´t be able to help us, eh?" - "Exactly." They were silent for a while. "Anyone want to play some holochess?" Luke asked suddenly, and Chewie agreed. The two of them vanished into the rec room, leaving the two Corellians alone.
"Jix, I hate to tell you this, but we don´t stand a chance against the Imps on Aridus." - "You´ve never really seen me fight, Solo. Just wait and see." - "O.k. From a distance, if you don´t mind."
Aridus greeted them with a red and green display of laser fire from two Imperial star destroyers. "I think now we can be sure it is a trap," Han remarked through gritted teeth. "Just keep flying," Jix answered.
The Falcon was weaving it´s way through the net of TIE fighters, with Luke and Jix manning the guns, shooting down everyone who came too close. "Head for the mountains," Jix told Han over intercomm and the freighter swerved to the left, dipping low into the planet´s atmosphere. Maneuvering through the gorges in the high mountains, the ship quickly left it´s pursuers behind and finally Han set the Falcon down in the shadow of a valley grove. Jix commented the whole ride by racing down the ramp and throwing himself to his knees, touching the dry grass with both hands. "Hey, it wasn´t that bad!" Han called indignantly to Luke´s and Chewie´s roaring laughter. Standing up again Jix shook himself: "It was bad enough. But now we are here. Let´s conceal the ship and snoop around. Maybe we can even find the Imperial camp today." - "Sure. Let´s do that. Couldn´t we at least wait for nightfall?" - "No." - "Whatever you say."
Mara Jade was scanning the plains with her binoculars. She could just make out the troopers deployed as sentinels. In the camp itself, the captured chubbits were quietly jabbering at each other, clearly agitated. Did they know help was coming? Perhaps they could sense it in some way. The report on the arrival of a freighter in the system had been reported half an hour ago. Knowing Jix, he wouldn´t waste any time. They had to be prepared for tonight.
"Seargeant!" she called. "Yes, ma`am." - "Put your troops on red alert. I don´t want to make this too easy for them." - "With all due respect, but we outnumber them at least twenty to one." - "Odds don´t interest me, sergeant, only success." She was nervous and she hated herself for it. Jix was very good, she knew. He had once single-handedly taken out a whole Imperial fortress.
"You have what?" - "Well, it was the only way to capture that guy." - "But, a whole Imperial fortress..." - "Look who´s talking. As I recall your father has done some similar things too."
Luke shook his head. They were all seated around the holochess table in the rec room and outside night was falling. "Will we survive this?" - "You really have an optimistic outlook on life, kid." - "No, seriously. I have never fought so many troops before," Jix watched Luke´s hand wander unconsciously towards the two lightsabers at his belt. He had been training with a remote control during the whole flight and both Han and Jix agreed that he was getting really good. "If we don´t survive it doesn´t matter," Jix answered finally," Now stop worrying. We are leaving in an hour."
The four of them were marching single-file, with Jix in the lead. While the high grass concealed them well enough, Jix knew that if the Imps had heat sensors, they were already doomed. Well, it was too late to turn back now.
In the distance they could make out the camp lights and Jix motioned his little group to fan out in search of the sentinels. He himself stayed on course, straight towards the camp. It was not long until he encountered the first trooper. The man was clearly nervous. And he never saw Jix come. Straightening again from the soldier´s corpse, Jix took the man`s blaster rifle and slung it over his shoulder. With a cat-like grace he stalked forward, eyes and ears straining. There was no sound from either side of him, so he assumed that the others were getting along too. For a moment he saw Chewie´s bulk flash in the high grass and he smiled to himself. What a ragtag company they were. But then he noticed something else and quickly rushed to the wookie´s side. "Watch out, there are motion detectors fifteen meters ahead," Jix hissed and went on in search of Luke and Han. After having warned them all, he and Han crawled forward, disabling the sensors one by one. That done, they continued their silent advance.
Once inside the first perimeter, the group split up. While Luke and Chewie would distract the troopers´ attention, the two Corellians would go into the heart of the camp to get the chubbits out. It was an obvious strategy, but Jix had learned from Vader that the obvious approach often wasn´t expected by the enemy.
