Chapter 15: Goodbyes
After their unplanned camping trip, Vader made the decision to return to Coruscant two days early. Luke had already advanced to a point above and beyond what the Emperor had specified, and any further training would only cause trouble. Besides, Luke had been subdued since their night in the cave. It would do him good to be back in civilisation.
But the journey home only made his son sink further into melancholy. Shortly before they were due to revert from hyperspace, he sighed loudly, and began shuffling restlessly in his seat. Vader ignored it for a while, but when Luke sighed louder, he gave in.
"What is it?"
"You know that feeling?" Luke said, looking up. "That returning from a vacation feeling?"
"No, I do not. And this was not a vacation."
"Think about all we're coming back to. Traffic jams ... a crammed skyline."
"Politicians," Vader agreed. "A room full of backlogged military reports."
"The Emperor," Luke said, with a half smile. "I'm surprised the Empire can survive a week without you, never mind a month."
A shudder traveled through the shuttle, and the streaking stars became pinpoints of light. The vast orb of Coruscant appeared in the distance. But it didn't look quite how they'd left it. Even from here, Vader could see there were far more orbital patrols than there should have been. He studied the scopes, noting the net formation.
"What's going on?" Luke said, as they approached the outer security perimeter.
"It appears the planet had been blockaded," Vader said. "No ships are leaving or landing. It seems your remark about the Empire was correct."
"Is it a Rebel attack?" Luke asked.
"We will soon find out."
The hail light blinked on, and before Vader could stop him, Luke reached up to answer it. "Dunesea here," he said, in a mock official tone.
"Dunesea, all incoming civilian traffic must proceed to the shipyard in sector 4. Fail to do so, and you will be fired upon."
The comlink crackled, and then cut out.
"We'll shoot back if you try it!" Luke said, annoyed.
"Perhaps you should have given him our clearance code," Vader suggested, somewhat amused.
"He didn't give me a chance!"
The comlink crackled again, and the same voice spoke again.
"Dunesea, you have not altered your course. Do so now, or you will be fired upon. This is your last warning."
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you," Luke said. "We have top priority clearance. I'll send you the code if you would please just give me a second."
"What's your name?" Now the voice sounded annoyed.
"Um ... Luke Skywalker," Luke replied. "My father and I just got back from vacation."
"Somehow I doubt that you have top priority clearance. That is only reserved for the Emperor and other persons of extreme importance. Now stop wasting our time, or -"
Vader put the comlink on mute.
"The Imperial military do not respond to heartfelt pleas or polite requests. You must demand what you want. Allow me."
Luke took the comlink off mute, and leaned forward, closing his eyes. The traffic controller was still making threats, but Luke interrupted him.
"Can you hear me?"
"I can hear you."
"You will let us land."
"I will let you land."
"We have priority one clearance."
"You have priority one clearance."
"Have a nice day!"
"I will have a nice day."
Luke shut off the channel, and leaned back with a self-satisfied smile. He folded his arms behind his head.
"How did you learn how to do that?" Vader said, accelerating the shuttle through the blockade. "I did not teach you that. Most impressive."
"But it does not mean you can call me that."
Coruscant seemed different to Luke, although he couldn't quite explain how. It wasn't that it had changed - it was more that he had. He'd learnt so much about himself during his time away, it made everything seem different.
Lev and the droids were waiting for them when they docked in the hangar. Luke jumped out of his seat as soon as the landing light was on, and ran down the ramp, eager to greet his friends.
"Hi! We're back! Miss me?"
Artoo whistled happily, and Threepio translated. "Artoo says he missed you every day, Master Luke. I must say it is a pleasure to see you again!"
"We all missed you," Lev said, grinning. "It was so peaceful and quiet. Disturbingly so." His gaze fell on Luke's still-bandaged arm. "What happened?"
"I nearly got eaten by a crab," Luke said. "They were crawling all over me!"
"Oh my goodness!" Threepio said.
Artoo made a sympathetic beep.
"Eaten by a what?" Lev asked.
Breathing sounded behind him before Luke could answer, and Lev straightened up. The droids hastily reversed, pretending to have something to do near the neighbouring ship.
"I'll tell you everything later," Luke said, standing aside.
His father came to a halt at the bottom of the ramp. "Why is there a blockade in force?" he asked Lev.
"A Rebel unit attempted to steal classified information from Grand Moff Tarkin's Imperial City estate," Lev explained. "They were destroyed while attempting to run the blockade. Traffic control is awaiting the order to resume normal operations."
"An unusually desperate move for the Rebels."
"Not unusual as of late, sir. Yesterday, a Rebel strike team attempted to rescue a prisoner from the detention center on Calamari. The day before that -"
"I think I'll go visit Ben," Luke said, starting to walk away. This conversation sounded like it could get very boring, very fast.
"Luke, wait!" Lev said, urgently.
Luke turned back in surprise.
"Excuse me, sir, but I have some bad news concerning Luke's friend," Lev explained to his father.
"Bad news?" Luke said, feeling his heart begin to race. A hundred horrible scenarios were running through his head. "What bad news?! Is he all right?"
"Captain Jarnet has not been seen at the palace since last week. There are rumors he has been arrested."
"Arrested?" Luke frowned. "Who would have arrested him? He's a royal guard! Where's Ben?"
"I don't know," Lev said. "I'm sorry, Luke. I attempted to contact him, but received no response. He may no longer be on Coruscant."
"He wouldn't leave without saying anything!" Luke started to run towards the speeders, but his father pulled him back with a touch of the Force.
"Who told you Captain Jarnet had been arrested, Lieutenant?" his father asked.
"A palace aide, sir. It was third hand information, though."
"They're probably just on vacation," Luke said. "I'm going over to check his apartment."
His father studied him for a moment, and then began to move towards him. "I will accompany you. Lieutenant - have a report prepared about the Rebel activity. I will read it when I return."
Luke ran ahead, trying to ignore the uneasiness in his stomach. It was probably nothing, anyhow. If anything had happened to Ben's father, Ben would have called him. He'd checked his messages several times using Lygun's signal relay, and they'd been nothing but advertising from a local hologame store.
His father joined him in the MX Speeder, allowing him to remain in the pilot's seat. Luke didn't waste any time getting them in the air. He needed to know that his friend was all right.
"You didn't know anything about this, did you?" Luke asked. Fortunately, the air-traffic wasn't busy.
"Of course not."
"He can't have been arrested. He hasn't done anything."
His father didn't reply.
"I bet they're just sitting at home right now. Probably had the comlink switched off when Lev tried to call."
After reversing into a space on the landing pad, Luke jumped out of the speeder, and started for the elevators. His father held him back, once again.
"You may wish to switch off the speeder's engine first," his father said. "And wait for me."
Luke tried to use the Force to do the task, but he wasn't focused enough. Finally, he climbed back in and used the controls. When he returned to the landing pad, his father was already waiting by the elevator.
They rode up to Ben's floor in silence. When they reached the corridor, Luke was already trying to use the Force to sense Ben's presence. He could feel other moving bodies in the various apartments, but none of them felt like Ben.
His father held him back when they came in sight of the door. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
"I will look first. Wait out here."
"They'll freak out if you barge in," Luke protested.
"Can you sense anyone inside?" his father prompted.
Luke was forced to shake his head.
"Wait here," his father repeated. He pressed the door release, and the doors opened immediately. Either the lock had been broken, or it hadn't been set.
