The Lady Ex
An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
Lando Calrissian and General Veers stepped into the small conference room, accompanied by a Rebel guard. The Droids waited outside.
"Max!" Piett exclaimed. His friend smiled.
"They're all fine", he announced.
"Baron Calrissian, your report, please?" Mon Mothma requested coolly.
"Yes, Madam. The plan went off without a hitch. We learned that Lord Vader had started his own rescue attempt, but he joined us and was integrated into the team almost without difficulty."
Lando thought it prudent not to mention Vader's other name yet, or his relation to Luke.
"Almost?" Madine injected.
"Yes. There was a certain amount of distrust on our side at first. However, Lord Vader proved himself to be helpful. Jabba the Hutt is dead, his criminal organization mostly destroyed, Captain Solo is free, and all without casualties on our side. General Veers here and a Sergeant Jixton joined us during the final stage of the mission. They had been Lord Vader's backup."
"Then where is everybody now? Why have they not returned to the fleet?"
"Commander Skywalker said he had to go to a place called Dagobah, to finish his Jedi training. Apparently a Jedi Master named Yoda lives there. Captain Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Lord Vader and Sergeant Jixton accompanied him on the Falcon."
"Master Yoda is still alive?" Mon Mothma was astonished. "That is good news indeed!"
"Yes, well, they are going to drop Luke off on Dagobah and then join the fleet. They shouldn't take too long."
Mon Mothma rose from her seat.
"Thank you, Baron Calrissian. I'm sure Admiral Piett wishes to relay the news to his crew immediately."
Piett also rose, and nodded. "I shall take a shuttle back to Executor. General Veers will accompany me, unless you have further questions for him?"
Mothma shook her head before Madine could demand to talk with Veers.
"That will not be necessary."
Piett bowed to the Alliances president. "Thank you for your time, Madam."
"Quite an impressive ship you have there," Lando said.
The Admiral allowed himself a rare smile. "I am rather proud of her and her crew. Madam President, Gentlemen." He nodded to each in turn and left, motioning for Veers to follow him.
After the two Imperials had left, Mon Mothma indicated to Calrissian to take a seat.
"And now, Baron, what is your impression of Lord Vader?"
"Hard to say, Madam. He truly seems to be trying." Lando thought about his reply for a moment. "I don't know everything that's been going on, but Han trusts him. Luke does, too, despite everything that Vader has done to them in the past."
The fact that Calrissian did not mention his own feelings about the matter did not escape Mon Mothma.
"I see. And you personal opinion?"
"I'd keep an eye on him, Madam. Han's usually a good judge of character, but Vader's a sneaky son-of-a-gun. I've had dealings with Lord Vader before, and he changed the rules on me quicker than you could say sabbacc."
Mothma smiled. "Thank you for your openness, Baron Calrissian. We shall keep your advice in mind."
Anakin wandered around the swamp a little distance from Yoda's hut. The others had turned in early, but once again Anakin found himself unable to go to sleep. He was deep in thought when he heard a voice he had not dreamed he would ever hear again.
"I did not dare hope that you would ever return, my Padawan."
Anakin spun around to see the glowing form of his mentor materialize.
"Obi-Wan? How is that possible? I killed you!"
"There are still things about the Force you have not learned, my friend", the apparition replied with a warm smile. "And I did tell you you'd be the death of me one day, did I not?"
Anakin flinched; indeed Obi-Wan had told him so many times, usually after one of his more reckless maneuvers.
"Master, I...", he began, but Obi-Wan cut him off.
"Never mind, Anakin. I chose to let you strike me down." He sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree. "Come, sit with me. There are things we should have talked about many years ago. Many years ago."
Curious, Anakin took a seat beside his friend's glowing form. Obi-Wan regarded him silently for a long moment before beginning: "I'm sorry I failed you, old friend. If only I had been as good a teacher as I thought I was." The old man shook his head.
Anakin looked up sharply. Obi-Wan blamed himself for his fall?
"Master, I've said it before: The fault is none but my own", he protested. "It was my choice, my mistake alone, to follow Palpatine."
"Still, Anakin, your friend Solo was quite right. You did not have the best start with your training. And I, I should have listened to you. I should have explained more and criticized less. You had such high potential, I often forgot how young and inexperienced you still were."
