Summary: This is part of the Force Bond series, an AU where Vader raises Luke, but is a complete story unto itself. It is set between FB2 and FB3. Luke feels the time has arrived to unleash himself on the skies of Coruscant. Vader isn't so sure.
Government departments on Coruscant reminded Luke Skywalker of a circus attraction he'd seen once called 'The Revolving Door of Doom'. He'd certainly experienced more than his fair share of them, having lived in an Imperial Family Services holding center for several weeks. During that time, he'd seen rampant bribery, obsessive and bureaucratic administrators, indifferent and frustrated workers, and a vast cynicism about the galaxy in general, permeating everyone from the administrator to the droid that manned the reception desk. From what little he'd seen of the Coruscant airway licensing office, it was similarly afflicted.
He'd come here to get his speeder learner license, but it was proving more difficult than he initially anticipated. The first time he'd lined up he was provided with a five page form. After filling that out, he'd lined up again, only to find he still had to fill in an additional form as he wasn't born on Coruscant. To make it worse, apparently someone had made a mistake on his immigration form, and his residency status was listed as a visitor.
Finally, he was allowed to sit the initial theory test, which took him all of ten minutes to score full marks. Now he was in line for the third and hopefully final time. His friend Ben had gone off on a fast food run, leaving Luke with nothing to do but stare at the other people trying to get to the front of the endless queues. There were species from every corner of the galaxy. He was amusing himself by seeing how many he could name.
Luke looked up at the bored-sounding voice, and he saw his turn had come. He quickly walked up to the counter and produced all his forms, plus the datachip he'd received from the test program. The droid slotted them into his chest terminal and studied the output.
"Well?" Luke said after a period of silence. "Can I have my license now?"
"Why not?!" Luke felt his hold on his temper start to slip. "I've been here for two hours. What's wrong with the forms now?"
"Nothing is wrong with the forms," the droid said, sliding them back across the counter. "However, there is a problem with your age."
"I turned fifteen standard years last week," Luke said. "That means I can apply for a learner license. I've read all the conditions hundreds of times."
"I have the conditions programmed into my memory," the droid replied in a vaguely superior tone. "You are right - you can apply for a learner license. However, we cannot issue one without a parent or guardian's signature. Also, please note the parent or guardian who signs for you must be a holder of a legal Coruscant speeder's license, and they must enter their license number in the space provided."
The droid slid yet another form across the table. "Ask your parents to sign this, young human. You will also need to attach a birth certificate and proof of your address."
"Birth certificate? Where am I supposed to get that?"
"You would have been issued with one when you were born."
"Well, that was a long time ago."
"The Imperial registrar's office for births and deaths can provide you with a copy. You will need to provide them with the location of your birth and two other forms of identification."
"Okay," Luke said, deciding he'd have to come back to that one. "How about proof of address?"
"A hardcopy printout of your details from the Imperial tax department will suffice."
The tax department. The neighbors. Luke vaguely recalled breaking one of their windows with a toy rocket gone awry. Hopefully they had forgotten about that by now.
"If I get the birth certificate and proof of address, is there any chance of waving the need for a parental signature?" Luke asked.
"No. Next, please!"
"But my father is Lord Vader," Luke said quietly. "He's really busy. Do you really want me to bother him with this kind of thing when he's supposed to be running the galaxy?"
"Good one. Now are you going to leave quietly, or do I have to call security?" The droid gestured with one of its many appendages towards a menacing security droid standing by the door.
Luke turned away, his head drooping. Two hours waiting in line and all for nothing. His father would never say yes. When he'd last hinted at the fact that he would soon be old enough to get his learner's license, his father had made some comment about his overactive imagination.
He nearly bumped into Ben on his way out. His friend was carrying a paper bag full of fast food.
"He said I needed my father's permission."
"Why didn't the droid tell you that right at the start?"
"Because he's a bundle of loose wires," Luke said. "Blast it, Ben! My father is never going to say yes ... I'm going to be stuck on the ground forever."
"You could try faking his signature."
"I also need his Coruscant speeder's license number," Luke said. "Who knows where he keeps that."
