An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
Moff Jerjerrod straightened his uniform jacket before he exited the lift. The makeshift throne room was dimly lit; most of the illumination came from the soft glow of the sanctuary moon, its half sphere being visible through the viewport.
The Emperor gazed out that same viewport, his back turned on the elevator, but there was no doubt in Jerjerrod's mind that he was fully aware not only of his presence, but of his every movement. The officer dropped to one knee at the base of the stairs and bowed his neck, awaiting his rulers convenience. The Emperor allowed him to wait. Patience was a virtue much underestimated in the Imperial ranks, and so Palpatine liked to teach its merits when the opportunity arose.
"What have you to report?" he finally asked. He did not allow Jerjerrod to rise from his position; the Moff took the hint and remained kneeling.
"My liege, all weapons systems and the maneuvering thrusters report fully functional. This space station is now able to defend itself." He hoped it would be enough; there was no way his men could have completed all systems, especially the drive. Crucial hyperdrive parts still had to be delivered to the building site.
Palpatine cackled and turned his high-backed chair around to face the commander of his latest weapon. "Very good", he crooned. "Soon we shall crush the Rebellion once and for all."
Jerjerrod dared to lift his head and look directly at the galactic ruler. "Your Highness, what about the reports of the Executor defecting to the Alliance?"
Palpatine scoffed at that. "It is of no consequence. This battle station is now the ultimate weapon in the Galaxy. Dismissed."
Jerjerrod knew better than to press his point. But he would not make the mistake of underestimating Darth Vader and his flagship.
"Jixton, I have a job for you.
The Correllian stopped on his way to the shuttle and slowly turned around, a saucy smile playing on his lips.
"Didn't you fire me, Uncle Dee?
"I don't know what you're talking about, was the flat reply.
"Yeah, damn static on the radio, can't make out what you're saying half the time. The smile grew into a grin. "Gonna cost you extra anyway, Uncle.
"Naturally. Anakin rolled his eyes. He did not particularly enjoy Wrenga Jixton's warped sense of humor. Especially when the ex-Sergeant made him eat his own words.
"So, what's the job?
"I want you to volunteer for the Endor mission.
"Whoa, boss, hold your Banthas. There was never anything about suicide in my job description. Jixton held up both hands. Anakin glowered at him.
"There will be if you do not volunteer. Is that understood? he growled.
Jix pinched the bridge of his nose. "Alright, no need to go all Vader on me. What exactly is it you want me to do?
"Keep an eye on my children. Make sure they get back in one piece.
"Or else I don't need to come back at all, is that what you're saying? Jixton cocked his head at the other man. "Look, in case you didn't notice, your kids are all grown up. They don't need a nanny. Not that I'm looking the part, mind you.
"I care neither about your looks, nor your opinion on the matter, Jixton. You have experience in the kind of territory the strike team will encounter on Endor. You are an expert in explosives. You can think on your feet. With you, the mission stands a much higher chance of success, and survival for the team members.
Jixton adjusted his ponytail. "Oh, well, if you put it that way... 5,000 okay with you, Uncle?
"You can collect your fee after your return from Endor. And, Jixton?
"Double if my children come back alive and well.
"You have such a nice way of convincing a man of what's best for him, Uncle.
"Mother", Luke said simply. The one word carried a wealth of emotion. The diminutive woman looked up at him; there was no denying her close relation to Leia. Luke's twin sister was a younger version of the woman now standing in front of him, just like he looked like a younger and shorter version of Anakin, their father.
"Luke. I've heard so much about you already. I cannot tell you how proud I am of you, of both my children." Padmι opened her arms and, for the first time, embraced her grown son. "I'm so sorry I had to give you up", she whispered into his chest.
"I understand, Mother. There was nothing you could have done. And Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru really weren't that bad, you know", he finished with a slight smile.
There was a bit of an awkward pause as neither knew what to say to the other. Both had a million questions, but somehow they did not seem important anymore.
"You've become quite a Jedi, I hear", Padmι finally said.
Luke smiled. "Yes. I always wanted to follow in Father's footsteps..." He realized what he had said only after the words had left his mouth. "Well, not like that, I mean..."
Padmι laughed. "I know what you mean. And you do have a way with words, just like your father."
Luke grinned, slightly embarrassed. "He loves you very much."
"I know. And I suppose I still love Anakin, but... Darth Vader will need some getting used to. Obi-Wan told me he betrayed and murdered Anakin, and to find out they are one and the same... that threw me a bit off."
Luke grimaced. "Ben has something to answer for", he replied grimly. "He at least deserves a good talking to for his version of the truth."
Padmι frowned. "Are you telling me Obi-Wan is alive as well?"