Anakin grinned. "You still managed to remind me of the fact often enough, Master. Especially whenever I disagreed with you." He quickly became serious again. There was one thing that vexed him, one thing he could not forgive his old master that easily. At least, not without a good explanation. "Why did you tell Luke I was dead?"
The specter held out his hands, palms up. He looked old. Old, and guilty.
"As I said, Anakin, I thought you lost to the Dark Side forever. To me, Darth Vader was not you. He was a completely different person, not the boy I had raised from childhood and trained in the ways of the Jedi."
Anakin nodded slowly. What Obi-Wan said made sense, in a twisted sort of way. He had not thought of himself as Anakin Skywalker in a very long time. It was a name that belonged to a different life, a much different person. But he wanted to - needed to - reclaim that life, become that person again, albeit and older and more experienced, and hopefully wiser, version. He also realized that although, or perhaps because, he blamed himself, Obi-Wan had not dared to face the reality, the harsh truth, of failure. By separating Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader in his mind, he had created a false image of the former. Instead of a human being, with all the faults and weaknesses that encompassed, the old Jedi had created a larger-than-life figure, an icon and a martyr. How could he ever hope to live up to the image Luke must have of his father? But no, Luke already knew both sides of him. Whatever dreams and images of his father Luke had in the past, he had put them behind him.
"I understand, Master. And I... I am sorry I failed you."
Obi-Wan started to speak, but Anakin held up his hand to silence him.
"For once, listen to me. You said we needed to speak."
Obi- Wan nodded. "Go on, then."
Anakin looked into the distance, gathering his thoughts.
"I often felt like you did not take me seriously. I felt like you were holding me back. I know now that you wanted me to develop control, and patience, but back then I was... angry. I thought you jealous of my power. Don't get me wrong, Obi-Wan. I loved you. To me, you were the father I never had. Still, I resented you putting me down every time I dared to disagree with you or the council."
Obi-Wan leaned back a little, stroking his beard and smiling as Anakin continued.
"You said you criticized too much and explained too little, But I'm not sure if I was ready to listen. Not to you, anyway. I... I wanted to hear praise. I wanted to hear that the war and bloodshed would end. I wanted someone to promise me that everything would be alright. I turned to the wrong person for that."
Obi-Wan chuckled slightly. "Who would have thought that one day you would be so reflective, hmm? My dear Padawan, what you just described was a typical teenager acting. It was I who should have seen your problems, being supposedly the adult. And yet, I did not. I expected you to feel and act like a grown man, a Jedi, when you were scarcely more than a boy. A boy who had just lost his only family, no less. I sensed the hurt and confusion in you, but I failed to support you when you needed me. Naturally, you turned to someone who pretended to understand you.
Anakin grimaced. "Now who is being reflective, hmm?" The tall Jedi shook his head. "It took far too much for me to realize the truth. But what's done is done, Master. I wish I could turn back time, undo what I have done..."
"Impossible that is, even for you", Yoda's voice sounded from the path. The small Jedi hobbled closer. "Take back wrong choices, you cannot. Choose again, you can." He regarded Anakin with a long, thoughtful look. "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Taught this, I have, to many a youngling in the Temple. Taught it, I was, when myself a youngling I was, many centuries ago." Yoda nodded and continued. "Tainted we become by our wrong choices, but sometimes, stronger we grow by them, too. Face the consequences, you must, and fight against the Darkness inside you. But beware it...", he lightly struck his stick against Anakin's shin for emphasis, "there is still much anger in you."
"I will, Master Yoda", Anakin promised. "I am not afraid."
"So certain of this, you are? Hmphhh.. many fears there are within you. Do not let them use you, or fall again, you will."
Anakin regarded the old Master with calm sincerity. "I promise you, Master, I shall not fall again. I have learned my lesson."
He stood and slowly started his way back to the campsite. Although he had much food for thought now, there was still a chance he might get a few hours of sleep tonight.
It was Jixton who shook Anakin awake the next morning.
"Come on, Uncle Dee, unless you want to stay here on Dagobah for a refresher course."
Anakin groaned and sat up groggily. "What time is it?" he asked, taking the cup of coffee Jixton held out to him.
"Late. Solo's prepping the Falcon for take-off. You better hurry up if you want to say goodbye to your kid."
