A/N: Blah Blah Blah, Star Wars isn't mine. Etc., etc. etc. Thanks for reading. Now we are literally two chapters away from Hoth; for those of you who were curious! :) Onward!
SW Ep. V: Jedi Assassin Ch.17— Fractured
Pru didn't utter a word all the trip back to their apartments.
But Luke could feel it, her boiling anger, as she sat beside him in the hover-limo.
When they came in the door and Pru waved away her handmaidens to fetch the med kit, and she sat on the prim sofa, Luke could sense it radiating off her in waves.
She didn't meet his gaze when he wordlessly cleaned and bandaged both of their wounds, the first being her mangled shoulder.
He repressed a sigh; he'd caused this. If only he'd grabbed her and ran, and not stayed-
Blurred images of the perfect harmony that was him and Lord Vader battling side by side danced mockingly across his thoughts.
He shook his head, driving them away.
That got her attention. Instead of staring off into space, her frozen eyes bore into his head. He pretended to not notice, wrapping clean bandages around her burned and slashed right hand.
The moment he was done, said hand seised his.
He could feel those large aqua eyes scrutinizing him. Ghost seemed always able to perceive his thoughts and feelings even better than he himself.
"Why?" was all she said.
He couldn't hold in the sigh this time, his shoulders slouched and he slumped over, down on one knee to wrap her hand more easily.
"You have no idea how much I wish I could answer that," his tone sounded lifeless, even to him.
"You know we should have left."
"You know how readily Vader and the Emperor could have realized tonight who you really are...and in so doing, expose both of us; destory years of work."
"There was almost nothing for us to gain by staying."
Luke rubbed his brow. "I know, you're right; you're right," he said, exasperated, though not at Ghost, but himself. "I have no idea why I didn't just retreat with you."
Ghost said nothing for several moments, just leveling him that stony look he rarely if ever saw on her-and never before directed at him. It was her frustrated, but trying to understand face. The one where she was disapproving-massively-but trying to reserve judgement.
"When you came back to the party," she mused aloud, "you were already out of sorts; why?"
The super ship! So much had happened that he had almost forgotten-!
Suddenly, it seemed like too much effort to get up, so he remained kneeling on the lush carpet and recounted for Pru the conversation he overheard.
When he was done, her face was the same, but she was blinking more rapidly, and her skin paled ever so slightly.
"All of our planning, our effort," she softly, incredulously whispered, "everything we sacrificed..."
"Was for nothing," Luke resignantly finished, the weight of it newly fresh on his shoulders. He hunched over more, the pain of it palpable. "Vader's true super star destroyer will be done in a few short days. By the time we find it," he shook his head in dismay. "It'll be too late."
Pru let out a heavy breath. "Then we must focus on what we can prevent...or stop." The large eyes narrowed and she reached for her purslet. "Did you notice anything about the people killed today?"
That riveted Luke back to himself a bit. "The people killed?" he echoed.
Pru nodded somberly. "I had spoken to all of them over the past few months. They hid it well, but most of them were either secretly harboring rebel sympathies, or on the road to becoming so."
"And they stayed behind to fight the creatures? Why?"
"Because the alien slaves were too busy opening the panic rooms and escape corridors to flee. Some stayed to protect them; others out of a mislead bravery."
Luke paused. "But, Vader-?"
Pru shrugged. "They were intruding on Vader's territory; he's a warrior first."
Luke nodded. Of course.
Pru fished for something in her bag and Luke wondered at how her expression darkened.
"Pru, please tell me."
Pru put the bag down, and Luke couldn't help but recoild a tad at the knowing lining her face. "It wasn't just the super-ship though; over the last few months you've...been different"-
Luke looked away.
-"distracted even; not focusing on the jobs at hand"-
Luke opened his mouth to object at that part; Pru waved it away.
"You know what I mean," she emphasized, "before, you were entirely about the job, about the present; now, you're just...torn. Partly with us, partly," she gestured, "I have no idea where the rest of you is lately."
Her tone implied that last part wasn't totally true; but she was giving him his privacy, letting him decide if he was going to open up or not.
He offered her a grateful mien; she leaned down and took his hand.
"This is about your family, isn't it?"
At that Luke did rise, doing so with a quick exhale; Ghost released his hand and he took a few steps from her.
He needed a hint of space, a bubble where he could center and collect himself.
The spectral images he saw at the Temple all bombarded him anew.
Vague images of his father...and Vader-
But the phantasm of his father's body had been nowhere to be found.
"I thought as much," was the non-judgemental pronouncement behind him.
When Luke turned, her expression was still grave, but now marred by something new: worry.
"Don't," he began-
He could take care of himself.
It was her turn to look away.
She stood. "Now I know for sure." Her tone was consigned, and-disappointed?
Luke must have appeared baffled, because she closed the distance and gripped his shoulders.
"Luke," he wanted to shrink back from her abruptly hardend tone, "this will be the most difficult thing for you to hear in the whole of your life, but I'm going to plead with you now, to please: listen to me."
He jolted, surprised.