When the sound of blaster fire rang out from the opposite side of the camp, Han and Jix moved in. Both trained soldiers and, more important, schooled survivors, they were gliding forward almost noiselessly, striking down opponents or using knives, until the use of blasters had become inevitable. Half of the camp had been cleared when they arrived in the big space where the captured chubbits were huddled together. Jix shot the two soldiers guarding the prisoners and shouted at the chubbits in their own language, ordering them to run for their lifes. They had to only be told once. Then all hell broke lose as more and more stormtroopers joined the fray. Jix saw Luke´s blue lightsaber flash wildly amidst white-uniformed soldiers, but the boy seemed to be doing alright. Then, suddenly, Mara Jade appeared out of nowhere. her red hair flying, she was charging at Jix, rolled under his fire and came up again, blaster aimed at someone behind Jix. Gripped by a sudden bad feeling Jix risked a look around and saw Han fall to his knees, face contorted in pain. Chewie almost immediately rushed to his fallen friend´s side. No! Don´t break up now, Jix thought frantically, concentrating yet again on the Emperor´s Hand. But she only flashed him a toothy smile and vanished again. "Luke!" he screamed, "Get Han and Chewie out!" The boy nodded at him and swept his blade through three troopers at once. Sommersaulting over the rest he held one palm out towards them and sent them flying to the ground. The chubbits were safe and the kid would take care of the others. Now it was at Jix to cover their escape.
He dropped the rifle and took the smaller blasters out of their holsters instead, rolling and twisting to avoid the laser beams aimed at him. Taking aim again and again he was wading through the stormtroopers, oblivious of his own danger. Darth Vader had once remarked that the word fear did not register in Jix vocabulary. And he had answered that he might as well be afraid of death.
When Mara came up at his side again he kicked her down, for one second faltering and she used that second well, her blaster stunning him instantly. When he dropped to the floor, unable to move one muscle or even close his eyes, she picked herself up again and smiled.
"We meet again, traitor." Jix thought something rude and she laughed: "Now let´s get you back to Coruscant."
"Move!" Luke shouted at Chewie, who was carrying Han up the Falcon´s lowered ramp. Stormtroopers hot on their trail and blaster shots raining against the hull, Luke brought the ship systems online and the shields up. "Chewie! I need you here," he called over his shoulder to where the wookie was settling the wounded Corellian into a bunk. He roared something back. "No, we can´t help Jix now. Don´t worry, he can take care of himself." Then finally the Falcon lifted off and made their escape into hyperspace. "Look at that, they aren´t even shooting at us," Luke remarked as they passed the star destroyers. Chewie gestured towards the planet and growled a statement. "Yeah, you´re right. They probably already got what they wanted."
The Millenium Falcon touched down on Dagobah after long hours of flight and worry. It took very careful flying to get the freighter down on the swampy ground, but Luke managed it in the end with Chewie´s help. Lowering the ramp he ran out into the dank evening air and called for Master Yoda. Getting no answer, the young Jedi raced through the undergrowth, finally finding the master in his house. "Master Yoda! Please, I need your help." - "My help?" - "A friend, he´s been terribly wounded." Yoda regarded his student for a long time, before answering: "Take me to your friend."
Soon Chewie and Luke were hovering in the doorway to the cabin where Yoda was standing on the bunk´s edge, his hands laid on Han´s hot forehead, his eyes closed. Long minutes passed before the old master took his hands away and hopped to the floor. Chewie immediately rushed to his friend´s side, cooing mournfully at him. Suddenly Solo´s eyelids fluttered open. His eyes still looked a bit feverish but he seemed well enough. "Chewie," he whispered, "Did we win?"
Hours later, after having told Han what had happened on Aridus and of their narrow escape, Luke joined Yoda in his house for dinner. Chewie had insisted on staying with Han and the Falcon. It was a quiet meal. Yoda didn´t say much and somehow Luke thought he expected him to talk. About his father, no doubt. But Luke did not want to talk and so he left early, feeling a bit bad about not trusting the old master with his fears and hopes.
Yoda watched him go, a silent shadow in the night. "I never believed it would end like this,"
Obi-Wan Kenobi said, slowly appearing next to Yoda, his robes shimmering in a blue light.
"Over this is not," the old Jedi Master told him and sought the eyes of the third to join them. "Why not talk to your son? Need you he does." Anakin Skywalker shook his head slightly, but they could see that he wanted nothing else: "He doesn´t need me now. None of them does. They will have to choose their own way. Like I chose mine." - "You chose well, Anakin," Obi-Wan told him and felt his heart ache at the sad smile his friend gave him: "Did I really?" - "You saved your son´s life." - "True. And it was worth everything I had. It wasn´t much, but still.. ." - "You gave him your life and that was enough." Having said those words, Obi-Wan faded away slowly, leaving Yoda and Anakin alone. The Jedi Master didn´t meet the other´s eyes, but he clearly was thinking hard about what to say: "Think that this fate you not have deserved I do, Skywalker. Too easy on you it was in the end. But the will of the Force I do not question," bent over his walking stick he turned around and walked back into his house, dousing the lights.