His father stepped into the main living area, and looked left and right. Luke strained to see around his father's bulk, but he wasn't able to see until his father moved on down the corridor. There was a plate sitting on the kitchen counter top, containing a half-eaten piece of toast. He was about to take a step inside, when he heard a noise behind him.
One of the neighbors was leaving another apartment, a few meters down the corridor. He was carrying a briefcase.
"Excuse me," Luke called. "You wouldn't happened to have seen the people who live here, have you?"
He glanced at Luke. "They're gone. They were visited by stormtroopers last week."
"I'd get away from there, if I were you," the man said. "You don't want people to think you were their friends."
"I am their friend!" Luke protested.
The man responded by looking completely terrified, and then turning and sprinting down the corridor. Luke blinked in surprise, and then discovered his father had appeared behind him.
"Was that a neighbor?"
"Yes," Luke said. "He said stormtroopers came to visit! This is crazy."
"Your friend is not here," his father said. "There is evidence that they left in a hurry, but there is no sign of any struggle. The security equipment has been destroyed, and the computer system gutted."
"Then where are they?!" Luke asked, desperately.
His father placed a hand on his shoulder, guiding him back towards the landing pad.
Vader piloted on the way home, conscious of Luke's escalating distress. It was hard to find words to reassure him, when all he could feel was guilt. Captain Jarnet had risked his career to help Luke, and now it appeared he was going to pay for it with his life, if he hadn't already.
"Do not worry," Vader said, as they flew into the hangar bay. "I will make some enquiries and get to the bottom of all this."
"What if they've been killed?" Luke said, his voice shaking with stress.
Vader considered how to reply. If he said that was impossible, it would be harder to break the news to Luke later, if it turned out to be true.
"Worrying about it will not change the situation," Vader said, finally.
"But who would arrest a royal guard? Wouldn't the Emperor do something about it?"
"I cannot say until I know more about this. Now, why don't you go and unpack the Dunesea? I will inform you as soon as I have some news."
Luke nodded, and slowly climbed out of the speeder. He trudged off to do as he said. Vader watched him through the windscreen for a while, and then lifted the speeder into the air once again. The first place to look was, of course, the high security detention facility in the palace block. The Emperor kept all his favorite prisoners there.
He made no announcement of his pending arrival. Fortunately for all concerned, his request to see the prison commander was complied with immediately. A guard showed him to the office, and announced his arrival to the surprised officer. Once they were alone, Vader quickly made a search of the room with the Force, ensuring there were no listening devices or security cameras. Once satisfied, he proceeded.
"I am seeking information on a prisoner by the name of Jarnet. Are you holding such a person here?"
The commander nodded, which surprised Vader. There were hundreds of prisoners here. For the commander to know the name immediately hinted it had been a notable case. "He was brought in eight days ago."
"I do not know, sir. It was under the direct orders of the Emperor. He is an ex-royal guard. For that reason, extra security had to be arranged."
"How long is he going to remain here?"
"That information has yet to be confirmed, sir. I do know he is to be executed, but a date has not been set."
"I see," Vader said, distantly. It was exactly as he had feared. And there was little to be done about it. He could not override the Emperor's orders.
"The man had a son," Vader said, finally. "Do you know what became of him?"
"Yes, sir. We're holding him here too."
"Why? Has he been charged?"
"No, sir. Originally he was used as motivation for questioning his father, I believe. He has been released from custody, but no guardian has arrived to claim him. Our policy is to turn all unclaimed minors over to Family Services, but he turns eighteen in a week, at which time he can leave on his own. We are not short on cells at the moment, and it seemed a better option than dealing with the bureaucracy of Family Services."
"Have him prepared for release immediately, Commander," Vader said. "He will be leaving with me."
The commander opened the door of his office, and spoke to the guards outside.
"They will bring him to the front lobby, sir. I will fill in the necessary documentation."
"Very well. You have been helpful, Commander. I wish to know if there is any change in the man's situation."
"I will pass on any developments, sir."
Vader left the office, and made his way to the front lobby. While he waited, groups of stormtroopers walked past, escorting prisoners to and from the main cellblock. One pair were dragging a stunned Troshadian between them, and making very slow progress. Another group entered with a man in the elaborate dress of a Hamavallian aristocrat. Rebels ... they came from all walks of life. And all equally misguided.
Vader turned, seeing the two black-clad guards had returned. Ben stood between them, his hands still clad in binders. For once in his life, he actually looked pleased to see Vader, but the hope in his eyes did little to improve his appearance. He was thin and pale, and appeared far younger than he had last time Vader had seen him. The ill-fitting prison uniform did not help.
"Return to your duties," Vader said. The guards immediately left them alone, and Vader waved a hand over Ben's binders. They fell to the floor with a clatter.
"Thank you, sir," Ben said. His voice sounded raspy, like he was becoming ill. "Sir ... do you know where my father is? What's going to happen to him? They wouldn't even tell me why he was arrested."
There was a desperate look in Ben's eyes, but here was not the place to answer such questions.
"Follow me," Vader said, beginning the journey back towards the landing pad.
He said nothing else until they were in the relative privacy of the speeder.
"Your father appears to have displeased the Emperor in some fashion," Vader said, starting the speeder's engine. There was little point in elaborating further.
"He'll release him soon, won't he, sir?" Ben asked.
"I do not know. But you are my guest for as long as need be." It was the only thing he could do for the boy's father at this point.
"Thank you, sir," Ben said, quietly. He paused to cough, and then continued. "I don't understand any of this. My father would never do anything wrong ... he loves his job. I kept telling them that, but they wouldn't listen to me."
He sounded like he was about to break down into tears. Vader quickly changed the subject as they flew over the palace square. "You appear malnourished. Did they not feed you adequately?"
Ben shook his head. "I didn't like the prison food, sir."
Vader almost sighed at the stupidity of starving oneself out of pure fussiness. Teenagers.
"I am sure Luke will waste no time in showing you to the nutritional facilities," Vader said, turning the speeder around to fly into the hangar. "I am going to the palace."
Ben nodded. "Sir, if you talk to the Emperor ... can you please tell him that my father is sorry for whatever he's done? I'd do anything to have him back ... I ... I'm not ready to lose him. I need him."
"I will do what I can," Vader said, simply. Perhaps it was cruel to get the boy's hopes up, considering it was a lost cause from the moment his father was arrested, but he couldn't bring himself to say this.
He parked the speeder near the Dunesea, where Luke sat waiting on the boarding ramp. As soon as he stepped out, his son was up and running over.
"Did you find anything? Did you -"
He broke off when he saw his friend, and his face lit up. "Ben! I thought you were ... where were you?"
"Your friend needs to eat, and then I suggest you take him to his home to collect his belongings," Vader said. "He will be staying here."
"But where's his father?" Luke asked, looking worried. "What happened?"
"I will be at the palace," Vader said, walking past Luke.
"It is good that you have returned early, Lord Vader," the Emperor said, standing in front of the huge glass windows. "The need for the Death Star to be completed has become urgent. I require you to deliver that message personally as soon as you can."
"Yes, Master," Vader replied. "I was informed of the recent surging of Rebel activity after landing."
"The fools are trying to obtain the plans of the Death Star. They honestly imagine they have a chance of destroying it!"
"They smell their own blood in the water, master," Vader said, "They know it will be their end. Their tactics have been desperate and unfocused as of late."
"Yes ... it seems your efforts to hunt down the Rebel leaders have been successful. Meanwhile, we grow stronger. Tell me ... how did your son's training proceed?"
Vader had made a decision not to mention anything of Luke's reluctance to use his aggression ... or of the unwelcome intrusions by Obi-Wan's ghostly remains. What the Emperor didn't know could not displease him.