Ben was munching on a burger. "There's a HoloNet site where you can get all that kind of information. I've seen my Dad using it to get his tax number. You'll need his password though."
"It's probably no1sithlord," Luke said. He and Ben were walking through a transparent tube that led to one of the main walkways in Imperial city. Speeder traffic was flying both overhead and underneath, giving Luke the impression of being surrounded by the one thing he wanted to do more than anything else - if only the combined forces of his father and the Imperial licensing office did not stand in his way. He could of course fly around without a license, but he'd rather not tempt doom in the form of Coruscant Traffic Control.
"Maybe you should just wait until you are eighteen, then you won't need to go through all this," Ben suggested. "You can get a license at eighteen without his permission."
"I've been waiting for fifteen years already! I can't wait any longer! Do you know what it feels like to see all those speeders in the hangar every morning and not be allowed to fly them?"
"There are more important things in life than flying a speeder, you know."
Luke groaned. "I'll see you at school tomorrow."
"Don't you want some of this food?" Ben asked.
Luke was already walking away.
According to a well-reputed galactic tour guide, Reeni Core was a mid-rim, moderately prosperous world, worth visiting for its famous orchestra and spectacular celestial phenomena. After ten minutes spent listening to a report from the Imperial governor, Darth Vader intended on seeing that 'home to the stupidest sentient beings in the known galaxy' was also added to that list. Sometimes he had to wonder if planets wanted to incite his anger.
What had begun as a relatively minor dispute about a stockpile of weapons had now erupted into open rebellion. Scenes of locals burning the Imperial flag in the streets of the capital had to be removed from the HoloNet in their hundreds. Including one particularly unflattering vid involving an effigy of him.
The only positive thing in all of this was Governor Jala. Vader had been instrumental in his promotion in the first place, and now he was proving his value. The man's competence was well-illustrated by the fact that he had chosen to contact him in this instance, instead of pressing on with the arrogant resolve that had proven the downfall of many of his peers.
"Lord Vader," the governor said, "President Gysin has been pleading with me for the opportunity to deal with this uprising internally. Even as we speak, he has ordered thousands of the planetary security guard to round up the protestors. Our troops stand ready to invade, but I am in two minds about giving the order. Perhaps it would be a better course of action to give Reeni Core a chance to deal with this themselves."
"The Reeni Core rebels will lose their resolve if they are forced to fight against their own people," Vader agreed, addressing the medium-sized hologram on the conference room table. "You may hold off the troops for now, but inform President Gysin that he has one standard day to publicly execute those responsible. Advise him that if he cannot restore order to Reeni Core, we are more than willing to do it for him."
"Yes, my lord," Governor Jala said. "I will meet with him immediately."
"Keep me updated, Governor."
After the call had ended, Vader stepped away from the holocom terminal and left the room thinking over the situation. His younger self might have ordered the invasion immediately, but perhaps, after all these years, a small part of Palpatine was starting to rub off on him. A very, very small part.
At the far end of the corridor, the elevator lights indicated a pending arrival. Vader stretched out with the Force, recognizing his son's presence. He was met with a mood that almost caused Vader to step back into the serenity of the conference room.
When the elevator doors slid open, Luke stepped out without looking up. His feet dragged on the floor as he approached, leaving traces of wherever he'd been on the carpet. Altogether, he looked like he'd just been told his birthday was cancelled for the next ten years.
He didn't give any indication he knew his father was there. When he was less than a meter away, Vader finally spoke.
Luke made a noise that was somewhere between a grunt and a groan and continued on towards his bedroom door.
Vader reached out a hand to stop him. "Should I ask what I have done?"
"Huh?" Luke glanced at him briefly. "You haven't done anything."
"Then why the barely restrained hostility brewing below the surface?"
"There's no barely restrained hostility! And do you have to spy on my feelings like that?"
"I cannot help it."
Luke rolled his eyes and turned away.
Vader's first instinct was to tell Luke firmly that he wouldn't tolerate sulking without a proper explanation and insist that he wasn't going to his room without telling him exactly what was going on. But he hesitated before saying it, remembering a different approach to this situation that Luke's medic had suggested. It seemed overly accommodating to him, but he might as well try.
