BAD MOON RISING
by MJ Mink
"Good. I can feel your anger." The Emperor's gnarled hand stroked the hilt of the lightsaber, satisfaction echoing through his drawling voice. "I am defenseless. Take your weapon! Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the Darkside will be complete."
Luke shuddered with the effort of containing his anger. The temptation was overwhelming; it engulfed his senses, threatening to shatter his increasingly fragile hold on the Light. He clenched his fists and swirled back toward the viewport, desperately straining for control. Brilliant flashes of light gave testimony to the Emperor's assertion that Alliance ships were being devastated by the ambush. And Han and Leia, down on the moon--they were going to die!
He turned back, staggering, hungering at the proximity of his weapon. If he could strike down Palpatine swiftly-- He pleaded silently with his father, sensing the ambivalence in the older Jedi. If his father would only help him, if he could at least count on his lack of opposition, then he would succeed. But despite everything, despite the presence of his only son, Lord Vader's loyalty was still to his Emperor. The Emperor Palpatine--the evil scourge of the galaxy, the darkest, vilest, most corrupt destroyer, murderer of friends, thief of fathers--
The lightsaber flew into his hand as his rage and desperation peaked. Filled with furious determination, he swung it--but the downward slash was deflected by the blood red energy of his father's saber. Their blades sizzled loudly as they clashed, and Palpatine laughed with delight at the sound. Then, without warning--
--the opposition was removed and, with all his weight behind it, his blade sliced cleanly through Palpatine's neck.
The shock was so great that Luke nearly released his grip on the saber. He stared at Palpatine's empty robes--the Emperor's body was gone, vanished. He and his father were alone in the eerie stillness of the throne room--no cackling laughter, no oppressing evil, no hopeless despair. He looked up, stunned, his chest heaving.
Vader rehooked his own lightsaber to his belt. "Do you wish to kill me also?"
Luke blinked at the great black figure, then shook his head vehemently. "No! But--why? Why did you--"
"Turn off my saber?" Vader's voice was taut. "Because he would have killed you. Fortunately, he was so thoroughly absorbed in you that he did not anticipate my treachery. That is why it succeeded."
"There will be time to discuss everything later, my son. For now, just know that you were right about me. We must leave the Death Star--unless you wish to remain onboard while your friends destroy it." The last was almost a question.
Luke shook his head. He followed his father toward the docking bay. There was not a moment to spare to consider the wisdom of allowing the Dark Lord to leave--but it felt right. Ben and Yoda had said that he need only confront his father; it was his own mind, Luke realized, that had equated confront with kill. If Vader could be turned back to the Light, if Anakin Skywalker could live again, it was worth any personal risk that he might take. And his father had saved his life--was that not an act of the Light?
His father gestured him to a beautiful Skipray, modified in a manner he'd never seen before. "Begin the warm-up procedure. I will return momentarily."
He didn't question the command; he sensed no deceit or dark purpose in his father's mind. The craft was unfamiliar to him, but it was simple enough to follow standard procedures. The controls were state-of-the-art and more; he had studied similar, less elaborate setups, longing to fly such a craft. He flipped the ignition switches, adjusted the fuel feed ratio. Through the open hatch, he heard the sudden, steady blare of a shrill warning horn. Then came the heavy footsteps of his father. He rose to vacate the pilot's seat but Vader gestured him to remain in place and took the copilot's position himself. Wordlessly, Luke lifted the craft and glided it out of the bay opening. Behind him he sensed a tumult of confusion and panic as people poured into the bay, heading for the other crafts.
"What's going on?"
"I ordered evacuation of the Star. It is an immoral weapon and should be destroyed. The same cannot be said of its crew."
That surprised him. He tore his attention away from the controls and shot a sharp glance at the Dark Lord.
"I could not sacrifice you--did you think I would then allow half a million people to die needlessly, my son?"
Involuntarily, he thought of Alderaan, but before he could respond, his father said: "I despised the wanton waste of Alderaan--both its people and its resources. Perhaps I am not quite the monster you believe."
"I don't--" Luke stopped himself. That was what he had told himself to keep Vader at an emotional distance. "Perhaps not."
"Mind the variable stabilizer control. It is extremely sensitive, too much so." His father's hands danced over the controls, taking command from him for a brief moment to demonstrate the proper technique.
Luke copied the motions, delighted in the response his most delicate gesture received. "This is wonderful. I've never heard of a model III Skipray--is it new?"
"It is a prototype of my own design." Vader frowned at the course Luke had programmed into the computer. "I do not wish to become a prisoner of the Rebel Alliance."
He hesitated. It was not his wish either. "What's an alternative?"
"Take me to the Adega System."
"Adega--in the Outer Rim territories?" he asked incredulously. "Why there?"
"The principal inhabited planet, Adegaron, is an ancient Jedi stronghold, and their medical technology is the most advanced in the galaxy." His father paused and gazed at the distant battle. "It is a closely guarded secret that they have combined their technology with the gifts of an ancient line of healers--healers the Jedi used for thousands of years."
"You can be healed?" His voice trilled with excitement at the thought of the endless possibilities this could open for both of them.
