A/N: Hello, wonderful readers! Thank you for the reviews, as always, they're much appreciated!
Now, to make it up to you guys for the slowing of the updates, I decided to include what originally was part of the next chapter into this one, giving you guys a slightly longer chapter this time! The next one might take a few more days than usual to update then, due to real life being a real pain, but anyways, I hope you all enjoy it. Writing this fic is still as fun as it always was, so hopefully it's still fun to read!
Chapter Fourteen: Unforeseen
The slew of annoyances accompanying the annual event of Empire Day began at once, as per usual. Vader awoke to the white interior of his hyperbaric chamber after a vaguely refreshing night's sleep and entered the commands for his helmet to encase his head so he could leave. His back and what was left of the articulations that now led to entirely mechanical members were stiff from staying seated for too long. But he was able to move again now as his view was soon returned to the habitual, slightly red-tinted stuffiness of his mask and he drew his first gravelly breath of the day, trying not to remember that it had already been twenty-one years to the day since he'd taken the very first one.
So far, the past two Empire Day celebrations had been the least aggravating for him, since he'd been off-world at the time and free from all the obnoxious parades and hymns and damned joy. Ideally, or so everybody seemed to think, the Dark Lord of the Sith second in command of the Galaxy, essentially half the reason the Empire was even in place at the moment, should be overjoyed on Empire Day – remembering his victory.
Vader sneered at the mere thought of the word. That day had not been a victory. For Palpatine perhaps it had signified years of scheming finally coming to fruition. But for Vader, no matter how many Jedi had been destroyed that day, no matter how powerful he had felt… all those actions would always be overshadowed by the one failure that Vader would never forgive himself for.
And so, as it was every year that he spent this forsaken day on Coruscant, Vader moodily exited his chamber and marched as thunderously as possible down to the hangar. Taking his favourite speeder out for a while would at least ensure he didn't snap and murder anybody before lunch.
Daylight slowly crept into the room, pushing back the shadows that had been created by the many discarded cartons of food and drink, as well as the piles of dirty clothes and various other objects lying around. The blinds had not been closed that night either, as Luke usually liked to be kept alert and distracted from his dark thoughts by the unfamiliar lights and cityscape of Imperial Center. But that night, amazingly, Luke had fallen right asleep.
He'd been out with Nat again last night, playing sabbac with her and some of her friends. There had been some good hands for him, but in the end he had lost quite a bit of money (Nat's friends were more experienced than stormtroopers for sure). However, for the first time in his life, he didn't really care. He'd been using his father's credit card for a month now and the latter had yet to bring up the subject again, indicating that Luke's expenses appeared fair. Considering that he'd been gambling, he figured he was safe. Vader definitely didn't know about his evening escapades, otherwise he would have put a stop to it already. Or at least tried to.
As he woke to the sunlight in his face, blinking rapidly, he reflected on how relaxed he felt today. In fact, he hadn't felt this at ease in weeks. Logically, he supposed it must have something to do with the fact that he was no longer confined to his father's dark, stifling presence around the clock, or even that of his castle in fact. But he knew there was something more to it. Deep in thought, he dressed in his habitual black robes and looked at himself in the mirror for a long time.
His reflection looked strange to him. Ever since that moment in the meditation pod where he'd seen his father's face, his father's eyes, Luke had tried to avoid looking at himself for longer than was necessary. Every time he accidentally caught sight of his own reflection, or couldn't resist the basic need to look at himself, he found himself unable to stop the vision of his skin becoming pallid and sullen, his eyes changing to a dirty, foul yellow…
Not today. Today he managed to face his reflection with a certain amount of calm. It was distantly akin to the calm he'd felt while meditating on Dagobah so long ago, but less vibrant. Instead, it felt bluntly numb, cold, but controlled. He felt – there really was no other word for it – powerful.
The training sessions with his father had been paying off, he noticed now. His limbs and upper body were less lanky, his posture a little straighter. Cuts and burns in various stages of healing criss-crossed his shoulders, neck and arms, but he hardly cared. Each one was a memory of a mistake made, and a lesson learned. He was getting better at lightsaber training in fact, sometimes managing to strike a blow through his father's defences.
He looked himself over once more, ran a hand through his now rather long mane of wavy hair so that it was tossed out of his face, smirked and turned away. How could he look at himself in satisfaction after everything he'd done and all that he would do in the future? He honestly couldn't figure out what he felt exactly. It wasn't shame anymore, nor even self-loathing.
It had happened gradually enough mostly, but right now he could feel it more than ever; the sheer power of the dark side bubbling under his calm façade, ready to burst and lash out at the slightest provocation.
Strange how he was having this realization just as he was turning twenty-one…
Today was indeed his birthday and, as he'd quickly learned upon joining the Alliance, Empire Day. He'd also shared the same birthday as Leia – two coincidences that now seemed cruel and ironic. Cruel because his father would surely be even angrier than usual today, a day that Luke usually liked. Ironic because for his past two birthdays he'd shared a small cake and a party with Leia (birthdays were a luxury when you were a Rebel) and they had been the best of his entire life. Sadly, he wondered if she was thinking about him right now. Perhaps also waking up on some distant planet to a gift from Han.