"If there is something bothering you, then perhaps I can help," Vader suggested, doing his best to keep his tone neutral.
It had an immediate effect. Luke stopped and looked back at him in shock. "What?"
"If there is something bothering you -"
Luke raised a hand. "I heard you the first time. Uh … nothing is wrong. Really. I'm just tired. Long day at school, you know how life can be."
"Undeniably," Vader said with mild amusement. He didn't entirely believe that tiredness was the only thing bothering Luke, but then again, he'd seen his teenage son in a bad mood over less in the past. "I am going for a flight in an hour, if you would like to join me."
He hadn't really been planning to go for a flight, but he wasn't likely to have any time to spend with Luke over the next week, given the Reeni Core situation, so he should make the most of it now. If it had the added bonus of distracting Luke from his insignificant problems, it would be worth the time. Luke always loved the suggestion of their flying together.
At least, he always had in the past. Luke's sulk suddenly turned into full blown anger in a wave that caused a tremor in the Force.
"No, thank you," Luke forced out through gritted teeth. He pushed his way into his bedroom and slapped a button on the other side.
Vader stared at the closed doors for a moment, wondering why he even bothered trying. He was about to walk away, when the doors opened again. Luke stepped back into the corridor.
"It just isn't fair!"
"Did I miss something, Son, or am I supposed to know what you are talking about?"
"I work hard at school. I stick to my curfew. I don't lie, or cheat or steal," Luke said.
Vader's comlink had started beeping during this strange tirade. "Is there a point in our future?" he interrupted.
"I put up with a lot living here," Luke continued, frowning. "You're not the easiest person to live with!"
"I'm not easy to live with?" Vader said, incredulous.
Luke missed his point. "Why won't you trust me?! It's not too much to ask!"
Vader stared blankly at Luke, wondering if it was possible for him to make any less sense. The comlink stopped beeping for a moment and then started up again. Vader picked it up, causing Luke to groan and turn away.
The image of an assistant lit up on the display.
"Apologies for interrupting you, my lord. The Coruscant Immigration Service sent over a security droid. Someone at CIS was under the impression that Luke was an illegal resident."
"What?!" This afternoon was getting stranger by the minute. Vader's gaze wandered past the hologram and onto Luke.
His son waved a hand in dismissal. "They made a stupid mistake on a form."
The assistant had continued speaking. "We have advised them of the situation, and the droid has been recalled. I felt you should be informed, sir."
Vader turned off the comlink and used the Force to pull Luke back in front of him.
"Don't blame me," Luke said, raising his hands in a 'calm down' motion. "This is your stupid government who can't even fill in an immigration form properly."
"Luke," Vader said, speaking in a tone he hoped would put a quick end to Luke's attitude, "what is going on?"
"I just wanted a speeder license. Is that so much to ask?"
"Do you mean you went to the airway office to apply for one? Is that where they checked your residency status?" Finally, something was starting to make sense.
"They said I need your permission. And several other less impossible things."
"Do you see anything ironic, Luke, in asking why I do not trust you? You went and did this after I had already said no."
"You didn't say I couldn't apply for a learner license."
"I said you can fly when I say you can. That is the same thing."
"When are you going to say I can? When I'm sixty?"
"When you have proved you are mature. And at the rate you are going, that might very well be when you are eighty."
"You'll be dead by then anyway," Luke mumbled, just loud enough for Vader to hear.
"From stress related heart failure brought on by your reckless behaviour, I'm sure."
"I'm not as reckless as you think," Luke protested. "Why won't you give me a chance?"
"You are every bit as reckless as I think," Vader said, pointing at his son. "I am going to contact the airway licensing office and make sure they never give you a license. Don't waste your time in the future."
Luke visibly slumped at the words.
"We will revisit this issue in a year's time," Vader continued. "Until then, I suggest you work on your maturity."
Luke turned away and wordlessly returned to his bedroom. Vader stared after him, mildly surprised. He had been expecting some kind of verbal protest. This was far from the first argument he had weathered over this issue, and it normally took Luke far longer to realize he wasn't going to be moved. It was for his own good, of course, but his young son was too short sighted to see it.