"It would seem so. Palpatine would never allow it, and I was unable to repair the major damages without assistance. My knowledge of Jedi history, plus some discreet probing, revealed Adegaron's secrets."
An idea scratched at the back of his mind. "How long have you been planning this, Father?"
"Adegaron or the Emperor's demise?" Taking his lack of argument as assent, Vader programmed their new destination in the astrogation computer and began calculating the coordinates for travel through hyperspace. "After I sensed your Force presence in the first Death Star, I began my research. When you refused to join me in Cloud City, I devised another plan. I transferred my personal resources to Adegaron. I commissioned construction of this ship. Of course, its success was totally dependent upon your actions. So I waited for you, hoping that your obsession with the Lightside could be overcome long enough to destroy Palpatine. You exceeded my expectations most admirably, my boy."
Strike me down with all your hatred, and your journey towards the Darkside will be complete.
It had been his Darkside that had destroyed the Emperor, Luke realized uneasily. Would that have some lingering implications for him? Did it mean he'd fallen to the Dark like Ben and Yoda had warned--had he suffered his father's fate? Or did the fact that the Emperor died negate the manner in which he'd used the Force to destroy the Evil One? Was saving his father an act of the Light? Was there some kind of cosmic scoreboard that tracked his actions? Maybe the time would come when he would feel comfortable talking to his father about these worries.
"If they can heal you, then what will you do? Go back to what's left of the Empire?" His voice quivered because the possibility frightened him. To lose his father after finally reaching him, to have to go on alone, would be too much to bear.
A dark, gloved hand was placed on his arm. "Then you will have rescued your father, Jedi Anakin Skywalker, from the Emperor's prison. The prison where Vader and Palpatine held him for the last twenty-odd years. You will be a hero--and it will allow us to remain together."
The audacity of the plan took Luke's breath away. Slowly, a grin began to form on his face. "And you really think that would work?" he asked, struggling to remain skeptical despite the sudden rush of excitement. "You think people would believe it?"
"Yes," Vader said flatly. "People believe what they see. No one will see Vader escape the destruction of the Death Star. They will believe he died with his Emperor--you will confirm that--in fact, you may say that you killed both of them. Then they will see Anakin Skywalker, a benign middle-aged Jedi, as pious as a millenium is long. Son saves long-lost father by slaying dragons--a mythic, romantic tale that no one will be able to resist."
Something in the words--or the attitude--made him uneasy, but it was nothing that he could separate from other parts of the plan. On the surface, it seemed ideal: he would have his father back, the galaxy would have another Jedi--he would have a Jedi to train and help him! But had his father truly turned his back on the Dark? He wanted so badly to believe it, but-- "The whole plan," Luke said slowly, "is based on a lie."
The cockpit was suddenly lit with a bright flash, and he twisted his head around. The Death Star! Leia and Han had succeeded. Through the Force he felt the cries of those still left on the station--too many had died. But many more had escaped, thanks to his father.
He closed his eyes briefly, then refocused on the current problem. It was a blessing that he hadn't told Leia that Darth Vader was his--and her--father. He'd really intended to, when he'd drawn her away from the Ewok's celebration, but after her disturbed reaction to his declared intention to confront Vader, he'd decided to wait. If he hadn't returned from the confrontation, there was no reason--despite Ben's warning--to sacrifice her life for some obscure Jedi goal.
Now...it was cruel, he knew, but it would be best to let her think he'd died in the explosion of the Death Star. Someday he might return to the Alliance; for now he would keep the entire matter of Anakin Skywalker to himself. To protect her. And--that secret belonged to him. He was the one who'd suffered and sacrificed for it, not Leia, not anyone else. Maybe neither Leia nor Anakin would ever need to know that she was his daughter--then he would be Anakin Skywalker's only child. His face flushed with shame at his selfishness; but he buried the thought deep within his heart.
"It is the result which matters, Luke, not the means by which it is achieved. The benefits for the galaxy will far outweigh the small falsehood we must promote. If it soothes your conscience, this lie is very close to the truth. Anakin Skywalker was a prisoner of Vader and Palpatine. And you have freed me, my brilliant son."
A glow of warmth surrounded his uneasiness. That much was true. And hadn't Ben himself said that truths were subject to each person's point of view? Perhaps there were problems in this basic philosophy, but he needed to believe in his father. Certainly, they could work out any differences. He nodded as the ship jumped into lightspeed. Before his father's unshakeable confidence, he felt helpless--or wanted to feel that way. He was unwilling to say or do anything that might compromise this shaky ground on which they stood. Later, when they knew each other better, he would share his feelings and concerns. But for now--
Now the miracle had happened and he had his father back. Nothing else
The Adegaron technique consisted of microsurgeries, repairing small areas at a time to reduce trauma to the patient's Jedi senses. It was a method that had been developed prior to the Clone Wars and refined through the intervening decades using computer-generated Jedi patients. The Jedi remained conscious during the procedure, with anesthetics used during only the most invasive and complex surgeries. After the sixteenth such microsurgery was performed on his father, Luke did as he had after each session: he sat at Vader's--no, Anakin Skywalker's--side and waited, guarding the patient during this vulnerable time when he was one with the Force.
