Penumbra Part 9:
A Light Foreshadowed
Catriona Campbell Boyle
He ran, stumbling through the whiteness, his legs sinking into the softness of the snow around him. He ran, fighting the cold as it clung to his skin, as it sapped the strength from his body. Ran, as fast as the hampering ice would allow.
The creature bellowed its rage behind him.
He fell. Went head long into a snow bank. He turned, his hands fumbling at his belt for his lightsabre. Not there. He squinted in the light - sunlight reflecting off the snow, the sharpness stabbing his eyes....
...this is light. This is pain...
...The creature roared again. Closer.
He turned, pulled himself to his feet. Glanced around looking for a place to hide, looking for shelter from the beasts' fury, from the elements of this wilderness and saw only the wampa charging towards him.
A cry was torn from his throat as the brute fell on him, claws tearing his clothing, his flesh, teeth ripping at his neck...
And there was darkness, a peacefulness into which he gratefully sank...
...stay and be safe, the shadows offered, stay and find strength....
He awakened to darkness, blinked sweat from his eyes as he slowly adjusted to being back in the real world, hearing the trailing whispers of his dream retreat quietly from his mind.
He sat up. "Lights."
And the room was abruptly flooded with light...
...this is light. This is pain...
"Lower,” he ordered through a scarred throat, burned by the freezing carbonite. A gift from his father and his Emperor; a reminder.
The lights dimmed. He rose from the bed, padded across the cool, slick floor of his quarters and stood before the view port. He stared into space, at the Endor moon, at his father's ship as it slid out from the light side of the orb. It was a beautiful view. The deepness of space sprinkled with stars, the aura of life pulsing through the Force from the moon and from the huge ship, that moved gracefully through the system with TIE fighters darting like carrion flies around its bulk and sunlight bursting on its retreating stern.
And the old feelings were there; astonishment, awe, apprehension, excitement and an adrenaline filled sense of discovery and achievement. He had made it! He was here! He was off that sandy planet of his youth; he was where his dreams had promised. Left behind was a life of drudgery on the farm, gone was....
....there had been smoke, blackened bodies lying in the sun. He had shouted for them, saw them, and then buried them. The pain had been stunning, too powerful to allow tears. But he had cried later when…
...he closed his eyes against the memories. They had no place here, on the Death Star. They were dangerous, if his father should sense them, if he dwelled too long in the past he might...
Might what? Might remember who he had been? What he had been? What he had? Might regret the path his life had taken? Might resent what had happened to him, what had been done to him, how he had changed? How he had accepted that which once abhorred him?
Accepted? Had he taken to this life willingly? Had he held out his hands and taken what was offered?
No. It had been forced upon him, thrust into his outstretched hands that had pleaded mercy and had received corruption in its place. But had he not adapted, had he not taken to the life as though born to it, had he not dealt that corruption onto others?
Accepted? Perhaps. But with a purpose...
He shifted his eyes back to the Executor, abruptly aware that his thoughts had been open, that his father could easily have read his feelings. The Dark Lord's presence was strong, but he was pre-occupied elsewhere and he was concerned, but strangely exhilarated, as though something was about to happen, something which caused a thrill of anticipation to course through him and he showed no acknowledgement of his son's questioning touch. At first Sohn was confused, it was unlike his father to be so distant, so ignorant of his offspring.
There was a tone from the doorway and Sohn turned to the sound, glad that his thoughts had been interrupted, stopped; should they have been sensed by his father his punishment would have been swift and severe. And, given that Emperor was due to arrive....
The Emperor! Sohn was struck with a sickening realisation. That was why his father had paid him no heed. Palpatine's ship was approaching. But he had felt nothing, had not sensed his master drawing near....
....this is light. This is pain.....
....but he had. His dreams had been invaded, Palpatine's presence manifesting into the attacking Wampa, the whispers, and he had withdrawn when Sohn wakened, enjoying the continued mind games he had begun when a weakened Luke Skywalker had fallen from the carbonite so many months before.
"You were correct Lord Vader, he is just a boy. Perhaps my fears were unfounded."
The tone from the door, again. Why didn't they just call him on the comlink? Why always the messenger?
The door swept aside revealing a young lieutenant and four stormtroopers. "My Lord Commander," the officer began squinting in the dim light, seeing only shadows and the silhouette of the younger Vader. "The Emperor commands your presence for his arrival."
"Of course he does," Sohn answered, tightly. "And he requested the escort?" As though he would disobey his master's command or, as though he was still a prisoner and Palpatine was letting him know it. He smiled ruefully, cherishing the knot of anger forming within him; as though mere troopers could stop him now.
"Yes, my Lord."
Sohn turned from the soldier, looked back to the view port and watched as a Super Star Destroyer burst from light speed. Palpatine's presence filled him, the man's evil seeping through him, chilling him to the core and he welcomed it, opened to it, allowed it to brush his very soul and he gloried in the freezing passion of the Dark Side of the Force, cried out with the sheer agony of its power. He buckled and fell to the floor.
Then it left him, the Emperor having moved his attentions elsewhere leaving Sohn, on his knees, gasping in calming breaths of air. He closed his eyes and focused inward trying to still his twisting emotions, trying to disperse his lingering revulsion at the Emperor's touch.
"Uh, Sir?" The lieutenant began a distinct nervousness now obvious in his tones. "My Lord, you....."
"I know," Sohn cut in sharply, turning his attention to the soldiers. Smiling inwardly at the fear which he felt within them. Fear of him, of the Emperor, should they not complete their given task. "We cannot keep Him waiting."
He stood, dressed, lifted his mask and helmet from beside the bed, and donned them. Then he lifted his lightsabre - the one Kenobi had given him, his father's - and hooked it to his belt. He strode from the room subduing his feelings, keeping in check the tension and anticipation he knew were growing within him, dulling all facets of his being except those that were Sohn Vader.
Walking down the corridor of waiting troops, he took his place by his father's side as the Emperor's shuttle touched down in the docking bay. The elder Vader did not acknowledge him, his attention focused on the shuttle before them, on the ramp that was lowering. It had been many weeks since they had been with the Emperor, since His Majesty had allowed Sohn to be given a rank within his forces and to leave the nurturing darkness of the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, and Sohn struggled to check the unease, the fear that swelled abruptly within him as the hatch opened. But he rose above the feelings, emptied his mind and stood firm.
Darth Vader kneeled as his master emerged from the ship, sensing his son and those around them doing likewise. Sohn appeared calm, his feelings quiet to the moment at hand. And Vader was proud; proud of his son's ability to control himself. Sohn was indeed strong. Stronger than he, or the Emperor, had imagined and he had sensed his master's disquiet growing even as he had felt Sohn become more sure of himself and his skills.
Proud and yet, there was something else, feelings trailing like a loose thread that teased the edge of his emotions. Feelings he had not felt for a long time, so long he could barely recognise them. Regret, guilt, grief. Regret that his son had turned - after a fight, a struggle. Guilt, that he had been a party to his son's fall, his child's suffering. Grief, that Luke....
.....There was a truth in that name. A truth he was finding more difficult to deny. He had acknowledged Luke Skywalker as his son, and had thus acknowledged the Skywalker name once more as being his own. And, with this acknowledgement came the acceptance of himself as Anakin Skywalker. And he had remembered himself as a youth, the dreams and aspirations he had once had and how none had come to fruition.
They had been lost, as had he, to the Dark Side, to Palpatine's own ambitions.
He knew the moment when Anakin had surfaced, when he became acutely aware of these feelings for the first time. They had just finished another training session with Sohn, Palpatine teasing and goading, demanding more and more. Vader had felt Sohn's anger and frustrations growing with each order, and suddenly the Emperor had ended the session and turned his attentions to the affairs of state, dismissing father and son with a wave of his hand. The youth had been interrupted during a sabre drill, one they had criticised and scorned time after time, and now he was doing it correctly it was to be left incomplete and unrecognised.
Sohn had stormed away, his fury simmering at the dismissal, his body and mind trembling with exertion. Understanding this, Palpatine had sent a lowly soldier to Sohn's quarters with a trivial request. It was one demand too many. Sohn killed the man, using his rage to crush him. Vader had felt his son's churning emotions, had felt the burst of sheer power. When he had arrived at his son's quarters, Sohn had looked up at him from the twisted corpse, his feelings convoluted and confused. Vader felt the revulsion, the grief and shame, as Sohn had stammered out his excuse of; "he annoyed me." But, he had also felt the boy's pleasure, the growing understanding of the power he held within his grasp. He had killed without a weapon, without a reason, using only the Force. His remorse would fade whereas his power could only grow.
Vader had turned from him, left him without a word. What had happened had been a turning point for them both. For Vader it reminded him of his first kill using the dark side. Both father and son had demonstrated the same failing; allowing their anger to cloud them to the dark side and thus leaving them open to its manipulations. Vader's mind had cleared, and Anakin Skywalker stirred within him.
He was also aware that Sohn was holding something close, knew that from the day he had pledged his life to the Emperor and the Empire, the boy had been keeping something hidden. However, Sohn had been clever in diverting both himself and the Emperor from that concealed place when they touched and probed his feelings.
However, his own feelings were a different matter. Although Palpatine had not yet sensed his doubts...
....he knew that Sohn had sensed them, for he had allowed the boy easy access. They now danced lightly around each other, prying and pulling back for fear of rejection. Both were curious, but unwilling to trust, unwilling to be the first to speak the unspoken. He had offered Sohn his hand, had uttered treasonous words, perhaps as a test to Sohn's loyalties for the approaching battle. Perhaps not, for at times now he was unsure of his own motives.
"You could destroy him."
"That is not my place."
Vader had been rejected, but the thoughts had lingered, being nurtured by them both. They could destroy the Emperor together. Then, the galaxy would be theirs. Father and son. The power would be theirs. Vader could almost touch it now, feel it coursing through him. The power...
...and what would they do with that power? End the current conflict, and then what? Bring more death and grief to the systems? Perpetuate what the Emperor had begun? Or would they rebuild what had been destroyed?
"Rise, my friend." The Emperor bid him.
Vader shut off his thoughts, closed down his feelings. Relieved that Palpatine had not chosen the few minutes it took to exit the shuttle to caress his thoughts, to touch the core of his feelings. He rose and walked with his master, passing Sohn without a glance, ignoring the boy. Vader knew, however, that Sohn too had risen and was walking at his back with Moff Jerjerrod, the Death Star's commander, and the other dignitaries.
How wise was it for them to turn their backs on the boy?
"The Death Star will be completed on schedule," he told Palpatine.
"You have done well, Lord Vader," and now he felt his master's touch, allowed himself to open under its command. "But, I sense you are not entirely comfortable with our plans to route the Alliance."
"I would never question your wisdom, my master." Vader assured him, firmly.
"But your son does," The Emperor snapped, turning swiftly to Sohn who dropped to his bended knee once more before him. Palpatine relished the brief burst of terror which rose from the boy. "Explain, child! What gives you the authority to question our actions?"
"Forgive me, Sire," Sohn begged, quietly, calmly. He was horrified at this sudden attention, this humiliation before the battle station's crew. "I know these rebels, their fanaticism."
"Yes, you do, don't you," the Emperor conceded, menacingly, but impressed by Sohn's control. "Perhaps we should discuss this fanaticism further?"
Sohn struggled to contain his emotions, his hatred for this man almost overwhelming his fear of what a further discussion would entail. But beneath this was an understanding that Palpatine did not trust him, indeed the Emperor held his own fear of him; fear of what he was capable of should the tight controls he was subjugated too be loosened just a little too much. And fear him he should. Sohn bowed his head, staring at the polished floor of the docking bay, hiding the slight smile that tinged his lips. "As you wish, Majesty."
Palpatine smiled, savouring the moment, the utter obedience Sohn displayed despite his open hatred. The boy had learned his lessons well and by the time the coming battle was over Sohn would belong fully to the Dark Side. "Perhaps not. Use your knowledge, young one. But use it carefully," he warned. "It may be an advantage to us. Tend to your duties, Commander."
"As you command, Sire."
"Come, Lord Vader," Palpatine requested, now turning from Sohn and walking on. "Remain at my side, we still have much to discuss."
Sohn remained where he was until the Emperor's entourage had passed him by, and the troops had begun to break up. Then he stood and strode from the hanger, mentally daring anyone to smile or glance in his direction.
The Rebel hanger bay was filled to capacity. It looked, Solo mused as he weaved his away through the ships, fighters and personnel, like the Deluvian Vehicle Auctions on Tari'un IV before the bidding started. Noise was just as bad too; he could hardly hear Calrissian beside him speaking.
Now there was a turn about. Lando Calrissian, a Rebel General. The self-centred, self-serving gambler had found a cause....
..So have you...
Well maybe, he conceded to the tiny inner whisper. But then maybe he wanted some pay back for what they did to him: all those months in carbon freeze lost while events twisted themselves around him until very little made sense anymore. Calrissian, who help orchestrate his capture with Vader, helping Leia plan his rescue and risking his life in return. The Empire building another Death Star, and Luke.... Dead, but not dead. Introduced by the Empire as Vader's son....and Leia, his sister....Vader's daughter?
No sense, just an awful truth.
"Look," he interrupted, stopping at the ramp of a small Imperial shuttle, and waving his hand in the direction of the Millennium Falcon. "I want you to take her." Calrissian looked at him dubiously. "I mean it, take her. You need all the help you can get. She's the fastest ship in the fleet."
Lando's doubt turned to a smile. He'd been relishing piloting his old ship again while Han had been missing and, if truth be told, had been reluctant to return her to her rightful owner. Any chance to continue flying her was to be jumped at. "All right, old buddy. You know, I know what she means to you. I'll take good care of her. She...she won't get a scratch."
Han winced, scratch? Had he done the right thing after all? "Right. I got your promise now. Not a scratch."
Lando grinned. "Look, would you get going, you pirate." Then he turned serious, and saluted his friend. "Good Luck."
Han returned the gesture, "you too." He turned then and walked up the shuttles ramp.
Leia was frowning at the control panel in front of her and Chewbacca was gesturing and complaining at the blinking lights on the co-pilot console as Han entered the cockpit. "You got her warmed?" he asked, skirting past Threepio who, for once, was quietly buckling himself into an acceleration chair.
"Yes," Leia answered him over Chewie's rumbles. "She's coming along nicely."
Chewie shifted his bulk in the confines of the co-pilot chair, and barked loudly at Han. The Corellian grimaced at the Wookiee's words, but could offer no consolation except; "Yeah, well, I don't think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her, Chewie."
He settled into the pilot's chair taking a moment to familiarise himself with the shuttle's controls. He glanced up, looked out the cockpit window and stopped when he saw the Millennium Falcon sitting across the hanger.
What a piece of junk!
Han dismissed Luke's past burst of derision. The kid had come to appreciate the Falcon, had pleaded to be allowed to pilot her, and besides it was a long time ago now. Things were different, Luke was....different. The Falcon was looking good, looking sharp and eager. He'd spent hours working on her - those he could afford since becoming a Rebel General - had relished every task, every cross of wires, every instrument light, every power cell he installed. It had helped take his mind off things, helped refocus him to the future instead of looking to the past and everything that had occurred since Hoth...
...and Han felt a chill.
A warm hand was placed on his shoulder.
"Hey, are you awake?"
Han pulled himself back a little, still staring out at the Falcon. "Yeah. I just got a funny feeling. Like I'm not gonna see her again."
Chewbacca caught his words, looked up, and he too, gazed out at their ship; memories chasing each other through his mind.
Leia patted Han's upper arm. "Come on, General, let’s move."
Han tore his eyes away from the freighter to the controls before him, and the mission ahead. "Right," he agreed with Leia. "Chewie, lets see what this piece of junk can do. Ready, everybody?"
Leia glanced behind her at the ground squad in the passenger compartment. "We're all set."
Han gunned the throttle and the shuttle moved forward past the Falcon, past waiting X-Wings and ground crews, and out through the docking bays doors to the space beyond.
"Here we go again." Threepio commented, as Han manoeuvred the shuttle past the ships of the fleet.
"All right, hang on." Han told them as the star lights beyond the cockpit window streaked to hyperspace.
Standing by his X-Wing, Wedge Antilles watched the Tydirium leave the docking bay sending his silent best wishes after them. His fate, and that of every fighter pilot, was in their hands. It was up to that one small group to deactivate the Death Star's shields to allow the fighters access to the battle station's interior. If they failed in that task then the entire foundation of the attack would fail, and with it the Rebellion itself. He was glad that burden did not rest on his shoulders.
But that didn't mean he didn't have burdens of his own. His was knowledge he didn't really want, knowledge that he could meet an old friend in battle and be forced to kill him, or be killed by him.
"Hey, Wedge! Deep thoughts?"
He turned and found the Deck Officer watching him. "Nah, just thoughts."
"Dangerous things at times like this, Commander."
Wedge grimaced, and then smiled sadly. "I was just wishing Luke was here."
"Skywalker?" The Deck Officer questioned, looking out to the stars beyond the docking bay doors. "I'm sure he'll be with us, sir. In spirit at least."
"I hope you're right." Wedge told him quietly, following his gaze. And I hope I'm wrong.