It took all Luke's energy to get out of bed the next day. He'd been dreaming about flying, of course. He didn't remember dreaming about anything else for the last three months. The walk to school was nothing short of depressing, due to the constant noise of the endless overhead speeder traffic. When he met up with Ben, his friend was oblivious to his mood. He appeared to have picked up an overnight addiction to a handheld hologame.
"I hate my life," Luke said, finally, as they rode an elevator up to one of the school's landing pads.
Ben didn't respond. It was a wonder he could see where he was going, given the all encompassing attention he was giving the game. His fingers were a blur as they flew over the buttons.
"I might leave school and become a professional juggler at Hologram Funworld," Luke said, testing his friend.
Ben finally paused the game and glanced over at Luke. "Don't you think you're overreacting? He didn't say he'd never let you fly. I don't know anyone in our year who has a speeder license."
"That's because they all have chauffeurs. Anyway, you don't understand. Flying, it's … it's everything. If I had to choose one thing to do for the rest of my life, it would be flying."
"He'll let you fly eventually. You're expecting too much from him. This is Lord Vader we're talking about."
"Why do you always say his name in that hushed tone?"
"Would you prefer I yelled it?"
They'd walked out onto the landing pad at this point, and there was a crowd of students milling about, so Luke had to admit that hushed tones were the preferred option. Ben turned to enter an entranceway corridor, but Luke was distracted. There was a collection of speeders parked over the far side of the pad. Most of them were the mid-to-high priced showroom range, no doubt owned by the senior students. But one stood out like a flashing red siren. He was beside it in a moment.
Ben came over at a slower pace, but he was still curious to see what had caught his friend's attention.
"It's nice," he admitted.
"It's amazing," Luke corrected. "Look at this custom paint job. You couldn't pay for a finish like this."
"Looks like a convertible," Ben said. "What model is it?"
"Some of the body looks like it's from an early model Narglatch, but the lights look like a Desler. I wish I could see under the hood." Luke glanced around. There was no owner in sight. A quick look couldn't hurt, could it? His fingers were already reaching towards the metal as his mind debated the question.
A sudden burning sensation in his fingers put a quick end to that idea. A security shield lit up for a brief instant, sending him reeling back with shock.
Ben stifled a laugh. "Come on, leave it alone, Luke. We're about to be late."
"I wonder who owns it," Luke said, rubbing his fingers as he reluctantly moved away.
"My credits are on Mr Kyde."
Mr Kyde was their serious and pedantic history teacher, who could often be heard ranting about young people who flew too fast. It was quite possibly the last type of airspeeder he'd ever own.
"Very funny," Luke said. "It has to be a student … someone whose father isn't a worry worm like mine. I have to find him."
"I bet it's some arrogant nerf who won't let you breathe near it, never mind look under the hood," Ben said. "That's what most of the seniors are like." Ben thought for a moment, idly scratching his upper lip. "At least, that's what they're like to me. You might have more luck. Maybe if you waited on the landing pad after school."
"Good idea," Luke said, feeling his mood brighten.
The speeder continued to occupy his thoughts during the day's classes. His teachers reminded him several times to focus on the lesson, but his mind was far away. One day, he'd own a customized speeder. Open cockpit, dual afterburners for extra thrust, and maybe a couple of tail fins. Plus a red and white paint job.
When lunchtime rolled around, Luke decided he couldn't wait. He told Ben he'd meet him in the library later and then made his way back to the landing pad. It was a long shot, but it didn't hurt to check.
He was surprised to find two groups of students already there. The landing pad was normally a quiet place where junior students hid from bullies. One was a group of younger students who were playing with a popular hoverball game. The other was a group of senior girls who were gathered in a close circle and talking quietly about something. Luke's eyes wandered over the parked speeders, until he found the one that had attracted his interest that morning. He had to smile at his good luck. The hood was raised, and he could hear the sound of someone tinkering.