He was then suddenly torn from his reflections by a distraction in the form of Artoo, who came up to him from across the room, blabbing away in binary. Luke didn't really need to know what the droid was saying; his presence instantly made him feel a little better. He attempted a smile and failed, so instead he roughly placed his good hand on top of the smooth dome and gave it a few pats.
"Thanks Artoo," he said softly.
Artoo beeped something appreciative in response and Luke closed his eyes, feeling more at ease, letting his mind slip comfortably into the Force. Very carefully, trying not to cause a ripple, he prodded around and found that his father wasn't nearby. There hadn't been much time to check, but he was reasonably sure his father wasn't even in the building.
Just as good. Luke wanted to postpone meeting up with his father for as long as possible today. And he was certain his father would agree, for both their sakes. Besides, Luke was hungry now and it would be easier to sneak out without detection if his father wasn't around. No doubt would there be very good food at the celebrations that evening, but Luke had a busy day planned and he wasn't keen on facing it on an empty stomach just so he could make room for the Emperor's fancy food later on.
Managing a small smile this time, Luke walked over to the desk in the lounge part of his quarters and picked up the VIP ticket that had been lying there for the past month or so. Kimmi Chyler and her teammate Krew had invited him to their race, which was being held today as a pre-Empire Day Parade event. If Kimmi's team won, Luke thought he might even stay for the parade, depending on whether or not his father would be looking for him yet by that point.
Luke knew how risky it was to go out and have some 'normal' fun, as he liked to call it in his head, and especially on this particular day. The Emperor would surely consider this occasion as an excuse to study him further, and acting the complete opposite of what you'd expect from a Sith apprentice would probably be a giveaway. But he needed people like Nat, Kimmi and their friends to help keep him grounded.
It seemed like a distant memory now, but he recalled the days he'd spent sitting in the darkened cell on board the Executor when he'd been refusing to submit to Vader… The thought and memory of his friends had kept him happy, calm, and at peace with himself when things had seemed most hopeless. Luke needed to feel normal sometimes, to spend some time with people who didn't know what he really was.
His father would surely call that 'being ashamed' or trying to resist his destiny, and honestly, Luke might agree with him for once. But Luke didn't care if he was being cowardly. Just the other day the Emperor had called piloting his 'outlet'; the elderly Sith hadn't known how close to the mark that comment truly had been.
The sun shone down merrily on Coruscant, almost as though it were celebrating Empire Day in the capital, too. Luke had borrowed Nat's speeder again, with permission from the TIE Pilot who was off duty today and had taken the occasion to visit her mother. That was what she'd told Luke anyway.
But Luke wasn't complaining. It was a beautiful day, and he had at least half of it all to himself with the prospect of a swoop race: more than he'd had to look forward to in quite a while. He was forced to park the speeder several blocks away from the actual site of the celebrations due to heavy traffic and CSF officers directing everybody to parking areas that had been created expressly for today.
There were many squads of stormtroopers on patrol everywhere Luke glanced, and for some reason they made him a little nervous. He'd come here to escape from his usual life, where stormtroopers and Imperial officers alike all cowered away from him, where the Emperor was on first-name basis with him, and where Darth Vader regularly brawled with him…
But what is somebody told Vader he was here? Luke had already proven he couldn't outrun the CSF. He could only hope he wouldn't be recognized.
By the time he reached the actual stadium, the preliminary races had already started. But Luke decided he wanted to enjoy the full experience so he did take the time to purchase a large soda and some fried snacks. He then managed to find a suitable seat and slumped back next to a large gang of twi'leks. Swoop racing was apparently nearly as popular with the twi'leks as with the humans he noticed, as the ratio in the stadium had to be close to fifty-fifty.
It wasn't long before he understood why; the opposing team was comprised entirely of twi'leks. They looked friendly to Kimmi's team however, and Luke suspected they must have been the twi'leks she'd been playing sabbac with the first time Luke met her. Indeed as the race started, they all shook hands and seemed to genuinely wish each other good luck. Luke raised himself a little out of his seat in order to see better and was able to recognize Krew as he mounted his swoop; the very same one Luke had used to race against Kimmi.
"And they're off!" A commentator started speaking once the flags were raised and the race officially began. "What a fine day this is for a race, gentlebeings, a very fine Empire Day indeed. As I'm sure there is no need to remind anyone, the outcome of today's race will determine which of these two teams will make it to the championship –"
Luke tuned the voice out at that point, so concentrated on the actual race that he didn't even notice that somebody had inadvertently kicked his soda down the row. There were five laps to go, including many dangerous turns and risky jumps, and he really had no idea which team would win yet. He of course kept an eye out mostly for Kimmi and Krew since he knew them, but some of the twi'leks on the other team did stand out to him as well.