"Pull in tighter, number two," Sohn commanded, as he and his squad came around the Death Star for the second sweep of their patrol. He hated this routine, this numbing boredom. This waiting. And waiting they were. Waiting for the Alliance to make their move, to break the monotony. Every hour that past brought the battle closer, heightened the tension every man felt. However, they were ready; the Emperor had planned it all to the tiniest detail himself. Victory was assured, and the Dark Side would....
"Always in motion is the future. Difficult to see...."
Yoda's words now mocked him. If he had seen his future clearly, would he still be here? Would he have taken a different path? One which did not have him running off to Bespin to save his friends. Would he have sat in the mud of Dagobah, continued his lessons while those he cared for screamed and died?
"And sacrifice Han and Leia?"
"If you honour what they fight for… Yes."
Yes, he had honoured it, valued it. The fall of the Empire, freedom for the systems and for himself. He still could tingle with the dream of it. But, he had valued Han and Leia more... No, that was a lie. He had valued facing Vader more. Valued facing the man who he had been lead to believe had killed his father. Valued standing before him as a Jedi and as an equal.
A small smile creased his lips. How wrong he had been, then. But he still valued this idea. Valued it even more now that he knew Vader was his father.
His flight crossed the path of the Executor. His father's ship. However, Vader was not on board; his father had been spending much of his time with the Emperor. Sohn could only guess at what the two discussed and plotted when alone together, but he could sense his father was.....
There was a whisper, a light caress at the edge of his mind like a breeze gently brushing by. And then it was gone. He frowned, confused by this wave within the Force. This had not come from Vader, or the Emperor. Nor was it a feeling of his own concerning events and possibilities. It had come from another, another whose presence rippled the Force as they passed. And they were familiar to him.
He banked his fighter, broke away from the formation of his flight and ignored the questions from his wing-man. Again he passed the executor. Chatter from the shipping lines, controlled from the bridge, filled his com. Supply ships running errands from Endor to Destroyer, shuttles ferrying troops and passengers.
" ..You have permission to dock at..."
"…requesting deactivation of the deflector shield."
"..Be advised that..."
"Shuttle Tydirium, transmit the clearance code for shield passage."
The man's voice was a little garbled by the com signal, but he had grown used to hearing it that way over the years; he in his X-Wing, Han in the Falcon. Han...
Knowledge had passed between them at that moment on Hoth. An understanding that they may not see each other again, that if they did things would not be the same, that they each shared the same feelings for one another although they would remain unspoken; respect, admiration and love. On Hoth everything had changed, their friendship had been redefined; their love for Leia had altered, with Han's being the strongest and the more right. His own love had been a crush that had, over the years, dimmed and mellowed into love of company, of friendship, of kindred dreams and hopes.
Pushing back his sudden burst of delight, he wiped the smile from his face and keyed his com; "Shuttle Tydirium what is your destination?"
There was a pause, then. "Ah, the forest moon. We have parts and technical crew for the shield generator."
"Is there a problem Lord Commander?" The bridge controller interrupted. "The code checks out, I was about to clear them."
"No problem," Sohn answered, tersely, coming along side the shuttle. There was a definite presence from the small ship, someone he knew, someone gentle but resolute, someone who...
Leia! It could only be Leia accompanying Han. Leia and Chewie, and possibly the droids. But, that presence...so comforting, so soothing. He closed his eyes, reached out and was immediately welcomed....
...he withdrew, surprised, unsettled. He had never considered this before. Never imagined that Leia had Force potential. And she knew her gifts and had allowed him access to her, and she was strong - lacking experience, training, but so strong. Her existence sparkled within the Force, caused ripples to wave outwards much like a pebble in pond. How was this possible? How could Leia be Jedi?
Then the coolness of fear flooded him; if he had sensed Leia then had Vader? Had Palpatine? Did she realise the risks she was taking by coming here, did she not understand how alluring her light would be to them......
...how they would want to possess it, possess her in the same way they now possessed him. He dared not reach out to them, he dared not bring their attention to him and thus to her and so he resisted the urge… the need...to feel for them to probe and explore the direction of their attentions. He would need to tread more carefully now if he wished to hide her.....
....to have her to himself, to cradle her light jealously and guard it so it could not be lost as his was.....
....from them. To take stock of what this meant for him, for his.....
"Lord Commander," Admiral Piett's curt tones interrupted his thoughts. "If there is no problem here, then allow the shuttle to pass and return to your assigned duties at once. I shall have to explain your infraction to your father." The last was said with some humour, and Sohn could almost see the smile on the man’s thin lips.
He bit back his anger, swallowed his pride, his loathing for the man who commanded him - or thought he did. "As you wish, Admiral. However, I shall explain my infraction, to my father myself." He banked his fighter away from shuttle and headed toward the Death Star, unsure of how to give account of his actions to his father and very sure that Piett, even now, was contacting Vader.
"That was close." Han commented, with a relieved smile as he watched the fighter leave their side.
"That was Luke." Leia replied quietly, and Chewie softly grunted by her side.
"You think?" Han questioned as the forest moon filled the view port. "Sounded nothing like him."
"That was Luke." Leia repeated. "I know it was, and he knew it was us."
Han grimaced, not knowing if it was Luke recognising they were here, or that Leia could...
… could what? Could sense Luke? Could feel Luke? ...Know it was Luke? …
…that made him uneasy. "Think he'll rat on us?"
"Yes...yes he will, but…” she frowned, confused by her own feelings and thoughts.”…but for the right reasons."
"There's no right reason for what he's doing, Sweetheart." Han answered, as they entered the moon's atmosphere. He pointed to the scanners, "There, Chewie, our landing point." Then he turned to the princess anger biting his words. "This is going to be hard enough without Luke making it more difficult. Don't pin your hopes on getting him back. If he wanted to be with us, he would be. But he's not. He's chosen his side."
"You don't believe that, Han," Leia commented, sadness in her voice.
No, he didn't believe that. The fact was he wasn't sure of what he believed about Luke. He missed the kid, missed his friend; the young man he had enjoyed watching grow and mature. He grieved for him. But of one thing he was sure. "If he gets in our way, Leia...." Beside him Chewie quietly chuffed.
"I know, Han. But, it won't come to that."
It can't come to that....
They continued in silence, each considering their own thoughts. Solo brought the shuttle down into a small clearing within the Endor forest, and closed down the engine. Behind them in the passenger compartment the rebel soldiers began gathering their gear. Han turned to Leia. "Time to go, Sweetheart."
Even before Piett had contacted him Vader knew something had happened. He had sensed his son's sudden surge of emotions. Had felt his curiosity, his realisation, his fright, his lingering trails of a remembered love. Then the shutters had clamped down and all he felt then was the cool blackness of Sohn Vader.
Piett's report had given some meaning to these feelings. The shuttle heading to moon's surface was undoubtedly an early Rebel landing, and Sohn had recognised them. The door of his private quarters slid open and Sohn strode in still clad in his pilot's flight suit and his half-mask and helmet, lightsabre swinging from his belt. Behind him, lying on the floor of the corridor beyond was the prone, gasping figure of Vader's personal guard. Vader smiled behind the mask. Even now Sohn abhorred killing, though he did not hesitate to punish subordinates if they got in his way.
"Father," he greeted as he pulled the helmet off.
"Is it Solo?"
Sohn halted, surprise crossing his features; horror.
"Or the Princess Leia?"
He bowed his head, closed his eyes. Answered with the truth. "I believe both, father."
"I will alert the Emperor to this development."
"Father...." Sohn stalled, unsure of what he was about to say. He stepped forward, keeping his feelings in check. "Allow me to lead a detachment down to apprehend them."
Interesting. But not surprising. "For what reason?"
Reason? What was his reason, what was he thinking? To prove his allegiance to the dark, or to try and grabble his way back to the light - her light. "My Lord," he bowed his head. "They are enemies of the Empire. The Emperor would...."
"Liar!" Vader burst, watching as Sohn dropped to his knees, as he bowed to his father. And the sight did not satisfy the Dark Lord, it disturbed him. "I can feel the deception within you...."
"Father! Please..." Sohn pleaded. "I do not intend to deceive you. I....
Vader turned away from him. "Then what are your intentions?"
...to get to them first....to keep them from you....
Sohn climbed back to his feet. "To bring them to the Emperor, of course," he said, eyes narrowing as he watched his father's back closely, trying to gauge Vader’s feelings. "To prove to my Master and my father that I am truly theirs."
Vader suddenly turned around, and Sohn instinctively took at step backward. The Dark Lord could still feel the lie within his son's words, could feel Luke......
...cover his true emotions, his true intentions, but the boy had them so well hidden, so well buried within his darkness that Vader could not penetrate...
When had Luke become so deep? When had Luke become so dark?
And Vader felt a stirring of fear for his son, felt the youth moving further from his grasp, moving further to...
And a sudden realisation punched through to shake the Dark Lord; Sohn was rejecting them both and marking his own path! Sohn had been working carefully, had been quietly honing skills to keep his Masters unaware of his treachery. He moved swiftly forward, gathering the Force around him, reached out with his mind and ripped into his son's, shredding and discarding Sohn's mental and emotional defences with a violence and fury of Force which flowed from his control.
Sohn cried out, stumbled backwards against his father's unexpected approach, against his father's vicious invasion of his thoughts and feelings. Pain enveloped him, splitting through him physically and emotionally. His back hit a wall and he doubled over, groaning. "Father! Don't....Please..." He pleaded, he warned. "Don't!" And he drew his arms in, wrapped them around his body trying to defend himself, his eyes tightly shut against the onslaught and he slid to the floor at his father's feet.
...almost there, almost...
Vader bent down and hauled Sohn up by his flight harness, overpowering him physically and spiritually. He threw him against the wall, held him by the shoulders sensing his son's defeat, sensing that the secret the boy had been nurturing was within his understanding.
"No!" Sohn yelled in horror, in terror, in rage. He brought his hands up, placed them against his father's chest and pushed him back, pushed him and pushed until...
...he was lost in noise and light and.... screaming... screaming... he was screaming...
Vader's bellow tore through his twisting passions, sliced him to the core; the usually resonant tones sounded confused, hurt and desperate. Panting heavily, Sohn opened his eyes.
The Dark Lord was standing, somewhat stooped, yards away, his respirator quickening as it worked to keep up with his body’s oxygen demands. His father had his sabre ignited and was holding it defensively before him, and his father's feelings were convoluted and cautious; ragged with horror and dismay.
What have I done?
Gasping still, Sohn looked to his hands, caught the trailing flickers of light around his fingers as the Force within was brought back under his control. And he understood what had happened, what he had done, the power he had suddenly commanded. Alarm washed through him as the last sparks of Force-lightening disappeared and, stricken, Sohn glanced back at his father as Vader deactivated the lightsaber he had used to deflect the corrupt power.
"Father? I..." he choked, swallowed, tried to clear his rough throat. What could he say to explain this abomination? He had demonstrated the darkest of the Sith's abilities, one which sickened him, one which even his father had avoided; he had lifted his hands against his father when he should have granted the elder man passage to his thoughts, to his private feelings. Those were his lessons from the past; he should have no knowledge that Vader and Palpatine did not have easy access to. He had disobeyed and he had.....
He had bested his father and this was, at once, a compelling and repellent notion.
"Luke?" Vader questioned, feeling his son's inner struggle, unable to keep the antipathy from his voice at Luke's actions, the grief for a child so lost.
"That is not my name, Father," Sohn told him evenly, pulling himself up and straightening his back. The Force burned coldly within him and he smiled, eyes dark with strength. "Skywalker is dead."
"Indeed," Vader acknowledged, stilling his own thoughts and emotions. Sohn's abilities had shaken him, had almost brought him to his knees, and he could feel Palpatine probing gently, aware that something significant had occurred. His summons would come soon. "You have learned well, my son." And his voice was weighed with sorrow.
"I was taught well," there was bitterness in those words. Bitterness and hatred.
Vader nodded. The child spoke the truth this time, but there were many lessons yet to learn. "Then go to the Endor moon, and bring your friends to the Emperor."
Sohn closed his eyes in satisfaction, briefly bowed his head, as darkness thrilled through him. Darkness, and... "Thank you, father." He turned and left the room.
The Dark Lord watched him leave, was relieved when the door closed shutting the youth from his sight. His senses heaved with apprehension, with a heavy feeling of loss and guilt. His son had become the Sith Lord he and his Emperor had planned; indeed his son had exceeded their expectations to a dangerous level. It was clear Sohn had his own ambitions and Vader knew they could prove fatal should the Emperor become aware of them. And here was where the remorse lay; his son had become too dark, was unpredictable, and would surely perish for his treachery.
Troubled, he turned to the view port, gazing out at the Endor moon, at the fleet, waiting for his Master's call. And, for once, Vader was unsure what to tell Palpatine.
Progress through the Endor Forest was a little easier than Han had initially thought. A few short clicks from the landing zone the squad had come across a path, or sorts, through the woods. Trampled vegetation and packed, worn dirt meandered through the sky scraping trees making the Rebels' progress a little easier - especially for the two droids who quietly bickered at the back of the line. However, Solo was unsure if the path was made by an indigenous life form, or by the Imperials stationed here to guard the Death Star's deflector shields. And so they moved cautiously, but steadily, heading confidently toward their target.
Beside him Leia stumbled on a protruding root and Han caught her arm keeping her upright. "Watch your feet, Sweetheart." He warned, good-naturedly.
"Very funny," Leia commented, glancing up at him as she adjusted her helmet. But Han was looking away, squinting into the forest, signalling for the squad to halt, to get down. He released her arm, drew his blaster, and moved carefully forward with Chewbacca at his side. Leia lifted her own weapon and came up Solo's side as he peered over a fallen log.
"We could go around," Leia suggested as she spotted two troopers and their speeder bikes among the foliage.
"We're on a schedule, remember? This whole party'll be for nothing if they see us." Han's voice was a little tense, but there was something else there, an edge that Leia sadly recognised; an eagerness for some action. It was understandable, given Han's nature, that he would be itching for something to happen. Those months spent in carbonite, the few weeks following his rescue spent cooped up onboard a ship as the Alliance planned for this assault. His grief and anger at Luke's fate needing some release.
Luke? What are you doing now?
"Stay here," Han was saying, as he moved off. "Me and Chewie will take care of this."
"Han!" Leia whispered quickly, trying to warn him. "I think you...." But he was out of earshot, heading for the two soldiers. Leia cursed under her breath watching as Han made his quiet approach. She heard the loud snap of a twig, saw Han glance down at his traitorous feet before being felled by the nearest soldier.
"Go for help! Go!" The trooper shouted to his counterpart before being dragged down by Han. The second soldier ran for his bike, climbed on and gunned his engine. A shot from Chewie's bowcaster brought him down.
Leia scrambled to her feet, heard the rest of the squad respond to the noise, and ran to help Han. A flash of white among the trees stopped her and she gasped a warning, "Two more of them!" as the Imperial's sped off on their speeder bikes. She changed direction, sprinting to an idle bike and scrambled on board.
She didn't hear Han's "Hey, wait!" as she accelerated forward, trees blurring either side as she tore after her quarry. She followed, opening up the accelerator catching up, pulled off a few shots that thudded uselessly into the vegetation.
She did not see the other bikes pull in behind her until a laser shot narrowly missed her. She twisted the machine, barely avoiding a large trunk, to evade the blaster fire. Realising she was out-numbered she pulled the speeder bike into a wide arc, turning through the forest and heading back the way she had come.
The shot hit the side of the bike, knocking Leia off. She flew through the air, landed hard on a bed of leaves and dirt. She lay for a moment gazing up at the blue of the sky, at the Death Star, at a tiny shuttle entering the atmosphere and then a gentle darkness enfolded around her.
"Rise, my friend," Palpatine requested rising from his throne and approaching the towering Dark Lord who had responded to his call. "There was a disturbance in the Force," he stated unnecessarily, though it had been more than a disturbance. It had been a violent vortex, a twisting rush of power that had grabbed and pulled at his senses. It had been fury, it had been desire, and when it cooled, when the torrent had eased, it had been tinged with an impure pleasure. Palpatine knew these feelings well, had often drawn them to him and indulged gleefully. But, this time, the feelings had come from another. It would appear that the boy was surpassing both his, and Vader's, expectations. Which could be a pity if the youth did not tread carefully.
Or, if you do not tread carefully, your Majesty.
Palpatine ignored the mocking tones of his inner voice, the words sounding very much like his youngest pupil, as Vader spoke.
"A small Rebel Force has penetrated the shields and landed on Endor," Vader rumbled, succinctly, knowing he was not directly explaining what had happened. How could he answer, how could he explain to his master his son had embraced the Dark Side of the Force with a vehemence and fervour more akin to Palpatine himself, than a Skywalker.
"Yes, I know," Palpatine informed him, with a bite to his voice. And Vader was unsure if the Emperor was responding to his verbal information or his thoughts about his son.
"My son has gone to them."
Now that was interesting. "For what purpose?" Palpatine quizzed, reaching out to gently stroke Vader's feelings, probing for deception. He found none, but he did find a fleeting impression of disquiet.
"To bring them to you. A gift, Master," the Sith Lord announced. "To prove his fealty to you, and to the Empire."