He was about to walk over, when the hoverball came bouncing into his line of vision. It was flying up and down so fast, he had to jump sideways to avoid being struck in the head. When it came down for another bounce, reflex took over and Luke reached out a hand to grab it. The boys who owned it came rushing up. When they were close enough to see Luke - and recognize him, judging by the sudden change in their expressions - two of them fell back. The third one came forward slowly.
"Um … sorry. I'm really sorry."
"No problem," Luke said, passing it back. He grinned, hoping to show them that he wasn't anyone to be afraid off.
The hoverball was taken quickly, and then all three of them ran back into the building. Luke sighed to himself. Sometimes it felt like there was no point trying. He might as well start dressing in black and wearing a cape.
A moment later, he forgot all about it. The owner of the amazing speeder had appeared from under the hood. It was a girl. A girl who owned a customized airspeeder. Hopefully she was single and possibly available for marriage sometime in the future.
Luke stared blankly for a moment, considering ways he could go and introduce himself. Maybe he could use one of those lines he saw in holomovies. But that would only work if she hadn't seen the holomovie, otherwise he'd just look stupid. He could try a standard approach, like saying, "Hi, I'm Luke," but would that be enough to impress her?
While he was considering the options, the other girls on the landing pad suddenly broke from their circle and started crossing the distance towards the speeders.
"Hi, Pam!" one of them called.
Luke groaned to himself. There was no way he could introduce himself now, while all her friends were there. Learning her name was a small bonus, though. He'd have to see if he could find her after school. He was about to turn away, when the girl who had called out suddenly produced a spray can of some kind. A moment later, Luke realized with horror that he'd been sadly mistaken to assume they were friends. She sprayed bright orange paint all over the speeder's outer shell. Another girl scratched the paintwork with a nail file, while the third smashed a tail light with a glass bottle.
"Stop it!" Luke yelled, running over with his hands outstretched. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. "Get away from it! NO!"
His sudden appearance surprised the girls, and all but the leader dropped what they were carrying and took a step back. The leader looked up from her vandalism but didn't stop. Luke used one hand to volt himself over the back and then physically wrestled the spray can out of her hand. Her friends hastily tried to pull her away.
"Come on, let's go!"
She only laughed in response but then decided her work was done. She ran off after her friends, leaving Luke staring at their handiwork in horror.
"They've ruined it!" he said, feeling a rush of anger. "This is terrible!" He glanced at Pam, who was staring at the damage with a dazed expression. "Listen, I'll go and get the hose. Maybe it's not too late!"
He sprinted off towards the nearby fire alarm and yanked open the locker that stored one of several fire hoses. A small helper droid fell out along with the hose and automatically started assisting with unravelling it. Luke picked up the end and dragged it back towards Pam's speeder. Water started gushing out halfway over.
It worked better than he expected. The orange paint was largely still wet and must have been of a cheap variety because it washed off relatively easily. After he'd cleaned the worst of it, he went back over to remove some stubborn streaks. A large section of the landing pad had been turned orange with the residue, but Luke didn't care. The school could more than afford the cleanup bill.
"I think that's all of it," Luke said, when he returned from turning off the water. He bent down to look at the scratches. "These might be a little harder to fix. Do you still have the original paint?"
He glanced at Pam, and she nodded her head slightly. When she reached up to brush her black-dyed fringe out of her eyes, Luke saw her eye makeup was all streaked from tears.
"Are you all right?" Luke asked. "Those girls are a pack of nerfs!"
She nodded in agreement and then sat back on the hood.
"Ah, I wouldn't sit there," Luke said, raising a hand in warning. "It's still pretty wet."
"Doesn't matter," she mumbled. "Thanks for your help. You don't need to stay."
"You're welcome," Luke said. There was an awkward silence and then Luke turned back to the speeder. "I actually came here because I wanted to ask you about the speeder," he explained. "I was thinking when I saw it this morning that it looked like a mix of a Narglatch and a Desler. Am I right?"
Pam had been staring mostly at the ground until now, but she looked up quickly at his words.
"How did you know it was Narglatch?" she asked, sounding impressed. "Most of my diving buddies think it's a complete custom job."