When the healing trance was completed, Anakin's eyes fluttered open slowly. His head turned to the left, seeking and finding his son at his usual post by his bedside. They both smiled. Luke rested his fingers on the back of his father's hand. "Almost over," he said softly.
The crystal blue of the eyes grew brighter as the fog of the trance lifted. Anakin nodded. Luke stroked the short tufts of hair that were beginning to sprout from the implants on the bare head. The scars had been treated and were much less noticeable; Luke was delighted to see that the incoming hair would cover most of them as it grew longer. But it was the face's appearance that pleased him the most. Without the need for the mask, the skin had responded to the pure, fresh air of Adegaron. It had grown pink and healthy, the old, withered layers sloughed off. Anakin was younger than Luke had assumed at first sight, only forty-eight--which meant that he would have his father for many decades to come.
"How go your studies?"
Luke grinned at the question. His father's first words after surgery were always about him. "I have a lot of questions, but...they're going well." He leaned back in the chair. When his father wasn't able to be with him, he studied the holotapes Anakin had made. Tapes explaining the history of the Jedi, the Emperor's Purge, the Clone Wars--all those things he had thought he would never know. He was engrossed and thrilled by the richly woven tapestry of Jedi lore. Then sometimes, in the evenings before scheduled surgeries, they would talk--philosophy, mostly, searching for common ground, sharing their differences. Luke was pleased with their many areas of mutual agreement. The foundation of is father's philosophies was not so very different from his own; in fact, it was better thought-out and made more sense. Much of what Yoda and Ben had taught him was contained within Anakin, and his lengthy explanations helped clarify much of Luke's confusion. He looked forward to these sessions and wondered if his father would feel well enough tonight.
"I believe I will be sufficiently recovered." The bed raised itself to a comfortable incline at Anakin's gesture.
Luke chuckled. "You're very good at that. Can you sense everything I think?"
"Only those things that are aimed at me. I am flattered to say, that seems to encompass most of your thoughts." Anakin coughed once, but it was a deep and wrenching sound.
Luke squeezed his hand and released it. "You'd better not talk. Rest. I'll come back later." Bending, he pressed a kiss to the new, soft skin of the forehead. "Sleep well, my father."
Outside the medical center he strolled through the shimmering grasses and took a seat on one of the rounded benches that graced the campus. He looked up at his father's window and tried to repress his thoughts; it wouldn't do for his endless mullings to keep his father awake.
Father. How often that word passed through his mind. He had never thought he would have the chance to say it in his life and now he'd repeated it, both silently and aloud, thousands of times.
Luke sighed and pushed to his feet. There were some minor modifications
he wanted to make to the Skipray's coolant recycling system; he might as
well work on it today so he could be with his father in the evening and
for the next few days before the final surgery.
"Palpatine," he said suddenly. "Was the Emperor--?"
"Palpatine was not Jedi. He was a Sith sorcerer--the last of that vile line! Only the Sith could control the Jedi. And now we are free. Free to rule as we please, free to do as we please. You and I answer to no one in the galaxy."
A shiver traveled the length of his spine, raising bumps on his arms. He was sure Yoda would disagree, but it made sense! The two Skywalkers were the only Jedi left anywhere. Jedi were special, unique anyway--and if they were the only Jedi--then they were superior to all other beings. Not that he wanted to be a ruler, not like the Emperor--of course not!--but if they could aid and steer the galaxy, it would be to the benefit of all its inhabitants. Now that the Alliance was powerful enough to challenge the Empire politically, someone would have to bring the factions together, guide the galaxy into a new shape. Who better to do that than the defenders of the Old Republic, the Jedi? "I...have never had any political aspirations," Luke said cautiously.
"Of course not." Anakin retrieved his mug and took a long swig of the healing tea. "This is vile stuff.... You are still young and full of adventure, Luke. I, however, have developed more than a passing interest in politics over the last decade. I intend to enter the arena. I intend to rule."
Silence filled his head like a blanket of soft, smothering down. Something more was not being revealed--yet it was something they both accepted. What was it? Luke's brow furrowed in concentration. "We are...going to work together."
"We are going to rule together," his father said softly.
"I don't know if I want to rule."
"Yes, you do. You know exactly what you want, son of Skywalker. You merely hesitate to admit your ambitions to yourself. Greatness is your destiny."
No one had ever understood that. And now here was his father, a man who saw him clearly, who understood him as no one else ever had or ever could. Who accepted his secret desires without condemnation--even with praise. Without his father, he would have had no future. He would have served the Alliance as a pilot until he could no longer fly or until he died in a mission. There would have been nothing else. But now, with Anakin Skywalker at his side, his future was unlimited. As a Jedi, he held supreme power in the galaxy--of course he wouldn't misuse it, but just having it, just knowing it existed and it belonged to him--that was glory enough for him.
Understanding swept through him like a gale, blowing away all his uneasiness and inferior feelings. He smiled at his father, his supreme Jedi father. "Teach me everything you know," Luke whispered. "I must understand it all. I must understand everything."