And just why did Vader find that thought so unsettling? "And do you trust his motives, My Lord?" Still the feather-like touch within the Force.
"I do not," he said immediately, for how could he trust the boy now? Now when the youth's footsteps were firmly on the path of darkness, now when he had travelled further down that path than even his father had dared to walk.
Palpatine pondered this statement, yellow eyes narrowing in anger. "You think he would betray us?" He spat at Vader.
"His designs are unclear, Master," Vader answered truthfully.
Palpatine was quiet; his attention turned elsewhere seeking out the younger Vader. He had known the boy still resisted, still fought against the teachings of his Emperor and father. He also knew the boy had been trying to find his own way through the shadows, trying to keep the glow of light from dimming further; not understanding that the more he tried, the more his steps took him beyond the penumbra of the Force into its very darkest depths. And this made him dangerous; the boy needed to be controlled, not let loosed - just yet.
Palpatine was still, contemplative, considering the future. Then he smiled, his eyes glimmering with delight at the visions which played within. "Your son will return shortly," he told his servant with a chuckle. "And he will bring a guest. Meet them within the hanger bays, remove his prisoner from him and send him back to his fighter. That is his place, and he will learn it."
Vader bowed low, wishing he had Palpatine's inner sight, feeling trapped and torn between his Emperor and his son. "As you wish, my Master."
Han untangled himself from the unconscious body of the Imperial soldier and pushed himself to his feet. Breathing heavily, he glanced around at his squad, counting quickly to ensure they were all still with him. He turned to Chewie as the Wookiee climbed over a fallen log to reach him. "We'll need to move fast now, buddy." He looked around again, and frowned. "Where's Leia?"
Chewbacca barked loudly, gestured toward the forest.
Fear thickened the back of his throat, pooled coldly in his stomach. "She didn't come back?" He glanced up as a shuttle craft crossed the sky. "Shit, Chewie! Come on!" He started to run in the direction Leia had taken. He couldn't lose her again, couldn't lose her to...
Han dismissed the name, the image of his young friend. "Take the squad ahead," he called to his second in command. "We'll meet at the shield generator at oh three hundred. Artoo, Threepio with me!" And he and Chewbacca disappeared into the forest.
"Oh, dear!" wailed the protocol droid, before turning to his counterpart. "And you said it was pretty here!"
Sohn chose to fly the shuttle craft himself and ignored the pilot as he sat silently beside him. Flying gave him something to focus on, to divert his mind, to channel his energies into a task rather than reflection on what had happened on the Death Star. Still, however, his body trembled; his hands still tingled from the power which they had conducted. After leaving his father, he had gone to his own quarters, had had to resist running through the corridors. He had been agitated, full of nervous excitement, senses fully stimulated by the incident and by his father's permission to go Endor. And as the doors slid closed behind him, he had quickly stripped from his flight suit and donned the plain, black Imperial dress uniform he preferred.
Leia... he was going for Leia!
He had lifted the mask and helmet, stared at the black facade the Emperor made him wear to hide his features, and smiled, wondering what his Alliance friends...
...had thought when they first learned of Sohn Vader. Had they felt horror at the emergence of another Vader? Had his existence strengthened their resolve?
...they know you....
He had shrugged the wandering thought away. How could they possibly know him? Skywalker had died, defeated and lost in front of billions, a humiliating end. Sohn Vader had been introduced months later, features hidden from prying eyes - not even his own men had seen his face. That privilege was the Emperor's and Vader's alone.
...she knows you...
He had put them on, both mask and helmet fitting snugly, comfortably and for the first time he welcomed the disguise. Welcomed being hidden as he hooked his lightsabre to his belt and left his rooms. Welcomed being concealed as he worked his way through the battle station to the shuttle bay; for his emotions ran wild, his spirit danced with anticipation and strength, but his mask's features would remain passive and composed to all who looked upon him. Only his father seemed to know differently, and soon so would the Emperor.
"Shuttle Scandium," Endor Control greeted him, pulling him from his thoughts. "Proceed on approach vector zero zero one-two for landing zone One. Welcome to Endor, Lord Commander Vader. Your men will be waiting for you."
"Thank you," he answered, gruffly, steering the shuttle into the given flight path, watching the moon glow bright in the deepness of space. He opened himself to the Force, reached out and caressed its living presence, searching for one, searching for her and...
... the light was dimmed, tinged with.... anger, impatience, fear... and.... annoyance....
... Sohn withdrew in surprise. The Princess's feelings were a little wild, a little out of sorts. She seemed anxious, wary and a somewhat afraid. He smiled as he brought the shuttle down onto the landing pad and shut down the engines. Perhaps the Rebel incursion was not going as planned. He drew himself from the chair, glanced at his companion. "Stay with the shuttle," he commanded.
"As you wish, My Lord," the man assented, quietly.
Sohn ignored him, trying to focus his thoughts forward. He strode across the landing pad toward the elevators, entered as the doors swept open to admit him. He had to push back his urgency, temper his impatience and his stomach purled with anticipation as the lift dropped to ground level. There was something..... someone... waiting...
The doors opened and a young Lieutenant stepped forward to greet Sohn, behind him, assembled in the corridor, stood a contingent of stormtroopers. "My Lord Commander," he sounded excited, eager. The younger Vader walked on not breaking his stride for the man, nor for the packing containers piled to the side of the hallway which the Lieutenant had to carefully skirt around before catching up with his superior. "I have assembled the men as ordered. However, a few moments ago a speederbike patrol returned with a prisoner, and…”
Sohn stopped and turned his mask to face the man., dismay settling bitter in his stomach. "A prisoner? Where are they now?" This wasn’t what he wanted, this wasn’t what he had planned for.
The Lieutenant gestured to the troopers. "Bring her forward."
And Sohn glanced to the soldiers as they parted, as one pulled a small figure, clad in green with tousled hair and bound hands, from among the white armour.
He had to temper his sudden urge to run to her, had to pull back the wide grin which threatened to spill onto his face. He wanted to reach out to touch her smooth, dirt smudged cheek. He wanted to brush back the strands of hair which fell over her face. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and draw her close, to lose himself in her presence and her love for him, her love for...
His eyes were drawn to her's. And he saw her questions, her puzzlement. He saw her assessment of him, the image of the man before her more familiar to her as a Vader than the Skywalker she knew.
...she knew him...
"My Lord," the officer continued. "We believe she may be the Princ...."
Sohn found his voice. "I am aware of who she is. Our Emperor and my father will be most pleased, Lieutenant." He kept his stare on the princess. "Leave her with me; I shall deliver her to the Death Star myself. Take the troopers to where she was captured. Her companions cannot be far, conduct a search and bring them to me."
"Yes, sir!" He turned with the soldiers; lead them from the corridor leaving the two alone.
Sohn swallowed, suddenly nervous and unsure, feeling like an infatuated farm boy stumped into sudden silence at the sight of his Princess...
"I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you."
... and now he would be forced to deliver her back to where he had found her.
Leia watched the dark figure closely. This man radiated power; her own raw Force senses tingling in his presence. She could feel his strength, his barely restrained emotions which drifted around her, tentatively caressing her feelings. He was as tall as Luke, but his build seemed slighter; muscles trim and tight, but despite this Leia knew he would be physically more powerful than she. But his voice; hoarse and rough, was not Luke's, and she briefly wondered if they had been wrong in assuming this man was their lost Jedi. But, then she noticed the swallow, sensed the hesitation and she knew. She stared at the bland Vader mask, at the exposed chin and mouth, trying to see her friend below its surface, and fought the urge to speak and break the quiet first.
"Welcome to Endor, your Highness," Sohn finally greeted, briefly bowing his head. "I regret that we have not met before now. I am...."
"I know who you are," she told him quietly and firmly, with a hint of anger colouring her words. How dare he, of all people, do this to them!
A slight smile curled his lips. “Of course you do,” he agreed, and he wondered what his agreement was to; that she knew he was Sohn Vader, or that he had been Luke Skywalker. It pleased him that she thought she knew him, it relieved him and yet still he was filled with a hollow sadness. She was so close, yet so out of reach.
Leia heard the sorrow in his voice and stepped forward, the question spilling from her before she could stop herself. But, she needed to know, she needed the truth. As much for herself as for Luke. “Is he really your father?”
The question seemed to surprise him and, for a moment, his head dipped as he looked to the floor. Leia had seen this movement before, recognised a moment of vulnerability, Luke often reacted this way when asked a question he found difficult to answer.
The question had startled him, coming so soon in their dialogue, and he hesitated once more. But he could only answer with the truth. “Yes,” he drew himself up, caught her eye and dared her to say more.
Leia stepped back from him, staggered back from the truth she could hear in his voice, that she could feel. Vader was his father, Luke was her brother and so… She was the daughter of Darth Vader. She’d had weeks to think of this, weeks in which to prepare herself for this awful confirmation and still it caught her unawares. Nausea rose in her throat, acid gall flooded her mouth and she gagged on the truth; her self-esteem, her identity ground under the heel of honesty.
Sohn caught her arm, pulled her back, alarmed at her reaction. He could feel the Princesses unguarded emotions; the horror and the disgust that washed through her, that threatened to swamp her. Her mind reeled and she tried to fight his touch, tried to wrench her arm from his grip. Her eyes, stricken by the truth, searched his mask for something familiar. He didn’t understand why the reality of who his sire was should abhor the Princess and so he acted instinctively; he held her to calm her.
He was too strong and she was caught. She fought to composed herself; to be the senator she once was, and she looked to him, saw nothing of Luke in the visor. She reached a palm to touch his chin, to feel something of her friend - her brother - other than the Vader darkness which threatened to envelop them both. “We’ve missed you.”
He flinched from her touch, from her words. He released her and moved away. “I’m afraid you are confusing me with someone else, your Highness.” He told her coolly, his tones betraying nothing of his turmoil. He had wanted her touch, had wanted to feel her warm palm on his face. It was been so long since he had felt such tenderness and its allure was so tempting, but they were too close to Vader, too close to Palpatine. They would know, they would feel his moment of weakness.
She stepped towards him again, swallowing her disquiet at their heritage. “Luke,” she persisted. “This isn’t you… this isn’t what you wanted. I have no idea what happened to you after Hoth, but on Bespin Vader used us to….”
A smile grew on the exposed lips. He knew what she was trying to do, appealing to Skywalker, begging a cold, dead youth to save her. “I am not who you believe me to be.”
“You’re Luke Skywalker,” Leia told him firmly.
“Skywalker is dead, Princess. Surely you saw the broadcast? “
“I saw,” she said, sadly. “And I grieved for you, and I’m still grieving for you. Luke, I don’t know what has happened to you, I don’t know what they did to you, what you must have suffered. I…”
… a trembling hand reaching in darkness, blood blotching the skin. And screaming… begging… voices in my head, all the time… all the time…. Pain searing through me… cackling laughter… and….
“You are my son!”
He grimaced and stepped back from her, closed off the brief surge of memories from those long ago months. He would not recall that time, he could not stumble now. His thoughts had to remain clear and focused.
“Han is with me, Luke. And Chewbacca,” Leia continued, seeing him falter and pressing her advantage. “Wedge is flying Red leader. He recognised you - because you purposely gave yourself away. You wanted us to know you, Luke.” She hesitated, waiting for a reply, but he was quiet. Taking comfort that he had not denied her words she plunged on. “Luke, we…I can help you come back to us.”
If only he could, if only he could go back, go back to where his decisions were made and make them different.
And where would he go back to? To when the droids had arrived at the farm - ask Uncle Owen not to choose the blue one? Or to when he had agreed to go to Alderaan with Ben? Perhaps to the Hoth battle and after, make up his mind to ignore Ben’s order to go to Dagobah. Or decide to stay with Yoda and complete his training. Or on Bespin, to go after Leia, instead of Vader. Or refuse the Emperor, refuse to bow and be subjected to more torture…..
….but they wouldn’t let me die, they wouldn’t leave me alone….all the time….always aware….
…come back. It was an alluring thought. They could walk out of here now. Disappear into the forest. No-one could stop him. He could go back. Back with Leia. Back to Han and the others; his squad, the Alliance…
…leave them. Leave his father and the Emperor. Abandon them to their darkness…
…Stay and be safe. Stay and find strength…
…abandon it all to the dark…
He drew himself back, baulked at the simple choice he faced. There was no going back. The decisions were made; this was his path. This was his destiny, and he would not let the Princess turn him from it. This was the only way now. He drew in a breath. “Thank you for giving me details of your companions, your Highness,” he stated smoothly, as his feelings cooled. “My father had warned me you would not willingly give us information, it seems he was wrong.”
Leia blanched at the cruel words, at the reminder of her ordeal at Vader’s hands so few years before…
“However,” Sohn continued, ignoring the feelings which flared from the Princess; the sudden terror of her memories, and dread for her future, “this is niether the time, nor the place for such a discussion…”
“Luke,” Leia stepped forward again, sounding a little desperate, a little distraught. “You don’t have to do this; you don’t have to take me to them.”
He paused for a moment as though considering her words, and a long ago memory surged to the fore….
“And sacrifice Han and Leia?”
“If you honour what they fight for? Yes.”
He had to remain calm; he had to draw in his strength for the battle ahead. He had known they would come. He had known he would be confronted by these choices - that was one of the reasons he had come to her, one of the reasons he had sought her out. To test himself, to gauge his readiness for the fight ahead.
…to have her…to hold her… to keep her safe from the coming storms…
He looked to Leia, took comfort from her presence. His choice made. Nothing could dissuade him, nothing would disconcert him, now. Not his father and not….
“I went to the farm,” she said softly, feeling his gaze upon her, feeling his resolve and knew that she had failed. This was her last resort, her only way of reaching the man she knew lay buried within the Vader before her. This wasn‘t how she had wanted to tell him. “I saw what they left.”
“It is time to leave, your Highness,” he broke in wanting to stop her, not wanting old wounds to split open. He could feel his father’s probing feelings, sense his father’s growing frustrations. “My father grows impatient.” He took her arm, but she pulled back.
“No, Luke!” she snapped, angrily. This time he wouldn’t obstruct her, this time she would say her piece and to hell with their father’s impatience.
He caught those feelings, caught… something which stirred in his belly, something which caused panic to flutter where once there was calm. “What?” he rasped, trying to grasp the trailing edges of her thoughts.
“I thought I might find you there, find something of you,” she was quiet again recalling her disappointment at not sensing her friend within his home.
“Leia… please….” And despite the rough tones; that did sound like Luke.
“I didn’t find you, Luke, but I did find us…”
His father was there, his presence growing as Leia spoke. He tried to block him, tried to block her, but she continued oblivious to the dark curiosity.
“I found a holo and some documents from the end of the Clone Wars, hidden in your guardians’ room. A woman and two babes, the papers told of your birth and of your twin sister’s birth…”
“I have no…. I…. Skywalker has no sister!” Stunned, he stumbled over his words, fighting his swelling fear, fighting Vader’s consciousness which slammed into him, powered by a disturbing triumph.
“You do, Luke. I’m your sister.”
“No,” he groaned as though in pain. He staggered back from her. “Leia…no!” The truth of her words caused heavy dread to gather within him, thick and disruptive. Terror tightly twisted around him and for the first time in many months his fear was not for himself, but for her…
…and he felt his father retreat from him. Felt Vader’s crowing delight, felt his victory, felt his father’s…
…horror and guilt, for he had subjected Leia to…
…possessiveness and obsession extend to embrace her, too.
“No!” he cried aloud, staring upward. “You cannot have her!”
“Luke?” Leia stepped forward, again reaching to touch him. She had felt something happening, had sensed feelings of pleasure and horror, but her Force talent was untapped and still new to her.
He opened his eyes, stared at her through the mask as fury ripped through him. How could she be so stupid, so naïve, how could she endanger herself so? How could she think to come here and try to turn him from his destiny with words which made no sense, with words which somehow were still so true, so painful? He batted her hands away, turned from her pained expression and lifted the helmet and mask from his face. He threw them at her and instinctively she caught them, held them.
“Is this what you wanted?” he rasped, facing her. “Is this what you wanted to see?”
She looked at him; saw the cropped dark blond hair, the paleness of his face tinged with the blush of anger, saw the familiar curves of his face. But it was his eyes in which she saw the most detail. Cobalt blue and vibrant with his temper; so full of pain and torment. So full of power, so deep and dark. There was little in them which reminded her of Luke. And for the first time she wondered if her brother had truly been lost to them.
Sohn fought for control. It was becoming too hard; there were too many pressures upon him, too much for him to take on board. His fragile command over events slipping easily from his grasp. It had all been so clear before, he had known what to do, had known even when he had arrived and sensed her presence. But now…
The knowledge churned within him, creating a squall of torturous emotions. He didn’t know what to do now, didn’t know how to react, and didn’t know where he should turn. He needed some time; he needed the peace and solace of the Force in which to clear his thoughts. But the Force had deepened and darkened around him like an impending storm and he could feel his powers flaming, building, begging release.
He turned from her, reached out with his arm and, with a roar of grief and anger; he sent the stacked packing crates tumbling up the corridor to smash against the elevator doors. The princess took a startled step backwards.