"I know my speeders." It wasn't difficult, considering his father owned a fair proportion of them. "Diving? We have a dive team now?"
The school had missed qualifying for the regional swimming championships last month, and it was still a running joke around the locker halls.
"Traffic diving," Pam clarified. "Jumping from one speeder to another in the air."
"Oh," Luke said, feeling stupid. "You mean while it's moving?"
"Fast speeds, if you're good. Beginners start off with the speeders stationary, one about a meter above the other. One of my buddies did a three meter jump last week."
"Wow," said Luke, more than a little impressed. "You must be really brave."
Pam smiled shyly and looked down again.
"It's not as dangerous as the media make out," she mumbled. "I only know of one person who's ever been hurt, and that was only a broken wrist. As long as you know what you're doing, it's fine. Have you ever tried it?"
"I … uh … I don't think I've had the pleasure yet."
"Do you have a good speeder? You need one that can do at least 200 kph. Not for the diving, but in case the traffic patrol shows up."
Luke frowned. He wished he could tell Pam he had a collection of speeders, and his license to boot.
"I'm going diving after school today if you wanted to watch," Pam said, standing up and wiping some of the water off the hood. "That is, if you don't mind riding in a damp speeder."
"Are you kidding?" Luke said with a grin. "Damp or not, this is the best speeder I've seen."
Pam shrugged in a slightly self-conscious way and mumbled something that sounded like, "Thanks".
"Maybe I could get some towels from the gym, and we could wipe down the seats," Luke said. "Wait here, and I'll be back -" He was cut off by the end of lunch signal sounding loudly over the school comm system.
"Blast!" Luke said. "Well, I'll see you after school then."
"You better clean up before you go to class," Pam said, gesturing at Luke's tunic.
Luke glanced down and saw more than a few orange paint stains. "You're right," he admitted.
Luke was still grinning when Ben found him in the refresher a short time later.
"What happened to you?" he asked. He then caught sight of Luke's clothes. "Maybe I shouldn't ask."
"Hey, do you think I'm ready to start shaving?" Luke asked, peering at his upper lip in the mirror.
"Why?" Ben smirked. "Have you got a date?"
His smirk quickly faded when he caught sight of Luke's expression. "You have?!"
"It's not a date date," Luke said.
"Then what is it? Why are you smiling in that stupid way? Who is it?"
"She owns the speeder."
"Yes, that speeder. I went down to the landing pad, and she was there working on it. Then some other girls started vandalizing her speeder with spray paint." Luke paused to gesture at his clothes.
"So you played the hero and went to her rescue?"
"It was more about rescuing the speeder," Luke admitted.
"I helped her clean it up and then she invited me to come and watch her traffic dive after school."
Ben had been grinning throughout his story, but now his smile vanished. "Traffic diving? You mean that idiotic sport for people who have a death wish?"
"The media exaggerates the dangers," Luke protested. "As long as you know what you're doing, it's fine."
Ben made a scoffing noise.
"How would you know? You've never tried it," Luke said.
"Neither have you!" Ben paused for a moment. "You haven't, right?"
Luke shook his head. "But I'm not going to judge something before I've even seen it."
"Luke, you're talking about jumping out of a speeder in mid-air. Mid-air on Coruscant means it will take you thirty minutes to hit the ground. Thirty minutes contemplating your impending death!"
"Hey, I didn't say I was going to do it. I'm just going to watch. And no one said you had to come."
"Of course I have to come," Ben said. "No one else will be the voice of reason."
Voice of the fun police is more like it, Luke thought. He returned to the task of cleaning off the paint. "Class has started," he said shortly. "Can you tell the teacher I'll be another ten minutes?"
"Sure. I'll take notes for you."
Ben started walking for the exit. He stopped when he reached it and looked back.
"I guess it would be rude for me to come when I wasn't invited," he said. "Tell me how it went afterwards."
"No, it's all right," Luke said, brushing away the last of his annoyance. "I'm sure Pam won't mind if you come too."
"Then I'll try and keep my opinions about the sport to myself," Ben said.
"Try hard," Luke said, grinning.