"Not really." Luke shook his head. "But he's not as dead as he'll wish he were when I'm through talking with him. I sometimes wonder how things would have turned out without his machinations. No doubt he meant well, but he sometimes has this high-handed, I-know-better-than-you-because-I-am-a-Jedi manner..."
Padmι nodded. "Vader... Anakin said something similar. I won't pretend to understand about this thing about Jedi and the Force, but I know exactly what you mean. Obi-Wan can be quite aloof at times, and I suppose it's gotten worse over the years."
"But let's not talk about Ben, Mother. I know so little about you, and I have so much I want to ask you."
The tall Jedi was talking with Jixton in Home One's main hangar when he heard Solo call. He turned around and approached the Correllian. "Yes?"
"I noticed you didn't volunteer for the Endor mission. Luke's gonna be disappointed, you know."
Anakin smiled thinly. "That cannot be helped. My place is with my ship, and my squad."
Han cocked his head. "And away from Leia, huh? Don't think I didn't see you flinch every time she looked daggers at you."
"There is that. The way things are between us at the moment, I feel my presence would distract her from the mission." He paused for a moment. "To tell the truth, Han, there is yet another reason why I should be staying away from Endor as long as possible."
"Palpatine. He would certainly sense my presence through the Force; I have never been able to block him." Anakin ran a hand over the stubble on his skull. "I would give us away by just being there."
A thoughtful look crossed Han's face. "What about Luke then? He's a Jedi, too."
Anakin shook his head. "Luke should be alright. He hasn't been Palpatine's apprentice for a good twenty standard years. But tell him to keep his mental shields up, just in case. Where is Luke, by the way?"
"With his mother. They have a lot of catching up to do."
A pained look crossed Anakin's features.
"Hey, look...", Han began, but the former Sith interrupted him: "It's alright, Han. I'll just have to live with the consequences of my actions. I only wish my decisions had not forced Padmι to give up our children to be raised elsewhere. I cost Luke and Leia both their parents, Han."
There was nothing Han could reply to that.
Anakin decided to change the subject. "So, you're going to take the Tydirium? he asked.
"Yeah. Wanted to ask you... anything special I should know about her?
A thin smile appeared on Anakin's face. "No, I haven't had the time for any modifications. But what about the Falcon?
Han shook his head. "Too recognizable. We're supposed to sneak in. Can't do that in a ship that's at the top of the most wanted list.
"Yes, I believe that would be quite difficult. So the Falcon is not going to participate in the battle?
"What? You asking for my ship? Forget it, man, you already have the Executor, and she's a mighty fine lady. No, I gave the Falcon to Lando. He's gonna lead the attack on the Death Star, and he's gonna need all the help he can get.
"And he is going to receive it. I do not intend to hold my ship, or my squads, back.
Han frowned a bit at Anakin's words. "What about loyalties? Your men just joined the Rebellion, and you're asking them already to fight their former comrades.
"They knew it would eventually come to that when they defected. I shall not imply a lack of trust in my men by keeping them out of the fight. The answer was delivered with a haughty air.
"Alright, alright, Han conceded. "I guess you know your crew better than I do.
Anakin grinned. "'Course I do, Han. Now, I better get back to my ship. Piett and I need to familiarize ourselves with the battle plan, and inform the officers and crew. And I believe I heard a rumour about our new TIE's.
"We have a new model, the Avenger. You actually have to thank the imbeciles at the shipyard for our presence here had they done their job right, I would not have had an accident on the first test flight, and we would not have found out about just how Palpatine made sure I stayed in his service. Well, anyway, Piett tells me that our mechanics have been working around the clock to bring these beauties up to speed. He grinned evilly. "Should be a nasty surprise for the Imperial Fleet to meet them in battle.
"I guess so... well, it's time I gathered my team, too. Take care, Anakin. And may the Force be with your.
The two men shook hands.
"Good luck, Solo.
Solo gave him a half-smile and replied, quoting what another Jedi had told him what felt like a lifetime ago: "In my experience, there is no such thing as luck.
Only a short while later, two shuttles floated out of Home One's main hangar. One banked off towards the looming triangular shape of the Super Star Destroyer, while the other set course for a target much farther away. In the crowded cockpit of that shuttle, a deep growl could be heard.
"No, I don't think they had Wookiies in mind when they designed her, Chewie.
Leia walked in and strapped into the seat behind Han's while Chewbacca threw a set of switches. "We're all set, Captain.
Solo threw a look back at the docking bay, where his battered old freighter still sat. To give her up even to a close friend like Lando... it didn't feel right. It felt like he was unfaithful to her. It felt like he wasn't going to see her again.
"Hey, you awake? Leia nudged his shoulder.
Han shook himself to clear his head of the morbid thoughts. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Let's hit it.
He touched the controls, and the stars turned to streaks, which turned to the amorphous not-quite-shapes of hyperspace.
To be continued...
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