“Luke?” she questioned hesitantly, suddenly afraid of this familiar stranger. Suddenly understanding how dangerous and unstable Luke had become.
“You have no idea what you’ve done!” he shouted, breathing heavily his need for release barely sated. He kept his back to her, his voice breaking through his throat. “You don’t know the damage you have caused.”
“Luke, I only…”
“He knows!” he snarled, suddenly turning around. “He felt it as I felt it. Don’t you understand? Vader knows!” He wilted a little, shoulders slumping as though defeated. “And I have to take you there,” he whispered thickly, “to our father.”
Leia looked to the black mask in her hands and was dismayed to find she was shaking. She drew in a breath trying to steady herself. There were things happening here she didn’t understand - couldn’t understand; due to her lack of knowledge of and, training in, the Force. She could only be guided by her feelings, her instinct; by what she felt was right. Luke needed her; needed her support and her compassion, needed her strength, her acceptance of their relationship to each other and to Darth Vader. She had to stop fighting him, had to stop trying to persuade him to cease being who he had become. He was struggling with burdens too complex for her to grasp, and she would not force herself to become another to him.
She carefully stepped up to her brother and placed the helmet and mask into his hands. She smiled at the surprise and the suspicion on his face. “My Lord Commander Vader,” she said quietly, but with as much authority as she could muster. “If that is what you must do, then I am your willing prisoner.”
On board the Death Star, in the middle of a briefing, Darth Vader had turned from Jerjerrod as his son’s storming emotions battered at his senses. He tilted his head, shifting his attention from the prattling Moff to his son, curious to know what was happening to further disturb the boy. Sohn was unsure, tight with suppressed feelings of…
..love… wonderment… grief.
He gently probed on, carefully evading Sohn’s hastily erected mental defences, working around the buffers the boy tried to throw up. The shields were weak, Sohn distracted and torn, and Vader moved swiftly through to the core of Sohn’s disquiet.
So it was the Princess Organa who stirred Sohn so; who brought forth familiar echoes of suppressed emotions and memories. And, there was more… There was a fear, a terror deeper than even Palpatine had caused within the boy. His curiosity fired; Vader explored further, swimming through the churning passions, easily picking up Sohn’s thoughts and…
Astounded Vader spun around to face the view port and the Endor moon beyond.
There had been a second child!
A daughter! Secreted away and hidden from him as they had tried to do with Luke. The Jedi had failed with the boy, almost succeeded with the girl. Triumph rose within him, a dark satisfaction settling within at the knowledge that Obi-Wan Kenobi had failed in his attempts to keep his children from him. A son, and a daughter! Twins!
Pride swelled at images of his other child; she was so strong willed, unshakable in her beliefs, stubborn and…
His jubilation suddenly dropped, felled by a sickening realisation; by memories of a young woman, no more than a girl, being held down by black gauntlets as a dark droid worked. Of a child defeated by grief at the loss of her home, her planet, and who still refused to yield.
Vader closed his eyes behind his mask shutting out the sight of the sanctuary moon, but unable to close off the images of his daughter and his actions towards her; images which further reminded him of his son and the tortures Luke had endured at Palpatine’s command, and at his father’s hands.
Vader withdrew from Luke’s consciousness, withdrew from the confused and tormented feelings. Luke’s hatred was so strong, self-loathing nestling deep within him; a dangerous and destructive bed-mate. The boy’s anger was like a whirlwind, tumultuous, raging, and barely constrained by his tenuous control. Vader knew the pressures were growing within his son, knew Luke’s emotional and mental defences were crumbling and that the boy now took pleasure from darkness where he once abhorred it. He could feel Luke’s ache, the need for release and he knew that Palpatine was…
… horror rippled through Vader. Palpatine! The Emperor would surely have felt Luke’s raging feelings, have picked up the confusion and the fear.
Vader tentatively reached out to find his master’s focus and was surprised to find his Emperor at peace. Palpatine’s concentration was turned from them, drawn away from Luke, away from the events taking the place. The Force was drawn darkly around the Sovereign, strong and vibrant and yet…
…how strange it was that Palpatine seemed blinded, seemed ignorant of the currents that rushed through the Force, that swelled and crested with his son’s emotions, with the passions which Luke seemed willing to embrace…
Perplexed, and unsure of the intentions of the Force, Vader turned to leave the control centre of the Death Star. His daughter’s existence belonged only to Luke and himself. His son’s growing volatility, his diminishing control and unpredictability concerned him. That the Emperor was unaware of it; pleased him.
“My Lord Vader! “ Jerjerrod called, bewildered by his superior’s abrupt move to depart. “The report on the Primary Weapon…. If the Rebels are coming as his Majesty has indicated. Then surely we have to….”
“We will proceed as the Emperor has instructed,” Vader rumbled, barely hiding the irritation he felt.
Jerjerrod bobbed his head in compliance. “Of course, My Lord.”
Vader swept from room, heading directly for the hanger bays. He was eager to meet Luke’s shuttle as it landed, eager to greet his daughter. Eager to see how much his Master’s myopia hid from him; eager to set in motion the events that would shape the entire galaxy.
Han ducked too late, and the branch Chewbacca had pushed aside sprang back as the Wookiee passed and smacked the Corellian on the forehead. He stumbled backward, hand grabbing out for something to stop him falling. “Watch what you’re doin’, buddy!” he grumbled as he righted himself, and wiped at the thin scratch of blood on his forehead.
Chewbacca didn’t answer. The Wookiee had stopped a few paces ahead and was crouched among the grass and the ferns looking at a dark shape. Fear suddenly clogged Solo’s throat as he ran to his friend’s side.
Chewbacca stood, stepped aside and softly grunted. Solo felt cool relief flood through him; it was a wrecked speeder bike, nothing more. There was no mangled rider among the debris, no sign of the princess. He was relieved that he had not found her here, but still concerned at her absence. He glanced around at the surrounding forest wondering if she had been thrown clear and was lying somewhere nearby unable to call out.
Han looked around at the droids, at Artoo Detoo’s swivelling head and chattering noise. “What’s he saying, Threepio?”
“Uh, General, sir,” the golden droid responded with his customary nervous prattle. “Artoo says there are no human life signs nearby, apart from our own. He does admit, however, to be pi…”
“I hope she’s alright,” Han voiced his concern ignoring Threepio. Leia’s disappearance had already taken up time, taken them away from their objective. He knew Leia herself would be unhappy with him for running off to find her, for diverting from their orders, but he couldn’t have left her with out trying. He had to find her, had to let her know…
“Oh, My!” Threepio cried and Artoo Detoo screeched.
Han and Chewbacca turned together startled, expecting see a squad of storm troopers descending on them. Instead the undergrowth around them rustled and moved. Han gripped his blaster tightly, Chewbacca raised his bow caster.
“What is it?” the Corellian questioned.
Artoo whistled and Threepio translated. “Natives, I believe, sir. Artoo has picked up a dozen or so life signs around us.”
Whispered chattering rose from the bushes.
Han squinted, thought he spotted something brown and furry. He focused, aimed with his blaster a few inches above the quivering foliage and pulled off a warning shot. There was burst of squealing, short staccato babbling and, to Han’s amusement, small dark forms began fleeing in all directions. He grinned and holstered his weapon.
Chewbacca grumbled beside him.
“Helped us?” he questioned, in surprise. He gestured at the retreating animals. “How could they have helped us?”
There was a sound from above which drew all of their attentions. Han glanced up as a shuttle rose into the sky, passed overhead and veered sharply upward toward the overhanging Death Star. And he suddenly knew where Leia was and knew who had her.
“I hope she’s alright,” Han repeated, watching the shuttle’s after-burn fade in the early evening sky, silently hoping that Sohn Vader still had some essence of Luke Skywalker within him, or else he may never see his princess again. “We’ll camp down here tonight, Chewie. Pick up with the squad in the morning.” Then he sat against the trunk of the nearest tree, drew his coat around him and prepared himself for a long night and an even longer day ahead.
Leia fidgeted with the tight binders around her wrists, trying to ease the bite of them while knowing they would be the least of her pains in the coming hours. She was afraid, terribly afraid on many levels. She was afraid for the Alliance attack as she had seen the number of troops on Endor - so many more than the Bothan information had divulged. She was afraid for Han and the others and the consequences for them when they attempted to take out the shield generator; it would seem the Empire knew they were coming and were prepared. The next few hours might well see the end of the Rebellion.
Then she was afraid for herself, afraid of what she would face once more within an Imperial cell. Afraid of Vader - her father - and his torture droid and the memories of her previous incarceration were very close to the surface, kept at bay only by her fear of Luke, her fear for Luke.
He had looked so strangely at her when she had handed him his helmet and mask, when she had spoken to him, when she had acknowledged him as Vader. His eyes had met hers, disbelief flaring within them, satisfaction and distrust of her actions, her words. He had looked away from her and she was sure she saw gratitude and regret before their contact had broken, before he donned his disguise once more and turned back to her, hidden and aloof once more.
Leia glanced toward the cockpit where Luke had chosen to spend the journey to the Death Star; leaving her in the care of two troopers. All she could see was the back of his head, all she could hear was his course voice speaking to the Death Star Command Station. And she grieved for him; for the youth she remembered, for the man he should have been.
“Acknowledged,” Sohn confirmed his approach, focusing on piloting the shuttle. Watching beyond the ship as the Death Star grew to fill the view port, as the slits of docking bays became visible. He could feel the princess watching him, could feel her trepidation, her pain and concern. Leia…
… didn’t understand, perhaps would never grasp what it was he had been trying to do and why he’d had to adapt to survive. Why he had accepted…
….never accepted it… had it forced upon me….
… his father’s and his Emperor’s calling. She saw him as a victim, as a casualty lost to war. And her pity sat rough with him, stirred his pride. He had survived in circumstances where lesser beings would have crumpled. He had resisted, he had fought them and he had…
…screamed in the night. He had been chased from the light, kept from its brilliance with fetters of darkness. He had kneeled to them in veneration, learned from them and used their shade to hide his own desires. He had…
…emerged stronger and more powerful than any one of his teachers had ever predicted. And yet, despite his strength, despite all he had learned, all he had fought and struggled to achieve hung in the balance because she was here…
…you wanted her here. You wanted her near. You lifted your hands to your father because he dared question you. You wanted her…
…but not like this…
…not as a representative of the Alliance, or a princess of a lost kingdom. But as just Leia. Leia his friend, his support and foundation.
And now she was his sister.
And his sister had accepted him as a Vader.
Sohn briefly closed his eyes against the pain of his sister’s words, hands uncharacteristically trembling as he worked the shuttle’s controls. It was so close now, everything he had prepared for these last few months was so close. He could almost reach out and touch it, grasp it and call it his own. It was there, but it could so easily be lost. It could be wrenched from his hands if his control lapsed, as the paths of others clashed with his own. He had to maintain his control, he could not give in to his feelings, to the temptation of the Force has he had done with his father…
…you bested him. You unsettled him. He feared you…
…as he had done with Leia.
At first he was unsure of her actions, suspicious of her motives for dropping her arguments that he was still Luke Skywalker. And then he had understood, and with his understanding came more pain as he saw himself through his sister’s eyes. She had conceded to make things easier for him, to lift the burden of guilt he was carrying…
…there is no guilt…
…to relieve some pressure and tension within him. To help him focus. And this had made him at once thankful and remorseful and he was surprised he could still have such feelings, such…
…a capacity to still about care what the princess thought of him. And then the disgust descended, anger spooled within as he reminded himself of his duty to his masters and to the Empire. He had drawn his errant feelings in…
…lest they sense them…
…stilled his disquiet and lead her to the shuttle vowing to himself to keep close to her, to…
…to shield her. To give her the safety I was denied…
…guide her steps when she was taken to Palpatine and save her the agonies he had endured, show her the futility of resisting their wishes, and teach her the virtues of quiet surrender. He smiled as the shuttle entered the docking bay, as he expertly steered the ship to the landing area, but his smile faltered when he saw his father waiting with a contingent troopers and loose panic beat in his chest.
He reached out tentatively and touched Vader’s thoughts and feelings needing to know why his father was there, but he only found the solid barrier of his father’s shields. All was still and silent; concealed. But Sohn knew the Dark Lord was not there for him. His father was there for Leia.
And hatred filled him, a loathing so strong it crawled over him like a living beast; claws piercing and shredding as it moved leaving bleeding revulsion in its wake. This man - his father - had taken from him everything he once had, everything he once loved and cherished. He had been ripped from his childhood, torn from the Alliance and used and twisted to meet Vader’s and Palpatine’s expectations. And now that he had found her again, he was taking Leia from him.
There had been moments when he had thought Vader was having doubts, had felt hope for things to be different, had felt sorrow from the elder man. However, since the Emperor had arrived his father had withdrawn from him, had become cold and detached having little contact with Sohn aside from those times when they had no choice but come together. But now he had come of his own will to meet the shuttle; not for his son, but for his daughter.
Another light to darken.
This wasn’t what he wanted. This wasn’t what he had thought would happen. She wasn’t supposed to be captured, she wasn’t supposed to be taken to Vader; she wasn’t supposed to be his sister. He had only wanted to go to…
…protect her. Protect them…
… to keep the troopers busy. To keep the Rebels….
…occupied on the moon while he consolidated his position. Now, how could he do this? How could he hand her to their father as Vader had handed him to Palpatine? How could he stand aside and allow Leia to suffer as he had suffered?
And he grimaced at the sudden images which flooded him; Han laughing as he twirled a shrieking and protesting princess around, slipping on the ice floors of Hoth and both of them landing in a heap. He heard himself chuckle. Saw Han grin up at him.
“Just wait ‘til your birthday tomorrow, kid.”
He wanted to close his eyes against the memories, push them out of his mind, but he couldn’t; he had to bring the shuttle in, had to focus on his father’s waiting figure.
Twins. They were twins; and if their birthdays were correct then Leia was the first born. And this stirred more anger; resentment. Had Obi-Wan known this? Had he known Leia was his sister as surely as he knew that Vader was his father? The Jedi had sat impassively as Leia had given her message through Artoo, had bid him to go to Alderaan. Had used the news that his father had been a Jedi, had used his infatuation with the princess’ image to cajole him, had used his guardians’ deaths to spur him on and set his feet on a path that Luke…
…had never considered possible for himself. A pilot, maybe. But a Jedi Knight? And Ben had allowed him to make the decision in anger, in grief and with the desire for revenge.
He had been led so easily through lies and deceit, had wanted to believe and learn and had nurtured his desire to face the man he thought responsible for his pains. And all the while the focus of his misguided vengeance had already killed him; Kenobi. All of this could have been avoided if the truth had been told from the very beginning, then they could have made their choices based on facts instead of fabrications and he wouldn’t be here, she wouldn’t be here. He wouldn’t have to go through with this, wouldn’t have to betray everything he once believed in.
He brought the shuttle down, settled it easily into the bay as he closed off his thoughts, silenced his conflicting emotions and rose from the pilots chair, turned and entered the passenger area to where Leia sat, tiny between towering storm troopers. “Your Highness,” he greeted gesturing to the opening hatch. “If you please.”
The princess straightened her back. Her features calm, but her eyes heavy. She did not look his way as she stepped in front of him, walked before him, leading the way to meet their waiting sire.
Sohn could feel the Dark Lord’s fulfilment as Vader briefly bowed his head. “Your Highness,” he welcomed. “It has been too long.”
“Not long enough, Vader,” Leia snapped, injecting a fury she did not feel into her voice.
Vader smiled at her boldness. His daughter was so like her mother, both in looks and in temperament, and yet he had never seen it before. He had been ignorant of Leia’s true origins and had never once considered that she had been anything other than Organa’s child. But he should have known, he should have seen, should have felt the Force so strong within and questioned it. But all he had seen was a Rebel hunched and afraid on the sleeping platform of a cell, yet still so resilient and defiant. And he had tried to crush her. It pleased him now, that he had not achieved that aim.
He turned to his son. Luke had also displayed defiance, had refused to bend to pressure, had proved courageous and bold. But Luke’s integrity and innocence could not compete with the intensity of his anger and hatred and his light had been lost to the shadow which even now grew darker. Luke was struggling mentally and emotionally with stresses he had placed upon himself rather than those from his service to the Empire. Palpatine knew something was building, could feel the shifting in the Force and was about to add to those demands.
“You have done well, Commander,” he told the boy, feeling Luke’s surprise at the rare praise.
“Thank you, father,” he acknowledged with a tilt of his head, unsure of his father’s intentions but playing along.
“You are to return to your squad,” he paused, briefly savouring the disbelief and anger which rolled from his son. “Immediately.”
Sohn tensed at the order, glanced to Leia as she watched the exchange with open curiosity. “Father,” he blurted as consternation coiled in his belly. “I thought I would…”
“The Emperor commands it,” Vader stated firmly, feeling the chill of fear flood his son.