"For your sake," she went on, "and for all of our sake's. You've...been compromised."
Her huge eyes were infinitely sad.
Luke brushed her hands away, spun on his heel.
"Ghost," he began harshly-
"Why did you go to the Temple?" she cut in.
He spun on her. "You know why!" he blurted out. "There were no leads left and I have to find my father!"
Her pose and face was eerily calm in leiu of his outburst. "And why did you choose to go there?"
Luke raised his eyes to the ceiling. "Because he was a Jedi; you know that."
"And what did you find?"
He recounted the spectral images.
She blinked at that; but pressed on. "And...you saw images of your father, perhaps battling Vader?"
Luke shifted nervously. "Yes."
"But what difference does that make? You already knew he survived the Temple attack."
What? No he didn't. Why would she-?
His face must have asked the question, because it was her turn to take in the ceiling. "Luke, what is the last known record on Anakin Skywalker?"
"He went to Mustafar to end the war."
"And when did that happen?"
He quoted the date.
Silence as they looked at each other. Ghost moaned in dismay at length and rubbed her brow. "Luke, was it before or after the Temple attack?" she sounded like she was talking to a child.
And suddenly Luke felt like one because he saw now what she was hitting at. It was after the Temple attack and so of course his father survived...and he had already known it-for years even.
He let out a distraught sound; sank into a nearby chair.
She was right; he was compromised. He never, ever, ever made a mistake, not in the whole of his professional life. It was part of his infamy as the Specter. Like Boba Fett he was noted for unerring perfection. And now, he let the super-ship escape them...and for what?
To gain Intel on his father that he already knew.
He planted his face in his hands, shook his head in disbelief.
How...how could he have let it go this far...for this long?
Cool hands encompassed his. "Luke."
"Force; Pru, I'm so sorry. I...I never should have"-
"It's beyond that now; our kind only live in the present."
He nodded; 'our kind': assassins. He took a deep breath and raked his hands through his hair.
He had to focus, had to get it back together. He had a team to lead, the Rebel Alliance depending on their efforts.
Too many lives were at stake for him to be distracted any longer.
Father, forgive me...
"We have to figure out what happened tonight," he avowed and glanced around.
No; why hadn't he thought of it before?
"Where's Noc!?" he practically shrieked, leaping to his feet.
A happy chirp greeted him as a familiar shape swooped through the open balcony doors.
Luke ran and practically yanked him from the sky into a hug. "You menace," he mock rebuked, "don't make me worry like that!"
Noc only clanked his tongue and gave Luke a face that said: no, lately that's been your job.
Luke groaned. "Please, Noc; not from you too."
Another clank of the tongue.
Luke gave Ghost a deadpan face. "You've even got him on your side."
"Luke, there are no 'sides' here. You know that."
Luke patted Noc's head. "I know."
"But, considering Noc clearly agrees with me, and I happen to know Fade does to"-
Luke sighed at that.
-"it's clear that we have to look out for you now, which is why you're going back to Hoth."
"What? But, the mission"-
"I'm going to stay here and try to find out what exactly we were fighting tonight," Ghost said, rising from beside the chair Luke had been sitting in, "but you're going back to Hoth."
Luke opened his mouth to object-
"Where you will rehone your focus and get yourself back together to your former peak levels," Ghost added, her voice steadiliy rising as Luke made more efforts to interject, "otherwise, I tell the team verbatum what happened here today, and no; I'm perfectly serious. If it'll save you from yourself, I'll do it."
Her gaze went to Nocturne. "Noc; what do you say?"
A few chirps that could only mean agreement.
Luke stared at them for several long moments, siphoning through his options; they were bleak at best.
No; part of battle was knowing when to end the fight, when there was no other recourse.
And this was definitely it; and it was by his own doing.
He nodded at length. "All right," he dourly said, "you win. I'll head back to Hoth first thing tomorrow."
He sat back down and Noc gently struggled, asking to be let loose. Luke obliged him, and plugged his talons into a terminal atop the long table between Ghost and Luke.
"Please tell me you recorded the battle Noc," Ghost said.
Noc nodded. Ghost grinned. "Good."
She returned to fishing in her bag.
Luke's interest piqued. "Ghost...what did you?"
She pulled out some random items: a data card, a torn piece of cloth and some shrapnel-and a long needle.
Her face was a study in grimness. "Do these look familiar?" she inquired, placing them on the table.
Luke recalled that style of data card...and the needle, part of a multi-faceted weapon.
The mutated creatures, their obvious hybrid-like qualities.
Luke nodded, feeling bile rise up his throat. "It's Dromerick's work; it has to be."
For years, Ghost waited for this day.
When she had first met Luke, when they had both liberated themselves and set out to choose their own paths, Ghost had discerned it in him right away: the strength, the potential, the makings of greatness.
But, she had picked up other facets too: the compassion, the need to uncover his identity, his family lineage, his need to uncover his bloodline. His craving to locate living relations.
Not so with her; she forsook the past long ago. She established her identity now only; in the present, that was all that mattered. She let the past remain where it was: in the past.
