An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
A Question of Loyalty
Darth Vader punched in the coordinates of his first destination. So far, no-one was following him. Piett must be holding them back. Vader hoped the Admiral would not have a mutiny on his hands as a result of his actions. Dumb thing to do anyway. Vader sighed. There was only one way he could repay Piett for his help. He simply had to succeed. Resolutely, Vader pulled back the lever that activated the hyperdrive.
Piett nodded to himself when the small speck that was the shuttle Tydirium vanished from the viewscreen in a flash of light. There was no question in his mind as to who was piloting the shuttle; no-one had better reason to desert at this time than Lord Vader.
The admiral turned to face Captain Durreen.
"How long until we reach Coruscant?" he queried.
"Approximately four days at present speed, Admiral."
"Very well. I shall be in my quarters. You have the bridge, Captain."
Piett slowly left the Executor's bridge without looking back. Veers, who had been waiting nearby, followed him like a shadow.
"You are certain Lord Vader took the shuttle?" Veers asked his friend when they reached Piett's quarters. The Admiral gave him an amused look.
"I know Lord Vader, Max. He would not walk right into death anymore than you or I."
Piett palmed the door to his quarters open, and both officers entered.
"So, what do you think he will be doing now?" Veers inquired as soon as the door had closed behind them.
Piett shrugged. "I believe he's going to try and join the Rebel Alliance. But I don't know how he's going to accomplish that."
Veers chuckled. "What? You don't think they would welcome him with open arms?" He tried to picture a smiling Leia Organa greeting Lord Vader with a hug and failed miserably.
Piett did not listen; a small item sitting on his desk had caught his attention. He did not remember leaving a holocube there. Swiftly, he crossed the distance to his desk and picked up the cube.
"Maybe we'll find out soon", he muttered and activated the cube.
A small holographic image of Lord Vader appeared.
"Greetings, Admiral", the recording said. "When you play this message, I will already have left the ship." The image smiled slightly. "I believe that General Veers is also present. This message is for both of you."
Piett and Veers looked at each other.
"Gentlemen, recent events made me think about my life, and I realized that I have made grave mistakes. I hope it is not too late to remedy them", Vader continued, serious again. "For more than twenty years, I have been loyal to the Emperor. A misplaced loyalty, as it turned out. Palpatine has kept me in a state dependent on medical help for all this time, and he will certainly not allow me to live now that I am healed. My only choice now is to leave the Empire. My only place to go will be the Rebel Alliance, if they'll have me."
Vader paused again before continuing: "My only regret is that I have to leave this ship and her crew behind. Gentlemen, the Executor is the finest ship in any fleet, and if there is one thing I do not regret about my service to the Emperor, it is serving with you. I hope we shall never meet again, because if we do, it will be on different sides of the battlefield. Vader out."
The image vanished in a swirl of colors.
Veers released a breath he did not remember holding.
"He's really joining the Alliance...", he whispered.
"Did you have any doubt about it?" Piett plopped down on the sofa, took his cap off and threw it on the table. "It's not like he has much of a choice."
Veers raised his eyebrows. "Do we?" he asked. "As you said, we know too much. His majesty will have us executed as soon as we reach Coruscant."
Piett leaned back on the sofa. "Who says we're going to Coruscant?" he asked lightly.
A thin smile played over Veers' features. "Our present course might just indicate that. Unless you plan to follow in Lord Vader's footsteps and steal a shuttle."
The admiral gazed at the ceiling and folded his hands in his lap. "Not... exactly", he ventured. "I wasn't planning on leaving my ship behind, you know."
Veers felt his jaw drop. "You... you... what?" he sputtered. "You're crazy!"
"Not at all. Just realistic", Piett answered calmly. "Look at our choices. We can go to Coruscant and be executed. We can jump ship and probably be shot down before we reach hyperspace." He raised a hand to silence Veers' protest. "If we leave, there will be a squad of TIEs after us before we're clear of the hangar, and while we're both fair pilots, we're no match for our fighter pilots."
Veers shook his head. Tomas must have taken leave of his senses. There was no other explanation for this outrageous plan. "And if you believe that you can persuade a quarter million men to defect, you've gone nuts, Tomas", he declared.