Sohn swallowed trying to fight through his rushing emotions, the white noise in his head, the nausea which swamped his body, pushed at his throat making him want to gag. He drew in a breath, maintained his composure. “But father, the Princess…”
“…is to be held until his Majesty wishes to see her.” Vader explained, he gestured to the waiting troopers who stepped forward and surrounded the princess, and the Dark Lord instantly understood why the Emperor had given Luke that order. A darkness so deep, so black, descended over his son. A wrath so hot it was scalding, hatred so strong that Vader had never felt so chilled, and a fear, a terror that embedded itself deeply within his son’s soul. Terror, not for himself, but for his sister.
Vader could see the slight tremors that ran through Luke’s body betraying his rushing emotions, his barely controlled powers. The boy’s fingers twitched nervously over the lightsabre hanging from his belt. And Vader briefly wondered why Luke held so dearly to the weapon, the blue blade which had once belonged to Anakin, when he could so easily have tossed it aside as he had all other feelings he once had for his father and constructed a new one more fitting to a Sith Lord.
“Father,” Sohn began, his voice hesitant and hoarse. He drew his eyes from Vader, looked to Leia. “My squad does not need me. My place should be here with my father and my Emperor.”
And my sister.
The princess returned his gaze, her eyes dark, face pale with apprehension as she realised she had become a pawn to be played by Palpatine against her brother and her father. Against them, and between them.
“You would question the Emperor’s commands?” Vader rumbled the question, his voice dark, heavy with warning. He had asked a similar question of his son some weeks ago, had reached out and offered the boy a destiny so much brighter than the one he now faced. They had openly acknowledge Palpatine’s fear of Luke, had openly voiced Rebellion. But Luke had chosen to retreat from his father, had chosen to hide his thoughts and feelings behind a veil of deception. Now the boy had a second chance to grasp the hand his father offered.
Sohn turned his eyes back to his father. He heard the warning in Vader’s tones, and humiliation burned at being questioned thus in front of lowly storm troopers, but beneath this Sohn could feel that peculiar flicker of light he had sense before.
“Even now the Emperor fears you.”
“I know, father.”
“You could destroy him”
“That is not my place.”
Their short exchange of words returned to him and he stared into Vader’s mask from behind his own, searching his father. The elder man nodded silently and the moment between them swarmed with sudden possibilities. If he disobeyed the Emperor now and remained on the Death Star - where he needed to be, where he had planned to be - Palpatine’s retribution would be swift and severe and Leia may be caught within it. If he obeyed the emperor and left the station and joined his squad to battle the Alliance, Leia would be alone and all may be lost. He had not prepared himself for this; he had not seen the relationship with Leia. He had to focus, he had to silence his doubts. He could not allow the princess’s presence interfere with his destiny.
Sohn briefly closed his eyes seeking the sanctuary of the Force…
…stay and be safe…
…and opened them with his decision.
He bowed his head. “As the Emperor commands, my Lord,” he told Vader with a hint of a smile to his lips. “I am his faithful servant.” Then he turned to Leia and bowed once more, ignoring her look of horror. “Your Highness, it was a pleasure…” And he strode from the docking bay, back straight, exterior calm, nothing betraying the conflicting emotions of a few moments ago.
“Take the princess to the detention centre,” Vader addressed the soldiers as his son disappeared through the doorway.
Leia hesitated, wanting to say something, searching the ebony mask for some indication of the Dark Lord’s feelings. Luke had said Vader knew of their relationship; that he had felt it. But she could sense nothing and she knew from past experience that pleading with the Dark Lord merely resulted in further hurt. So she remained silent and allowed the troopers to nudge her forward. She walked with a similar carriage to her brother.
Vader watched the princess leave, watched the bay doors close at her back, and then he turned to contemplate the dormant shuttle. The Force had never felt as potent as now, had never resonated so strongly and he almost believed that if he reached out with his hand he would physically touch the power around him. Strands of the Force were gathering, binding, creating a nexus around them, a focal point and the Dark Lord was left with no illusion; this was where the balance of the Force, the fate of the galaxy, would be decided. And it hinged upon the decisions and actions of an unpredictable boy. Vader hoped he could guide Luke’s steps when the time came, that he could somehow counsel him in a way that he should have done when they first met. He had failed Luke then, he would not fail Luke now.
Palpatine opened his eyes, his piercing yellow irises shining in the darkness of the throne room. The boy’s rage was pure and unadulterated, and Palpatine had drank deeply, feeding from it, savouring the taste of it as he had the flavour of the terror the boy first experienced when he fell from the carbonite block so many months before. It was almost time, he could feel it; the Force was converging to this area, to him and to his disciples. The girl had provided the last catalyst he required and his hold on the galaxy would finally be secured.
The girl… something about the girl… hidden…
He smiled with pleasure ignoring the quiet inner voice. The girl was a means to an end, nothing more. He relaxed back into his throne, taking in a long breath of cool air, gorging on the anger which flowed through the Force from the boy; the offspring held more potential than even his sire. When this day was done, young Skywalker’s fall would be complete and he would either be standing by his Emperor’s side, or lying dying at his Emperors feet.
Wedge Antilles worked the pitch and roll pedals bringing his X-Wing into wide swoop under the medical frigate. He followed the Millennium Falcon as it flew past Akbar’s command ship to take up its position at the head of the fleet.
The com crackled and Lando Calrissian’s voice broke through the static. “Admiral we’re in position. All fighters accounted far.”
“Proceed with the count down,” Ackbar replied, his voice slightly distorted by the com waves. “All groups assume attack co-ordinates.”
Wedge double checked his Nav-computer, looked to his scanners and scopes and smiled when he saw Red Squad in formation. He hoped that General Solo and the Princess Leia were successful or else the whole of the Alliance would die today. Command was taking a huge gamble to end this conflict based on the information that the Emperor was over seeing the construction of the Death Star. If the Emperor was there, then it stood that Vader would be there and, if the Dark Lord of the Sith was present, then logic told him Sohn Vader, Luke Skywalker, was also there.
Another reason why he hoped Solo and his group was successful; he didn’t relish fighting in a drawn out dogfight, didn’t relish firing on Imperial ships for fear that one of them was his friend. Luke had spared him in conflict and Wedge knew he may not be able to return the favour in the heat of battle.
“All craft, prepare to jump to hyperspace on my mark,” Ackbar’s voice broke into his thoughts, drawing him back to the moment at hand.
“All right,” Gold Leader responded. “Stand by.”
Wedge swallowed, adrenalin rushing as the signal was given, and he engage his hyper-drive; all thoughts of Luke pushed from his mind.
It was early morning, the sun only just beginning to lift the mist from the forest floor as Han and Chewbacca lead the squad to the edge of a ridge overlooking the Imperial outpost. He stooped as he neared a fallen log and crouched behind it, signalling for the squad to do the same, and he peered over the log looking down at the landing platform and shield generator the Imperials had built in the valley below.
The droids came up behind him, Artoo tooting softly and Han looked to See Threepio for an explanation.
“Artoo says the entrance to the bunker is on the other side of that landing platform,” Threepio whispered, trying his best to hide himself in some nearby foliage.
Han nodded his understanding as Chewbacca quietly woofed beside him. The Corellian smiled tightly. “Yeah, I know Chewie, but you and me have got into a lot of places more heavily guarded than this.”
Chewie chuffed soft laughter as memories of those other places spilled into his mind.
Han turned his squad, “Let’s do this thing.” His eyes settled on the nearest soldier. “Lantaff, take point.”
The young man came forward and the squad moved off toward their target.
Sohn Vader climbed into the cockpit of his TIE Interceptor and settled into the acceleration chair. He quickly strapped himself in, pulled his breathing apparatus from its setting and fixed it to his mask and his flight suit’s portable oxygen feed. Even here, with his squad, he was to hide his features, to stay apart from them. He was excluded from their camaraderie, viewed with fear and suspicion - just like his father.
“I want to learn the ways of the Force, and become a Jedi like my father.”
He wanted to discard that thought, the memory of his decision made in grief, the childish statement that had become so true. He had been so innocent then, so easily swayed by the glory of light.
And light had become his betrayer.
This is light. This is pain.
Ben had ignored his pleas. He had reached out through the Force, through his pain, through the agony of Palpatine’s teachings, to his old master and the Jedi did not answer. Obi-Wan had remained silent to his cries, to his agony of body and spirit. He had sought the calm of the light and found only emptiness and silence. There was no hope, no comfort, no succour and only one path had been left before him. And still he made his own.
“Executor First Squad, this is Control. Launch in thirty minutes.”
Sohn frowned, briefly. So soon. “Acknowledged, Control. We’ll be ready”
The battle was about to begin; the Alliance fleet had left Sullust and he was being sent out against them. Sent away from Palpatine, from Vader, from his sister. He needed to be on the Death Star, he needed to stand by his father and his Emperor, that is where he had planned to be, had wanted to be. Before she had come. Before his designs had started to unravel and spool out of his own hands and into the hands of fate.
He drew in a breath, soothing his feelings, pushing them back and shifted his focus to his task at hand. He ran through his pre-flight checks, engaged his engines. He could feel his squad’s anxiousness, the tense expectancy which precluded a battle; the fear of death was strong in many and he knew that before this day ended most would have that fear justified. However, only the deaths of three would truly see the end of this conflict and only Leia’s presence could prevent that from happening.
He could not sacrifice her to meet his own ends.
And now to protect her, he had to protect the Death Star, could not allow the Alliance through. His father had shown him this when he had taken his sister from him, when Vader had also shown him…
…that to argue with Palpatine was pointless.
But, still, he was conflicted. Caught in the eye of the maelstrom, the Force twisting and funnelling around him teasing him with images of his past life, tormenting him with images of current events and tempting him with future possibilities. The patterns of the Force shifted and twisted about him, and he had never felt so strong, so potent, so powerful. He had to maintain his control, had to temper his emotions to achieve his goal. For it could still be done. There had to be another way.
But the Force held this vision back, refused to yield to his searching, his questioning and a quiet voice whispered at the back of his mind that no matter what actions he took now, there could only be one outcome and it was not the one he had hoped for. He was not the puppet master. He was the puppet, and only when he found the strength to cut his strings would his true destiny be revealed.
“First Squad, we are to Rendezvous with the Fleet on the other side of the Moon,” he ordered, his voice scrapping through his throat. “Prepare to launch on my mark.” As his men acknowledged the order, he powered up the throttle, felt the energy ripple through his fighter as he eased the Interceptor out of the Death Star docking bay.
Leia could do little else but sit and wait for the cell door to lift open. She stared at the familiar blank walls around her, the dim lights from overhead barely illuminating her prison. It was an exact replica of her cell on the first Death Star. Then she had been waiting execution, bereft after the destruction of Alderaan, and had been rescued in a flurry of enthusiasm and gun fire.
Leia smiled briefly at her memories of the wild and impromptu rescue; the sheer impudence that both Han…
…Han! What are you doing? Are you safe?…
… and Luke had shown by merely strolling into the detention block to save her. A woman they had never met. Luke had told her later about seeing the message she had programmed into Artoo and, to her amusement, he had blushed and stumbled his words when she pressed further trying to understand why he had felt compelled to place himself in so much danger for her.
She was touched by his actions, humbled by his simple courage and slightly embarrassed by his attraction to her. And she wondered if Luke had thought about these memories at all during their conversation on the Endor moon, if he was thinking of them now.
She stared at the door, waiting, anticipating it opening and she was afraid. Afraid it would slide open and admit Vader…
…and his droid. Afraid it would be Luke who stepped down into her cell to prod and question her. Afraid that the door would remain closed and never open, that she would be alone when her Alliance comrades were successful and the battle station disintegrated around her. There would be no rescue from this cell, no wild escape and she would suffer only the pain and death she had expected of that first one.
She fought to calm herself, fought to draw the strength she so required to face whatever the future would yield.
Crouching again in the foliage, Han surveyed the entrance of the Imperial Compound, the structure of the building which housed the shield Generator, the huge dish that loomed over them. There were six storm troopers that he could see; four on the ground, two in guard towers either side of the large doorway. They needed to deal with the soldiers without raising an alarm or suspicion.
He turned to his squad, silently signalling individual soldiers and pairing them to their targets with a series of hand gestures. The men nodded their understanding and quietly fanned out along the edge of the forest. Han lined his blaster sights on his own target as Chewie softly grunted encouragement behind him.
The sound of his shot was echoed by five others at exactly the same time and the Imperial troopers all crumpled silently to the ground.
Han was immediately on his feet and swiftly heading for the open door. “C’mon, Chewie!” He paused at the entrance, staring into the dim interior. It was quiet. Too quiet and Han’s honed senses tingled with warning. He turned to his companions searching for the droids. “Threepio!” He whispered as loudly as he dared. “Anyone on Artoo’s sensors?”
The small droid scooted beside him, softly twittering and Threepio translated. “Nothing, General. Perhaps they have…”
Han waved him silent. This wasn’t right. This was too easy. But they had no choice, they had to move on for the fleet would be arriving within minutes.
Palpatine relaxed into his throne and closed his eyes. He smiled with pleasure, smiled at the sensations building within the Force; the tensions among his crew as the hour of battle fast approached, the darkness flowing from his elder apprentice beside him, the burning rage of the boy as he waited with the fleet for his old comrades to arrive.
Wedge Antilles drew himself upright in his acceleration chair as his fighter nearer the attack co-ordinates. He checked his instruments, ran through his internal systems looking for last minute glitches which would affect his fighter’s performance in the battle. He grinned as the slow trickle of adrenalin he had felt through out the journey suddenly rushed his body; he was ready for this fight.
Three minute’s to reversion to normal space.
The Rebel squad stealthily worked its way through the Imperial complex. It remained deserted of all personnel and Han’s unease had grown by each passing moment. They reached a junction and Han paused, pressing himself against the wall with Chewbacca beside him.
“I don’t like this Chewie,” he finally admitted and Chewie woofed in anxious agreement as Han rechecked his chrono. Almost time. He glanced behind him at his squad at the young lives he was leading into the very bowels of Imperial territory.
And Chewbacca growled softly, nodding.
“Let’s do this, then!” He waved the squad forward and they flowed across the junction to the opposite blast door. Han hit the door release and the entrance lifted revealing the shield control room. The Rebels spilled into the room surprising the few Imperials stationed by the controls and the banks of computers.
“Move! Move!” Han ordered, gesturing with his blaster. “Up against the wall!” he turned looking for his own men and the explosives they carried. “Charges!”
The barked command came from behind and in a fluid move Han caught a charge thrown to him by his sergeant and redirected it toward the Imperial officer standing before the generator. It caught the man in the chest tumbling him over the railings and into the reactor. He screamed as he fell. Han turned at the clattering of boot steps behind him, at the shouts of his men as they were overwhelmed by a flood of storm troopers and found himself facing another officer, one whose blaster was inches from his chest.
And Han knew the attack was over before it had even begun.
“All Wings report in,” Lando Calrissian’s voice crackled over the com and Wedge tore his gaze away from the Death Star which loomed before them. He had been prepared for this. Of all the Rebel pilots he was the only one who had known what to expect and still he was appalled by the sight on the Empire’s terror weapon as it sat malignantly over the Endor moon.
“Look at the size of that thing”
He smiled briefly at his memory before pushing it away and focusing on the task at hand as he answered the call with all the coolness of a seasoned warrior. “Red Leader standing by. “
This Death Star was incomplete; this Death Star would not have the opportunity to cause the death and destruction of the first. This time there would be no Alderaan.
“Lock S-foils in attacks position, “he ordered as he scanned the area using his eyes as well as his instruments. He frowned as something about the Death Star struck his as being odd. It sat alone. There were no ships. No fighters. And only the shield generator protected it. If the Emperor was truly on board wouldn’t it be better protected?
“Break off the attack! The shield is still up.”
Wedge searched his instruments again at Calrissian’s warning. “I get no reading. Are you sure?” And even as he said it he knew; the Empire had been expecting them.
“Pull up!” Calrissian called. “All craft pull up.”
Voices calling over the com filled his head as he pulled his craft away from the Death Star barely avoiding scrapping his foils on Red Two.
“Take evasive action! Green Group, stick close to holding sector MV-seven.” Ackbar’s voice sounded above the rest.
“…enemy ships in sector four-seven!”
“It’s a trap!”
It was a swarm, a cloud of TIE fighters screaming towards them and behind them, supporting them, an entire fleet of Star Destroyers. And then there was no time to think, no time plan and strategise. There was time only to react and survive as Wedge found himself in the midst of a furious dogfight.
“Hey!” Han protested as the Stormtrooper behind him prodded him forward with the muzzle of his blaster. He glanced around drawing the man a sour look.
“Move!” the soldier coldly ordered and they stepped out of the installation into the sunlight, into a forest clearing.
Han looked around, frowning; this wasn’t the way they had entered the installation. “Back door,” he muttered. “We should’ve used the back door.” Then he saw what was waiting for them. There were hundreds of troopers, biker scouts, and several AT-ST Walkers. He leaned into Chewbacca. “Bit off an overkill don’t you think?”
Chewbacca grunted in agreement. All of these troopers just for them.
“Move!” They were told again. “Hands on your heads”
Han complied walking into the centre of the clearing, surrounded on four sides by Imperial soldiers. He glanced up saw the Death Star looming overhead, saw tiny flares and sparks through the blue and he knew the fleet had arrived and was now fighting for its life. He didn’t like their odds, or his for that matter. They were caught and surrounded, the fleet trapped over head and he had no idea where Leia was, but he presumed she had been taken to the battle station since she hadn’t been reunited with them. And so he appealed to the only one he thought could help them now.