Already, barely into the first lap, there was an accident. One of Kimmi's team had been trailing too closely behind one of the twi'leks and as they tried to perform a sharp turn at the same time, they ran into each other and jumped off their vehicles just before they erupted in a ball of flames. The crowd roared in delight as the two racers hurried to get off the track and out of the way of the others coming their way. The smouldering remains of their swoops would have to be scooped up later.
Luke was excited – he gasped and cheered along with the crowd, happily letting himself forget where he was for several minutes.
In no time at all, it seemed, the last lap had begun and Luke averted his eyes from the latest crash in order to confirm that Kimmi was still in first place, though closely followed by two twi'leks that were sandwiched between her and Krew. For Kimmi's team to win now, they had to secure at least the first and second place. With only about two kilometres to go, Krew had better speed up if he intended to win. The two twi'leks were closing in on Kimmi now however, and Luke winced when he understood what they were about to do.
Sandwiched had been the right term; both racers had now stabilized on either side of Kimmi and, with a jerky motion, attempted to bump into her simultaneously. Kimmi's reflexes were lightning-fast. She fed her swoop a burst of fuel and kicked herself off of it, somersaulting in the air right over the swoop that had been to her right. And then, as though she had used the Force itself, she landed cleanly on the back of the opposing racer's swoop and jumped right off again, only to land a few metres away safely back on top of her own vehicle. Meanwhile, just behind her, the two other racers bumped cleanly into each other and lost a considerable amount of speed in the process.
Kimmi didn't stop accelerating until she reached the finish line, where she turned and skidded to a stop just in time to watch Krew zoom past the two twi'leks. The human part of the crowd went wild, their shouts deafening to say the least. They even drowned out the voice of the commentator who was trying very hard not to show his own joy at the human team's win.
The two teams shook hands again and waved to the crowd proudly for several minutes before the first people even began to leave the stadium. The Empire Day Parade wasn't for another hour at least and people weren't in a hurry. Luke remained seated, waiting for there to be less people before he decided to go down. He was fiddling with his ticket, wondering what to do. The VIP status of the ticket allowed him to go see Kimmi and her team after the race. He really wanted to go, but was certain they would want to invite him to all sorts of celebrations and other tempting events. On one hand he would be celebrating Empire Day, which he supposed could be seen as normal.
But on the other hand, his father would be looking for him and that was never a good thing.
He was saved the necessity of deciding when a voice called out to him from a few rows downwards. He glanced over and saw Kimmi dancing on the tips of her toes, her head poking out from the changing room area. "Luke! Hey Luke!"
He sighed, though it wasn't exactly exasperated, and rushed down the rows to greet her. "Hey," he said happily. "That was an amazing race!"
"You can't have seen that many swoop races, then." Kimmi commented and he laughed.
"That's true. But I really enjoyed it. Thank Krew for the tickets again for me, won't you?"
Her face fell. "You can come thank him yourself if you like. We're going to the Parade, then out for supper before the annual presentation and all that. You're more than welcome to join in!"
"Well, I didn't have any plans actually, but…"
"But what?" Kimmi pressed, her thin eyebrows lowering slightly. "You got a wife waiting for you at home or something?"
"Not even close!" Luke said, laughing despite himself.
"Well come on then, you have no excuse," Kimmi told him promptly, as she pulled him by the arm all the way outside the stadium, where several of her teammates were waiting. As they approached, Krew threw out an arm to slap Luke on the back.
"Hello Krew," Luke said with a smile. "Thanks again for the tickets. That was an awesome race."
"Nay problem at all, Luke! Thank you fer the blaster!" Luke grinned at him one last time before following them down the street all the way to the parade. Kimmi and Krew kept laughing at the memory of their winning move, and discussed the finer points of the race with the two other teammates that had tagged along (the two others had been injured during the race and weren't in any condition to attend a parade and a dinner), while Luke happily listened in.
He was glad they weren't being too curious about him; he was used to lying to people about his life by now, but it never felt comfortable. In any case the Parade went by pretty uneventfully, after which Luke agreed to accompany them to a restaurant where they were supposed to be meeting up with Kimmi's boyfriend, the other Corellian Nat had told him about.
As they entered the restaurant, Kimmi pulled them over to a large table where a redheaded man was already seated. He stood as they approached and gave Kimmi a quick squeeze around the middle. Apparently already familiar with her teammates, he didn't spare them more than a glance and a wave, and instead his eyes focused on Luke.
Immediately, Luke felt uncomfortable under his gaze. Something made him feel like, somehow, this guy knew there was something about him…
"Luke," Kimmi suddenly said, pulling him towards her. "This is Dash Rendar."
"Pleased to meet you, Luke." Dash said, extending his hand. There was something in the way he said the name that confirmed Luke's suspicion: Dash was wary of him. Nevertheless, they shook hands, and nobody else seemed to notice the cold look they had just given each other.
It was only after they were seated and everybody had exchanged the necessary pleasantries, asking how everyone's families were and such, that the conversation subject turned to Luke. They had just ordered drinks and food, when Dash glanced over at Luke from his seat across the table.