"Very well, Master. You will find him a quick and willing student."
"I will meet with him tomorrow. I am sure he will be ready to assist in hunting down the last of the Rebels in a few months."
"He will be of great assistance, Master. However, he is not in a stable emotional state right now. I understand the father of his friend is scheduled to be executed."
"Ah, yes. Always a sad state of affairs, when one's most trusted servants are revealed to have loyalties elsewhere. Sad for all concerned. I'm sure the boy will understand. Perhaps if you explain to him the high value I place on loyalty."
"Luke will not take this easily. He forms very strong bonds with his friends."
"Stronger than his loyalty to me? That would be a dangerous situation, Lord Vader."
"I will make him understand, Master," Vader said, sensing this conversation was about to become a dangerous situation itself.
"Good. And yes ... see about executing that traitor before you leave for the Death Star, my friend. Best not to leave it hanging if it will distress your son."
"You want me to execute him, Master?"
"You have always been responsible for executing troublesome guards in the past, have you not? I understood you found it to be a satisfying duty."
"I do, Master. But given my son's friendship with this man ..."
"Yes, you are right. Probably best not to tell your son that you are performing the duty then, Lord Vader. He certainly won't hear it from me."
There was no point arguing. He could hear it in the Emperor's voice. It was his master's sadistic way of punishing him for accepting the man's information in the first place. And he was no doubt planning to use this as a way to break the natural bond of loyalty between he and his son. Only his master could devise ways of manipulating seemingly routine events to his precise advantage.
It would take a miracle to find a way around this one.
"Do you think the food droids would deliver up here?" Ben asked.
Luke idly wondered if his friend was ever going to stop eating. It was a still, warm night, and they'd come up to the roof to enjoy the night-time view of the Coruscant sky. Ben was too busy eating to enjoy it, though.
"You mean you're still hungry? That's your fourth pie in the last hour. I've never seen you eat so much."
His friend had eaten a huge meal earlier in the evening, and then they had made the journey over to his apartment.
It had been hard for Ben to go home, and his friend had broken down into tears when he picked up his bedside photo of himself and his father. Luke didn't know what to say. It was painful for him to see his friend so distressed, but he knew his own pain must be nothing compared to what Ben was going through.
When they returned, Luke had been expecting to find his father back from the palace, but there was no sign of him. It was getting late, but neither of them wanted to sleep.
"Maybe I am getting full," Ben said, leaning back against the wall. He then produced an energy bar. "I'll finish up with this."
"So you haven't seen him since last week?" Luke asked.
Ben shook his head and said something unintelligible, due to the food in his mouth.
"I wasn't allowed to see him," Ben said, swallowing the food. "I begged and begged but they wouldn't let me."
"This is so unfair," Luke said, staring up at the glowing traffic lanes. "When I rule the galaxy, everything is going to change. No one will go to prison without a fair trial."
"When you rule the galaxy?" Ben said, looking up with interest. "This is a different tune."
Luke shrugged. "I realized a few things while I was away."
"So you can use the Force now?"
"I can try," Luke admitted.
"Show me something, then. Something neat like your father can do."
Luke looked around. There wasn't all that much to move around up here. Just the discarded wrapper of Ben's energy bar, but that wasn't impressive. But then a passing overhead light lit up a piece of scrap metal, lying in the far corner.
"See that metal," Luke said, gesturing.
Luke waved a hand, and called on the Force. It lifted into the air, and then Luke sent it flying over their heads, like a model speeder.
"Wow," Ben said, sounding genuinely impressed. "Awesome!"
A familiar presence came rushing into Luke's mind, and he rubbed his head in surprise.
"Uh oh," Luke said.
"What is it?"
It's nearly midnight! You should be asleep ... not sitting on the roof practicing telekinesis! Are you crazy?
"And he knows where we are," Luke added.
"I guess we better go to bed."
Vader waited outside the elevator shaft, until the two boys returned from the roof. Luke took one look at him, and then made to run past, but a simple touch of the Force held him back. His son had not yet figured out how to break his grip, which was a welcome situation.
Ben hovered nearby, looking confused at Luke's apparent struggle against thin air. Vader waved him on.
"Go on, Ben. Luke will be along shortly."
The boy disappeared down the corridor into Luke's bedroom. Vader released the grip on his son, and then turned him around so they were facing each other.
"The Force is not a trick for impressing your friends, young one."
"Oh, come on," Luke said. "Are you telling me you've never used the Force to impress someone?"
"Never," Vader said.
Luke stared back in disbelief for a moment, and then smiled, obviously sensing he wasn't being entirely serious.
"Did you speak with the Emperor about Ben's father?"
Any trace of amusement quickly disappeared from Vader's mind. This was not going to be easy.
"Yes, I did."
"There is nothing I can do. He has been arrested for passing information about the Emperor's activities outside the palace. If there is one thing the Emperor will never forgive, it is disloyalty."
"So what's going to happen to him?" Luke said. "Can't Ben see him, at least?"
Vader turned away, staring out a nearby window. He did not want to see Luke's eyes during this conversation.
"I have no say in the matter."
"Then I'll talk to the Emperor!" Luke said.
"You will not. It will put you at grave risk."
"Ben's father is at risk!" Luke protested. "He's my friend."
"That does not matter to the Emperor," Vader said. "He will become angry if he suspects you are more loyal to your friends than you are to him."
"Of course I'm more loyal to my friends!"
"But you must not show it," Vader said, looking at him. "Or he will regard you as a threat."
"I don't care!" Luke said, angrily. "Maybe you think his orders are more important than friendship, but I don't!"
Vader was silent for a few breathing cycles, and then spoke calmly.
"Son ... haven't we argued enough this week?"
Luke sighed, nodding in agreement. "I'm sorry ... I'm just so frustrated. How can I pretend to be loyal to someone who has imprisoned my friend's father?"
"Because you know your pretence will pay off," Vader said, quietly.
"But that won't help Ben's father now!"
"I know. I am sorry, but you will have to accept that nothing can be done."
"I wish we could go over there right now and push him out of a top-storey window," Luke said, frowning.
"Be patient, Son. And be careful. I have been ordered to leave for the Death Star tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?! But ... you mean I start training with the Emperor tomorrow?"
"He wants to see your progress tomorrow afternoon. This will be your first test. Be careful to only show him the most basic things you have learnt. And be sure to obey him to the letter. Convince him that you are his loyal subject, and then our plan has a chance of succeeding."
"Are you sure I can't mention Ben's father?"
"Well ... I'll do my best."
"Good." Vader rested a hand on his shoulder. "I am sorry you have to suffer such burdens at so young an age. Do not dwell on them tonight. Sleep well."
"I'll try," Luke said. He turned to leave, but Vader stopped him, remembering something else.
"Before you go to bed ... there is something I want to give you. Follow me."
Vader led Luke into his private chamber, and then retrieved a display box from a storage compartment. His son's eyes grew wide at the sight of it, clearly guessing what was inside.
"Remember," Vader said, prying open the lid. "A lightsaber is more than a mere weapon. It will become part of you. A manifestation of your will."
"You're giving me my own lightsaber?" Luke's eyes were shining.
"Yes. You will need it to protect yourself."
Vader turned the box around, to allow Luke to inspect the various options. His son poured over each one, seeing how each handle fit into his hand, and checking the color of each blade. Finally, he settled on a blue one.
"This one is good."