"You will." Anakin's smile was slow and pleased. "And you will do
everything, my brilliant son. You will be the greatest Jedi the galaxy
has ever known. I will be your teacher. Now let us begin tonight's session
with a lesson on learning to perceive the deepest secrets of others."
Anakin Skywalker admired his repaired visage in the mirror. The final surgery had been as successful as the preceding ones; while he would never be his former self internally, externally he displayed a fine, handsome appearance. He smoothed back the hair that had grown in thick and full over the last year. It was darker than it had been, though now it was peppered lightly with silver streaks that gave him a distinguished air. He fingered the soft fabrics of his new garments; a refined and updated version of the shabby homespun Jedi robes--in ivory for him and black for his son, they added an illusion of drama to their images. He enjoyed the visible impact the pair of them made whenever they appeared in public together. Power. It was a viable entity that could be sensed by even the most humble of beings.
His thoughts drifted to Luke. What a fine son he'd sired! Luke was quick, both in study and physically, and he was so eager for Jedi knowledge. Not for him the mealy-mouthed ramblings of that weak Yoda, Kenobi's teacher. No, his son would have all his knowledge, his son would combine Dark and Light as he himself did and become infinitely powerful. Together they would bring order to the galaxy--rule it as it was meant to be ruled.
And now it was time to take his son to Coruscant, to Imperial City. He'd been monitoring events closely, allowing the natural deterioration of a government whose brain had been excised. Both Palpatine and Vader were gone; the Imperial bureaucracy cried out for a strong leader. A Jedi leader. Anakin Skywalker, Emperor. He knew all their secrets; they would never know he held Vader's memories. He could destroy the would-be usurpers, the ambitious officers, with his knowledge of their minds. His son would be his soldier, his protector, his second-in-command. Combined, their power was greater, far greater, than Palpatine's.
Everything was as he had planned.
Luke straightened his tunic, trying to ignore the wild racing of his heart. He waited beside his father in the studio, trying to calm himself. But the turmoil around him was too distracting--and he didn't want to miss a moment of the excitement. This would be the first broadcast on the partially restored HoloNet and it would be the first news to galactic citizens about their new...rulers. He frowned uncertainly. His father had declared himself Emperor here on Coruscant, but would he really go through with telling the rest of the galaxy? There was still some doubt in Luke's heart about the path they were embarking upon. He trusted his father implicitly, at least trusted his good intentions. But was a resumption of the monarchy truly the right way?
Still...it made him the Emperor Regent. He could feel Power flowing through him--it was from the Force and it was good.
Last night, in the privacy of his new, princely quarters, Obi-Wan Kenobi had come to him with more lies and warnings. He'd ignored the old spirit and his utterings--Obi-Wan had proven that his own words were worthless. His father was right about Kenobi: a weakling, lying to achieve his obscure personal goals. Kenobi wanted to use him; if Luke Skywalker was going to be used, he would allow only his father to do it. His father might use, but he also shared. And he knew his father's love for him was true and pure.
Large fingers brushed across his shoulders, flicking away imaginary lint. He straightened into a military bearing and smiled at his father.
"Excellent. You look both strong and friendly. You will do well."
"I'm nervous. Aren't you?"
"I am not. But it is a perfectly acceptable feeling." Anakin smiled at him.
Luke drank in the sight of his fully restored father. They were so much alike; anyone seeing them would know immediately they were father and son. Except for height. If only he were taller. He barely topped his father's shoulder. Still, he was proud, so proud, to be Anakin Skywalker's son. His gravest reservation about their new positions was that their personal time together might become limited.
"We will not allow that to occur," his father whispered. "Now...are you ready, my brilliant son?" Skywalker didn't wait for an answer; he proceeded across the studio and took his place in front of the vid cams.
Luke followed more slowly, reflecting on his father's passage. The Dark Lord's bold stride was completely erased; Anakin Skywalker walked at a more stately, deliberate pace, full of serene confidence. Luke tried to imitate the walk. He stood beside his father, waiting for the green light that would signal the start of the broadcast and projecting peace toward their immense, invisible audience.
The light flicked on, and the tranquil face of Anakin Skywalker filled monitors across the galaxy.
"Greetings, gentlebeings," his father began. "I am Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Master and Emperor of the New Alliance. I am responsible for the restoration of the HoloNet. This is the first of many future broadcasts which will eventually be transmitted to all planets as the restoration continues. No longer will the galaxy be separated by time and distance. Bold plans are in the works for our future. As my ancestors did for the last thousand generations, Jedi knights once again protect the peace and unite the galaxy under a common bond. My son, Luke Skywalker, the Emperor Regent and former commander in the Rebel Alliance, stands beside me and will act as my authority in administering justice throughout the many systems which comprise our galaxy. He will also act as liaison with the Rebel Alliance and represent their concerns in the New Alliance Senate. The Senate will be reestablished within six months of today; your planetary governments will shortly receive information and instructions regarding the selection of senators. Many of you may remember me from the Old Republic, from the days before the rise of Emperor Palpatine. For twenty years I was held captive by Palpatine and his minion, Darth Vader. My son set me free, and together we destroyed Palpatine and Vader. Now we will rule together and will strive to bring peace and order to the galaxy. Our futures are linked with yours. Expect more detailed announcements soon." Anakin paused and smiled reassuringly into the cam. He raised his right hand in a benediction. "May the Force be with us all."