Above Dagobah the stars gleamed brilliantly and a lone Jedi stood watching them for a long time, before he too vanished into the night.
When Leia Organa finally slipped into her bedroom after an exhausting day of plotting and planning, with few successes to lighten up the long hours of hard work, she was too tired to be surprised, when she noticed a tall man standing next to her wardrobe. His body was all washed-out, like a holoimage. But the smile on his face seemed real enough. "Father!" she sighed, dropping down on the edge of her bed, "I thought you were dead!" - "Really? I can´t imagine why," he replied drily. Leia smiled at him: "Whishful thinking?" Now he was really laughing and his daughter´s heart leapt higher, when he did. She had missed his company, his voice and his smile:
- "You saved Luke´s life."
- "He was asking for it. Tell him to be more careful next time."
- "I will. But what about you? You died for him..."
- "I got my freedom back, Leia. And although Master Yoda thinks differently, I think I have deserved that much at least. But let us not talk about me. You are doing so well, daughter. I am proud of you."
- "Thank you. But, perhaps you can help me..."
- "You do not need my help. Not now."
- "I must be going."
- "No, please, don´t."
- "I will be back, don´t worry. I love you, Leia."
- "I love you too."
Leia watched his smiling image fade away, until there was only darkness. Then she finally went to bed, but lay awake for some time, wondering how everything could have bee so much different. Her comm woke her only three hours later. "What is it?" she asked muzzily. "Leia?" Luke´s voice sounded slightly worried. "Luke! Where are you?" - "Actually I am right in front of your door." - "Is Han with you?" - "No, he´s in the medical ward." - "Come in," she told hima nd activated the door. He rushed into her bedroom only seconds later, blushing slightly. His hair was disheveled and his eyes tired. "What happened?" - "It was a trap." - "But you knew that beforehand." - "I know. Han was injured and Jix covered our escape. I fear the Imps have got him now." Leia nodded slowly: " Bad news. But we can´t help him now. We have other things to worry about. And besides, I´m sure he can get himself out of this."
When Wrenga Jixton could move again, he found his wrists shackled to the metal wall of a holding cell. By the sounds of the ship he could tell that they already were in hyperspace, heading for Coruscant. He sighed. Well, Luke, Han and Chewie probably had made it and now that Mara had got what she came for the chubbits very likely were safe too. This wasn´t too bad. He had been taken prisoner before and managed to escape. With some luck this time would not be any different.
The door slid open to reveal Mara Jade, grinning happily. "Are you comfortable?" she asked sweetly and stepped into the cell, the door closing behind her. "Sure. It´s not what I had planned for my vacation, but it´s alright." She shook her head: "I hope you won´t try to pull that clever number on the Emperor." - "Oh, no. I would never want to offend his Highness," Jix told her wrily. He saw her flinch and immediately knew what was going on. "Guess he wasn´t best pleased that you beached your assignments on the first try, right? You see, someone who knew him pretty well once told me that Palpatine is like a leech: He takes everything from you and still expects you to function. And when he´s done with you, you´re history." - "Lord Vader said that?" - "Among other things, yes." Mara stared hard at him and turned around, leaving without a comment. Something must be bothering her. But what? If he could find out, he might be able to exploit that weakness. But Mara didn´t come back.
When they reached Coruscant, Jix was transferred to the Imperial Palace´s prison complex under a tight guard. His reputation seemed to have preceeded him and the outlay of his cell spoke volumes. Polished metal walls eight meters high, with the entrance six meters above the floor. Jix did his best to drop elegantly into the cold room when they pushed him over the edge of the gangway reaching three meters into the open space. Straightening again he took in his bleak cell, already measuring it up for a possible escape. And found it´s one weakness almost immediately. Suppressing a smile he walked towards one of the walls and sat down, closing his eyes.
It wasn´t long until the Emperor paid him a visit personally. For once remembering protocol, Jix stood up from where he had still been sitting and nodded at the old man. "Your majesty," he acknowledged him and Palpatine smiled.
- "I see you are feeling right at home, Wrenga Jixton."
- "It´s a bit spartan, but hey, you can´t have everything."
- "Indeed. Tell me of Lord Vader´s death."
- "Apparently he fell into a volcano pit when he fought that Skywalker kid."