"So Luke, where are you from?"
"Tatooine," Luke answered easily. "And you're Corellian aren't you?"
"Yep. We Corellians like to stick together," he said as he placed an arm around Kimmi's shoulder.
That was when Kimmi grinned and interjected; "Luke's friends with Han Solo! We were just talking about him the other day."
"Are you now?" Dash asked, obviously intrigued and, from what Luke could tell, suspicious. "So what did you say your family name was then, Luke?"
"I didn't," Luke answered quickly, nervously. He knows, he thought desperately. I'm sure he knows! "I… um, I don't have one. See, I was orphaned at birth." He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. For star's sake, lying to the Emperor had been easier than lying to this guy! His whole body felt on edge, as though the Force itself was trying to warn him of some impending danger.
"Oh!" Kimmi sighed sadly. "I didn't know that!"
"I don't like to talk about it, really." Luke answered uneasily, with hardly any faking involved.
"Did you ever find out who your parents were?" Dash asked just then, his face unreadable. But before Luke could supply an answer, Kimmi nudged her boyfriend softly.
"Don't pester him about it, Dash! This is supposed to be a happy day." Dash turned his head to look at her and smiled so genuinely that Luke was surprised. He'd figured Dash for a cold kind of guy. But he nodded to his girl.
"Sorry about that," he shot at Luke, though without really looking at him. Luke mumbled something in return, but it didn't really matter because Dash was too busy looking at Kimmi now. He felt uneasy for the rest of the supper however, and didn't miss the cold, calculating looks Dash kept sending him. When everybody had paid for their food and it was time to leave the restaurant, Luke actually felt relieved.
He couldn't wait to get back to Imperial City and find his father. As excited as he had been today, he was glad it was over. Darth Vader's company was looking more and more enticing next to Kimmi Chyler's suspicious boyfriend's. However, it soon became clear that they were heading onto a landing pad and at once Luke knew which ship belonged to Dash. A YT-2400 light freighter stood proudly among the many speeders in the lot. The group came to a halt close to it and one of the racers bid them farewell as he had promised to meet up with his girlfriend for the celebrations.
As soon as he was gone, Dash smiled at them all and offered them a ride on his ship. "This is the Outrider," he said proudly. "I did this last year too and, let me tell ya – the fireworks look a hell of a lot better from the sky!"
Kimmi grinned. "Neat!" Krew and the other remaining teammate nodded their approval, and looked over at Luke.
"I'm… not sure if I should." Luke said slowly, trying not to look at Dash. However, the redhead had already closed the space between them. "Kimmi, you can go fire her up," he tossed her the keys to his ship. "You guys go ahead, we'll be right with you."
"Everything ok?" Kimmi asked warily, her eyes flickering between Luke and Dash. She waited for her boyfriend to nod, then got on board the ship with her two teammates.
Luke stood quite still, waiting for Dash to speak. It seemed like whatever was making the man nervous would soon be put to light. "Kimmi told me about you, you know," he began slowly, looking Luke over carefully. "Told me how you beat her in a race."
So that was it? Dash was mad that somebody had beaten his girl in a race? Feeling more than a little annoyed, the notorious anger he'd inherited from his father boiling within him, Luke opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off.
"That's not what's bugging me." Dash assured him, and Luke snapped his mouth shut. "She told me you were a nice guy. I was expecting a nice guy when I met you. But I've been a smuggler practically my whole life, and I know the dodgy people when I see them." He paused long enough to give Luke a warning look. "But I am ready to believe I'm wrong about you, if you want. And I'll let you come along with us on my ship if Kimmi's friendship means anything to you."
Luke hesitated, not sure what to do with all this information. Nobody he had ever met had immediately figured him out as a bad person. Luke Skywalker had always been the good guy. But this Luke, the one that was Vader's Shadow apparently was not that good person anymore, and Dash had felt it. For a moment, Luke was horrified at himself. And that, perhaps, was the reason why he nodded. Maybe he felt the need to prove to himself that he was still a good person somewhere inside.
He still had a nagging feeling like he would regret it later, but he said yes and got on board the Outrider.
Everybody in the ballroom was avoiding the same person that evening; Darth Vader. He stood still as a statue, a solid black mass at the back of the room, near the door, the sound of his breathing chilling everybody as they entered. It had been hours since he'd sent a squad of troopers to look for his son, and he hadn't heard from them yet. The Emperor had not made an appearance yet and so, thankfully, was surely not aware that Luke was missing, but Vader was still worried.
Of all the days his son could have chosen to disappear! This was embarrassing. Vader couldn't remember any occasion when he'd ever been embarrassed in public, and he was not about to start now. He didn't care about any of the Moffs or Admirals, or the greater public, but his Master expected him and his apprentice to be present at the ceremony, and time was running as short as Vader's temper.
He'd already strangled three people today, and was quite sure that he could get away with a few more before Palpatine so much as frowned at him, but he'd much rather have his son back at his side than crush a few more useless people's throats. For the first time since his rebirth, Darth Vader was genuinely worried about somebody. What if something had happened to Luke this time?