The linkup ended. Flooded with relief and love, Luke embraced his father. He felt full with promises--of his future, of his potential. He'd just been made the representative for the entire Rebel Alliance! Every door was open to him now. And his father had opened them.
Then he stepped back, his hand sliding down Anakin's arm and reluctantly releasing it. Slowly he bent to kneel on one knee. He raised his eyes to his father's face. "I will serve thee to the best of my ability, my master," he said clearly and proudly.
Anakin's face glowed with satisfaction. "I know you will. And now, never kneel to me again, my son. We are equals in all things."
Yes. Luke rose, chin held high. None would question his authority; he was the Emperor Regent, he was the Prince of the Galaxy.
He was what he'd always dreamed of becoming. And his father had made
his dreams come true.
"Leia?" Han felt uncharacteristically hesitant. "It's almost time for the HoloNet cast. You coming?"
"Yes." She turned away from the viewport slowly, her beautiful face tired and worn.
She'd been that way for too long, tired and depressed since Luke's disappearance. Han was stunned when she'd told him about Luke--the confrontation with Vader, losing his hand, and then leaving them on Endor to confront Vader and Emperor. The kid must have gone crazy! This Jedi business had done something to him--curse that blasted old Kenobi for filling the boy's head with nonsense. And now Leia refused to accept that Luke had died when the Death Star exploded--how did she think he could have escaped? Anyway, if he'd escaped, he would have contacted them. But Leia insisted Luke wasn't dead--though it was something more than faith that drove her to that conclusion. Han suspected she felt guilty for leading the kid on all these years. Sith knew what happened between them while he was frozen in carbonite!
He took her hand and placed in on his arm as they walked through the tunnels. "Do you think the rumors are true about a new emperor?"
"I hope not." She roused herself with an effort, and he saw the princess, the former senator, return. "Though I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that Palpatine had a successor already named."
They found seats in the assembly hall. Mon Mothma was lecturing on their good fortune in being on a planet that had its HoloNet restored, that the Emperor's death had disoriented the troops so much that the Rebels had met with little resistance, that they had time to replenish their stores and ammunition, on and on, didn't the woman ever shut up? It was a relief when the huge screen flickered to life. A pleasant-faced man smiled at him. Han instinctively liked the face. There was something comforting about it and the eyes--well, the eyes reminded him of Luke. Seemed like a lot reminded him of Luke these days.
"Greetings, gentlebeings," the man began. "I am Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Master and Emperor of the New Alliance. I am responsible for--"
The next sentence was drowned by the murmuring of the audience. "Skywalker?" Han muttered. He turned to Leia. "Is he any relation--"
Her face was filled with astonishment. "Goddess, Han! Could that be Luke's father? Could he be alive? But Luke...."
He motioned her into silence; he didn't want to miss any more of the new Jedi Emperor's words. It was then that the view changed, pulled out, and he was looking at Luke standing beside his father, barely hearing the explanation of this miracle. People were rising to their feet. Han stood also, pushing his way forward to see the image of his friend. This was now, right now, Luke was alive and he was in Imperial City right this minute!
He studied the familiar face. Luke looked the same--almost. Older, perhaps. Or wiser. Certainly better dressed. Solemn, that was it. Serious. Like he'd really taken this Jedi business to heart. And what was this about representing the Rebel's concerns in the Imperial Senate? Mothma wasn't going to like that!
But, hell, Luke was alive! More than alive, he was practically Emperor! The damned brat had really landed on his feet this time!
Han threw back his head and laughed.
Luke sat up in bed and stared at the apparition that glowed in the darkened room. "Go away."
"Luke, you must listen," Obi-Wan said sternly. "Vader is not--"
"I'll tell you what he's not--he's not Vader!" Luke hissed. "He's Anakin Skywalker and he's my father. Now go away and don't come back. I'll not listen to your lies anymore."
"I'm not lying to you, Luke."
"Why--have you reformed?" He commanded the lights to switch on, hoping the spirit would disappear in their glare. But Ben still glowed with unearthly brilliance. Father!
"You don't need to call Vader, child. I won't harm you. I've come to warn you about him. He is still the Dark, Luke, he is still evil. Oh, granted, he's very good at deception, but search your feelings. You know he is the Dark."
The door to his suite slid open and Anakin hurried in, wrapped in a trailing robe. "I heard your call-- You!" He whirled at Ben, fury crackling in his voice. "Have you come to spread more of your poison in my son's head? Leave us! I'll not allow you to harm him further!"
The apparition raised its hands. "I come only to speak the truth--you know which truth, Darth. It is you who harms him, not I."
"Darth Vader is dead," his father said flatly. "I am Anakin Skywalker, and I am not going to debate you. Leave my son alone." He turned to Luke. "Together we can destroy his spirit. Link your mind with mine and I will show you how."