- "Skywalker. Do you know him well?"
- "Can´t say I do. You don´t seem to be overtly depressed at Vader´s death."
- "He survived something like this before."
- "Really? Well, if he hasn´t come knocking at your door by now I guess he really must be dead, don´t you think?"
- "You may be right."
- "May? We are talking a pit of lava here. Noone can survive that."
- "Perhaps I shall see if you could."
- "Is that a threat or a promise?"
- "Sorry, but it doesn´t work."
- "What does not work?"
- "Trying to intimidate me. You know Lord Vader, and I have worked for him some time."
- "I see. So you think that you fear nothing and noone?"
- "I think that for the load of questions you are asking you are not getting many answers."
- "You are right. But that will change, believe me."
- "I´ll try."
Jix just knew he had a knack for making enemies in high places, but maybe this time he had gone too far. When Palpatine had left, an amused smile on his black lips, Jix waited a bit longer, then set to work.
Mara Jade was standing in the doorway to Lord Vader´s office feeling like a traitor. The last time she had been here she had planned a trap for Jix in the name of the Emperor, but tonight noone knew of her being here. She carried her data pad to the black computer and set it down next to the monitor. Activating the machine she waited and typed in the firts password.
Then the second. She selected the first file and read. A frown on her face, she finished the report on Yavin 4 and continued to read the next file. And the next, and the one after that.
When day was finally dawning, Mara leaned back in her seat, exhausted. So. Lord Vader had been the traitor all along. And Palpatine had had his suspicions, she knew. Having read the Dark Lord´s private files she now understood very clearly what Jix had meant aboard the star destroyer. She understood why Vader could do nothing but betray his master. For the same reasons she would betray him too. Quickly connecting her data pad to Vader´s computer, she started downloading the secret files.
Emperor Palpatine frowned when a certain alarm rang through his quarters in the early morning hours. So, someone was downloading Vader´s files. Now he only needed to trace the connection... He was a bit surprised when he realized that whoever it was was using Vader´s personal computer. Calling the Royal Guard immediately he ordered them to surround the Dark Lord´s castle. But if it really was Vader himself, the guards would not be able to hold him there for long. + Are you certain you want to delete these files? + the computer asked suddenly. What!? Palpatine´s mouth dropped open when all those precious files were being deleted in front of his very eyes. He tried in vain to stop the inevitable, but he was too late. Someone else must have hacked into Vader´s computer and deleted the secret files. But who? And, more important, from where?
Mara Jade was ready to leave when she noticed the message flashing on the screen. +Are you certain you want to delete these files?+ She frowned. And then the computer started deleting in earnest. Mara realized instantly that someone else had been using the computer at the same time she did. This was most unwelcome. But she had no time to wonder, she had to leave really fast. This would not go unnoticed. Racing out of the office and down the deserted corridore she could hear the guards running to meet her instantly. She rounded a corner instinctively and ran straight into a wall. Wich turned out to be Wrenga Jixton. "Jix! How...,"he pressed a hand to her mouth and dragged her into one af the adjoining rooms. "Shhh. Are you crazy?" he whispered, "But I can see that I got you thinking." - "Jix, I..." - "No time, Jade. We gotta go now."
They made it to one of Coruscant´s many spaceports without difficulty. "Time to say goodbye," Jix told Mara coldly and turned around, starting to walk away. "Wait!" she called, but he had already vanished in the crowd. Mara just shrugged. Well, he was her only connection to the rebels and she was sure that they at least would welcome the information she could offer them, even if Jix did not. She was almost certain that he wouldn´t want to be found right now, but that didn´t matter. Right now getting away from Coruscant was top priority. Afterwards she could always track him down somehow.
Nar Shadaa was just as she remembered: Dirty, dark and dangerous. Walking the vertical city in search for a decent associate, Mara had visited at least three bars so far. The number of males who had tried chatting her up! She was very annoyed. But unfortunately the smuggler´s moon was the best place to find what she needed.
A garish, green sign caught her eye. Sighing, she walked up to the door and entered. The bar was a low room, dimly lit, just like every other bar in Nar Shadaa. Pushing her way towards the counter, Mara ordered a glass of water. The bartender gave her a look, but said nothing, after meeting her emerald gaze. When he turned away to prepare her drink, Mara´s eyed the occupants of the bar. All species assembled here were either known for being good hunters or good liars. She smiled to herself. Prejudices!