That thought alone made him clench his jaw. A jug of water on the table next to him exploded, and several people nearby backed away in alarm, but Vader didn't care. Let them know he was angry. The entire universe would suffer if anything happened to his son, Vader would make sure of that…
Just then, he caught a flash of red and black entering the room and turned on his heel to greet the new arrival, already aware of who it was. The Force signature was faint, as always, but he recognized it with ease. "What do you want, Jade?" He snapped.
Mara Jade skidded to a halt and glanced over at him. She wasn't much more than three meters away from him, but had apparently decided to pretend she had not seen him standing there. "Lord Vader," she intoned, more for the sake of the important Moffs surrounding them than Vader's. "In a good mood as always, I see."
"That attitude of yours will be your undoing, Jade," Vader hissed through his clenched teeth. "Mark my words; the second your Master even looks the other way, I will be upon you like a pack of rabid anoobas."
"I'm sure," Jade replied, remarkably coolly. She could speak more freely now, as most of the people around them had hastily cleared the area when they sensed how angry the Sith Lord was. "But before that happy day arrives, I suppose we'll just have to put up with each other."
"State your business or get out of my sight, Jade," Vader told her wearily. "I'm in no mood for your imprudence tonight."
"Believe me," she retorted, "I hardly came here to make small talk with you. I have business, as you said. Now, I'm quite certain it will come as no surprise for you to know that the Emperor asked me to investigate your apprentice's doings –"
"To spy on him, rather –"
"Indeed, if you prefer that term," Mara admitted. "Well, I think you'd be interested to know that your apprentice spent the day at the swoop race, in rather questionable company. About half an hour ago, he boarded a common YT freighter with said company and presumably left the planet –"
"What did you say?" Vader growled, and Jade let the hint of a smirk twist the corner of her lip.
"I said that your apprentice has most likely been lured into a trap by the rebellion, or any other hostile parties. Either that, or he is a traitor to the Empire, or a spy."
Vader took a step closer to Mara and pointed a finger in her face, speaking in low, dangerous tones. "Be careful of what you are implying, Jade. No apprentice of mine is a traitor."
"Perhaps not," the redheaded Hand replied, stepping back minutely as only she would dare to do. "But the fact remains that he has found himself in quite a predicament. He is prone to that, isn't he?"
Already walking away, Vader snarled at her one last time. "I care neither for your implications nor for your opinions, Jade. Now let me be." He didn't even bother demanding that she not inform the Emperor of this situation, as it would be quite futile. That woman was as loyal to Palpatine as Anakin Skywalker had been to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
And right now, Vader was in a hurry anyway. He needed to find Luke before it was too late.
Ignoring Jade, who muttered "Not even a thank you…" behind his back, he stormed away to the closest hangar and barked at a nearby squadron of stormtroopers to follow him into a shuttle. These particular troopers were part of his 501st and were used to his temper, so they quickly did as they were told. In no time at all they were off, rising higher and higher into the atmosphere.
As he piloted the shuttle himself, Vader had time to quietly reprimand himself. He should have known Luke wouldn't stay put on this day, his birthday. Luke never stayed put anyway, so really Vader should have expected his son to do something especially foolish today. He recalled what Jade had said; that Luke had been to the swoop race today. How had he acquired tickets? Ever since he'd given the boy a credit card, Vader had been watching the numbers closely, and nothing had seemed out of the ordinary.
Swoop race tickets weren't cheap. And regardless of the means he had used to acquire them, Luke had been very good at hiding it from Vader. This infuriated him to no end; if Luke had been able to do that, what else could he have gotten up to behind his father's back? He didn't like to think about it, so he pushed away those thoughts and concentrated on piloting the shuttle.
It seemed almost hopeless that he'd manage to find Luke among all the traffic over Coruscant. Without any knowledge of where he could be except for the fact that he was on board a YT freighter… Vader almost slammed down on the brakes as a horrible thought came over him. The Millennium Falcon was a YT freighter!
Quickly, Vader signalled to his crew of stormtroopers and they all moved in closer. "I assume you are all familiar with the Millennium Falcon?" He demanded, and barely gave them time to nod before telling them; "That is the ship we are looking for, specifically. Or any other kind of YT freighter, for that matter. Keep your eyes open and send the message out to all nearby Star Destroyers. You there," he snapped around at one trooper in particular. "Establish a comlink connection with the Executor and keep them on hold. They are to be ready to deploy a squadron of TIEs at my signal."
The troopers all saluted and got to work as Vader returned to his piloting. It was very hard for him to concentrate through the anger that clouded his mind. The rebellion was trying to take his son away from him again. Surely a brilliant idea from the mind of one Leia Organa, he mused. Hadn't Luke proven himself loyal to Vader and the Empire by now?
If that was the case, then what could the rebellion want with Luke? Was he a target?
Vader was pulled out of his thoughts just then by a stormtrooper, who approached him hurriedly. "My Lord, the Executor has a visual on the Millennium Falcon."