“Come on, kid. Help us a little here.”
“Cut right! Lead the Rebels away from the Death Star,” Sohn brought his fighter into a spiral, barely avoiding the cutting lasers of an opposing ship. Instinctively he looped back, found himself behind the X-Wing and drew the Rebel into his sights. His finger tightened on the trigger…
What am I doing?
… he relaxed, drew away from the Rebel, let him go.
“Sir?” His wingman questioned.
Sohn ignored him, veered left, evading a burning TIE which exploded behind him. He winced, pushing his interceptor down, hearing shrapnel hitting his hull. He quickly checked his sensors, looking for damage to his ship. Everything read normal. He slammed the controls forward. “Leave the larger ships, target only the fighters.”
Away from Leia….
His wingman’s young cry ended abruptly in a brief flare of flames. Sohn glanced around for the assailant as a larger craft passed over head, quad guns spitting deadly fire in his direction. He twisted away only just dodging the shots.
No, Han was on the moon. Leia had said Han and Chewbacca were with her. Who was flying the Falcon? He watched as several TIEs converged on the freighter, as the Falcon performed evasive manoeuvres, as the guns took out the attacking Imperials.
Whoever he was he flew the Falcon as if he knew her well.
But Leia had said Han had been with her! He watched as a group of Interceptors converged on the Falcon and he quickly keyed his com. “Leave the freighter. Concentrate on the fighters.”
“But, sir it’s…”
Sohn winced as another of his men died, brought down by an A-Wing which spun away followed by the remaining members of his squadron. The Falcon looped around, following, gunning down more TIEs; the cries and pleas of the dying reverberating painfully over the com.
“Your wingman died because of your hesitation…”
His father’s scathing reprimand from after his last battle returned. His wingman had perished and he had allowed Wedge Antilles to escape. He should not be so indecisive, he should not be apprehensive. He knew what he should do, after all he was Sohn Vader, and he was the son of the Dark Lord of the Sith, he was apprentice to the Emperor Palpatine, he was…
“….Luke Skywalker. I’m here to rescue you.”
Instinctively he brought his gloved hand away from the controls of his fighter to rub at his face, but his hand met only the cool façade he was forced to wear, the hated disguise under which he hid his true identity.
“No,” he growled to himself. “Skywalker is dead.”
There was a flare from beyond his cockpit and he winced at the brightness of it.
This is light. This is pain.
He knew what he should do; he knew what his path should be. His destiny could not be overshadowed by doubts. He reached out and touched the Force seeking strength, seeking its potency to replace his weakness. He reached out and saw….
Vader stood impassively by the side of the Emperor as the despot cackled and sniggered with delight. Each tiny flare from the fight seemed to delight him, each cry within the Force seemed to strengthen him.
“Look at them, my friend,” Palpatine gloated. “See how they scuttle like insects. Here the Alliance will die. Here the Dark Side of the Force will truly triumph. And your son shall be fully mine.” He turned his throne, looked up at his towering servant with a smile. “He has been growing strong, my Lord, but his path remains unclear to him. Despite his pledge to me he still doubts, still has lingering loyalties to the Rebellion.”
“Yes, My Master,” For of course it was true. Vader could feel Luke’s conflict, could sense his indecision and his inability to fire upon the Alliance ships, to take the lives of those he once called friend. There was hope; it was not yet too late for his son.
“We shall remove those loyalties. We will wipe out the Rebellion and he will have no-one but us. Nothing but darkness. Perhaps then he will understand what we offer him.” The smile widened, the glint sharpened in the yellowing eyes. “Bring me the Organa girl. I should enjoy her company while the battle rages. Once she has seen the end of her Revolution, I shall terminate her myself.” Palpatine turned his attention back to the conflict beyond the Death Star.
There was a brief twist of fury; an abrupt blade of fear knifed the Dark Lord in the chest. But he smothered it, stifled it lest his master sense his feelings for his daughter. He bowed to his Emperor’s back. “As you wish, my master.”
As Vader turned away Palpatine smiled once more, fixing his gaze more intensely on the battle, searching for one presence among the many. The boy was not difficult to find, even in the midst of such chaos his presence shimmered within the Force; burning brightly with his confusion, his uncertainty and indecision. These feelings were about to be removed, these feelings of doubt would be eradicated and the boy would be left with but one.
With a sigh of pleasure, and aware that Vader had not yet left the room, Palpatine opened himself to the Force and touched Sohn’s mind. He allowed the youth to see the girl sitting alone in the darkened cell, allowed Sohn the sight of his father dipping his head to enter that cell and he shared his plans for the Princess Organa’s fate. Allowed Sohn to see her writhe and scream as the Alliance died.
Then, as the boy’s rage erupted, he severed their link and brought his throne back around. The dark Lord had hesitated in his steps and was still regarding his master. Palpatine met his gaze and maintained it as he turned to the com set within his throne. “Jerjerrod!”
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“If the Lord Commander Vader wishes to board the Death Star you are to deny him access.”
“Of course, Sire. We cannot drop the shields the Alli…”
“But you will, Commander,” Palpatine hissed, still looking at his elder apprentice. “You will keep him waiting but a moment or two before capitulating to his demands.”
“But…Sire… If the shields are down even for a moment there is a chance the Rebels may be able to…”
“Have the gun turrets manned, but allow Sohn Vader on board. However,” he added almost as an after thought. “Increase my security. No one apart from the senior Lord Vader may enter my sanctum.”
“As you wish, Sire.” The confusion was clear within Jerjerrod’s voice but he would not dare question or disobey. “Shall I ready the primary weapon?”
“Yes. But fire only on my command. “
“Of Course, Your Majesty. “
Palpatine relaxed, allowed a smile to once more trace his thin lips. “I believe I made a request of you, My Lord?”
The thin smile remained on the Emperor’s lips as he watched the Dark Lord enter the waiting elevator then he returned his attention back to the space battle, back to the torn feelings from the boy. His order given, his servant’s obedience assumed.
Everything was proceeding as he had foreseen.
“No!” The cry was ripped from the very core of him. The future images of Leia’s torment gouging into his mind; Palpatine releasing his dark energy to feast upon the helpless princess as their father stood dispassionately by and did nothing.
As he did with me.
His anger was blinding. His terror for his sister overwhelming. His hatred and loathing for his Emperor and his father consuming. Nothing mattered now; not the battle, not his dreams or desires. There was only the power within which craved release.
Stay and be safe. Stay and find strength.
He pulled his ship around and ploughed through the field of battle, firing indiscriminately at any ship that dared cross his path, that dared put themselves between him and his sister; Imperial and Rebel alike died under his guns and he felt nothing for them. He ignored the protests of his men, his vision firmly on the Death Star ahead, his actions guided solely by the Dark Side of the Force, his focus only on Leia and those who plotted to harm her.
Leia pulled herself upright on the bench, her eyes searching the gloom of her cell. Something was terribly wrong. She didn’t know how she knew, she didn’t understand. But she knew she had to be ready.
The door of her cell sliced open and, despite her resolve, she felt herself shrink back as Darth Vader’s bulk filled the space.
“The Emperor requests your company, your Highness,” the Dark Lord rumbled, extending a hand to her.
Leia stood and, ignoring the offered hand, she stepped up from her prison. She was surprised to find him alone. Where were the escort guards? She drew herself to her full height and looked up to the dark mask, fighting to hide her feelings; her fear, her anguish. Fighting to keep her voice from wavering as she answered. “Then we shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
Leia turned on her heel, turned her back the man who sired her, the man who had tortured her, who had ripped her brother from her at Bespin, who had tried to do the same with Han. She walked forward ahead of him, making him follow her.
And Vader was proud at that moment. Proud of his daughter’s strength, her choler and her courage. She was indeed her mother’s child, as Luke was his. He stepped in behind her, careful to keep some distance lest his strides over took her, fighting his urgency to move her quicker. Luke…
… was returning to the Death Star and he didn’t have much time to act. The boy’s control had snapped and Luke was hanging precariously on the edge of the abyss, about to plunge headlong into the darkness he had been fighting alone since Bespin. Every second which passed, every life that he took in his blind rush to reach Palpatine, was one less hold Luke had to the light and Vader needed to be with Palpatine before the last one gave.
Silently the princess and the Dark Lord stepped into the waiting elevator.
Wedge grimaced as the TIE fighter that had bobbed in front of his ship blew apart as his laser’s brushed its engines. He turned away from the explosion looking for another target.
“Watch it! Red Leader”
Wedge instinctively wrenched his controls to the side, brining his X-Wing into a sharp bank as an Imperial Interceptor darted passed; green lasers spitting arbitrarily.
“Wedge?” Gold Leader’s voice broke over the com.
“I see him, General,” Wedge watched the TIE’s path as it moved away from its own ships, away from the battle field, away towards… “He’s heading for the Death Star!”
“Follow him, Wedge,” Lando commanded. “If they drop the shield for him we may be able to slip through. “
Wedge grinned at the idea, hope beginning to develop within. “Copy Gold Leader
“It may be our only chance.” This was said quietly, sadly, and Wedge knew that Calrissian was thinking of his friend on the Endor moon.
“Red Squad form up on me. Follow that fighter - but don’t fire on him we need him alive to get the shield down.” Wedge accelerated after the lone Imperial accompanied by the remnants of his squad and the Millennium Falcon.
Clear of the battle field Sohn keyed his com, fighting to keep his voice calm, fighting to control the urgency which pounded within. “Deactivate the security shield.” He ordered shortly.
“Negative pilot. You are to return to your squadron immediately.”
Frustration further fuelled his anger. “This is Lord Commander Sohn Vader. Deactivate the shield.”
“Negative Commander, you have enemy ships at point eight behind you and closing. The shield will not be lowered.”
The pressure was becoming too much. He could feel it building, feel it pressing in on all sides, could hearing the buzzing in his head as he fought to keep his thoughts coherent against the rage within. His voice trembled as he spoke. “You will drop the shield and allow me to dock.”
The controller’s voice was lost to Sohn’s cry of fury. In utter desperation, he opened fire, pulling off round after round of laser fire that was absorbed harmlessly by the Death Star’s shielding. He pulled up sharply, feeling his fighter groan and protest at the sudden stresses placed upon it. He circled around, spun the craft and found himself facing an incoming tide of Alliance fighters. He flew straight through them, sending them scattering, then he circled around and brought his TIE back onto approach.
Leia convulsing in pain, screaming his name…..
“Lower the shields!”
“We cannot lower the shields while enemy ships are in the vicinity, commander,” Jerjerrod’s voice had replaced that of the controller’s. “The area has to be clear.”
“Not a problem,” Sohn told him coolly, smiling grimly at the more positive response, feeling hope cloud among the darkness. “First squad to my position.” And he opened fire on the Rebel ships.
And the Emperor crowed in delight as the mental images he sent to the boy propelled Sohn deeper into darkness, further into despair and wretchedness. When this day was through his hold on Sohn Vader would be complete. The Alliance would crumble and no system would dare question his supremacy, his rule, not when he had the Death Star and the Younger Vader with which to quash them.
“Commander!” he rasped into his Com. “Send orders to the fleet to move out to block any escape the Rebels may attempt. Then you may fire at will.”
There was an alarm klaxxoning loudly as Leia strode from the elevator with Vader at her back. Stormtroopers and dark garbed gunners were running to their positions. It wasn’t until she felt the Dark Lord’s hand on her shoulder that she realised she had stopped.
“They’re here?” she whispered, suddenly afraid on many levels. The fleet had arrived and they were all still alive. What had happened to Han?
“They are,” Vader informed her, picking up her abrupt grief “And we must hurry.”
Leia straightened her shoulders, angrily shrugged off his hand and pushed away her concern for Han and for the Alliance. She had to be prepared to face Palpatine. She allowed Vader to guide her and as they approached a set of double blast doors at the end of the corridor she steeled herself for what lay ahead.
The doors opened and Vader and the princess passed through into a large docking bay where a shuttle sat quietly and where, off to the side, a pilot reclined on packing crates avidly watching a display of the battle taking place over the moon. The man jumped to attention as they approached the ship.
With confusion over-riding her fear, Leia stopped and stared at the vessel. “I don’t understand….” She started. But she did. She did understand and this confused her more. He was letting her go. He was saving her life.
“The Emperor requested your presence so he could enjoy your reaction as the Alliance was destroyed before your eyes, “Vader explained. “I mean to deprive him of that pleasure. He also means to use you against your brother and I had to remove that weapon from him also.”
For Luke’s sake.
She turned, looked up at the black visage, one which once filled her with terror and now filled her with wonder. “Why?”
The helmet tilted upwards as though Vader was searching the far corner of the hanger, then he turned to her. “You are my daughter,” he said simply, and with regret.
“What about Luke?”
Vader briefly hesitated, again there was a tilt of the helmet. “He is very near.” Indeed Sohn’s emotions were battering his Force senses; so much rage amid a cool determination. And he was afraid that this time Luke was already lost. “Leave him to me.” He gestured to the pilot to approach. “It is time to leave, your Highness.”
“My Lord?” The Pilot stood by them looking in confusion at the Rebel princess and the Dark Lord.
“You are to escort her Highness to the sanctuary moon,” Vader rumbled. “She is not to come to harm or you will answer to me.”
The pilot nervously flickered to Leia. “My Lord the shield, the battle….”
“The shield will be lowered momentarily; you will slip through and take the shuttle away from the battle zone.”
“Yes, my Lord,” he bowed.
“Give me your side arm.”
The bow was never completed as the man jerked back up. “My Lord Vader, I…”
“Give me your side arm.”
The man complied and handed Vader his pistol by the grip. The Dark Lord took it and passed it to Leia. The pilot stiffened in surprise.
“My Lord…” he began stumbling over his words, terribly afraid of the man before him, but also terribly confused by his Lord’s actions. But he stilled his questions when Vader turned the mask upon him. “Leave us and ready the shuttle.”
As the man left them Leia took the offered gun, her own feelings wild and unsure…..
..Han… what has happened to Han?
“Now go, your Highness.” Vader advised as the shuttle’s engines came to life.
“Thank you…” she stalled unable to find the word, unable to call him father.
“I understand,” he told her. “And if I can, I will return your brother to you.”
Leia nodded briefly, then turned and strode up the ramp of the waiting shuttle which immediately lifted behind her. Vader hurried from the hanger, knowing he had to reach the Emperor before Luke.
Leia settled in beside the pilot, keeping the blaster in her grip as the shuttle lifted and glided from the bay. “When we’re clear of the fighting, bring us around the moon to the shield generator.”
“The Lord Vader never said anything about obeying your orders, Rebel.”
Leia considered the pistol and smiled. “I’m quite a good pilot myself,” she said quietly, her meaning very clear. “You’ll take us around to the shield generator.”
“Evasive manoeuvres! He’s firing on us!” Wedge called frantically. Bringing his fighter out of a tight turn. He banked right as his Artoo unit screeched from behind the cockpit. His eyes swept the scanners. “And he’s got reinforcements.”
“Copy that, Wedge,” Lando replied, frustration biting his words. “Red Squad head back to fleet. They won’t drop the shield with a crowd of us here.”
“Red leader! One on your tail!”
“I see him, Red Five!”
Wedge spun the X-Wing, zigzagged a broken path through the smaller dog-fight they had created away from the main fighting. The Interceptor remained on his tail, seemed to be able to read his every move. “I could use some help here! He’s good!” He frowned at his own words, watched his opponent in his rear scanners.
“He flies like, Luke.”
“Shit,” he breathed softly as his conversation with Solo and the Princess returned to him. “Don’t do this, Luke.”
“On my way, Wedge!” Lando responded, bringing the Falcon around, quad guns blazing.
Sohn followed the X-Wing watching as the ship bobbed and weaved in and out of the crosshairs of his targeting device, as it spun and looped around trying to shake him. He felt the danger before his scanners warned him of the ship coming up behind him, and he pushed the controls forward putting his interceptor into a dive as streaks of red laser fire shot past. He brought the ship around impulsively returning fire on his attacker.
“No!” the denial was a howl of desolate realisation as his shots lightly brushed the hull of the Millennium Falcon, piercing its shielding and sending shards spinning off. “Han!”
“Gold Leader!” Wedge called, in alarm.
“Shielding’s gone, Wedge,” Lando told him, tightly. “Engine’s losing power. He’s hit the….ah…controls are shorting out…”
“I’m coming in to help…..”
“Negative, Wedge… We’re dead in space. Get back to the fleet. Han’ll get that shield down. You’re in Command now, Red leader.”
Panicked Sohn drew back, flew his TIE back towards the floundering freighter as the last Rebel X-Wing turned to flee the scene and it was then he saw the markings on the snub-fighter. It had been Wedge. He’d almost shot Wedge down, but instead it had been Han…
…Leia said Han was with her. What did she mean? That he was on the moon? He had to be on the moon. But the Falcon… he never let anyone else fly the Falcon…
He passed over the ship seeing movement in the cockpit, unable to make out precise figures. And relief flooded him, they were still alive. He opened his com to warn his men off but before he could speak the quad guns from the Falcon opened fire on him.