"No!" Ben said sharply. "My work is not yet finished. I must--"
"We could destroy his spirit?" Luke echoed dreamily. His mind felt hazy. "Forever?"
"Yes, forever." Anakin moved to stand at his bedside and rested his hand on Luke's head. "Let me show you. Open yourself to me."
"No!" Ben repeated. "I will leave you now. But, Luke, remember my words!"
The vision vanished. Luke shuddered and looked up at his father. "I'm afraid of him. Of his words."
Anakin sat on the edge of the bed. "What did he say to you?"
"That...." His voice faltered when his father clasped his hand. He looked down at the joined fingers. "That you're still Darkside and evil. That you are corrupting me."
The older man sighed. "I am what I am, Luke. I have never pretended to be otherwise. I accept the evil I have done in my life. But you are my son. You are precious to me. I would never deliberately harm you. Look into my mind," he invited. "See the truth for yourself."
Luke shook his head. To invade his father's mind would show a lack of trust. "I believe you," he whispered. "I just wish Ben would quit bothering me."
"Has he appeared to you often?"
There was a strange note in his father's voice; it made him hesitate. "A few times," he said carefully.
"You should have told me." The response was clipped and sharp.
Luke winced. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to...bother you."
"Don't lie to me, child."
He caught his breath. The hand that held his fingers squeezed them tightly. Too tightly. "I...didn't know what to do. I didn't want to upset you," he said truthfully. "I didn't want you to know what he was saying about you."
His fingers were patted gently and released. "If he appears again, we will destroy him. If I am not with you, call to me and I will assist."
"What do you mean...destroy?"
"Don't worry, my son." His father's voice was rich with warmth again. "He should be one with the Force, not lingering on this mortal plane, interfering with lives he has left behind. We will assist him in making the transition."
"Oh." Strange definition of destroy. But if his father said that was what they must do, then he would do it. He looked up into Anakin's eyes. "I would do anything for you."
"I know." The Emperor Skywalker smiled. "And, in that case, go to sleep. For me. You have much to learn before you return to the Rebel Alliance, and very little time in which to learn it. Sleep peacefully, my son."
If he could. When silence returned to the room, Luke closed his eyes and emptied his mind. Sleep, his father ordered. So he would
Knowing that even if what Ben said was true, it didn't matter. Anakin
Skywalker was his father. That was the only thing in his life that had
He was nervous and it was understandable. Over a year had passed since he'd seen his old friends. Luke settled back in the comfortable seat and tried to relax. He was still unaccustomed to being piloted while on official duty. He much preferred flying himself, protocol be damned, and frequently did. But when they neared their destination, he always surrendered the controls to his personal pilot so he would arrive in a diplomatically correct fashion.
Diplomacy would be important for these meetings with the Rebel council. They had formed an uneasy relationship with the New Alliance, and the Emperor Regent was finally being sent to smooth whatever ruffled feathers and fur he could. It was Luke's first independent diplomatic mission and a test of what he'd learned at his father's side. Anakin's skill at diplomacy amazed his son; certainly he hadn't learned it as Darth Vader. So much of his father was still a puzzle to him, and he wished he had a deeper understanding of the older man. He knew that Anakin still kept him at an emotional distance, and it was very frustrating.
After the craft had landed, he tried a trick his father had taught him: he mentally stepped outside his body to study his appearance. It had been disorienting at first, but now it was second nature. He looked calm and mature, not the same brash boy Han and Leia had met five years ago. Maybe he did look too young to be Emperor Regent--but it was time youth ruled the galaxy. They couldn't do any worse than the older people had for so many years.
His clothing was elegant yet simple, as befitted a young Jedi. His high-collar robe added a touch of nobility, and his lightsaber reminded everyone of his double power. Ruler and wizard--would Han and Leia treat him with the respect he deserved?
Mon Mothma and the High Council awaited him in the docking bay, flanked by an honor guard that was considerably less impressive than the former Imperial troops that his father now used. Still, the sentiment was appropriate. Luke stopped at the bottom of the ramp and inclined his head. "Mon Mothma. A pleasure to see you again."
She didn't kneel to him--no one did. Was it a deliberate oversight or would they kneel to no one except the elder Emperor Skywalker? His eyes narrowed, and he allowed his displeasure to flow through the bay. He saw the change in her face, and she slowly knelt.
"Welcome to Yavin, your highness." Behind her the council followed her example.
He graced her with a smile and gestured her to rise. They walked slowly down the aisle made by the troops. As they passed, the others knelt, including Princess Leia of the dead planet Alderaan, kneeling to Luke Skywalker--the farmboy she'd always teased.
It was a heady feeling. He maintained his serious expression, though he really wanted to wink at her.
In the temporary council chambers--a converted grange hall that still smelled vaguely of produce and worse--he stood at the head of the main table, waiting for all the members to filter in. This time he smiled at Leia when she arrived. She returned a regal nod.
When they were all standing at their assigned chairs, he seated himself and gestured to them. With a grave demeanor, he opened the session. Immediately Mon Mothma brought up the Emperor's Interdict--no access to the HoloNet by any concerns other than the Emperor's government.