"That was fast," Vader commented. He wasn't sure whether to be even angrier at the news, or pleased. So his suspicion had been true, but at least he'd have the Falcon in his grasp soon. "My orders are to capture the ship. Tell them to tractor beam it on board at once and that we will be there shortly to deal with them. Under no circumstances are the crew to be harmed."
If he was confused, the trooper didn't let it show. "Yes, Sir," he said before moving back to his station to relay the orders to Vader's flagship. Vader's pulse increased slightly at the thought of punishing whoever had thought it wise to trap his son.
It took several minutes before the distant form of the Executor appeared around the round edge of the planet among the heavy traffic of other ships but there, right underneath it, was the unmistakeable form of the Falcon which was slowly being pulled towards the mighty Star Destroyer. Vader smiled in anticipation, glaring daggers at the hated Corellian ship and into the very souls of those on board.
Leia stared blankly at the flashing screen that was indicating the uselessness of their attempts to escape the Executor's grip on them. Han was in another room, below the cockpit, currently caught in a shouting match with Chewie, and Lando was sitting beside her, shaking his head. The part of the Alliance's fleet that had accompanied them, that is, Admiral Nammo's ship, Rieekan and Madine's fighters, and all the X-Wings, were still hovering safely over Carida, just waiting for their signal.
As soon as they'd been hailed by the Executor, that had been the first topic on debate. Should they contact the fleet? They could either tell them to retreat, leaving them to face their demise at Vader's hand, or tell them to enter the system. But there were so many civilians that could be caught in the battle, and the Imperial fleet was so… huge. Leia's gut squirmed as she stared into the distance at the Star Destroyers.
Their plan, which was now looking incredibly foolhardy, had been to subtly land on Coruscant and find their way unnoticed into Imperial City. Empire Day had seemed like the perfect occasion since the authorities would already be so preoccupied with the traffic around the planet and the ceremonies. Their plan had been, in short, to hide in plain sight. Taking the Falcon had been a bit of a risky move, but she was the fastest ship in the fleet, good for a quick getaway, and they knew the Empire wouldn't be looking out for them. Vader probably didn't expect them to just show up on Coruscant.
But apparently, he had expected them, judging by the speed at which they'd been hailed. As they'd exited hyperspace, they'd spotted the Star Destroyer some distance away, but hadn't been too nervous about its presence. Vader wasn't on board for sure…
But now, they weren't so sure. They hadn't even received a transmission informing them of their impending capture. Everything pointed to the unpleasant truth: Vader was very aware of their arrival. A horrible thought plagued Leia's mind; had Vader felt her arrive? She had been so careful!
"Son of a nek, son of a nek, son of a nek!" Han groaned, interrupting her thoughts as he climbed back into the cockpit and shoved Lando out of his seat. He was scowling as he turned to Leia; "There's nothing we can do. They've got us on a tighter leash than I'd keep an acklay on, and they're pulling us in hard. I'd say we've got about five minutes until we're on board the thing."
There was a gloomy silence, then Lando spoke out. "I still can't believe you convinced me to tag along."
"Oh shut up, you coward," Han snapped at him, though it sounded half-hearted. He then turned to face Leia again. "Are you gonna… y'know?" He paused and closed his eyes a moment. "Are you gonna tell him?"
Leia looked out of the viewport to the looming form of the Star Destroyer. "I don't know… Depends on how things go, I suppose." She hadn't expected to be faced with that kind of decision today. Not for another… what? Days? Weeks? Who was she trying to kid? She'd never feel ready to face Darth Vader.
"Tell who what?" Lando asked, sounding genuinely confused. When nobody answered him, he shook his head again. "Yeah, right… this is the perfect time to be keeping secrets. And everyone knows I can't be trusted." He sounded bitter, and Leia bit her lip, catching Han's eye. The smuggler shrugged as if to say 'if you must', and walked out of the cockpit to return to Chewie.
"Lando…" Leia began slowly, and he perked up. "I wasn't planning on telling anyone, but seeing as we're all… I mean, everything's going downhill right now…" She sighed, and decided just to say it. "Luke's my twin brother, and… and Darth Vader is our father. But Luke and Vader don't know about me."
Following her statement, nothing more was said in the Millennium Falcon all throughout the short journey onto the Executor. Lando looked speechless, so he gave her a friendly, comforting sort of tap on the arm instead and then proceeded to stare out into space. All that could be heard after that were the sounds of the ship and Chewbacca's growls coming from outside the cockpit.
The fireworks weren't scheduled to start for another half-hour or so, but there was still a lot to look at from up here. They were lingering just inside of Coruscant's atmosphere and had the most spectacular view of the gigantic city. Luke even allowed himself to get lost in his thoughts for a while, forgetting about the nervousness he was still feeling at the fact that he hadn't heard anything from his father. Of course his father had said it was too risky to try and communicate with each other through the Force while in such proximity to the Emperor, but he could at least have sent a small prod his way or something.
And it was just then, just when Luke had been considering maybe sending a small prod in his father's direction that a transmission came through, ringing through the cockpit of the Outrider.
