An accident reveals an old deception, and Darth Vader must make a decision that will change not only his life.
Piett dropped into the high-backed leather chair in his quarters, stretching his legs out and sighing deeply. It had been a long day. Leaning back against the headrest, the admiral closed his eyes and allowed the day's tasks to fade from his mind as the doorbell chimed.
"Come", he called and cracked open one eye.
Maximillian Veers entered and nodded a greeting.
"You look beat", he observed.
"Mm-mmh." Piett allowed his eye to drop closed again. "Do me a favor, Max. There is a bottle of Correllian brandy in the lower desk drawer."
"That bad, huh?" Chuckling, Veers got the liquor and two shot glasses. "So, how did it go?" He poured two glasses and set one down on the table in front of Piett before sitting on the small sofa opposite his friend.
"Didn't get a chance to talk to him. He sat down on the bed, keeled over, and was asleep before you could say 'rebellion'."
"Damn." Veers sipped on his brandy; the alcohol burned in his throat. "What's he planning, Tomas?"
"I have no idea. In fact, I don't think he's planning anything right now. He acts like nothing has changed, except that he's out of that suit." Piett opened his eyes long enough to locate the shotglass, took it, and downed the brandy in one swallow. "He's too busy parading around without his helmet and fraternizing with the crew."
Veers shook his head. "Do I detect a hint of bitterness here, Tomas?"
"Hell, Max, he... I don't know. He used to always be on top of things, and now he's just drifting. Frankly, it scares me."
"You know, he might just need a bit more time to adjust to everything", Veers suggested. "I'm surprised he's handling it as well as he does."
Piett set his glass down hard. "He doesn't have the time, Max!" he shouted. "His majesty will soon know he's healed, if he doesn't already, and then what? If you're right and the Emperor ordered the transmitters implanted, he'll recall us and kill Lord Vader as soon as he sets foot on Coruscant. And probably us, too!"
"So, you're afraid for your own life?"
Piett made a rude noise. "We know too much, Max. The Emperor cannot afford rumors of the cause of Lord Vader's condition to spread. It might drive more systems into the arms of the Rebellion."
"I see." Veers calmly refilled his own glass and Piett's. "So, what are you going to do?"
"Follow Lord Vader, of course. Only he's not leading us right now."
"And in the meantime?"
"In the meantime, I'm monitoring all outgoing transmissions. We need to keep a step ahead."
Veers regarded his friend for a long moment. How far could he trust Piett? Was he truly saying what Veers thought he said? Or did he misread him? He decided to take the risk.
"You know, I've always been loyal to the Emperor. I thought we were doing the right thing", he said slowly. "But now... I don't know anymore. I don't know if he deserves loyalty."
Piett felt a cold shiver run down his spine.
"What are you saying, Max?" he whispered.
"I'm not saying anything, Tomas. Not yet. I'm just thinking."
"You're thinking about treason."
Veers locked his gaze with Piett's. "Depends on where your loyalties lie, Tomas", he said quietly. "You did say you'd follow Lord Vader. I'll do the same, and if his course takes him away from the Empire... I'll still follow him. Will you do the same? Or will we find ourselves on different sides of the battle?"
Piett swallowed hard. "What about the crew?" he asked. "I have more than a quarter million men to think about. I cannot abandon them."
"Neither can you decide for them, Tomas." Veers smiled. "But you said it yourself. The Emperor will probably order us killed as well. So, what options are left for you? Let yourself be led to the slaughter like a good little lamb, or follow Lord Vader."
"Which might still be the same, Max." Piett sighed and massaged his temples.
"The question is, what can we do now? I don't like the idea of sitting on my hands until Lord Vader is ready to face the truth any more than you."
"Nothing", Piett sighed. "Except... how far can you trust your men?"
"Depends on what you ask of them."
Piett leaned forward in his chair. "A little spy work, Max. I told you I know who the II agents on board are. Could your men keep an eye on them if I give you a list?"
Veers laughed; that was more to his liking. "Of course they can! What do you have in mind?"
"If any of the agents tries to contact Coruscant, I want them stopped."