Luke inclined his head. "The Interdict will be lifted when the governments of all regions are stable. Until then, we must guard against misuse of the HoloNet by small groups of radicals."
"Such as the Rebel Alliance?" Leia asked sharply, leaning forward. "We are not a small group--we represent the majority of opinion in this galaxy."
"You are not the majority, Princess, except in your own mind." He focused his most intense gaze on her. Friendship could not interfere with his father's goals. "This matter is not subject to debate. And lest you think that your forces can somehow infiltrate and use the HoloNet for your own purposes, I advise you that it is under the protection of Jedi, not that of a mere military force. That settled, we will now discuss your representation in the New Alliance Senate."
While no great strides were made that afternoon, he was pleased with the overall tone of the meeting and knew his father would be, too. Then came an interminable dinner with all the rich foods he hated--so he played the Jedi ascetic and ate sparingly, showing a preference for the fresh vegetable juice. Afterwards, he spoke graciously but briefly to a few recalcitrant members, all the while wondering how soon he could make a decent exit, wanting to seek out Leia. Then she reappeared.
"General Solo is waiting outside to escort me. He hopes to see you, your highness."
Luke gave her a small smile. "I'd be happy to see Han again...your highness. Perhaps he could escort you to my accomodations. We could have a private...audience."
"It would be an honor," she replied lightly. Then something flickered in her eyes-- annoyance? regret?--but then she nodded to him and left.
They showed up at Luke's rustic accomodations an hour later. Han grinned at Luke. "Hey, kid! Lookin' good!"
Luke laughed and threw his arms around him. "So are you, you pirate! Looks like life's been treating you just fine."
"Now that we don't have that crazy emperor hassling us anymore." Han held him at arm's length for a moment, studying his face, then released him. "I was really glad to hear about your father. I'm happy for you, kid."
He sensed Han was sincere, and his heart softened. "Thanks. I'm happy too." He turned and held out his arms to Leia. She nestled her head against his shoulder.
"I'm happy for you, too, Luke. I was so worried. Why didn't you let us know you were all right?"
He didn't have a real explanation and knew the shrug he gave her wasn't satisfactory. "I don't know," he mumbled.
She looked into his eyes and shook her head reprovingly. "Well, at least you're back."
Han tugged on his sleeve. "C'mon, sit down. I want to catch up on what you've been doing--besides what we've seen on the holo. Any special lady in your life?"
He looked around. Kenobi's voice, but his spirit was nowhere to be seen. "Oh, bugger off!" Luke said irritably.
"What?" Han looked injured.
"Not you. Him."
"Who?" Han exchanged a look with Leia that said, the kid's getting weird again.
Luke, listen to me. I must talk to you about Vader. The galaxy is in danger of falling into an abyss of darkness the likes of which we have never seen. Vader cares nothing for you, and you will be--
"Shut up! It's Ben Kenobi. He's been haunting me. Look," he addressed the air, "if you're going to talk, at least have the decency to appear and do it so everyone can hear you. I don't need the Rebel Council thinking I'm crazy."
The air shimmered, and the old man appeared, looking exactly as he had five years earlier, all-pious and all-knowing. "Leia. And Han. I have followed your adventures with great interest."
"He spies on everyone," Luke said darkly. "Why don't you go wherever dead Jedi go and stop following me around."
Han was staring open-mouthed at the apparition. He reached out his hand and poked one finger at the spectre. It passed right through. "Damn."
"General Kenobi," Leia acknowledged politely, as if she saw ghosts every day.
"My dear Leia." The smile was warm, but it faded when it turned back to Luke. "You must tell her."
He set his jaw stubbornly. "No."
"Tell me what?" Brown eyes turned on him, bright with interest.
"Luke, Luke," Ben said, shaking his head. "You need support in your battle against Vader. Leia, you are--"
You will not tell her! For more reasons than he dared explore, he didn't want Leia to know she was his sister. Anakin's daughter. His fear and fury melded into a huge emotional storm and something--he wasn't sure what--happened. The air seemed to snap, and sparks showered around Kenobi's image. "Shut up!" Luke shouted desperately. "Die--and stay dead!" Father, help me!
"Noooo!" Ben's shriek was feeble. The single word ended on a downward note. Leia screamed in pain.
Luke felt the full influx of his father's power, and he turned it on Kenobi, relying on instinct rather than knowledge. He felt a tremendous shudder in his head, and a blazing, splitting pain. The transparent figure coalesced for a moment, then began to disintegrate and he vaguely heard a scream--No, Luke, I won't be able to come back--stop--stop--that ended when the sparkles totally vanished. The room was still, very still. Luke wavered, the strength leaving his limbs. He wobbled to a chair and sank into it. Across the room, Han was supporting Leia, leading her to the sofa. He watched them carefully, wondering exactly what he had done.
You have rid of us Kenobi, my son, my brilliant son!
Dully, he acknowledged his father. Then he was alone again--he'd done what his father wanted and now his father left him. By the Sith, he was tired of constantly striving to receive a little acknowledgement! I wish you loved me, he sent. But received no reply.