"YT shuttle Outrider, this is the Super Star Destroyer Judicator. Please state your trajectory and cargo."
Dash gave everybody a look that clearly meant 'don't worry', and addressed the person on the other end. "Judicator, this is Dash Rendar, captain of the Outrider. We have only passengers on board and we're waiting for the fireworks ceremony to begin."
After some indistinct chattering on the other end, the person responded. "We have orders to search every YT freighter around the planet. Prepare to be beamed on board boarded."
"Excuse me?" Dash replied. "Who's Orders, exactly?"
"Lord Vader's orders, Captain Rendar. Now, prepare to be boarded."
The connection was cut, but Dash still snapped back; "Like hells!"
Kimmi shook her head and grabbed his arm. "Dash, no… what if they shoot us? We shouldn't resist. It's not like we've got anything to hide."
As Dash calmed down and assured Kimmi that he wouldn't do anything foolish, Luke was silently panicking. He watched the Judicator steadily approaching them and agonized over what to do. He didn't care if the Emperor would feel it; he called out a single word to his father. Master. He then felt a dark, cold brushing sensation against his mind and knew his father had heard him. Everything would be ok.
"Why d'you think they're searching YT freighters?" Kimmi asked softly, looking around at everyone.
"I think I know," Luke said slowly, ignoring the foreboding feeling that had returned. Dash turned narrowed eyes to him.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that they're… looking for me."
"You?" Krew asked, sounding astounded. "What could they possibly want wit' ya?"
Dash was standing up now. "I knew it! You're a criminal or something like that aren't you?"
"Not… exactly. Listen, I'm really sorry about this. I never intended for any of you to get hurt –"
"What have you done?" Dash interrupted, his face very angry now.
"Nothing! Listen to me!" Luke snapped back, also getting to his feet. He tried to pull down on his anger, but it wouldn't obey. "I'm Vader's apprentice. I wasn't supposed to be out today, and he must think… that you kidnapped me or something. I'll try to make him understand, but he's very paranoid and angry."
"Wait, hold up," Kimmi said. "Vader's apprentice? As in Vader's Shadow? The Sith?"
"Yes." Luke said angrily. She didn't seem to understand how serious this was.
Indeed, her next question proved it; "So do you have a lightsaber?"
"I didn't bring a lightsaber to the race!" Luke snapped, carefully wording it so he could avoid admitting out loud that he didn't actually own a lightsaber.
"So let me see if I've got this straight," Dash said, shaking his head despairingly. "You're Darth Vader's Sith apprentice, and he's so protective of you that he's probably going to kill us all just for taking you out on a ride in my ship? Couldn't you have mentioned that earlier?"
"Would I even be hanging out with you guys if I'd told you who I was?" Luke retorted.
To his surprise, Dash answered rather coldly. "No, you're right. You wouldn't be." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "You do know there's a price on your head from the rebels don't you? I keep myself up to date with their dealings. You're unarmed; what's stopping us from taking you to them and collecting the bounty?"
"The fact that you're being beamed in by an Imperial Star Destroyer?" Luke suggested bitterly. "Listen I might be willing to help you guys wiggle your way out of the immediate death sentence Vader will issue the minute he sees you, but not if you're going to threaten me. I may not have a lightsaber right now, but that doesn't mean I'm not dangerous. Keep that in mind."
Dash fell silent at that point as they were about to board the Judicator, but he didn't look less irritated. Kimmi, Krew and their other teammate whose name Luke couldn't even remember also looked frightened and angry. Sighing to himself, Luke reflected that becoming a Sith was the worst thing a person could ever do for their social life.
As soon as Vader boarded his Star Destroyer he was informed that the Millennium Falcon's crew was being held in the detention level.
And as soon as he entered the cellblock an evil smile crept over his face, though it was invisible to his prisoners. It was perfect; they were all here. Organa, Solo, Calrissian and the wookiee looked up at him with varying degrees of wariness. Nobody had ever accused Vader of being patient, but oh how he'd make sure their suffering would be slow. He'd enjoy breaking them all one by one for the numerous problems they had caused him –
He froze just then, realizing how carried away he had gotten and his anger boiled fiercer than ever. Luke was not with them. Without even realizing what he was doing, he kicked Solo out of his way and advanced on the Princess, grabbing her by the arm and roughly shoving her against the wall of the cell.
"What have you done with my son, Organa?" He snarled. There was no need to be secretive; he was very aware that Luke's friends knew who his father was. Organa's eyes were wide with apprehension, but mostly surprise, as she answered him.
"What have we done with him? The question is what have you done to him, Vader!"
"I will not ask you again!" Vader roared, pushing her even harder into the wall. "Where is Luke?"
At that moment, Solo appeared at Leia's side and interjected; "We don't know where he is, we thought he was with you! Now let Leia go!"
"Or what, Solo?" Vader snapped, and the smuggler fell silent. After a few moments, Organa responded, repeating Solo's information.