There were streaks of green as one of his own men flew to his defence. “Don’t” he cried.
The TIE’s shots sheered off the Falcon’s cockpit, spilling bodies into space. It touched the damaged hull and the Millennium Falcon disintegrated in a burst of fire and debris.
Han stood with the squad and beside him Threepio, uncommonly subdued and quiet, placed a golden hand on the dome of Artoo Detoo. Chewbacca growled under his breath at the surrounding Imperial troops. The Corellian glanced up once more at the blue sky, at the pin point flares of light as once particularly bright explosion burst near the Death Star.
“On your knees, Rebels.”
And Han knew their time was short. Knew he had to act. Somehow.
It was too much, too much. There was too much happening. Too much pain to contain within. Moaning he pressed the heel of his hands against the forehead of the mask, wanting to rip it off wanting beat his fists against the controls of his fighter, wanting to open his eyes and see the Falcon whole, wanting to know that Han was still alive and that he had not been responsible for what had happened.
He had to control these feelings, had to reel in the emotions that were overwhelming him, that threatened to engulf him. He had to gather them in and nurture them just for a short while, just until he could command them and use them to his own advantage.
“Lord Commander,” Jerjerrod’s voice cut through the static in his head. “The shield will be deactivated on your next approach. You are to dock within your assigned hanger and be escorted to…”
Vader’s bulk stepping down into a cell, his hands clasping the princess drawing her to her feet. Vader standing behind Palpatine as the old man laughed at her anguish and despair. Vader doing nothing as the Emperor gently took her face in his hands, spoke soothingly too her before the familiar flickers of blue spread from his finger tips to her skin. Vader watching as she fell screaming to the floor crying out her brother’s name.
Vader. Their father.
He spun his fighter around and headed back to the Death Star.
Leia gripped the blaster tightly as the shuttle slipped out of the docking bay, her stomach twisting with tension, her head pounding with….
….pain and rage…
She gave an involuntary gasp. Tried to reach out with her raw Force abilities and found a still darkness, a quiet shadow which scared her.
Stay and be safe. Stay and find strength.
And she prayed that Vader was correct about the shield being lowered, prayed that the action she was about to take would help end this conflict; would help her brother to somehow find the peace he so badly needed.
The ship slowed for a moment, paused in its journey as the pilot brought it near to the shielding and Leia glanced out of the cockpit. It was quiet this side of the space station. Here there were no other ships, no lights of battle, just the quiet peace of cold space and the Endor moon shining below. It was a calm and tranquil view one which helped ease her anxiety. She knew what she had to do.
For Han. For Luke. For us all.
She reached forward changing the com frequency, tapping in Alliance code to break into the secure channels looking for the Rebel battle chatter and the cockpit was suddenly filled with desperate shouts and frantic orders.
The Shuttle moved forward, building speed. “Take us down.” Leia said quietly.
Sohn wrenched off the breathing apparatus and, leaving the Interceptor’s engines idling, he popped the hatch and jumped unaided to the hanger floor. A squad of troopers were approaching him, marching in close formation. He strode toward them barely containing the emotions which surged within, the power and passion which begged release.
“Lord Commander Vader,” the lead trooper acknowledged him. “You are under arrest for…”
Wordlessly Sohn gathered the Force around him, he lifted his hand as he approached and waved them out of his way. The troopers were sent crashing across the hanger. Sohn did not glance at them, nor did he break his stride.
Darth Vader stepped out of the elevator and swept passed the guards stationed there without a look or a thought. He was focusing entirely on this moment, setting his resolve to face his Emperor. But it was difficult to maintain his composure, difficult to concentrate his attention forward when his senses were being battered by his son’s squalling emotions. The Force was a storm around them and he and Palptine were the eye. He dipped to his knees as Palpatine rose from the throne, yellow eyes narrowed with anger.
“What is this?”
“The Princess Leia is no longer on board the Death Star,” Vader rumbled, helmet lowered in his bow.
…Raging frustration…. unrelenting pain….blind aggression… Blue of a lightsabre blade flashing against the red of the Royal Guards who stood between him and the elevator.
Sohn was so very close.
Palpatine smirked at the bludgeoning feelings from the boy, at the images caught by them both. Then he turned back to his servant. “And who is responsible for this treachery?”
“I am, my Master.”
The thin lips pursed in anger, there was a pause of surprise which pleased the dark Lord. The Palpatine stepped towards him. “I focused on the son, when it should have been the father I kept watch upon.”
Vader lowered his postion as the Emperor lightly caressed his feelings, then plunged deeper into his mind, shredding through his beliefs, dreams and wishes. He wilted under the attack, allowed Palpatine access to his most private thoughts lest the pain of fighting weaken him to the struggle ahead. He knew he would require every ounce of his strength and conviction to face his furious son.
“And why would the Dark Lord of the Sith risk all for that girl…….. Ah,” and he smiled with realisation and spoke gleefully, enjoying the pain he sensed from Vader. “… to save the son.” He paused, glanced up toward the still silent elevator and the guards standing there. “Can’t you feel him, my Lord? His wrath, his passion, his strength and power within the Darkness. He welcomes these feelings now, he revels in the Dark Side side as he fights his way to us, as he fights to save…”
The girl… something about the girl…
“Sister?” Palpatine spat in surprise and disgust. “A second child? The Organa brat?” As Vader remained silent, Palpatine’s surprise melted to bemusment and then to rile as he suddenly understood the Dark Lord’s actions. He grimaced at the man who still bowed to him. “You are not here to pay homage to me, my Lord,” he drawled with repugnance. “Your loyalties lie elsewhere - Skywalker.”
Smiling, with satisfaction Sohn took the head of the remaining guard with a final vicious stroke of his sword. As the body crumpled to the floor among the others the Younger Dark Lord stepped forward into the elevator. The Force was thrilling through him, filling him with a heady power and he glanced upward as the lift began to ascend to the Emperor’s chamber. No-one would stand between him and his sister and live.
Palpatine’s head jerked up as though he had heard something and he looked toward the elevator. He grinned in satisfaction and announced. “You have failed. Your son is mine!”
Vader rose and turned as Palpatine moved back toward his throne. The elevator doors parted and the guards turned to stop its occupant from entering the chamber. There was the spit and hum of a lightsabre and the men were felled by three easy slices of the blue blade. Sohn callously stepped over their bodies onto the bridge which crossed the shaft and Vader understood that Palpatine was right; this small, dark figure which stalked towards them was not Luke Skywalker. This man was lost in rage and anguish, this man nurtured hatred and revenge, this man’s awful power trembled under a tenuous control and he was so eager now to unleash it.
This man reminded Vader of his younger self.
“Where is she?” Sohn screamed. He gripped his sabre tightly, the blue glow reflecting on his mask.
Stay and be safe.
“Luke…” Vader began stepping toward him, his hand instinctively touching the hilt of his own sabre.
“Don’t call me that!” Fury scored the word as it tore through Sohn’s scarred vocal cords; a lasting gift from his father. “Where’s Leia?”
“Dead,” Palpatine sneered from behind Vader’s back as Sohn reached the steps and began to climb.
Leia wilting under the attack. Reaching to Vader in her desperation.
And her plea went unanswered.
With a bestial howl Sohn attacked; sword swinging high toward his father’s head. Vader’s sword flew into his hands and he barely blocked the blow, deflecting his son’s move. The younger man pushed forward blade flashing relentlessly as he pressed his father back. Vader met each lunge, each frenzied stroke with a defensive parry. He had never felt such strength from the boy before, such a focused purpose. Luke was quick, his moves thoughtless; guided solely by the Dark Side of the Force and Vader was afraid he would lose this fight and into doing so he would lose everything.
Sohn brought his saber in low, cutting in toward Vader’s side. His father blocked the blow but was unbalanced by the move and Sohn brought his foot up, viciously kicking his father and sending the elder Vader crashing down the stairway. He immediately jumped after him, landing at Vader’s sprawled legs. He raised the sabre above his head ready to serve the killing blow, but Vader brought his hand up and sent Luke reeling back with a push as he gathered himself to his feet.
With lithe ability Sohn righted himself and faced his father, saber held in a traditional attack position. Vader raised his own sword in defence and they circled each other; both looking for a weakness in the other, both driven by similar desires and wants; but both too absorbed in events to recognise it; Sohn utterly oblivious to the manipulations of the Dark Side of the Force.
Above them Palpatine cackled with glee as their sabres locked together once more.
“Break right! Break right!” Wedge called desperately to his wingman. “I’m coming in…”
An immense burst of light erupted from the Death Star and touched one of the Rebel crusiers. It exploded into dust taking with it the fighters which had surged around it.
There was a moment of stunned silence over the com and then all began shouting as one.
“The Death Star’s operational!”
“We saw it,” Ackbar’s broke over all others. “All craft prepare to retreat.”
“No, Admiral!” A female voice broke in. “Maintain the attack. The shield will be brought down - I only need a few moments.”
“Princess?” Wedge questioned feeling a little optimism swell from the depths of the hopelessness he had been feeling.
Another ship disintegrated, taken out by the Death Star.
“I’m not sure we have a few moments, Your Highness,” Ackbar responded tightly. “Not against the Death Star, and the Imperial fleet is closing in quickly to block an escape. We have to leave now to preserve the Rebellion.”
“We won’t get another opportunity like this Admiral,” Leia argued, fighting to keep the choler and anxiety from her voice. If they left, if they fled now the Emperor would still live, the Death Star would be completed to wreak havoc throughout the Galaxy. “It has to end here!”
Wedge understood her reasoning, knew what she was saying made sense, but how could they buy the time they needed. He brought his fighter around, accelerated passed the medical frigate firing on the TIE that he had centred in his crosshairs. It blew as Wedge spun away and he saw the stars of clear space before him slowly being closed off by the Imperial Star Destroyers.
That was it!
“Admiral, if we moved the fleet towards those destroyers, took them on at close range that would…”
“We won’t last long against those Star Destroyers,” Ackbar responded.
“No, but they might think twice about using the Death Star cannon if they value their own ships! And it might buy the Princess some time!” He was shouting now desperately trying to convince his superior.
There was a pause filled by static then, “I’ll give order,” Ackbar conceded quietly.
Leia sighed in relief smiling slightly as she watched as the Endor moon grew to fill the view port of the shuttle. “Thank you, Admiral.”
Beside her the Imperial pilot chuckled. “It’s too late, Rebel” he sneered. “The Emperor has your fleet cornered.”
Leia glanced briefly in his direction as the shuttle moved into the upper layers on the moon’s atmosphere a tight retort balanced on her lips…
…blue against red, black on black… fury and fright scurrying… squawking laughter and foul glee… a darkness and malevolence so strong it…
…she blanched in sudden pain, gasped at the rawness of the emotions which battered against her like a rough tide and she slumped low in the chair trying to unravel herself from the Force. The pilot beside her rose, reached across to snatch to gun from her hand but found himself looking at its barrel once more.
“Just fly the shuttle, and remember Vader said I wasn‘t to come to harm,” Leia told him, shakily as she forcefully fought her way out of the images and the feelings which had almost overwhelmed her. Time was short for the Fleet, and she was possibly too late for Han and his team below her in the Forest. And this thought struck her deeply, caused tight grief to rise and choke at the back of her throat. She swallowed it back; she still had Luke, still had her brother and she sorely wished she could reach out to him, could help him with his struggle against the darkness which was so eagerly devouring him, could aid Vader…
…in his task of returning her brother to her. She briefly closed her eyes and allowed one thought only to break the quiet of her mind.
I’m here, Luke.
Then she opened her eyes, cleared her brother from her thoughts and glanced over the shuttles scanners. “Head for the shield generator,” she ordered her prisoner, “and charge up the guns.”
Sohn feinted a thrust at Vader, drew back, jumped and somersaulted over the Dark Lord’s head. He landed with feline precision, sabre slicing through the air at his father’s back. Vader turned and met the blow.
“Luke!” He attempted as his automated breathing quickened with each movement he made the equipment struggling to keep up with the demands for oxygen from his body.
Snarling, Sohn viciously pushed forward forcing Vader onto the bridge across the chasm. He was quick, nimble, his movements almost ephemeral and his father was hard pressed to keep his own sword moving to block each blow, each swinging strike which rained in toward him. The boy was driven by pain, by hatred and anger, the emotions propelling him deeper and deeper into the abyss of darkness which closed around him, offered him release and fuelled his frenzy.
The Dark Lord staggered backward and his foot caught on the prone body of a fallen guard and he stumbled, dropped to his knees. Sohn grabbed the advantage, sabre catching Vader’s own and ripping it from his grasp. It dropped into the void below as Vader instinctively threw up his arm against a killing stroke. Sohn’s sabre severed the arm at the wrist exposing the mechanisms of the prosthetic limb. His cry was distorted, twisted, as it tore from the mask’s voice processor. He fell back among the dead guards as the blue sabre came up and around, cutting through his chest plate.
His lungs immediately felt compressed, crushed, and he had to fight to draw in a sustaining breath. He heaved and gasped as the tip of the lightsabre lingered at his neck. And he knew he was beaten.
“Where is she?” Sohn whispered malevolently.
The Force moved in tides around Vader, thick and fluid and he had difficulty grasping onto it, had difficulty gaining the strength he needed to speak. He was light-headed through depleted oxygen levels, weakened, dying. “S….safe,” he wheezed. “Sh… she… she is safe.”
…. Safe….. Safe… Safe…
Sohn faltered for a moment at the unexpected answer. How could that be? How could Leia be safe when Palpatine had said she was dead? His blood was rushing with his exertion, hammering through his brain with every quick beat of his heart. It was a whirlwind, a torrent in his mind and the noise of the storm was still building, goaded by his twisted emotions.
“You’re lying!” he spat, lightsabre poised for the final thrust.
“Sh… shu…ttle…” the Dark Lord managed. He was struggling against his rapidly declining body, struggling against death for the sake of his son. “Se….search….f….feelings, Luke.”
…I’m here, Luke…
“Leia?!“ He called in bewilderment. He took a stumbling step back from Vader, trying to hold onto his anger, wanting to keep the heat of it close to him. But the cool anguish of understanding, and guilt, began to seep through the flames to confuse him and the exhilarating power he had felt - he had enjoyed - began to trickle away. “Leia?”
Palpatine’s smile of contentment faded as he watched the younger man move back from his fallen father, as the youth’s delicious rage began to fade to dawning horror. He slowly descended the steps as Sohn cried out the girl’s name for a second time and he could feel the boy searching the Force for his sister’s presence. Palpatine blocked him, threw a black wall around him, preventing him from exploring further. His smile returned as Sohn turned angrily toward him and he regarded the boy with hooded eyes.
“Your father is trying to manipulate you, child, to salvage himself. The girl is dead…”
“Then why block me?” Sohn demanded, failing to address his Emperor appropriately in his desperation to know his sister’s fate.
“To save you from yourself,” Palpatine told him kindly, ignoring Sohn’s insolence, focusing only on the boy’s anger, and loathing for his sire “You have become powerful. The Dark Side of the Force beats in your heart filling you with a potency which surpasses even your father’s. This is the destiny you were born for,” he hissed with eager conviction. “Now fulfil it. Come bow to me and you may be my Darth Vader!”
….A burst of light in a darkened cave, a wisp of smoke clearing to reveal the face beneath the Vader mask…
His own face.
His own face beneath the Vader façade.
Sohn touched his own mask with a trembling hand.
He glanced back at his father who lay gasping and dying behind him.
“You are my son.”
His father. He was like his father. He was becoming his father.
He looked to the lightsabre he was still clutching tightly.
“I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
His lightsabre. His father’s lightsabre. Skywalker’s lightsabre. That was why he had kept it and refused to make his own. It was his past, it was who he was.
He extinguished the sword, hooked it onto his belt, and then he reached up and lifted off his mask and helmet. He regarded them briefly, feeling cool air brush against his face, lifting heat from his sweat damp hair, and he smiled, for he would need them no longer.
“Never again, “he calmly informed Palpatine, and he tossed the mask and helmet to the floor where they settled at the Emperor’s feet. “I’ll not kneel to you. I am my own master, now.”
Helplessly Han closed his eyes as the executions started at the far end of the Rebel line up. They were all on their knees, hands still behind bowed heads. The abrupt retorts of a hand gun echoed around clearing, breaking the silence as the assembled Imperials watched their Commander terminate the Rebels one by one.
“Leia,” he whispered with regret as the quiet was broken by another shot and the pulsing of a passing shuttle’s engines.
“There,” Leia pointed to the forest clearing where the Imperial’s were assembled, to her horror she watched a single black clad officer point to gun to back of an Alliance trooper’s head and pull the trigger. As the shuttle took her over the top of them, she caught sight of Han waiting at the very end of the killing line. The ship passed over the huge shield generating dish. “Circle around, take us back over head. Quickly!”
Leia fingers rapidly worked the controls before her and she brought the targeting screen online. She shot a quick look at the pilot reassuring herself he wasn’t about to try and obstruct her actions. “Take us lower.”