Vader looked at it for a moment, and then felt a rush of emotion. His son had chosen Obi-Wan's old lightsaber. He'd lost limbs to that blade ... but he couldn't deny it was a durable, reliable weapon. If his son liked it, then he wouldn't use its past owner as an excuse not to let him have it.
"Something wrong?" Luke said, looking up. He had clearly sensed his feelings.
"Nothing," Vader said, closing the display box. "Look after it."
"I will," Luke said. "And thanks." He stared at him for a moment, looking like he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure if it was allowed. Finally, he spoke. "I'll ... I'll really miss you while you're at the Death Star. I'll call you every day. How long do you think you'll be gone?"
"It is hard to say," Vader said, returning the box of lightsabers into storage. He returned his son, and began to walk with him back to the corridor. "I will remain there until the Death Star is operational. It could be weeks, or it could be months. But if you please the Emperor, he may allow you to visit me."
"Could I fly the Dunesea?" Luke asked.
"If you fly responsibly."
"You mean it?" Luke said, grinning like a child in a candy store. "I can fly alone now?"
"If I am to trust you with the future of the galaxy, I suppose I should start trusting you to fly alone."
"I love you!" He raised his arms to hug him, but Vader quickly grabbed them to prevent it.
"Go to bed. I will see you tomorrow before I leave for the Death Star."
"Goodnight," Luke said, still smiling.
He wandered off into his bedroom, and shortly afterwards, the noise from within died down. Vader turned towards the balcony, unable to rest. Tomorrow, he had to execute Ben's father, and then leave Luke in the hands of the Emperor. To say it was going to be a worse day than usual was a vast understatement.
An unfamiliar planet. A deserted industrial wasteland. It was wet and windy, and his lightsaber was steaming in the rain. He extended a hand and sent a powerful Force push towards his opponent. It was blocked, but the distraction was enough to get his sword past his opponent's defences and nick him in the shoulder.
His enemy didn't cry out in pain. He simply shifted to the side, coming into clearer focus. His father. He was fighting his father.
"I will not fight you, Luke."
Luke swung viciously, aiming for the mask. Two red blades clashed in mid-air.
"Cause you know you'll lose!" Luke yelled, forcing his father back. They were shifting out onto a concrete bridge, burnt out and blackened by centuries of pollution.
"I failed you," his father said, sounding truly broken. He blocked another of his attacks. "I thought it would be different with you. I thought you could undo all my mistakes. Instead, I bound you to my chains and now we both drown together!"
Luke lunged at his father, crying out in rage. "Just die already!"
His unfocused attack had a terrible consequence. His father parried, then flicked the lightsaber out of his hand with a quick circular movement. An agonizing pain flared in his limb, and Luke fell back in horror. Half his mechanical hand had disappeared, along with his lightsaber.
"Are ... you ... going to ... kill me, Father?" Luke asked, gasping with lack of breath. The chase had been going on far too long for his stamina.
"I can't," his father said. "Though it would be a blessing for you. Alive, you will live in enslavement to the cruellest master of them all. But someone might be able to reach you. For that reason, you must live."
While he was talking, Luke had been gathering the Force. Now was his chance. He tore the blade away from his father's grip and sent it flying into his chest. The electronics sparked and exploded as Luke climbed to his feet. His father stumbled backwards, staring at the blade in surprise. Finally, he tumbled over the edge. Luke stepped forward, to watch the body fall into the river below.
The pain came in a wave, mild at first, then reaching a crescendo that sent Vader rushing for the conference room exit. A panicky Ben was in the corridor, and he rushed towards him.
"Sir! There's ... there's something wrong with Luke! He's yelling and I can't wake him up!"
Vader stared past him towards the open door of the bedroom. An anguished cry filled the air, followed by a mental echo in the Force. He quickly walked towards the sound, entering the room and stepping around the fold-out mattress on the floor.
His son was tossing from side to side, glistening with sweat and mumbling something incoherent. As soon as Vader's hand touched his forehead, he stopped writhing. His skin felt hot.
"Luke," he said, gently.
"No ... I won't, I ... NO!"
His Force presence buckled with another mental shout. This wasn't a usual nightmare. Judging by the tremors, he must be experiencing some kind of vision.
"Luke!" His attempt to link only caused more distress, and his son began shaking again.
Vader looked up, and found Ben was standing on the other side of the bed. He was holding a glass of water.
"I suppose it couldn't hurt," he said, withdrawing his hand.
Ben upended a quarter of the glass on Luke's face. As the water trickled into his hair and down his neck, his son brought his hands up out of reflex. A moment later, he was sitting up and blinking.
Vader rested a hand on his shoulder, holding him steady. "You were having a nightmare."
"Father!" He reached up and gripped his arm, as if to make sure he was real.
Vader reached out to take the water from Ben, and handed the glass to Luke.
Luke didn't accept the glass.
"Where are we?" he asked, still blinking at him with a slightly puzzled look on his face.
"Do you want me to get anything else, sir?" Ben asked. "Maybe a medical droid."
"No, he will be all right," Vader said, glancing up at Ben. The boy looked pale. This had clearly rattled him. "Luke is prone to nightmares. I will stay with him until he has calmed down. I suggest you shift to one of the other rooms. This may take a while."
Ben gathered his bedding, and left the room. Luke stared after him, appearing slightly less confused.
Vader attempted to untwine Luke's fingers from the vice-like grip they had on his arm. Once he succeeded, he sat down on the bed and turned to face his son.
"I had a nightmare?" Luke asked, rubbing his eyes.
"It felt more like a Force vision. What did you see?"
Luke's gaze became blank for a moment, and then he began to shake.
"It ... it was horrible ..."
"Relax," Vader said, sensing his son's rising distress. "Tell me."
Without warning, his son suddenly threw himself against him, and began crying into his shoulder. He was saying something, but the words were so distorted, it made no sense.
"Luke!" Vader said, struggling to shift Luke back before he short-circuited something. "Calm down!"
"I'm sorry," Luke sobbed, "I'm so s-sorry ... I'd n-never do it ... n-never!"
"Do what?!" Vader at last managed to prop Luke back up, and held him steady by the forearms. He was half wondering if he should call Luke's doctor. Maybe the stress of the situation had caused a mental breakdown.
"I ... I killed y-you. I'm s-sorry."
"You killed me?" Vader repeated, not sure whether he'd heard right through the flood of tears.
Luke nodded, wiping his eyes.
"In your vision," Vader said, beginning to understand.
"Stop apologizing," Vader said, releasing Luke and reaching over to retrieve a box of tissues. "It was a dream, Luke. Nothing more. You have no control over a dream."
"We were f-fighting," Luke said. He paused to blow his nose.
"That sounds like us," Vader said, trying to add some humor to the situation. It didn't appear to help Luke's mood.
"With ... with lightsabers. On some d-deserted world."
"Luke, we duelled many times on Lygun. You no doubt experienced a subconscious fear that you would make a mistake in your training, and cause a fatal accident. These fears have resurfaced in your dreams. It does not mean anything."
Luke shook his head, and reached up to wipe a fresh wave of tears from his eyes.
"It wasn't Lygun. I was angry ... I wanted to kill you. You ... you were saying that you'd failed me." Luke blew his nose again. "You cut off my hand."
"Then I probably deserved to be killed," Vader suggested.
"It's the future," Luke said. He then broke down into tears again, and buried his face in the bed covers. Vader stared at the tousled blonde hair, wondering what in the galaxy he was supposed to do. Leaving felt like a good option. Perhaps if he went for a walk, Luke would have calmed down by the time he returned.