"We don't have Luke. He's not with us." She said quietly. As much as Vader hated to admit it, he felt that she wasn't lying. So he removed his hand from her and took a single long step back in order to glare at them all. There was something strange about Organa specifically. For one, she looked much more mature than last he'd seen her. He suspected it must have much to do with the fact that she'd apparently replaced Mon Mothma. But she really did look older, perhaps even wiser.
It took him a few more seconds to realize that she was wearing very different clothes than she usually was. Her customary outfits had never been on the very practical side; be it official gowns or any other type of Alderaanian clothing, but now she was wearing what looked like… a set of Jedi robes. Granted, they were still as white as all her clothes, but they definitely looked like robes, useful for combat and quick movements.
"I won't deny we were planning on contacting Luke, but we never managed to." Organa went on, keeping her gaze fixed on him.
Vader straightened, not amused. "And how where you planning on escaping afterwards? He would have turned you in to me at once."
"Are you sure?"
Admittedly, he was not, but they didn't have to know that. "Of course I am. He is my apprentice now, and he will never come to your side."
"He would, given the chance," the princess said smartly. "We were more of a family to him than you could ever be."
Enraged, Vader took a menacing step towards her. "You have no idea what you are talking about, Organa. Watch yourself." Solo, Calrissian and their wookiee companion all cried out as he grabbed Organa by the arm again, but she remained startlingly cool.
"I did not come here to fight you, Vader, but…" she glanced once over to Solo. "If I must, I will."
Vader released her arm and nearly let out a small derisive laugh, but stopped in his tracks when he saw what Organa was now holding in her hand. It was a lightsaber hilt of earthy tones with a slim black hilt. She'd probably been hiding it in the folds of her new robes. After a few moments, he actually did laugh. "You are more foolish than I thought," he said, hoping his nervousness was not perceptible. He refused to accept that Princess Leia could be the Force sensitive Luke had told him about. "You would surely lose against me."
Bowing her head slightly, the princess agreed. "I know. And my intention would not be to defeat you today. Just to let you know that we're not scared of you. I know more about you than you think, Vader."
"Silence!" Vader growled, effectively causing her to stop speaking. The dark, small room was suddenly colder. Vader could almost feel the Force swirling from Organa now; it was similar to Luke's presence in many ways, and yet he knew it was not the same one. "You know nothing." He repeated, even angrier than before. He didn't know what Organa was trying to pull, but he wasn't amused. "Now hand over that lightsaber before you hurt yourself."
The princess recoiled from his outstretched hand and shook her head. "It's mine. I made it."
"You're no Jedi," Vader snapped, annoyed more than ever. "I have never felt the Force around you. Your parents weren't Force-sensitive."
Organa seemed to hesitate for a moment, but then she said; "But you feel the Force around me now, don't you? As for my parents, you're right; Bail and Breha Organa weren't Force-sensitive. But they weren't my real parents either. My real father never knew he had a daughter, just as he never knew he had a son until years ago on the Death Star. My real father thought I died long ago with my mother…"
Her soft brown eyes were fixed on the empty sockets of Vader's mask, and for a moment as she spoke he saw Padmé instead. Their features were very similar; how was it that he' never noticed it before? No, he thought, stopping his train of thought. She's lying! She must be! Unable to find anything to say to her, he called over her lightsaber from across the small cell, snatching it out of her hand. She protested, but he took several steps away from her until his back was to the door.
"I'll never call you father," she told him coldly. "And you'll never corrupt me like you did Luke. But if there's some part of Anakin Skywalker left inside you, please find it in yourself to do the right thing! I don't know where Luke is right now but he's obviously lost. Our family is broken but it's not too late to mend it – and it will never be too late, we just have to tell Luke. If you kill us, he'll never forgive you –"
"He'd never find out." Vader said quietly, horrified that his own voice sounded so weak at the moment. His brain felt like it was buzzing, echoing through his head, making all thought extremely difficult. It hadn't been this hard when he'd found out he had a son, but a daughter… A woman he'd tortured, no less…
The princess had stopped talking, her mouth open in surprise. "You'd… You would kill your own daughter?"
"No," Vader quickly corrected, without even thinking it over first. The answer came naturally. He could never kill another member of his family. Never again would he be responsible for another death in his family! "Luke," he then said a little louder. "I must find Luke." His brain wasn't functioning correctly and, for the first time in years, he felt like he might be sick. That would surely be an unpleasant experience whilst wearing the mask.
Without really knowing why, he tossed Organa's lightsaber back to her and looked at her for several long seconds. She wasn't Padmé, but now that he knew, he could see his wife somewhere in her features. Suddenly he didn't want to leave anymore, afraid that if he left, she wouldn't be here upon his return. It was a sickening feeling, one he'd had quite enough of for at least ten lifetimes.
"Please don't leave," he said softly, or as softly as he could manage, before leaving the cell in direction of the bridge. It was then that he heard Luke's voice in his mind, and his presence stretched over the Force towards him.
But Vader heard the word that was disguised underneath; 'Father'.