"Hmmm. You know, it's better to be a step ahead. My men could set up a number of, say, diversions. Start a fight or two, give you an excuse to fill the brig. Crew morale is low enough, I'm expecting fights among the crew any time now."
"That's brilliant, Max!" Piett exclaimed.
"But I'm making no promises on how much restrain they'll use when push comes to shove, if you get my drift. They don't exactly like Imperial Intelligence."
"I don't want them dead. You can't interrogate a corpse." Piett grinned. "However, I think you'll find... appropriate punishment if one of your men goes a little too far and breaks a bone or two."
The two men grinned at each other.
"So, tell me. What exactly did Lord Vader say back in the conference room?" Piett finally asked.
"Oh, come on, Tomas, you heard his orders. I'm not to translate it."
"It was in Huttese, wasn't it?"
Veers nodded, blushing again at the memory of the swear words Vader had used. Some of them were even new to him.
"Yes, and let me just say that it was not anything you could repeat in polite company. In fact, most of what he said is anatomically impossible, and the rest was so rude it would make a Toydarian blush."
"Who would have thought. By the way, where did you learn to speak Huttese?"
"I grew up on Nar Shaddaa. Huttese is my first language. But what I don't understand is... where did Lord Vader learn it? And how in the Galaxy did he pick up that accent?"
"What do you mean?"
"He sounds like a country bumpkin!"
"What?" Piett could not believe his ears. Lord Vader, a country bumpkin? "You're kidding me."
Veers shook his head. "I'm not. Lord Vader sounds exactly like a Tattooine desert rat. He's not some moisture farmer's kid, is he?"
Luke Skywalker landed his X-wing on a clearing not far from Yoda's hut. This time, he had had no trouble during his approach to Dagobah, unlike the last time. Apparently Yoda did not deem it necessary to show him where to land in his unique way anymore.
He climbed out of the cockpit; Dagobah had not changed a bit. It was still as hot and moist as he remembered. Fog rose over the swamp and small animals stirred as Luke made his way to Yoda's hut. The small, green- skinned Jedi Master was awaiting him.
"Returned you have, Luke, but not to complete you training, I sense", Yoda said without preamble.
"A friend needs me. But I need some questions answered first, Master. And I will complete my training with you later", Luke answered.
"Too late it may be, young Luke. Strong is Vader. Not believe me you did, rush to fight him you did, and defeated you were. Unprepared you were."
"Unprepared for what?" Luke felt his anger rise in him; calm, he told himself. Control. Anger leads to the dark side. Taking a deep breath, he addressed Yoda again: "Unprepared for what, Master? The fight, or the mind games? Or..." he paused for a moment... " ...the truth?"
"Decide for yourself, you must", Yoda said cryptically.
"Don't play games with me, Master. Is Darth Vader my father?"
Yoda's expressive ears lowered a bit. "Told you, did he?"
"Believe him, you did not?"
"Yoda, I... I don't want to believe him. But I could sense he was telling the truth."
"Still you need to ask, then?"
Luke's face hardened. "Perhaps I want to know why you and Ben lied to me."
Ben's shimmering form appeared next to Yoda. "Luke, you will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view."
He paused before continuing: "When Anakin Skywalker, your father, was seduced by the Dark Side, he ceased to be the man I knew and became Darth Vader. So, what I told you was true. From a certain point of view."
"From a certain point of view?" Luke sputtered. "Ben, he is my father, no matter what name he is using. You would have me murder my own parent!"
"That is were you are wrong, Luke. Anakin does not exist anymore. From a certain point of view, Darth Vader did kill him."
"I'm not so sure about that", Luke retorted, keeping a tight leash on his anger. Now was not the time to lose control. "A few nights ago, I had a vision."
"A vision of Vader?" Ben asked. What was the Sith Lord up to?
"Or a vision of Anakin Skywalker. He was in pain, Ben. Emotionally. I felt... hurt, confusion. Betrayal. He was suffering. Something has happened to him, but I don't know what. And I don't know what to do about it. I hoped you could help", he finished lamely.
Ben shook his head. "Thank you, Luke. For still trusting me. But I fear you will not like my advice."