"Don't ... l-leave," Luke sniffed, reaching out to grab onto his cape.
"I wasn't going to," Vader said, reaching out to ruffle Luke's hair. "Son, you need to regain control of your emotions. Be rational."
Luke didn't respond. It was a stupid request, anyhow. Asking his son to be rational was like asking the Emperor to be forgiving. It wasn't in his nature. His mother had always been the rational one. And she would be doing a far better job of comforting Luke right now.
Vader looked away, feeling his own emotions attempt to get the better of him.
"Luke," he said, finally. "The future is what you make of it. If you believe your vision is the future, then it will come to pass. It only represents your present fears, nothing else."
"Maybe it's a warning," Luke said, looking up.
"You want to kill me?"
"Then how could it represent the future?"
"But maybe I will after the Emperor's training."
"Nothing he could teach you would break the bonds of blood, my son. I have been his apprentice for seventeen years. I have never wanted you dead."
"I ... I guess you're right," Luke sniffed, wiping away the last of his tears.
"Of course," Vader said, reaching up to ruffle his hair. "When am I not right?"
Finally, a small smile. Followed by a yawn.
"Go back to sleep," Vader said, pulling the blankets up around his son.
"No you don't," Luke said, shuffling away and then slipping out the other side of the bed. "No Force tricks! I'm not going back to sleep ... I've had enough dreams for tonight."
"It is two-thirty in the morning."
"Well you're still awake, aren't you?"
"I have work to do."
"Maybe I could help."
"Maybe you could go back to sleep," Vader suggested.
Luke responded by dodging past him and shutting himself in the adjacent refresher. It left Vader wondering if he was the father of a seven year old or a seventeen year old. Still, he supposed the solution was the same. If he waited long enough, Luke would eventually become bored and come out.
Five minutes later, he grew impatient, and used the Force to open the doors. Luke was sitting on the edge of the tub, leaning drowsily against the wall. It didn't take much Force suggestion to convince him to return to the bed. Within a minute, he had switched out the lights, and left Luke snoring gently.
After so much emotional torment, Vader decided to get some fresh air. Some early morning meditation would restore his mental focus. It turned out he was not the only one to have the same idea. Ben was standing on the balcony. Ben was equally surprised to see him, and started to apologize.
"I'm sorry, sir. I'll go back to bed, I just couldn't sleep and -"
Vader raised a hand, stopping him. "I have no problem with your presence."
Ben nodded. "Um ... is Luke okay?"
"He is asleep. He has long been prone to this. Why can't you sleep? Are you still hungry?"
Ben shook his head, and looked away. "I ... I can't stop thinking about my father, sir."
Vader started to regret telling the boy he had no problem with his presence. Far from calm meditation, this had turned into a guilt trip. Ridiculous for a Sith Lord to feel something so useless as guilt. He could not change the situation, so why dwell on it?
"I had a question, sir," Ben continued. "Luke told me I should ask you, because he didn't know the answer."
"What is it?"
"When I was in the prison, I had nothing to do all day but think about things, and ... I was thinking about how much my father and I had argued lately. I never said anything nice to him." His voice had become strained. "I was wondering if this ... this was punishment for the way I treated my father."
"And Luke did not know the answer?" Vader asked, making a mental note to discuss that with his son sometime.
"Well, he said he didn't think the Force would punish people like that, but he didn't know for sure. He said you knew everything about the Force."
"Actions have their own consequences," Vader explained. "Whether good or bad. The Force does not affect such things. But your father's arrest has nothing to do with the state of your relationship."
Ben looked utterly miserable. His words appeared to have been little comfort. Perhaps blaming himself had been a useful tool for dealing with this.
"I am sure your father knows, that despite your arguments, you care deeply for him," Vader said, wondering when he had become a counsellor to his son's friends.
"I just can't stop thinking about him, sitting alone in the cell," Ben said, his voice shaking. "And then I imagine someone walking down the corridor, planning to take him away and kill him, and I can't stay still any longer. It just keeps going round and round my head."
Vader focused on a distant building spire, desperately trying to think about something else other than just how he was going to kill this boy's father. It wasn't as if he was in danger from Ben sensing his thoughts, but somehow thinking about it made him feel hollow.
"I am working in the conference room," he said, deciding it was time to make an exit. "You are welcome to interrupt me if there are any more problems. I doubt I will be experiencing much sleep myself."
Especially after this conversation, he thought.
"Yes, sir," Ben mumbled. He did not leave the balcony.
Luke woke late the next morning. The first thing he remembered was his vision. The second thing he remembered was telling his father that he wasn't going back to sleep. Somehow, he'd managed to get the better of him. Once again.
But he was more than willing to forgive him. Despite his father's reassurances, nothing could take away the guilt. The image of his father's body, skewered with his own lightsaber, was still vivid in his mind.
After showering and dressing, he'd joined Ben for breakfast. His friend had dark circles under his eyes, and Luke suspected he hadn't slept all night.
They ate breakfast in silence, until Ben pushed his food away. It was only half-eaten.
"I'll talk to my father again," Luke said. "Find out if we can at least visit your father."
"He's already left," Ben said. "He said he was attending meetings at MHQ. He also suggested we take a ship and go for a flight somewhere, as long as we're back by lunchtime."
"Do you want to?"
Ben shrugged. "Sure. If you want to."
"I was thinking we could go to the prison," Luke said. "Maybe I could convince the guards to let us see your father."
"I begged them for a week, and they wouldn't listen to me."
"I might have a way," Luke said, thinking of the mind-trick he'd taught himself. It would take a lot of concentration, but he should be able to pull it off.
"You mean it?" Ben said, looking up. His eyes were shining with hope.
"I don't know if it will work, but it's worth a try. I know how to use the Force to influence people."
"Getting in might be a problem," Ben said. "When your father took me out of there, I think we passed through five guarded security doors."
"When I was there, I was taken to a place a few levels above the detention center," Luke said. "There were lots of people ... it will be easier to get in that way."
"Well, even if we don't, I'd feel better ... just being closer to him," Ben said, quietly.
"We'll find a way," Luke said. "I promise."
Luke rarely traveled throughout the transit corridors without his father by his side. It was amazing how much of a difference that made. They were stopped three times before they even drew near the detention center. The first time, explaining that he was Lord Vader's son was enough to let the guard wave them on, but by the time they reached the elevator hub, it was clear they wouldn't be progressing without a very good reason.
Two royal guards stood on either side of the elevator, holding pikes. They stepped in front of the elevator entrance as soon as he and Ben approached.
"Please turn around," the left one said. "This is a restricted area."
"I'm meeting my father -" Luke started.
"Lord Vader is not in this area," the guard said. "I will ask you again - please turn around."
Luke gathered the Force. "You want to let us past," he tried. But he could feel the words were having no effect.
"If you do not leave immediately, I will be forced to have you escorted off the premises, young Mr Skywalker," the guard said. "I suggest you leave now."
Ben tugged at his sleeve, and Luke reluctantly did as the guard suggested.
"What a nerfherder," he said, when they were out of earshot.
"It's probably me," Ben said. "They know my father is in there, and they suspect we're up to something."
"Maybe we should have disguised you," Luke said. It was too late for that now.
They took a right, and walked through a transparent exit tunnel that led to an outside walkway. Down below, there was a small crowd gathered at the edges of the security barrier that surrounded the detention block.
"Something is going on," Ben said, pointing.
It did look unusual. There were media droids buzzing around, and lots of stormtroopers. The crowd was growing, as passersby were stopping to find out what was happening.