"What did you do?" Han asked. There was an edge of anger to his words.
"I...don't know. I think I sent him back to the Force where he belongs. Or do you like the idea of the dead living among us?" His own anger was tightly controlled; he couldn't afford to lose his temper. This was a diplomatic mission, and the things that happened when he lost his temper--
--his saber slicing through Palpatine's neck.
"He was trying to tell me something." Leia's voice was weak, but her gaze was strong. "What was it?"
"What was it?"
"Nothing you need be concerned about." His head was pounding. He closed his eyes, nearly overcome with exhaustion. Whatever power he'd used, it had fairly drained him.
"I want to know what he meant about Vader. Vader's dead--or is he a ghost, too? Is he after you, is he--"
A sudden burst of adrenalin shot him to his feet. "You will know nothing!" he screamed. All the lighting fixtures in the room exploded, raining shards of glass and styrene everywhere. Leia and Han both gave muffled cries. Luke flexed his hands. "Don't make me angry," he warned, his voice shaking with the strain of controlling his turbulent emotions. "Please--don't make me angry."
"I think we should leave," Han said, his fully developed sense of preservation surfacing. He took Leia's arm and pulled her toward the door.
Luke stared at them, concentrating on calmness and peace. The outdoor lights filtering through the louvers gave hazy illumination to their faces. "I'm...sorry. I didn't mean...." "It's okay," Han said in a tone that said just the opposite. "You're tired. It's been a long trip. Maybe you need some rest. Get some sleep. If there's anything I can do, let me know."
He'd never heard Han utter so many cliches. And it all ended with the famous exit line. And if I don't ask, you'll do nothing. "Thanks," he nodded, accepting that they would leave him like this. After all, hadn't he deserted them, allowed them to think he was dead? They owed him no loyalty now. He shut the door behind them and leaned against it. His only remaining friends in the galaxy--and he'd destroyed their friendship. Not that he needed friends. He had his ever-loving father.
Luke moved restlessly through the suite. Parted the shutters and stared at the bright lights of the Rebel camp. Lately, when he was with his father, he always felt dissatisfied, knowing that he needed more than he received. But now that he was alone for the first time, he felt totally lost. Maybe his father didn't love him the way he wished, but it was a damn sight better than nothing. Father?
Yes, my son?
His fingers rubbed against the rough wood. Nothing. I just....
I have been observing. I should have come with you.
He felt sick that his father was disappointed in him. I'm doing well! This afternoon--
Your performance with the Council was excellent. I was referring to your personal needs. I am sorry I can only offer emotional support from a distance.
So his father was aware of his needs after all. Perhaps he was overreacting; he wasn't alone, wasn't lost. Luke closed his eyes and let his father's presence wash over him.
Why is it, my son, that you never touch my thoughts? You may. I have given you permission.
I don't want to. He opened his eyes and stared blankly at the lights. Perhaps honesty-- There are some things I don't want to know.
You don't wish to fully understand my feelings for you?
Exactly. He flinched and wondered if he'd sent that thought. It was less than diplomatic, and he was supposed--
You need not be a diplomat with me, boy.
Is nothing I think or feel private? The anger pushed at him again, and he despaired of ever being free of it. Just--leave me alone!
No. Look in my mind. Now. See how much I care for you.
He had to obey. He opened himself to his father's deepest feelings and found--
--pride. Luke searched through the feelings carefully. His father was proud of him. It was wonderful but-- Is that all you feel for me, pride? No love, no other emotions. And the pride was one of ownership--remarkably similar to what Anakin Skywalker felt for his Skipray.
My son--a prototype of my own design.
Luke withdrew quickly.
I regret that my emotions disappoint you. This is the most I have ever felt for anyone.
What about love? Haven't you ever loved?
He sank down on the floor and pulled his knees up to his chest. Didn't you love my mother?
No. I have never felt that emotion you call love.
Luke sighed. Then you'll never feel it for me.
I have sensed that you also are emotionally crippled. Perhaps it is a family trait.
I'm what?? What do you mean?
Luke, you have never been in love, you have never had a relationship. I am certain that is not normal. So tell me, son, is it so important that I feel for you this thing you call 'love'?
He stared across the darkened room as if his father could materialize just by his will. If you can't feel it, then what does it matter how important it is to me? I will accept what you can give.
There was, after all, no choice. He was committed to supporting his father, to ruling the galaxy, to accepting the Darkness if that was his father's will. His only option was to oppose Anakin Skywalker, and that was the one thing he would never do. It wasn't as though his father treated him badly. No, his father gave him everything he could.
He sensed his father's presence, silent, waiting. In his mind he embraced the older man, accepted his strength, offered his own love. His decision was made, and there would be no turning back. His journey towards the Darkside was complete. It was as they had all warned him: Ben, Yoda, even Palpatine.
His choice had been made when he'd raised his saber against the Emperor. Or perhaps even earlier, when he'd drawn on his father in Cloud City. He had consistently made the wrong choices. And now he had to live those choices.
Luke sank into the depths of the soft sofa and buried his face in his