"Thank you, Jixton." Anakin sipped the coffee; it didn't taste half bad, and it certainly woke him up a good deal further. "Where is Luke?" he finally asked.
"Already off with Master Yoda. Said he would be back to see you off, though."
Anakin nodded and got up. "I shall go look for them, then."
But he did not have to go far as Luke was just coming back to the camp. The older Jedi raised his eyebrows. Luke was carrying his bag. Was his son going to leave the rest of his apprenticeship? Anakin frowned.
"Luke, what is going on?" he asked. "You're not coming with us, are you?"
"I am, Father", Luke smiled. "Yoda said I require no more training." The young man shrugged. "Frankly, I think I still have a lot to learn, but try arguing with Master Yoda..."
"I wouldn't", was Anakin's dry reply. Then he broke into a wide grin. His son - a Jedi! He grasped both his son's shoulders. "Luke, I'm so proud of you!"
Luke laughed. "I'm not a Jedi yet, Father. First I have to face the trials, whatever that is. Only then I'll be a full Jedi Knight."
"Hey, are you two going to stand there and chat all day?" Han Solo called from beyond the small clearing. "Guess you're coming back with us, huh, kid?"
"Come with you, I shall, too", Yoda spoke up. The Jedi Master had silently slipped onto the clearing and now stood at the base of the Falcon's ramp, gazing solemnly up at Han Solo. What few belongings he meant to bring floated in mid-air behind him. "Time for me it is to return, I sense."
"Well then... welcome aboard. Just put your stuff in one of the storage rooms, and we're good to go."
Admiral Piett stood in Lord Vader's customary place on Executor's bridge again, gazing out of the enormous transparisteel window. The rebel fleet was nearly assembled. The attack plan was being hammered out in the rebel high command. Not that Piett was invited to those discussions; Executor was still being kept on the edge of the fleet, and no sensitive information was divulged to her crew and officers. He had expected this, and was content with the situation. Executor's size alone secured her a critical part in the operation, and that was what counted in the end.
An aide hurried up to Piett.
"Admiral, a ship just dropped out of hyperspace. Correllian freighter, type YT 1300. The markings match those of the Millenium Falcon."
A grin spread over Piett's usually solemn features.
"Finally." He turned to Captain Durreen, feeling slightly giddy. "Captain, I want running lights. The full greeting sequence. Let's welcome Lord Vader home in style."
Durreen's grin mirrored his own as the Captain saluted and turned to carry out the order.
"And Captain?" Piett called after him. "Roll her!"
"Sir, yes Sir!" Durreen saluted again, and the bridge erupted into a flurry of activity.
The Millenium Falcon dropped out of hyperspace on the edge of the Sullust system, a safe distance from the fleet.
"Stars", Solo muttered as he checked the readings. His Wookiee copilot growled a question at him.
"No, they're not shooting at anyone", Han replied and switched on the ship's intercom. "Anakin, you better come up here. There is something you should see."
In the Falcon's common room, Anakin exchanged a puzzled look with Luke. His son only shrugged.
"On my way", Anakin replied. Stepping out of the room, he missed Jixton grinning and whispering something in Luke's ear. The young Jedi also grinned and got up to follow his father.
"Wouldn't want to miss it", he commented.
In the Falcon's cockpit, Leia Organa leaned over Solo's shoulder. "What is it, Han?"
Solo pointed out of the window, where an enormous triangular shape just came into view.
"I bet my boots he's gonna be as surprised as we are."
A sharp intake of breath told him that "he" had just arrived in the cockpit. At the same moment, red an blue lights came on on Executor's massive hull, blinking on and off in an intricate pattern.
"That... that's my ship!" Anakin croaked. He stared out the window, transfixed by the sight of his flagship, gripping the backrest of Leia's seat hard enough to turn his knuckles white, when Executor started to move. The great ship slowly and majestically rolled on her long axis, like a giant sea creature. Anakin still gazed at her, speechless. His ship! He could hardly believe his eyes. Anakin knew better than most that no Star Destroyer had ever defected - until now! His heart swelled with pride for his crew. Handpicked from a hundred worlds, they were the best the Imperial Navy had to offer. And they were loyal to him! Anakin silently swore that he would do whatever it took to end this war and bring his men home safely.