"Hey, there's Leia!" Ben said.
Luke looked where his friend pointed, and saw an entire ring of stormtroopers surrounding one lone figure. Media droids were trying to hone in on her, but the stormtroopers were shooting them away.
"Let's go and say hello," Ben suggested, starting towards a stairwell that would take them down.
"No!" Luke said. "I can't. She's ... uh, I don't think she's talking to me."
"Why? What did you do?"
"She found out," Luke explained.
"And now she doesn't want to talk to you?" Ben said, frowning. "That's ridiculous!"
He continued walking, and Luke ran to catch up. "Where are you going?"
"To talk to her."
"Don't!" Luke protested. "She'll probably hit me ..."
"Just because she doesn't like your father is no reason not to talk to you," Ben said, not slowing down.
"Many people would argue with that," Luke said, wondering when his friend had become so reckless. Normally it was Ben trying to talk him out of doing something stupid, not the other way around.
They had reached the same level as the crowd at this point, and Ben stopped and turned to him.
"When I was in prison, I realized something. You can't let petty arguments stop you from talking to someone, because ... because you never know when you might not see them again. You know what she told me at the ball? She said she felt like she'd known you all her life. She really likes you, Luke."
But Ben had already moved on. The stormtroopers let them past, seeming more concerned with keeping the media droids away, than stopping two teenagers who wanted to talk to their friend.
Leia's expression was surprised for a single moment, and then she frowned. "What are you doing here?"
Luke stayed back, scared to come any closer.
"We saw you down here, and thought we'd say hello," Ben said. "What's going on?"
"A public execution," Leia explained. There was a shake in her normally strong voice. "I was supposed to give an interview with several news channels, but as you can see, the stormtroopers won't allow it. Frontline censorship."
"Did you say a public execution?" Luke said, forgetting his fear. He glanced at Ben, seeing his friend had turned pale. He was obviously thinking the same thing.
"I don't want to talk to you," she said, looking away. "Leave me alone."
"He can't help who his father is," Ben said. "Just because you don't like his father, is no reason not to speak to Luke!"
"It's not just that," she said. "He lied to me. You both did. I said things that I would never had said ... had I known."
"I'm sorry," Luke said, taking a step closer. "Please forgive me. I only did what I did because I was scared that you'd react like this." Luke stared at the cold concrete ground. "I wanted to be friends," he added, quietly.
"Luke, we can't be friends. It's just not possible. I'm a senator trying to bring some sanity to this tyrannical regime, and your father wants me dead! You ... you're a conflict of interest. However I might feel about you personally ..."
"Then you don't hate me?!" Luke said, looking up. He felt like a great load had been lifted.
A smile almost formed on her lips.
"I know it's not easy, but I promise you, I'll never put any of your work at risk. I want to help you make the galaxy a better place," Luke said, passionately.
"You really mean that?" she said, staring at him curiously.
"Of course I mean it! You believed me when I said so before. I haven't changed since "
"But your father -"
"Do you always agree with your father?"
She looked away for a moment, and then suddenly met his gaze. "You're right. I'm sorry, I've been treating you unfairly. It was just ... such a shock. I still can't believe you're actually related to -"
She broke off at the sound of marching. A squad of stormtroopers began to push the crowds back from the security shield, moving them to the edges of the square. Luke stepped back as a trooper turned to them, brandishing a blaster.
"Who are they going to execute?" Ben said, desperately trying to see over the troopers.
"Ben's father is in that prison," Luke explained to Leia. "We came here today to try and visit him, but they wouldn't let us through."
"That's awful," Leia said, staring at Ben in surprise. "I'm so sorry. You said he was a royal guard?"
"He was," Ben said. "He was arrested last week."
"They're executing Rebels today," Leia explained. "Well ... supposed Rebels at least. One is a former Alderaanian journalist." Her voice had begun to shake again. "I have been fighting for her release for a year now, but they have turned down all our appeals."
Luke wondered how Leia could stand to be here today. The thought of watching people be systematically executed was making him feel panicky and sick. He wanted to get out of here, but there were troopers everywhere, guarding every entrance and exit to the square. More of them appeared every minute.
"I want to leave," Luke said, suddenly. A group of five troopers were standing alone in the center of the square, all carrying high-powered blasters. They must be moments away from bringing out the prisoners.
"Luke, what if they're going to kill my father?!" Ben said, sounding worse than Luke felt. He suddenly tried to push forward, but a trooper in front reached out to prevent him getting closer.
"Let's get out of here," Luke said, desperately. Their space had been compressed until they were pushed elbow to elbow with each other. Troopers stood in a circle in front of them, preventing anyone from getting closer. Between their shoulders, Luke could see a cluster of stormtroopers marching out from the prison. In their midst, a small group of bound and blindfolded prisoners was occasionally visible.
"Ben, I can't watch," Luke said, struggling to turn around. They'd been pushed back against a giant statue of Palpatine, and troopers prevented a quick escape from either side. It felt like a nightmare.
But his friend didn't hear him, or ignored him. He was desperately pushing against the troopers, trying to see the prisoners around their bulky armor. Finally, one trooper tired of the disturbance, and shoved Ben hard against the wall.
"Leave him alone!" Luke said, angrily. Now he had a clear view of the center of the square. None of the prisoners were Ben's father. "Ben, your father's not there! Let's leave, please!"
But Ben seemed unbalanced. Leia quickly tried to hold him back, but she was too slow. He rammed the trooper who had pushed him, desperately trying to get past. "Dad!"
There was a brief scuffle, and then the blinding flash of a blaster filled the air. Ben slowly sunk to the ground.
Leia screamed, and rushed to catch him, but Luke could only stare dumbly, paralysed with shock. The trooper's smoking blaster was still pointed at Ben.
A lightsaber was in his hands, but Luke didn't remember grabbing it. It felt like someone else was in his body, and he was just a hapless bystander. The blade glowed into being in front of him, and then he swung his arms back, just like he'd done a thousand times in training.
The loud hum of the blade colliding with an object filled his ears, louder than the sound of his beating heart. Then the stormtrooper's body fell backwards, slamming into the ground, and Luke was staring at the smoking hole in his chest. He'd killed him. His first kill.
Luke glanced back at Ben. His friend was staring in surprise at the glowing blue blade of the lightsaber. Leia was too busy binding up Ben's arm, just above the elbow.
In a moment, there was a chorus of clicks and clattering, and dozens of blasters were pointed at Luke's head. He didn't think. He reacted. The Force was flowing through him, responding to his need. In a few seconds, he'd reduced most of the blasters to melted metal, and tossed the rest of them out of the troopers' reach.
Then he was running for the center of the square, stopping only to deflect blaster bolts flying his way. The crowds erupted into chaos, as half of them cheered him on, and the other half were yelling for his death.
He stretched out a hand in front of him, and used the Force to release a prisoner from her binders. In a moment, she was ripping off her blindfold and staring at him in surprise.
"Are you a Jedi?!" she asked, staring at his lightsaber.
"Run!" Luke yelled, spinning around to fight off the ten stormtroopers who were shooting at him. Fortunately, they were poor shots. He back-flipped over their heads, and defended himself the best he could.
But soon the troopers started falling down, shot by rioting members of the crowd. The lead trooper began yelling into his comlink for backup. It gave Luke the opportunity he needed, and he ran down the row of remaining prisoners, slicing off their binders with his lightsaber.
Once the last one had disappeared into the crowd, Luke set his sights on the ominous black building in front of him.