But Luke, like Solo, spat in the face of training, of tradition, of sense. And she was full aware the day would come when it would catch up with him.
Assassins did not long for family; he did.
Assassins did not have blood ties; he sought for them.
Assassins only focused on the present, on the job; his attention was more and more invested in the past.
He was playing with a loaded blaster canon; it was only a matter of time when it went off.
And so Ghost had no choice but to intervene.
Luke understood the assassins' code; he just didn't wholly embrace it as she did. And that was exactly what concerned her.
Luke examined the items she had inconspicuously 'collected' during the battle when everyone else was fully vested in fighting. She had had a few moments to gather some items off the fallen attackers, these being some of the more interesting variety.
Unfortunatley, Luke had arrived at the same conclusion as her, which she had been so hoping that he wouldn't.
Because that could only mean one thing:
"Somehow, his work survived," she said.
Luke nodded. "As much as I hate to admit it; someone got away." Again the hands ran through his messy hair. "I just can't think who." Bewildered eyes met hers. "Any ideas?"
"No; I killed everyone at my facility," she flatly affirmed.
"Me too." His gaze unfocused, thoughtful. "Could someone have passed something on? Or perhaps had a backup data-base we didn't uncover?"
Ghost shook her head. "I'm not sure." She touched her temple. "Link? Mouse?"
Luke looked worried; no doubt wondering how much those two already overheard, considering Luke and Pru were both implanted with comms.
"You've been monitoring?"
"What have you found out from the 'party'?"
Mouse snickered. "Not much so far. But we did erase all the cameras in the Imperial Palace; they won't be able to do anything with those now."
Luke grinned. At last; something going right-Pru agreed. "Nice work."
"Thanks boss." Link. "I hate to say it guys, we must have missed someone."
"Xizor's still alive," Mouse pondered aloud, "Link and I should take a look into exactly how much that guy knew about Dromerick's work; aside from being a potential buyer."
Luke nodded. "You anticipated me. Also take a look into the Underworld market. Most of the creatures looked humanoid. If whoever made them was using humans as a base form, then they'd have to have humans to buy. DNA can be traced."
Ghost frowned in worry. "Unless the DNA is skewed." More crooked Imperial tech they had to deal with.
Luke shrugged. "If it is, then it's more likely the Empire is involved. Skewing DNA is a time-consuming and expensive process. Not just anyone can afford it."
Ghost mostly witheld the sigh. What a relief; he was already sounding more like himself. Maybe all he needed was to be confronted with it after all.
She could hope.
Luke rose. "We have to anticipate now what the their next move will be."
"Uhhh," Link put in, "if we don't even know who they are, how do we do that?"
"We know they won't want to be traced," Luke avowed, "that was why they filled their creations will those high explosives; that way they'll leave no traces. But...we all know that sometimes explosives don't go off like they're supposed to."
"Only when Solo's using them," Mouse muttered.
Luke frowned. "I want you two to...'supervise' the cleanup operations; if something is found among the debris, you two are to 'confiscate' it. Got it?"
"We sure do boss," Link eagerly said.
Luke gravely met Ghost's eyes. "We also have to predict Vader and the Emperor."
Ghost nodded. "Agreed. Even though I may have done some things to make you appear...less strong than you are; Vader still has a vested interest in you now."
Luke gaped. She could only mean one thing. "You mean, my Force shields, my clothe's Force inhibitors...you?"
Ghost shrugged casually. "I've been exposed to the Sith for years now; it would only follow that I have some amount of...immunity to their dark powers. You though? My wayward isolationist cousin? You'd have no reason at all to be fortified against either of them. I had to make it look that way; you have Vader very suspicious at the beginning."
Luke leaned against a nearby chair as Noc fluffled his feathers at him disapprovingly. He nodded. "I know; I know. But suspicious or not, Vader will be leading the clean up and recovery. If anything is to be found, he'll have it."
Luke headed for the door. Ghost was immediately barring his way.
"And where are you-?"
"To Vader's castle."
"Uhhhh," Link cut in. "What?"
Ghost looked ready to impale him.
"Look," Luke countered, "the fact is; Vader is the source. And, as you said, he's suspicious. So, if we want to head him off a the pass then I have to go there. Otherwise, his suspicions will bring him here. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but we don't want that, do we?"
Ghost grimaced, turned away. They both knew he was right. And this was his chance to redeem himself. He was burning with the shame of actually failing; here was an opportunity to set himself back to his unblemished track record again.
"Ghost, guys," he insisted, "I know I can do this; but I can't make anything right if you try and stand in my way."
Ghost's face was murderous. "Be careful; you want to live long enough to take more suicidal risks, after all." Her tone was durasteel.
That was as close to consent as he was going to get. Luke grinned; took her shoulders-very carefully. "I'll be back, you and Noc start taking apart the Intel until then."
And he was gone.
He didn't see Ghost watch after him, nor how once he was out of sight she said: "You two, get me Warhead; now."
A/N: Hey all; not much of a chapter I know, but I wanted this out of the way for the next scene. Thanks for reading! :)