"Believe this vision, you cannot", Yoda added. "Sense the same, we did not. A ruse it must be."
"It was genuine", Luke said, with conviction.
"Hope to save him, you do. Foolish that hope is."
"Luke, I once thought like you. You must understand what the Dark Side does to a person. It consumes you utterly. There is no way back."
"Listen to Obi-Wan you must. All depends on it", Yoda implored.
"No." Luke shook his head. "I cannot believe that. There is a way to save him. There has to be."
"At least complete your training, Luke", Ben pleaded, hoping to distract the young man from his self-destructive path. The Jedi Master was not sure he could stand seeing another of his pupils fall to the Dark Side, and Vader's revelation had brought Luke dangerously close to that abyss. His anger was closer to the surface, as it had been with his father so many years ago. Where did I fail you, Anakin? Ben thought. How could I not see that your good intentions would lead you to ruin? I will not allow it to happen to your son, too.
"I'm sorry, Ben. I cannot stay now. Han needs me, and Leia. I'm sorry." And father, he added silently.
Luke turned around to leave when Ben called after him: "Remember, Luke: Anger leads to the Dark Side. Do not let your anger control you, or you will suffer your father's fate."
"I won't. I promise, Ben."
With that, Luke Skywalker left the two Jedi Masters to return to his ship.
"Foolish he is", Yoda sighed. "Now things are worse."
"I am not sure, Yoda. Perhaps there is still hope for Anakin."
"Trained, he should not have been. Told you so, I have."
"Which one? The father, or the son?"
Obi-Wan faded into the fog, leaving Yoda in a foul mood.
Piett quietly entered Vader's new quarters, a droid carrying a cloth- covered tray with coffee and sandwiches following close on his heels. The Dark Lord was still asleep. Apparently, he had not moved a muscle since Piett had left the evening before. The Admiral ordered the droid to set the tray down and leave before he bent over the sleeping man.
"Lord Vader?" he queried softly. Vader did not react.
"Lord Vader?" Piett asked again, a little louder this time. Still no reaction. Vader slept like the proverbial log. Small wonder he had not answered the comm unit. Admiral Piett touched his shoulder and slightly shook him. Finally, Vader stirred.
"Mmhhh? Whazzit?" he mumbled.
"Good morning, Mylord."
Vader sat up groggily. "Piett. Did you tuck me in last night?"
Piett chose to pour a cup of coffee instead of answering. "Coffee, Mylord?"
"You did tuck me in." Vader took the offered cup, sipped on it, and gasped. "Force! This stuff is strong enough to wake the dead!" He downed the rest of the brew in one swallow and grimaced.
Piett smiled thinly. "I thought you could use it."
Vader got up, handing the cup back to Piett. "You must stop mothering me, Admiral", he chided.
"Yes, Mylord. Fresh uniforms are in the closet, Mylord."
"And don't 'yes, Mylord' me."
Vader rolled his eyes, grabbed a uniform - cut like an officer's uniform, but black instead of olive, and without rank insignia - from the closet without looking and headed for the shower. He came back a few minutes later, feeling refreshed and much more awake. Piett was still there, standing at attention.
"What time is it, Admiral?"
"08.15, Mylord," Piett replied without consulting his watch.
"What? I should have been in the hangar at 08.00 hours! Why didn't you wake me earlier?" Vader shouted. Damn Piett! What had gotten into the man lately? He was Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, not some kid that needed to be told when to go to bed or when to get up!
Piett looked straight into Vader's eyes. Vader still was not quite himself. Perhaps Veers was right, and he needed more time. "Mylord, you are still recovering from your injuries. You had surgery only three days ago. You should be in sickbay, resting", he snapped.
"Are you finished, Admiral?" Vader interrupted coldly. He looked ready to strangle Piett.
Piett shut up, trembling, but he held Vaders gaze. Vader was the first to break eye contact. With difficulty, Darth Vader calmed himself. Control, he told himself. Control your anger, do not let it rule you. Piett may have overstepped himself, but he was only trying to help. He certainly did not deserve to die for this.