And she opened fire on the dish, on the landing platform, on the building housing the generator. The huge dish broke up, collapsed in and flames arose in a great plume of fire. The shuttle moved on, guns still blazing cutting through the Imperials gathered in the clearing.
Han fell forward at the first shots, as the shield generator exploded, as All Terrain transports toppled, around them. Glancing up he watched storm troopers flee for cover. He grinned as the shuttle came around again; whoever it was flying that ship was clearly on the side of the Alliance. It was decimating the Imperial ranks.
He reached forward and grabbed a fallen blaster, glanced at Chewie and shouted above the tumult of shouts and screams and laser fire. “Come on, Fur Face!” And he opened fire on the troopers around him as his remaining squad members responded like wise.
“The shield is down!” Ackbar’s voice broke in over com.
Wedge grinned in relief; the Princess had been true to her word. “We’re on it, Admiral. Red Group, Gold Group,” he called to the remnants of his own squad, and Calrissian’s. “All fighters form up on me. We’re goin’ in.”
With sullen anger Palpatine lifted his eyes from the discarded mask and helmet to consider the younger man. “Arrogant fool!”
Luke coolly returned the stare, feeling relaxed, feeling ready. “No, Sire. You are the fool. You watched me so closely, but you failed to see anything past your own ambitions.”
Luke ignored his father’s pleas from behind him and waited for Palpatine’s next move. He could feel the Force within as it surged through him, wave after wave of bludgeoning power hammering at his senses. It felt good and, unlike a few moments before, he was in control of it. He was commanding it and for once his destiny truly was in his own hands.
And Palpatine laughed gleefully at this, hands clasped before him, white and clawed against the dark of his robes. His laughter was a cackle, a squawk from a carrion bird as it chased a child from the light and bid it hide in the shadows. “You think to challenge me? “ He questioned, with a hint of incredulity to his voice. He stepped forward and was rewarded as Luke moved back. The boy was still afraid of him - as he should be. “You think to usurp me, child? You do not yet have the strength.”
“You fear me,” Luke stated as darkness swirled about him. “You always have. Even as you tortured me I could feel it. Even when I bent my knees to you in supplication it was there.” He took a bold step towards the Emperor as he spoke. “And it is there now. I can feel it.”
The Emperor stood his ground; his face grave with his growing irritation. The boy was growing too brash, too presumptuous, to sure of himself and of his abilities, and Palpatine was loathe to destroy such a gifted apprentice, such a dark jewel, but Sohn had overstepped a boundary and Palpatine was unsure if it was one which could be successfully reinstated. There had been too much interference from the father, too much from influence from the sister and…
There was a way to salvage this after all. “You will bow to me, young one,” he spat in fury and glee. “You will call me master,” and his voice softened to a whisper. “Or your sister will.”
Luke felt his control loosen, felt his tenuous grip slide as the Force raged with his anger at the threat, at the thought of Leia bowing to this rancid creature. “No!”
Vader felt the movement within the Force. Luke was still in darkness, still stumbling in the shadows with the light just beyond his grasp. “Luke…..” he gasped, reaching for his son who stood so close, but seem so far away.
And Palpatine smiled at the reaction savouring the heat and the hatred. “It is either her fate, or it is yours,” he warned. “Now yield to me.”
Luke took another determined step toward the Emperor. Back straight, head held high, eyes burning with the power of his decision and his disgust. “No.”
Palpatine nodded with regret at the finality of Luke‘s decision. “So be it, Skywalker,” and he lifted his hands in an all too familiar gesture. “I trust your sister will be wiser.” He summoned his power, savoured it building, felt it crackling around his fingers and then released it toward the waiting boy.
Luke threw both his hand out blocking the Force lightening. It bounced and sparked wildly as he caught it, as he cupped his hands shaping the dark-light into a ball. He drew it to himself feeling the Force humming through him, filling him with exhilaration, with an unsurpassed strength. He looked at Palpatine, saw the horror and fear which crossed the Emperor’s face and he laughed with delight as the old man stumbled away.
He opened his hands and sent the ball crashing back in the direction it had come; it caught Palpatine in the midsection and sent him flying to land awkwardly on the stairs to the throne. Luke slowly walked forward, calling upon the Force, feeling the flicker and flash of his own energy as it spread outward, as it licked over the fallen Emperor’s robes and tore wild cries of defeat from the writhing man.
Unseen and forgotten Vader painfully crawled over the floor; fear for his son strengthening him, giving him the impetus he needed to move his failing body. He forced himself to his feet and threw himself on Luke, tackling him, bringing him down. They tumbled to the floor together.
Enraged Luke rolled away, kicked at his father’s grasping hand. “I could have had him!” He screamed at Vader.
“And….” Vader gasped and heaved for a breath. “He… wo… would….have had….you, son.”
The words sliced through the rage, cooling his anger, making him pause. He was still in the thrall of the Dark Side, still its vassal and doing its bidding. If he killed Palpatine in this manner, if he killed him in anger and revenge…
… and pleasure…
…then he was no better. Shrugging off Sohn Vader and reclaiming the Skywalker name did not cleanse him of iniquity, did not resurrect the man he once was when all of this began. He was allowing his feelings to claim him, allowing the Dark Side to reside insidiously within; he was allowing these emotions to control him rather than the other way around. That they gave him strength was undeniable, but it was a strength which could be utilised in more productive ways.
Luke looked to his father. His father who had risked all to save the son who had ultimately killed him. Who had used his fear for that son to give him the strength to save him. Fear, because he loved him.
But had he not acted to save Leia? Had he not used love too as the foundations of his actions?
He wilted, confused, caught between the light and the dark, struggling to know the right from the wrong among so many shades of grey.
“Father?” he questioned. “What do I do now?” And he sounded very much like the lost child who had reached out in anguish and pain so many months before. Then his father had stepped back, had turned away and left him alone in the cold and the darkness. But now the black gloved hand reached for his and held tightly.
There was a snort of laughter from the side, to where Palpatine had drawn himself back to his feet. “But you will not!”
Blue-white streaks erupted from spread fingers tips and ripped through the weakened Dark Lord and his son. The grip between them broke as Luke, caught in the chest by the blast, was thrown violently backwards. He cried out in agony, in horror, as he rolled over the floor trying to free himself from the scorching darkness. He clawed at the lightening as it travelled his body, pushing it away with all the power he could muster and, grimacing from the pain, he looked up as the lightening continued to strobe the throne room. It moved away from him to solely target his father.
Palpatine, with renewed vigour, stalked forward pouring all of his hatred and vengeance into Vader’s final moments. Once the father was dead, once his influence was destroyed the boy would surely see he only ever had one choice, one place, one destiny and that alone he would falter. Sohn need guidance, needed nurturing; a thing so capable of darkness could not be allowed to wither so soon.
“Father!” Luke called, horrified. He clambered unsteadily to his feet, pulling the lightsabre from his belt and activating it. The blue blade grew tall, strong, and it purred through air as he wielded it, using just one stroke to fell the laughing despot.
Palpatine choked in surprise at the sudden agony that tore his body. He gasped, feeling his powers drain, realising he should never have made the mistake of turning his back on the boy. As he fell to the floor Sohn Vader stepped into his line of vision and Palpatine saw, at last, what had been so cleverly concealed from him; the boy was silhouetted by a brilliant light; by a pure and natural radiance that no darkness could ever fully destroy.
This is light. This is life.
This child was the balance he had strived to destroy, this child was the core of the Force and from him the Jedi Order would grow strong once more.
He could foresee it.
Luke shut off the lightsabre as Palpatine’s body silently crumbled and he dropped to his knees by his father’s side, taking the elder man’s hand once more.
There was no reply and, anxious for contact with his father, Luke’s fingers hooked over the helmet and lifted it from Vader’s head. Frantically, but still with consummate care, he unfastened the mask’s face plate and lifted it away. Anakin Skywalker’s face was still, peaceful, his eyes closed. Luke leaned closer listening for a shallow breath.
“Father,” he repeated, regret and grief heavy in the word. He lowered his head as unfamiliar tears marked his cheeks. He had killed his own father, he had…
The words were barely a whisper but they caught Luke’s heart and he looked up as his father weakly smiled at him. “I’m sorry…” he wept.
“No… Luke. You… saved…me,” Anakin reassured him. It should be he who was sorry. It should be he who should plead forgiveness from his son. His light son, his beautiful child who shimmered with the power of the Force. His son who had saved him from plunging into Darkness for eternity and who had nothing to be sorry for. It had been his actions alone which had lead them here, it had been his choices, made before Luke was born, which had lead to this moment. “You… live. Leave me.”
“No,” Luke glanced toward the viewing ports and the fight beyond. “The battle is turning, I can feel it. It is best this way.”
He was suffocating, each breath he managed was less than the first and his body screamed its agony at him, pleaded with him to let go and die. But still he lingered and fought for the stubborn child by his side who believed that death was also his destiny. “Not… best. Easier.”
“The Dark Side is still so near,” Luke told him, thickly. He had to die. He deserved to die. He wanted to die for what he had done this day; the deaths he had caused while enraged. He did not trust himself when he could still feel the darkness within.
“Leia…” Vader wheezed, gripping Luke by the arm as pain rippled through him. “.. needs you. Who will.. be…there for her…when…Darkness… calls….? You have…beaten it… Be the.. Jedi.. You wanted to be.”
“I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”
He caught his father’s gaze, saw forgiveness in his father’s eyes, saw the pain and regret he felt mirrored there. They both had so much to atone for.
“Go… home, Luke.” The last word, his name, was merely the last breath leaving the body as Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker, succumbed to his wounds.
“Father!” Luke called desperately, echoing words he had used before to plead with the man who had delivered him into darkness. “Please… don’t leave me.”
There was no answer. Luke bowed his head and bitterly wept.
Wedge winced as the tower guns opened fire on them. They sped across the surface of the Death Star pursued by several TIE fighters. They crossed the equator, skimmed the shell of the battle station and traversed unfinished superstructure.
“There it is!” Wedge announced. “All fighters follow me!” And he looped around brought his fighter down and he plunged into the reactor shaft. Immediately his instruments screamed multiple warnings about obstructions ahead. He gritted his teeth and flew as he never had before; evading jutting superstructure, unfinished gantries and walk-ways; his fighter swooping through the bowels of the Death Star followed by Red and Gold squads.
“Lock onto the strongest power source,” he advised his men. “It should be the reactor.”
“Copy, Red Leader. Locking on.”
Green streaks of blaster fire strafed the wall beside his fighter sending up sparks and reminding him of their pursuers. “Spilt up,” he ordered, sharply. “See if we can’t lose some of these Imps.”
“Copy that, Red Leader,” Gold Two acknowledge as he and three others peeled away down a separate shaft. “We’re heading back to the surface.”
Wedge followed the signal on his targeting device, weaving around piles of debris and ducking under a half built walls. Then the way was clear and the Rebel fighters roared into the reactor chamber. “There she is! I’ll go for the regulator on the north tower. Red Two you take out the main reactor.”
“With pleasure, Boss!”
Wedge released his torpedoes a split second before his wingman. They turned in a wide arc behind the reactor sphere as the missiles hit. The huge structure collapsed and blew, spewing out a raging fire which streamed after the fighters through the battle station’s super structure.
The Death Star rocked, the shock waves rippling outward to warp and bend metal decking plates, to shatter walls, and to loosen docked TIE fighters from their anchors on hanger ceilings; they crashed to the docking bay floors, fuel cells bursting and exploding. Men ran, fell and died.
Luke stumbled into the cockpit of the Emperor’s personal shuttle and threw himself into the pilot’s chair, hands already working the controls, bringing the engines on line and maximising the shielding. As it moved forward, lifting from the deck, a piece of gantry fell from the ceiling and an explosion blew outward from the bay to lick at the stern of the shuttle as it passed from beyond its grasp.
Luke smiled grimly as the shuttle was buffeted and then straightened. He steered away from the Death Star.
It was getting hot, Wedge was sure of it. The flames chasing them seemed to be creeping faster, seemed ready to reach out and hold them and crush them within its heat. Alarms were ringing in his ears and he was unaware he was shouting aloud.
Then clear space was before him, the fleet having moved off to a safe distance. And he cried with joy, with amazement, as the Death Star burst in an instance of brilliant aurora behind him.
The battle was ending. The Rebel soldiers, having regrouped behind the shell of a fallen Walker, had picked off the remaining troopers and were emerging to mop up any further resistance. Han glanced up as a whoop of joy rose from his men and he smiled as the Death Star exploded far above and burned like a second sun.
He lowered his head in pain, surprised by the grief which threatened to overwhelm him.
Was Leia on that thing?
A heavy, hairy hand rested on his shoulder and Chewbacca softly grunted as See Threepio and Artoo Detoo re-emerged from behind the Walker wreckage.
“I know, Chewie,” he said softly as the shuttle containing their benefactor hovered overhead and lowered to the ground. The Corellian straightened his shoulders. “Let’s go see who we thank, huh?”
The ramp lowered as he walked forward and he spotted the dark pants of an Imperial uniform at the top and a very disgruntled looking man was escorted out at gun point by….
He ran forward, pushed the pilot out of his way, and scooped the princess from her feet. He spun her around, buried his face in her hair and breathed in the very essence of her. “Leia!” he repeated, hold her close. Then he seemed to feel her amusement and put her down, drawing away ever so slightly and saw her smile. “I thought I had lost you.”
She reached up, rested a palm on his face, and they kissed lightly. “Never,” she told him.
“What happened?” He questioned, glancing back up at the burning remains of the battle station. “Were you up there?”
“Yes,” she told him, a small frown darkening her features, her eyes taking on hues of sorrow. “Vader let me go. He…” and the words caught in her throat as she glanced at the sky.
Han gathered her back into his arms, understanding the source of her anguish. “I’m sure Luke wasn’t on that thing when it blew.” He didn’t know why he said it, he didn’t even believe it, but he knew he had to say something to ease Leia’s pain.
To his surprise she smiled. “He wasn’t. I can feel it.”
Uneasy with this answer, he shifted his feet on the grass. “Is he…?”
“He’s Luke.” She simply answered staring at the sky, sensing her brother’s searching feelings.
Han nodded silently, stilling his questions and drew Leia back into his arms. Her words were suffice for him. Later there would be greater explanations, later there would be more truths revealed; but for now there was Leia and he was content.
Luke smiled as he felt Leia’s presence on the moon below. He knew she was safe, felt her happiness as she was reunited with…
He closed his eyes with a flood relief. Han was all right. Han hadn’t been on the Falcon and he didn’t have to live with the guilt of killing his friend. He reached out tentatively and touched his sister’s feelings, savouring her light, her goodness and wishing he could hold her, wishing he could wrap his arms around her, grasp her tightly and tell her how he felt now.
I know, Luke…
Reluctantly, he withdrew from her, taking comfort in her soothing thought. She knew what he had to do now. He turned the shuttle away from the moon, away from the dying field of battle. He still had much to consider, still had ghosts of pain to lay to rest and he needed time to contemplate the future and his part in it.
“Go home, Luke.” His father had said. But where was home? Not with Alliance, not yet anyway. Not on Coruscant with the remnants of the Empire where his presence, as Vader’s son, would be a focal point for those who would wish to rebuild.
Where was home for him now?
And then he knew. He understood. The Force gathered around him guiding his fingers as he plotted his course.
The hesitant warning tones in Red Two’s voice broke through the storm within Antilles’ mind; they had done it! They had soundly beaten the Empire. The Emperor was believed dead, Darth Vader was believed dead, and his son….
… was also thought to have died either during the battle or on the Death Star with his father. And what should have been a fulfilling moment for him, was tinged with bitter grief. His friend was dead.
“What is it, Red Two,” he ignored the other pilot’s mistake of calling him by his first name; such things are forgiven during momentous occasions like this.
“I’ve pick up a small ship moving through sector three-nine. Looks like a Lambda Class Shuttle.”
Wedge felt the prickle of fear blow on the back of his neck. “Move to intercept,“ he ordered tightly. “Command? Admiral? We might have a problem here.”
“We see him, Commander,” Ackbar acknowledged. “Take him out.”
“Yes, sir.” He laid in a pursuit course, hoping they could intercept the pilot before he made the jump to light speed.
“Shit! That’s the Imperial crest!” Red Two blurted in agitation as they neared the shuttle. “That could be Palpatine!”
Wedge charged up his guns, drew the shuttle into his crosshairs and was about to shoot when the shuttle wangled its wings. He pulled his hands away from the trigger in surprise.
“What the hell?” Red Two exclaimed. “What’s he doing?”
Wedge drew nearer, brought his fighter along side the shuttle which peeled away and looped around him in a manoeuvre, and with a grace, it was never built for. He laughed with delight as the shuttle shook it wings once more.
“Let him go,” he announced, grinning. There was no doubt about it. That pilot was Luke Skywalker and Wedge now had the chance to repay his friend for saving his life above Hasthaal.
“That’s not Palpatine,” he told the others. “That’s one of us.”
The Imperial Shuttle suddenly shot forward in a burst of speed and was lost to hyperspace. Wedge saluted the empty cosmos before him while silently hoping his friend would, someday, find his way home. Then he turned his X-Wing and headed back to the waiting fleet.
To be continued....
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