Then one man caught her attention. He was sitting all by himself, lounging nonchalantly in his chair with his back to the wall. His face was shrouded in shadows, but she could make out intense blue eyes and long scars decorating his pale cheeks. Grabbing her glass out of the bartender´s hands and throwing him the credits for the drink, she went over so sit at the stranger´s table. He regarded her calmy underneath half-closed eyes and a faint smile appeared on his lips. "You out for hire?" Mara asked bluntly, finding that the best approach to talking with his kind of people. His soft laugh surprised her: "What do you have in mind?" Mara stared at him, not sure how to interpret his remark.
- "I need to find someone."
- "Ah. Who is it?"
- "A man."
- "Really? And he is so dangerous that you cannot take on him alone?"
- "Are you making fun of me?"
- "Not at all. Apperances can be misleading. And I make a point of never underestimating anyone."
- "Then how did you come by these scars?"
- "Wisdom comes with age, young one."
- "Then I guess you are old enough for me. What is your name?"
- "You can call me Anakin."
- "And I am Mara."
He nodded with a smile: "Tell me more about that man you are hunting."
"Look, Tendo, I need that converter now. My party is leaving in an hour and I don´t want to miss the ride." The dealer growled something at him. "Tomorrow? I don´t have the time. If you know another dealer who..." Wrenga Jixton´s head came around when a Chadra Fan came whistling around the corner. "An Imperial star destroyer? Here?" he asked and shook his head. Nar Shadaaa usually was never bothered by Imperial raids. The Imps must be really getting nervous. He would have to go and warn the rebel team still on a spare parts shopping spree. "Sorry, Tendo, have to go." Jix quickened his pace once he was out of the dealer´s view. Let´s see. Last I heard they were on level A.
A turbolift took him down two levels and deposited him in a pretty deserted corridore. Looking around, he quickly spotted one of the team, Grun, a Gammorrean female. She was standing at a stall, seemingly deeply in conversation with the dealer. Jix walked up to her, tapping her massive shoulder: "Grun, we have to go," he told her quietly. "Hello, Jix," the dealer said with a smile and pointed her blaster at his chest. "Mara! What the..." - "Good idea waiting here," she adressed someone standing behind the Corellian. "This is the best place to get spare parts," a male voice answered and Jix slowly turned around to face the newcomer.
The stranger stood head and shoulders taller than himself and Jix found his intense, knowing eyes the most intriguing feature of his face, except for the scars. Dressed in a black tunic over black pants, he stood there smiling down at the other man and Jix knew that whatever he tried, he would never make it. There was something about that man, something familiar. "Jix," Mara got his attention again," I only want to talk. Let´s walk together. Somewhere private." She vaulted the stall´s counter and holstered her blaster. Jix couldn´t help noticing that her companion bore no weapon at all. "Alright," he said finally and started walking down the corridore towards the next hangar bay. Grun, who had wisely stayed out of this, followed in a short distance, with the strange man betweeen her and the other two. Mara and Jix were walking side by side and he could see that she was nervous. "Jix, you were right. About Palpatine, I mean. I...he gave me the codes to Vader´s personal files and I did some research. Don´t look at me like that! I´ve downloaded his files. They should help your friends win this war." - "Are you coming with us?" - "I don´t know," she answered," I have nowhere to go and Palpatine..." - "Yeah, he won´t be pleased." Suddenly Mara stopped. Then Jix heard it too. The typical sound of stormtrooper boots marching on metal. "They are coming here," Mara whispered and turned in search for a suitable hiding place. "Too late," Jix hissed through gritted teeth, when the first white-clad soldiers rounded the corner and came straight towards them. And marched past the rebels without ever taking any notice of them. When both Mara and Jix turned around in surprise, they found their view blocked by the tall man standing there with a faint smile on his lips.
He motioned for them to move forward and followed. They walked in silence for a long time, until they finally reached the hangar bay, where the rest of the rebel team was already waiting. Then he turned to leave. "Wait!"Mara called, "You are a Jedi Knight, am I right?" He simply nodded, threw a hard glance at Jix and left for good. "Who the hell was that?" Jix asked when they boarded the unmarked rebel freighter together. "His name is Anakin, that´s all I know," she answered.
Anakin? Jix felt his blood run cold. He knew of only one Jedi Knight named Anakin. Wow. How did he pull that one off? Wait ´til I tell Leia and the kid.
When the rebel freighter touched down in one of the Liberty´s hangar bays, jix went straight to the bridge, where he found Leia deep in conversation with captain Needa. "Jix, you´re back," she said with a smile. He had arrived back froom Coruscant two weeks ago, to his friends´delight, and wasted no time. From then on he had been around constantly, trying to quicken the pace of the rebellion´s progress by sheer force of will.