"Thank you for caring, Piett", Vader said after a long moment. "It's been a long time since..." He let the sentence trail away.
Piett sighed; he knew how close Vader had come to kill him this time. His mood swings certainly seemed to be getting worse instead of better. Still, he had to try. Even if the Sith Lord would have his own way in the end, as usual.
"At least have some breakfast first", he suggested.
Vader looked at him again, blue eyes flashing. "Don't push it, Admiral!" he warned, grabbed a sandwich from the plate and hurried out.
Piett heaved a sigh.
When Vader arrived at the main hangar, work was already well underway. Garin had apparently followed his orders to the letter and started at 08:00 hours. He silently cursed first himself for not waking up earlier, and then Piett again for letting him sleep late.
"Torb!" he called. Garin's head popped out from behind the engine compartment.
"Gather the team. I have some news," Vader ordered.
Garin nodded. "You heard him, boys", he called. The men put away their tools and gathered around Vader. Garin thought that Anakin appeared slightly nervous.
"We will not find any discrepancies between the fighter and the documentation", the Dark Lord began. The team exchanged confused looks.
"What do you mean?" Zev queried.
"There aren't any. We can assume the fighters match up to Siena Fleet System's specs", Vader continued. "However, these do not match up to my design."
Zev groaned. "Sith! That means we have to compare the part's lists!"
Vader nodded. "Exactly. Which is what you are going to do." He fixed Zev with a cool stare. "I shall give you access to all my files concerning the Avenger. Do not attempt to read any other files. Is that clear, Zev?"
Zev smiled, a bit nervous. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I know your reputation, Zev. I know how close you came to a conviction for slicing into Coruscant's mainframe and altering certain data. Had it not been for your grandmother's influence, you would be in the spice mines of Kessel now instead of serving on the finest ship in the fleet."
"Ah, the sins of my misspent youth. Don't worry, Anakin. I've learned my lesson."
"I hope so, for your sake, Zev." Vader did not have to make the threat any clearer, but Zev was not intimidated. Anakin might threaten, but he still trusted him with the files, and that was what counted in the end.
"Okay, then let's move someplace with computer access", Garin interjected. "Zev, can you set up a program to compare the lists?"
"Are you kidding? Any protocol droid could do that!"
"Do it, then."
"Let's use the computer outlets in the ready room, shall we?"
"Good idea. That way we're closer to the coffee machine", the usually quiet Jay murmured under his breath.
The whole team, including Vader, moved to the hangar's ready room. Vader had never been here before. The room looked like any other ready room in the known reaches of space. A table and several chairs, a couch in one corner facing an entertainment unit and a few computer workstations. Much time was spent here by mechanics on stand-by duty, and they had tried to make the room look less sterile by hanging posters on the bare walls, some of which almost made Vader blush.
He sat down in front of one of the workstations and quickly keyed in his access code. He brought up his files on the Avenger and opened them.
"There you go. I shall leave you now. Garin, report to me when you are finished with the comparison."
"Certainly. You're not staying?"
"No. I'm moving my personal belongings into my new quarters. The apartment below the bridge level." Vader got up and turned to leave.
Garin whistled. "VIP quarters. Need a hand with your stuff? The computers can do this here almost alone."
Vader stopped short, momentarily astonished at the level of acceptance he felt from Garin. It was a genuine offer, but another thought crossed Vader's mind. Getting so close to him might not be good for Garin and his team in more than one way. At the very least, it would set them apart from the rest of the crew. No, it was better for everyone involved to not allow this to develop any further. If he wanted friends, he would have to look among the higher ranking officers. If he wanted friends... suddenly, Vader was not so certain about that.
Horrified, Darth Vader realized that being his friend might mean drawing the Emperor's wrath. It could only be a matter of time until... Vader pushed the thought aside, shaking his head. He did not want to think about it yet. He wasn't ready.
He won't wait for you to be ready, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered. He crippled you. As soon as he learns you're healed, he will come for you.
Resolutely, Vader squashed his doubts. He wasn't ready yet. For once, the universe just had to wait for him...
"No, thank you", he said softly. "I don't have that much stuff to move." That said, he left.
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