Stalling his visit to the detention center had been a good way to spend the morning, but Vader was fast running out of legitimate tasks to see to. Attending a presentation on the progress of the pacification program in the outer rim Jar Talin region had been a stretch. Now he was going over the recent Death Star progress reports for the second time, something he could easily do on the journey to said battle station.
It was a relief when an officer came rushing up, almost bursting with news. Hopefully this would be something he could attend to without raising suspicion.
"Sir! Sir ... we're receiving reports of a riot outside the palace detention center. Some are saying a Jedi is on the loose."
"A Jedi," Vader repeated, with disbelief.
The officer switched on a nearby monitor. It lit up with a HoloNet news station, currently showing an overhead view of the area. It was a mess of blaster shots, bodies and burning wreckage. Stormtroopers were pouring in from every direction.
Vader instantly began to walk towards the exit, pulling out his comlink on the way. Before he'd reached the door, it was attempting to make contact with Luke's frequency. It beeped tonelessly all the way from MHQ to the other end of the transit corridor. Luke wasn't answering. He paused for a moment and stretched out with the Force. If his son was in danger, it should have alerted him by now.
His quick check was met with silence. Luke was either blocking him or too busy to acknowledge his call. Either way, this was not looking good.
The comlink stopped beeping, and clicked onto Luke's message service. He switched it off and set it to a different frequency. A P.A. answered within one beep.
"Find out where Luke is, and report back," Vader said, not bothering with greetings.
"At once, sir."
Vader cut the call. Immediately, his comlink started beeping. Hopefully it was his son.
When he answered it, one of the Emperor's aides appeared.
"Lord Vader, the Emperor requests your immediate presence in the throne room."
Breaking into the prison was far easier than Luke had expected. It was amazing what a lightsaber could do. As he went down the rows of cells, searching for Ben's father, the freed prisoners turned on the guards, keeping them occupied and leaving Luke free to keep searching.
When he finally found Captain Jarnet, he didn't recognize him at first. He was thin, pale and his beard was shaved. But he had no such trouble recognizing his unexpected visitor.
"Luke!" He jumped up, looking like he'd seen a ghost. "What in the spinning galaxy is going on?!"
"I'm here to rescue you," Luke said, stepping away from the cell door.
"Rescue me? Are you out of your mind?!"
Luke spun around, lifting his lightsaber to deflect an incoming blaster bolt.
"I don't have time to talk about it!" he yelled. "Come on!"
Ben's father didn't argue. Luke ran ahead of him until they reached the end of the cell bay, and then Luke hacked a hole in the wall. In the process, he cut an electrical main, and the corridor fell into darkness. They climbed through the hole, leaving a mess of blaster fire and screaming behind them.
They emerged out into another corridor. The troopers were all facing the wrong way, obviously expecting any potential escapees to come from the other side. Luke ran past them, sensing Ben's father was right behind him. There was a landing pad up ahead.
Luke raised a hand, palm out, and the troopers guarding the pad tumbled over the edge. When he ran into the open air, he skidded to an abrupt halt. The landing pad was at least twenty meters above the ground. They'd never survive that jump.
He turned around when the Force alerted him to more danger, and he found troopers were running after them. They were cornered.
"I'm sorry," Luke said, raising his lightsaber. He was tiring and his Force energy was drained. He couldn't hold them off forever.
"Look!" Ben's father pointed upwards. A red and white convertible speeder was descending from the skies. When the pilot came into view, Luke whooped with joy. It was Bail Organa.
"He's a friend! Go!" Luke tried one last Force push, hoping to at least slow down the troopers. His desperate gesture worked. One of the troopers fell, and two others tripped over his body. Luke launched himself into the speeder, and Leia's father took off at full throttle.
"Stars, that was close!" Luke said, shutting off his lightsaber. "Thank the Force you showed up! Let's go pick up Leia and Ben ... I last saw them at the base of the Palpatine statue."
"I'm on my way," Bail said. "But would you mind telling me what in the spinning galaxy is going on?"
"My words exactly," Ben's father said, panting heavily in the back seat.
"Who are you?"
"He's my friend's father," Luke explained. "They were going to execute him! I had to rescue him."
"Some rescue," Bail said, dodging a blaster bolt fired from below. He found a place to land the speeder, and Luke immediately jumped out, ignoring the shouts of "Wait!"
In a moment, he honed in on his friends' Force signatures, and found them sheltering behind the statue. Leia was picking off any troopers who came near them with a high-powered blaster, while Ben was cradling his arm, which had been bound in a makeshift sling.
"Come on, let's go!" he said, helping Ben to stand. "Leia - your father is here and he has a speeder."
Luke turned, and found Ben's father had come after him.
In a moment, father and son were hugging each other like they were bound together with durasteel bolts. Luke was happy for them, but he knew the longer they stood here, the greater the chance they were never going to make it out alive.
Finally, they loosened their grip slightly, and Luke pushed them in the direction of the waiting speeder. He was the last to climb in, using his lightsaber to cover their escape.
As soon as they were airborne, Leia leaned over and hugged Luke.
"You were incredible," she said.
The gesture brought Luke back to reality for a moment. He stared blankly as Leia's father dodged numerous sky-patrol ships, and rushed towards the Alderaan embassy.
"Leia, we need to get away from Coruscant at once," her father was saying. "They'll say we planned all this, as your opposition to the execution has been well known."
"They can say what they like," Leia said.
"Leia, I'm serious. Your life will be in danger."
His parental tone triggered a horrible realization in Luke's mind. What was his father going to say when he found out about this?
Luke flipped over the heads of a row of stormtroopers, and then brandished his lightsaber. He deflected an incoming shot into a nearby stormtrooper, causing the solider to tumble to the ground. Even through the hologram image, Vader could see the Force was guiding his every move. He would have been proud if he wasn't on the verge of panic. Luke was in danger, and instead of rushing to his aide, he was standing here trying to pacify the Emperor.
"Tell me, Lord Vader," his master said, after they'd watched the same footage from a different angle. "Have you trained me a Sith, or have you trained me a Jedi?"
"Master, I am sure Luke has been unfairly caught up in this riot," Vader said. "The troopers have not recognized him. He is only trying to defend himself."
The Emperor pressed a button, and the image changed to Luke slicing the binders off a Rebel prisoner.
Vader decided it was wiser not to continue with that line of defense.
"You will find him," the Emperor said, in a quiet, dangerous voice. "Bring him here, at once. Your wayward offspring must be taught a lesson."
Vader did not waste time arguing with the threat. Luke needed him.
Luke stared dumbly at the HoloNet monitors in the Alderaan embassy. Every single channel had pictures of him. Some were making wild claims that he was a Jedi ghost come back to terrorize the galaxy, while others had correctly identified him as Lord Vader's son, and were insisting he had only been helping the troopers control the riot.
Leia's father patted his shoulder.
"We're ready to leave now, Luke. We'll take your friend and his father to Alderaan. They'll be safe there."
He was silent for a moment, and then added, "Are you coming with us?"
"Coming with you?" Luke looked up in surprise. "Of course not! I've got to get home ... my father ..." He buried his face in his hands. "My father is going to kill me."
"I doubt that. But you are in very great danger. The Emperor will turn you to the Dark Side if you stay."
"You know about the Dark Side?" Luke asked, curious.
"Oh, yes. I knew your father before Palpatine changed him." Bail placed both hands on Luke's shoulders, and turned him so they were facing each other. "It was horrifying. To see one who was once a hero become a servant to that vile, twisted monster. He turned on everyone he loved ..."