He could barely sense Luke and Jix enter behind him, crowding the small cockpit even more, when Jixton spoke up: "Didn't know you could do that with a ship of that size." Obviously, the Correllian was referring to the rolling maneuver.
Solo threw a look over his shoulder. "You can't", he quipped.
Anakin made an effort to get his feelings under control. Still, his voice sounded somewhat rough when he added: "Unless you have the best damned crew in the Galaxy."
A blinking light on the control panel interrupted the moment.
"Captain, we're being hailed", Leia announced, pointing at it. "You better answer that."
"Yeah, I guess so." Tearing his eyes from the Super Star Destroyer gracefully executing an impossible maneuver, Solo switched on the Falcon's subspace radio.
"Millenium Falcon, this is Home One, do you copy?" a somewhat tinny voice came over the speaker.
"Millenium Falcon here. Go ahead, Home One, we read you loud and clear."
"Welcome back, Falcon. You have permission to dock with Home One. High Command is awaiting your report."
Solo glanced around his companions. Chewie growled and shook his massive, furry head. Anakin still gazed at Executor, a longing look in his eyes. Luke smiled knowingly and Jixton just grinned and winked. Even Leia shook her head slightly. Solo made his decision.
"Negative, Home One. We're expected somewhere else first."
A small scraping sound was heard over the speaker, and the tinny voice was replaced by Admiral Ackbar's much deeper organ.
"High Command wishes to debrief you immediately, Captain. They also want to talk to Lord Vader a.s.a.p."
"Copy that, Admiral. But they can't talk to Vader right now."
"Why is that so, Captain Solo?"
Han chuckled. "Cause you could knock him over with a feather, that's why."
Ackbar's answer sounded halfway between amused and exasperated. "Then we shall see you as soon as those clowns on the Executor are finished showing off. And, Captain..." he added, "welcome back."
"Thanks, Admiral. Millenium Falcon, over and out."
Solo broke the connection and swung the Falcon around in a wide arc to meet Darth Vader's flagship.
"Allowing Vader on board the Executor was most unwise, Admiral", General Madine said.
Ackbar swiveled his command chair around to face the General. "Do you think they are being coerced?" he asked.
Madine stiffly inclined his head. "There is that possibility", he conceded.
"I do not believe so, General." Ackbar slowly shook his head. "Captain Solo would have found a way to inform us of any foul play. He is rather resourceful. And may I remind you, General, that we have a prize crew on board the Executor, which includes Rogue squadron? Captain Antilles reports to me on a regular basis." He paused before continuing. "I understand that a certain amount of paranoia is a requirement in your line of duty, General, but in this instance, I believe it is misplaced."
"I see, Admiral. Nevertheless. I shall continue to monitor the situation."
Looking quite ungainly with Luke's X-Wing still strapped to her hull, the Millenium Falcon touched down feather-light in the Executor's main landing bay. An honor guard of crew and stormtroopers had been assembled to greet the returning Master of the ship. Here and there, Rebel uniforms could be spotted among the gray, black and olive Imperial ones.
Admiral Piett and General Veers stood at the head of the assembled troops. Behind them and a step to the left, Jar Jar Binks waited. Piett tugged on the hem of his jacket for the fifth time.
"Relax", Veers hissed from the corner of his mouth. "You're making everybody nervous."
The admiral only stopped his fidgeting when the freighter's ramp lowered with a hiss of overheated hydraulics and a hooded figure stepped through the rising steam.
The man walked down the ramp slowly and pulled back the hood that obscured his features, and Admiral Piett found himself staring into the blue eyes of Darth Vader. Or rather, into one blue eye; the other was only beginning to open again after close contact with Han Solo's fist a few days ago. Piett would have had a hard time recognizing Vader. The former Sithlord looked much healthier than the last time Piett had seen him. Gone were the thick scars and deadly pallor. The bruise on his temple had faded to a yellow-greenish color. A slight sunburn had just begun to turn into a healthy tan, and Vader's nose was peeling.
Vader stopped two steps away from Admiral Piett, when suddenly Jar Jar Binks squeaked: "Ani? Meesa not believin' dis! Meesa tinkin' yousa dead!" The Gungan rushed past Piett and enveloped a dumbstruck Darth Vader in a bone-crushing hug.
To be continued.
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