- "Yeah, I´m back. And I brought someone with me."
- "Mara Jade."
- "Her? Why?"
- "She´s got some information that might be helpful. And I got some other news too."
- "Good news, I hope."
- "You bet it is good. Where is Luke?"
- "Working on the Falcon with Han. Why?"
- "It concerns the two of you."
When Luke and Leia had finally joined Jix in his quarters, he was fairly beaming at them.
"I met a Jedi Knight on Nar Shadaa," he began, hardly able to contain himself, but he wanted to make this dramatic. Luke frowned at him: "A Jedi Knight? Who was it?" - "Well, he is pretty tall, dresses in black and he´s got blue eyes. Oh yes. And a few scars." - "Purple scars? Across his cheeks?" - "Yep." Leia screamed with joy, hugging her brother fiercely. "He´s alive! I knew it, I just knew!" Now Luke was grinning too: "Oh man. He must have really enjoyed the ride to Nar Shadaa with me." - "He really likes to play tricks on people," Jix explained. "Yes," Leia agreed smiling, having realized that his ghost appearance had been nothing more than the vanishing trick he had pulled on the pirates on Debelan," But where is he now?"
Emperor Palpatine was fuming. Not only was Vader very probably dead and part of the fleet had joined the rebels´ side, but now Mara Jade and Wrenga Jixton had vanished too.
People were laughing at him behind his back, he just knew. He had not planned for this to happen, not at all. And he really, really hated not being in control of events.
When the double doors to the throne room ponderously opened, he was in no good mood. "This had better be important," he hissed at the newcomer. And stared.
Darth Vader stood tall and forbidding, his armour gleaming in the dim light of the huge chamber. He walked forward with measured steps and Palpatine retreated before his silent approach towards his throne. He climbed into it´s secure embrace and turned to face the sinister Dark Lord again. "Welcome back, Lord Vader," he quavered, unable to hide his fear. Vader didn´t answer. He stopped at the foot of the stairs leading up the the throne and slowly raised his head to look at the Emperor. "Darth Vader is no more," the apparition intoned solemnly and the illusion vanished, "Your majesty," Anakin Skywalker added from where he stood next to the throne. His smile didn´t touch his blue eyes as he gazed coldly down on the frightened monarch. "You are dead!" Palpatine screeched, suddenly furious and raised his hands, ready to strike the Jedi Knight down where he stood with the power of the Dark Side.
But Anakin merely stepped around to directly face him. Their eyes locked and Palpatine saw his own death shining as bright as the twin suns of Tattoine from the other´s gaze. "It is time for you to finally leave," Skywalker told him and this time his smile was most sincere. The light of the Force shot forward, engulfing a howling Emperor in it´s heat and glare, until nothing remained of his darkness.
"Jix!" The Corellian looked up to face the comm officer grinning at him from where he sat on the Liberty´s bridge, "Guess who." Jix face lit up and he turned towards the exit only to see that Luke and Leia had already beat him there. Sighing, he followed the Skywalker twins to the conference room.
When he entered, Leia was already talking into the comm:
- "I ´m so glad you are well."
- "Never felt any better," `Uncle Dee´answered.
- "Where are you?"
- "On Naboo. I´ll ghive you the coordinates in a minute if you promise to get everyone here as fast as you can. Is Jix with you?"
- "I am here."
- "Good. Then I am looking forward to see you all again."
When the Millenium Falcon finally touched down at the edge of the Naboo swamp, Leia rewarded Han with a quick kiss for his excellent flying and bounded down the already lowered ramp to join her brother on the soft grass. With the rest of their little team gathering around, Mara included, they stood and waited. Leia was facing the gently rolling hills and knew what would be coming. They didn´t have to wait long.
Backlit by the Naboo sun, Anakin Skywalker appeared like a shadow on the crest of the hill opposite the little group. His steps were measured and graceful as he came to meet them, and when he was close enough, Leia could see the smile on his scarred face. She ran towards him, throwing her arms around his waist, surprised at how hard he felt when she squeezed him affectionately, and put her left cheek on his chest. He stroked her head once, then held her at arm´s length, smiling. "Our plan has worked," he told them all quietly, pride shining through his voice, "But there is still a lot to do."
Special thanks to Kee and Redone for their help and input. You two made sure that I simply had to finish this story as fast as I could.:)