Luke remembered his dream. He remembered his father's lifeless body, dead at the hands of his son. Then he made a decision.
"I won't let that happen to me."
"Then come with us, Luke."
"I can't! I can't put you in that kind of danger ... my father knows I'm friends with Leia. It will be the first place he'll look."
"Your mother's family?" Bail suggested.
"That will be the second place he'll look."
"How about Han?" Ben called.
Luke looked towards the door and saw his friend had been listening to the conversation.
"He said he'd help you if you ever needed it."
"You're right," Luke said, pulling out his comlink. This was a longshot, but he was fast running out of options.
The detention center resembled a battle field. Stormtroopers were stacking up the bodies of their fallen comrades in the surrounding corridors, while droids worked to restore the broken locks. Vader paused on his way into the main control area, noting half a door had been melted away with a lightsaber.
An officer stood in a cell bay, directing droids carrying repair equipment. His eyes grew wide at the sight of Vader, and he started moving backwards.
"Where did he go?" Vader demanded.
"The person responsible for this."
The officer pointed vaguely down the cell bay. In the far end, Vader could see a hole had been carved in the wall.
"Have all the prisoners been accounted for?" he enquired.
"All but one, sir," the officer said.
Vader didn't bother to ask which one.
Luke knew how dangerous it was for him to come home. But he couldn't stand to leave without saying goodbye to Artoo, Threepio and Lev. He'd also prepared a message for his father, explaining everything. More than anything, he wanted to say goodbye to him, but he knew that wasn't possible. His father would never let him go.
His droids were at his side as soon as he stepped out of the speeder.
Artoo whistled and screeched.
"Artoo had heard you were in trouble on the HoloNet. We've been so worried!"
"I'm fine, Threepio," Luke said, resting a hand on Artoo's dome. "I'm come to say goodbye. I have to leave. I'm sorry ..."
Artoo beeped in surprise.
Luke didn't stay to explain. He ran for the elevator, knowing he only had a few minutes to collect some belongings. His bedroom was still the way he'd left it this morning, with pajamas strewn across the bed, and datapads stacked on the desk. He filled a bag with everything he could, and then placed the message for his father on the bed.
During the elevator ride back to the hangar bay, his comlink started beeping. Luke was half-hoping it would be his father, but instead an impatient voice, with wookiee roars in the background, filled the air.
"Kid, we're at the landing pad. Where are you?"
"I'll be there in ten minutes," Luke said. "Hang on."
He stopped short when he entered the hangar bay. His speeder and droids were surrounded by three stormtroopers. The sight of their stark black and white faces made him remember the first stormtrooper he'd killed.
He approached them silently, and then opened his mouth to tell them to move aside. But someone else spoke first.
Luke turned around, and found Lev was there. He immediately waved the troopers away.
"Go back to your posts."
"Thank you," Luke said, sighing with relief.
"Where in space have you been?" Lev said, coming closer. "There are reports on every news station about your involvement with a riot ... what happened?!"
"I have to leave," Luke said, looking aside. "I'm only here to say goodbye."
"But you can't leave, Master Luke," Threepio said.
Artoo whistled in agreement.
"Leave?" Lev was frowning in confusion. "You mean ... for good? What did you do?"
"It's not what I did," Luke explained. "It's what will happen to me if I stay. The Emperor ..." he broke off, knowing he didn't have time to make Lev understand. "It's for the best," he said, finally.
"Your father will be devastated," Lev said. "He's out looking for you right now."
"I know," Luke said, struggling not to break down into tears. "I'll miss him too. But this is the best thing ... for both of us. For the galaxy."
"I'll miss you," Lev said. "You changed everything when you entered your father's life. Please - wherever you go, let me know you're safe."
Luke hugged Lev, unable to say anything else.
When he turned around to share last goodbyes with his droids, he found they had gone. A quick check of the speeder revealed the back seat was now occupied.
"Master Luke, Artoo and I both agree," Threepio said. "It would be irresponsible of you not to take us."
"I can't!" Luke protested. "This is dangerous!"
"Master Luke, I'm afraid Artoo and I will have to insist! Artoo says he will self destruct in protest if you leave us behind."
Artoo began to smoke as if to demonstrate he wasn't bluffing.
Luke grinned, and shook his head. His droids were nothing if not loyal.
Only security guards remained at the Alderaan embassy. Vader choked two of them to death before one finally began to talk. His son had been here earlier, but had since departed. And not on any ship owned by the Alderaan government, either.
The landing pad guard was only too happy to tell him he'd seen his son heading back towards the palace. Although it seemed he was chasing around in circles, it was a small relief to know his son had returned home. Perhaps he would find him safe in his bedroom.
As soon as Luke landed at the agreed upon coordinates, the ramp of the Millennium Falcon lowered. Han's silhouette appeared at the top of boarding ramp, outlined in the light from the ship's interior.
As Luke started to run forward, Han called out in annoyance.
"Hey! No droids! I hate droids ..."
"You should have told me that earlier," Luke said, looking back to make sure Artoo and Threepio were right behind him. "They're my friends! I can't leave them behind now."
Chewie roared impatiently, somewhere within, and Han gave in.
"If you must, but we're selling them at the first port."
"Sell us? Oh no, Master Luke!"
"Don't worry, Threepio," Luke said. "I won't let anyone sell you. Come on."
As soon as they were on board, the ramp closed and Luke felt the ship taking off. It was too late to turn back now. He was really leaving ... leaving everything he'd known for the past five years behind. Leaving his father behind ...
Luke left his droids and belongings in the passenger lounge, and followed Han into the cockpit. He blinked back tears as he realized they were already in the upper atmosphere, racing towards the distant stars.
"I never knew you were so important, kid," Han said, pointing him to a passenger seat.
"What do you mean?" Luke asked, nervously. Had they been listening to the HoloNet? Had they found out who his father was?
"The planet has been blockaded."
"But that means we'll never get past!" Luke said, feeling his heart sink.
Chewie wuffed with laughter, and Han looked back over his shoulder, a lopsided grin on his face.
"Kid, I eat Imperial blockades for breakfast. This is nothing. Now strap yourself in, and quit your worrying."
The ship rocked as a laser blast hit them from behind.
"Or maybe you should go man the gun turret," Han said, pointing towards the ceiling.
Luke quickly obliged.
When Vader reached Luke's bedroom, a terrible sight was waiting for him. The desk and bedside table had been completely cleared. Drawers were half open, now empty of clothes. All that remained was his model T-16, lying on the unmade bed. Vader moved closer, and saw the T-16 was resting beside a datapad.
He picked it up, and it immediately lit up with a blue image of Luke. His holographic son had a desperate, pleading look in his eyes.
"What have you done, Luke? Where are you!"
It was pointless to shout. His son could not hear him. But his frustration needed an outlet.
"I'm sorry ... I had to leave. I cannot risk my dream coming true."
A dream? This was all about a dream? How stupid could his son be, to make a life-changing decision based only on a dream!
"Don't worry about me. I'm safe with friends. I'll send you messages every chance I get."
"I love you ... look after the Dunesea for me. And my model T-16. I hope we can be reunited soon."
The holographic Luke disappeared. Vader walked slowly to the window, and stared up at the stars. He searched the Force desperately for any sign of his son, clinging to the hope that perhaps he hadn't left yet. Perhaps there was still time to catch him, before he made a decision that would undoubtedly mean the end for them both.
He was rewarded with a faint sense of his son, as if he was far away. But then it was gone, taken away into hyperspace. Ripped away from him, by people unknown.
Then, there was only silence across their bond.