"Oh, but I don't, Max. I expect at least fifty thousand to stay loyal to the Emperor, and another forty thousand to pretend to because they fear for their loved ones on the core worlds. The rest I believe will feel as we do, once they know the whole truth"
Veers stared at him, unbelieving. "You can't be serious."
Piett just smiled. "And that coming from the man who said crew morale was low enough for fights to be breaking out any time." He ran his hands through his thinning hair. "We should make the announcement soon. The men must hear the truth and make their own decision."
"Aren't you afraid they'll shoot us?"
Piett smiled at his friend. "Look at it this way, Max: If they do, at least it will be over quickly."
Veers snorted. "Always look at the bright side of life, huh?"
"Always, my friend", Piett nodded. He got up and walked to his desk. Switching on the comm unit, he dialed the bridge. Captain Durreen answered the call almost immediately.
"Captain, inform all hands that there will be an announcement at 14:00 hours. Attendance is mandatory for all off-duty personnel. On-duty personnel will receive it through the ship's public address system, both audio and video."
"Yes, Admiral. Sir, we have another incoming call for Lord Vader. The man claims to be his nephew."
"Interesting. Patch him through to my quarters."
Piett waited for the connection to be established.
"Jix, is it not?" he queried.
"Who are you?" the voice on the other end of the line asked.
"This is Admiral Piett speaking."
"Let me talk to Lord Vader", the man demanded curtly.
"I'm afraid that is not possible, Sir. Lord Vader is not available at this time."
"Listen, you better get the tin can on the line, Mister..."
Piett's eyebrows shot up at Jix' descriptive insult. The man truly had some nerve. That, or a death wish. "You do not understand, Mister Jix. Lord Vader is not on board this vessel anymore."
Stunned silence answered him. It took Jixton almost a minute to recover from this.
"Not on board?" he echoed.
"Exactly", Piett confirmed. "Lord Vader has left the ship."
"Sith...", Jix exclaimed. "What kind of kreth has he gotten himself into?"
"I am sorry, Mr. Jix, but I prefer not to answer that question over the radio."
Jix thought about that for a while. Vader must be in deep trouble. And he could not trust those fleet clowns to get him out of it again.
"Alright", he finally said. "Give me some coordinates, and I'll meet you there."
Piett exchanged a glance with Veers; the General shrugged. "Your call", he mouthed.
Padmé Naberrie was fuming. Her small fleet of three ships should have been underway to Sullust again for a whole day; instead, they were sitting on Nar Shaddaa waiting for repairs to one of the hyperdrives being completed. It was a miracle the drive had not given out earlier; although well maintained, the ships were old, positively ancient, and the way from Mon Calamari to Sullust was far even though they had taken the most direct route. If they had at least made it to Kothlis, or Bothawui, but no, they had to be stuck on a world ruled by Hutt crime lords. And this time, there would be no little boy risking his life in a pod race to help them.
Thinking of the sweet, funny little boy who had grown into a heroic Jedi Knight made Padmé smile sadly. Anakin... if he had only lived to know his children. If only she had not given them away to be raised by friends. But the past was the past, and she had to take care of the present, and the future.
"Yousa tinken of Annie again", a voice behind her spoke up.
"Am I that obvious, Jar Jar?" she asked lightly. The Gungan had stayed with her through all those years, protecting his queen, as he claimed. Not that he was much of a bodyguard.
"Only to yousa friends, yousa majesty", he answered.
Padmé turned around to find him standing close behind her, smiling at her.
"Annie would be so proud of yousa", he said. "Yousa doin' da right ting."
Yes, Padmé thought. This time, we have to stop Palpatine for good. And if we can take down Vader as well, the better. That monster murdered my husband...
Darth Vader dropped out of hyperspace to plot a new course. He was certain now that he was not being followed; for the past hours, he had been zigzagging in a random pattern. Now it was time to head for his next destination. He needed money, civilian clothes, and a few more things before he could set his plan in motion. What better place than Nar Shaddaa to get everything he required? And he had no time to waste.
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